Styrofoam upcycled into water filters
Waste Reduction

If you have ever visited a landfill, you would notice the overwhelming amount of discarded polystyrene foam (styrofoam). Its most common uses are disposable lunch boxes and protective filler to cushion electronics within packaging. Styrofoam is typically discarded after use, and is difficult to recycle, which results in them often clogging up landfills. Facing this dilemma, three eighth graders in Ohio, USA, developed a patent-worthy technique of upcycling Styrofoam into water filters.

Julia Bray, Luke Clay and Ashton Coffer analyzed the chemical structure of the polystyrene foam and discovered it was made up of over 92% carbon. Hypothesizing that heat would likely convert the Styrofoam into activated carbon, which can filter water, the team successfully did so by heating the material to 120 degrees Celsius. They then treated the carbon with chemical sets to increase its surface area, and tested it against other water filters commercially available, which yielded similarly effective results.

The team named their invention the Styro-Filter. Team member Julia Bray explains: “Styro-Filter is just the beginning of an innovation to take dirty waste and make clean water,” The team has already filed for a provisional patent for Styro-Filter, and the project was awarded the American Science Innovator Award by Scientific American and Google.

“Kids are born scientists,” states Scientific American Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina, who served as the judge at the fair. “They ask great questions and we should foster their efforts to learn the answers firsthand.” The creativity of young environmental innovators are a force to reckon with. Since the establishment of Google Technology Expo, the world's largest online science fair since 2011, more than 30,000 youths from varying countries have submitted their projects. Hopefully, the youth of Hong Kong may also innovate and contribute to environmental protection and social welfare.