Inventing Solutions to Prevent Ocean Pollution

ocean pollution

This article has been updated to feature innovators working to prevent ocean pollution—by contributing to the circular economy or preventing debris from winding up in our oceans. The original article was first published on June 7, 2018.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. According to the Marine Conservation Institute, oceans generate half of the oxygen we breathe and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the health of the world’s oceans is at risk  – particularly from various types of pollution.

Take marine debris. Each year, billions of pounds of trash enter the ocean, wreaking havoc on marine life and habitats. The staggering volume of discarded bags, foam, and plastic are frequently consumed – often with fatal effects – by marine mammals, fish, and birds that mistake it for food. Abandoned fishing nets, another typical form of marine debris, can drift for years, trapping fish and mammals. The debris issue can be exacerbated by ocean currents, which corral the trash into massive garbage patches. One in the North Pacific, known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is about the size of Texas.

How Inventors are Working to Prevent Ocean Pollution

We believe today’s complex ocean pollution challenges present opportunities for innovation. In honor of World Oceans Day on June 8, we’d like to showcase the young innovators and entrepreneurs within our community who are working to prevent ocean pollution — by contributing to the circular economy or preventing debris and other contaminants from winding up in our oceans.

Converting Ocean Waste

Ambercycle
2015 E-Team
University of California, Davis
Developing a process to convert plastic debris in oceans into clean polymer resins that can be used in new fabrics

“There is currently little or no market value for plastics recovered from the ocean. Our innovation converts mixed plastic waste from oceans into raw materials that can be turned into new textiles. Our process also avoids typical industrial fermentation, gasification, and depolymerization techniques, which also contribute to environmental issues.” – Akshay Sethi, Co-Founder of Ambercycle

Recovering Metal Contaminants

NUMiX Materials, Inc.
2018 E-Team
Northwestern University
Developing an industrial water treatment product to remove and recover heavy metals from water systems

“Our product is capable of recovering metal contamination from water in a way that renders pollutants ready to return into a useful life. This approach leaves water cleaner while producing sources of crucial metals that don’t require mining.” – Katie Kollhoff, CEO of NUMiX Materials


Reducing Plastic Pollution

mobius
2018 ASPIRE participant
Developed a low-cost platform of biodegradable and compostable plastics made from lignin, a waste product from paper and biofuel that naturally degrades in soil

“Petroleum-based plastic plant containers are non-recyclable and often wind up in the waste stream—and our oceans. We’re partnering with plant container manufacturers to use our strong, biodegradable plastic alternative, which will decompose in the ground into carbon dioxide, water, and organic compost.”  – Tony Bova, CEO of mobius

Riding the Innovation Wave to Solve Ocean Pollution

Despite ominous data about the harmful impact—and volume—of ocean pollution, there’s a wave of early-stage innovators determined to address the issue. From creating new materials from marine debris to finding innovative ways of eliminating plastic waste, VentureWell is excited about the new technologies designed to combat ocean pollution, and inspired by the inventors driven to maximize their impact through entrepreneurship.

This year’s Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference features a session on green chemistry innovations in plastics to help protect our oceans. Learn more here.

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