Unusual Green Technologies That Can Help Fight Pollution

Some innovative companies are combating climate change by using technological advancements that recycle the waste that no one wants. From cigarette butts to plastic bottles, valuable resources are being diverted from landfills to be put to use elsewhere. These technological advances are helping to reduce pollution and the planet’s carbon footprint.  

From Butts to Pallets

Smokers discard cigarette butts in almost every locale, but these little butts are causing a huge problem for the planet. Over five and a half trillion cigarettes are made with filters each year, and about two thirds of these end up in our natural environments rather than landfills.

Cigarette butts contain nicotine, arsenic and other heavy metals which contaminate our oceans and waterways. A recent World Health Organization report stated that cigarettes contain over 7,000 known toxins, and the 680 million tons of cigarette butts dumped into the environment each year is damaging ecosystems and poisoning fish.

TerraCycle has developed green technology to recycle cigarette butts into plastic pallets. First, the biodegradable matter like tobacco and paper is removed and turned into compost. Then, the filters are shredded and blended with other recyclable material to create a plastic lumber that is used to make shipping pallets and railway sleepers.

California Renewable Energy

When you think of renewable energy, you’re not thinking about petrol. That’s about to change as researchers from the University of California in Irvine have discovered a method of recycling plastic to create petroleum.

By dissolving the bonds of polyethylene plastic, researchers were able to create petroleum and other fuels. The research team, led by chemist Zhibin Guan, used hydrocarbon molecules known as alkanes to break down polymers and then restructure them to create fuel that can be used by industrial processes.

Green Vehicles

Cars are getting greener too, with much of the steel and aluminium used in the manufacturing process coming from recycled sources. Ford uses a seat cover foam made from soybeans instead of petrochemicals. The 2012 Ford Focus Electric has seats covered in fabric made from recycled water bottles. General Motors uses old tires as air baffles and soundproofing made from recycled cardboard. Toyota’s seat covers and radiator tanks are made from sugar cane. Volvo will see 25 percent recycled plastics in its cars by 2025.

Dearly Departed

Coffins have traditionally been made from hardwoods with plush finishes. When these are buried or burned during cremation, chemical contaminants cause air pollution or pose an environmental hazard. To alleviate the cost of funerals and create a more sustainable option, many people are opting for biodegradable, cardboard coffins made from recycled materials. Natural materials like wicker and bamboo that aren’t chemically treated are also gaining popularity.

The Road Ahead

New technological breakthroughs have allowed for recycled plastics like water bottles and plastic bags to be used in the process of road making. Plastics are melted into pellets which are added to asphalt as a binding agent. About 0.5 percent of the road surface is made up of plastics. This not only finds a use for recycled plastic, but also replaces bitumen (the black viscous material used for road surfacing), which is a fossil fuel.

"We're able to take the waste plastics that are destined for landfill, we take those plastics and we add them into an asphalt mix to create a stronger, longer lasting road,” said Toby McCartney, of MacRebur Plastics Road Company.

Thanks to these and other technological advances, valuable resources like plastic are getting a new lease on life, kept out of landfills and are supporting a more sustainable manufacturing process. If you want to support investment in technologies that contribute to living more sustainably, opt for items with a high recycled content or write to your favorite manufacturers to demand more recycled options.













Nikki Fotheringham is an environmental journalist and campfire cooking author. She is the editor of Greenmoxie.com where she shares green-living tips and helps people to live a more sustainable life.