Vertical farms and 24-hour composting: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

With thousands of politicians, sustainability professionals and practitioners gathering in Stockholm for World Water Week, the efforts of the private sector to make the planet more sustainable have been highlighted once more. The event also served as a timely reminder that more ambitious actions are needed to tackle global climate challenges such as water scarcity, temperature increases and extreme weather events.

When striving to create a better future, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years. 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.

Vertical farms

With a recent WWF-led initiative concluding that the agriculture industry could provide up to 30% of the solutions needed by 2030 to tackle the global climate crisis, now is the time for new solutions to come to the market.

As the global population grows, the onus is on businesses to come up with more sustainable methods of farming. A potential solution comes from argitech firm Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), which this week unveiled its first indoor vertical farm in Scotland.

Located at the James Hutton Institute in Perthshire, the farm requires no pesticides and can produce yields around 200% higher than a traditional greenhouse of the same size. IGS claims that the technology offers a “huge” reduction in water waste, food waste and transport emissions compared with traditional farming methods, as it enables a shorter growing cycle and is not restricted by weather or seasons.

Blockchain-enabled behaviour change

The fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to change how businesses operate within society, and big-name companies including Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Walmart have been using blockchain as an innovative way to bolster their sustainability efforts in recent months.

This week saw electric vehicle (EV) chargepoint developer Solisco begin trialing a blockchain platform that rewards energy-saving behaviour, offering customers financial rewards for switching off their EV chargers during periods of high electricity demand.

Developed by blockchain startup Energi Mine, the platform offers a cryptocurrency called EnergiTokens to customers who take steps towards more energy-efficient EV charging. The tokens can then be exchanged for goods and services which the company has certified as “environmentally positive”.

Edible packaging for drinks

With more than 480 billion single-use plastic drinking bottles and 11 billion plastic sachets sold globally each year, the food and drink industry is arguably at the epicentre of the global plastics problem.

As it seeks to replace its plastic packaging with 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable alternatives by 2025, beverage giant Lucozade Ribena Suntory this week announced that it will trial edible drinks sachets made from seaweed at two sports events next month as a potential solution.

Called Ooho and developed by packaging development company Skipping Rocks Lab, which has just received investment backing from the Sky Ocean Ventures fund, the sachets are compostable and edible. Once discarded, they take around six weeks to decompose.

The innovation is also being trialed by online food ordering firm Just Eat, which is using them as alternative plastic packets for dips at one of its restaurant partners in Southend, and department store chain Selfridges, which stocks a range of soft drinks served in Ooho in the food hall of its London store.

Small-scale food recyclers

In the wake of a damning new report warning that the amount of food wasted each year worldwide could rise by a third by 2030, the need for innovative solutions to the global food waste problem has been highlighted once again. With the vast majority of the UK’s food waste generated in homes – and with other developed nations facing similar consumer challenges – solutions smaller than traditional anaerobic digesters and recycling plants are starting to emerge.

One such innovation comes from US-based WLabs Innovations, which has created a small-scale food recycler that it claims can turn waste food into fertile soil within 24 hours. Once food scraps are placed into the device, called Zera, they are mixed with a plant-based additive pack that encourages degradation. When the device is full, the user presses a button that locks the internal compartment and starts the composting process.

WLabs claims that Zera can recycle 3.5kg of waste – the average amount generated by a family of four each week – a time. The product is expected to become commercially available within the next 12 months.

Waste-busting apps

Also on the topic of food waste, food tech firm It’s Fresh! has this week unveiled a digital calculator that helps consumers to understand the financial and environmental cost of the food which they throw away at home.

The online tool allows users to enter information regarding how much fresh produce they purchase each month and how much of this ends up in the bin, before calculating the carbon footprint generated by this level of waste on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. It is free to use and also tells users the cash value of the produce they are throwing away each week, month and year.

It’s Fresh! hopes the innovation can drive behavior change by “bringing the issue of food waste to life” and showing consumers the “true” value of their waste streams.

Water-monitoring satellites

With a recent European Environmental Agency (EEA) initiative revealing that 60% of the continent’s rivers and lakes fail to meet minimum ecological standards for habitat degradation and pollution, the need for innovative solutions is becoming ever-clearer.

In a bid to monitor lakes which have proven difficult to access due to logistical and political constraints, scientists at the University of Stirling have this month unveiled satellite technology that can be used to track water quality from space. While the satellites track factors such as algal concentrations, harmful algal blooms and mineral concentrations, drones and lakeside sensors work installed to address any gaps in monitoring.

Researchers believe that the three-day trial of the technology, which concluded last week, could be replicated on a larger scale to help monitor more of the planet’s 100 million lakes.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie