On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans observed the first official “Earth Day” with teach-ins held at thousands of colleges and universities throughout the country. The original idea, introduced by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, was to organize activities to draw attention to threats to the environment and build support for conservations efforts.
The public's eco-consciousness has only increased since then, with numerous inventors and entrepreneurs developing technologies, products and other concepts that would enable consumers to live more sustainably. Here are some clever eco-friendly ideas from recent years.01of 07
Warmer days signal that it's time to fire up the grill and spend some time outdoors. But rather than the standard practice of barbecuing hot dogs, burgers, and ribs over hot coals, which generate carbon, some eco-enthusiasts have turned to a clever and much environmentally friendlier alternative called solar cookers.
Solar cookers are designed to harness the sun's energy to heat, cook or pasteurize drinks. They're generally low-tech devices fashioned by the user's themselves with materials that concentrate sunlight, such as mirrors or aluminum foil. The big advantage is that meals can be easily prepared without fuel and draws from a free energy source: the sun.
The popularity of solar cookers has gotten to a point where there's now a market for commercial versions that operate much like appliances. The GoSun stove, for example, cooks food in an evacuated tube that efficiently traps heat energy, reaching up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit in minutes. Users can roast, fry, bake and boil up to three pounds of food at a time.
Launched in 2013, the original Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign raised more than $200,000. The company has since released a new model called the GoSun Grill, which can be operated during the day or at night.
With climate change, comes drought. And with drought comes a growing need for water conservation. At home, this usually means not running the faucet, limiting the use of sprinkler and, of course, reducing how much water is used in the shower. The EPA estimates that showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use.
Unfortunately, showers also tend not to be very water efficient. Standard showerheads use 2.5 gallons per minute and typically the average American family uses around 40 gallons a day just for showering. In total, 1.2 trillion gallons of water each year goes from the showerhead to drain. That's a lot of water!
While showerheads can be replaced with more energy efficient versions, a startup named Nebia has developed a shower system that can help cut water consumption by as much as 70 percent. This is achieved by atomizing the water streams into tiny droplets. Thus, an 8-minute shower would end up using only six gallons, rather than 20.
But does it work? Reviews have demonstrated that users are able to get a clean and refreshing shower experience as they do with regular showerheads. The Nebia shower system is pricey though, costing $400 a unit - much more than other replacement showerheads. However, it should allow households to save money on their water bill in the long run.03of 07
Imagine being able to live completely off the grid. And I don't mean camping. I'm talking about having a residence where you can cook, wash up, shower, watch TV and even plug in your laptop. For those who want to actually live the sustainable dream, there is the Ecocapsule, a fully self-powered home.
The pod-shaped mobile dwelling was developed by Nice Architects, a firm based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Powered by a 750-watt low-noise wind turbine and a high-efficiency, 600-watt solar cell array, the Ecocapsule was designed to carbon neutral in that it should generate more electricity than the resident consumes. The energy that's collected is stored in a built-in battery and it also features a 145-gallon reservoir to collect rainwater that's filtered through reverse osmosis.
For the interior, the home itself can accommodate up to two occupants. There are two fold-up beds, a kitchenette, shower, waterless toilet, sink, table, and windows. Floor space is limited, however, as the property provides only eight square meters.
The firm announced that the first 50 orders will be sold at a price of 80,000 euros per unit with a deposit of 2,000 euros to place a pre-order.
Adidas Recycled Shoes
A couple of years back, sporting apparel giant Adidas teased a concept 3-D printed shoe that was made entirely from recycled plastic waste collected from the oceans. A year later, the company showed that it wasn't merely publicity ploy when it announced that, through a collaboration with environmental organization Parley for the Oceans, 7,000 pairs of the shoes will be made available to the public for purchase.
Most of the show is made from 95 percent recycled plastic collected from the ocean surrounding the Maldives, with the remainder 5 percent recycled polyester. Each pair is comprised of about 11 plastic bottles while the laces, heel, and lining is also made from recycled materials. Adidas stated that the company is aiming to use 11 million recycled plastic bottles from the region in its sportswear.
Plastic bags have long been the scourge of environmentalists. They don't biodegrade and often end up in the oceans where they pose a hazard to sea life. How bad is the problem? Researchers from National Academy of Sciences found that 15 to 40 percent of plastic waste, which includes plastic bags, ends up in the oceans. In 2010 alone, up to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste were found washed up on ocean shores.
Kevin Kumala, an entrepreneur from Bali, decided to do something about this problem. His idea was to fashion biodegradable bags from cassava, a starchy, tropical root that's grown as a farm crop in many countries. Besides being plentiful in his native Indonesia, it's also tough and edible. To demonstrate how safe the bags are, he often dissolves the bags in hot water and drinks the concoction.
His company also manufactures food containers and straws made from other food-grade biodegradable ingredients such as sugar cane and corn starch.06of 07
The Ocean Cleanup
With the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans every year, efforts to clean up all that trash presents an enormous challenge. Huge ships would need to be dispatched. And it would take thousands of years. A 22-year-old Dutch engineering student named Boyan Slat had a more promising idea.
His Oceanic Cleanup Array design, which consisted of floating barriers that passively collected trash while anchored to the ocean floor, not only won him a prize for Best Technical Design at Delft University of Technology but also raised $2.2 in crowdfunding, along with seed money from deep-pocketed investors. This after giving a TED talk that went attracted a lot of attention and went viral.
After procuring such a hefty investment, Slat has since embarked on putting his vision into action by establishing the Ocean Cleanup project. He hopes to first pilot test a prototype at a location off the coast of Japan where plastic tends to accumulate and where the currents can carry the garbage directly into the array.07of 07
One interesting approach some companies are taking to help save the environment is to turn harmful byproducts, such as carbon, back into commercial products. For instance, Graviky Labs, a consortium of engineers, scientists and designers in India, hopes to curb air pollution by extracting carbon from car exhaust to produce ink for pens.
The system they developed with and successfully tested comes in the form of a device that attaches to the car mufflers to trap pollutant particles that normally escape through the tailpipe. The collected residue can then be sent in to be processed into ink to produce a line of “Air Ink” pens.
Each pen contains roughly the equivalent of 30 to 40 minutes worth of emissions produced by a car's engine.