Many people say the future of the planet lies in the hands of our children. The decisions they make will likely determine a great deal of what happens to the earth. And based on the creativity and innovative spirit of some enterprising middle school students from around the world, this may not be such a bad thing.
Unlike many adults, young people tend to see our current attitude toward the environment as something that must change. They see the suffering of wildlife due to plastic, Styrofoam, and toxins clogging waterways and polluting the ecosystem. And while they may not fully understand the larger implications of the problem, they seem to believe the solution lies in taking responsibility for humankind’s actions.
In the case of school children invited to indulge their curiosity about science, the planet, and the problem of waste through a competition run by the FIRST LEGO League, this eco-consciousness has resulted in some fascinating developments. This event seeks to showcase the best and brightest ideas for waste management and illustrate how humans can take innovative steps towards curbing harmful practices, all through the projects of young people.
By offering an Innovative Solution Award and some serious notoriety, the FIRST LEGO League encourages and supports kids to think like inventors and problem solvers. After all, their original ideas may someday have a real impact on the environment. This competition has not only fostered a love of learning and innovation in those who participate, but it has also seen some genuine solutions brought to market.
Much more sophisticated than your average science fair, this competition promotes a love of science, technology, and engineering. Representatives of regions from Iowa to China to Spain to Ontario all nominate their top contenders, who move on to a final round in Washington, D.C., if they make the top twenty.
Those semi-finalists will then participate in a two-day celebratory event in which they will learn more about how to access resources relevant to their projects and build skills related to marketing, presenting, patents, and much more. And the winner receives a cash prize of $200,000 US dollars, with $5,000 for the two runners-up. The prize money must be used to further their innovative ideas.
So, what have these bright scientific minds of the future created? Here are a few of the contenders from the 2016 competition:
As we know, plastic bags are the enemy of the environment. Usually made from polyethylene plastic, they can’t be recycled, only repurposed to make a low-grade version of their former selves. For a team of Canadian students, this problem became a challenge to create a viable solution.
As a result, they created a system using bacteria to biodegrade plastic material over a 15-week period, thereby rendering the bags “compostable.” Even further, the process itself creates carbon dioxide, which can then be used in other products, as well as biomass that can be put to use as fertilizer.
Water-Soluble Six-Pack Rings
Everyone has seen the pictures of marine animals like seagulls and turtles trapped in man-made debris of soda packaging and other plastic material. Unable to free themselves, they usually become ill and die. For a team of sixth graders, this problem needed solving.
As a result, they created a type of water-soluble plastic capable of dissolving when submerged or exposed to water. This way, animals who digest it or become trapped in its framework would eventually find release.
School-aged children really love to eat chips. In fact, one group of Florida middle schoolers were throwing so many chip bags in their garbage cans that they began to take notice. What could be done with these piles of unusable polyethylene bags? They took it upon themselves to find a better use for them.
Considering the bags cannot be recycled, the kids researched various uses for the material and discovered the problematic material could, in fact, be used as insulation when shredded properly. The “chipsulation” bags were not only equally as effective in insulating various containers, but they proved to be cheaper than the normal materials used in most construction sites.
For a group of Bay Area middle school students, the school’s trash was a problem. When they looked through the different bins of waste, recycling, and compost, they realized about half of the material was in the wrong place.
They invented a robot that can take pictures of trash before it is thrown away and indicate the proper receptacle to the user. Admittedly, the process is more time-consuming than just tossing trash without thinking. However, the trashcam’s accuracy rate was more than 90 percent – a significant increase from before its implementation.