10 Inventions That Will Actually Make a Difference For The Planet This Year

Every day, it seems that creative and forward-thinking people are responding to the rising demand for inventions that are both useful and ecologically conscious. Some products seem to be straight out of Black Mirror—with their sleek, modern designs—while others are still in their clunky trial stages. We’ve compiled a list of ten green creations that give us hope for the future of our planet.

1. The Ocean Cleanup

23-year-old boy genius, Boyan Slat, is the founder and president of The Ocean Cleanup, a foundation which is dedicated to developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. The Dutch inventor is in the works of creating a 62-mile underwater, V-shaped barrier to trap plastic trash as it floats along ocean currents. Slat said the technology, which he hopes to deploy by 2020, could remove half of the trash—amounting to 150 million pounds of trash—from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within 10 years. Once removed, much of that plastic could be properly recycled.

2. AVANI Biodegradable Bags

Kevin Kumala, founder of AVANI Eco, was worried about the future of the beaches and marine life on and around his island home of Bali. He identified the plastic bag as one of the biggest threats to the ocean ecosystems. Rather than requiring humans to stop using all bags, Kumala believed he should design a better product that would make it easier for people to make the shift from plastic to eco-friendly. After some tinkering, he created a biodegradable bag made from cassava roots and natural starches. They claim their greenness loudly with the words “I AM NOT PLASTIC” branded to their sides. The bags are also harmless for animal consumption.

3. Epson PaperLab

Brought to you by the company you count on to print out your term papers and flight reservations, the Epson PaperLab is a large-scale machine which may enable big corporate spaces (think government offices and banks) to directly recycle and upcycle paper in their own building.

Epson’s new innovation is a combination shredder and paper-making machine. Here’s how it works: a company dumps its waste paper into the machine, which then tears the paper apart and shoots the stack with a jet stream of air to eliminate ink from the shredded bits. Liquid binders are then added to reassemble the fibers into recycled sheets. A high-pressured process can then perform custom size, thickness, and color alterations to any individual sheet of paper. While the PaperLab machine is by no means portable—it measures nine feet by four feet—it can produce 14 sheets of paper every minute. That’s over 6,700 sheets during the 8-hour workday!

4. The Seabin Project

Australian surfers-turned-inventors Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski are the founders of The Seabin Project. This simple, but innovative bin is making a huge difference in oceans across the world. Designed to be set up in marinas and ports, the floating trash can is powered by an on-shore water pump. It filters through seawater and collects accumulated garbage, which can later be disposed of properly. The Seabin is also capable of capturing oils and pollutants from the surface of the water. Low maintenance and low cost, the trash can is highly effective and engineered to clean the oceans 24/7.

As of now 20 Seabins are operational around the world, but over 2,000 units are currently on order. The long term goal, according to Ceglinski, is to “to use the plastics we catch to create new Seabins.”

5. Edible Water Bottles

At first glance, these clear pods look like something off the International Space Station, but they actually are edible water bottles. Ooho—the water you can eat—is the brainchild of Skipping Rocks Lab, a “seaweed-tech” startup based in London. They have created a waste-free alternative to plastic bottles and cups. A serving size of water is encapsulated in a clear membrane (much like the juice balls in boba tea) made from a seaweed extract. The seaweed does not have a flavor on its own, and can be eaten along with the water. Eventually, flavors may be added to the skin.

Because the skin is 100% compostable, it does not have to be eaten, though many people eat it for the “experience.” Pierre Paslier, cofounder of Skipping Rocks Lab, says of the packaging, “You’re not expected to eat the peel of your orange or banana. We are trying to follow the example set by nature for our packaging.”

6. AIR-INK pens

The air that we breathe is full of poison. But Anirudh Sharma, founder of AIR-INK, believes that we can turn that danger into something useful. His “pollution-filled” pen proves that pollution may be our greatest resource. First, a cartridge, similar to the kind found in printers, is affixed to cars to collect carbon soot from the cars’ exhausts. Next, the AIR-INK team removes toxins, such as heavy metals. What is left is raw carbon, and that is then processed into a high-quality black ink and sold in a pen-like container. One pen of AIR-INK contains 40-50 minutes of car pollution and writes just like a normal pen.

7. Beer Bottle Sand

The solution to saving the world’s beaches could be to drink more beer!

In 2017, DB Breweries launched Beer Bottle Sand, a campaign designed to encourage the recycling of glass beer bottles. The New Zealand brewery has built a machine that crushes beer bottles into usable sand. The entire transformation process takes just five seconds. As the bottle is inserted into the machine, a laser triggers a wheel of small steel hammers, which pulverizes the bottle into minuscule bits. Meanwhile, a vacuum system removes silica dust and plastic labels, leaving behind 200 grams of sand substitute powder per bottle. The sand is then used to preserve the beaches that are so integral to the Kiwi lifestyle. In the future, the brewery plans to supply their sand to national roading projects, commercial and residential construction, and even golf bunkers.

8. Edible Six-Pack Rings

The company, known for Screamin’ Reels IPA and Sea Cow Milk Stout, has partnered up with We Believers ad agency to create the first-of-its-kind edible beer packaging rings—a product that feeds animals, rather than kills them. Developed from a material made of barley and wheat leftover from the brewing process, the edible rings are baked in the oven like bread dough and hardens into a six-pack ring mold. The end result is an environmental masterpiece which not only replaces plastic, but is also 100% biodegradable and nourishing for both humans and animals.

The innovative six-pack ring redesign is as efficient and durable as plastic, and even better—it prompts both manufacturers and consumers to consider the full life-cycle of the product they produce and consume. One major drawback is that the cost has spiked for now—that is until other manufacturers hop on board the environmental train. Saltwater Brewery’s goal is to inspire others in the beer industry to solve the plastic packaging problem, as We Believers creative chief officer Gustavo Lauria describes: “For brands to be successful today, it is no longer about being the best in the world. But rather, being the best for the world and take a real stance.”

9. Nebia Shower System

Showers waste an astounding amount of water—up to 20 gallons of water per 8 minute shower. The Nebia shower system seeks to reduce their product’s water consumption by 70% without impacting “the shower experience.” By utilizing the same technologies that engineers use for rocket engines and medical devices, the Nebia atomizes the water stream into tiny droplets, allowing 10 times the surface area to be covered with only a fraction of the water volume; all while maintaining water pressure and decreasing water wastage.

10. Robot Bees

Perhaps the most Black Mirror of them all is the robot bee. Researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have created a robotic, bee-like drone in hopes of solving the rapid decline in global bee populations. The manually-controlled drone mimics the process of cross pollination carried out by honey bees. Its base is covered in horse hair and a sticky gel substance. As the drone lands on one flower, pollen sticks to its base, and then rubs off onto the next flower it visits.

While the initial research of the invincible robotic “bees” gives some hope, there’s still much work to be done before a long-term, economical and efficient solution is found. In the meantime, the reduction of harmful pesticide use is an essential part of the solution. Ultimately, bees and drones should work in conjunction. Robots should not plan to replace the real thing.

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