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Young entrepreneurs design silicon alternative to single use containers to dramatically reduce supermarket plastic waste

  • 80% of marine litter originates from land with only 9% of plastic currently being recycled globally.
  • Single-use plastic and cigarette butts are the biggest threat to oceans and marine life.
  • IET Global Challenge encouraged young professional engineers across the globe to ‘Save our Seas’ and solve real-world plastic and toxic waste threat

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Global Challenge encourages young professional engineers (aged 18-35) across the globe to address a real-world engineering challenge and invent a solution with their diverse academic and technical exposure. This year’s competition encouraged teams to develop an innovative solution to help clean up the estimated 18 billion pounds of increasing plastic waste that enters our oceans each year.

The highly commended team, Team Leeds – which is made up of Philippa Clarkson (30), Ed Cottle (28) and Kerry Ford (28) – has developed the ‘for Keeps’ concept where reusable silicon-based containers for ready-meals would replace single-use containers. Encouraging a deposit return scheme for customers with money off their next purchase, these new containers would then be returned to supermarkets for industrial cleaning and reused.

Team member Philippa, who is a Mechanical Design Engineer at DePuy Synthes, explained: “We entered the competition as the environment is very important to us – I’ve been a member of Greenpeace for several years and their mission is so important, now more than ever, so getting this award is really humbling. 

“The initial idea is a product that would cut back on single-use plastics used for ready meals, that would, in turn, encourage and incentivise the public to return the silicon containers for reuse. Initially starting with ready meal containers, we want our idea could go much bigger. It could be used for things like bottles, packets and boxes, and even takeaways – I want to be able to buy a takeaway that comes in this packaging, that I can easily just take back to the supermarket when finished.”

Team member Ed, who is a Deep Learning Engineer at Optalysys added: "It feels great to have Greenpeace's commendation. We are big environmentalists and the thought that we can legitimately contribute to help the problem with single-use plastics means a lot to us.

“Engineering and technology are vital pieces of the puzzle when trying to solve environmental issues – we need new technologies and solutions because there are problems that we have failed to solve with existing knowledge."

Louise Edge, Head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign, said: “This competition required participants to create packaging solutions that removed the need for plastics or throwaway packaging altogether – something that the government and supermarkets have yet to achieve.

“Seeing the kind of innovative thinking demonstrated by the competition winners and indeed all of the finalists was really refreshing and gives us real hope that our plastic pollution crisis can be overcome.

“Politicians and retailers should take note, and back innovative solutions like these, rather than relying on false solutions and swapping one kind of throwaway packaging for another.”

Dr Peter Bonfield, IET President, added: “This competition is all about giving young engineers a platform to highlight their innovations. By shining a light on a particular problem we’ve found that engineers think outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions.

“I’d like to congratulate Team Leeds for their fantastic concept. Previous winners and highly commended entrants of this challenge have gone on to see their innovations become a reality, so this is a great way to make a difference and solve a real-world challenge.”

Team Leeds are working with Greenpeace to try and pilot the containers in a supermarket. For more information, visit and follow the challenge on social media #IETSaveOurSeas.


About the IET

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