Humans love creating trash. Not only have we created incredible amounts of trash on our own beautiful planet, and in the process damaging its delicate ecosystems, but we have also deposited at least 400,000 pounds of trash on the moon.
Few people know that a huge floating dump of trash called the “Pacific Garbage Patch” has been accumulating for years in the northern Pacific Ocean. Countless aquatic animals — such as turtles, gulls, and fish — ingest the plastic trash and die. This ocean dump is currently estimated at 165 million tons.
Fortunately, some people have begun to realize that our habit of trashing the environment is affecting life on the planet and the ecosystems on which they depend. Environmental activism, with the help of scientific research, has heightened the awareness of the severity of our trash problem, especially among businessmen and inventors. This has led to the creation of mechanisms to help us confront this issue.
MIT’s D-lab has developed a process that converts scrap from large agricultural waste deposits — such as dried corn husks and cobs, dried bean stalks, and banana peels — into a household fuel for charcoal-dependent developing countries.
The process recycles waste materials into fuel, while providing an alternate to charcoal. It also helps to offset deforestation in developing countries, as charcoal is produced by burning wood. To put the scale of the problem into perspective, 98 percent of Haiti’s forests have been eliminated to make charcoal.
The construction industry is also finding new ways to convert trash into useful products. One involves the remolding of waste plastic into brick-like blocks through a process called Rep last. The bricks can be made in any size, shape, and weight, depending upon the needs of the customer. Instead of creating more plastic products that may end up in landfills, oceans, or inside an unwary animal, this method permanently repurposes plastic waste.
The Rep last method is actually simpler than recycling, as it doesn’t require pre-treatment and works on all types of plastic. Another aspect of this unique procedure that makes it so appealing is that it requires just one vehicle to transport the processing equipment. This results in a significant energy savings, as the process is self contained and portable, and does not require multiple trips to a central processing facility.
In addition to plastic and agricultural grade waste, our modern lifestyle also produces a significant amount of electronic or e-waste. E-waste is the waste created from electronic products, from phones to power generators, and everything in between. Electronic waste items often contain harmful substances like lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants that are harmful to the environment and human health.
Kodjo Afate Gnikou, an inventor from Tongo, is reusing e-waste and metal scrap to build 3D printers. By using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer, bits of a hard drive, and some new parts, he built his printer for about $US100.
Just like Kodjo, many other innovators are making important contributions in the form of inventions and processes designed to reduce, recycle, and reuse the waste that we generate. It could be that the technological evolution, the main catalyzing aspect of our modern lifestyle, which has resulted in our seemingly endless cycle of consumption and wastage, might be the very thing that could save us from ourselves.
Carla Adams is an enthusiastic dreamer and a workaholic. She is a blogger, writer, basketball player, and technology and fashion freak. To see her updates, follow her on Facebook.