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]

Oregon Launches the Country's First State-Wide Refillable Beer Bottle Program


Being a frequent beer drinker doesn't just affect your waistline. It's also not good for the environment—all those cans and bottles add up. But Oregonians soon won't have to feel guilty for the bottles piling up in their trash cans, because the state just launched the first state-wide refillable beer bottle program in the U.S., as NPR and EarthFix report.

Oregon breweries are selling their beer in thicker, heavier beer bottles that customers can return to be cleaned and refilled, just like the milk bottles of yore. Seven craft breweries whose beers are available in stores across the state are currently participating in the refillable bottle program, but the distinct bottles can be used and refilled at any brewery in the state, and the program will likely expand in the coming years.

The bottles, stamped with the word "refillable," are made from recycled glass and can be reused up to 40 times. The design was developed by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, and customers can drop them off at any of the group's 21 redemption centers. The organization also runs the state's general container deposit-refund system, so customers can bring them to the same locations as any other recyclables.

The thicker shape allows them to be separated out from other recyclables that get dropped off at bottle deposit sites, ensuring that they get sorted out to be refilled rather than recycled with standard glass bottles.

Oregon passed the first state bottle bill in the nation in 1971 as a way to encourage recycling. In 2018, the state increased the bottle deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents, hoping to increase redemptions. About 73 percent of metal, glass, and plastic recyclables were actually redeemed in 2017, up from 64 percent in 2016.

While refillable beverage containers aren't the norm in the U.S., other countries are far ahead of us. Some provinces in Canada have nearly a 99 percent return rate for their refillable bottles, and the average bottle is reused 15 times. Most beer in Germany is sold in mehrweg, or reusable, bottles, and consumers can return them to any store that sells reusable-bottle beer to get their deposit back.

Though the Oregon program is an environmental boon, the carbon savings won't be as high as they could be. Oregon doesn't yet have a bottle washing facility to process the refillables, so they currently have to be shipped to Montana for washing. Eventually, the program will set up some of these washing facilities in-state, increasing its utility.

[h/t NPR]

You Can Visit Any National Park For Free This Saturday

Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

Looking for something to do this weekend? Within driving distance of one of the country's more than 400 national parks? The timing might work out. On Saturday, September 22, the National Park Service will be celebrating National Public Lands Day by offering free admission to any national park that normally charges an entrance fee.

Established in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day is held annually on the fourth Saturday in September. The day is set aside to recognize and encourage stewardship of green space in individual communities. If you see an opportunity to volunteer that day, you can get a voucher good for admission on a day of your choosing.

Admission to federally owned parks during peak season averages $30 at the 117 locations that require payment for access. Recently, the National Park Service had considered raising the fee to $70 at 17 of the busiest parks. The potential move would help address maintenance and other costs, but it's drawn criticism from conservation groups arguing the locations should remain affordable to visitors. In the end, the NPS decided to raise prices by $5 for one-time entry, or $5 to $10 for an annual pass, though some fees won't rise until 2020.

You can search for parks by state or by activity using the National Park Service Find a Park search engine here. Note that any additional charges for camping or other attractions aren't included in the promotion.

Can't make it this weekend? The parks are open for a fee-free day four times in 2018, down from 10 in 2017. The next date is November 11, in honor of Veterans Day.