10 Clever Student Inventions That Could Reduce Our Waste

From eating garbage with bacteria to a computer that helps you recycle, young people have some revolutionary ideas for what to do with all our garbage.

Because Styrofoam can't easily be recycled, it often ends up in the trash. But a group of middle school students from Folsom, California, designed a digester that uses bacteria to eat Styrofoam—and turns it into energy and biodegradable plastic.

"It's a big problem in the world right now," says 13-year-old Emily Miner, one of the inventors of the tool, called the Polystyrenator. "A lot of Styrofoam is getting into waterways and affecting the environment negatively. Our robotics team thought it was a big problem that needed to be addressed."

The students dug through the latest research, and combined what they found into their own process. Now, their idea is a semifinalist in the First Lego League Global Innovation Award, an X-Prize sponsored competition that asks young students to create solutions for global challenges.

"It's not the traditional science fair, where you see something on a poster board," says Sarah Stray, the innovation award manager for First, an organization founded by Dean Kamen to get kids interested in science, technology, and engineering. (Lego later cofounded the competition.) "This is the real deal." The winner of last years' competition now has a working prototype; others have patented their designs.

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