Last month, Fionn Ferreira made headlines when he took the $50,000 first prize at the 2019 Google Science Fair. At just 18 years old, the Irish teen successfully developed a method to extract microplastics out of water. By creating a mixture called ferrofluid, Ferreira is able to utilize the attraction between molecules to take out the plastic particles.
Having a diameter of 5 nanometers or less, microplastics are small enough to bypass many filtration systems. Unfortunately, the particles end up in waterways and are consumed by small organisms. As an end result from the food chain, humans consume the microplastics as well.
Unsurprisingly, this project is beginning to pave the pathway for future environmental solutions. As a result, many are curious to hear from the mind who founded it all. Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Fionn Ferreira about his personal experience with the project and his aspirations for the future.
Inspiration for Fionn’s project
The Rising: A few years ago, you founded Miniplot, a company that created gardening kits that include all things necessary to grow plants at home. Would you say this is was the start of where your green innovations began?
Fionn: Living in the countryside of Ireland, I was always passionate about sustainability. I fondly remember gardening with my grandmother as a child and have really enjoyed kayaking and exploring the Irish coastline.
The Rising: Out of all the environmental problems in our world, why choose to solve the microplastic crisis? What drew you to this specific problem?
Fionn: This problem is personal because I saw the effects of microplastic pollution on our environment all the time in Ireland. I also had an idea to tackle it, so it was perfect.
The science underlying the project
The Rising: Can you walk me through how your prototype works? What exactly is ferrofluid?
Fionn: Essentially, my project is a new method to remove microplastics from water using ferrofluids. Ferrofluid is a mixture of vegetable oil and rust powder (called magnetite), which is a magnetic liquid. This liquid is non-polar and attracts plastics, which are also non-polar.
The Rising: During the process of drafting and testing over and over, what was your thought process throughout each trial?
Fionn: I ensured a fair and accurate measurement for each trial.
The Rising: What was your initial reaction to your method for microplastic clean-up working?
Fionn: I was excited to see where it would take me and was looking forward to more tests.
Next steps for Fionn Ferreira
The Rising: How do you see your prototype influencing the life-cycle of plastic down the road?
Fionn: I don’t think that this method is the solution to the plastic crisis. The solution is clear: to stop using plastic. However, because this probably won’t happen for a while, I think that my method could have a significant impact on marine life and the health and wellness of humans.
The Rising: What are your plans for the future? Will we be seeing more environmental projects from you down the road?
Fionn: I have finished school and am going into university. I would like to continue solving more problems like this one.
As an independent inventor, Fionn Ferreira is already making progress with ocean cleanup. However, Ferreira told me that the solution to the plastic crisis isn’t ferrofluid. Instead, it’s to “stop using plastic.”
Although easier said than done, each person can make an impact on reducing pollution. Not everyone is able to utilize magnets to keep waters clean, but many have the ability to ensure the plastic never reaches waterways in the first place.
Note: Small revisions have been made to the interview for the purposes of brevity and clarity.
Adidas Sustainability Initiatives: Creating A More Circular Economy
According to The Robin Report, around 65 – 75 percent of consumers under the age of 35 say that they want brands to be more sustainable; Adidas sustainability initiatives aim to do just that. Naturally, news of climate change and dangers to the environment have made major impacts on the economic arena. And consequently, increasing demand for sustainable products fosters healthy competition among companies. From sustainable fashion to sustainable foods, Adidas sustainability initiatives have shown the company’s deliberate strides towards creating a more circular economy.
Adidas Sustainability Initiatives Include Fighting For Plastic-Free Oceans
In 2017, Adidas and Parley For The Oceans teamed up to tackle the plastic pollution in oceans. Their cooperation created the Adidas Parley shoes. These are sports shoes made out of plastic trash found in ocean.
In that same year, Adidas managed to sell one million shoes made out of ocean plastic. And the number of shoes sold is rising. It is not just shoes, either — consumers can purchase shirts, dresses, and pants now too. All of it is recycled from ocean plastic.
Additional to the push for recycled shoes, Adidas sustainability initiatives hope to help the company shift to totally recycled polyester by 2024. Furthermore, the company promises to keep its quality with recycled polyester.
Additionally, the Futurecraft Loop is a shoe that is 100% recyclable. Adidas will sell the new iteration of these shoes in 2021. It is clear that both Adidas and Parley For The Oceans are dedicated to making the ocean a cleaner place.
The founder of Parley has spoken out against plastic pollution, “Plastic is a design failure, just alien matter that shouldn’t be on this planet.”
Creating An Incentive to Recycle
Just a few weeks ago, Adidas sustainability initiatives took one additional stride by launching a voucher system in the UK. Specifically, the system allows consumers to give back their worn-out shoes.
In return, customers would earn up to $25 in credit toward a future purchase.
Afterwards, Adidas would resell or recycle those worn-out shoes. This develops an intrinsic value in the shoes that people own. Additionally, it teaches consumers to shop more wisely.
Adidas Sustainability Initiatives Extend Past Recycling
Five days ago, the company announced its partnership with International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. This multi-year partnership will pursue innovations in both technology and sustainability.
Moreover, this partnership will mark the first time that footwear innovation will be tested in space.
Among many other efforts to communicate sustainability with its consumers, Adidas hosted its annual Run for the Oceans. During the race, which occurs on World Oceans Day on June 8th, had runners log the distance they run in one week.
For every kilometer run, Adidas donated $1 to Parley Education School. These donations aided in educating young people on how to tackle the marine problem. Not surprisingly, Adidas surpassed its goal of $1.5 million.
As consumers become more environmentally aware, so must the companies that provide for them. Adidas and Parley for the Oceans are setting an important precedent for other companies that wish to continue competing in the economic arena.
With companies like Coca-Cola adding to plastic pollution, companies have to make a change if they want continual profits.
Consequently, sustainable products are imperative if companies wish to flourish in a world driven by environmental justice. But Adidas sustainability initiatives are just the first step of many.
Climate Change Is Allowing A Deadly Virus To Kill Marine Animals
As climate change continues to melt sea ice, people, particularly in coastal regions are becoming increasingly worried about being cities going underwater in the future; but now, it appears that there is another problem: melting sea ice is also allowing a deadly virus to spread and kill marine animals. That virus is PDV, or phocine distemper virus, a deadly virus that is spreading among rapidly in the Arctic waters.
While this virus continues to infect rapid and lethal rate, the disease is causing many scientists to scratch their heads. How is it traveling so quickly? And how is climate change playing a role in its rapid spread?
What Is PDV And How Is It Impacting Marine Animals?
PDV has been notorious for infecting seal populations for the last few decades. Since 1988, it has caused multiple mass deaths within the marine animal population. At an alarming rate, tens of thousands of marine animals are falling victim to PDV.
Once isolated, the virus is now circulating in seal species across the globe.
With the use of 15 years of data that tracked 2,530 live and 165 dead marine animals of multiple regions, scientists began searching for an explanation for PDV’s infectious trend.
PDV Outbreaks Linked To Reduction Of Sea Ice
In a recent study published by Nature, researchers linked the viral emergence in marine animals to Arctic sea ice reduction. Offering an answer to the head-scratching situation, the authors found that the melting of ice is opening-up previously blocked pathways in the Arctic Circle.
Throughout their experiment, the researchers focused on samples from animals living in icy habitats. These include spotted seals, bearded seals, steller sea lions, northern fur, seals, and northern sea otters.
In 2003, the scientists identified a widespread exposure to and infection of PDV in the North Pacific Ocean. Six years later in 2009, the second peak of PDV exposure had infected marine animals in connected regions.
These trends were directly related to the reduction of Arctic sea ice.
Many times, Arctic ice acts as a barrier between ocean regions. However, once melted, there is no longer a physical separation between ecosystems.
With new paths of travel, the increase of marine animal mobility leads to the transmission of PDV among sea life. As there becomes more contact between the Arctic and sub-arctic marine animals, the two regions are continuing to infect once-healthy populations.
More Than One Way Of Exposing Marine Animals To Disease
Unfortunately, there is more than one way that the melting of sea ice is introducing diseases into the environment and impacting marine animals.
Through Earth’s rising temperatures, many bodies of ice are beginning to thaw for the first time in decades. Remarkably, viruses have the ability to survive a long time in frigid environments.
Under the right conditions, previously frozen organisms have a high probability of becoming re-exposed to the environment. Despite being dormant for a long period of time, these diseases may return at a similar infectious level as before.
For example, in 2014, two scientists resurrected the largest virus ever seen. After extracting the ancient virus from a 30,000-year-old sample of ice, the disease was still infections despite centuries of lying dormant.
Fortunately, PDV-positive marine animals lie in colder waters. As a result, sea animals in warmer regions are most likely safe from PDV.
However, scientists still believe the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice continues to melt with the increased opportunity to affect more species.
To stop this infectious trend, the obvious answer is to put a halt on melting sea ice. In order to do this, each and every population has to become educated on the causes of climate change and preventative solutions.
Instead of having to learn to adapt, let us work to ensure marine animals are able to live in the quality of life they deserve.
To Truly Be Environmentally Friendly, You Should Know What Your Clothes Are Made Of
Most of us want to be more environmentally friendly in our daily lives; plastic straws make us shudder, we take our reusable coffee cup everywhere and haven’t used a plastic bag since 2010. But what about fashion? How do we make the right wardrobe choices for the environment?
Since being named one of the worst polluters, the fashion industry is finding ways to become more environmentally friendly. The various production phases involve making fabrics from harmful chemicals, causing water and air pollution. Some of the large-scale industrial processes even require large amounts of water and energy. Textile waste is another big issue with tons piled into landfill sites taking centuries to biodegrade.
As a result, more brands and companies are choosing cleaner materials and opting for more ethical practices. Fiber manufacturers, who are the start of the production value chain, are also putting more effort to develop sustainable, feel-good fibers from sustainably sourced wood, a renewable and naturally biodegradable material. Top fashion brands and designers, such as Zara, H&M and Stella McCartney are now choosing sustainable fibers in selected collections.
However, there are many unfamiliar names for fabric types and deciphering the sustainable ones can be a minefield.
Knowing What Is Truly Sustainable
It’s confusing. From the origin of raw materials, sourcing process to production, there are many factors determining how sustainable a piece of garment can be.
Some materials such as polyester and nylon are widely known as not sustainable due to their synthetic nature and non-biodegradability.
However, even if the source is botanical, some production processes of the raw material may involve practices that ultimately weaken the industry’s ability to sustain future production. Take cotton for example. While it starts life as a plant and seems to be sustainable, cotton-growing is a water-intensive process and has a very large water footprint.
According to the WWF, companies use up over 20,000 liters of water to produce just 1kg of cotton, equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Viscose, also known as rayon, is another plant-based fiber. It is popular in the fashion industry as a cheaper and more durable alternative to silk. Also, the industry often considers it a sustainable alternative to cotton and polyester.
While viscose is derived from an organic origin, wood pulp from regenerative trees like eucalyptus is manufactured unsustainably. Those processes inevitably contribute to the rapid depletion of the world’s forests.
Estimates show that wood that is sourced from endangered or ancient forests makes up about 30% of viscose used in the fashion industry. Those sourcing methodologies could also pose risks to habitats and endangered species.
There Are Environmentally Friendly Alternatives
There are alternatives. As technology progresses and processes are becoming more advanced, new materials are created. For example, the Lenzing’s ECOVERO™ Viscose fibers are an alternative to common viscose.
During the production of these fibers, it is possible to recover and reuse certain chemicals. And by doing so, it is possible to reduce emissions by 50% and use half as much energy and water than the production of common viscose.
Many fashion brands have started to use eco-viscose fibers in their collections, such as Japan’s Global Work, India’s Max Fashion and Germany’s Armedangels, plus many more.
Check Before You Wreck
From now on, opt for garments made from sustainable or recycled fibers, organic cotton, hemp, and linen with natural dyes. Also, armed with knowledge on common viscose and its issues, you can look for items made from eco-viscose fibers instead.
Bear in mind that some natural materials such as cotton and wool might still have their own ethical issues around environmental sustainability. For instance, those concerns can include labor rights and animal welfare.
To tackle those concerns, more brands and retailers are being more transparent about their supply chains. Specifically, 70 out of 200 major fashion brands published a list of their first-tier manufacturers.
This is an encouraging step towards a more transparent supply chain and materials that are traceable back to their roots. As the call for improved transparency across the fashion industry is stronger than ever, supply chain openness will soon be the norm and definitely something to be proud of. And our own purchase decisions will become more informed and more ethical.
Florian Heubrandner is the Vice President Global Business Management Textiles at Lenzing AG. Based in Austria, he is responsible for leading the company’s growth across the globe in both B2B and B2C segments of the textile sector. Heubrandner was appointed in December 2018 after having served as Lenzing’s Vice President of Global Strategy and M&A for 2.5 years.
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