Lucy Hughes, a 23-year-old designer born in Twickenham, London, and graduate from the University of Sussex, has just won the James Dyson Award — a prize given to young inventors for a spectacular, sustainable, and simple feat of engineering that’s made to solve a problem. She won the award for inventing a plastic alternative made from fish scales and skin.

Lucy’s durable bioplastic (MarinaTex), could help provide an alternative to plastic packaging and breaks down in four to six weeks. It took over 100 experiments before Hughes got it just right and now she has created a new material that can make 1,400 bags from the fish bits of just one Atlantic cod. She won the $2,500 (£2,030) prize ahead of a wearable AI device that monitors asthma, and solar panels that can be draped over backpacks and tents, according to the Guardian.

What is MarinaTex, the plastic alternative?

It looks like plastic and it feels like plastic. But Hughes’ material is actually stronger and more sustainable. Hughes used a substance called agar to bind all the fish parts, commonly found in the cell walls of red algae. Who would have guessed that in an increasingly divided world, it would be a photosynthetic organism that proved so effective at keeping things together?

Hughes sees MarinaTex as a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local, and circular values into design. She believes that designers should not limit themselves to designing to just form and function, but rather form, function, and footprint.”

Globally, 320 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year — a figure that’s set to double by 2034, according to Surfers Against Sewage. Yet 90.5% of all plastic has never been recycled. That means that a lot of plastic gets incinerated — creating greenhouse gases that warm the planet, causing climate change — or that is sent to landfill. Eventually, the plastic reaches the oceans, harming marine life that often consume the materials by accident, and even end up back in the human food chain too.

The UK produces a staggering 492,020 tonnes of fish waste every single year — yet uses 5 million tonnes of plastic annually, too. MarinaTex could solve two problems at once: putting all that fish excess — that would otherwise end up in landfill — to good use, while reducing plastic consumption at the same time.