When Georgia Anderson learned how much plastic winds up in the earth’s oceans each year —scientists estimate around eight million metric tons —she started thinking about ways to reduce the volume.

“I was thinking about something you would find in the grocery store that had a lot of plastic packaging that I could somehow eliminate the plastic packaging from,” said Anderson, who will be a sixth grader at Scotts Ridge Middle School this fall. “I was thinking about how soaps and different cleaning supplies use so much plastic in their packaging.”

Anderson’s end result is Sudz for the Sea, a prototype dispenser that people could use in stores to refill hand and dish soaps and other detergents. Consumers would dispense the products (natural and environmentally friendly) into refillable bottles, further reducing the amount of plastic involved.

“I estimated that the U.S. uses about one billion bottles of dish soap a year. With Sudz for the Sea you can use the same bottle for at least a year,” Anderson said. “Not only are we saving plastic for the bottles that the customer isn’t buying over and over, but the giant bottle on top of the Sudz for the Sea machine is also being sent back to Sudz for the Sea to be refilled over and over and over again. That’s a lot of plastic being saved. And that’s just for dish soap.”

In June, Anderson’s design won a sustainability award at the Connecticut Invention Convention. And earlier this month, Sudz for the Sea won two awards — in the Environmental and Sustainability and Social Value categories — at the fifth annual Invention Convention U.S. Nationals. Both the state and national conventions were held virtually this year, with Anderson and the other contestants being judged on video presentations.

Anderson was one of four Fairfield County students who received awards at nationals, which included 453 competitors in grades K-12. The finalists were chosen from a field of more than 120,000 inventors who took part in local affiliate events, including the Connecticut Invention Convention.

“I had no idea if I had won any awards,” Anderson said about the Invention Convention U.S. Nationals, which streamed July 2. “When I heard my name called for the Environmental and Sustainability Award I was so shocked and so happy. I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was the best it could get. And then I heard my name called for the Social Value Award ... I couldn’t believe I had won two awards at nationals.”

Anderson’s final design resulted from trial and error.

“At first I just was thinking about the item that I could turn into a soap dispenser and I thought about a water dispenser,” she said. “At first, I thought you could just put soap in a water dispenser and have it pour into a soap or cleaning-supplies bottle. But then I realized that most soap containers have very narrow tops and that it would be really messy in a grocery store and the soap would probably spill everywhere.

“My second prototype was a water dispenser with a plastic tube fitted over the nozzle,” Anderson continued. “I thought you could just fit the plastic bottle into the tube, but then I realized that it’s really hard to shove the bottle into the tube. This could still cause mess problems.

“My third and final prototype was a water dispenser fitted with a tube over the nozzle, and connected to the tube was a hose adapter that you could screw onto a bottle top and pour the soap directly into the bottle with no mess. One thing I also added to the final prototype was a small rack underneath the water dispenser to lift it up slightly so you could still rest the soap bottle on the grocery store shelf and the bottle wouldn’t’ be hanging off the shelf when you fill it.”

Anderson believes products such as Sudz for the Sea could benefit marine ecosystems by cutting back on the vast amount of plastic entering oceans. Plastic is particularly harmful because it never fully decomposes.

“I learned that there’s a system of microplastics where plastic goes into the ocean and the water makes it turn into tiny little microscopic shards of plastic,” she said. “When fish and other sea-life swallow water, the microplastics stay in their system. This can be really dangerous for the fish and kill them, but it can also be really dangerous for humans because if we eat the fish we’re ingesting microplastics, too. It can also be dangerous to other fish and animals that eat fish.”

Anderson thinks there is a market for a refillable dispenser system.

“Yes, I believe that grocery stores like Stop and Shop or Whole Foods would like the idea of an environmentally safe product like Sudz for the Sea, and I think they would like the idea of saving plastics and helping our earth,” she said. “I think customers would enjoy the idea that by the fact of just slightly changing the way they get their soap it is helping them be a part of a community of people helping to save the environment.”