Plastic-eating enzymes and poo power: 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.

Earth Day takes place this weekend, creating a global focus on climate change and the ongoing concerns over plastics pollution. What better time to examine a host of new innovations aimed at eliminating plastic waste, creating second lives for clothing and using human waste to power homes.

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.

Skin as sweet as sugar

This Sunday (22 April) marks Earth Day and this year’s focus is on plastic packaging. In light of the occasion, Bulldog – the brand, not the four-legged or playground variety – has announced a new step it has taken to reduce its reliance on plastics.

The men’s grooming company has launched a next generation of packaging tubes, which it claims makes it the first men’s skincare brand in the world to use sugarcane as a raw material in packaging. Most packaging in the skincare industry is made using fossil-fuel-derived petrochemicals, so the announcement is a welcome boost in the fight against plastics pollution.

Bulldog has an impressive track record for innovative products. The company has never used microbeads – now banned in the UK – in its scrubs, instead using natural and renewable alternatives such as quinoa husk.

The city that runs on sewage

Bristol City Council is involving residents in a new circular approach to generating clean gas to power local homes, by using a certain type of “waste” as the new energy source. Bristol Energy, which is owned by the city council is offering green gas tariffs to customers – which was generated by utilising residents’ poo.

The national gas and electricity supplier is working with GENeco – which helped deliver Bristol’s very first ‘poo bus’ – to treat raw sewage and turn it into biogas to be used to heat homes. The sewage and sludge will be treated via anaerobic digestion and profits from the tariffs will be reinvested back into the local community.

The biogas is cleaned by GENeco and upgraded to consist of 98% methane – the same composition as natural gas. GENeco treats 75,000,000m3 of sewage waste every year, which is enough to power 8,300 homes and equivalent to the amount of methane produced by the flatulence from all the dairy cows in Wales.

Woodland sporespot

Earlier this year, the Government announced £5.7m to kick start the planting of 50 million trees across the North of England through an ambitious new plan by the Woodland Trust and Community Forests.

A bit further north, specifically at the Dundreggan Conservation Estate in in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness, conversation charity Trees for Life is exploring how reforestation projects can help grow trees with a greater resistance to drought and heat, and protection against pests.

A special mix of spores collected from mushrooms on the Highland estate will be introduced when planting new native trees in the area and when growing seedlings in a dedicated tree nursery during the spring. A trial run will monitor 20,000 planting holes in the area to see if growth is improved and whether the need for fertiliser is decreased.

Fashioning a new life

The consumer approach to fashion and clothing is as baffling as it is unsustainable. Around 300,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing is sent to landfill in the UK each year and as much as 95% of that amount could have been reused or recycled.

With Fashion Revolution Week just around the corner, the reGAIN app has been launched by Yellow Octopus to help consumers recycle unwanted clothing. A survey accompanying the launch found that one in ten admit to throwing clothes away rather than giving them a second life via charities, and the app aims to change this approach.

The app offers discount coupons from leading retailers and lifestyle brands in exchange for boxing up unwanted clothes and shipping them via the app. Superdry, Asics, New Balance, boohoo and Missguided, as well as lifestyle brands and experiences including Expedia,, EVE Sleep and have all agreed to be part of the platform.

New-age mutant eating enzymes

As reported earlier this week, scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles by accident. The discover traces back to 2016, where bacterium had been discovered in a waste dump in Japan that had evolved to devour plastic.

This week, researchers at the University of Portsmouth attempted to study the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but instead inadvertently made the molecule more efficient at breaking down plastics commonly used for drink bottles, which accounts for around 20% of plastic production.

One improvement to the enzyme being explored is to transplant it into an “extremophile bacteria” that can survive temperatures above the 70C melting point of PET, at which point it can degrade up to 100 times faster. However, researchers note that lifecycle assessments are needed to ensure it doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Blood of the plants

Impossible Foods is a fan-favourite in the world of sustainability. The company created a non-meat burger, which cost $80 million to produce, that uses 95% less land and around 75% less water than traditional burgers. Having already caught the interest of Google, which bid for the company in 2015, Impossible Foods has just landed a big deal in the US.

Fast-food chain White Castle has become the first major restaurant of its type to offer the alternative burger, which is designed to “bleed” like traditional red meats. The “beef” is being offered as part of a vegan version of White Castle’s sliders.

The lab-engineered burger is made from water and plant-based sources such as textured wheat protein, coconut oil and potato protein. As well as producing 87% less emissions, it is also designed to “bleed” like normal red meats.

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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