Conceptual rammed earth home harmonizes with an Indian forest

July 17, 2020 by  
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Mumbai-based architecture firm  Morphlab  has unveiled designs for “Shift-ing Earth,” a luxury residence designed to harmonize with nature. Created as part of a proposed township masterplan on densely forested land in India, the design concept marries contemporary architecture with natural materials and passive solar principles. The highly geometric house would primarily use rammed earth walls with large openings for a strong indoor/outdoor relationship. Morphlab’s renderings depict a house that mimics a rocky outcropping with asymmetrical  rammed earth  forms and a two-story outdoor waterfall as a focal feature next to the main entrance. Water, a major theme throughout the design, flows from the entrance waterfall to an L-shaped pool that wraps around the side of the building and culminates in a rectangular pool in the rear outdoor patio. The design would also encourage vegetation to grow in and around the home, from climbing wall vines to garden spaces, to help blur the boundary between indoors and out. According to the architects, integrating vegetation and water features is part of an energy-efficient strategy that takes advantage of natural cooling to minimize dependence on mechanical cooling. The house’s orientation follows  passive principles  as well; the bedrooms face the southwest in alignment with the direction of cross breezes. Mitigation against unwanted solar gain also informed the massing. Several openings, including a large rounded skylight above the living area that takes in canopy views, frame select views of the forest.  Related: Hawk Nest House combines rammed earth and local stone To  minimize site impact,  Morphlab proposes reusing the earth excavated during the construction process for the formwork of the rammed earth walls. To protect the areas of the home most exposed to the elements, the architects have proposed wrapping those sections — including the front door and upper bedroom volume — with corten steel panels that complement the rammed earth construction while adding extra durability.  + Morphlab Images via Morphlab

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Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs

July 17, 2020 by  
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A new species of alga found in Hawaii is emerging as a potential threat to coral reefs. Researchers from the University of Hawaii conducted a study establishing that the red algae have been growing on the island for several years now. First spotted in 2016, the species has spread rapidly throughout the island. Published in the journal  PLOS ONE , the study revealed that a thick layer of red algae has been spreading in Hawaii . A group of scientists first spotted the species during a mission to monitor ocean life in 2016. At the time, only small patches of red algae existed on the island. When the scientists returned to the same spot four years later, they found that the algae had grown into a thick layer. According to the researchers, mat-like layers of algae cover vast groups of corals in the island’s Pearl and Hermes Atoll. This development proves especially concerning given how coral reefs usually thrive in such remote areas. The presence of this new species could threaten coral reefs on the island. Coral reefs need sunlight and space to survive, both of which are hampered by the layers of algae. According to Dr. Alison Sherwood, the study’s lead researcher, this algae issue is unprecedented. “Something like this has never been seen in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands before. This is extremely alarming to see an alga like this come in and take over so quickly and have these impacts,” Sherwood said. The scientists who discovered the red alga named it Chondria Tumulosa. Considered a “nuisance species,” Chondria Tumulosa’s rate of spread could endanger marine life . Although the algae’s exact cause is unknown, researchers list unusual water chemistry and the absence of natural algae consumers as potential factors. Researchers are now working to determine Chondria Tumulosa’s characteristics and its possible effects on marine life. + PLOS ONE Via NY Times Image via Ed Bierman

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The electronic waste collection conundrum

July 16, 2020 by  
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The electronic waste collection conundrum Heather Clancy Thu, 07/16/2020 – 01:15 The primary reason I started covering the business of sustainability during the 2008 financial crisis wasn’t just because I was laid off from my position as editor of a technology trade publication. Quite simply, I had become obsessed with the tech industry’s then-blasé attitude about the seemingly intractable problem of electronic waste.  A dozen years later, it’s still a massive problem — although data released this week by Morgan Stanley suggest that shifting consumer mindsets about electronics recycling, refurbishment, repair and trade-in programs could be a catalyst for change. First, some stats. According to a December report by the United Nations Environment Program, roughly 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste is produced globally on an annual basis. By weight, that’s more than all of the commercial airliners ever manufactured, and only 20 percent of the stuff is formally recycled. (The operative word being formally, because a lot of it gets handled in informal ways that can inflict serious human and environmental damage. But that’s a subject for another essay.) The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled. When I started mining some of my stories from a year ago, those figures were eerily familiar. The amount of e-stuff collected and processed for some useful end — either mined for metals and rare earths or refurbished for a second life — definitely has been growing, thanks to companies such as Apple, Dell, HP Inc. and Samsung. But not nearly enough when you think of all the gadgets that have made it into the world’s hands over the past 10 years.  Interest in seeing that change is growing among consumers — at least before the pandemic really set in — according to research fielded in February by Morgan Stanley. More than half the individuals the financial services company surveyed — 10,000 people from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China and India — said they recycle old electronics devices. That’s up from 24 percent just two years ago. Close to half of them, 45 percent, said electronics recycling should be handled by the manufacturer. Furthermore, close to 80 percent of the respondents reported that they repaired a device — or planned to repair — at least one gadget; 70 percent had bought or planned on buying a refurbished one. “As advanced robotics technology becomes more accessible, repairs and chip-set upgrades could become a more compelling method in making devices more ‘sustainable,’” Morgan Stanley noted in its report. Great idea, but how does all this stuff get to a location where it can be repaired, refurbished or recycling? “The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled,” long-time electronics recycling executive Kabira Stokes told me when I chatted with her earlier this week. Stokes founded her first electronics recycling organization in 2011 as a social purpose corporation and later sold Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Recycling, where she’s a board member, handles recycling for companies, notably HP — it has raised oodles of press for its workforce development program, which creates jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals. She’s hoping to bring the same ethos as CEO of one-year-old Retrievr , which is (you guessed it) focusing on solving the collection problem. The company’s first market is Philadelphia, where it has contracted with the city and more than 80 nearby municipalities to pick up unwanted clothing and electronics that otherwise might wind up in places where we really don’t want it. Retrievr’s lead investor is Closed Loop Partners and it is advised by execs from Accenture and Google. “This is a way to reach into people’s houses. In my mind, it’s the only way to move the needle,” Stokes said. While Retrievr isn’t ready to talk about its partners in fashion and technology, it’s shopping the software behind its collection system as a way to help product makers get stuff back more easily, Stokes told me. Historically speaking, many makers of stuff haven’t taken responsibility for its end of life. That’s changing as more explore circular production methods. Morgan Stanley’s analysis notes that consumers are particularly interested in trade-in options, with more than three-quarters of those surveyed hoping to participate in such a program by 2022. This isn’t just a matter of sustainability, it’s a matter of competitive advantage. The firm figures of the value of Apple iPhones that could be traded toward new devices is somewhere around $147 billion, an amount that could fund roughly 30 percent of new iPhone purchases over the next three years. “We believe that now is the opportune time for manufacturers to invest more aggressively in infrastructure to support these types of programs,” the Morgan Stanley analysis notes. Of course, it’s possible that if this same survey were fielded today, fewer consumers would be interested in repairs or refurbished devices or in trading the old for new. During a pandemic, things previously owned by others don’t have quite the same cachet. One big wildcard is how the COVID-19 economic crisis — and potentially permanent new habits in remote working and education — might affect demand for personal computers and tablets. Think of how many households with multiple children have had to invest in additional devices in order to keep everyone online. Just last week, research firm IDC reported that second quarter PC shipments grew by double digits compared with a year ago. It could be exactly the right time to change the model. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe  here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled. Topics Information Technology Circular Economy E-Waste Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Taming plastic waste with silica plastic blocks

June 23, 2020 by  
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In a bid to curb plastic waste pollution, India-based company Rhino Machines has invented a way of using plastic to make construction blocks. The silica plastic blocks (SPBs) are strong enough to build a house and can be useful in reducing world pollution problems. As the company behind this new technology, Rhino Machines experimented to determine the viability of making construction bricks from waste plastic and foundry dust. According to the company, they conducted experiments in collaboration with R+D Labs to prove that SPBs can be used to replace traditional construction blocks. Why recycle plastic waste? This experiment came from the need to find a permanent solution to India’s growing plastic waste problem. According to 2012 estimations by the Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tons of plastic a day. Additionally, as  The Economic Times  reports, over 10,000 tons of plastic waste go uncollected each day. This plastic waste litters streets, landfills and the seas. Furthermore, as non-biodegradable waste, the plastic ends up polluting rivers, agricultural land and even estates. The plastic waste pollution problem is not limited to India. According to a 2017  National Geographic  publication, over 91% of the plastic waste produced globally is not recycled. The same publication points out that as of 2018, the world has generated over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since plastic began being mass-produced. About 6.3 billion metric tons of this waste ends up as waste in landfills , oceans and rivers. National Geographic also points out that if the global community doesn’t contain the current trend of plastic waste pollution, landfills will house 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste by 2050. All the problems caused by plastic waste are now pushing scientists and innovators to look for solutions that will create a sustainable world. Although some countries have banned single-use plastics , the current amount of plastic waste still takes an enormous toll on the environment. Technologies such as SPBs can help significantly reduce this waste. The convergence of plastic waste pollution problems and a need for urban housing developments also presents a unique opportunity for SPBs. According to the United Nations,  55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas . In urban areas, high population density leads to exacerbated plastic waste problems. The U.N. further estimates that about 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. By using available plastic waste to build housing for the growing urban population, SPBs could help reduce world plastic pollution.  How are SPBs made? When Rhino Machines started the SPB project, its objective was to attain zero waste through the reclamation of foundry waste . Initially, the experiment tested using foundry dust with cement to make bricks. This experiment resulted in 7-10% waste recycled for cement bricks and 15% waste recycled for clay bricks. The company realized the experiment required using resources such as cement , soil and water, which was not justified by the waste recycled. Further research led the team to use foundry dust with plastic waste to boost the project’s sustainability. Using plastic waste as a bonding agent eliminated the need for water and cement during mixing. Why SPBs? Building with SPBs contributes to the environment in two ways. Producing the blocks requires a mixture of about 80% foundry dust with about 20% plastic. Consequently, the project does not need water or cement. This means that the blocks use less natural resources while also reducing inorganic waste. The experiment to produce SPBs also uncovered additional positive revelations. Apart from the fact that these blocks are sustainable, they also offer the construction industry a strong building alternative. According to  Technology Times , SPBs are 2.5 times stronger than normal red clay blocks. Additionally, as SPBs are made from waste, “the cost of production can easily compete with the commonly available red clay brick or the CMU (concrete masonry unit).” Rhino Machines approached several organizations including hospitals, schools and local municipal corporations to collect clean plastic for the project. In about four months, the company collected over six tons of plastic waste and 15 tons of foundry dust. This collection helps demonstrate just how much plastic waste is available to be used in the production of SPBs. Furthermore, the company is “preparing to come up with an ecosystem solution so that the foundries across the country can develop and distribute” SPBs. As described in a statement from Rhino Machines, this is part of an effort to bring SPBs to impact zones that are part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), “a Government of India initiative for businesses to undertake philanthropic causes and give back to the community.” As the research and experimentation shows, SPBs have the potential to relieve plastic waste concerns not only in India but all over the world. If industries can adopt this new building technology , we may have hope for a future with less plastic pollution. Images via R+D Studio

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Vibrant office building in India is made of recycled shipping containers

June 15, 2020 by  
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Sustainability and cost-effectiveness were top requirements when a green concrete manufacturing company in Bangalore, India approached Balan and Nambisan Architects. The clients were looking to keep an element of eco-friendliness and recycling at the center of the design. As such, the architects found shipping containers to be the obvious choice for construction. Shipping containers presented a versatile, cost-effective option that still had the potential to make a statement both in the local community and in the sustainable design world. The result was a compact, 1,500-square-foot office space made of four separate recycled containers, aptly named Colorfully Contained Experiences. The building includes a workstation, an experience center, a dining area, an outdoor deck and bathrooms. A ramp connects the separate containers, and a glass-encased staircase interconnects all of the floors. Related: Recycled shipping container cafe utilizes passive cooling in India Bright primary colors intentionally provide a sharp contrast to the uniformed buildings and factories in the surrounding area as a way to draw attention from potential customers. The bright red, blue and yellow colors also contrast the abundance of gray concrete that the company manufactures onsite. Meanwhile, the shipping containers maintain the same industrial style of the other buildings in the area while still boasting individuality. Because some shipping container structures tend to overheat in the summer months, and especially given the extreme temperatures that India experiences, insulation was a main focus for the project. The designers included passive cooling elements and insulation using rock wool and strand board paneling for the ceiling and walls. The containers were arranged around a water feature to provide a cooling effect in the courtyard, while windows and openings were placed strategically to allow for natural ventilation. Balan and Nambisan Architects paid special attention to drainage as well to ensure that the exterior surfaces stayed clear of rust in the event of heavy rain. + Balan and Nambisan Architects Images via Balan and Nambisan Architects

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Hawk Nest House combines rammed earth and local stone

June 15, 2020 by  
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This stunning 4,585 square foot home in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico exemplifies sustainable  indoor-outdoor living  at its finest. In 2018, architecture firm FabrikG completed the home, which is located in an off-grid community about five and a half miles from downtown San Jose del Cabo on the East Cape hillside. It was constructed using  rammed earth  with locally-sourced stone and designed with passive solar principles. Paired with unobstructed ocean views and abundant outdoor spaces, Hawk Nest House creates a balanced harmony with the natural surroundings. The home’s east side consists of three rammed earth volumes situated around an outdoor common area, with a walkway leading to the property’s best sea views. A tile vaulted roof covers the living room, and the kitchen’s arched entrance is also made of rammed earth. A small patio off the kitchen offers even more ocean views. In addition to the  solar panels , which provide enough power to sustain the entire property, designers also included a water treatment plant to reuse water for irrigation when needed. Related: Mexican winery built from recycled wood and rammed earth blends into the valley landscape The main living quarters are located in the house’s right wing, connected with a wooden walkway. There are two master bedrooms, plus two bathrooms surrounding a patio with an outdoor shower, tub and local  stone walls. Apart from the main house, there is also a garage, a rammed earth guest house and a small, vaulted meditation room. The owner, an artist, has a studio situated on the northeast end of the property. For the landscaping, native desert plants on the patios and outside property require little to no irrigation.  According to the architects, this type of construction using rammed earth and traditional local stone masonry is advantageous in arid climates. The thermal mass of the thick earth walls regulates temperatures throughout the day and night, while the openness of the house encourages cross-ventilation . Unique elements are found throughout the home, including windows accented with sustainably-sourced and naturally-treated wood, and exterior walls treated with charred wood and coated in natural oil (a Japanese technique called Shou Sugi Ban).  + FabrikG Via ArchDaily Images via FabrikG

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The Iceberg Sofa draws attention to melting glaciers

June 15, 2020 by  
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Fnji, a design brand based in China, is using its platform to raise awareness for global warming , specifically the effect on sea ice. The new Iceberg Sofa is a sculptural furniture piece made of interconnecting gray-blue blocks, inspired by melting ocean glaciers and set to be released in September 2020. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program , a federally-mandated organization that researches changes in the global environment and its impacts on society, the world’s average temperature has increased by more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Even worse, average global temperatures have exceeded the last century’s average every year since 1980. Minimum sea ice extent (the ocean area that has an ice concentration of 15% or more) in the Arctic has steadily decreased by 33% since the year 1979. Related: Floating ICEBERG creatively confronts global warming To raise awareness of this issue, Fnji founder Guqi Gao designed the Iceberg Sofa. The sofa is made of Kvadrat Fiord multipurpose wool fabric that combines blended and undyed yarn, giving the piece a dotted texture mimicking the blue and white glitter of a polar glacier. An interlocking block design gives it an organic-yet-organized look, with the added benefit of a comfortable touch thanks to the high-quality wool. Sculptural in form, every “ice block” making up the sofa is unique. Beneath the fabric, the internal structure is processed independently and each sponge is crafted separately before being assembled together under the surface, a technical process requiring detailed skill. Each block is meant to represent its own identity and provide different perspectives independent of the entire piece. Different shapes come into play once again in the solid wooden base, which is designed to represent melted portions of glaciers with its curves. This isn’t the first staggering environmental issue that Fnji has addressed through design. The Iceberg Sofa is a continuation of the Crestline Collection, which takes inspiration from nature and environmental protection. + Fnji Images via Fnji

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A light-filled home in India embraces indoor-outdoor living

April 30, 2020 by  
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A constant connection to nature pervades the Home by the Park, a newly completed single-family residence that faces a park in the South Indian city of Hubballi. Bangalore-based practice 4site architects designed the house to engage views of the adjacent park from multiple floors and vantage points, while bringing the lush greenery indoors with the creation of a rain courtyard and landscaped terraces. The abundant plantings not only give the house a sense of tranquility but also create a cooling microclimate to counteract the region’s tropical climate . Commissioned by a nature-loving family, the Home by the Park adheres to the teachings of Vastu Shastra, a traditional Indian system of architecture that champions the integration of architecture with nature and recommends spatial arrangements to improve the flow of positive energy. Located on a linear east-facing plot, the Vastu-compliant home spans 7,050 square feet across three floors, with the bottom-most floor partly buried into the earth because of the 3-foot change in elevation between the east and west sides. Related: Recycled shipping container cafe utilizes passive cooling in India To visually connect the home to the adjacent park to the east, the architects inserted three gardens — the elevated front garden, the central rain courtyard and the rear private garden — so that all of the main rooms in the home enjoy access to nature. The centrally located rain courtyard is a double-height space open to the sky that serves as a light well and connects to the living areas on all floors. In addition to a variety of seasonal plants that provide year-round interest, the rain courtyard also features a sculptural fountain with a waterfall feature and has become haven for birds that nest in the trees and shrubs. The driveway, garage, storage room and home theater are located on the lowest floor. The next floor comprises the main living areas, including an expansive kitchen split into wet and dry sections; a guest en suite with a living room that connects to the rear garden; dining area; the master en suite bedroom; and the prayer room located opposite the rain courtyard. The top floor houses three additional bedrooms, a family living room, an outdoor terrace and a U-shaped walkway that provides views into the rain courtyard.  + 4site architects Photography by Petrichor Image Labs via 4site architects

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Project Blu turns plastic bottles into sustainable pet products

March 31, 2020 by  
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Project Blu is a U.K.-based startup company that is creating sustainable pet products made from recycled materials such as plastic, textiles and leather. Each Project Blu product is made using anywhere between 1 and 300 plastic bottles, and each sale comes with a company pledge to clean yet another pound of plastic from oceans and coastlines through its partnership with the nonprofit Plastic Bank. “Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic, with up to 12.7 million tons of plastic ending up in them every year,” said Geryn Evans, founder of Project Blu. “We are working to collect and manufacture high quality pet products from the mounting number of plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets already in our oceans, rather than make more.” Related: 7 ways to be a sustainable and eco-friendly pet owner The plastic is broken down into flakes and melted into pellets before being converted into polyester yarn, while fibers are extracted from fabrics to be made into cotton yarn. The yarn combination is then used to fashion sturdy pet toys and beds. Leather is a bit trickier; pieces of discarded leather waste destined for landfill are broken down into leather fiber and made into a composite using a hydroentanglement process. This allows the leather scraps to be transformed into one single roll of material that is then handcrafted by Italian artisans into stylish leashes and collars. The process uses no harmful chemicals, less water than traditional pet product manufacturing and is carbon-neutral . Project Blu also works with a tree-planting organization in Africa to help counteract any carbon emissions from transportation. Most of the plastic used for Planet Blu’s products is collected in the Maharashtra state in India, one of the world’s countries that is most impacted by plastic pollution. Project Blu recently partnered with Mars Petcare, a globally-recognized pet health and nutrition manufacturer with a $200,000 investment to help jump-start the business. The startup has already delivered more than 80,000 products to international distributors and was voted “Best New Product” at the PATS exhibition, U.K.’s popular pet industry event. + Project Blu Images via Project Blu

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Meghan Markle narrates new Disney elephant documentary

March 27, 2020 by  
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Meghan Markle is returning to show biz to narrate a new Disney documentary about African elephants . This will be her first film since the former Suits star gave up her career to marry Prince Harry. The film Elephant will start streaming on April 3 on Disney+. Elephant focuses on Shani, an African elephant, and her son, Jomo, as they migrate across the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Led by matriarch Gaia and accompanied by the rest of their herd, they face common problems of the modern elephant: predators, diminished resources and brutal heat. Related: Villagers in India knit sweaters to protect rescued elephants from the cold Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund will donate some of the film’s proceeds to Elephants Without Borders . This charitable organization focuses on elephant research, education and outreach and works with the government of Botswana and Botswana’s Department of Wildlife & National Parks to run an elephant orphanage . This latest documentary is one of a series of Disneynature films narrated by celebrities. Meryl Streep, Jane Goodall and Morgan Freeman have also done voiceovers on Disneynature productions. Natalie Portman narrated Dolphin Reef, which will also premiere on April 3. You can see a joint trailer for Elephants and Dolphin Reef here . Botswana featured prominently in the royal love story between Markle and Harry. Harry has long been active in conservation work in Africa, having visited since his teens. He became president of African Parks in late 2017 and is a patron Rhino Conservation Botswana. Soon after Markle met him in 2016, Harry invited her to camp in the Botswana wilderness . “She came and joined me for five days out there, which was absolutely fantastic,” he said, according to People. “So then we were really by ourselves, which was crucial to me to make sure that we had a chance to know each other.” The following year, they again visited Botswana, this time to aid Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders. + People Image via Wikimedia Commons

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