In focus

7 quirky innovations to tackle plastic pollution

Consumers increasingly demand sustainable products, not just cheap ones. And investors too want more than returns: they want to know that their capital is doing good for people and planet (or at least not causing harm).

This has given rise to a vast shift in product development and marketing. New technologies are emerging all the time, and so too are many claims to sustainable credentials. Do these claims stack up? Which of these innovations will make a real difference? Here we’ve selected a handful which we think hold promise. But you be the judge.

Forest Green Rovers’ kit - made from coffee waste

When you think about sustainability, football is not necessarily the first place you’d think of finding something innovative – but step forward Forest Green Rovers. The League 2 (England’s fourth division) side has been recognised by the sport’s governing body, FIFA, as the “greenest football club in the world” and in 2018, as certified by the United Nations, they were the first club to become carbon neutral.

The club uses recycled coffee waste to manufacture their kits. Players already wore shirts made from bamboo, but the switch to recycled coffee grounds makes them both eco-friendlier and lighter. The club is not stopping there, either, with plans of having its stadium made completely out of wood, while also currently serving vegan food to its staff and players.

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Forest Green Rovers’ new home - “Eco Park”

Paris’s “bio-house”

The construction industry has consistently been one of the biggest producers of waste, but Paris’s “bio-house”– or “La Petite Fabrique” – built in 2020 is supposed to be an example of how that could change. The house is made from recycled or natural materials including straw bales and old doors, and hyper-efficient solar panels generate electricity and purify the air. Heating is harnessed from computer processors.

The house is made entirely of waste or biomaterials with no concrete in sight. Now, we’re not suggesting that you completely rebuild your house, but this “bio-house” shows what can be achieved.

Algae-based cladding allows buildings to breathe

London based biotech company EcoLogic Studio has developed a cladding system that allows buildings to breathe. Aptly named “Photo.Synth.Etica”, this cladding is made using algae which sucks in air from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide – and other polluting chemicals found in street air – are then subject to the process of photosynthesis. Oxygen is released as the product of this process, helping clean surrounding air.

The algae continues to grow, and can later be harvested to produce fertilisers, bioplastics and cosmetics amongst other products. According to EcoLogic Studio, two square metres of “bio-curtains” can absorb and transform as much CO2 as a mature tree. The curtains have already been seen hanging from the Printworks in Dublin Castle.

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Photo.Synth.Etica “bio-curtains” on display

Turning food waste into cooking gas

HomeBiogas has invented a domestic machine that converts your food waste into renewable energy. Bacteria within the system naturally digest organic matter and transform it into two by-products: cooking gas and fertiliser. The gas produced can be used just like usual natural gas, but it’s renewable energy.

It must be pricey? Well, HomeBiogas claims that within two years, the system would have paid for itself with the amount of money saved by not paying for gas bills, rubbish collection and commercial fertilisers. On top of that, its system would result in a reduction of six tonnes of carbon a year when compared to using fossil fuels for cooking.

Surely it smells? Apparently, not. HomeBioGas says that the filter inside the system mean that neither the appliance nor the biogas creates any sort of smell. So, whether you live in a big, country mansion or a one bed apartment, you don’t have to worry about it stinking the place out!

The social enterprise dedicated to reducing fast fashion

Stuffstr partners with retailers to buy back used clothing that can be used again rather than end up in a landfill. Consumers can recirculate their used clothing via an app and create a fashion industry that is more circular, where every item is used fully.

In October 2019, Stuffstr powered a new service in the Adidas mobile app called Infinite Play, enabling UK customers to return any Adidas-branded products bought within the past few years in exchange for gift cards and loyalty points. The items are collected free and so far about 80% can be cleaned and re-used. The rest are recycled.

MarinaTex fish plastic

We’ve already heard about the usage of algae in “bio-curtains”, but what about fish in bioplastic? MarinaTex is a bioplastic made from fish scales and waste which would otherwise be headed for landfill or incineration. Mixed with algae, it is turned into a translucent and flexible sheet material.

This bioplastic could be used as a long-term solution to disposable packaging items such as shopping bags and food containers, and easily breaks down in home composts or food-waste bins. Don’t just take it from us, MarinaTex won the James Dyson Award in 2019, which recognises the top inventions from engineering and design graduates around the world.

Tidal powered cars

To finish off our list we’re heading to the Shetland islands, where Nova Innovation has installed a charge point which powers electric vehicles solely by the tide using turbines beneath the water. These turbines have been powering homes and businesses on the island of Yell for the last five years.

The one big catch is that tidal power only really works when you’re surrounded by or next to the ocean. The Shetland Islands are the perfect place for this to work, for example, but for most of us who are far away from the coast, tidal powered cars might not quite be an option just yet.

While, tidal power has developed more slowly than other forms of clean energy tech, this project has brought the reality of tidal powered cars to fruition.

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