Making littering feel good

Social Sciences, Science

- Jody Paterson

Paige Whitehead holding up a demo Nyoka Light Wand
UVic undergraduate student Paige Whitehead with a demo Nyoka Light Wand. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

One morning at the Shambhala Music Festival in the Kootenays a few years ago, young scientist-to-be Paige Whitehead looked around at the vast piles of discarded glow sticks everywhere and was struck by the thought that there surely had to be a more environmentally friendly way to party.

The University of Victoria student didn’t know it then, but that was the start of a very big idea. Whitehead has gone on to develop a prototype “Light Wand” lit by bioluminescence, inside a seaweed-based casing that not only dissolves harmlessly wherever it’s discarded, but actually improves the soil.

150 MILLION: the number of plastic glow sticks consumed annually worldwide

With a crowdfunding campaign planned for the end of summer to raise capital for patents and production, Whitehead anticipates her “green” glow wands could be in the hands of festival-goers by the 2019 season. Her fledgling company, Nyoka Design, is getting support from UVic’s Coast Capital Savings Innovation Centre, an on-campus business incubator.

“The idea just kept coming back to me,” says Whitehead, who graduates this summer with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and environmental studies.

“Anyone who goes to a music festival knows that you end up with glow sticks everywhere on the ground, and that it’s a real problem. I started sending emails to researchers and searching for what was out there. That led to connections with research teams who’ve been working on developing bioluminescence in the lab that can be made into a viable light source, among other things.”

Whitehead initially planned to make her wand casings out of biodegradable plastic. But she went looking for alternatives after discovering that such plastic disintegrates only under certain circumstances, requiring temperatures above 40°C.

I found a material that is translucent enough to let light through that’s made of seaweed. That’s what we’re going to use. Throwing away one of the Light Wands will be no more harmful than throwing out an apple core.
Paige Whitehead, UVic microbiology and environmental studies student

Whitehead’s one-minute video on her glow wand project won over both the judges and the audience at UVic’s recent Research Reels competition during Ideafest in March, winning first prize and People’s Choice in the social media category.

Watch Paige Whitehead's award-winning video about the Nyoka Light Wand.

She’s still putting the final touches on her prototype but is already dreaming big, envisioning a day when she can offer customized casings impregnated with restorative microbes hand-picked to match the needs of a particular festival location.

I studied permaculture design and am really interested in how you can improve on systems to heal the environment, not just stop the harm to it.
Paige Whitehead, UVic microbiology and environmental studies student

Whitehead says the retail price of wands is still being determined. She and business partner Brianna LePiane are exploring the idea of a refillable necklace as well. The wand itself has a durable and reusable component. The necklace lasts “forever” and the short-term use refillable part lasts for a few days—long enough to get a few glow bursts before composting.

Want to follow the project on social media? Get glowing with Whitehead’s memorable hashtag, #scientistswhoparty.


In this story

Keywords: student life, sustainability, chemistry, environment, science, business, Coast Capital Savings Innovation Centre

People: Paige Whitehead

Publication: The Ring

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