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.

Power to the Pipes!

Over the years, a variety of renewable energy sources have emerged, one of the most popular being hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power, though popular, is far from perfect. In fact, there are a number of environmental costs associated with this process. Traditionally, the power is generated through the use of dams. Dams are infamous for disrupting local wildlife and flooding previously dry regions. Additionally, the power produced by dams is inconsistent and  fluctuates greatly in times of drought. LucidEnergy is harnessing hydroelectric power in a different way and has come up with a solution to the environmental costs of traditional hydroelectric power generation.

LucidEnergy’s Big Idea

LucidEnergy, posed an interesting question: What is the most common source of running water with which people interact? The answer lies underground in the pipes that deliver water cities’ residents. LucidEnergy then asked: why not install hydroelectric generators in the water pipes themselves? Unlike the streams and rivers traditionally used in energy production, pipes are reliable man-made artificial constructs. As such, there is minimal environmental impact associated with the use of these generators within existing city pipes.

To make this happen, LucidEnergy created the “LucidPipe”. The LucidPipe functions much like a standard water pipe but comes equipped with turbines hooked to generators. These turbines are capable of generating power from everyday drinking water flowing through them. By using LucidPipes, the environmental impact decreases significantly and energy production is more resistant to external factors such as drought due to the necessity of drinking water even during lean times.

Where is this Happening?

The system is still in its early stages of adoption, however it has already passed its initial test in Riverside, California and has been fully installed in Portland, Oregon. LucidPipe has proven effective in Portland and has already drawn attention from cities in China, Mexico, Brazil, and Canada. Cities adopting LucidPipe can gain revenue from the power generated from drinking power in addition to their pre-existing drinking water costs.

The Benefits

The biggest benefit with the LucidPipe system is how it reduces environmental impact. LucidPipe is an ingenious solution to the environmental consequences resulting from large-scale dam building. Man-made pipes are the perfect eco-friendly power generation tool. The LucidPipe eliminates issues associated with dams such as inconsistency, flooding, and greenhouse gas emissions. As more cities move to replace old pipes with power generating models, cities shift away from destructive dam building and move towards a lower-impact solution.

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