Category: Off the wall

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?

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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?

Brazilian prisoners produce energy to reduce sentences

Convicted criminals are not generally known for ‘giving something back to the community’, but an innovative new programme at a Brazilian prison is set to change that, for the benefit of prisoners and the environment.

On the suggestion of a local judge, Brazil’s Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison has installed electricity-generating stationary bikes, allowing them to keep active while producing energy to power city streetlights, thereby enriching the community for everyone.

Their incentive? For every 16 hours spent pedalling, prisoners can shave a day off their sentences.

The initiative isn’t mandatory, but has proven so popular that the prison is adding eight new bikes. The total 10 bikes will produce enough energy to illuminate an entire avenue in the city centre.

Electric car breaks backwards speed record

Electric cars aren’t the fastest vehicles on the road, but because their direct drive electric motor means that – in theory – they can travel as fast backwards as they can forwards, very few traditional motors can match them in reverse.

This claim was put to the test at the Goodwood Festival of speed, where Nissan – to promote its new all-electric LEAF model – hired pro driver Terry Grant to attempt a new record for the fastest car to travel a mile in reverse.

Terry hurtled into the Guinness World Records after covering a mile of uphill bends and 90 degree corners in just 1 minute 37.02 seconds.

“There were times I wasn’t sure I was coming or going,” said Terry. “However, thanks to the Leaf’s low centre of gravity – the batteries are an integral part of the car’s floor – the car is extremely stable, no matter which direction it’s travelling. The only complaint I have is slight neck ache from constantly looking over my shoulder.”

Considering how many people struggle to simply parallel park, Terry’s skills should be highly commended.

Check out Nissan’s promo for the impressive attempt:

Flatulent cows’ effect on environment to be scientifically measured… by lasers

It sounds like the premise to a bad joke, but a team of scientists using lasers has been commissioned to find out just how much gas Britain’s cows are releasing into the atmosphere.

The agriculture industry is thought to be responsible for around eight percent of all British greenhouse gas emissions, thanks mainly to the less-than-fresh releases from cattle and other farm animals. But the exact figure is unknown. After all, how straightforward would it be to measure the methane escaping from a cow’s derriere?

As the government is committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 34 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, Defra has asked a team of experts from the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington to develop an accurate way of measuring the flatulence from a herd of cows. The endeavor will be part of a £12.6m project into understanding how farming leads to climate change.

To reliably measure the gas, scientists plan to use lasers to monitor the atmosphere across an entire field.

Alan Brewin, who is overseeing the project, told The Telegraph“We use lasers to interact with the gas in the field. The way the light is absorbed tells you what gas there is, how much of it there is, which direction it is flowing in and how fast.”