By Tom Collins
RUSSELL — A group of rural Eastern Ontario high school students was among 20 groups of students from around the world who competed at an international competition for an innovative hay bale wrap they designed themselves.
The 10 teenagers — made up of Grade 8 and 9 students from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School at Russell, southeast of Ottawa — made the trek to the U.S. Patent Office in Virginia on June 21-22 for the International Global Innovation Award competition. They competed against school groups from across the globe, including the U.S., Chile, Spain and Germany, for a first-place prize of $20,000. The students qualified for the competition because of their invention called Yay Bale Wraps, an environmentally-friendly solution to hay bale wraps. They did not make it into the top three.
As it stands, most farmers who use hay bale wraps have to clean the wraps thoroughly for recycling. That’s a lot of work and most farmers bury or burn the bale wraps instead.
The students came up with a solution: A degradable bale wrap that, when broken down, can be used as a fertilizer or cattle feed. The wrap is made of sugars and starches, but doesn’t dissolve in water. It is only degradable in amylase, an enzyme normally found in saliva that can be synthesized and helps with digestion of sugar and starches.
“The great thing about (the Yay bale wrap) is you don’t need to burn, bury, recycle or put it in a landfill,” said student Rachel Fiset. “You can shred it up and mix it in livestock feed.”
Numerous studies done by the students showed that 70 per cent of farmers would use the Yay Bale Wrap.
“Some farmers in our area do not use bale wraps because of the negative effect on their farm and their environment that the current bale wraps have,” said student Rachel Wood. “But if a product like ours were to hit the market, they would definitely consider using a hay bale wrap again because it does save them from polluting their backyard and polluting the earth.”
The group is in the process of getting a provisional patent, which keeps the idea safe for a year, and plans to get a full patent for 20 years. Three PhD students in the United Kingdom have also come up with a similar idea and are looking to patent their idea there with a goal to go to market within three to five years.
None of the 10 Ottawa-area students are from a farm, although they live near farms. Their idea stemmed from seeing so many plastic bale wraps in farmers’ fields. All the students are between 13 and 15 years old. They are Sam Barrett, Alec Campbell, Logan De Verteuil, Rachel Fiset, Kelly Forrester, Morgan Foster, Noah Hill, Jack Miner, Ethan Warnock and Rachel Wood. The teacher coaches are Blair Fitzsimons, Ann Jackson and Brad Reid.