By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. That’s why ASU doctoral student Charles Rolsky put his passion for saving the world’s oceans into action through a life-changing experience with internationally renowned ASU Professor Rolf Halden.

5 ways ASU is fighting plastics pollution

This Earth Day, take a look at just some of the ways Arizona State University researchers and students are working to #BeatPlasticPollution.

ASU developing biodegradable plastics made from bacteria

Assistant Professor Taylor Weiss stands among flat-panel bioreactors filled with algae on the ASU Polytechnic campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

What can be done to change this situation? ASU Assistant Professor Taylor Weiss says one way would be to make 100 percent biodegradable bioplastics using bacteria — specifically cyanobacteria, a photosynthesis-happy bug, as one of the starting materials — that would dissolve in the environment in a matter of months.

Weiss recently joined ASU’s Polytechnic campus, where he will work on scaling up the process at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI).

Solar-powered fishing lights are a biologist’s bright idea to save the oceans from plastic trash

ASU biologist Jesse Senko flags gillnets while in Mexico so fishermen know where to put lights. The lights attract fish and discourage sharks and sea turtles. Photo courtesy of Jesse Senko

It would also contribute toward the marketability of catch. Everywhere from coastal restaurants to mega chains like Target, McDonald’s and Whole Foods tout “sustainably caught” seafood because consumers want it. Fishing gear that doesn’t add to marine trash and helps prevent endangered bycatch helps earn that label.

Read more: Q&A: How do microplastics affect the planet?

Senko is partnering with ASU’s Solar Power Laboratory and NOAA Fisheries to develop miniaturized solar-powered lights on longlines and nets to replace the plastic glow sticks that fishermen now use to attract fish to bait, which are then tossed overboard when the catch is hauled in.

A happy side benefit? Turtles and sharks can better see the nets and avoid them.

ASU student spearheads lab-glove recycling program

Junkee Justin Ahn, 23, is a junior majoring in sustainability. Interning at paper giant Kimberly Clark, Ahn noticed they have a nitrile glove recycling program. Ahn thought of all the labs at ASU’s campuses and had an idea.

ASU sustainability junior Junkee Justin Ahn helped start a chemistry lab-glove recycling program for both the Polytechnic and Tempe campuses. Ahn recycles the nitrile gloves through Kimberly-Clark, which turns them into new plastic products.

As the glove-recycling program — called RightCycle — spreads to other labs and campuses, Ahn expects more than 20,000 gloves to be recycled per week.

The used gloves are sent to recycling centers. They’ll be processed into plastic pellets or nitrile powder, which can then be used to manufacture anything plastic.

“A small input like this bin can make a huge difference,” he said.

The School of Molecular Sciences, Environmental Health and Safety, lab manager Beatriz Smith and lab safety program manager John Crozier were involved in the recycling program.

ASU sustainability students work to keep the green in spring-training baseball

The zero-waste project is a first-of-its-kind partnership among ASU, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring-training facility that is owned by the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and shared by the two teams in March.

Senior Tyler Morningstar, who’s in the spring-training class, has been to most of the games and also has an internship with the stadium this semester. He’s been involved with outreach for the project, doing interviews and appearing on the giant scoreboard to talk about the Recycle Rally.

“Informing people has been one of the most important parts of the process,” he said. “A lot of people want to recycle but they get confused along the way.”

RISN Incubator drives vibrant circular economy

The RISN Incubator ventures have access to a work-share space in downtown Phoenix, allowing for easy access to city of Phoenix assets and resources. Photo courtesy ASU Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives

Selected startups receive unique access to resources and support from ASU — named the most innovative school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for three straight years — and Phoenix — named the Top Performing City overall by Governing and Living Cities — to develop solutions that contribute to the regional circular economy.

One startup concept within the original cohort included:

  • Renewlogy, developer of a proprietary chemical recycling process that allows plastic to be reversed back into its basic molecular structure, converting nonrecycled plastic waste into new valuable products such as high-value fuels. Renewlogy was a winner of the 2017 Arizona Innovation Open.

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