Large masses of plastic refuse and other marine debris, drawn together by waves and wind, currently float across the north Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. Popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," the seafaring pile of trash stands as testament to society’s overreliance on petroleum-based plastics and other materials developed to deliver single-use products quickly and cheaply.
The costs, however, have been immense.
Viable new alternatives to petroleum-based plastics are possible, but they require new materials and new approaches to production and manufacturing.
Recently, the U.S. National Science Foundation asked researchers to reimagine the future of how things are made, laying the groundwork for manufacturing that is sustainable; takes full advantage of artificial intelligence; incorporates advancements in fields such as bioengineering and materials science; and has at its heart, a trained, diverse workforce that can direct fresh ideas and perspectives to address research and production challenges as they arise.