How should we dispose of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced annually? How can we clean up the fifteen to fifty trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans before they are all ingested by sea life? And are there any alternatives to this beguiling material? These are just some of the questions students in Global Ideas Institute (GII) attempt to answer.

GII is a program run by the University of the Toronto that aims to guide students towards developing innovative solutions to current world issues. Every year, schools can send teams of four to six Grade 11 and 12 students to tackle an unresolved global problem. These problems can cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from maintaining food security to reinventing the toilet. This year’s challenge is plastic management. Students must propose a recommendation that will not only prevent short-term plastic accumulation but also ensure long-term sustainability. At the final symposium in April, students present their ideas to a panel of professors, entrepreneurs, and members of non-profit organizations.

“I think it’s amazing that we get to [work on] a solution that’s not policy based,” remarked Caryn Qian, a member of the GII team at Marc Garneau. “We get to create an actual tangible solution.”

This year’s Marc Garneau team consists of Caryn Qian, Charmaine Chang, Marzan Hamid, and Mohamed Dasu. Their solution involves replacing plastic with a biodegradable material known as nata de coco, a jelly-like substance produced through the fermentation of water. This substance is high in carboxymethyl cellulose, which makes the material strong, flexible, and, unlike plastic, biodegradable. Using this material instead of plastic would be especially effective in lower-class communities in developing countries, where most of the plastic is used only once before it is sent to landfills. They presented their solution at the final symposium, which took place on 12 April 2019.


MGCI’s GII Team. Image: Marzan Hamid

In addition to the final symposium, GII also hosts monthly lectures that provide insight into the topic students are researching. Furthermore, each team is assigned a few graduate students as mentors. Marzan Hamid noted, “The lectures and seminars are great. We get to have experts and professors that come and talk to us. It’s one of the biggest reasons I joined.”

Although GII is not a competition, teams can enter their proposed idea into the World Vision Social Innovation Challenge. There are four different categories in the competition: Waste, Water, Agriculture, and Out of School Youth. The winners of each category receive up to $25 000 in funding to implement their solution. This year, the Marc Garneau team is one of the five finalists in the Waste Challenge. They will present their idea during the final round on 19 June 2019 to a panel of industry experts.

The Marc Garneau GII team meets every Friday lunch in Room 227. All students are welcome to join next year’s team.