Capturing Atmospheric CO2 with Carbon Engineering by Brittany Ilardi

Carbon Engineering’s patented technology continuously captures CO2 from the atmosphere via two processes: an air contactor and a regeneration cycle. The captured air is then used to produce pure CO2, which can be sold for use in industrial applications or permanently sequestered underground.

Right now, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies focus on industrial point sources, which account for just 40% of total global emissions. But what about the other 60%?  These emissions are the result of diffuse and mobile sources, like cars, home heating, and even land use change; many of these sources can be incredibly difficult and costly to control. With the help of direct air capture (DAC) technology, Carbon Engineering is hoping to change that.

Founded by Professor David Keith of Harvard University, Carbon Engineering aims to do what traditional carbon capture cannot by capturing atmospheric CO2 with DAC technology, in order to reduce emissions from sources that are otherwise hard to manage. “Our goal is to absorb industrially significant quantities of CO2 directly from the air, not from flue stacks,” says Geoffrey Holmes of Carbon Engineering.  CCS captures CO2 from large point sources, like industrial power plants. Direct air capture, however, extracts CO2 directly from the atmosphere, where it is evenly distributed, so that DAC can be performed anywhere with equal environmental benefit. “We don’t view CCS and DAC as competitors, we view them as complements,” stresses Holmes.

Direct air capture does indeed cost more (per ton of CO2 captured) than CCS, since atmospheric CO2 is much more dilute than that from industrial sources. To counter the initial higher cost of capture, Carbon Engineering is focusing on the low carbon transportation fuel industry. Purified atmospheric CO2 can be used to produce liquid fuel that will have a low carbon intensity, and thus a high financial value in these growing markets. This can be accomplished through enhanced oil recovery, algal biofuel production, or even direct fuel synthesis. Despite the higher cost for purified CO2 from DAC, the use of atmospheric CO2  - rather than re-captured fossil CO2 – can produce ultra-low carbon fuels, who’s attributes can offset the high cost of capture.

Using tested, low technical risk equipment, Carbon Engineering plans to launch their first pilot at the end of this year. From there, the company will focus on business development and how to implement full-scale DAC facilities. “Our next roadblock will be market readiness. Surprisingly to some, there are markets today that will provide the revenue we need for business, but they are still evolving and nobody has tested out our specific business model yet,” explains Holmes. Right now, Carbon Engineering is focusing on California, whose Low Carbon Fuel Standard provides a niche market for valuable CO2. “But California is ahead of the pack on this. Further adoption in other markets can only strengthen our business and gives us more space.” Other applications for Carbon Engineering’s purified CO2 include enhanced oil recovery operations or algal biofuel production.

Carbon Engineering’s technology has enormous potential. As Holmes suggests, “This technology could make a huge dent if that’s what people and societies decide they want to do. Theoretically, you could build any number of these facilities to capture gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, but economies would have to decide that’s the route they want to go. They would have to prioritize how much of our technology to deploy relative to traditional CCS, solar electricity, battery powered vehicles, biofuels and other choices. Even with our self-interest in DAC, all of us at CE would like to see a broad portfolio of these options developed, and each used where it is most suitable. It’s hard for us to predict what capacity we will end up deploying at, but the potential is very large, and we see that as motivation to take DAC seriously.”

To learn more about DAC, check out Carbon Engineering.

Tracking Global Fishing from Space by Brittany Ilardi

By integrating AIS and SAR imagery, SkyTruth identified over 40 suspicious vessels surrounding Easter Island.

Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 fish are caught illegally, worth up to $23.5 billion every year? What if we could use satellites to illuminate these unsustainable fishing practices and reduce their environmental impact? That’s SkyTruth’s mission. Founded by John Amos in 2002, the nonprofit organization is working to uncover the environmental consequences of damaging human activity through remote sensing and digital mapping. 

SkyTruth had its big break in 2010 when it became the first to challenge estimates regarding the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Through satellite imagery, the organization was able to prove that a much greater volume of oil was spilling into the gulf than officials were reporting. Since then, SkyTruth has applied its expertise to expose the detrimental impacts related to other human activities, including mining, oil and gas drilling, and deforestation.

While their efforts to date mainly focused on energy and geological resources, SkyTruth is now also taking on illegal fishing. The organization seeks to create awareness and transparency about what is happening out in the ocean by tracking vessel activity across the globe.  David Manthos at SkyTruth explains, "Normally, if you’re out on the open ocean, you’re going in a straight line as fast as possible from Point A to Point B. If you see a vessel like a refrigerated cargo ship suddenly stop especially on the edge of a marine protected area, you start to have questions about what they are doing and who they might be meeting.”

In January 2013, SkyTruth partnered with the Global Ocean Legacy project, through the generous support of the Bertarelli Foundation, and the Ending Illegal Fishing project of The Pew Charitable Trusts in order to track illegal fishing around Easter Island. By integrating the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which allows ships to broadcast their location to avoid collisions, and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which detects ships even if they are not broadcasting, SkyTruth was able to identify over 40 suspicious vessels within a year. Now, SkyTruth is hoping to tap into Google’s technical resources and partner with additional conservation groups to expand their fishing monitoring efforts to the entire planet.

According to Manthos, “transparency is something we at SkyTruth think is valuable.” By creating more awareness, SkyTruth is making it possible to identify illegal fishers, and they are hard at work building a platform that will allow operators to prove they are practicing sustainable fishing.  

To learn more, check out SkyTruth

MIT Professor Merges Biology and Materials through Biomateriomics by Brittany Ilardi

Buehler’s research, such as that modeled after spider silk, combines biology and materials in order to create greater strength and durability.

Buehler’s research, such as that modeled after spider silk, combines biology and materials in order to create greater strength and durability.

Engineering is complicated. Think about how many different components are needed to create a simple structure. Today’s buildings use multiple stiff materials that are bolted together and require maintenance over time. What if the structures of tomorrow could rely on just one continuous, self-healing material?

Markus Buehler, Professor and head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, is trying to bridge the gap between materials and biology through his study of “biomateriomics.” According to Buehler, “advances could enable us to provide engineered materials and structures with properties that resemble those of biological systems, in particular the ability to self-assemble, to self-repair, to adapt and evolve, and to provide multiple functions that can be controlled through external cues.”  Imagine the possibilities for a building wall to heat and cool the surrounding space instead of relying on mechanical systems or a cracked window self-repairing. 

The future of materials will take advantage of diversity in the structure rather than diversity in the building block. Like the human body utilizes the “building block” of the cell to carry out thousands of functions, Buehler’s research aims to support a variety of structural needs using the same basic chemicals.  

Nature tells us that it is entirely possible. Take spider silk, for example. Buehler’s team is exploring how spiders produce protein-based silk that is both strong and stretchable. The way these proteins are assembled in different architectures controls how a spider web forms and how durable it becomes. Unlike human-made structures that have weak points and are discontinuous, spider silk is a flowing material with different properties at different points. The silk is chemically the same throughout, but put together in varying sequences in order to create strength and flexibility where needed.

“The ability to create more function with less is something we’re trying to get to. We’re trying to create a more rational approach to engineering by focusing on nano and microstructure.” Buehler imagines a world where we can one day indicate the need for a material with certain properties, then feed these requirements into a computer modeling software and have it identify the process needed to make this particular material structure.

For Buehler, it’s all about getting more for less. Biomateriomics presents the opportunity to create a more tailored product that can be customized in ways that were previously impossible. Cost is another driving point. If you can reduce the need for various material resources by focusing on changing the internal structure of just one, you can generate huge savings.

“Biology tells us that we can make these flexible structures. I think that the next five to ten years will be about figuring out how.”

To learn more, check out the research led by Professor Buehler at his Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM) and the Multiscale Materials design course offered. 

The Future of Green Design: Sweaty Buildings, Self-healing Concrete and CO2 Bricks by Brittany Ilardi

Right now, our planet is home to over seven billion people. That’s a whole lot of buildings. As the global population continues to climb, the need for green building innovation is rising to the forefront. Today’s entrepreneurs and researchers are answering the call for more sustainable construction, from overall building design to usable materials themselves.

As the push for urban expansion increases, the concrete and cement markets are under particular pressure to reassess their sustainability efforts. Solidia Technologies is hoping to reshape the industry with their carbon-capture cement products. Their innovative method sequesters CO2 by injecting it directly into the concrete during production, therefore turning harmful waste into a useful element. Considering that cement manufacturing makes up roughly 5-7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, carbon-capture at the heart of the process could make a big difference. Another alternative is bio-concrete, a project that is gaining special attention at TU Delft. Using limestone-excreting bacteria called extremophiles, this material has the ability to self-heal. If widely implemented, bio-concrete would eliminate the need for steel reinforcements and frequent replacements of crack-prone concrete, greatly reducing maintenance costs.

But what about structures that are already in place? What can be done to increase their sustainability? A group of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are hoping to break into this field with a new type of synthetic roofing material that extracts heat from buildings. Their mat-like material soaks up and stores rainwater, and then releases it when heat is applied. Just like a human perspires in order to cool down on a hot day, this material begins to “sweat” when it exceeds ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The released water then evaporates in the sunlight and helps to keep the building cool, all without the use of any electricity. According to the researchers leading the project, the design has the potential to reduce the energy used for cooling purposes by as much as sixty percent. Since this “sweating” material is highly inexpensive, it is a perfect solution for developing countries where there is little access to electricity.

Other entrepreneurs are looking to put the tools for sustainability directly in the hands of the people. CrowdComfort, which is expecting a formal launch early this year, is the world’s first crowd-sourced thermostat. Their technology, perfect for business settings, allows anyone to report comfort and maintenance issues simply by using their smartphone. Employees can download the CrowdComfort app and rate the thermal comfort of their particular location in real-time. Maintenance staff can then access the data and adjust temperature conditions in accordance with employee ratings. This not only improves the comfort of the building, but helps to lower operation costs by creating greater heating and cooling efficiencies.

Innovations in the green building space have the potential to revolutionize the industry. From “sweating” roof tiles to carbon-capture cement, today’s visionaries are working hard to ensure that the structures of tomorrow are sustainable enough to support our growing world. To learn more, check out Solidia Technologies, TU Delft, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and CrowdComfort

Stepping, Kicking, and Pedaling Your Way to Renewable Energy by Brittany Ilardi

What do a floor tile, a soccer ball, and a bicycle have in common? Believe it or not, they’re all mediums through which renewable energy is being produced. Today’s innovators are thinking outside of the box when it comes to unique forms of energy, making power more efficient, accessible, and sustainable for all.

Pavegen tiles were placed along the walkway connecting the West Ham Station to the Olympic Park in London.  

Pavegen tiles were placed along the walkway connecting the West Ham Station to the Olympic Park in London.  

Pavegen, a company based in London, has developed a floor tile technology that converts kinetic energy from footsteps into electricity. Laurence Kemball-Cook founded the innovation company in 2009 after researching off-grid energy solutions at Loughborough University.

Since its inception, Pavegen’s electricity has been harvested for a variety of applications, including pedestrian lighting, way-finding signage, and battery storage.

The Pavegen tile is particularly effective in high-footfall urban locations, where it can literally pave the way for the sustainable cities of tomorrow.

Other innovations in the energy sector, like those developed by Uncharted Play, are also making off-grid renewable electricity more available. The company creates “play products” that generate clean energy in areas that lack access to reliable sources.  Their SOCCKET soccer ball and PULSE jump rope convert kinetic energy into electricity to power small appliances. The SOCCKET even includes a built-in LED light that can remain lit for hours after only 30 minutes of playtime. The technology, which underwent large pilot programs in Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa, is perfect for rural, remote locations where energy access ranges from minimal to none.

Innovators are even looking to cycling in order to fulfill renewable energy needs. Pedal Power, a startup in Willsboro, New York, is harnessing the power of bicycle technology to provide 97% efficient renewable electricity to customers. In addition to their Big Rig and Pedal Genny designs, they also provide custom cycling solutions for farmers, educators, and homesteaders. Their goal? “One day, we hope to see every household charging phones, processing food, and pumping water with pedal power.”

Today’s innovations in renewable off-grid energy are just the beginning of a sustainable future. Whether through kicking around a soccer ball or pedaling a bike, ingenuity with electricity is bringing power production directly into the hands of the consumer.

To learn more, check out Pavegen, Unchartered Play, and Pedal Power.

Tomorrow’s Menu: Eggless Eggs and Meatless Meat by Brittany Ilardi

More high profile investors such as Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Vinod Khoshla are providing investment capital and support to change the food industry.  Today, roughly 30% of the earth’s land mass is used in meat, egg, and dairy production. These same industries collectively generate 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas three hundred times more capable of trapping heat in earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Faced with this dilemma, entrepreneurs are looking to reshape the industry with technologically-driven alternatives.

Today, innovations in the egg industry are changing how we view food production.

Josh Tetrick (right) talks with Johan Boot (left) in the Hampton Creek Foods lab in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Hampton Creek Foods. 

Josh Tetrick (right) talks with Johan Boot (left) in the Hampton Creek Foods lab in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Hampton Creek Foods. 

Hampton Creek Foods is “revolutionizing the world’s broken food system” by researching plant-based alternatives to eggs. Their project, Beyond Eggs, is exploring which substitutes most effectively mimic the taste and texture of eggs in a multitude of different cooking environments, from baking to frying. Their first consumer product, Just Mayo, is now sold at Whole Foods and uses plant extracts in place of egg yolks to bind the product together. Their plant-based eggs are shelf-stable, require much less energy and money to produce, and are healthier for consumption (no cholesterol!). With more eggless innovations in the future, Hampton Creek Foods hopes to “make one of the most unhealthy, costly, and environmentally damaging industries in the food world obsolete.”  Bill Gates, one of their investors, identified them as one of three companies shaping the future of food.  

Researchers are also looking to find better alternatives to conventional beef.

Meat production not only has a high environmental impact, but also is detrimental to animal welfare and consumer food safety. In the United States, 50% of all water supplies are used to raise animals for food, while 70% of all cereals and grains are used for feedstocks. Ninety-nine percent of farm animals are found in CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where upward of 100,000 animals are restrained in a single structure. According to New Harvest, a non-profit research organization, meat alternatives could change all of that. With the goal of supporting economically competitive meat alternatives, such as cultured and plant-based options, New Harvest connects and funds researchers working in the field. Incredible progress is already being made at other institutions. Thanks to an investment from Google cofounder Sergey Brin, Maastricht University has successfully produced the world’s first synthetic burger. Over the course of three months, a team led by Dr. Mark Post grew over 20,000 muscle fibers from cow stem cells. Although feedback on synthetic meat alternatives is still limited, researchers believe that cultured meat may reduce total energy needs by 70% and water and land usage by up to 90%.

To learn about healthier, more efficient options, check out New Harvest and Hampton Creek Foods

The Drone Revolution: from Agriculture to Pizza Delivery by Brittany Ilardi

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When you think of drones, you typically think of secret spy missions and other military endeavors. However, recent developments in commercial use have been changing this conventional definition. Today, drone deployment has been proposed for everything from pipeline surveillance, to dispensing vaccines throughout rural Africa, to quick and speedy pizza delivery. 

Perhaps the most promising commercial market for UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, lies in the agricultural sector. Drone technology is ideal for vast rural farming regions where privacy, one of the main deterrents to commercializing drones, is far less of a concern.

The applications in the agricultural market are innumerable, including monitoring for diseases, warding off pests, pollinating plants, conducting snow surveys in order to predict water supplies, surveying crops, and possibly even planting and harvesting via drones themselves.

Such uses would not only increase overall crop health, but also drastically improve field management practices, lower production costs, and increase yields. Some researchers are already looking into the possibilities. At the University of Oregon, researchers have used drones to monitor potato fields for disease, while others at the University of California, Davis have employed UAVs to spray vineyards and orchards.

The startup sector has been recognized lately as a key component in the emergence of commercialized UAVs. Airware, a startup based in California, has been noted for manufacturing “brains” for drones. Raising $13.3 million from investors in 2013 alone, this company specializes in autopilot systems that can be installed into any preexisting drone via a combination of Airware’s modular hardware and open architecture software. The startup has already built drones to monitor endangered species in Kenya and to deliver medical supplies to isolated regions in Southeast Asia. Another startup, DroneDeploy, has created a web-based drone control platform, through which customers can control multiple drones via personal electronic devices. Their technology has been used to help track pirates off of the coast of Sierra Leone. Even Amazon is jumping on the bandwagon, hoping to use drones to deliver packages in the not-so-distant future.

UAVs in the commercial realm have great potential, but it will still be quite a while before they see airtime. Presently, the United States is subject to a FAA ban on commercialized drones. However, the agency is currently working to extend guidelines in order to encompass commercial use by the year 2015. Essentially, it all comes down to maintaining safety and privacy once the airways are opened up to other users. If these barriers can be overcome, the possibilities for drones in the future are endless. Who knows, one might even someday deliver pizza straight to your doorstep.

Recycling Heat: From Subways to Your Home by Brittany Ilardi

The London Underground

The London Underground

Anyone who has ever travelled by subway can certainly agree on one thing: it’s really hot down there. Between the train motors, breaking mechanisms, lights, operating equipment, and millions of people hurrying in every direction, it should come as no surprise that subway systems produce so much heat.  But what if we could harness that waste heat and use it to warm our homes? The London Underground is currently exploring this possibility.

The plan is part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s overall objective to cut London’s carbon emissions by 60% by the year 2025, while simultaneously aiming to generate 25% of the capital’s energy from secondary sources. Sweltering, stuffy subway heat definitely fits the bill. With this new heat recovery plan, the city of London could potentially reduce their annual carbon emissions by 500 metric tons.

The harnessed heat, taken from the Northern Line Tube, will be used to warm over 500 homes in the borough of Islington. The project, a collaboration between UK Power Networks, Islington Council, Transport for London, and the Mayor’s office, will join the Bunhill Heat and Power Network upon its implementation.

Since 2012, this network has supplied over 700 homes with surplus heat captured from a nearby cogeneration plant. The center uses waste heat from electricity production in order to warm a portion of the city’s buildings and water. Heat collected from the new subway initiative will use the same 1.4-mile-long pipe system belonging to the Bunhill network in order to direct heat into additional homes.

The London Underground isn’t the first to take action when it comes to innovative heat recovery plans. In 2010, the Paris Metro announced a similar project, which would redirect excess subway heat to a seventeen-flat public housing facility.  However, the project is not expected to expand to other parts of Paris due to costly connecting passageways that must be built in order to transfer heat. The current experiment was only possible due to a preexisting stairway connecting the metro to the pilot building.

Recovered subway heat holds great potential for alleviating carbon emissions and creating greener forms of heating within metropolitan areas. However, there are still many obstacles that must be overcome. If this method is to become widespread and effective, city councils must be willing to cover the costs of heat transfer and piping networks. For a small initial investment, cities can reap huge benefits in the long run, drastically cutting carbon emissions while also implementing a more efficient heating system.

Check out London Underground's project to learn more.   

Learning “How2Recycle” by Brittany Ilardi

Annually, Americans produce over 250 million tons of garbage. Although it is estimated that approximately 75% of this trash can be recycled, only a meager 30% actually is. Advocacy for recycling is certainly not lacking, so what exactly is the problem? Much of it comes down to consumer knowledge. Simply put, recycling labels are often confusing, complicated, and inconsistent (who hasn’t wondered what all of those vague numbers on the bottom of a soda bottle mean at one point or another?). How2Recycle, a project of GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, hopes to alleviate some of the frustration consumers face in decoding recycling labels, making the process easier and more accessible for all.  

Clickable image courtesy of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.  

The How2Recycle project proposes a clear and transparent label that can be used consistently throughout the United States. Currently, 21 companies have signed on to use the new design, including Kellogg's, Microsoft, General Mills, Estée Lauder, and Costco.

The label distinctly identifies the material for each packaging component and indicates the recyclability of each. It also provides any special instructions, such as the need to rinse packaging or to check for further local recycling information.

How2Recycle is currently striving to achieve their goal of relabeling 80% of consumer products by 2016.

As Kelly Lahvic, a member of the How2Recycle team, puts it, “The main focus is getting the label on as many packages as possible.” This objective is certainly feasible. After all, what company doesn’t require packaging? The use of packaging materials is common across all industries that deal with consumer needs. For companies that choose to use it, the label may appeal favorable to sustainable-minded consumers.  As further incentive, the Flexible Film Recycling Group, part of the American Chemistry Council,  is currently sponsoring a portion of the licensing fees for companies who place the label on plastic bags and films for store drop-off.  

The main benefit of How2Recycle, however, is for the consumer. “A lot of consumers think that just seeing a number inside a chasing arrow symbol means that a product is recyclable,” explains Lahvic. With the widespread use of How2Recycle’s label, this common misconception would become a thing of the past. The logic is simple: the more that people understand recycling, the more that people actually will.

For more information on the label or learn how your company can get involved, check out How2Recycle

“Eating Real” on Food Day by Brittany Ilardi

Princeton University celebrated Food Day by featuring butternut squash from local farms in all student cafes. 

Princeton University celebrated Food Day by featuring butternut squash from local farms in all student cafes. 

When’s the last time you bought or cooked with local food? Most people would probably respond, “I don’t know,” or “I can’t remember.” Considering the benefits of locally sourced food, this reality is rather unfortunate. Our current food system is in serious need of reformation. That’s the goal of Food Day, a nationwide campaign in the U.S. to promote healthy and affordable food produced in a sustainable and humane way.

On October 24th, Food Day participants traded their French fries for fresh food in efforts to “eat real.” Factory farms contain upward of 50,000-100,000 animals each, including cattle, chickens, and pigs. These and other practices result in animal abuse and environmental degradation. On top of this, these large-scale farms receive a large percentage of all subsidies, while local farms are left with little to minimal governmental support.

This year, Food Day focused on food education as a means of improving diets and reducing obesity. In the United States, $150 billion is spent annually on obesity-related medical needs. Instead of throwing money at America’s weight problem, the root of the issue needs to be addressed: poor food intake. One option is healthy and affordable local produce on store-shelves.

Many of the events held in support of Food Day occur in schools or on college campuses. These include trips to nearby farmer’s markets, food education workshops, and meals prepared with local produce. But there are still plenty of opportunities outside of the classroom. Consumers can help the sustainable and local food effort by supporting Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) or even by growing their own fruits and veggies. Recent platforms like and make local food even more accessible to consumers by connecting home growers to buyers in their community. Restaurants and companies can take a stand by locally sourcing their food. Chipotle, as highlighted in the documentary American Meat, has already done this with their sustainably sourced meat. 

Even though Food Day only occurs once annually, there’s no reason why “eating real” can’t be a yearlong commitment. To learn more about how you can support sustainable local food, visit the Food Day OrganizationUSDA Farmers Market Directory and the Wilson College CSA Directory




SXSW Eco: Plastics, Farming & Sharing by Brittany Ilardi

We just got back from South by Southwest ECO (commonly called SXSW Eco), a three-day conference that brings together thousands of sustainability-minded attendees and innovators from around the world.  Topics covered a wide range of issues, including sustainable agriculture and food, climate change, energy, urban design, and the rise of the sharing economy.  Here are a few highlights from some of our favorite discussions:

Shared Economy

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Robin Chase, Founder of Peers Incorporated and Zipcar, laid out her thoughts on the transformational change of the economy. In order to be successful, companies must build or tap into excess capacity and collaborative platforms.  She provided a poignant example of how Airbnb, in just five years, has booked more rooms than the top hotel chains of InterContinental and Hilton since their existence. Collaboration, not just at the margins, but also at the core of business, is becoming increasingly necessary to access talent and resources around the world. 

Marine Plastic Pollution

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It is approximated that a staggering 3.9 billion pounds from 3.3 trillion particles of plastic contaminate our oceans, according to a panel of representatives from Method,, and Plastic Pollution Coalition. The NRDC estimates that $428 million is spent annually by local governments in California in attempts to clean up some of this beach debris.  However, the money and human effort currently expended on proper disposal and cleanup could have much more impactful effects if directed toward technological solutions for sustainable consumer product and food packaging.  To help raise awareness, Method launched a bottle partly fabricated from recovered ocean plastic, while the University of Vermont banned plastic water bottles, including those from their long standing contract with Coca-Cola. 

Farming & Food

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There were also numerous panel discussions on innovations in agriculture, ranging from urban farming, to 3D printing, to synthetic meat.  A highlight was the Chipotle-sponsored screening of American Meat, a documentary that presents the case for sustainable farming. The film criticizes CAFOs, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which not only lend great stress to the animals, but also consume an exorbitant amount of fossil fuels. Despite this, about ninety-five percent of the meat you find in grocery stores comes from CAFOs. The documentary argues that there is no economic or environmental benefit for the continuation of these operations, unlike those found in sustainable farming. Besides, as the common statement implies, “A happy pig is a tasty pig.” 

Farmers on the panels emphasized the need for a financial model to involve more people in agriculture and the need to connect consumers more directly with farmers. This model should also shift away from industrial farming for social, economic and environmental reasons. As farmer Richardson, a supplier to his local Chipotle, stated on a panel, “In agriculture, the new is old.”   

On the technology side, a startup called Blue River Technology showcased a robotic system used to pull out weeds on farms instead of applying pesticides.  Another startup, California Safe Soil, exhibited their process to quickly convert food waste from grocery stores into sellable liquid compost.  In a discussion on lab-grown meat, the non-profit New Harvest explained their promotion of in vitro and other substitutes.