July 2019 Newsletter: Less is more!
Materials, Resources & Water
Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting.
In 2026 the global human population is expected to reach 8 billion. Now more than ever before, issues related to population density, poverty, peace, and security are on the minds of some of the planet’s top thinkers. This category covers all initiatives related to maintaining and improving the quality of life for all people despite the growing population. A truly sustainable world is one that produces not a single grain of waste. This requires efforts at both ends of the waste cycle. Resources must be used hyper-efficiently and materials must be made entirely recyclable. This category covers advancements in man-made materials, resource efficiency, waste reduction and water management. All of which are critical to making a sustainable positive impact in the other award categories.
Even if you are living in a part of the world where population growth is not immediately observable, have a look at the ‘Worldometer’ which tracks population growth in real time - it is rather scary. In a 2011 presentation at the UK-based Royal Society of Arts broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough declared that we humans in our ever increasing numbers act as multiplier of all other environmental problems. In an interview from 2013, he went further, likening humanity to "a plague on the Earth" that needs to be controlled.
But would we have less of a problem if there were not so many of us? Or is it perhaps less of a question of size and more what you do with it?
According to an article in the National Geographic the space occupied by 7 billion people living on our planet back in 2011, standing shoulder to shoulder would only take up 500 square miles, or 1,300 square kilometres, the equivalent of the space occupied by the city of Los Angeles. And anyone who has a garden knows that with the right conditions - water, sunshine, fertile soil - nature is plenty abundant! Yet change the conditions, take away just one of the key ingredients, take out too much, and the potential for perpetual regeneration is gone and the horn of plenty dries up.
A couple more thoughts on resource scarcity and abundance:
In short, there are huge inequalities, and in terms of some pf us consuming beyond our fair share of resources. Indeed, if everyone wanted to live like the Australians or Americans, we’d need more than 5 planets Earth right now.
Another scary statistic: Earth Overshoot Day 2019 - the date when our demand on resources exceeds what our planet can produce in a year - is the 29th July, though of course, this varies by country.
And there is no end to what we demand from our planet, according to report by the International Resource Panel (IRP), which is part of the UN Environment Programme. Resource extraction has grown from 22 billion tons in 1970 to 70 billion tons in 2010, expected to further double between 2015 and 2050.
Of course it is not only the consumption or resources that causes problems, it is also the challenges and pollution that come with their use and disposal. As we elaborate on our ‘Materials Resources & Water’ category: A truly sustainable world is one that produces not a single grain of waste.
This is where concepts such as “Cradle to Cradle” and “Circular Economy” come into play. The former was introduced by Michael Braungart and William McDonough in their 2002 book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”, the latter had been floating around for a while, but was popularised by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, not least through a report produced in collaboration with McKinsey Company, for the 2012 World Economic Forum 2012 in Davos. The Cradle-to-Cradle approach is generally described as a tool for achieving the Circular Economy.
There are also a number of other terms floating around in this space which, conveniently, are also listed on Ellen MacArthur's website, many of them with an explanatory video.:
There is no surprise there is an approach focused entirely on the oceans: 70% of our planet is covered by water. Yet only 2.75% of it is fresh water and 13% of us don’t have clean drinking water, while an astounding 38% of us lack adequate sanitation! While we humans can live up to 3 weeks without food, yet only 3 to 4 days without water. Not surprising once you know that around 60% of the human’s body is made up of water - for the brain it’s even 75%.
Improving access to fresh water is the ambition of Saros Desalination. They realised that despite being surrounded by water, many coastal and island areas face scarcity of fresh water. To address this problem, either water is shipped from elsewhere, or desalination is used - neither solution is very sustainable, particularly the latter customary requires huge amounts of electricity and/or fossil fuels. Saros is using an alternative source of energy: waves, which are of cause in limitless and endless supply.
Manufacture of a pound of paper takes about 3,000 gallons (11,400 liters) of water, while producing one car takes, on average, about 65,000 gallons (246,000 liters). Here a few more:
But not only does the manufacture of products require a lot of water, it also often pollutes the water that’s being used. Global freshwater reserves are increasingly polluted due to the accumulation of persistent hazardous chemicals that remain in wastewater after current treatment methods. Here CustoMem Biobased Filtration comes to the fore: CustoMem have developed a novel biobased adsorbent material that can selectively capture micropollutants including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and high-performance chemicals like Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, PFCs) from wastewater.
A very different approach that tackles both the excessive number of plastic bottles that go into the waste stream and the need for building materials is taken by Agua Costa Rica who have designed and patented its plastic water bottles to be up-cycled and transformed into durable roof tiles for affordable housing in developing communities. The special shape of the bottles allows them to be crimped, and filled with a lightweight mix of aerated concrete and waste paper, which can be tinted to simulate marble, slate, or ceramic tiles. This also provides good heat insulation and can reduce CO2 emissions, thus creating a circular process of transformation and reutilization.
Tap have come up with a solution that helps avoid plastic bottles all together: their App shows the closest location of a refill station. Tap’s Refill Station network is partly made up of partnerships with coffee shops and fast-casual restaurants, while also showing the best public places to refill water bottles around the world, be it a drinking fountain or a filtered water ATM.
Perhaps avoiding the use of resources in the first place should take precedence.
Packaging, while clearly necessary in many instances, tends to have very short life cycle. Unpacking from one trip to the supermarket easily results in a large bin half full with packaging material - mostly plastic. Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre tackles the problem of plastic packaging by creating plastic-like, multilayer compostable material from agricultural and forestry by-products, which can be used to package products like muesli, nuts, and cheese.
It is rather alarming that in Australia almost half of the 4.4 million tonnes of packaging waste is no being recovered. In 2016, in the EU well over 80 million tonnes of packaging waste was generated; while it is laudable that around 80% of it were recycled (though this includes incineration), 16 million tons of packaging material is still a huge amount of resources that’s being wasted. Rethinking packing material is one way forward. Altais Nova is a recyclable, magnetic coating that replaces multi-layered packaging developed by Spain-based Aronax Technologies. It creates better air and moisture insulation, thereby making it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medical products, while still being recyclable.
Another area where resources requirements are only likely to increase is the building industry. WinSun and GoodHout are two examples of innovation that alleviate the negative impact of the building industry - of course, in order to house those 9 billion people expected to inhabit our planet bu 2050, more housing is required! In 2008, WinSun became the first company in the world to use a 3D printer to create a building. According the company’s founder & chairman, 3D printing reduces the need for new construction materials by between 30-60%, saves 50-70% in construction time, uses 50-80%t less labour and is up to 50% cheaper. Most noteworthy is that they make our own ‘ink’, using 100 per cent recycled materials.
Building on the notion that in nature now cycles waste becomes another cycles raw materials, GoodHout produce hardboard that is made by compressing coconut husks under high temperatures and pressures. Coconut husk has the highest lignin content of any known plant and this helps the raw material to bind into a hardboard without the addition of any damaging glue or binder. Due to its strength, the board has the potential to be used for structural elements in buildings. It also has natural anti-fungal properties and burns three times slower than wood.
One final example is Proshield Premium, black graphene radiation protecting paint. It is an electrically conductive paint, composed of carbon particles, contained in a pure acrylic emulsion containing no metal component. It is waterproof and high adhesive to surfaces, such as plastic paint, building boards, cement, plaster, polystyrene, masonry surfaces, etc.
Copyright © 2019 Katerva, All rights reserved.