Tag: Plastic Planet

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Biomimicry

Mushrooms: The New Solution for our Plastic Problem?

You cannot look around your local environment without seeing something made out of plastic. Almost all the stuff we buy is packaged in plastic. Since recycling packaging materials is difficult and expensive, these plastics are being moved to landfills to bio-degrade. If left undisturbed, this process could take more than a thousand years for the plastic lying on the bottom, where there is hardly any oxygen. Fortunately, researchers have recently found a fungus in the Amazon rainforest which is able to degrade the plastics.

In an expedition to discover plants and microorganisms in the Amazon, researchers discovered the first fungus species that could live on a diet of polyurethane and thrive in a climate without oxygen. This means that plastic on the bottom of a landfill might possible by broken down by Pestalotiopsis microspora or a similar species.

The mushroom is only found in the Amazon, a place without any plastics. Will this fungus have a future outside the rainforest?

The soft touch of a human hand
Anthropomorphobia

The Soft Touch of a Human Hand

When using devices nowadays everything feels like plastic. Nissan’s engineers are trying to change just that.

The inside of cars usually are built with plastic and can feel cheap instead of the pleasant feeling of human skin. The most comfortable materials, according to Nissan’s engineers, are soft, warm, smooth and even moist. When creating the most naturally feeling plastic the engineers are using these qualities to recreate the feeling of human skin. These qualities, however, are not the only factors in making plastic feel naturally.

The natural feeling comes from pressure resistance and texture as well. Nissan’s engineers are replicating the softness of human skin and applying it to the plastics. The most attractive texture according to Nissan’s research approximates that of the human fingerprint. The implementation of these new natural feeling plastics should lead to the most comfortable cars ever. Drivers will love the soft, natural feeling of the steering wheel.

nanocrystalline cellulose sample
Guided Growth

Using Nanoscale Wood Pulp to Replace Metal and Plastics

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) sounds almost too good to be true. The same microscopic particles that help trees to stand up straight are also lightweight, non-toxic, stronger than steel and just happen to be the most abundant organic compound on Earth. First studied in earnest in the early 1990s, manufacturers can now produce pure NCC from wood pulp.

Some early boosters are predicting that NCC will replace metals, conventional glass, and petroleum-based plastics in everything from helicopters to office towers. The material is cheap, and doesn’t even require felling entire trees: It can be recovered from twigs, sawdust and presumably any plant with woody components. Though NCC is cheap, is potential profitability is anything but. The USDA anticipates that the nanocrystalline cellulose market will hit $600 billion by 2020. NCC might wean us off mining for nonrenewable resources, might lead to a second rush on the world’s forests, or may simply blow away in a puff of nanoscale hype.

Via Atlantic Cities.

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Designed-by-Evolution

Jewels from the Ocean

Designer and former fashion model Barbara de Vries was cleaning plastic litter off her favorite beach in the Bahamas, when she noticed the plastic fragments were all uniquely tinted and molded after years tumbling in the ocean.  The beauty of the litter inspired her to create a jewelery collection. Diamonds plastics are forever!

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autonomous garbage collecting robot
Biomimicry

Free Range Robot Filters Out the Ocean’s Plastic

Whale sharks are great at filtering; plastic needs to be filtered. For now, however, whale sharks only have an appetite for plankton. Industrial designer Elie Ahovi has jumped into the void with her Marine Drone, an autonomous robot that can dredge up the plastic junk that currently clogs our oceans. Roaming the ocean for two-week periods, Ahovi’s drone can collect plastic in its attached net while scaring off any marine life with an irritating high-pitched tone. When its batteries run low, the robot returns to a home base where humans can collect the plastic and ship it off to a recycling plant.

Via Popular Science.

Anthropomorphobia

Lowtech Plastic Surgery

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So this is what you get when artists Lucyandbart practice their low-tech plastic surgery techniques on visitors of the MU gallery in Eindhoven. We are clueless on whether it was actually their objective to end up in the blend between tribal Africa & Beverly Hills. Peculiar image of the week.

jamaica bay pen project
Boomeranged Metaphors

A Second Life for Rescued Plastic Pens

Artist Willis Elkins “rescues” plastic detritus from the sea. His most recent venture, the Jamaica Bay Pen Project, retrieves sun-baked, useless pens from the shores of New York’s Jamaica Bay and reinvigorates them with fresh ink cartridges. Once consigned to the sea, Elkins gives these pens a second chance at a useful life. This project joins the New York City Lighter Log, Elkins’ previous effort to catalogue and preserve the various species of plastic lighters found on the city’s shores.

Elkins’ project is a reversal of our standard disregard for plastic junk. Instead of seeing it as disposable, the artist treats each object as a unique specimen worthy of preservation. According to Elkins, “[land]scapes that were once virgin territories of human exploration: staggering mountains, vast oceans, even the depths of space are now all being rediscovered and examined not for containing profound examples of what is natural, but what is not.” From landfill mines to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world is now overflowing with unnatural resources ready to be exploited.

Via Treehugger.

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Plastic Planet

Plastic Soup

Recipes from a post-fish world? Our peculiar image of the week was created by Nathalie Faber & Matthijs Immink.

Mandy Barker Plastic Ocean
Anthropocene

Plastic Junk Helps Ocean Animals (Sometimes)

While the Pacific garbage patch is often characterized as a dense, Texas-sized island of plastic, in reality it’s an area of 2,736 square km scattered with tiny, floating bits of plastic. Popular conception holds that the worst effect of this junk is that it strangles animals, or accumulates in their stomachs, leading to slow, painful deaths either way.

In reality, it’s much harder to suss out plastic’s impact on oceanic organisms. Fish and birds do eat plastic, and in large quantities. Bottle shards and cigarette lighters were found in the bellies of dead albatross chicks. However, it may be that for most animals, nurdles more or less harmlessly pass through their digestive systems. Scientists just don’t know. On the flip side of the plastic coin are ocean-faring creatures that are clearly thriving thanks to this novel material.

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Innovative Nostalgia

In the Future, We Will Mine for Plastic

Peak oil, the point when petroleum extraction is at its maximum, may have already occurred sometime in the last few years. Not only affecting whether we drive a Humvee or not, engineer Debbia Chachra reminds us that peak oil also means peak plastic.

Not limited to water bottles and cheap toys, plastic is vital to medicine, industry, agriculture, and transportation. From the soles of your shoes to the carpeting in your house, it’s harder to find an object that doesn’t incorporate petrochemicals than one that does. “Plastic,” Chachra writes, “is so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible.”

Plastic’s durability means that it winds up everywhere, welcome or not: In the bellies of albatross, in giant trash vortexes in the pacific, on beaches and in our blood. Although certain microbes may eventually evolve to eat plastic, the truth is that most of our plastic waste is going to stick around  for thousands of years.

This resistance to degradation, Chachra argues, is a hidden asset. Millions of tons of petroplastic are buried in landfills, waiting for the day when the cost of excavating them becomes less than the cost of squeezing the last drops oil from the ground. Although we may develop workable alternatives, petroplastic’s killer combo of persistence, moldability, and sterilizability will make it valuable for centuries to come.

Chachra envisions a future where “cool, slick petroplastics will become a repository of warm nostalgia. I like to imagine the Brooklyn-hipsters-of-the-future, on their rooftops, using vodka and bitter almond oil to make artisanal polyethylene.”

Via Warren Ellis.