A variety of smart gadgets are being explored as part of the scheme. One is a wristband that will make it easy to monitor the location of prisoners at all times. It will also keep tabs on heart rates and alert staff if one becomes irregular. In the event that prisoners try to remove the wristband, it will trigger an alarm.

Another surveillance tool being put through its paces is an A.I.-augmented video surveillance system, designed to detect certain behavior behind bars. For instance, it can supposedly recognize self-harming behaviors, fighting, and whether a person has collapsed. Twelve of these security cameras are currently being tested in male dormitories at Pik Uk Prison in Hong Kong.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing piece of technology being explored (and one that takes away a job that few humans would want) is a robot whose purpose is to look for drugs in poop. It turns out that many prisoners try to smuggle drugs into prison by swallowing them and then pooping them out later. At present, human prison officers get the glamorous job of examining inmates feces using wooden sticks to break it up in their search for contraband. Instead, the robot arm will use jets of water to break down the poop, looking for illicit drugs.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Commissioner of Correctional Services Danny Woo Ying-ming said that: “The Correctional Services Department strives to enhance efficiency of custodial operations and security of correctional institutions through the application of innovation and technology, while protecting the safety of officers and persons in custody.”

This isn’t the only smart prison technology we’ve covered. In the U.S., some prisons have invested in a smart drone detection system, designed to crack down on contraband by monitoring suspicious drone traffic in the area. As far as we know, however, U.S. prisons have yet to dive into the world of poop-testing robots or smart wearables for its prison population.

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare [Digital Trends]

Plastic is something of a modern curse. It’s diversity and usefulness has led to a global waste problem that’s choking our oceans, land and air. While some plastics can be recycled relatively easily, others like bubble wrap and stretchy pallet wrap may not be accepted by municipalities. Gomi design studio out of Brighton, UK, is looking to do something about that, and has created a portable wireless speaker that’s made using recycled flexible plastics.

“We were inspired by the cradle-to-cradle design process, thinking about our products full-lifecycle right from the beginning of our design process,” said Gomi’s Tom Meades. “With our Bluetooth speakers, we want to intercept a waste stream that would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated. Flexible plastics/LDPE is widely regarded as non-recyclable by UK councils, and so we thought this would be the perfect material to harness and show that through innovative design this can be valuable, and does not have to end up as waste polluting our environment. Instead, we can craft this material into desirable objects.”

The three modules that make up each speaker are made from the equivalent of about 100 plastic bags, which are melted, compressed and molded into speaker housings. The fabrication process also involves creating marble-like patterns by hand – which means that each speaker can be made to look unique.

The design studio has partnered with local wholesalers in Sussex to source the necessary plastic waste, which might otherwise go to landfill or be incinerated. Gomi is also accepting household plastic waste, and is currently looking at other ways to intercept non-recyclable flexible plastic waste.

As for the internals, each 138 x 270 x 80 mm (5.4 x 10.6 x 3.1 in) speaker is home to one dome tweeter and one midrange driver, and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless streaming. Listeners can look forward to 18 hours of playback per charge of its internal battery.

Gomi is also making a portable power brick encased in the same material, which features a 20,000 mAh Li-ion battery and USB-C, standard USB and fast charging USB 3.0 ports for cabling up to device charging ports.

To fund production, the design studio has launched on Kickstarter. Pledges for a Gomi speaker start at £195 (about US$260) and, if all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in November. The Gomi charger/power bank is pitched at £39, and also has an estimated shipping date of November, 2019. The video below has more.

Non-recyclable plastic waste recycled into portable speakers [New Atlas]

If you recently finished your favorite mascara, and you don’t know what to do with the container — and you’re determined to keep it out of the landfill — Appalachian Wildlife Refuge has the answer for you: They want your used mascara wands for the animals in their care. And no, before you ask, they aren’t looking to achieve longer, darker, or more voluminous lashes for the animals in need. But mascara wands do make for an ideal grooming situation.

For the past two years, the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge has collected used mascara wands as part of their Wands for Wildlife program, which began after they realized that the fine-toothed bristles made mascara wands the perfect tool for caring for the animals in their care.

As Appalachian Wildlife Refuge cofounder Kimberly Brewster explained to Green Matters, the wands are used in various ways with the animals, such as removing fly eggs and larva from feathers and fur of wild animals; grooming an area on an animal to remove dust, dirt, sand, sawdust, etc.; assisting the wildlife rehabilitator in examining for injuries; and cleaning the syringes used for feeding the animals.

Brewster added that “because the bristles are soft and so close together, they reduce the risk of potential injury to the tiny patients — especially squirmy babies.”

On March 10, 2017, Brewster’s fellow cofounder Savannah Trantham posted a call of action on Facebook, explaining the need for used mascara wands — and the response to the viral post was so astounding that today, Wands for Wildlife receives so many donations that they’re able to donate to other wildlife rehabs and facilities, furthering the impact of the donations beyond Appalachian Wildlife Refuge.

Actually donating the wands is easy as could be; once your product is ready to be donated, Wands for Wildlife advises you to clean them in warm, soapy water to remove any product and residue from the wands. Along with the form on their website, you can ship the wands to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, who will either use it in their own facility or donate it to other organizations who work with animals in need.

In order to truly minimize your impact when it comes to getting rid of your mascara — and keeping your empties out of the landfill — you can also recycle your would-be-hard-to-recycle mascara tube with TerraCycle’s Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Program.

If you don’t wear mascara, there are still countless other ways to help the cause; Appalachian Wildlife Refuge currently has a wishlist of items that would assist them in helping the animals, and — of course — monetary donations are always appreciated as well.

In an email to Green Matters, Brewster explained how moved she’s been by the incredible response their initiative has received.

She wrote, “The response to a simple request for mascara wands has been astounding. I honestly have trouble wearing mascara now — the outpouring of compassion brings tears to my eyes almost daily as i read messages, notes, and comments from people all over the world who care about animals, the environment, and just want to help. The world is full of good people wanting to do some good!”

Your Used Makeup Could Help Animals in Need [Green Matters]

 

Although glass is recyclable, the recycling process is generally limited to large pieces that can be easily sorted by color. Because it’s not worth the effort to sort smaller fragments, they tend to simply be discarded. A new process, however, can convert them into a useful substance.

The proprietary technique was developed by PhD candidate Rhys Pirie and Prof. Damien Batstone, both of Australia’s University of Queensland. It incorporates what is described as “a chemical that most people would know as drain cleaner,” which is used to dissolve miscellaneous glass fragments into liquid silicate.

That liquid can subsequently be used in a wide variety of products, such as tires, detergents, toothpaste, concrete sealant and even crop fertilizer. It’s also utilized to make silica gel, which is the desiccant contained in little packets with electronic devices. It cannot, however, be made into new glass on a commercial scale.

Because glass consists of around 70 to 75 percent silica – which is what gets converted to liquid silicate – the process results in little waste. According to Pirie (pictured above), approximately 1.3 kg (2.9 lb) of waste glass is required to make 1 kg of silica gel.

The technique also requires relatively little energy, unlike traditional methods of producing liquid silicate. Partially because of this, the researchers estimate that their process is over 50 percent cheaper than existing production systems.

“At the moment these kinds of silicates […] are generated through a glass production route where you make glass effectively and you then turn it into a silicate product that is a soluble gel-type product,” says Batstone. “Instead of doing that, we’re going to take glass that has already been made and is actually waste, and take it through a much simpler process to turn it into this commercial silicate product.”

The university’s commercialization company, UniQuest, is now seeking partner companies that are interested in taking the technology to market.

New process converts unrecyclable glass into saleable product [New Atlas]

 

Studies have shown that happy employees are productive employees. Happiness can increase productivity by as much as 20 percent. Not convinced by that number? Let’s take a look at the flipside: unhappy workers cost the US between $450-$500 billion each year.

With these statistics in mind, let’s dive into a few tips that may help you retain employees and keep your current employees happy and engaged.

1.  Screen employees for cultural fit

As an employer, you already know it’s important to use an applicant background check to screen potential employees. It’s critical that you know who a prospective employee actually is. A thorough screening process may help filter out applicants with red flags like those who have a criminal history. However, it’s just as important to screen for a cultural fit as well.

Similar values between the employer and applicant is a proven measure of compatibility. 67% of workers believe that sharing values and core beliefs were important to workplace success.

Here are some questions you can ask to assess whether or not an applicant will be a good cultural fit for your company:

  • What are you looking for in terms of company culture?
  • What does your ideal workplace look like?
  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • What type of workplace culture do you thrive in?
  • Have you ever worked anywhere where you considered yourself to be a bad cultural fit? Why wasn’t the right fit?

These questions will — at the very least — guide you toward whether or not the applicant will do well within the organization. On a similar note, a strong culture and looking for applicants who would function efficiently within the company culture doesn’t mean you have an office full of identical people. An office with a strong, shared culture can be diverse but simply believe in the same core values.

2. Recognize achievements

One way to retain top performers is to take the time to recognize your employees. Workers who feel appreciated by upper management consistently perform better than those that don’t. If you have to provide feedback to an employee that includes criticism, do your best to sandwich it in between two compliments.

As a manager, make sure to regularly check in with employees and stay engaged to keep tabs on their happiness and workload.

Here are some unique ways to show employees appreciation:

  • Send them mail rather than an email
  • Let other employees reward them using apps like YouEarnedIt
  • Take them out to lunch
  • Give them an extra day of PTO
  • Celebrate work anniversaries

3. Provide perks

A cool workplace doesn’t just create itself. As an employer, you’ll have to take the time to really think about how to make your office stand out. Standard benefits like great healthcare, sick pay, and paid time off are still appreciated in today’s modern work landscape. However, there are plenty of other perks you can offer to encourage in-office friendships and promote the happiness of your employees:

  • Snacks
  • Unlimited PTO
    • This gives employees more freedom with how and when they use their vacation time
  • Paid leave for new parents
  • Student-loan debt reimbursement
  • Paid gym memberships
  • On-site child-care
  • Regular happy hours

Not every company can be Google and offer perks like on-site haircuts and free food for three meals a day, but you don’t have to be Google to give your employees creative perks. By thinking a little outside the box and paying attention to what your employees actually want, you’ll be able to reduce the risk of burnout and keep your workers happy.

4. Be a dog-friendly office

Research has proven that dogs in the office can boost workplace happiness. So, encourage your employees to bring their pooches in. Who can be angry at work when they’re greeted by a wagging tail every day?

5. Get some greenery

Plants help reduce stress and create a more cozy, vibrant office space. Here are some low-maintenance plants if you’re looking to add a little touch of green to your workplace:

  • Victorian Parlor Palm
  • Japanese Sago Palm
  • Aglaonema
  • Devil’s Ivy
  • Dragon Tree

6. Encourage a work/life balance

If you have a lot of parents in the office, think about offering child-care. Introduce a flex schedule so employees can fit in their life obligations during the work day or simply choose what hours work best for them.

Conclusion

Creating a productive, happy workplace that encourages employees to be productive and engaged is crucial to your workplace success. By promoting a healthy company culture, providing your employees with meaningful perks, and recognizing achievements, you’ll be on your way to an amazing office.

Just imagine… It’s a sunny summer day, and you’re reclining on the grass by your local lake. The sun is glistening on the water. Ducks are happily gliding along with their duck pals. A cool breeze blows towards you, just as you were feeling a bit warm. Garbage is floating on the surface of the water, slowly poisoning fish and breaking down into micro plastics… Ah, what a classic 2019 image. These days, it’s hard to enjoy a serene body of water without coming across some sort of plastic pollution — and an Australian city has developed a local solution to that. The City of Kwinana recently installed drainage nets in its water reserve, and the innovative filtration system has gone viral for being so simple yet brilliant.

The City of Kwinana, which is a suburb of Perth, Australia, first shared a photo of one of its nets on Facebook in August. People quickly flooded the comments section to praise the invention, and six months later, the post is still being shared all over the internet. Once it started going viral, the city opened up about the system in a detailed blog post on the municipality’s website. There, Carol Adams, the mayor of the City of Kwinana, elaborated on exactly how the nets work.

“The nets are placed on the outlet of two drainage pipes, which are located between residential areas and natural areas. This allows the nets to capture the gross pollutants carried by storm water from the local road network before those pollutants are discharged and contaminate the natural environment at the downstream end of the outlet area,” Mayor Adams explained in a statement shared in the blog post. “This ensures that the habitat of the local wildlife is protected and minimizes the risk of wildlife being caught in the nets. To date no wildlife has been caught up in either of the City’s nets.”

Once nets fill up, city employees use a machine to lift them up and empty them into a truck. And no, it’s not just a garbage truck headed for landfill. The truck actually brings the debris to a sorting facility, where compostable waste (like food scraps and leaves) and recyclable items are sorted and properly composted or recycled before the remaining waste is sent to landfill. As The Guardian explained, landfills do not provide the proper conditions for biodegradable waste to break down, so it’s wonderful that Kwinana is going the extra mile and properly disposing of each item the nets capture.

From the time the two nets were installed at the Henley Reserve in March 2018, up until the post was written in August 2018, the nets filtered 370 kilograms (which is about 815 pounds) of waste from entering the city’s water reserves, Adams said. And the City of Kwinana has no plans to quit while they’re ahead. According to another post on the city’s website, the City of Kwinana’s Engineering Design Teamhas their eyes on three other spots along the Henley Reserve that they are going to propose outfitting with similar nets as part of the city’s 2019/2020 budget.

The idea looks pretty simple — but more work went into the nets than it seems. The City of Kwinana said that from start to finish, the two nets cost a little under $20,000. However, that fee is far less than what would have been required to hire a maintenance team to manually remove litter from the reserve. All of the work and finances invested so far are “expected to realise considerable cost savings in labour intensive work previously required to collect the rubbish scattered around the reserve by hand,” according to Kwinana’s blog post.

A representative for the City of Kwiwana’s Facebook page spoke with Green Matters via Facebook about the innovation, and the unexpectedly large amounts of debris they consistently catch. “In terms of cost efficiency, they are not as cost efficient as initially thought due to the high volume of material they trap, with some being organic matter including leaves,” the spokesperson told Green Matters. “This requires additional maintenance work to remove the trapped material which adds to the cost.”

Kwinana’s original Facebook post is full of comments about how genius and innovative the drainage nets are — but Kwinana is not the first to implement a drainage system like this. The Twitter account for Nelson, New Zealand tweeted that its council has been using a similar structure for a decade.

Kwinana’s post going viral shows how powerful social media can be when it comes to implementing environmental change. As the City of Kwiwana representative told Green Matters via Facebook, the post about the nets has been “a great success in raising community awareness across the globe in regards to protection of nature reserves and waterways from pollutants conveyed by storm water drainage systems.” The spokesperson also said that now, almost 10 months after the nets were originally installed, people are still contacting the city with questions about the nets. Hopefully Kwinana will inspire other municipalities to invest in drainage nets in the near future.

 

When working to reduce your environmental impact, swapping out single-use plastic water bottlesfor a reusable bottle is one of the simplest and most cost-effective choices a person can make. But a new company called Cove is hoping to make the single-use water bottle game a little easier on the environment with its 100 percent biodegradable water bottle. As reported by Fast Company, Cove will be launching soon — and the bottle is truly the first of its kind.

According to Cove’s website, the Cove water bottle is the “first bottle of water made entirely of biodegradable material.” The bottle is made of PHA, which is a “naturally occurring biopolymer,” and the label is made of paper, non-toxic inks, and non-toxic glue. After drinking an entire bottle, Cove’s website recommends reusing the bottle up until the use-by date, and then putting it in a compost bin. The website claims that the bottle will break down “in a compost or landfill, and even in soil, fresh water and the ocean.” However, Cove says science is unable to predict exactly how long the bottle will take to biodegrade.

It’s pretty unique that Cove can supposedly break down in settings besides a compost, because thus far, most bioplastics and other “eco-friendly” single-use water bottles actually have to be recycled or composted to reap the product’s benefits. For example, Just Water is branded as a better alternative to plastic bottles, but because its packaging contains a combination of paper, bioplastic, aluminum, and plastic film, the only responsible way to dispose of the bottle is by recycling it.

Alex Totterman, founder of Cove, spoke with Fast Company about why the bottle he designed is different. “PHA is the only polymer that’s fully biodegradable in all conditions,” Totterman told Fast Company. “So it’s kind of sidestepping the need for the recycling system we have … Most of all, this comes down to the very basic premise that we’re just trying to give people something real that they can do without seeming like it’s a big deal.”

If Totterman’s claim that Cove can break down in a landfill is actually true, it would be pretty revolutionary, seeing as most biodegradable items do not degrade in landfills. As explained by ThoughtCo, landfills are typically extremely crowded, and most trash is not exposed to the proper elements to help them biodegrade. And while the items sit in a landfill not biodegrading, they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, as explained by Ensia.

And the need for an alternative to single-use plastic bottles is dire. According to a case study by Watershed, every second, Americans consume approximately 1,500 bottles of water. And every year, Americans consume about 50 billion bottles of water. Props on staying hydrated, y’all, but that’s a lot. Not to mention, only 23 percent of plastic is recycled every year, meaning 38 billion water bottles become landfill trash or litter, Ban the Bottle added.

Additionally, Cove is working to keep its manufacturing process as local as possible. As explained on its website, the first shipment will only be available for order to those in California, and the water in those bottles will all be sourced from natural springs in California. As Cove expands, the company plans to continue sourcing water locally to make shipping distances as short as possible.

Poland Spring, you just can’t beat a reusable bottle in terms of environmental impact. It will be interesting to see what direction Cove goes in. Will Cove further promote America’s tendency to rely on single-use items, and make people feel like it’s OK to keep buying single-use waters when reusables are a better option? Or, will major drink retailers (such as companies that produce soda, plant milk, juice, and more) turn to Cove for its technology? That would be a welcome shift from the plastic and even non-recyclable packaging that many beverages are currently packaged in.

Cove is available for preorder on its website, with the first round of shipments available only to people across California, in May 2019. A 12-pack of bottles currently goes for $24. In the meantime, here’s a list of some of our favorite reusable water bottles.

This Completely Biodegradable Single-Use Water Bottle Could Change the Game [Green Matters]

 

It was just this Wednesday that we heard about a non-toxic flame-retardant solution created by scientists at Texas A and M University. Well, researchers at Switzerland’s Empa institute have also come up with one, which could be used to keep wood and wood-based building materials from burning.

Developed in partnership with Swiss company Bruag Fire Protection, the colorless liquid is known as AFA (Anti-Flame Additive). Effective in concentrations as low as 10 percent, it can be added to water-based paint or protective UV-resistant coatings which are then applied to wood, or it can be mixed into panels made from pressed wood fibers.

Its active chemical ingredient is an organophosphonate consisting of parts of phosphorus and nitrogen molecules, which have been combined into a single molecule. The additive reportedly doesn’t produce toxic vapors, nor does it incorporate toxic flame-retardant substances such as bromine, boron or halogenated organic compounds.

In lab tests, it has been shown to effectively keep the cellulose in wood from igniting. An official approval process is now underway, after which AFA may be available as a commercial product.

Non-toxic solution is claimed to make wood fire-resistant [New Atlas]

Plants are amazing little powerhouses, converting sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into energy. Over the last few years humans have tried to mimic this with artificial leaves, but they’re never quite up to scratch. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have designed a new version that could work under real-world conditions, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and creating oxygen and synthetic fuels.

One of the first artificial leaves came out of Harvard in 2011, using sunlight to split water into harvestable hydrogen and oxygen gas. Other versions since then have used similar technologies to create electricity, liquid fuels, fertilizer, and even drugs. Currently, the most promising artificial leaves do a decent job of absorbing carbon dioxide, but only under lab conditions.

“So far, all designs for artificial leaves that have been tested in the lab use carbon dioxide from pressurized tanks,” says Meenesh Singh, corresponding author of the study. “In order to implement successfully in the real world, these devices need to be able to draw carbon dioxide from much more dilute sources, such as air and flue gas, which is the gas given off by coal-burning power plants.”

The UIC researchers say their new artificial leaf design is that kind of real-world ready. And it sounds surprisingly simple – it’s basically a regular old artificial photosynthesis unit, wrapped in a new transparent capsule. This outer layer is a semi-permeable membrane made of quaternary ammonium resin, and it’s filled with water.

The idea is that when the sun hits the device, the water slowly evaporates out through those pores. In its place, carbon dioxide is selectively sucked in from outside. In turn, that gas is converted into carbon monoxide by the artificial photosynthesis unit on the inside. From there, the carbon monoxide can be captured and used for a range of purposes, such as making synthetic fuels. Oxygen is a by-product as well, which can also be collected or just released back into the outside air, like a natural plant would do.

The researchers say their design would be up to 10 times more efficient at this process than a natural leaf. If enough of them are gathered in one place, that could produce a decent amount of fuel and do a good job of purifying the surrounding air.

The team calculated that in one day, 360 of these leaves – each measuring 170 cm long and 20 cm wide (67 x 7.9 in) – could be capable of producing half a ton of carbon monoxide, and pulling 10 percent of the carbon dioxide out of the air for about 100 m (328 ft) around the setup.

“By enveloping traditional artificial leaf technology inside this specialized membrane, the whole unit is able to function outside, like a natural leaf,” says Singh. “Our conceptual design uses readily available materials and technology, that when combined can produce an artificial leaf that is ready to be deployed outside the lab where it can play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Real-world-ready artificial leaf can pluck carbon dioxide out of thin air [New Atlas]

Millions of metric tons of plastic are produced each year and in reality, very little of it is recycled. But what if there were more ways of turning this waste into something valuable, such as new plastics or different types of fuel? Scientists at Purdue University have taken a promising step towards this goal with a new technology that can turn the majority of a commonly used plastic into the building blocks for all kinds of materials, something they hope can inspire new solutions for our plastic pollution problem.

Estimates vary on how much plastic winds up in landfill, how much ends up being recycled and how much washes into the ocean, but there’s no question plastic waste is a big problem. As an indication, a 2015 paper estimated that somewhere between 5 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste winds up in the ocean each year, and what happens to it from there is a great unknown.

The solution to this problem is far more complex than finding new ways of recycling the ubiquitous material, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Elsewhere, we have seen promising experimental technologies that can convert plastic bags into high-value carbon nanotubes, turn ocean plastics into usable diesel fuels and turn plastic bottles into other fuels and waxes.

The work at Purdue University focuses on a type of plastic called polyolefin, the most common type of thermoplastic that features in everything from bottle caps to scientific instruments.

“Our strategy is to create a driving force for recycling by converting polyolefin waste into a wide range of valuable products, including polymers, naphtha (a mixture of hydrocarbons), or clean fuels,” says Linda Wang, chemistry professor at Purdue University and leader of the research team. “Our conversion technology has the potential to boost the profits of the recycling industry and shrink the world’s plastic waste stock.”

In pursuing this strategy, Wang and her team turned to a technique called hydrothermal liquefaction, a process of heating materials up to moderate temperatures under high pressure to convert them into oil. In this case, the team was able to transform 91 percent of the polyolefin into oil consisting of paraffins, cyclics, aromatics and olefins, unsaturated hydrocarbons that serve as the foundation for polyolefins.

And that opens up a range of possibilities, according to the scientists. This oil and its ingredients can then be turned into gasoline blendstocks and feedstocks for other chemicals. They can also be separated into specialty solvents or fuels such as gasoline or diesel. So much so, the team estimates that the fuels generated from discarded polyolefin could meet around four percent of the globe’s demand for gasoline and diesel fuels each year.

To that end, the researchers have now teamed up with Purdue University’s Fuel Laboratory of Renewable Energy to try and optimize the conversion process. They are also looking for partners to help demonstrate the technology’s potential on a commercial scale.

Chemical conversion process gives plastic waste new life as fuel [New Atlas]

When cooking in the kitchen, where do your food scraps go? Hopefully, in the compost bin rather than the trash. Since organic matter naturally breaks down, composting vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and more is a more sustainable option than willingly sending that matter to the landfill.

But did you know that for some fruits and vegetables, there’s an even better alternative? Some food scraps can be used to regrow plants. What’s more sustainable than turning “garbage” into a plant?

Keep reading to learn how you can make the most out of your leftovers — and learn some gardening techniques in the process!

Celery

Once cut, place the base of the celery in a small bowl of warm water. It should be positioned by a sunny window and the water should be changed daily. The stalks will then start to regrow from the center of the celery. Roots can start growing within as little as five to eight days.

Repot the plant in soil but be wary of replanting it outside. Squirrels, rabbits, and other animals like deer could start munching on your celery!

Avocado

You can grow an avocado tree from the pit of an open avocado. To start, keep the pit dry, as the top part of the pit will sprout once the tree starts growing; the bottom of the root (the broad end) must be kept in water. In order to keep the top half of the pit dry while the bottom is wet, you’ll need to insert three toothpicks into the pit in the shape of a triangle: one on the left, one on the right, one on top (or a square, as seen above).

The toothpicks should rest on the rim of a cup of water but prop up the avo pit so the top half doesn’t get wet. Keep it in a warm and sunny spot. Roots should start growing in anywhere from two to six weeks.

Pineapple

Regrowing a pineapple from scraps takes a lot of time and effort — about six months. Start by twisting off the leaves from the fruit itself. None of the pineapple flesh should be attached to the leaves; if it is, it will rot. Cut the base of the leaves so that the brown spots, which are the root buds, are visible. Remove some of the leaves so that one inch of the stalk is bare. Now, submerge the pineapple stem in a few inches of water. The leaves will rot but the stalk will eventually start to grow roots.

Change out the water in the glass every few days and make sure the stem doesn’t touch the bottom of the glass, or else the roots won’t have anywhere to grow. Replant the plant once there are roots, and eventually, a pineapple will grow and develop from the center.

How to Regrow Plants From Kitchen Scraps [Green Matters]

Food and beverage giant Nestlé is ramping up its efforts to rein in plastic pollution, outlining plans to phase out plastic straws and hard plastics as part of a wider plan to use purely recyclable and reusable materials in its products by 2025.

Nestlé’s plans around plastic pollution and alternative materials have been gathering steam for a little while now. The world’s second largest food and drink company first announced its plans to use 100 percent recyclable and reusable materials by 2025 in April last year, and has piece-by-piece been laying out a roadmap to achieve this aim.

In December 2018 it announced plans for an Institute of Packaging Sciences to research and develop alternative materials, and it seems the company already has something to show for it.

It says that from February onwards, plastic straws will be eliminated from all Nestlé products with “alternative materials like paper” to be used instead, while new packaging designs will be rolled out to cut down on littering. Popular products like Nesquik and Smarties will also be going plastic free in 2019, while Milo will be packaged in paper-based pouches by 2020.

The company notes that 100 percent recyclability doesn’t solve the plastic pollution problem as a whole. As such, it has other ventures in the works, like an effort to target plastic leaking into the ocean in South East Asia by partnering with Project STOP, an initiative to promote sustainable and low-cost waste systems that also supports informal waste gatherers in the region’s coastal areas.

“Our broader vision and action plan outline our commitment and specific approach to addressing the plastics packaging waste issue,” says Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider.

Nestlé to pull plastic straws from its products as it ramps up its war on waste [New Atlas]

Many of Spain’s Paradores — a chain of state-owned, luxury hotels — are ancient castles and monasteries that have been around for, well, forever. But the country is embracing the future by introducing renewable energy at all 97 locations.

The country announced that, beginning on the first of January, the Paradores will only get their electricity from renewable sources as part of a deal they signed with Endesa, a Spanish utility company. The chain of hotels — which has been operating for 90 years — is hoping to inspire other companies around the country, and be a leader in climate action as a state-owned operation.

“Paradores is a company that supports sustainable tourism in every sense of the word,” the company’s chair, Óscar López Águeda said, per The Guardian. “What’s more, as a public company, we also want to set an example when it comes to investments that encourage energy saving and responsible consumption.”

Despite the dedication to sustainability, the company stated that they still plan to use natural gas for the time being, with no immediate plans to stop.

“Natural gas is less polluting than some of the other sources that hotels have traditionally used,” the Paradores’ Head of Communications, Sonia Sánchez Plaza, told the Observer. “But we are gradually eliminating our fuel oil consumption and we have an ambitious plan to bring renewable energies into Paradores, including biomass, solar, and geothermal energy.”

In addition to embracing renewable energy sources, the company — which employs more than 4,000 people — is also looking to help the planet in other ways. Sánchez explained, “We have a lot of environmental projects, both when it comes to enjoying and looking after our surrounding and to restoring flora and fauna and eliminating plastics.”

While Paradores is ahead of the trend when it comes to renewable energy, Spain recently set a goal of having 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 — and shut down many coal mines as a part of the process.

Spain Brings Renewable Energy to State-Owned Paradores [Green Matters]

A solar-powered desalination method inspired by plants could produce up to twice the amount of clean water as typical solar methods.

Developed by a team from Politecnico di Torino, the prototype desalination system relies on a porous membrane that collects seawater as it floats on the water’s surface. The water is then heated by solar energy, with the process facilitated by membranes that keep the clean and contaminated water separate.

To achieve their higher clean water output, the team focused on efficient management of the solar energy, recycling the heat in several cascade evaporation processes. According to the development team, “Technologies based on this process are typically called ‘multi-effect’, and here we provide the first evidence that this strategy can be very effective for ‘passive’ desalination technologies as well.”

Solar-Powered Desalination Inspired by Plants [Ideaconnection]

Each year, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) conducts a review of tall building trends. The influential body offers some fascinating insights in its 2018 Year in Review, including the continued importance of China as the world leader in tall building commissions.

2018 saw a total of 143 buildings measuring at least 200 m (656 ft) completed, which is just slightly down from a record breaking 147 last year. This brings the total in the world to 1,478. Most of these, 864, have been completed since 2010 (CTBUH only acknowledges larger-than-200 m buildings because of better record keeping, so smaller buildings are ignored).

If you stacked all 2018’s tall buildings atop each other, they’d reach a height of 35,246 m (115,636 ft), which, like in 2017, would reach the Earth’s stratosphere. They would also exceed the length of Manhattan Island if laid end-to-end.

China remains far out in front of the rest of the world when it comes to tall building construction, with a total of 88 built in the country. Indeed, Shenzhen alone had more tall buildings completed – a total of 14 – than the entire USA, which came second behind China in the country rankings with 13. It underlines the incredible tall building growth in the far-east.

The tallest building to be completed in 2018 was the 528 m (1,732 ft)-tall Citic Tower in Beijing, shown above. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), it’s yet another masterful project from the American skyscraper expert.

The skyscraper’s design is inspired by a traditional Chinese ritualistic wine vessel named Zun and takes the form of a square with rounded corners. Its width alternates significantly at different points: from its 78 m (255 ft) base to its 54 m (177 ft) mid-point and 69 m (226 ft) top.

The Citic Tower is now officially the 8th-tallest building in the world, which has resulted in a shakeup of the top 10 rankings. The 484 m (1588 ft)-tall International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong, also by KPF, has dropped down from 10th place to become the 11th-tallest building in the world. KPF is still responsible for half of the world’s top 10 tallest skyscrapers though.

Looking to the future, the CTBUH expects around 120 to 150 tall buildings to be completed in 2019. Head to the gallery to see a small selection of some of 2018’s tallest skyscrapers, including two more by KPF.

The only way is up: CTBUH reveals 2018’s tall building trends [New Atlas]

There is a growing contingent of environmentally minded startups and researchers looking to recycle CO2 into useful products, with the possibilities including everything from foam mattresses, to lightweight carbon fiber to concrete. The soda industry is one place where you can bet there will be a massive demand for the gas, and its about to get a little bit cleaner with Coca-Cola HBC signing a deal to use CO2 captured by Swiss startup Climeworks for its Valser mineral water.

Climeworks is a Swiss energy startup that aims to collect carbon from industrial facilities through what is known as Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology. Its systems work by drawing ambient air in through an integrated filter system using huge fans. Those filters are made from a material that selectively captures CO2, which can then be treated and put to use in products ranging including solar fuels, agricultural products and now carbonated beverages.

Currently, companies like Coca-Cola HBC mostly use CO2 sourced from factories set up to create other chemicals, such as natural gas or ammonia fertilizer, but produce CO2 as a byproduct that can be bottled and sold. But a CO2 shortage in Europe this year suggests identifying other sources of the gas wouldn’t be a bad idea, and CO2 bound for the atmosphere seems a good place to start.

It’s worth noting that it will end up there anyway. As a soda bottle is popped or a can is cracked, the CO2 inside is released into the atmosphere. But hey, being recycled one time is better than not being recycled at all. And this is far from the first example of a company making fizzy drinks with recycled CO2, with efforts dating back to the early 2000s.

But the agreement between Coca-Cola HBC is a large feather in the cap for Climeworks, which is at the vanguard of current DAC technology. It has grand ambitions but faces a huge task in making DAC a viable commercial venture as the practice is currently prohibitively expensive. They told usearlier in the year that it costs them around US$600 to capture a single ton of CO2, though they are confident of driving the costs down as the technology improves and more plants open.

“We are proud to be the first beverage company in the world to drive the development of this groundbreaking technology,” says Coca-Cola HBC Switzerland General Manager Nigel Davis. “Sustainability is part of our strategic business priorities. We are constantly looking for ways to further reduce our environmental footprint in everything we do. We are all the more pleased that we can now support a local Swiss company. ”

Coca-Cola mineral water to use captured carbon for fizz [New Atlas]

In one of the most comprehensive studies to date examining teenage sleep patterns and high school start times, it’s been revealed that later starts increased sleep duration and improved overall attendance and grades.

Our circadian rhythms dominate when our body wants us to eat, sleep and wake. Studies have shown that the onset of puberty dramatically alters an adolescent’s circadian cycle, keeping them up at night and pushing them to sleep later in the morning.

“Research to date has shown that the circadian rhythms of adolescents are simply fundamentally different from those of adults and children,” explains lead author on the new research, Gideon Dunster.

Early school start times have long been a source of controversy, with many suggesting we need to push the commencement of school back later into the morning as early starts could be significantly disrupting healthy teenage sleep patterns. A striking 85 percent of high schools in the United States have a start time earlier than 8.30am, and the average is 7.59am. For several years now the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendedmiddle and high schools start later than 8.30am.

The new research set out to clearly measure the effect of school start times on sleep patterns by closely studying teens at two Seattle high schools. In 2016 Seattle announced it would push middle and high school start times from 7.50am to 8.45am. This offered researchers a great opportunity to investigate conditions at two schools before and after the change.

Instead of relying on conventional self-reported sleep patterns, the researchers deployed wrist activity monitors to track light and activity levels. The first group of 92 students were tracked for two weeks before the change to the school start time. A second group of 88 students, from the same two schools, were tracked for two weeks seven months after the start time had shifted to 8.45am. The results were incredibly clear, with the students displaying an average increase of 34 minutes of sleep each night. 

“This study shows a significant improvement in the sleep duration of students — all by delaying school start times so that they’re more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents,” says senior and corresponding author, Horacio de la Iglesia. “Thirty-four minutes of extra sleep each night is a huge impact to see from a single intervention.”

Other improvements were also tracked by the study, including a 4.5 percent average increase in grades following the start time shift. The researchers are cautious in attributing a causal connection between the higher grades and the increased sleep, however, it is noted that it’s reasonable to hypothesize better sleep can improve academic performance.

While it is becoming increasingly clear that earlier school start times may not be ideally tailored to the biological needs of teenagers, changing those start times is proving to be a bit more complicated that scientists would hope. 

A recent bill in California, set to prohibit middle and high schools in the state from starting earlier than 8.30am, was ultimately rejected after a divisive debate suggested the change would be too demanding for everyone, from parents with inflexible work schedules to those teens with pre-established post-schoolday activities. So, what is more important in the long run? Is adhering to our teenager’s biological imperatives and significantly altering our overall day-to-day patterns too much to change?

“School start time has serious implications for how students learn and perform in their education,” says de la Iglesia. “Adolescents are on one schedule. The question is: What schedule will their schools be on?”

Later high school start times offer teens more sleep and improved grades [New Atlas]

On the outskirts of Dubai, a shimmering metropolis built on buried oil, lies a small but similarly suave community looking at a new way of doing things. It is no small irony that the world’s most brazen exemplar of fossil-fueled excess is also home to a cutting-edge example of more thoughtful modern living. But the carefully planned Dubai Sustainable City is a reminder that between the towering skyscrapers and petrol-hungry supercars there is plenty of environmental awareness to be found. As cranes hover at its edges expanding its footprint piece by piece, New Atlas ventured into the desert to see it all from the inside out.

What does it look like to build a sustainable community from the ground up? Anyone involved in the Dubai Sustainable City will be quick to tell you there is much more to it than sticking solar panels on the roof and sorting your trash from your recyclables.

At the very heart of it all is SEE Nexus, a company named after what its CEO Dr. Muawieh Radaideh describes as three essential pillars for sustainable living. The “Social” pillar, promoting health and happiness through sports, education safety and culture, the “Environment” pillar through smart practices around food, waste, water, energy and mobility, and the “Economy pillar,” creating a way of green living that is financially attainable and rewarding.

“It’s a three-legged stool,” Radaideh tells New Atlas in his office at the Sustainable City, which overlooks the adjacent equestrian park. “If you knock one leg out, the stool will fall. I’m sure you’ve entered buildings that were LEED platinum certified before. You go into these soulless buildings and don’t feel like you’re at peace. So when you build green you have to also look at the economic and social values. You can’t just look at one and leave the others.”

Social sustainability is only one of those pillars, but it might just be the most visible, at least from ground level. The 500 villas and 89 apartments are laid out in a neat grid-pattern enclosed by what is described as a “buffer zone.” This consists of an equestrian track running around the perimeter, along with a bike track, a running track made from recycled rubber tires and 10-meter-tall trees that purify the air and act as a line of defense against air contaminants.

Within these borders are solar-shaded communal carparks with EV chargers, placed in a way that forces residents to walk through at least some of the city to reach their villas. The narrow, six-meter-streets modeled on the alleys of old Dubai have no cars, traveled only by pedestrians and communal GPS-tracked electric buggies that residents operate with personalized ID cards.

Put this all together and you have an environment very much designed to draw people outdoors. Though we were lucky enough to visit in Dubai’s cooler months, you didn’t have to look far to see some of the city’s 2,500 residents cycling, playing in the street, or enjoying its parks.

“I’ve been here nearly two years and there are lots of good things,” says Jennifer Stelco, who moved to Dubai’s Sustainable City from Australia. “I’ve got two very small kids and the best thing about it is how safe it is for them. Basically they can walk out of our front garden and they can sort of roam, there’s no traffic, and there’s these community events all the time that we really like as well.”

It was in one of those GPS-equipped buggies that Landscape Director Phil Dunn showed us around the Sustainable City, starting from a plaza at one end consisting of a block of shops, restaurants, cafes and offices. This plaza serves as a sort of economic engine room, with some of the revenue siphoned off to entirely cover the city’s maintenance and service costs, which would be known as homeowners association fees in the United States.

“It is good for the expenses,” confirmed Peter, who moved to the Sustainable City from the Netherlands with his family a year and a half ago. “Our energy bills are less because of the solar, and it’s good that the next generation is a little more aware of the importance of the environment.”

The buggy ride takes us past a set of beehives, an animal sanctuary with rescued donkeys and up to one of the city’s 11 biodomes, where a worker is loading small pots into the back of a delivery van.

This string of large greenhouses snakes its way through the center of the Sustainable City, hosting 30 different herb and vegetable species and rearing up to one million plants each year. They form part of the city’s “Central Green Spine,” made up of more running and cycling tracks, gyms, basketball courts, parks and an ancient Emirati irrigation system known as Falaj, which uses plants as natural filtration systems.

“You can build a sustainable city, but if people don’t go there to live sustainably, then you haven’t achieved your goal,” Dunn says as he pulls the buggy up to a set of garden beds, each individual plot overseen by one of the city’s residents. Through the urban farming club, residents get access to a garden bed, soil and free rein to raise whatever they want. The UAE imports 80 percent of its food, so an ability to grow local is important. To that end, through a voucher-based honor system residents also get eight pots of greenhouse herbs and vegetables per month to take back to their villas.

Those villas are topped with solar panels and are made from thick precast concrete, carefully oriented to keep cooling costs to a minimum. That means windows that face north away from the intense sunlight and openings that face north-east for breezy passive cooling. This together with high-efficiency appliances make for homes that use around a third of energy of the typical home in the UAE, according to Radaideh.

The 500 villas are all sorted into five clusters and at the center of those clusters is an outdoor playground area along with a traditional Arabian wind tower known as a barjeel. These collect air at the top and push cooler air through the bottom to make the outdoor spaces more comfortable. Though these modern renditions have been modified for improved performance, just like the narrow car-free streets they serve as an important example of cultural awareness.

“Don’t forget about the local culture, the local habits and the local architecture,” says Radaideh. “You can’t put a sustainable community in place and have it look like an alien entity. It also has to work with nature, work with the culture and it has to inspire.”

Dunn tells us that all the solar panels of the Sustainable City combine for total 6 MWp and provide around 40 to 50 percent of the total energy needs. The aim of the Sustainable City is to eventually become a net-zero energy entity over the course of a year, generating at least as much power as it produces.

The second phase of the project will see the addition of a school with green living practices weaved into the curriculum, a hospital and huge new innovation center billed as “the brain of the sustainable city,” which is expected to produce 140 percent of its energy requirements over a 50-year lifespan. The city’s expansion is expected to bring another 3 MWp online, and though Radaideh chose his words carefully regarding the progress towards net-zero energy, he expects this will put them on track to achieve their goals.

“We will be finishing phase two by next year and then everything will be in place, everything will be plugged in and hopefully you will come back and visit and we will show you our dashboard where we keep track of our energy consumption and other sustainability elements,” he says.

The ongoing energy costs of the Sustainable City are part of the appeal, but also feeding into the “Economic” sustainability leg of Radaideh’s tripod is the price of the homes themselves. A cursory glance at the options on local real estate website Property Finder tells us that prices start at AED$2,750,000 (around US$750,000). Sure, this is greater than what you’ll pay for a three-bedroom villa in many parts of the world, but might not be all that bad for the lavish lands of Dubai.

“There’s this thinking that sustainability costs more, that you have to sacrifice to live sustainably, but we’ve busted that theory,” says Dunn. “The villas don’t cost more, they’re on par with competitors and you get so much more. The solar, no maintenance and service fees and the utility bills are slashed.”

Dunn describes the Sustainable City as a living laboratory, where they are continually experimenting with new technologies couched in green living aspirations. One example of this is a shipping container adjacent to the equestrian park, where French startup Agricool tries to raise strawberries in the desert with greater efficiency than conventional farming practices, and without the use of pesticides and GMOs.

And this is where our tour wrapped up, with a crowd of families gathering on the lawn outside to watch on as an evening equestrian event played out. The fact that the Sustainable City was named the “Happiest Community” in the region at the Gulf Real Estate Awards earlier this year popped up more than once during our visit, and there is an undeniable Plesantville-esque vibe around the place.

“We’ve been here for three years,” said Pernille Stroem from Denmark. “I like that it is so easy to make friends. In the evenings the kids can take their bikes and just go around the community. It’s just so easy to find friends.”

In saying that, there is a distinct lack of teenagers and young adults, suggesting that this way of desert living isn’t for everyone. But the hope is that the lessons that continue to be learned at the Sustainable City will have ramifications far beyond its environmentally fortified walls.

“It is a proof of concept that building sustainably is possible, and that we made it possible in one of the harshest environments on Earth, in Dubai,” says Radaideh. “The fact that it is here and is working is proof that building sustainably is no longer an option or a luxury, this is how we should build from this point on … We hope that this will inspire new communities that are propagating across the planet to look at us and think ‘you can build sustainably and you can build smart.’ And by build smart I mean building in a way that actually contributes to the reduction of the greenhouse gases, rather than being a burden on this planet.”

Beyond oil: Inside Dubai’s Sustainable City [New Atlas]

The United States docks in at the No. 1 spot for most wasteful countries in the world. Perhaps the US tradition of consumerism has something to do with this, especially during the holidays. After all, the US produces 236 million tons of waste per year, 25 million tons of which solely accumulates between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

The good news is there is a lot we can do to significantly reduce the amount of trash we’re making during the holiday season. By making eco-conscious decisions when it comes to holiday decorations, the food we cook, and the gifts we give, we can drastically reduce our holiday-time carbon footprint and in turn, make an eco-friendly difference during the holidays.

Choose zero-waste gift wrapping options

Just think about all that single-use wrapping paper that immediately gets torn and thrown away once presents are opened. It’s a total waste, especially if it’s not recycled. Luckily, there are eco-friendlier options: fabric wrapping, brown paper, burlap, and even reusable gift wrap bags are alternatives to traditional, single-use wrapping paper.

Here’s another zero-waste wrapping tip: Ditch the Scotch tape. Tape is not biodegradable, unless it is made with vegetable oil. But since most tape is made from plastic, the Scotch tape you’re using to adhere your gift wrap together probably will take more than 1,000 years to decompose. Washi tape, however, is biodegradable, reusable, and made from sustainable resources like silicone. Or, if you’re willing to nix the tape altogether, check out this Japanese gift-wrapping technique that requires neither tape nor ribbon.

Gift experiences

When gift giving this year, consider experiences over belongings. Here are some options to consider: tickets to the theater, vacations or mini-trips, concert tickets, a Groupon, a class, mass transit passes, or spa treatments.

Decorate naturally

The holidays are, of course, a time for decorating but unfortunately, not a lot of traditional decorations are made with sustainable resources. A lot of decorations are plastic or tinsel (neither of which can be composted) and holiday lights often use more energy than necessary.

But there are some great sustainable options. First, consider decorating with as many natural options as possible: pinecones, leaves, acorns, and fresh pine make festive decorations you can sprinkle across the mantle or even fasten on the tree. Dried fruit and cinnamon stick ornaments will keep your home smelling merry as well as looking holiday-ready. When it comes to lights, LED lights use 80 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Bake and cook with what you have

Always take inventory of what you already have stocked in your refrigerator and pantry before finalizing the holiday menu. Chances are you’ll be surprised at the amount you already have: whether it’s spices or other non-perishables. Once you’ve checked out the food you already have, try your best to build the holiday menu around the ingredients you have. By incorporating ingredients you have already, you will likely end up buying less (therefore creating less waste) when you inevitably hit up the grocery store to grab the few things you need for holiday dinner. Instead of buying 20 things, you might find you only need 10. See? You’ve already shrunk down your waste (and your bill!) by 50 percent.

When you do go grocery shopping, opt for a co-op or shop with a bulk section. Whenever possible, opt for an alternative without plastic, single-use packaging. If that’s not an option and you need the item for your menu, then go ahead and get it. It’s not about depriving the menu; it’s about making as many conscious choices as possible.

How to Have a Low-Impact Holiday Season [Green Matters]

As the amount of electricity produced is small, in order to be effective at a practical scale, a whole series of mushrooms would be required. With several mushrooms wired together, enough electricity could be produced to light a small lamp. Researcher Dr. Sudeep Joshi, a postdoc in the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, told BBC News: “We are looking to connect all the mushrooms in series, in an array, and we are also looking to pack more bacteria together… These are the next steps, to optimize the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED.”

While most families gather around the dinner table this time of year to eat turkey and give thanks, a team of scientists are doing something a little different with the bird — they’re turning its poop into fuel.

NPR reports a team at Ben-Gurion University in Israel has been working to figure out ways to transform waste to resources, and has been experimenting with various forms of manure. They say that when turkey droppings are cooked under the right temperature, they transform into a form of coal, which can then become a renewable resource and fuel power plants.

Led by professor Amit Gross, chair of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology, the team started with poultry feces due to its abundance. “It is an environmental burden, and people are still trying to figure out what to do with it,” Gross said. Future Thanksgivings could be powered by the fuel made from a turkey itself, a goal the researchers have in mind.

 

Like most Americans who figure out the perfect recipe to use for Thanksgiving, the team worked to perfect their recipes as well. But when when you’re dealing with turkey droppings to convert waste to energy, they say there are really only two options: roasted or stewed.

Researchers heated up turkey feces to various temperatures. Cooking wet feces at 250°C (482°F) created the most energy-dense substance, called hydrochar, made of biomass particles and water. It can be burned like coal, and the liquid, rich in carbon and nitrogen, can be used as fertilizer.

While cow manure can be used in place of turkey feces, the team has also been experimenting with pressure-cooking human excrement for a study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. But there really is nothing like poultry poo. According to the scientists, they decided to study poultry litter because its nitrogen, a fertilizer, is more abundant in bird droppings than in the excrement of other animals. As an extra benefit of turning waste into fuel, it might be possible to recover some of that nitrogen and use it to nourish plants.

The scientists published their “recipes” and energy comparisons in the journal Applied Energy, stating that as global poultry production continues to grow, its fecal byproduct may help offset some of the world’s energy needs.

The Ben-Gurion researchers point out that poultry production generates 625-938 million metric tons of poop per year. Converting this output into fuel could “potentially replace 10% of coal in the generation of electricity, thereby significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural waste,” the researchers wrote.

If the idea of heating up poop to create fuel sounds gross to you, you might want to get over the “ick” factor. The team in Israel isn’t the only one out there in the world researching ways to turn feces into a renewable resource.  In 2017, a Kenyan company turned human fecal waste in the city of Nakuru into a usable fuel source for cooking and heating and students in South Africa created the world’s first bricks made from human urine.

Figuring out how to use something that’s so abundant all around the world is at the heart of the lab in Israel. The research by the Ben-Gurion team was published ahead of World Toilet Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention and inspire action to the global sanitation crisis. Some 4.5 billion people, or some 60 percent of the global population, either have no toilet at home or one that doesn’t safely manage their excrement, while some 892 million practice open defecation, according to the UN.

“Poultry litter might be a notorious source of pollution, yet has the potential to be an important resource,” Gross said. “The Earth is literally going to be up to its ears in waste, and we’re trying to find a way to use this waste for electricity, for heat, and for cleaner air and water.”

Scientists Are Turning Turkey Poop Into Fuel [Green Matters]

In many New Hampshire towns, residents pay a premium for their waste. Since the 1990s, the state has embraced “pay-as-you-throw” trash programs, which charge locals $1-2 for their trash bags. The bags come in different sizes, but they are the only bags the garbage haulers will collect, so they naturally encourage residents to waste less.

The state capital of Concord adopted this system in 2009, following at least 35 other New Hampshire communities who had enacted similar policies long ago. The city of Dover, for instance, has been paying for throwing since 1991.

But do these pay-as-you-throw programs actually work? According to new research, yes. The University of New Hampshire recently studied 34 programs across the state and found that they significantly reduced trash disposal rates — in some cases, by more than 50 percent.

The UNH researchers evaluated the waste programs of 180 New Hampshire towns, representing 90 percent of the state’s population. The 34 towns with pay-as-you-throw programs saw waste disposal rates drop by 42 to 54 percent compared to towns without trash pricing. These towns averaged only 780 pounds of annual waste per household, while the towns without pay-as-you-throw programs generated an average 1511 pounds.

“Households respond to economic incentives,” John Halstead, a UNH professor of natural resources and the environment, said in a press release. “With unit-based pricing, the cost to the household may increase to dispose of trash, but the incentive to recycle is greater.”

The research was published in the Agricultural and Resource Economics Review earlier this year, with Halstead listed as one of three authors. (Ju-Chin Huang, a UNH professor of economics, and Christopher Wright, an adjunct professor for Montana State University, also worked on the report.)

The men studied data from 2008 to reach their conclusions, which was, as they note, a year of recession. Analysis from previous years showed “smaller impacts,” leading the researchers to wonder if the results were skewed by the economy.

Accordingly, the report recommends additional research on the impact of trash pricing over time, as well as their effect on recycling rates. While pay-as-you-throw programs are usually associated with a spike in recycling, the researchers did not find a statistically significant difference in recycling rates between New Hampshire towns with and without the programs.

Pay-as-you-throw has gained traction in cities and towns outside the Granite State. The last EPA reporton the subject found 7,095 “PAYT” communities in America. They were especially popular in Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and New Hampshire — all states where the percentage of PAYT communities was 75 percent or higher. And they’re incredibly old news in some areas, which have been charging for trash since the 1970s.

New Hampshire’s Pay-As-You-Throw Programs Are Reducing Waste By 50 Percent [Green Matters]

Cities along the coast have typically relied on sea walls to keep the ocean out. These concrete and steel embankments mitigate flooding when storms whip the waters onto land, and they currently protect the residents of countless ocean-adjacent towns.

But according to Stateline, U.S. city leaders are reconsidering their flood defenses. Instead of sea walls, they’re increasingly opting for waterfront parks that welcome the tides in and pose less of a threat to local marine life.

The idea of opening the coast to stormy waters rather than blocking them with a large, solid wall is central to the Dutch approach to flood management. The Netherlands has long preached living with — rather than fighting — water, but the concept is now catching on in America. City planners like the idea because it gives them a better opportunity to divert the flooding wherever they want it to go, all while avoiding some of the issues that are typically attached to sea walls: Coastal erosion, soaring costs, and interference to turtle nesting.

Boston is one of the larger cities ditching sea walls for parks. The New England metropolis originally planned to construct a massive four-mile barrier around the Boston Harbor. But as the projected price climbed to $11.8 billion and UMass researchers warned it was a short-term solution at best, city officials changed their strategy.

Last month, Mayor Martin Walsh announced a new plan to build a network of waterfront parks. Statelinereports these parks would ultimately add 67 acres of green space to the coast — and restore 122 tidal acres. Boston city planners will also elevate certain areas that are more vulnerable to flooding, and put up small-scale barriers, some of which will be removable.

“I’m not sure if any other city in America has quite planned this way,” Walsh told reporters at a press conference on Oct. 15.

“They have after the fact. New Orleans had to plan after Katrina. But we want to get ahead of this game and plan before before something happens like that.”

But Boston isn’t alone in its newfound affinity for flood parks. Stateline points to similar projects in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, which have relied on sea walls since the 1960s. With the water levels there rising 14 inches since 1930, the communities are now considering more parks and wetlands.

The rising sea levels and severe flooding spurred by climate change are forcing cities to rethink their commitments to sea walls. Yet Stateline argues that the barriers “may be necessary in some circumstances.” Sea walls are so ingrained in cities along southern Florida that it’s difficult to avoid them entirely. As the older ones crack and crumble, city planners must decide how much to invest in their maintenance and how much to spend on greener alternatives.

Still, the push for waterfront parks is a boon for environmentalists, who worry about the walls’ impact on coasts and marine life, as well as their long-term sustainability. And it’s also a win for city residents, who will be able to enjoy more greenery during the less stormy seasons.

Coastal Cities Consider Waterfront Parks Over Sea Walls To Combat Flooding [Green Matters] 

Steudle headed up a department of 2,500 employees and oversaw a $4.7 billion annual budget. With a responsibility to maintain nearly 10,000 miles of state highways and more than 4,000 bridges, certainly the state has had its share of basic structural and funding issues. Michigan’s weather has taken a heavy toll on roads and infrastructure; the governor-elect, Gretchen Whitmer, made “fixing the damn roads” her major election pitch this year. But the state has also has an eye on the future.
Michigan’s Mcity, for example, has been attracting cutting-edge tech companies and global automakers alike to its 32-acre testing facility. It was one of the first major proving grounds for autonomous vehicle technology in the U.S. Since then, Toyota has opened its own research testing facility in the state, and the American Center for Mobility has christened a 500-acre site for autonomous vehicle research — where GM’s Willow Run plant once stood.Just before his retirement in October 2018, Steudle chatted with Digital Trends about what he’s learned, and he offered some words of advice for municipalities trying to upgrade their infrastructure for the digital age.

NO DUMB CITIES

“I hate the term smart cities,” Steudle said. “It implies that if you’re not promoting it, you’re being dumb. And it’s more than cities. It’s communities and a transportation network that isn’t just one geographical space.”

Steudle points out that planners need to emphasize the interconnectedness of mobility solutions with community goals, whether or not those solutions are perceived of as being high-tech.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY MAY NOT COME

“Don’t deploy for technology’s sake,” Steudle said. “You should deploy only to solve a problem.”

You have to be able to answer the question of what problem you’re trying to solve, whether it be improving traffic safety or reducing congestion. It may be providing access to services in previously underserved areas, or it may be delivering infrastructure improvements to help local businesses. But whatever the goal, it should be clearly articulated before picking a technological solution, according to Steudle.

TAKE THE LONG ROAD

“You should take in information from a lot of different sources,” Steudle said. “Learn as much as you can about the technology.”

The former Michigan DOT director said public servants need to bring along a healthy dose of skepticism to any new project. There are plenty of technology companies willing to sell them expensive systems now, pitching the latest trends, but municipalities are in it for the long haul. So reach out to a variety of sources, including other cities, to develop realistic expectations.

USE YOUR ON-RAMPS

It’s essential to develop a base to work from, Steudle pointed out: “Once a network’s in place, then you can start adding things to it.”

A tangible example is replacing aging illumination, like sodium street lights, with LEDs with embedded network connections. The lighting system then becomes a mesh network that can support other infrastructure initiatives. (Detroit turned on 65,000 LED streetlights back in 2016.)

YOU CAN’T CHANGE EVERYTHING

Some technologies require impractical changes. One example, Steudle noted, was autonomous vehicle companies suggesting that if municipalities would just keep their road lines painted, everything would run perfectly.

“But 52 percent of state roads are gravel and will never be painted,” Steudle explained. So agencies have to pay attention to practicalities — what will work, and what won’t.

LOOK TO REGULAR MAINTENANCE

Transportation departments should continually reassess tasks they currently take for granted.

“Look at the traffic signals. We replace them every year. We ought to do that with a eye to the future” adding new technologies in the process, Steudle said.

In fact, Michigan has initiated several vehicle-to-infrastructure DSRC (dedicated short-range communications) installations so that cars can talk to traffic lights and receive warnings about weather and road conditions ahead. Initial costs may be steep, Steudle noted, but once you establish a standard for contractors to meet, the prices start to drop. It also minimizes the amount of equipment you have to change in the future.

“We’re actively watching what happens to that [wireless] spectrum, and keeping our eye on cellular V2X” Steudle said.

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities [Digital Trends]

Over the last few years, we’ve been keeping tabs on a cooling systemdeveloped by a team led by Professor Shanhui Fan at Stanford University that draws thermal heat from a building and beams it into space through a process called radiative cooling – all without requiring any external power source. Now the researchers have paired this technology with a solar panel, designing a system with the same rooftop footprint that could generate electricity and passively cool a building at the same time.

Air conditioners are major energy hogs, and with global temperatures on the rise the problem is only set to get worse. When we first looked at the radiative cooling system being developed by Fan and his associates in 2013, it was suggested the passive rooftop panels could be used in place of solar panels used to generate electricity to run AC systems, or to cool buildings in off-grid areas. But now the team has found an even better solution, in a dual-purpose device that means passive cooling doesn’t have to mean sacrificing electricity generation for rooftop real estate.

“We’ve built the first device that one day could make energy and save energy, in the same place and at the same time, by controlling two very different properties of light,” says Fan.

The hybrid device takes the form of a double-layered solar panel, with the upper sun-facing layer consisting of the same semiconductor materials used on existing rooftop solar panels, while the bottom layer is made of materials that convert a building’s thermal heat into a particular wavelength of infrared light that is able to pass directly through the atmosphere, allowing it to be beamed into space.

To test the potential of the concept, the team built a prototype device with a diameter roughly that of a pie plate and mounted it to the roof of a building at Stanford. Because the prototype didn’t include a layer of metal foil as is normally found in solar cells, which would have prevented the infrared light from escaping, it wasn’t possible to test whether the device produced electricity. However, the top layer, which was absorbing sunlight, reached 24° C (43° F) above the ambient temperature, while the radiative cooling layer shielded below fell to 29° C (52° F) below the ambient temperature.

“This shows that heat radiated up from the bottom, through the top layer and into space,” says Zhen Chen, who is now a professor at the Southeast University of China but who led the experiments as a postdoctoral scholar in Fan’s lab.

Having demonstrated the cooling capabilities of the system, the team is now working to design solar cells that don’t require metal liners so a single device can both cool a building and generate electricity.

“We think we can build a practical device that does both things,” Fan says.

Hybrid rooftop device to harvest solar energy and passively cool buildings at the same time [New Atlas]