Designer creates algae-sourced alternative for plastic packaging

February 27, 2019 by  
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Food packaging has a become a target in the world of sustainability and environmentalism. Walk down the aisle of any supermarket or look in your own shopping cart, and you’re likely to see package after package made from petroleum-based plastic. A few resourceful scientists and engineers have chosen to tackle the problem, including designer Margarita Talep, who has developed an algae-based alternative to plastic. With the short lifecycle of most packaging, Talep wanted to create a material that would stand up to the task of holding food and other products but break down quickly once it hit the waste stream. Related: Nuatan is the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis Agar, a gel-like substance sourced from seaweed, is not new to the food world, as it is commonly used as a food thickener. With that understanding, Talep heats the agar to create a polymer and then adds water as a plasticizer and natural dyes for color. To achieve the goal of all-natural ingredients, natural dyes are sourced from fruits and vegetables such as beets, carrots, blueberries and purple cabbage. After the mixture of agar and other ingredients is heated, it is cooled, a process that transforms it into a gel. At this point, the mixture is turned into thin plastic or poured into molds to cool. By adjusting the ingredients, Talep has created a firm material that will mold into shapes, such as the trays that a package of donuts sit in. The technique is versatile enough that it can also create a replacement for plastic bags, like those pasta is sold in. With the overarching goal of replacing single-use , disposable packaging, the algae packaging breaks down naturally within two to three months during warm summer months, depending on the thickness of the material. In the colder winter months, the material still breaks down, but requires a few extra weeks. + Margarita Talep Images via Margarita Talep

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Designer creates algae-sourced alternative for plastic packaging

Faux fur or real fur, which one is better for the planet?

January 9, 2019 by  
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Remember the days when anti-fur advocates would sling red paint onto the fur-clad fashion lovers dressed in mink? The fur debate has come a long way since then, with many key players in the fashion world now becoming some of the biggest voices in the anti-fur movement. But, instead of ditching fur altogether, some brands have switched to lavish faux fur options, and that has pivoted the discussion. Instead of focusing on ethics and animal welfare, the spotlight is now shining on its  environmental sustainability. Is it good for the environment? Over the past couple of decades, faux fur has evolved from a cheap, itchy material to a luxurious, affordable option that looks just like the real thing. Faux fur now looks so realistic that consumers can’t tell the difference, but is this option really better for the environment? If you are morally opposed to wearing fur, then it is easy to avoid it. However, if you are just trying to make the best choice for the environment, there are some things you need to know. Just because a piece of clothing might be animal -free, it doesn’t mean it’s not causing damage. Fur industry lobbyists now argue that faux fur is a less sustainable choice because it is made from acrylic, which is a synthetic material made from a non-renewable source that takes centuries to biodegrade. “Petroleum-based faux fur products are the complete antithesis of the concept of responsible environmental conservation,” says Keith Kaplan, director of communications at the Fur Information Council of America. “Right off the top, petrol-based plastic fur is extremely harmful to the environment. It isn’t biodegradable. It’s harmful to wildlife .” Kaplan also points out that trapping wild animals like fox, coyotes and beavers— which is about 15 percent of the fur trade— actually helps manage the wildlife population, and it also provides a livelihood for many indigenous communities. What do the experts say? The research is starting to support this opinion , and we are just beginning to learn about the environmental impact of microfibers— the tiny plastic particles that synthetic fabrics shed when you wash them. A 2016 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that when you wash a synthetic jacket, it can release an average of 1,174 milligrams of microfibers. And, whatever isn’t filtered out by wastewater treatment plants can end up in waterways, and aquatic animals will ingest them. Many designers, like London-based footwear label Mou, have taken the stance that real fur is a more sustainable option than faux fur because the synthetic is a “non-biodegradable pollutant.” Mou founder Shelley Tichborne says that the faux fabrics don’t “breathe” like natural materials, and that causes unpleasant smells and shortens the product’s lifespan. Related: This couch made from recycled water bottles is built to last a lifetime “In contrast, the natural fiber materials we use such as calfskin, goatskin, sheepskin, antelope, lambskin and rabbit fur are by-products of the meat and dairy industries — all the animals are eaten for their meat, and some produce milk for human consumption,” Tichborne says. “The skins from these animals are naturally beautiful, soft to the touch, warm, bio-degradable and durable, lasting — with care — for up to thirty years.” Anti-fur advocates admit that synthetics like faux fur aren’t the best substitute, but they say the environmental hazards in the fur manufacturing process make real fur the worse option. Advocates claim that CO2 emissions produced from feeding thousands of minks on a single farm, manure runoffs into nearby lakes and rivers and toxic chemicals used in fur dressing and dyeing is evidence enough that real fur is far worse for the environment compared to its alternative counterpart. They also mention that the traps used to hunt wild animals ensnare “non-target” animals like domestic dogs, cats and birds. Which is best? There is a ton of evidence that backs up both sides of the argument, and it is a lot of information to process. But, the reality is that banning fur outright doesn’t solve all of the issues in fashion’s supply chains since the alternatives are petroleum-based textiles. However, the consumer interest in this issue can only be a good thing. We know for sure that cheap, disposable clothing— and our tendency to buy and throw out almost all of it— is terrible for the environment. But, is it really a good idea to wear genuine fur instead of faux fur? Ultimately, it comes down to your own morals and ethics, and the debate won’t be settled anytime soon. Fortunately, with technological advancements happening every day, it probably won’t be long before we start seeing faux furs that have a smaller environmental footprint. Via Fashionista , Refinery29 , HuffPost Images via Shutterstock, Tamara Bellis

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Faux fur or real fur, which one is better for the planet?

Snhetta designs healing forest cabins for patients at Norways largest hospitals

January 9, 2019 by  
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Patients at two of Norway’s largest hospitals can now find respite in Snøhetta’s newly unveiled Outdoor Care Retreats. Designed for the Friluftssykehuset Foundation, the forest retreats offer a calm getaway where patients and their loved ones can benefit from the therapeutic qualities of nature. One of the retreats is located about 100 meters from the entrance of Norway’s largest hospital, Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, while its sister building is set near a woodland pond by Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand in the South of Norway. Originally developed in collaboration with the Department of Psychosomatics and CL-Child Psychiatry at Oslo University Hospital, the Outdoor Care Retreats are open to all patients of the hospitals and can be reserved through a booking system. In contrast to the hospital architecture, the cabins take inspiration from nature and consist of tree branch-inspired asymmetrical floor plans and a timber material palette that includes an interior sheathed in oak. Large glass windows overlook views of nature and can be opened by guests. Both buildings — which measure approximately 35 square meters in size — include a main room, a smaller room for conversation and treatment and a bathroom. Each cabin is site-specific  to minimize impact on the site and is designed to be accessible for people who use wheelchairs. The entrances are also wide enough to accommodate hospital beds. The exterior timber cladding will develop a patina over time to blend the buildings into the forest. Related: Harvard unveils Snøhetta-designed HouseZero for sustainable, plus-energy living “Nature provides spontaneous joy and helps patients relax,” said children’s psychologist Maren Østvold Lindheim at the Oslo University Hospital, one of the initiators of the project. “Being in natural surroundings brings them a renewed calm that they can bring back with them into the hospital . In this sense, the Outdoor Care Retreat helps motivate patients to get through treatment and contribute to better disease management.” + Snøhetta Photography by Ivar Kvaal via Snøhetta

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Snhetta designs healing forest cabins for patients at Norways largest hospitals

Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials

January 9, 2019 by  
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Many of the typical building materials used in construction — like medium-density fiberboard (MDF) — contain toxic materials and formaldehyde, plus they have a shockingly short lifespan and a negative environmental impact. But now there is a new option to these single-use materials — potato waste. London-based designers Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll as well as research scientist Greg Cooper have developed Chip[s] Board , which is a biodegradable alternative to MDF that is made from non-food-grade industrial potato waste . This innovative idea for a new building material is free of toxic resins and chemicals and is formaldehyde-free. If we throw it out the same way we do MDF, it doesn’t have the same negative impact on the environment. Related: This company wants to turn food waste into building materials — here’s how Minkley, Nicoll and Cooper wanted to combine the issue of material waste with the problem of food waste, and the result is a sustainable wood substitute made from potato peelings. They collected the peelings from manufacturers and then put them through different refinement processes to create a binding agent. This agent is then applied to fibers like potato skins, bamboo, beer hops and recycled wood . Then, the team forms the Chip[s] Board by heat pressing the composite into a sheet that can be processed into different products, like furniture and building materials. Once these products reach the end of their lifespan, they can be biodegraded into fertilizer. The actual details about the making of Chip[s] Board haven’t been disclosed, because Minkley and Nicoll have filed for a patent on their manufacturing process. However, they have revealed that that the pressing process mimics the conditions found in MDF manufacturing, but they replace formaldehyde-based resins with waste-derived, biodegradable binders. According to the design team, the development of Chip[s] Board involved a lot of trial and error, some hack chemistry and educated guesses, but all of this allowed them to develop strong and usable boards. They are also developing other sustainable materials, which have caught the attention of the fashion industry. + Chip[s] Board Via Archinect and Dezeen Images via Chip[s] Board

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Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials

Even fish can eat Nuatan, the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis

October 1, 2018 by  
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A potential solution to the world’s plastic pollution crisis has recently been unveiled at the London Design Festival. Crafting Plastics Studio, established by design duo Vlasta Kubušová and Miroslav Král, created the all-natural alternative, which is made from corn starch, sugar and cooking oil. According to the team, who researches and constructs cutting-edge materials for their avant-garde designs, Nuatan has the possibility to “replace all the packaging we know,” because it is so safe that even fish can eat it. At a glance, Nuatan may seem elementary in its composition, however, Kubušová and Král spent six years conceiving the bioplastic with material scientists at the Slovak University of Technology. This is time well spent, considering that the composition is enduring, rapidly degradable and safe to ingest. More durable than previous bioplastic samples, the material can last up to 15 years and withstands temperatures over 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). Related: This edible, plastic-free packaging is grown from kombucha starter “For the first time, a fully bio-based, biodegradable material can be considered as a competitor in terms of properties and processability,” the designers explained. Nuatan’s applications are limitless, because the poly-blend is not restricted to blow-forming like traditional plastics are. Crafting Plastics Studio designed the material to succeed in any production chain. “We’re using it for 3D printing , injection molding and other plastic manufacturing technologies,” the team said. Approval of a food-safety certificate would mean that Nuatan could realistically replace all packaging , because the material is biodegradable. Industrial composters would have no trouble breaking down the substance. The possible solution to replacing single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plates, straws, water bottles, cutlery and others is found in the patented combination of naturally derived Polyacid Acid (PLA) from corn starch with Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), which is corn starch that has been processed by microorganisms. Because Nuatan’s composition is not formulated from carbon-based raw materials, “it degrades inside the human body or animals,” Kubušová explained. This biocompatible feature, along with Nuatan’s durability, means that it can be used in nearly everything except heavy-duty situations, such as vehicle construction. At a lower energy and resource consumption value than traditional petroleum-based plastics, Nuatan ticks all the boxes regarding environmental sustainability and climate change relief. Faced with a high cost of production, there is still some time before the new bioplastic will see widespread use. But increased demand could help drive the cost of materials down to affordable levels. “We are hoping to find collaborators who want to include it in the right products, and not combine it with other materials, so it’s a mono-material,” Kubušová said. Faithful to their ethical and capable inception, the team made a very valid point — “If we can find the right collaborators, it can change things a lot.” For a lot of people, a lot of animals and a lot of places on Earth… + Crafting Plastics Via Dezeen Images via Adam Šakový, Andrej Andrej and Lucia Scerankova / Crafting Plastics

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Even fish can eat Nuatan, the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis

"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

November 15, 2017 by  
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Fusion powers the sun, and if we could harness it here on Earth, we could obtain unlimited clean energy . Scientists have been working on that aim for years, and now researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory , Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and Texas A&M University just made a huge leap forwards. Helium , a byproduct of the process, typically bubbles and weakens the materials comprising a fusion reactor . But inside of nanocomposite solids, instead of the metal of regular fusion reactors, helium doesn’t form into destructive bubbles – it actually tunnels vein-like channels to potentially escape. Fusion energy isn’t easy to generate in part because of the difficulty in finding materials able to withstand the grueling conditions inside a fusion reactor’s core. These researchers may have found an answer by exploring how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids – and the results surprised them. Because while helium doesn’t endanger the environment , according to Texas A&M University, it does damage fusion reactor materials. Inside a solid material, helium bubbles out, akin to carbon dioxide in carbonated water. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 Michael Demkowicz, Texas A&M associate professor, said, “Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid. As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.” But inside nanocomposite solids – which Texas A&M describes as “materials made of stacks of thick metal layers” – helium didn’t bubble. Instead, it actually made channels similar to human veins. Demkowicz said, “We were blown away by what we saw. As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.” And the researchers think the helium could then flow out of the material “without causing any further damage,” according to Texas A&M. The surprising discovery could have more applications than in just fusion reactors. Demkowicz said, “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids…What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal .” The journal Science Advances published the research this month. Via Texas A&M University and Futurism Images via Wikimedia Commons and Texas A&M University

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Scientists discover new Earth-like planet only 11 light years away

November 15, 2017 by  
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Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet only 11 light years away that may support life. Named after the star around which it orbits, Ross 128b was identified by a team of researchers at the European Southern Observatory as having a projected mass of 1.35 times that of Earth and may have surface temperatures suitable for sustaining life as we know it . Although scientists are withholding their judgement as to whether the planet is habitable, they are nonetheless encouraged by positive signs they have observed thus far. Although Ross 128b is currently 11 light years away, it is moving in Earth’s direction. Within 79,000 years, a blip on the cosmic timeline, Ross 128b will become Earth’s closest Earth-like neighbor, dethroning the current titleholder, Proxima Centauri b. Ross 128b was discovered after European scientists made 157 observations of Ross 128 while working at the HARPS spectrograph in Chile . Through these observations of the star , HARPS was able to confirm Ross 128b’s orbit of 9.9 days, meaning that it is 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Related: Scientists say ice may fizz and bubble like champagne when floating in outer space Ross 128b could boast surface temperatures as low as -76 degrees F or as high as 69 degrees F. “It is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet,” wrote the study’s authors . Its proximity to a small star is encouraging for scientists who seek more Earth-like planets, as it is easier to detect these planets near M dwarf stars like Ross 128. “They’re literally all over the place,” said Emily Rice, research associate in astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, in an interview with Gizmodo . “It’s so much parameter space that we haven’t explored, like the size of these stars and the size of these planets . You don’t just want one. You want a bunch of them to figure out the general properties of these things.” Via Gizmodo Images via  ESO/M. Kornmesser (1)

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Scientists discover new Earth-like planet only 11 light years away

Inspiring youth village for orphans generates solar power for nearly 10% of Rwanda

November 15, 2017 by  
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More than one million people in a population of over 11 million in Rwanda are orphans . After hearing about this crisis, couple Anne Heyman and Seth Merrin started the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) to offer a safe community and four-year high school education for at-risk orphans. Today, over 500 teenagers from across Rwanda’s 30 districts call the youth village home — and an on-site solar plant provides clean energy to other parts of the country. After hearing about Rwanda’s orphan crisis, Heyman was reminded of youth villages Israel constructed to house children orphaned after the Holocaust. The couple began ASYV to help teenagers specifically, as they knew of several organizations already working to care for orphaned babies. On 144 acres, hundreds of teenagers now receive an education and a family. Related: This modular orphanage in Thailand was built using local and recycled materials ASYV organizes students into families. Each group has a mama, a Rwandan educator who resides in a house with the teens, and a big brother or big sister or Rwandan guidance counselor who visits once a week. They also have a cousin, a foreign volunteer who comes for a year. ASYV recruits teenagers from around the country, taking in 125 every year. A village Health and Wellness Center provides medical and mental care, with health education on topics like HIV/AIDS, malaria prevention, and diet. Life Enrichment Applied Programs allow students to get involved in athletics or the arts. A farm , where students can get hands-on farming experience, provides around 30 percent of the village’s food. There’s even a 8.5-megawatt solar plant on village grounds. According to ASYV, “It is the first sub-Saharan grid-connected solar project, and provides electricity to nearly 10 percent of Rwanda.” Students of mixed ethnicities live together, as the youth village hopes to express reconciliation in Rwanda. One student, who asked to remain nameless, told National Geographic, “Of course, I know that some of my brothers are born from parents who could have been killers in the genocide. But why should we punish them for crimes they did not commit? I don’t want to know what their parents did. I only see them as my brothers and sisters.” Ten years in, graduates of the youth village have gone on to higher education at universities like Brown University or the University of Pennsylvania. Student Emmanuel Nkund’unkundiye, at ASYV’s first graduation ceremony, said, “Many people call us orphans but this time we are no longer orphans, we have a home.” Check out ASYV’s website for more information on the community, or on how to get involved . + Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Via National Geographic Images via Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Facebook

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Inspiring youth village for orphans generates solar power for nearly 10% of Rwanda

The circular economy’s missing ingredient: Local

August 21, 2015 by  
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A lesson from Chicago on one often-overlooked aspect of the material reuse craze.

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Are countries legally required to protect citizens from climate change?

August 21, 2015 by  
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A Dutch court recently ruled that greenhouse gas reduction is a state obligation. Here’s what that could mean for the rest of the world.

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