Durango woman a finalist in NatGeo Genius contest

Sue Spielman’s idea aims to eliminate plastic straws

A screen capture of Sue Spielman’s video for the National Geographic Chasing Genius contest shows her explaining her “SeaStraw” invention. Enlarge photo

Courtesy National Geographic

A screen capture of Sue Spielman’s video for the National Geographic Chasing Genius contest shows her explaining her “SeaStraw” invention.

Out of thousands of submissions from all over the world, a Durango resident’s idea for a National Geographic contest that seeks to solicit solutions to major environmental issues was selected as a finalist.

National Geographic’s “Chasing Genius” contest was created to elicit transformative ideas on three major issues: making the planet more sustainable, improving global health and food security.

Contestants were asked to submit their ideas in the form of a 1-minute video, which would then be judged on innovation, creativity, viability and inspiration, the contest’s website says.

One winner from each category, as well as a “People’s Choice” submission, will receive $25,000 to help implement their ideas. Voting ends Friday and can be accessed by visiting http://www.natgeochasinggenius.com/.

In the “Sustainable Planet” category, Durango resident Sue Spielman’s idea for a straw made out of seaweed was selected as a finalist.

Spielman, an avid scuba diver, said the idea came to her while she was thinking of ways to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the ocean.

According to Plastic Oceans, more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. The group also estimates that between the U.S. and United Kingdom, 550 million plastic straws are thrown away every day.

In recent years, ideas for using seaweed instead of plastic for certain items have been gaining traction, including plastic bottles, bubble wrap and saran wrap.

Spielman said that after hearing about National Geographic’s contest, she woke up one morning with the idea to fashion a straw out of seaweed.

In making a prototype, Spielman took a piece of dried seaweed she had stored in her house, wet it, rolled it around a chop stick and let it dry.

She said the prototype held its shape long enough to take a few drinks, but if the seaweed straw soaks for too long, it gets soft. That’s one of the challenges she’ll have to work out should she win the contest, she said.

“Of course, there’s a little more work to figure out,” she said. “But one of the big reasons why this idea is important for the environment is that it comes from a sustainable source. And if it gets back into the ocean, it becomes part of the ecosystem it came from.”

With a few days left of voting, Spielman’s “SeaStraw” idea has received a little more than 200 votes, far behind the top-voted idea that also uses seaweed to make thread for clothing, which has nearly 1,200 votes.

“I’m just happy if the idea gets out there,” Spielman said. “That’s the most important thing to me. We’re just making a mess of the environment with all the plastics that we use.”

Watch Spielman’s video here: http://www.natgeochasinggenius.com/video/906

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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