Climate crisis, global warming, single-use plastics: 2019 so far has been a year of serious discussion about the environment. One of the key topics up for debate, particularly in the food industry, is the use of plastics.
It is almost impossible to avoid plastics as consumers shopping for food and the problem exists within the food industry too. Change is on the way, with the European Union banning single-use plastics such as straws by 2021 and supermarkets promising to reduce plastic packaging but the issue is a serious one.
In particular, there has been a global focus on plastics ending up in our oceans. Floating rafts of plastic and rubbish have been spotted in seas all across the world but that is not the only damage being caused. Tiny particles of plastics known as microplastics (often found in products such as toothpaste and body scrubs) are finding their way into oceans and rivers. Mistaking them for food, fish and other creatures are eating them and, in turn, they're ending up in our food chain and water systems. A study by University of Newcastle in Australia earlier this year found that people could be ingesting 2000 tiny pieces (about a credit card’s worth) of plastic every week.
There is hope on the horizon though - and it’s Irish! Eighteen-year-old Fionn Ferreira from Ballydehob in west Cork recently won the 2019 Google Science Fair with his project on tackling microplastics. He has come up with a method of using magnets as a filtration system to remove the tiny plastic particles from the ocean.
The Google Science Fair is a global competition for students between the ages of 13 and 18 and Fionn's project saw him receive a $50,000 bursary at an awards ceremony in Google's headquarters in California.
While there is a huge amount of potential to his experiment, Fionn pointed out that his project “only forms the very beginning of this extraction idea, which has never been conducted before,” and further research is needed. But it is most definitely a step in the right direction.