On 26 September, UN Environment awarded the 2018 Champions and Young Champions of the Earth Awards. Two of the Young Champions, Miranda Wang and Miao Wang, are intervening to prevent marine plastic pollution at different points.
Miranda has invented a way of turning unrecyclable plastic waste into chemicals to build new materials. She focuses on removing plastic from waste before it even reaches the ocean.
Miao is mobilizing divers and the diving community in China to address marine debris by raising awareness about the threat plastic waste poses for marine and human health.
Together, these young trailblazers represent two of the key ingredients in the fight against marine plastic: innovative new technologies and an informed and engaged public.
Miranda Wang: stripping down plastic
When Wang visited her first waste plant, the scale of the problem hit her hard. All that waste.
Inspired by a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation—which states that just nine per cent of plastics are recycled, the rest being sent to landfills, incinerated or leached into the environment—she decided to take action.
“I suddenly realized that it’s unrealistic to expect people to solve the plastic problem by recycling properly. The problem is so big, it has to be solved through industrial technology,” she says.
Creating another way
Wang believes that the root cause of our plastic problem lies in the lack of economically viable markets to justify the recycling of dirty, low-grade post-consumer plastics.
By using plastic waste to produce organic acids, she and her co-founder Jeanny Yao invented a catalyst-driven chemical recycling system. It reverts plastic back to its basic components, which are then used to make virgin-quality chemicals.
“Our innovation means we no longer need to export our waste or rely on petroleum,” she explains.
After hundreds of trials, the pair can now treat 1-2 kg of plastic film every three hours, converting 90 per cent of plastic waste into biodegradable chemicals.
Wang and her team will be taking their business commercial. In 2021, they will work with city governments and recycling facilities to process tons of plastic and reducing our carbon footprint.
Their goal: to create a circular plastic global economy that generates benefits for everyone.
Miao Wang: Diving into a better blue ocean
Miao Wang is addressing the plastic tide after it has hit the ocean. By understanding the vulnerable nature of marine ecosystems, she is working with divers to spread awareness about the perils of plastic pollution.
“I founded Better Blue because I realized that our oceans don’t have a voice. Everyone should have the responsibility to protect this blue planet. I could see the passion of other divers and I realized that this is our unique strength. People are always afraid of being different. They will feel safe and powerful in a group, community and network,” she explains.
In China, there are around 400,000 divers across the country, increasing at the rate of about 30 per cent each year. Better Blue aims to empower individual divers to change whole organizations.
“That is how we can bring real change,” she says, “on the ground and in the ocean. Every day, we swim with the animals, notice the changes in the ecosystem and empower each other with knowledge about the ocean and the threats that life within it face.”
“As passionate guardians of the ocean, divers are a powerful network to tap. We have already spread knowledge among our diving experts in 20 cities and 16 provinces nationwide, supported by local agencies.
“We are working with other organizations, like Project AWARE and PADI, to remove and report marine debris, such as plastic bags or discarded soda cans, and track this data along the seafloor off the coast of China,” she adds.
“We believe that—while we are all individuals—when we come together, we can turn the tide and protect our oceans.”
Ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly of March 2019, these Young Champions of the Earth demonstrate how entrepreneurs are already making a difference.
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