Blockchain boat fuel and compostable cups: the best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This Wednesday (August 1) marked Earth Overshoot Day – the date when humanity consumes more from nature than the planet can renew in a year – which fell earlier in 2018 than ever before. With this in mind, the onus is now on businesses and governments to search for innovative solutions to sustainability challenges as a matter of urgency.

Therefore, eyes are firmly on the horizon to see how innovations can tackle climate, waste and water challenges as global megatrends such as population growth continue to place stress on the earth’s resources. This week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

Throwing in the (non-recycled) towel

From Adidas’ ocean-plastic trainers to HP’s post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic printer ink cartridges, more and more companies are moving to design products and packaging which incorporates a high proportion of recycled content, amid increasing consumer pressures and sluggish policy changes around plastics.

This week saw John Lewis announce that it had developed a range of bathroom towels made with 35% PCR plastic, with the remainder of the fibres being accounted for by recycled cotton.

The towels, which took 18 months to develop in collaboration with suppliers, each contain the equivalent of around 11 one-litre plastic drinks bottles and are set to go on sale at 18 branches of John Lewis and on its website at the end of this month.

John Lewis claims that the move to use non-virgin materials in the towels will divert around five tonnes of fabric from landfill each year.

Compostable cups

More than 5,000 coffee cups are discarded every minute in the UK, but less than 1% are actually recycled, due to a plastic lining on the interior of the cups which can only be recycled at select facilities across the nation.

In a move to boost coffee cup recycling rates, the Renewable Energy Association’s Organics Recycling Group this week announced that garden waste composting facilities have been deemed fit to process cups and lids which have been certified as compostable, notably Vegware’s range of packaging.

The breakthrough will, in time, enable consumers to use the 100 open windrow composting facilities around the UK, after compostability trials are carried out by Vegware at a “select number” of companies.

Pushing the blockchain boat out

Blockchain remains a hotly-debated topic in the sustainability sphere and is viewed as one of the ‘essential eight’ emerging technologies by PwC that will play a crucial role in tackling issues around climate and biodiversity. 

This week saw a string of big-name stakeholders in the maritime industry – including Lloyd’s Register, BIMCO and Precious Shipping -launch a partnership with Maritime Blockchain Labs (MBL) that will see the corporates use innovative blockchain technology to improve the traceability of shipping fuels in their supply chains.

The tech aims to give companies an “efficient, tamper-resistant and auditable” chain of custody for the fuels. Notably, the International Maritime Organisation has pledged to halve carbon emissions from the maritime shipping sector by 2020.

Laundry day

Because of water usage habits, climate change effects and population growth, some four billion people worldwide are now affected by water scarcity, according to charity Water Aid. Given that the global demand for water is anticipated to rise by 50% by 2050, cleaning technology firm Xeros has this week shipped 16 of its “near-waterless” washing machines to the drought-inflicted Cape Province region of South Africa.

The washing machines, which use 80% less water than the average washer, work by cleaning fabrics with polymer beads instead of liquid. The technology then removes the beads from the textiles once they are clean, reserving them for future loads.

In addition to the trial in South Africa, the machines have been purchased by several dry cleaning and hotel brands across the UK and the US since they first launched in 2013.

Something in the air

Air quality has continuously breached legal limits across the UK for numerous years, spurring the need for green innovations which reduce airborne pollutants in towns and cities, such as CityTrees and bus stops that filter air.

Another potential solution to the air pollution problem comes from air pollution monitoring company AirSensa, which announced this week its plans to roll out the world’s first integrated network of 10,000 air quality sensors across Britain, Germany and the US by the end of 2020.

The installation of the sensors, which use an analytics platform to measure and examine pollution levels in order to make real-time, hyper-local data available across cities, will be funded by a new AirSensa mini-bond.

The mini-bond, which is set to raise £2.5m, will see sponsors offered the chance to install a sensor at their organisation or home for an investment of £3,000 or more.

Manure couture

Sustainable fashion has proved to be something of a hot topic this summer, with Gap, H&M, Nike and Burberry announced as some of the major brands leading a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative that aims to help drive a circular fashion industry. One innovation which may drive action further, while simultaneously repurposing waste, comes from Dutch designer Jalila Essaïdi, who has created a natural fibre fabric from cow manure.

The material, called Mestic, is created by processing dried manure to extract the pure cellulose – a by-product of the grass eaten by livestock. The process also separates cellulose acetate, which is a natural liquid plastic. From this, fibres are created and turned into textiles.

After being trialled at a fashion show, the innovation recently received more than £133,000 from the Global Change Award, which claims the funding will facilitate the launch of a pulping-scale pilot by the end of 2018. In addition to textiles, the cellulose components from cow dung are also being turned into bioplastics and degradable paper products by Essaïdi.

Sarah George

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