Synchronised swimmers’ effortless routine hampered by pool full of plastic

Young British synchronised swimmers have been challenged to perform in a pool full of plastic to highlight how students are tackling environmental problems.

Kate Shortman, 17, and 18-year-old Isabelle Thorpe struggled to perform their usually effortless World Championship routine in a swimming pool littered with plastic drinking bottles, containers, toiletries and carrier bags.

The challenge was made by the Big Bang Fair to highlight how young people are using their science, technology, engineering and maths skills to address environmental issues such as the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans.

It comes as the free Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair, celebrating science, technology, engineering and maths, takes place this week at the NEC in Birmingham.

Organisers say entrants to the big bang competition, which sees young people entering their innovative designs as part of the fair, are increasingly focusing on environmental issues.

Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe perform in a swimming pool full of plastic
The duo struggled to perform their routine among plastic bottles, containers and carrier bags (Nigel Davies/PA)

And more than a quarter (28%) of 11 to 16-year-olds polled by Censuswide on behalf of The Big Bang Fair said they wanted to see the oceans – which are under threat from problems such as plastic pollution – being revolutionised by science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

There has been a 14% increase in those entering the big bang competition 2019 who are basing their projects on efforts to help the planet, the organisers said.

One of the finalists in the competition is 16-year-old Luke De Bretton-Gordon, from Rawlins Academy, Loughborough, who has developed an “edible water bottle” which does away with the need for a plastic bottle.

The pair performing their routine
The pair were challenged to perform their routine by the Big Bang Fair to highlight how young people are addressing environmental problems (Nigel Davies/PA)

He said: “In the UK alone 13 billion plastic bottles are used every year of which only 7.5 million are recycled.

“These can take upwards of 450 years to degrade and do not decompose but photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller fragments over time called microplastics.

“These are not only ingested by animal life but, through the water we drink and the food we eat, humans too.

“All life on Earth is suffering from the success of plastic in modern civilisation, and I’m really motivated to find a way to help reduce the burden plastic causes.”

Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe with big bang competition finalist Luke De Bretton-Gordon, who has invented an ‘edible water bottle'
Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe with Luke De Bretton-Gordon, who has invented an ‘edible water bottle’ (Nigel Davies/PA)

Beth Elgood, director of communications at EngineeringUK, said: “Every year Big Bang Competition finalists use their STEM skills to tackle a whole range of issues – from the very local to the global – and this year is no exception.

“With projects ranging from designing an energy saving kettle, to improving recycling at school, to finding ways to prevent plastic entering our oceans, making a difference to the world around them has obviously been a driving factor behind many of the innovations entered in the big bang competition this year.

“Innovation is at the heart of The Big Bang Fair, where young visitors, teachers and their parents get the chance to get hands on with engaging activities, workshops and shows and discover where science, technology, engineering and maths could take them in the future.”

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