Dutch Designers Want to Turn Algae Into Greener Consumer Products

Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

For the past several decades, plastic—often made from carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels—has dominated our stores, homes, and landfills. Two Dutch designers propose a green alternative that can be found growing in your local pond. As Dezeen reports, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros believe their algae-derived biopolymer could one day replace petroleum-based plastic all together.

The pair developed the material after studying algae at various institutions in the Netherlands for three years. Following that period, they founded an open research and algae production lab at the Luma Foundation in Arles, France.

Once they cultivate the living algae, the designers then dry it and process it to make the moldable material. The polymer can be fed into special 3D printers that use it to churn out items like bowls and vases. Klarenbeek and Dros envision a future where communities have access to a network of these biopolymer 3D printers, which they call “the 3D Bakery.” Instead of purchasing goods that have been shipped across the world, consumers could stop into a store and “bake” their purchases from the algae-stocked 3D printer on site. They claim that dishware, trash cans, and shampoo bottles can be made this way.

The algae lab does more than eliminate the harmful CO2 byproducts from plastic production—it also purifies the air of existing CO2. Algae consumes the gas from the water and atmosphere as it grows while expelling clean oxygen. The result is a process that goes one step beyond zero emissions.

Klarenbeek and Dros aren’t the first people to think to replace plastic with organic algae. Designer Ari Jónsson successfully used the plant to make water bottles that biodegrade over time. The products coming out of the algae lab, on the other hand, are made to last longer. The design duo plans to start supplying their biopolymer to restaurants and catering companies within the city of Arles. To see how they harvest the raw algae used to make their products, check out the video below.

[h/t Dezeen]

Good News: Washing Your Dishes By Hand Is a Waste of Time, Energy, and Water

iStock.com/filadendron
iStock.com/filadendron

Often, being a friend to the environment means giving up some of the conveniences of modern life—trying to drive less, eating fewer delicious steaks, forgoing fast fashion, taking the time to separate all your recycling, turning down your AC. But there’s one way to reduce your carbon footprint that’s actually more convenient than the alternative. Use your dishwasher.

Washing dishes by hand isn’t just laborious. It wastes a lot of water. According to Lifehacker, a kitchen faucet might shoot out up to 2 gallons a minute. An Energy Star dishwasher, by comparison, uses less than 5.5 gallons per load. Older dishwashers use more, still only 10 to 15 gallons. A manual sud session just can’t compete. You’ll just end up working harder and wasting more water than if you stuck everything in the dishwasher.

Your dishwasher likely saves electricity, too. Newer dishwashers tend to have more efficient heating mechanisms than your average home water heater, according to CNET. Energy Star estimates that an efficient dishwasher can save you $40 a year in electricity costs.

Newer designs ensure that even with less water, you’re still getting your dishes as clean as possible. Dishwashers heat water up to levels you wouldn't be able to handle while manually washing dishes—Energy Star certification dictates that a dishwasher has to heat up to 140°F—meaning that it can disinfect those gross plates better than you could yourself. Internal sensors can detect the amount of grime in the water, according to NPR, so that the dishwasher only uses as much water as it needs, and manufacturers have tweaked the design of dish racks to make sure each dish and utensil gets as much contact with the water as possible during that brief period.

That’s why experts NPR spoke to recommended scraping your plates clean before putting them in the dishwasher, rather than giving them a pre-rinse. If you must scrub by hand, it’s better to fill up a large metal pot to wash in rather than filling a whole sink.

But why waste your time? Go ahead, throw it in the dishwasher—just make sure to wait until it's full to run it.

[h/t Lifehacker]

A Free Cup Share Program Is Coming to Coffee Shops in Boulder, Colorado

iStock.com/fotostorm
iStock.com/fotostorm

Paper coffee cups are wasteful, taking decades to break down in a landfill after they're used for just a small part of someone's morning. But they're also irresistibly convenient to many. A new startup called Vessel Works is aiming to tackle the waste problem at coffee shops by applying the convenience of disposable to-go cups to reusable mugs, Fast Company reports.

The program, which is launching in four Boulder, Colorado cafes, takes the pressure off of customers to provide their own reusable cups. Instead, they can download an app and use it to check out an insulated, stainless steel mug free of charge. Throughout the day, the app updates them on ways their choice has made a difference, including how much waste they've prevented, how much water they've conserved, and how much they've reduced their carbon footprint. When they're done with the drink, users have five days to return their mug to a Vessel kiosk; from there it will be cleaned in one of the startup's facilities and returned to a cafe where the cycle will start all over again.

Vessel isn't the first company to attempt to bring reusable cups into the sharing economy. In 2016, coffee shops in Hamburg, Germany adopted a program where customers could acquire a mug for a small deposit and return it to a participating cafe to get their money back. Vessel Works's program differs in that users are never asked to pay unless they fail to return their cups on time (in that case, they'll be charged a fee).

Vessel is currently working with Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, and is coming soon to Seeds Library Cafe at the Boulder Public Library and the Pekoe Sip House at the University of Colorado. The startup hopes to eventually expand to more cafes and install dropoff kiosks at more convenient locations like transit stops.

[h/t Fast Company]

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