The concept of environmental sustainability isn’t new. With the risk of sounding like a broken record, for the benefit of those who are unaware, sustainability simply using resources available to our benefit while making sure there will still be enough for the future generations. It is something that can be explored and managed in varied contexts of environmental, social, as well as economic order. Being truly sustainable means ensuring development, while also maintaining biological diversity, preserving the balance of the ecosystem by moving towards using renewable sources of energy in all walks of life.
Many believe that human activities have had no role whatsoever to play in making climate change a reality. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, fact remains that climate change is happening and sitting back while the world around us burns down is not an option.
Estimates suggest that in 10-20 years peak oil and coal reserves would be exhausted, which means that it will become more difficult and expensive to discover and extract fossil fuels. With the population growing to levels, far more than the planet can support, we are relying more and more on fossil fuels, and the day these resources are depleted is not too far behind. Since we constantly rely on energy to keep our lives moving, we need to start moving towards renewable forms of energy. While doing it on an individual level hardly creates a dent in the movement, it is still a start. We are not just putting pressure on energy resources, but also on water and land resources. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 40% of the world’s population already faces severe water shortages and drought, with this number predicted only to rise. Additionally, fresh water quality is deteriorating due to pollution. On the other hand, non-sustainable agricultural practices contribute to soil erosion and pollution. The extreme weather brought on by ongoing climate change also wreaks havoc on the world’s natural land resources, making some areas too wet and other areas too dry (desertification). And of course, air pollution continues to chip away at the quality of air we are breathing, which will result in several health problem. When all these issues become a reality we can no longer avoid, social decline will begin.
Fret not, for there are a few people who have spent a huge amount of time understanding the pressure we put on the world’s resources, have tried to do their bit by creating alternative/green products. One of the easiest ways to switch to a sustainable lifestyle would be to adopt such inventions and integrate them into your daily lives. Here is a rundown of ten of inventions that will help you lead an environmentally stable life:
1. Plastic from banana peels
How often do you use plastic? Quite often, I am going to assume, considering it is almost difficult to avoid it. However, our dependency on plastic has been proven to be detrimental to the environment. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, Canadians alone use between 9 and 15 billion plastic bags each year, which is more that enough plastic to circle around the Earth 55 times. It is important to note that these numbers do not include the vast amount of plastic water bottles and consumer packaging that also becomes waste. Globally, it is estimated that less than 1% of all plastic used actually ends up inside a recycling plant. Since, separating plastics is a difficult and labour-intensive endeavor, ultimately, a huge portion ends up in landfills or in the ocean and are some times carried onto our streets and natural areas. They take at least 1,000 years to break down, and even then they don’t biodegrade. They simply fragment into smaller pieces making it more likely for marine and land animals to consume them.
The mass production of plastics can only be stopped through a lack of public demand. As a society, it is our responsibility to rise to the challenge of eliminating unnecessary plastics from our day-to-day lives in order to reduce demand and, hopefully, reduce production. To help with this process, 16-year-old Elif Beligin from Istanbul, developed a chemical process that would help turn banana peels into a resistant bioplastic. His invention won him the 2013 Science in Action Award. His choice of material came after he realised the fruit is naturally wrapped in a wrapper, that provides all the protection it needs, characterized by its flexibility and strength. Replacing regular plastic bags with these new bags would go a long way in reducing the plastic waste we generate every year.
2. Lamps To Grow Plants In Windowless Spaces
“All plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.” This is the most basic explaination for photosynthesis. Since carbon dioxide is one of the most abundant greenhouse gases, the removal of the gas from the atmosphere may help slow down global warming. Plants and trees have the ability to alter the Earth’s temperaturethrough various other processes. One of our first instincts on a hot summer day is to search for shade under a tree because they provide a cloud cover by blocking the sunlight. Greener areas tend to be cooler because when the surrounding atmosphere heats up, plants release excess water into the air from their leaves. The process is called transpiration, and it works quite similarly to perspiration.
This is one of the many reasons why environmental activists constantly advocate for planting more trees. It is one of the easiest ways to control the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Keeping this in mind Nui Design Studio, a brand that focuses on creating products that are not only beautiful but also sets the standard for functionality and sustainability, created the Lamp Mygdal. As significant as plants are, not everyone has a green thumb, or even the space and time needed to grow plants. These beautiful lamps act as a home to a completely autonomous ecosystem that allows plants to even survive in windowless interiors. Translated into English Mygdal means “fertile soil”. They come in both, pendant lamp and standing lamp forms, which are both aesthetically pleasing. After all, who can resist a combination of light and plants inside a mouth blown and hand-finished glass lamp?
3. Transparent Solar Panels
There are many compelling reasons as to why one should go solar, improving the environment and cutting down on energy costs being only two of them. Traditional electricity is sourced from fossil fuels, which emit harmful gasses which are the primary causes of air pollution and global warming, when burnt. Add to this, the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource. Solar power systems, on the other hand, helps derive clean energy from the sun. Installing them in your homes will help combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduces your carbon footprint. For years, scientists and researchers have been trying to find ways in which we could use solar energy to the maximum. The field of solar energy is advancing so fast it’s hard to keep up with new innovations.
The first breakthrough happened in 2014 when researchers at the Michigan State University created a fully transparent solar concentrator that could turn any window or sheet of glass, much like your smartphone’s screen into a photovoltaic solar cell. While there had been previous attempts at the same, until then, solar cells were only partially transparent. Transparent photovoltaic cells is what you would call an oxymoron. Solar panels generate energy by converting absorbed photons into electrons. For a material to be fully transparent, light would have to travel uninhibited to the eye which means those photons would have to pass through the material completely (without being absorbed to generate solar power). In order to create this panel, the team created something called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which employs organic salts to absorb wavelengths of light that are already invisible to the human eye. Richard Lunt, who led the research at the time, went on and confounded an MIT startup called Ubiquitous Energy, which went on to bring its transparent solar panels to the market.
4. Edible Water
Over 50 billion single-use plastic water bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are produced and discarded in the United States alone every year. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, the recycling rate for PET has been at 31% since 2013. This means that more than 4 billion pounds of non recycled PET bottles ends up in landfills, on roadsides and beaches, or in rivers and oceans. The stability and durability of PET, which makes it useful as a packaging material, also make it resistant to breaking down after its useful life is over. PET is considered to be non-biodegradable and it is estimated that plastic bottles could take up to 450 years to decompose.
Skipping Rocks Lab, a Climate KIC start-up program founded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), came up with a solution to the world’s growing plastic problem. They created Ooho, a thin, translucent seaweed sleeve that can hold liquid. It’s edible and completely biodegradable. This little ball is durable enough to not tear unless you want to break into it. The spherical flexible packaging can also be used for other liquids including water, soft drinks, spirits and cosmetics. What’s even better? Their product is even cheaper than plastic.
5. The water saving showerhead
Everyone knows that having a great shower is directly proportional to how much water comes into contact with your skin. However, we are constantly told of the water wastage that takes place as a result of long drawn-out showers. On an average, a typical 8-minute shower uses around 20 gallons of water. That means that even if you live alone and take a shower only once a day, a lot of water is going down the drain. In order to combat this problem, a US based company designed the Nebia shower.
Nebia used the same tools and techniques that is used for building rocket engines and medical equipments to create a new nozzle technology that atomizes water into a million tiny droplets. As a result this shower head covers 10 times more surface area than a regular shower, which helps reduce water usage by 70%. It is a self-installable system that can be adjusted in terms of height and angle of water stream, according to your needs.
6. Portable wind turbine
Wind energy is yet another alternative to non-renewable forms of energy. It is a clean fuel source that has the potential to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 14%. It is cost-effective and available in abundance. However, one of the major disadvantages associated with wind energy is that it requires large amount of land. Unless if you own a farm or a ranch, shifting to wind energy can prove to be difficult. An innovation company called Janulus is trying to change that with Trinity, a portable wind turbine that’s available in four different-sized models to accommodate a variety of your power needs. The turbine uses lithium-ion batteries similar to the ones that are used in electric cars. It is usable in winds as low as 2 mph, and when fully charged, it is capable of charging your iPhone 16 times.
It features 50, 400, 1,000, and 2,500 watt models. The smallest size can charge your smart phone, while the larger models can be used in a home setup, and can even recharge your electric car. Despite their capacity, every model remains extremely portable. The largest option can be folden down into a transportable size. The product comes with an app that will turn the device on and off, provide stats on how much power you’re generating and recommendations on its setup, which you can customize based on wind conditions.
7. Sprout pencil
There comes a when a pencil is too small for use. What do you do with the stub then? Around 15 million pencils are produced every year and a good portion of them end up in the trash, which increases the amount of waste generated
In an effort to limit the waste that accompanies worn-out writing utensils, three MIT students created Sprout Pencil, a multifunctional alternative. These simple writing tools are composed of cedar, with a biodegradable capsule of seeds and peat in place of an eraser. Once the pencil gets too small to write with, you can place it in some soil and watch it give birth to new life. It is literally the circle of life. The pencils come in 14 varieties and a pack of eight can be bought for $19.95, but the company hopes to lower the price so that every student can afford to use these pencils.
8. Power generating tiles
Living sustainably means ensuring that you cut down on your energy consumption in as many ways as possible. This is why most people who actively work towards leading an environmentally conscious life switch to electric cars, or even relying on public transport and walking wherever possible. Walking is good for you, as it is for the environment. Many companies have been working towards developing a technology that will help tap into the energy expended by pedestrians.
The solution came to 31-year-old Laurence Kemball-Cook back in 2009 when he was studying industrial design and technology at the University of Loughborough. Under the banner of his company, Pavegen, he created floor tiles that help convert kinetic energy from footsteps into electricity that can be stored or used in low-power applications such as lighting, signage, and, digital displays. A step generates, on average, 7 watts of electricity, although it depends on the person’s weight. According to the company, only twelve tiles could generate the light required for two streets of a large city. The tiles are water resistant, and can therefore withstand rain, snow and ice, and tests have shown that they could have at least a five years lifespan. Moreover, according to National Geographic, they are designed to minimize the carbon footprint. The topcoat is made of recycled tires rubber and approximately 80% of the polymers used for the other components can be recycled. These tiles are steadily gaining popularity among architects and designers.
Much of the company’s publicity came after the smart tile system was installed near the access to the Olympic Park in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. During the two weeks, 12 million footsteps were captured to produce 72 million joules, what was used keep the walkway streetlamps illuminated at full power through the night, and at half power during the day, with plenty of backup energy left over to spare. Westfield Stratford City shopping centre in West London laid down 20 of these tiles so that they can tap into the energy generated by the 40 million pedestrians that will go around the area. These tiles will help cover half of the shopping centre´s outside lighting. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a soccer field now features 200 of Kemball-Cook’s tiles, topped with artificial turf. The pounding feet of players generates enough power, stored in batteries, to run the stadium’s floodlights for night games.
9. The feedback band
Do you know how to calculate your carbon footprint? For most people the term “carbon footprint” continues to be an abstract concept. Considering that the shift towards sustainable lifestyle relies heavily on this concept, it is essential that we understand the same. After all, how can you cut down on something you don’t even know how to track. In order to help you with this, Layer a design studio based in London collaborated with Carbon Trust, and environmental nonprofit that specializes in low-carbon initiatives to create the Worldbeing wristband.
The band works with a smartphone app to help its users monitor their carbon footprint by measuring minute details right from what you had for breakfast, how far you drove the car, even what you bought in a store. The app gives daily challenges with the incentive of winning a reward or more from low-carbon businesses and helps you reduce your eco-impact. It even shows you a minute by minute of how much an impact you’re making towards saving planet Earth.
Benjamin Hubert, the founder of Layer, first came up with the idea after observing how little people realized their own minute contributions impacted the environment on a larger scale. The wristband also doubles up as a fitness tracker. The idea is simple. Once you understand how your smallest decisions can impact (positively or adversely) the environment, you might feel motivated to make smarter choices.
10. The plastic recycling machine
Plastic is not good for us, or the environment—a fact that we have reiterated throughout the post. However, even though most of us are well aware of the consequences of using plastic, it is extremely difficult (close to impossible) to avoid using them. Unless if you start making your own make-up and beauty products, and, growing your own vegetable (in an ideal world we would all be doing this) you will notice that plastic is almost everywhere.
To help us deal with this, Dutch designer Dave Hakkens (yes, the guy who designed Ploneblokls, which inspired Google’s modular phone) came up with Precious Plastic, a series of automated machines that turn plastic into household items. The product is aimed at reducing waste and making plastic recycling more accessible. The machine melts the waste collected and moulds them into into usable items. He open-sourced the design so that anyone could easily download it. This is something you could rope in your community into. People from the area could drop off plastic waste every day, and get reimbursed for it by selling the goods produced.