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Recent Developments in Plastic Reduction

One Green Planet’s Plastic Graphics

One Green Planet has created a series of beautiful graphics displaying the obscene amount of plastic that we use each day. From containers to microbeads to cutlery, we have become a society utterly dependant on plastic and it’s killing our planet. While the best defence against this threat is to simply reduce our plastic usage, there have been some incredible advances in repurposing and recycling the existing plastic in our oceans and landfills.

Algae-Based Water Bottles

Ari Jónsson from Iceland has invented a water bottle that is created from common algae. The key ingredient is agar powder, a jelly-like substance that is derived from algae. While it has been commonly used in cuisine for centuries, its use as a plastic substitute is very novel. Ari Jónsson’s water bottle is entirely biodegradable and will stay solid while it is filled with liquid, but will rapidly decompose once empty. Indeed, one can even eat the bottle when they are finished with it. However, since agar powder is a mild laxative, that approach is not recommended! The entire process of creating the bottle can be found here.

 

Mealworms that Live Off of Plastic

A fascinating leap forward in our fight against plastic pollution came from Stanford University. Stanford researchers discovered that mealworms (the larval stage of darkling beetles) are capable of digesting Styrofoam and polystyrene. While a small number of other species are known to be able to decompose polystyrene, Styrofoam was previously deemed impervious. The study was led by Wei-Min Wu and is the first of its kind to provide detailed evidence of bacterial degradation of plastic in an animal’s gut.

The mealworms that subsisted on a plastic diet were as healthy as mealworms on ordinary diets, and their waste could be used as soil for crops. The next step, Wei-Min Wu claims, is to find a marine equivalent to help combat the plastic pollution in our oceans.

 

Biodegradable Beverage Rings

Saltwater Brewery in conjunction with We Believers ad agency have teamed up to create edible, biodegradable beverage rings for their six-packs of beer. While edible, they are not appetizing and the taste resembles cardboard. These beverage rings cleverly utilize what was already freely available to brewers: wheat and barley left over from the brewing process. This way the manufacturing process makes use of all three ‘R’s. The team at Saltwater Brewery is hoping to partner with other microbreweries to streamline the manufacturing process and reduce the cost per six-pack to 10-15¢. This would be competitive with existing plastic versions.

Canadian Students Advance Way of Ridding the Great Lakes of Microbeads

A group of grade 11 and 12 students from Gordon Graydon Memorial Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario have found a way to filter the ubiquitous “microbeads” from the Great Lakes. Common in an array of products from body washes to toothpastes, the microbeads are too small to be picked up by standard filtration systems. These students developed a system that uses electrical charges to apply a negative charge to tiny plastic pollutants that make it to the final stage of sewage treatment. Then, as the water flows outward, it passes an above-water positively-charged grid that attracts the pollutants before they enter the sea. This is a similar system to existing filters for air and smoke pollution.

The group’s project has been approved by Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest, and vouched for by academic professors. They now say they are ready for real-world testing.

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