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Throughout history, innovative engineering has always been at the forefront of solution providing for the issues humanity faces, so what innovative ideas are engineers coming up with to solve the plastic problem?
The Final Straw is one solution to the plastic drinking straws that are a huge part of the problem. This new product has raised over $1.8m in a Kickstarter campaign and will be delivering the first reusable straws to backers in November 2018. Provided in a tiny carry case (made of recycled ABS plastics) that attaches to a keyring, the stainless steel straw unfolds and self-assembles.
Another crowdfunded solution is the Choose Water bottle from a UK engineer, James Longcroft. This bottle he says is completely biodegradable and made from sustainable materials. Although he won’t reveal what some of those materials are as it’s his company’s trade secret. The funders on Indigogo were willing to believe in it though, particularly as the company is donating all profits to Water for Africa, and the project exceeded its funding goal, raising just under 40K to buy new manufacturing equipment.
A Canadian company, Green Mantra Technologies, is turning old plastic bottles and polystyrene into new materials, such as asphalt roofing and paving, and adhesives, inks and coatings. It is also looking into ways to recycle the plastic films found on groceries and plastic shopping bags.
The plastic plant growing pots seen in gardens all over the world are also on their way out and The Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2) have developed a natural alternative that also fertilizes the plants that grow in them. Made of soy meal and corn-based plastics, it took the CB2 team 10 years to get them right. These new plant pots biodegrade in a matter of months if planted in compost and within a couple of years when planted in the earth.
German biopolymer company, Tecnaro, has developed a range of bioplastics made from renewable resources that are being used to replace traditional plastic in multiple industries, including automotive, construction, packaging, stationery, and musical instruments. One of theme, ARBOFORM®, is a biodegradable liquid wood product they have developed by mixing lignin, a readily available by-product of the pulp industry, with flax, hemp, or other fibre plants, and natural additives. This produces a pliable fibre composite that can be made into mouldings on plastic injection moulding machines.
Alongside developing alternatives to single-use plastic bottles and drinking straws, one of the most urgent issues engineers are looking to resolve is cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) and the other four large plastic accumulation zones littering the oceans.
The Ocean Clean Up is launching in Fall 2018 and this innovative technology solution is expected to clear 50% of the GPGP within five years. So how is it going to do that? You can see a simulation in this video, but essentially it’s a huge scoop that will channel the plastic garbage to boats that will collect it. It will then bring the plastic back to land, where it will be recycled and turned into other goods.
The scoop is made of “… a 600-meter-long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. The floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.”
If we can educate people to start using plastic alternatives and start cleaning up the mess already made, there is a chance that the engineers that have come up with these solutions can help ocean pollution to be reversed.