Collapsible straws and air-absorbing t-shirts: 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.

Responsible Business Week has served to highlight the efforts the private sector is going to in order to make the planet more sustainable, and individual wellbeing more prosperous. When striving to create a better future, it is always worth looking at the innovations of today that could become mainstream later on.

With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

Winning with linen

One of the simplest forms of sustainable communications can be found in hotels, where signs will implore guests to re-hang towels to save water. AccorHotels, which owns the ibis branded-hotels in the UK, has now unveiled new textile technology that decreases the environmental impact of the production of towels.

AccorHotels has worked with suppliers to develop a range of non-chemically bleached bed linen and towels. The cotton fibres used in production are not subjected to oxidisation, meaning that lifespan is increased by 25%. The towels have also generated a 75% reduction in water consumption and a 25% fall in CO2 emissions. The overall environmental footprint of the towels is around 50% lower than traditional alternatives.

While the new products have been used in the UK for more than a year, they’re now being rolled out across the rest of Europe and will be phased in as part of contracts with laundry service providers. AccorHotels aims to introduce the products across 2,500 hotels by the end of 2021.

Flat-packaging furniture

Packaging company Smurfit Kappa has made great strides in lowering the carbon footprint of its facilities and has now formed a new partnership to improve the reusability of its aid boxes by partnering with Scottish charity Edinburgh Direct Aid.

Edinburgh Direct Aid send clothing and other essential to refugee camps. Thanks to the new partnership with Smurfit Kappa, the boxes that transport the items are now being reused as furniture in the camps.

The packaging firm’s design teams in the UK and the Netherlands were tasked with making corrugated boxes that can be recycled after use, but also converted into stackable stools, storage chests and desks that can cope with changing climate conditions. To date, Smurfit Kappa has donated 10,000 boxes to Edinburgh Direct Aid.

No longer di-straw-t

Plastic straws were in the line of fire when the business world began its crusade against single-use plastics earlier this year, with numerous retailers and restaurants pledging to ban the products. Paper and metal alternatives are widely available, but a new product is emerging that hopes to follow the successful route to market of reusable coffee cups.

FinalStraw is a reusable, collapsible straw that can attach to keychains and car keys. The metal straw comes with a lifetime warranty, with its creators claiming that one straw can stop 584 plastic straws from being used and discarded.

The product can be cleaned in dishwashers or via a cleaning squeegee that comes with the case. The straw’s Kickstarter campaign is rapidly approaching the £400,000 mark and purchasers will also be given five information cards to hand to establishments still serving plastic straws.

Quick-dry solutions

As part of the Industrial Strategy, the UK construction industry is aiming to halve emissions in the built environment by 2025. To deliver on this pledge, low-carbon innovations are needed in both operational and raw material outputs.

Currently, cement-making accounts for 6% of global emissions, but researchers at the University of Exeter are working to develop low-carbon equivalents that are also stronger and more durable than conventional concrete.

The researchers have developed new concrete using nano-engineering technology to place graphene into traditional concrete production. As well as reducing carbon emissions by nearly 450kg per tonne, the new material is twice as durable, four times more water resistant and can be produced in high quantities without defects. The researchers are confident it can be scaled up for corporate manufacturing requirements.

Weaving breathing fabric

Air pollution in countries like China has led to civilians donning medical face masks to protect their lungs. With air quality spiralling to an all-time low in urban areas, an Italian start up believes they have a solution slightly more stylish than face masks.

Kloters is launching a Kickstarter in May to raise funds for a new “zero-impact” t-shirt that sucks pollution from the surrounding air. The start-up uses patented “the Breath” material, which is certified to relevant ISO standards, to capture pollutants including NOx Sox and bacteria.

Several lab tests have been conducted to highlight that every t-shirt is able to offset the annual emissions of two cars. Air passes through an external mesh fabric that encloses a nanomolecule made of dioxin absorbant fibres. These fibres trap and disaggregate the pollutants. Kloters hopes to get the RepAir t-shirts commercialised by June 2018.

The HERU we need

Waste management continues to act as a lightening rod for business and sustainability and is now sweeping into the domestic sphere with consumers seeking new way, or at the very least companies, that can help them reduce waste.

The HERU, or Home Energy Resources Unit, is one such solution being rolled out domestically and to businesses. At first glance it looks like a washing machine or tumble dryer, but it actually uses pyrolysis to turn waste into heat for water supplies. Rubbish is put into the chamber, which is then heated to create ash, stored hot water and gas for boiler systems.

While glass and metal cannot be treated in the machine, the BBC recently put takeaway coffee cups, plastic bottles and food trays, nappies and grass cuttings through the eight-hour cycle. Three systems have been installed in a house, a café and at a business facility. Depending on the trials, production could begin in 2019.

Innovation centre at edie Live

From carbon-eliminating solutions to fresh ideas to drive resource efficiency, the Innovation Centre will showcase the pre-commercial solutions and ideas that could disrupt entire markets and take corporate sustainability to a new level. It will also feature some of the best innovations covered in in 2017.

If you have an innovation you’re interested in displaying, click here. To register for edie Live, click here.

Matt Mace

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