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Pupils exhibit creative solutions to tackle marine litter

Yesterday 22 February we recognised the creative engineering innovations of young people and children to tackle marine litter through the STEM the Flow Engineering Challenge at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow as part of our Upstream Battle campaign. 

The competition was open to pupils from Primary 6 right through to third year Secondary from across the West Partnership area - Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. The event was attended by pupils from 12 schools who showcased their projects to event guests, fellow participants and the public.

The competition entries were judged by a panel of representatives from industry and education partners, and awarded according to five categories, each receiving a trophy made from reclaimed marine plastic.

The winner for the Most Innovative Solution was Robert Owen Memorial Primary School, Lanark. The Pollution Police Team created a Shrimp Mobile and Crab Mobile design. Two solar powered drones that scour the riverside for dropped litter and collect it for recycling.

The winner of the Most Sustainable Solution was St Ninian’s High School, Giffnock. After carrying out a litter survey of Auldhouse Burn, pupils decided to design Bin for the Burn - a basket filter that is solar powered with a back up battery. Bin for the Burn has propellers to move around the river, a sensor to indicate when it is full, and has plant decoys on top to blend in with the environment.

The winner of the Best Investigation was Lourdes Secondary School, Glasgow. The Flow Fanatics Team proposed to use reverse osmosis to extract microplastics from the River Clyde. Their design involved a semipermeable membrane that allowed small water molecules to pass through but not larger microplastics. Seaweed and kelp were added to act as a natural filter and a high frequency emitting detector to scare away fish in a non-harmful way so they are not drawn into the filter.

The winner of the Best Teamwork was a joint project by St Andrew’s RC Secondary School and St Timothy’s Primary RC School, Glasgow. Pupils from the two schools teamed up together to design a solar powered recycle bin to be located around the Squinty Bridge so people could recycle their rubbish, and a system to prevent and retrieve litter from entering the river - a net barrier shaped to prevent litter entering the water.

The winner of the Best Overall Project was Bannerman High School, Glasgow. Pupils thought that the city of Glasgow is lacking a tourist boat like many other cities have. Their design proposal was a small fleet of boats that are capable of carrying tourists, but that also clean up the River Clyde. The team proposed the boats could dock on Clyde Street underneath the railway bridge. They named their four boats after prominent environmental activists Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and Leonardo Di Caprio and inventor Nikola Tesla.

The children and young people designed solutions to either reduce the amount of litter already in the River Clyde or prevent it entering the watercourses in the first place. The teams had to produce a project report, create a display and prepare a presentation as part of the competition. Each group had a mentor from a supporting industry partner; BAE Systems, Scottish Water or Jacobs Engineering. We hosted online workshops where the mentors shared their expertise on topics that related to the challenge from, the ecology of the River Clyde to sustainable material and design. Many of them also arranged online and in-person meetings with the team they worked with during the project. The pupils' designs ranged from innovations to use submerged filters to collect microplastics from the river, to drone-operated netting systems to catch litter floating on the surface. 

Catherine Gee, our Deputy CEO, said: “This exciting challenge was an ideal opportunity for pupils to engage in creatively tackling the litter emergency while developing STEM skills which they will continue to use inside the classroom and in everyday life.

“We know that 80% of marine litter comes from land and that we need to tackle this problem- which is what our Upstream Battle campaign aims to do.  Our stats also highlight that 87% of people believe that litter is a problem across Scotland, with 9 in 10 people supporting educational and behavioural campaigns.

“A big well done to all those who took part in the competition - congratulations to the winners and all the young people involved in the competition. The next generation is setting a great example for all of us in tackling litter from source to sea. I’d also like to thank the teachers who encouraged their pupils to create such fantastic innovations and to their mentors for their support throughout.”

The event was attended by Mairi McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform, who provided the welcome address, on the back of the recent publication of the Marine Litter Strategy in 2022.

Minister Mairi McAllan said:

“Scotland enjoys a global reputation for research and innovation, and our success in STEM subjects is integral to our future economic and social development. We need to equip ourselves to address the current nature and climate crises and we want everyone in Scotland to build a strong foundation of STEM skills and knowledge.

“Our marine environment is beautiful and diverse, but it needs protection from threats including marine litter. Our recently published Marine Litter Strategy sets out how we plan to tackle the challenge of marine litter in Scotland. Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Upstream Battle campaign highlights the journey of marine litter from source to sea, as many forget that rubbish dropped inland can end up on our beaches miles away, or lost to our oceans.

“It is very heartening to see the next generation take such a keen interest in solving the problem of marine litter. I’d like to congratulate the winners of this challenge and thank everyone that took part in the project.”


Find out how you can get involved in Upstream Battle across the Clyde and help to prevent marine litter at the source. You can also tackle the Litter Emergency by getting involved in Scotland’s Spring Clean 2023- have a look at the Clean Up Scotland map to see activities in your area.

23 February 2023

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