Updated: May 5
There have been a lot of amazing ideas that have come to reality in the past two decades alone, especially when it comes to developments striving to create a more sustainable world and eco-conscious society. This blog post will cover just some of the most revolutionary ideas and efforts of humanity in the last two decades and how these inventions, organizations, and concepts are paving the way for a better future.
With sustainability being more relevant now than ever before, oftentimes we focus on what can be improved upon and what society needs to continue moving towards in order to rectify wrongs of the past. While there is no denying that there is work to be done with regards to sustainability and taking care of our environment, we should also take a step back and appreciate how far we as humans have come, especially when we consider how many different technological innovations have been made in the last few decades alone. While the extent of technological development has varied around the world, there is no doubt that there have been some revolutionary ideas that have come into reality and changed the way we as a society can approach sustainability. With that in mind, this blog post will cover just what sustainability can look like in different parts of the world and some of the most interesting sustainable inventions or practices that have been employed in the last two decades.
USA: Ink made from Air Pollution
Air-Ink, a product created by a company called Graviky Labs, is essentially ink created from air pollution. Invented by Anirudh Sharma at MIT in 2016, this invention utilizes carbon particles found in air pollution as coloring pigment for the black, water-based ink the company currently produces. They subsequently developed a device that can collect soot from car exhausts to aid in the collection of carbon black for their ink production. The two remarkable features of this invention are that it takes something undesirable and environmentally hazardous (air pollution), and finds a way to utilize it for a product almost everyone needs in our everyday lives, as well as replacing the need to manufacture soot or carbon black from new materials. Way to make use of air pollution and provide a sustainable alternative to regular ink!
Netherlands: Roads Incorporated with Solar Cells
SolaRoad takes the use of solar cells to the next level by placing them into an unexpected but commonly seen location. In 2014, this company installed solar cells into the cycling path along the N203 road in Krommenie, Netherlands. This 90 meter long section of cycling road was the first public road in the world to incorporate the use of solar cells, and in its first year managed to generate 9,800 kWh of electricity, equivalent to the average electricity consumption of three Dutch households in a year.
Since then, SolaRoad has built these solar cell integrated roads in four more locations around the Netherlands and even one located in France. The intriguing part of this invention is the use of space and location, as solar farms and power stations are generally thought of as eco-friendly but space-consuming methods of generating electricity. By incorporating the solar cells into cycling paths, which are a fairly common public facility around the world, SolaRoad eliminates the need for extra space by utilizing the “free” and available space currently occupied by these cycling paths. They are currently testing the application of SolaRoad on larger roads that experience heavier traffic, including bus lanes and roads parallel to those with heavy traffic while redirecting the energy created directly to the electricity grid. Hopefully in the near future we will see more of this green technology incorporated in other parts of the world as well!
Germany: Providing an Incentive to Recycle
This concept takes advantage of the recycling process by providing people with an incentive to do so. Pfand bottles, as they are known in Germany, are bottles that come with a deposit when you buy them at the supermarket. How do you get your deposit back? You can return the bottles you purchase to a Pfandautmat, which is a machine found in most supermarkets that collects the bottles you return and provides you with your aforementioned deposit money. The deposit amount also depends on the type of bottle you’ve bought, with single-use bottles having a deposit of 25 cents and multiple-use bottles having a deposit between 8-15 cents. The difference in deposit amounts also makes logical sense, as the higher deposit on single-use bottles will increase the incentive for people to return their single-use (typically plastic) bottles, as these bottles in particular are much more harmful to the environment than their multiple-use (e.g. glass, aluminium) bottle counterparts. This definitely motivates people to recycle more often and develop better habits!
Ghana: Electricity Powered by Playtime
When you were a child, did you ever play on one of those merry-go-round rides in the park? Did you know that the energy you put into playing with those merry-go-rounds could actually be harnessed? Empower Playgrounds figured out just how exactly to do that by installing a battery within the merry-go-rounds they build in order to harness the energy created by the spinning motion and produce electricity. Not only does this produce electricity in a way that doesn’t create emissions, it also allows children in Ghana to have a chance at a better education, as the battery in these merry-go-rounds are used to charge lanterns that the children can bring home and use to light up their rooms while they are studying at night. This gives them a chance to learn and consolidate the material they cover at school, as well as more time to study for classes and the competitive entrance exams for secondary school. This is progress in terms of both electricity and education!
Indonesia: Upcycling Trash to Treasure
XS Project takes upcycling waste and makes it a community endeavor. A non-profit organization located in Jakarta, Indonesia, they are focused on upcycling commonly found waste into products such as folders, aprons, bags, laptop cases, wallets, and so on. They source their plastic and fabric materials from trash pickers — providing them with an incentive to collect types of plastic and waste that typical recycling facilities won’t take in — as well as donations by companies or other organizations. They also employ their workers from slum communities in order to provide them with better jobs, and the proceeds they make from selling their upcycled products goes towards funding their numerous outreach programs, including scholarships for children of trash pickers to allow them to escape the poverty cycle, healthcare programs that cater to these underprivileged communities, and vocational training programs for adults to provide them better career opportunities. Hopefully this combination of green practices and community outreach will inspire you to support environmental causes and organizations such as XS Project!
Australia: Collecting Waste in Water
With the amount of waste polluting various bodies around the world, this next invention tries to mitigate this problem by providing a solution that can automatically collect all this man-made waste. The SeaBin is a floating trash bin designed to skim the surface of water and collect any waste it comes across, including debris, microplastics, microfibers, organic material, oil spills, and all other sorts of pollutants. Designed by Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, it has been able to collect 1,242,362 kg of trash globally since its conception in 2015. The device makes use of the motion of the tide to direct waste towards itself, which it can then collect and filter out of the water. The implementation of these SeaBins is a leap in waste cleanup and hopefully will become more widely used in the years to come!
Hopefully you found these concepts, inventions, and organizations inspiring and feel a sense of hope knowing that some of these inventions exist to create a more sustainable world, but there are so many other ideas that have been making breakthroughs to this day. That being said, if you want to learn about other amazing ideas that are making developments in sustainability or just about environmentalism and sustainability in general, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, stay tuned for more blog posts, and follow us on Instagram @wellmadewrld !