“Circular economy is key in achieving the UN 2030 sustainability goals”
Interview with Pol Blanch, winner of this year´s Design in Plastics Award.
Pol Blanch, a student from Brunel University in the UK, has claimed top prize in the 2021 Design Innovation in Plastics (DIP) competition, with a product designed to help reduce pesticide spray drift in the developing world. He recently visited our site in his native town Barcelona where we talked more about his solution, the award and his future plans.
Can you briefly explain your solution and its main advantages?
The proposed solution, ‘D-Shield’, is a semitranslucent shield that minimises spray drift, blocking pesticides from drifting during application. The shield, made from low density, heat resistant polypropylene, is designed to be carried by individuals using backpack sprayers. This is often the case in developing countries, where plots are smaller and the expense of agricultural machinery is prohibitive. It is lightweight and affordable, making it advantageous considering the farmer's work conditions.
How can it tackle the current challenges of the agricultural sector?
The main agricultural challenge tackled is the pesticide's negative impact on the environment, on wildlife and on human health from drift pollution. The shield reduces by more than 50 percent the amount of chemicals that travel through the air to undesired targets, like insects, adjacent crops, or soil, which changes the dynamics of the water course in the global environmental issue called eutrophication. As production and application of pesticides represent 9 percent of the total energy and carbon emissions from the agricultural industry, the solution also helps saving resources by reducing the amount of pesticides needed.
How did you get inspired to create this solution?
I was initially inspired by a phenomenon called ‘digital divide’, which states that rural areas are becoming much less technologically developed than urban areas, building a gap that can cause social issues.
How do you feel to be the winner of a global competition such as DIP2021?
It is very rewarding to have come first in the Design Innovation in Plastics Awards. This competition has been an opportunity to design a product that solves a real issue, and I have learned a lot from it, e.g. the dimensions of the impact that the food industry has in our planet. Also, I have gained in-depth knowledge on polymers' application for design, from its manufacturing to its disposal.
Regarding this visit to Covestro in Barcelona, what are the main learnings? Have we succeeded in inspiring you to work some day e.g. on products for coatings and adhesives?
The visit to Covestro in Barcelona was great. I was able to see first-hand the production process of resins from raw materials, a stage which usually designers don't focus too much on. Along with a fantastic welcome and explanation on their work from different employees in the plant, I truly enjoyed the visit. I have learned the relevant applications and production of coatings and adhesives, a knowledge that will be useful in my career, and hopefully I will learn more about this topic.
What did you know about Covestro before the contest?
I got to know Covestro during the contest, and I got fascinated by their production and distribution of polymers worldwide. Mostly, I was interested in their R&D in new polymers with properties that tackle current needs, like battery protection and packaging. Its applications in mobility grabbed my attention because it is a sector I truly enjoy and I would love to work on some day.
Do you know Covestro’s vision to become fully circular? What do you think of this commitment to society and the planet?
Covestro's vision was explained to me during the visit in Barcelona and I think it is a very remarkable action form the company. If I remember well, Covestro is one of the leaders in sustainability regarding polymers production and it is much below of the international regulations' index, meaning that the commitment is genuine. I believe that a circular economy is key in achieving the United Nations 2030 sustainability development goals, and that everyone involved in the production, design, manufacture and consumption should make an effort to facilitate it.
What are your short term perspectives in your academic and professional career? Would you like to work with polymers and/or keep inventing solutions to global challenges?
My passion is design, so everything related to it is interesting to me. I am excited about interaction design and I am currently working on my master's thesis on it. I would love to work for the creative industry in solutions that integrate digital technology and physical products, and that solve relevant issues. Polymers are directly involved in physical solutions since they are among the most used materials in product design and I will keep learning to achieve specialised knowledge on their production, manufacture, and applications.