YES 2016 - A COMPETITION FOR YOUNG ENGINEERS

YES 2016 - A COMPETITION FOR YOUNG ENGINEERS

On the 11th and 12th of November, IDA (the Danish Association for Engineers) and Creature, prepared a two day competitions for young engineers across Europe. The challenge was to find solutions to the increasing problem of plastics ending up into seas and oceans.

More than 80 participants, students and professionals, from different backgrounds and countries were called upon to find solutions to 3 challenges: plastics before/in/after entering the oceans. Participants were provided with knowledge from experts working on plastics and waste issues at the National and European level.


WHAT IS THE PLASTIC MARINE LITTER PROBLEM?

Delphine Lévi Alvarès our policy officer, provided the keynote speech for the event. She exposed the scope of the problem: the impacts and implications of plastic in the ocean. Some of the consequences of plastic pollution include the entanglement of and ingestion by ocean creatures. More than 20% of fish and shellfish are contaminated by plastic pollution, and estimates say that, if we keep consuming and producing at the current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish. Further consequences include negative effects on human health, industry, tourism and fishing.

WHAT IS THE FOCUS FOR EXPERTS’ “BEFORE/IN/AFTER” PLASTICS ENTER THE OCEAN?

Our People’s Design Lab project assistant, Anna Queralt, focused on how to deal with plastics before they get into the oceans. Examining and modifying our production and consumption patterns is one of the key elements that can provide change, then, addressing big corporations that produce huge quantities of plastic waste and leveraging them to implement positive changes. She emphasised the need for improving the waste management systems so that leakages from the different waste streams are prevented.

Next, Anne Aittomaki, from Plastic Change, talked about the ‘plastic soup’, the problem of micro-plastics from care products, microfibers and the degradation of macro-plastics. About the 95% of these plastics are located at the very bottom of the oceans and settle on coral reefs and marine plants. This fact hinders the possibility of cleaning the ecosystems for good, therefore the efforts to find ultimate solutions need to be put into prevention and choosing the right designs and materials.

Finally, Jakob Clemen, from the Danish Plastics Federation spoke about some examples of short term solutions. These are emerging ‘patch’ solutions that use plastic from the oceans to create new objects. However, this is not a long term solution as the only way to preserve marine life, free from toxic products, is to avoid plastics entering with marine ecosystems completely.


COMMON FOCUS: THE LONG TERM SOLUTIONS

All the experts agreed upon one thing: the key way to keep oceans free from plastics is to focus on prevention. And there are angles to tackle the issue from, to prevent plastics getting into marine ecosystems:

Firstly, we must take a look to the source and analyse our relationship between the products we use and the waste they produce. There needs to be changes on the way we produce and consume, and we can no longer rely on single use, unrepairable and low quality products as long term solutions.

Secondly, improvements in the waste management systems need to be implemented in order to avoid leakages of plastics into the ocean. This requires increasing the percentage of recycling by implementing door-to-door separate collection, deposit and take back schemes, etc.


WHAT WERE THE WINNING SOLUTIONS?

These challenges have been used as inspiration for the participants in order to develop impactful and scalable solutions that can keep plastics far from marine ecosystems.

The Fiber Buster was the winning project for the jury and for the participants. The machine that the group invented aims to filter plastic microfibers which are in the waste water from the washing of synthetic clothes. The machine would be place at the mouth of the rivers, just before the ocean, to capture the microfibers where it’s still feasible.

In second place, there was the Take-Away group who imagined a deposit system for reusable tableware for take-away food. By giving value to the cutlery and lunch box, in which our take away food is packed, we could prevent these items from going into the wrong stream or end up in sewage sludges. This is a scalable solution that could be implemented in big and small food business with take away options.

These rich and inspiring 2 days of contest were a good preview of what happen when you convene young and motivated brains to think of solutions! This is why we are very much looking forward to reproducing the experience with the next People’s Design Lab - Europe workshops. next stop for us: Barcelona, DEC 2 and 3! See you there!