Sustainable fishing farms in Ghana, air-cleaning carpets and software that operate trains to save on energy. These are just some of the surprising headlines from our case study Sustainia100 that EcoWatch was among the first to report on last week.
Over the last six months, we have researched more than 900 innovations, technologies and projects from more than 70 countries on nearly all continents. Why? To pinpoint where and how innovations are being developed, deployed and put to scale. This will enable companies and consumers to get in on the abundant opportunities sustainability has in store for us.
The released study covers new efforts to turn the fashion and food industries, buildings and transportation systems more efficient and sustainable. And the result is clear: The global markets are currently witnessing a growing diversity in sustainability innovations, which is providing businesses with new market opportunities. From intelligent window glass to big data services monitoring water leaks, sustainable innovation is impacting markets and industries at an incredible pace these years.
When you research your way through this many innovations—developments and popular measures become apparent. Right now, one thing is dominating the green innovation in the market: the notion of a circular economy.
Ashes to ashes—dust to dust
These years, more and more companies are going in circles. And I mean that in a good way. The Sustainia100 study documents how corporations across industries are joining the circular economy by deploying measures to close production loops. A high amount of new products are designed for reuse, recycling, upcycling or even complete biodegradation in order to minimize waste. The end goal is to close the life-cycle of a product by using waste or end-of-use material as resource for new production.
One example is Italian company Bio-on that is replacing petroleum-based plastics with 100 percent biodegradable plastic made from agricultural waste. Made from the byproducts of sugar beet and cane production, this new material is a groundbreaking way to fight the plastic pollution of our oceans and landfills. Another example is Atlantic Leather that is using leftovers from fish-production. Yes, the skin from salmons and cods, which are normally thought of as not valuable, is used for beautiful bags, shoes and jackets. Prada, Nike and Dior are among the loyal customer base.
Return systems: A new business model in itself
A cornerstone in the circular economy is effective return systems that secure used materials and components for recycling. These systems appear in many different shapes in the Sustainia100, but have a common goal of minimizing waste and turning it into a valuable resource to a company. Across the U.S., a novel recycling system is being spread: An eco-ATM. Just like normal ATMs, you go there to get money. But unlike normal ATMs, this machine does not take credit cards. It takes your old tech devices instead. The ecoATMs are put in place across the states, taking old device and compensating the donors in cash. Another example of a very successful return system is I:CO that has created an innovative take-back system for your used jeans, sweaters and footwear. They are deployed in 54 countries and receive 700 tons of used clothing—daily! This material is sorted into 350 different categories that are re-used in the production of new materials, or re-designed as new clothing item. Again, the customer are rewarded with cash for their returned clothes. And I:CO gets a hold of cheap materials that they can re-use. It’s a clear win-win.
Fashion has an eye out for circles
Trailblazing innovations have been developing the circular economy over the last decades making recycling and waste-reduction easier to deploy and even a profitable part of the business. But not only are the innovations becoming better and smarter, they are also broadening their impact.
Over the last years, we have seen how the circular mindset is being taken up by increasingly more industries. An interesting development here is that solutions for the circular economy are seen outside the expected sectors such as food and waste management. Over the last three years of mapping innovation for the Sustainia100 studies, we have been surprised to see especially one industry showing a new appetite for the circular mindset: The fashion industry.
With a long history of troubling issues from workers’ right to polluting productions, this industry has a long way to go. However, the first steps are being taken these years. Abundant innovations are now providing the materials, methods and technologies necessary to set new standards throughout the supply chains.
In Holland, Dutch company Mud Jeans has made a business out of leasing jeans and other clothing. The service provides customers the option of keeping, swapping or returning them after use for recycling, however, MUD keeps the ownership of the materials. And in the U.S., denim company Levi’s has along with its suppliers created a water recycling system saving millions of liters by reducing the amount of fresh water used in the finishing process.
Huge savings, new markets, new jobs
In Europe, projections have been made on the potential of circular economy. And the results are interesting. Not just from a sustainability point of view, but also financially.
An advanced circular economy could generate around $700 billion in materials savings each year in the EU. The savings potential is especially prominent in the fast consumer goods industries, where circularity could yield material a saving of 21.9 percent per year. Building out this industry of circularity has a potential of creating 400,000 jobs in the European Union alone.
Just think how many jobs that would translate to on the U.S. market. This is why we must start thinking in circles across countries and markets.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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