Bees get a boost from Welsh action plan

The impact our bees have on the environment is no secret; their work pollinating crops is a crucial eco-system service, and without our furry friends we’d lose a third of our food stock. Sadly, they’ve been in severe decline for the last 30 years, raising fears for both the environment and the economy.

However, an ambitious new plan is committed to halting this decline and boosting the bee population. Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths has announced a Pollinator Action Plan for Wales – the first of its kind within the UK. As part of the programme, road verges and embankments will be planted with pollinator-friendly plants, and the planning system will be altered so that future developments support and nurture the airborne buzzers.

In light of the proposed plan, the Minister said that Wales will be leading the way on this “vitally important” issue, adding that the value of pollinators to the UK Government is “conservatively estimated to be £430 million”.

The plan will be implemented in line with the Welsh Government’s ‘Sustaining a Living Wales’ programme.

Kinetic pavement generates extra energy at Olympics

A temporary footbridge by London’s Olympic Park is being fitted with 12 energy-harvesting tiles designed to generate additional electricity during the Games.

Made from recycled lorry tyres and recycled aluminium, the tiles flex 5mm when stepped on, which creates the electricity. The company behind the tiles – Pavegen Systems – is elusive about the precise technology it employs, but according to an interview last year with The Engineer, the Pavegen team has invented a hybrid solution which takes advantage of the ability of certain materials to transform mechanical strain into an electric charge.

Forecast to generate a total of 21 kilowatt hours of electricity over the course of the Olympic Games, the tiles are unlikely to make a significant dent in the event’s overall energy use. However, as the company’s video highlights below, the installation could signal the mainstream uptake of a new renewable energy source.

Scientists puzzled by hundreds of dead penguins

More than 700 Magellan penguins have washed up dead on the beaches of south Brazil over the last month, capturing headlines worldwide and leaving scientists puzzled.

The penguins are currently migrating from Patagonia to south Brazil – a journey which no doubt claims some lives but not at this magnitude.

According to the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, however, the penguins likely died of natural causes.

In a press release, the center said it had analysed the dead animals’ conditions and found that most of the birds were young, and showed no signs of external injury or oil in the plumes.

According to biologist Mauricio Tavares: “Birds in the first year of life are inexperienced,” adding that dead birds at this time of year is common and the result of “the process of natural selection”.

Some questions have been raised as to just how natural this occurrence is, however. According to TreeHugger, dead penguins washing ashore happens with “disturbing” regularity.

A more detailed report on the latest penguin deaths is expected later this month.

Edible packaging could help eliminate waste

Despite rigorous recycling campaigns, millions of tonnes of packaging waste end up in landfill every year. However, a new development in packaging technology could now mark the first steps to change.

Chemical engineer David Edwards is famed for his ‘breathable food‘ invention, and now plans to develop and commercialise a new idea: edible packaging.

The invention, called WikiCells, is derived from nature’s very own packaging system: its digestible skin. Potatoes, tomatoes, apples… they all have an edible exterior protecting the fruit within. Even lemon peel ends up eaten in the form of zest.

According to the WikiCells website, small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and other natural – edible – substances are used to create a packaging to protect soft foods such as cheese, yoghurt and even ice cream, which the company plans to market to a French audience later this year.

So far the team has experimented with a gazpacho-stuffed tomato membrane, a wine-filled grape-like shell and an orange juice-protecting shell. According to Edwards, an edible milk bottle is not out of the realms of possibility, either.

“No wrappers. No plastic. No artificial anything. Just all natural everything,” reads the WikiCells website. Are you eco-conscious enough to eat your own packaging?

Could genetically engineered plants put an end to drug factory livestock?

The use of animals in drug manufacturing has always been a necessary evil, but new developments in the field of genetic engineering could well mark the end of the practice in some fields.

Gaucher disease –  a condition resulting from the lack of a particular enzyme – is traditionally treated with drugs derived from hamster cells. Now, however, Israeli scientists from biotech firm Protalix Biotherapeutics, have discovered a way to grow the required enzymes in carrot cells instead, by inserting specific genes into them.

Patients that received the ‘bio-pharmed’ version of the drug reportedly showed the same levels of improvement as those given the treatment derived from hamster cells.

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval for the plant-derived treatment, potentially the marking the beginning of the end of genetically modified livestock in drug factories.

No green Apple: tech giant pulls products from eco-friendly registry

Apple is no shrinking violet when it comes to publicising its green credentials. From binning chemicals in component parts to powering data centres with renewable energy, the company frequently waxes lyrical about its love of – and respect for – Planet Earth.

A bit of a U-turn today then, with news that Apple has recently asked EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a US national registry of environmentally sound electronic items, to remove 39 of its products from the its list.

To qualify for EPEAT-certification, products must fulfil a certain criteria, which includes the caveat that recyclers must be able to disassemble products fairly easily, to separate dangerous components (batteries, for instance). Tech heads are already speculating that the move has been spurred by the new super slim MacBook Pro, which features a high-resolution ‘retina display’. The product is “nearly impossible” to disassemble, according to iFixit.com, which notes that the battery is glued to the case and the glass display glued to its back.

Many schools, businesses and government agencies stipulate that their IT equipment is EPEAT-certified, so Apple’s move may well cost them a not-insignificant market share.

Is human hair the design medium du jour?

Hair. It’s renewable and biodegradable, so it’s not the most pressing environmental concern. It’s what it could replace, however, that’s big news.

Sure, human hair can be re-purposed in any number of weird ways (check out these 25, from Holy Taco), but a few new developments show that it can be at least partly useful, too.

Swedish designer Ola Giertz has created some fetching pouffes with recycled PET bottles and, yep,  human hair, to create an altogether silkier seating experience. Meanwhile, students from the Royal College of Art have taken plant-based bioresin and hair trimmings to create ‘Hair Glasses’ – hipster-worthy eyewear without using a single drop of petroleum. 

Or what about this, erm, charming dress, created by hairdresser Jodie Breeds? It seems beauty pageants are becoming more sustainability-conscious, with this outfit destined for the ‘Environmentally Friendly Dress’ round of this year’s Miss England contest. 

With the average person’s hair growing around 6 inches every year, there certainly no shortage of this resilient and versatile material. How long until it someone creates an even more useful purpose for it?