Let’s face it, no matter how many individuals choose to replace their styrofoam coffee containers with reusable cups and no matter how many soda companies exchange plastic bottles for reusable ones, the total amount of plastic generated globally is still a huge enough crisis to keep finding solutions to.
Lucky for us, a mutant enzyme that can break down plastic drink bottles was accidentally born to an international team of scientists.
The creation of the enzyme came by accident when the team, led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, tweaked a bacterium they had discovered in a waste dump in Japan in 2016. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and the scientists inadvertently made it even better at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the plastic used for drink bottles. The break-down process starts in a matter of days, not the centuries it can take in the ocean.
In 2017, it was found that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. A tragic pollution statistic. However, since the mutant enzyme naturally evolved to break down plastic components, scientists have found leads that it might soon be able to recycle clear plastic bottles into clear plastic bottles. Talk about evolution and resurrection.
“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” McGeehan said. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”
Sometimes, accidents can be beautiful. Especially when it is born in a lab and extremely helpful for the environment.
The existence of eco-friendly, weather-resistant structures such as Thailand’s bamboo building are evidence that designers are saving the planet. To drive a point, MIT students are embedding irradiated water bottles into cement to make concrete more robust and sustainable.
The research revealed that exposing the plastic to gamma radiation actually made it stronger. The irradiated plastic was then ground into a powder and mixed with cement. The subsequent concrete was up to 20 percent stronger than concrete made without the irradiated plastic.
Engineers found the added plastic (only 1.5% of the concoction) made concrete significantly denser. If you’re skeptical about incorporating the mix into future room renovations, don’t worry — it isn’t radioactive. Furthermore, using plastic will potentially relieve a few dozen landfills.
“Concrete produces about 4.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” says [MIT professor Michael] Short. “Take out 1.5 percent of that, and you’re already talking about 0.0675 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gases in one fell swoop.”
Environmentalists might campaign for a plastic-free society — but it isn’t the easiest option. Perhaps, now, it’s all about redirecting your waste to where it will be most useful.
When it comes to recycled packaging, cosmetics brand LUSH is practically a veteran. It has repurposed 27 tons of ocean plastics and made donations to conservation groups. Now, manufacturing company Procter and Gamble is following suit, launching Fairy Ocean Plastic bottles made entirely from recycled materials.
As many as 320,000 of the 90% recycled and 10% ocean-plastic bottles are set to be released in the UK in 2018, with the overriding aim of raising awareness of the issues of growing ocean plastic levels.
As a leading brand, Fairy will likely have a significant impact on consumers and competitors alike. To ensure the success of Fairy products, P&G has also partnered with recycling group TerraCycle.
“The issue of ocean pollution is a pertinent one, we hope other brands will be inspired to think creatively about waste and make the circular economy a reality.” [said Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle.]
With plastic waste projected to outnumber fish by the year 2050, P&G hopes that Fairy will stunt the process. If anything, it will prevent some 8,000 tons of plastic from reaching landfills. It’s a start!
Nowadays, “fancy” isn’t about luxury materials and extravagant designs. Instead, lavish design is more so sustainable than it is expensive. Alternative to landfills, trash is making its way back into homes as furniture. Alongside startup Pentatonic, Dutch company Plastic Whale is turning plastic waste into chic furniture pieces.
Plastic Whale recently announced a circular furniture collection, composed of a conference room table, chairs, lamps, and acoustic panels that are all made out of PET bottles from Amsterdam’s canals.
A thousand bottles make a single high-end felt and foam-paneled table, while 50 to 60 make a chair. Considering the amount of plastic polluting bodies of water, furniture selections have ridiculous amounts of potential to grow. Even better, Plastic Whale models its furniture after marine life.
Ten percent of the profits… will be invested in local projects in other parts of the world that aim to use a similar economic model to turn plastic waste into something valuable. The resources generated from the furniture will go into more plastic fishing expeditions.
In an industry constantly on the hunt for the best textiles and constituents, trash is certainly their treasure.
In the war against plastic, the U.K. is proving itself to be a leading champion. Its ban on cosmetic microbeads and large-scale installation of water fountains is doing wonders for the nation. Now, Queen Elizabeth is taking her own measures against waste, phasing out plastic straws and bottles in all royal estates.
A palace spokesman told the press that there was a “strong desire to tackle the issue” at the highest levels. “Across the organisation, the Royal Household is committed to reducing its environmental impact,” he said.
On top of its plastic wipe-out, the palace itself is getting a green makeover. Solar panels will line its lush gardens, and the building will sport more efficient energy and composting systems. With 300 million tons of trash a year making their way into tranquil oceans, the Royals aren’t a family to be stagnant about it.
Prince Charles has delivered several speeches about damage to the oceans… he warned of an “escalating ecological and human disaster” from refuse in the seas. Charles and Dame Ellen MacArthur… offer a million-dollar cash prize to anyone with a great idea for keeping garbage out of the ocean.
I tip my hat off to you, Royal family. And I’m sure the fish do, too.
Each year, an astounding number of plastic products brim over from landfills and into oceans. To reduce this ever-rising amount, companies are dumpster-diving for bottles, up-cycling them into boats and furniture. Although proper disposal remains a primary issue, encouraging a zero-waste lifestyle is just as pressing. To prevent greater damage caused by plastic bottles, Water U.K. is installing refill stations across England.
“This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it.” [said Water U.K. chief executive Michael Roberts.]
Users can pinpoint refill stations on a smartphone app. In Bristol alone, the app will ping you to 200 individual fountains. If bottle-users went for a single refill per week for an entire year, the city could shrink waste by 22.3 million bottles.
“This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”
If you’re on a mission to stay healthy, remember that keeping plastic out of oceans is also part of the job.
Plastic may be a landfill’s greatest enemy, but an innovator’s best tool. In the Philippines, thousands of bottles have been repurposed into lamps. Now, retired educator Steven Klein is creating connectable plastic bottles that are strong enough to build furniture.
Unlike traditional plastic bottles, Eco Connect bottles have a deeper recess in the base, so that the top of one can be readily connected to the bottom of the next, quite securely.
While a plastic bottle coffee table may not be everyone’s aesthetic, it is a thoughtful concept. Klein’s ultimate goal is to encourage bottling companies to switch to Eco Connect. Production will not require new machinery — just the connector pieces.
“An expanding variety of connector pieces, lights, and motors will become available to continue to grow the system. Also, a percentage of funds from connector purchases will be donated to water conservation programs,”
Eco Connect leaves consumers with no excuse for littering. It may not be stylish, but it sure is sustainable!