The waste that humans produce daily is staggering. Luckily, researchers and entrepreneurs worldwide are coming up with ingenious solutions for the different types of waste – from food to poop. These can have dramatic impacts on the environment – reducing carbon emissions and diverting waste from landfill – as well as improving people’s lives. Here we will look at some of the innovative waste solutions found for some of the main sources of waste we produce.
Food waste solutions
Food waste has serious environmental implications. Unfortunately, a significant amount of food is wasted in all stages of the supply chain. Anywhere from wastage at production stage – due to inadequate harvesting practices – to consumers buying excess food at the supermarket that ends up spoiling in the back of their fridge. Luckily technology has stepped up to the plate in recent years and new techniques are being developed to address some food waste issues.
Edipeel, brought to you by Adeel Sciences, is an edible coating added to the surface of fruit and veg. It prevents spoilage by reducing oxidization and water loss – meaning fresher produce on the supermarket shelves. In addition to less spoilage, it also has the potential to save energy in transportation by decreasing the need for such intense refrigeration during the significant distances travelled.
Bluapple a USA based company, have developed a great gadget that helps consumers decrease the amount of spoilage in their refrigerators. It is widely known that Ethylene gas is produced by fruit and veg to promote even ripening. Lasting up to 3 months, the simple Bluepple gadget absorbs the Ethylene and, therefore, stops overly quick ripening. Your fruit and veg will stay fresher for longer! This will result, ultimately, in less greenhouse-gas emitting food ending up in landfill.
Toilet waste solutions
After being treated, a high proportion – approximately 30% – of human fecal waste goes to landfill. Innovative ways have been devised to use these biosolids more wisely and prevent adding to the rapidly growing pile.
Human feces (yes, poop) are now, amazingly, being used in the production of construction bricks. 30% made of feces and the rest clay, not only does this innovation divert the waste from landfill, but they also provide a strong, reliable and safe building material. These bricks are in the early stages, don’t expect to be buying a house made of poop anytime soon – but the signs are promising!
Not to be left out, urine has also been shown to be a potential ingredient in the manufacture of bricks by students in Cape Town, South Africa!
Powered by poop
Composting (like the outhouse above) and tiger worm toilets are becoming increasingly common in cutting down on the amounts of water to operate, whilst producing rich compost. Nano membrane toilets take it to the next level! UK scientists from the Cranfield Water Science Institute have developed a toilet that takes human waste and turns into renewable fuel or fertilizer. It does not require water or electricity to function, two key things that are currently lacking in many areas without adequate sanitation. Although this is likely to have market uptake and affordability hurdles, it really is an exciting development and could provide safe sanitation to some of the 2.5 billion people worldwide without it.
Although it’s not the nicest topic to think about, what happens to our body after death is an important environmental consideration. In western countries, the current norm is to be cremated (burned to form ashes) or buried. Although moving towards more eco-friendly methods, cremations require the burning of natural gas to fully incinerate a body to ash fragments – this, in turn, results in greenhouse gasses being released. Burials have an even more significant environmental impact long term. With all the materials involved in a full traditional burial (for example, the casket, vault and tombstone), it is estimated by the Centre for Natural Burial that in every 10 acres of graveyard land there is approximately 1000 tons of casket steel and 20,000 tons of vault concrete – not to mention the coffin wood that could help build 40 homes! This leaves little room for the natural plants and animal to inhabit the area. Greener post-death alternatives are now becoming more mainstream.
(If you aren’t quite ready to opt for these somewhat different alternatives you can make your loved ones send off a bit more eco-friendly by placing their ashes in a biodegradable urn or using a bamboo casket for their burial. Every little helps, after all).
Human composting is the process by which a body can be turned into soil, and it only takes around a month to complete. The body is placed in a closed unit which contains woodchips, alfalfa and straw grass. Microbes then do their thing as the body is gently rotated. Recompose – a USA-based firm – offer this service and the owner claims that this process prevents 1.4 tons of carbon being released compared with the more conventional cremation.
Resomation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis or aquamation, is a method by which the body is turned to ash using water and some added alkali-based solution. It takes approximately the same amount of time as a flame cremation – but significantly, uses only about one-eight of the energy of that of a traditional cremation.
Plastic waste solutions
By 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. And that should come as no surprise when you consider that every single minute a garbage truck full of plastic gets dumped into our oceans. Something must be done, and fast.
Ocean plastic products
Innovations have been developed to both reduce the amount of plastics that go into the oceans (and landfill) and to remove plastics that have already found their way there. From credit cards to sneakers, companies are innovating new ways to manufacture their products. American Express has produced a card made from ocean plastics whilst Adidas have partnered with Parley for the Oceans, an organization that tackles the threat of ocean plastic, to produce a sneaker made from plastic recovered from beaches.
Plastic is also being incorporated into road surfaces – not only does it reduce plastics going into the ocean or joining the landfill pile, but early evidence also suggests that it can reduce the instance of potholes and slow down road deterioration. Although not a new innovation – it began in India in the early 2000’s – it has been adopted in several countries around the world. And you can see why! Inexpensive, eco-friendly and an effective material – what’s not to like?!