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Natural Sustainable Solutions to the Climate Crisis

We all know that we must make sustainable changes to the systems in place globally, but many innovators are getting caught up in the new-age technology craze that still generates waste and uses systems that just aren't as effective or sustainable as natural processes in our environment. As a Conservation Biologist, I come across many interesting "biomimicry" or natural solutions during my research that honestly blow my mind and gives me hope for the future. I wanted to share a few of these exciting innovations this week just to get your mind thinking about some amazing projects being developed worldwide, and to show a different perspective on what a sustainable future could look like.

Planting Hemp As a Land Recovery Crop To Make Unusable Land Profitable

PFAS, short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of more than 4,000 different chemicals found everywhere- from household items to fast food wrappers to our own blood. The Environmental Protection Agency found that PFAS can lead to kidney damage, immune system impairment, and reproductive issues. PFAS can get into our soil, air, and drinking water when they are dumped by manufacturing plants, and even when we wash dishes or clothes that contain them (like non-stick pans or waterproof items).

Bryan Berger is an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia studying how we can use hemp as a land recovery crop that restores environments polluted with PFA’s, while providing safe plant materials to be used in many different industries. Early experiments using hemp to draw PFAS toxins out of soil have been encouraging. "Hemp is a fantastic phytoremediation crop, so it's able to remove things like heavy metals and other sorts of substances from soil and groundwater," said Berger, whose previous work focused in part on using hemp's natural ability to suck contaminants up through its fibrous system to clean soil outside coal mines in Pennsylvania.

"It could be a way of remediating large amounts of land where there might be contamination by growing something of value on land which otherwise has no value."

Berger’s student recently finished an experiment in which she hydroponically grew hemp plants in PFAS to see if they would even take root in the toxic substance, which they did quite well. "If you can break down the PFAS into just carbon dioxide and fluorine, somehow safely getting rid of the fluorine gas obviously, then you have a usable product for another industry while eliminating the toxic substance from the environment," she said. Berger and his team are confident (and increasingly convincing others) that hemp is a no-brainer way to remediate large amounts of land that is too contaminated to grow anything else due to its economic and environmental value of naturally removing harmful toxins from entering our food and water.

-To read more about this research study and Bergers findings, click here

Sustainable Fabrics with Produce Scraps

Many of today’s garments are woven from chemically produced and non-biodegradable plastic-based acrylic, nylon or polyester threads, and cut and sewn in factories. Sustainable clothing brands are popping up left and right now-a-days, and our connection to the environment is becoming more apparent and recognized by designers creating materials out of things like fruit and vegetable scraps!

There is a ton of food crop waste globally, an estimated 250 million tons from the byproducts of five major global food crops: bananas peels and stalks, pineapple leaves, flax and hemp stalks, and crushed sugar cane. Using new technology with circular systems, this “waste” can be turned into fabric, which means: farmers don't have to burn the waste and contribute to air pollution, less waste will be sent to landfill to rot and emit methane, land is freed up to grow food, rather than fabric crops, there is less demand for fossil fuels to make synthetic fabrics, and fewer chemicals would be needed to grow cotton, a high-input crop!

This technology is called 'new,' but in reality we have done this all in the past for thousands of years. There was a time when the vast majority of clothes (97% in 1960) were made from natural fibers, but that number has shrunk to only 35 percent today. It is time to support these innovative and sustainable fabric creations if you are able to so that we can ensure it will be an accessible option for our future.

-Check out these awesome bed sheets made from flax linen from an Australian company!

-Bannatex developed the world’s first durable, waterproof fabric made purely from Abacá banana plant stalks which regenerate fully within one year of being harvested. Click here to see their products!

-Learn about a start-up company tackling this issue with circular technology!

-For more sustainable fabrics made from food scraps, check out this blog.

The Future of Green Building

Bio-buildings are a topic that is coming up more recently, and it is a concept that seems like the only right choice for a sustainable future. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory made a blueprint for buildings that are more comfortable, efficient and intelligent than today.

Buildings today account for 40% of energy consumption and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, which is shocking considering there are thousands of homes being built in the U.S. every single day.

According to this sustainable building blueprint, building walls, floors, ceilings and windows provide complex functions such as generating energy, collecting water, controlling light, regulating indoor temperature, or filtering air, resulting in zero greenhouse gas emissions over the building’s service life. Neighbors are connected and share or trade energy generation and storage, waste-heat recovery, water purification, onsite waste treatment and localized air-cleaning. In addition, buildings are prepared for extreme environmental conditions. Buildings are tied to the broader cycle of the region, including water cycles, nutrient loads and manufacturing, resulting in an 80% reduction in imported water consumption.

There are many interesting podcasts and books about this subject that really opened my mind to how easy, more cost effective, and interesting bio-building really is.

-Click here to listen to my favorite podcast by Amanda Sturgeon, the Chief Executive Officer at the International Living Future Institute, an organization imagining a future of green communities, where green buildings produce their own energy, process their own waste, and handle their own water. She is a leader in the movement to have a world full of living and zero energy buildings and communities.

-Click here, to read more about the blueprint

This is one example of how a self-sustaining building can look and operate.

Combating The Harmful Paper Making Process

White rot fungi biopulping is a natural way to remove lignin from wood in wood chip piles, which is an essential step in the paper making process. It has been proven to be effective since the 1990’s in Switzerland, however it is just now starting to gain traction and mention in the past couple of years. Primary concerns of pulp production include the use of chlorine-based bleaches and resultant toxic emissions to air, water, and soil. Pulp mills are voracious water users, and their consumption of fresh water can seriously harm habitat near mills, reduce water levels necessary for fish, and alter water temperature, a critical environmental factor for fish.

Kraft pulping, also known as sulphate, or chemical pulping, uses sulphur to get fibre out of trees, which account for the rotten egg smell of many pulp mills. Kraft pulping also uses less than 50% of the tree and the rest ends up as sludge which is burned, spread on land or landfilled. Kraft pulping is the most popular because it produces the strong paper products we use everyday like grocery bags, printing paper, and packaging. Other studies have shown that on a small-scale production, fungal pretreatment of wood pulp chips with white-rot improves the properties of the paper like burst strength, tear indices, and reduces pitch deposition during the production process while also being more economically and environmentally conscious.

I am pretty excited about this topic because I am actually running a funded research project on this topic with a mentor where I will screen different white-rot fungi for their lignin-degrading capabilities, as well as analyze the enzyme expressions (don’t worry if you are confused, I honestly still am too).

-This Wikipedia page outlines what white-rot fungi is and naturally does in a really comprehensive way if you want to learn more!

-To learn more about the harms of the paper industry, click here

Mealworms Don't Hate Eating Styrofoam!

I became fascinated with this topic after learning about it when trying to brainstorm a research project to pursue at my University. Mealworms are incredible creatures who can safely (and happily) consume AND biodegrade styrofoam (polystyrene) in their gut!

New studies published in Environmental Science and Technology by co-authors Professor Jun Yang and his doctorate student Yu Yang of Beihang University, and Stanford University engineer Wei-Min Wu show larvae that ate a diet subsisting strictly of Styrofoam were as healthy as mealworms eating a normal diet of bran. Researchers found that mealworms transformed the plastic they ate into carbon dioxide, worm biomass and biodegradable waste. This waste was deemed safe to use in soil for plants and even crops, the studies said.

Being able to find insects that can safely degrade plastic is critical to potential pollution management because other insects such as cockroaches can also consume plastic, but they have not shown biodegradation, Wu said. While it needs more research to be used for large-scale practical application, there are individual curious people who have developed home mealworm farms where they put their occasional styrofoam trash and have success.

Click here to read more about the study!

If you want to discuss any of these interesting topics in more detail, feel free to reach out through the contact form on our "About US" page! I (Zöe) would love to talk more in depth and gain perspectives about these cool solutions to issues we are facing everywhere!

As always, keep Cutting The Crap! and being awesome Eco-concious humans

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