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Pollution has been a major issue for decades, and we can't just keep dumping our trash without thinking about the broader consequences. From our oceans to our land, every aspect of the natural world is under threat from the waste we accumulate.
Thankfully, huge strides have been made in creating biodegradable alternatives to everyday objects that won't harm our planet. Here are just some eco-friendly products that can help keep Earth healthy.
1. Water Bottles: The Green Way to Stay Hydrated
Plastic is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to waste, and as many as 22 billion plastic bottles end up in American landfills each year. Luckily, there are eco-friendly alternatives emerging.
One exciting biodegradable alternative are bottles made from red algae. These bottles were first created by design student Ari Jónsson in 2016. While more work is needed to make the bottles market-ready, they can safely hold water without impacting its taste or chemical make-up, and degrade rapidly and safely when no longer in use.
2. Urns: Completing the Circle of Life
Funerals are a time for grieving and remembering those we've lost, but they can also strike quite a blow against the environment. From the chemicals used in embalming to the resource-intensive maintenance of graveyards, we need to start thinking about greener options for our final resting place.
One such option is biodegradable urns, which allow trees to grow from the remains. The Bios Incube is one such urn, which allows families to monitor the growth of the plant while remembering their lost loved ones. It's a touching and environmentally-friendly way to say goodbye, and give back to nature.
3. Six Pack Rings: Saving Our Marine Life
We've all seen videos and images of trapped and injured sea life, struggling to survive while caught up in plastic six-pack rings. They've been a scourge of the seas for too long, and finally there's a viable, biodegradable alternative.
E6PR created rings for six-packs that are made from grains like wheat and barley, which will naturally degrade when discarded outdoors. Many beer companies have contacted E6PR since they unveiled the design earlier this year, and hopefully this marks the beginning of the end for plastic rings.
4. Cutlery: Eat It Or Throw It Away
It's time to cut down on plastic cutlery and start using something more sustainable and green. That's where Bakeys come in. Bakeys are an entirely edible form of cutlery that comes in three different flavors - sweet, savory, and original.
But they don't have to be eaten. Since the spoons are made of sorghum, rice flour, and wheat flour, they degrade naturally with no ill-effects to the environment.
5. Clothes: Everybody Looks Good In Green
Few of us consider how our fashion choices might impact the environment, but it's worth remembering that synthetic fabrics like polyester and lycra can take centuries to degrade. But it's not just the visible waste of these clothes that's worrying. As they degrade, fabrics release greenhouse gases that can further harm the environment.
The good news is that Swiss textile company, Freitag, have created a fabric that can safely degrade into compost when you're done wearing it. The fabric is made of hemp, flax, and modal, meaning it's all-natural and 100% biodegradable.
6. Diapers: Nothing Stinks More Than Pollution
Let's face it, babies poop a lot. And if you're using disposable diapers, that accounts for a lot of plastics that are being thrown into landfills. That's all thanks to the polyolefin polymer in most baby diapers.
Luckily, these aren't your only options. In addition to using good old-fashioned reusable diapers, biodegradable options are starting to enter the market. Many alternatives are made from wood pulp, but recent breakthroughs using the polyolefin polymer and a catalyst could soon provide a marketable biodegradable alternative too.
7. Sunscreen: Keeping You and The Oceans Safe
We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen, but did you know that the sunscreen you wear could be harming the environment? When we swim in the ocean, the chemicals in the sunscreen we wear can upset the underwater ecosystems, especially coral reefs.
In recent years, many tropical destinations like Mexico and Hawaii are requiring people to make the switch over to biodegradable sunscreens. Visitors are being urged to use natural, mineral-based sunscreens made of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as they naturally degrade in water and present no threat to wildlife.
8. Batteries: Powering Electronics and Saving the Earth
By now everyone should know that tossing used batteries away is a no-no. When batteries end up in landfills, they can leak dangerous substances like lithium, cadmium, and mercury. You should always dispose of your batteries responsibly.
Hopefully, we won't have to worry about the ill-effects of batteries for long. A team of researchers from the University of Wollongong, Australia, created a biodegradable electrode last year. The thin, flexible battery is made of silk, and can dissolve in water completely in just 45 days.
9. Beer Bottles: Bottoms-Up For Biodegradable Beers
In 2015 Danish beer company, Carlsberg, announced that they were planning to create bottles made from biodegradable wood fiber. The creation of glass and aluminum cans is a huge drain on global resources, so a move towards green alternatives is definitely needed.
Though Carlsberg hinted that the bottles would be ready by 2018, there's no sign of them yet. The proposed bottles would be similar in texture and structure to egg cartons, with a degradable inner coating that would prevent the bottle from becoming soggy.
10. Coffee Cups: Enjoy Your Morning Joe With a Clear Conscience
Getting your coffee to go may be convenient, but what's the cost to the environment? Though paper cups may sound like a green choice, most disposable coffee cups can take up to thirty years to decompose.
Because of this, companies like Starbucks are starting to trial fully biodegradable alternatives across select stores. These cups would not contain the internal polyethylene layer that makes disposable cups so difficult to recycle.
11. Furniture: Sit Back, Relax, Recycle
Many of the materials used in furniture today don't degrade easily. Chances are, you've probably seen a discarded couch or rotting mattress at some point in your life. Rather than allow old pieces of furniture to litter our surroundings, some designers are using creative new materials in manufacturing pieces for the home.
Take, for instances, Christien Meindertsma, who won two Dutch Design Awards for her chair made entirely of flax and a biodegradable polylactic acid. Meindertsma is hoping to branch out into other colors and styles for her designs, and could be paving the way for more environmentally-conscious home decor.
12. Phones: Calling For a Green Future
Due to the fact that technology is constantly evolving, discarded electronics make up a large amount of the world's waste.
Creating electronics is a huge drain on global resources, and it doesn't help that their plastic and metal components don't degrade safely.
It doesn't have to be this way, though. In 2009 Samsung and Sprint teamed up to release a biodegradable phone made using corn fibers. More recently, Professor Suchismita Guha of the University of Missouri has been leading research on the use of organic materials in smartphone displays. So far the research has shown that by using peptide nanostructures, they can make a phone that's 85% biodegradable. If this is a sign of things to come, the technology of the future could be a lot more green.
13. Semiconductors: The Future of Green Tech
Stanford engineer, Zhenan Bao, has been at the forefront of creating flexible, biodegradable technology that could pave the way for things to come. Last year, she and her team created a semiconductor that can degrade in weak acids like vinegar.
The polymer used in the semiconductor dissolves into harmless compounds, and rather than using gold as an electrical component the team used iron, which they noted is less harmful to humans and the environment.
14. Microbeads: Cleaning Your Face and the Oceans
You might recall the scientific and media backlash against microbeads - small, plastic beads used for exfoliation in a variety of cosmetic products. Due to their tiny size, the beads would often pass through water filters and end up accumulating in the stomachs of fish and other wildlife, eventually killing them.
Luckily, we no longer need to threaten wildlife in pursuit of clearer skin and brighter teeth. Researchers at the Univerity of Bath's Center for Sustainable Chemical Technologies have created microbeads made from cellulose - a coarse, naturally-occurring material which breaks down safely and naturally.
15. Food Packaging: Say Goodbye to Plastic Wrappings
Plastic packaging on food products is unnecessary at best, and harmful at worst. While many retailers and suppliers are turning towards a completely plastic-free option, others are investing in creating biodegradable plastic alternatives.
British company, Snact, have teamed up with another company - Tipa - to work on a new form of packaging that can degrade into compost in just six months. Tipa also creates zip-lock "plastic" bags that can degrade in just three months. Though still in early days of development, and proving expensive to create, these new breakthroughs could indicate a trend towards safer, more green packaging.
16. Sanitary Pads: Green, Clean, and Affordable
Sanitary products like pads and tampons create a lot of waste. Though many women are turning towards greener, reusable alternatives like silicone cups and fabric pads, there is still a market for disposable sanitary products.
Indian company, Saathi pads, have created disposable sanitary pads which are made from banana fibers and are completely biodegradable. The pads provide a safe, green, and affordable alternative to plastic-lined pads and tampons.
17. Condoms: Safe for the Environment and for You
While practicing safe sex is super important, condoms can create a lot of waste and harm the environment. One alternative is to use lambskin condoms instead of latex, though these only protect against pregnancy and not the transmission of infections.
New research from the University of Wollongong in Australia suggests that a new generation of condoms could be made from biodegradable hydrogels. The 3D printed condoms are still being tested to see how effective they are in preventing pregnancy and the spread of infections, but should the experiments prove successful we could be saying goodbye to the lasting waste of prophylactics.