Young Inventors Leading the Way Towards a Circular Economy
Last month, we explored the meaning of circular economy and why it’s the next step towards a sustainable future. In brief, our current linear economy focuses on creation, use, and disposal. This creates problems such as depleted resources and excessive pollution. Moving to a circular economy means reducing what resources we use. This can be via reusing, remanufacturing, recycling, and re-educating businesses on how a circular economic model can benefit them.
We also looked at how young people seem to be more receptive to the idea that the linear economy should, eventually, be resigned to the history books. Here are some amazing young inventors and innovators coming up with solutions that could help change the course of capitalism to something with a brighter future.
June 23rd was International Women in Engineering Day, acknowledging the gender gap that’s still very much prevalent across the industry. Only 16.5% of engineers in the UK are women, which is one reason why encouraging girls in STEM subjects from a young age is vital. 2022’s event saw the Women’s Engineering Society announce their Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards.
Their awards list includes Nadja Kang, president of European Young Engineers. As well as representing around half a million young engineers from a range of disciplines, she’s actively worked to change public perception of circular economies. She looks at this from all levels of societal transition and has worked with groups on how to successfully reuse water, the links between engineering and politics, and various factors surrounding energy and the environment.
In other engineering accolades, the Big Bang UK Young Engineer of the Year award went to our own Avye Couloute. Avye’s inspiring project aims to improve indoor air quality by monitoring and reacting to carbon dioxide levels. This makes it an ideal solution for classrooms in a range of educational settings, plus collaborative workspaces and even the hospitality industry.
Girls in STEM Leveraging AI
Erin Smith is an American student who recently won a European Young Inventors prize. Her innovation is for the health sector and uses AI facial recognition technology to learn how to detect the signs of Parkinson’s disease much earlier. Her tool uses video footage of existing Parkinson’s patients plus the patient themselves. It could lead to patients being able to access care faster and might even increase their quality of life.
Erin cited her mother as a massive influence, as she fostered a love for science from an early age. She would turn the kitchen into a laboratory, and eventually, Erin learned to code and how to develop her award-winning product, FacePrint.
The tool is a low-cost, low-impact invention and can be used remotely, making it accessible to all. These aspects mean it contributes towards several factors of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including “Good Health and Wellbeing” and “Reduced Inequalities”. These are all important features in a circular economy. Looking after our planet means looking after each other as well.
Two graduates from Imperial College London have also made use of AI, this time to increase the amount of waste that gets recycled. Peter Hedley and Victor Dewulf’s award-winning project, Recycleye, empowers recycling machinery to pick out valuable items and make the whole process more profitable for businesses. Engaging corporations in the benefits of a circular economy is one of the most important factors in breaking away from the linear model and projects like this are a step in that direction.
I Know Some Smart Kids. How Can I Help?
As a parent (or foster parent, aunt, big sister, etc), you have one of the most important jobs — raising young people who have an awareness of the way things need to change, and the drive and imagination to help make it happen. There are so many ways you can encourage your kids to be more involved in social and economic change.
Have a look out for community initiatives such as litter picking, feeding the homeless, or looking after local nature reserves. Discuss as a family or in peer groups what the changes are your children would like to see in their local and wider area. See if they can pick out the reasons why certain issues get fixed first i.e. where does the money come from and where does it go.
Finally, make sure your children are equipped for industry 4.0 — the fourth industrial revolution into a more digital world — by encouraging them to get involved with technology. Peer-to-peer learning groups like Girls Into Coding take computing, robotics, and coding, subjects often missing from girls’ education, and makes them accessible via free online and in-person events and bespoke kits for all sorts of incredible tech education projects. This helps the girls in tech of today become the confident, trailblazing women in tech of tomorrow.
STEM education is the key to a circular economy. The younger our children are when they become interested in how things work, the better chance they have of being successful with technology. Combine this passion for tech with an early sense of investment in the future of our world, and you’re a parent or guardian raising kids who could be the economic game-changers this planet needs.