This Bikini Helps Clean the Oceans

Most of us would rather not think about it when we’re at the beach, but our oceans are kinda gross. In 2014 alone, cruise ships flushed one billion gallons of sewage into the ocean. Then there’s runoff from land-based polluters – cars, trucks, the dirt humans create through washing, laundry, bathing and lots more. And can’t forget about everything from “petroleum wastes to pesticides to excess sediments.” If only someone would come up with a way to help clean up all that muck.


That’s the mission a married couple of engineering professors must’ve been focused on when they created the Spongesuit – a bikini that actually absorbs ocean pollution when it hits the water. In other words, put it on for a normal swim and you’ll be doing a small part to clean the oceans.

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The two University of California at Riverside researchers began by developing a material made from heated sucrose, which as you likely know is a form of sugar. The base material is described as a “highly porous structure that is super hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, but also absorbs harmful contaminants.” (A pretty neat video showing how it works is at bottom.)

The super mundane name they gave this dynamic material? Sponge.

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The duo then “mold[ed] the Sponge material into the shape of a bikini and encapsulates it in a net-like cage made of 3D-printed elastomer that forms to the body.” The bikini can absorb 25 times its own weight in ocean toxins, and once its hits its maximum – after wearing it roughly 20 times – it simply stops absorbing. According to a few science-y types, the toxins don’t pose a threat to the wearer because since they’re “trapped in the inner pores of the material, they have no chance of making contact to the wearer's skin.”

Because removing the contaminants from the Sponge involves heating the material to 1,000 Celsius (which most of us don’t have the capability of doing), wearers instead have to replace the Sponge with a new one. The inventors say the old one should be recycled (although…I’m not sure you can just toss this in your normal bin, but they don’t get more detailed than that).

The suit, which won first place at the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition, will be produced for sale, and the inventors say it will be highly affordable. (The material only costs $.15 a gram to produce, and in mass quantities, will likely be even less.) Looking forward, they say they also plan to use the material in items including full-body “bathing suits, mayokini, [and] swimming caps.”

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