Just like the NHS, the wheel, and the decision to give Beyoncé her own Netflix documentary — sometimes the best ideas actually do get the platform they deserve.
At least that’s the case for 23-year-old Lucy Hughes, a designer born in Twickenham, London, and graduate from the University of Sussex, who just won the James Dyson Award — a prize given to young inventors for a spectacular, sustainable, and simple feat of engineering that’s made to solve a problem.
Hughes won the award for investing a plastic alternative made from fish scales and skin.
MarinaTex, Hughes’ durable bioplastic, could help provide an alternative to plastic packaging, and breaks down in four to six weeks.
It took over 100 experiments before Hughes hit her eureka moment, and now, she has created a new material that can make 1,400 bags from the fish bits of just one Atlantic cod.
She won the $2,500 (£2,030) prize ahead of a wearable AI device that monitors asthma, and solar panels that can be draped over backpacks and tents, according to the Guardian.
Congratulations to Product Design Graduate @LHughes_Design at @SussexUni created MarinaTex using organic waste material => @JamesDysonAward national winner. 🥳👩🔬🐟— Stemettes ® 💙 ★ # + (@Stemettes) September 20, 2019
✅ Designed as alternative to single-use plastic film.#WomenInSTEAM#WomenInSTEM
It looks like plastic and it feels like plastic. But Hughes’ material is actually stronger and more sustainable.
Hughes used a substance called agar to bind all the fish parts, commonly found in the cell walls of red algae. Who would have guessed that in an increasingly divided world, it would be a photosynthetic organism that proved so effective at keeping things together?
“Plastic is an amazing material, and as a result we have become too reliant on it as designers and engineers,” Hughes said. “It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life cycle of less than a day.”
“For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local, and circular values into design,” she added. “As creators, we should not limit ourselves to designing to just form and function, but rather form, function, and footprint.”
Globally, 320 million tonnes of plastic gets produced each year — a figure that’s set to double by 2034, according to Surfers Against Sewage. Yet 90.5% of all plastic has never been recycled.
That means that a lot of plastic gets incinerated — creating greenhouse gases that then warm the planet, causing climate change — or sent to landfill.
Eventually, the plastic reaches the oceans, harming marine life that often consume the materials by accident, and even end up back in the human food chain too.
The UK produces a staggering 492,020 tonnes of fish waste every single year — yet uses 5 million tonnes of plastic annually, too. MarinaTex could solve two problems at once: putting all that fish excess — that would otherwise end up in landfill — to good use, while reducing plastic consumption at the same time.