3D Printing
Reflow, an Amsterdam-based startup, is using 3D printing technology to transform plastic waste into a valuable resource. According to its website, the company converts recyclable plastic into ethical, high-quality 3D print filament, which is the material needed for 3D printing.

Every day, millions of waste collectors in developing countries earn $2 a day sifting through endless masses of garbage. In the developing world, cities are experiencing rapid urbanization, brought about by fast population growth and high immigration rates.

Rapid urban expansion, combined with a lack of infrastructure, leads to the buildup of open waste in low-income neighborhoods, slums and squatter areas. The result is informal waste collection by members of those communities.

Reflow works directly with waste collectors to convert the plastic they pick up into high-quality print filament. The company increases the value of the recycled plastic by up to 20 times, increasing the waste collectors incomes so they earn the wage they deserve.

According to Kickstarter, the Reflow process begins by carefully selecting the plastic needed to make the print filament. The startup then works with local waste collectors to clean PET bottles and shred them into tiny, 6-millimeter plastic flakes.

PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, which is used in common plastic packaging such as water bottles, soft drink packaging and cosmetics bottles. A report by The Planet Bottle states that PET is popular for its strength, thermo-stability and transparency, while being inexpensive, lightweight and recyclable.

Once the plastic has been shredded, Reflow uses a low-cost, open-source extruder to convert the plastic flakes into 3D print filament. The company partners with universities and their corporate partners to test the filament, before shipping it in recyclable packaging to individuals who use the product for 3D printing.

Of note, 25 percent of Reflow’s profits are invested in local manufacturing and $3 from each roll of filament contributes to waste collectors’ incomes.

According to the Huffington Post, 120 plastic bottles can produce one kilogram of filament. However, Reflow said that the process is not so much about the final product as it is about empowering individual waste collectors and improving their lives.

Typically, waste collectors have to deal with unfair pricing from middle men in the recycling process. Their working conditions are extremely poor, as they collect garbage in toxic areas and must wade through unhygienic environments to find the appropriate waste to recycle.

Reflow also aims to provide the waste collectors with necessary tools to pick up and carry the plastic, so their health is not at risk.

The company is launching their project in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. According to a report by the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, there are approximately 1,267 waste pickers in Dar es Salaam, who collect, move and trade 20 kilograms of recyclable waste per day. Most waste pickers that were interviewed for the report stated that the nature of their work was “exhausting”, “dangerous” and “unhealthy.”

“Of fifty waste pickers interviewed, forty-three reported that they had been ‘injured or admitted to a health facility’ in the past twelve months due to their recycling operations,” said the report.

So far, Reflow has raised €2,943 of their €25,000 goal (US$ 28,520). “We know this technology is going to transform our societies and lives,” said the company in a statement on their website. “We want to harness this innovation to create a better and more equal world. We want to ensure the revolution is shared.”

Michelle Simon

In today’s age of technology developments and exciting advances, there is still a population of up to 1.3 billion people living without access to electricity. The IEA, or International Energy Agency, shows that “this is the equivalent to 18 percent of the global population and 22 percent of those living in developing countries.”

While this is true, though, the world recognizes that energy is essential to economic development. UN studies have stated, “Energy provides mobility, heat, and light; it is the fuel that drives the global economy. But the production and use of coal, oil, and gas cause air pollution and climate change, harming public health and the environment.”

In response, studies have been made to find the most cost-efficient way to provide eco-friendly energy sources. The new power source that is currently being tested comes in the form of human waste.

To show the true potential of the source, the United Nations University created a study to find the value of human waste in terms of energy.

The study showed that “biogas from human waste, safely obtained under controlled circumstances using innovative technologies, is a potential fuel source great enough, in theory, to generate electricity for up to 138 million households – the number of households in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ethiopia combined.”

With that number in mind, the UNU’s Institute in Canada estimated “that biogas potentially available from human waste worldwide would have a value of up to US$ 9.5 billion in natural gas equivalent.”

The waste would be dried and charred, producing a sludge-like substance similar to coal but with the added bonus of being eco-friendly.

With all of these facts, however, the concept is still a major taboo in people’s eyes. To combat this, experts have shown that the world already reuses water and nutrients from wastewater and continue to fight for the new energy source potential.

With World Toilet Day on Nov. 19 being around the corner, the U.N. hopes to combat the stigma. UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel stated that it will hopefully “promote new thinking and to continue puncturing the taboos in many places that inhibit discussion and perpetuate the disgrace and tragedy of inadequate human waste management in many developing world areas. This report contributes to that goal.”

Katherine Martin

Sources: World Energy Outlook, UN Foundation, UNU
Photo: Pixabay

Mounting Anger over Trash Build-up in Beirut
In early Aug. 2015, protesters stood outside Beirut’s government building demanding that officials deal with the thousand tons of trash piling up on the city’s streets. The most frustrated of the crowd accused the government of acting like a regime, ignoring the city’s demands for change.

Beirut’s former public landfill was based in the village of Naameh. It opened in 1997 and was only built to withstand a few years and about two million tons of rubbish. After 18 years and 10 million tons of trash, Beirut officials shut down Naameh.

The current issue is because the government failed to build a new one. “Everyone knew for the last six months that the landfill would close, but the government did nothing about it,” says one resident. With nowhere to dump it, trash collection for Beirut and its suburbs just stopped.

The city and its surrounding neighborhood generate 2,000 to 3,000 tons of trash each day and it is now cumulating into mounds on the streets. Many people have started wearing face masks. Others are setting fire to the filth, creating pillars of foul smoke and causing temperatures to climb above 90 degrees.

Lebanon rules with a very laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of recent unrest in the Middle East and problems within the country, the government has been unable to elect a new president and remains without a political figurehead that can pass legislation and finalize laws.

The Cabinet is reportedly near collapsing. Terms in office are being extended and elections for new leaders are put off. “The political deadlock is a huge contributing factor to the issue because there is no strong central government who can look at the options and find the most feasible one,” speculates Lama Bashour, director of an environmental consultancy agency called Eccocentra.

Residents claim that the government’s latest decisions have been undemocratic and unconstitutional, and have just exacerbated the country’s problems. “I’m angry, not just this, but at the general dysfunction of the country,” explains one of the city’s entrepreneurs. Some speculate that only radical actions could push the government to rule more effectively. All of the frustration and outrage surrounding this latest trash issue might be enough.

Some trash in rural areas has been removed but people report that it was just dumped somewhere else nearby. Sahar Atrache is an analyst that works for the International Crisis Group. She says that this half-hearted attempt is characteristic of Lebanon’s current government.

It is true that Lebanon’s resources and political power have been strained lately with the 1.3 million refugees estimated to pour into the country as a result of the Syrian crisis. The ICG recently published a report called Lebanon’s Self-Defeating Survival Strategies that explains, “Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction.”

The city has been trying to deal with the matter on its own and has been starting to compost and recycle to keep waste build-up down. Some residents have begun their own local trash-pick up service.

Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Crisis Group, UNHCR, LA Times, WSJ, ABC News, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: NPR

On average, 1.8 million people per year die from diarrhea-related diseases. Diarrhea ranks third as the leading cause of death among infection-related diseases just after respiratory infections and HIV/AIDS. Fifteen countries make up 70% of this number: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Uganda and Kenya. Approximately 2.5 million children around the world become sick because of diarrhea-related infections, with many of these children being younger than 5-years-old.

Many of these victims reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, where diarrhea-related deaths rank higher than deaths due to malaria, HIV/AIDS and measles combined. Along with death, diarrheal diseases contribute to stunted growth, malnutrition, increased healthcare costs and the inability to work or attend school.

Clean the World was created to help decrease the number of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases by collecting toiletries and other supplies for communities whose residents fall victim to poor hygiene. Clean the World was founded by Shawn Seipler, who seeks to revolutionize hygiene all over the world. The organization collects unused hotel soaps, discarded plastic bottles and other toiletries for communities living in poverty globally.

The collection process operates in three steps: hotels and other hospitality units register their hotel, Clean the World sends them collection bins so the hotels can begin collecting unused soap and plastic bottles and lastly, the hotels ship their collections when the bins are halfway full.

Staff and volunteers sort through discarded toiletries received through donations to decide which are viable to send to communities. They also request donations from manufacturers who send the donation to their facilities in Orlando, Las Vegas or Hong Kong. At these facilities, the outer layers of bars of soap are scraped off and what is remaining is grounded down to small bits and power-washed. The bits are then mixed with glycerin and other substances to form a new bar of soap.

The donations are then distributed to regions all over the world including Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and at-risk communities in North America.

In an article by The Huffington Post, “Buy One, Give One” companies are on the rise, including Clean the World. Like Clean the World, these organizations work with other organizations and corporations to provide donations to a cause. Clean the World has recently merged with the Global Soap Project to increase the number of communities to which they distribute donations.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Huffington Post, Recycle Nation,  Clean the World
Photo: Vegas Magazine

Water Privatization’s Biggest Offenders-TBP
An estimated 783 million people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. Despite the importance of expanding access to this basic building block of life, many companies instead view water as a commodity to be bottled and sold at the expense of the world’s poor and the environment.

Bottled water is incredibly wasteful. The bottle itself also leads to widespread environmental damage, with more than 85% of globally consumed bottles being thrown in the trash, as opposed to being recycled. Furthermore, 10% of all plastic reaches the ocean, leading to the deaths of an estimated one million birds and marine animals yearly.

Yet, if the environmental impact of bottled water is disgraceful, its impact on human rights is horrifying.

Fiji Water has nearly exclusive access to a 17 mile aquifer on the north coast of Fiji while many Fijians have lived with water shortages resulting in rations as low as 4 gallons of water per family per week. Coca-Cola’s extraction of water in India to produce Dasani, meanwhile, has resulted in water shortages for over 50 villages.

Water extraction has also led to a variety of health problems. The inadequate and unclean water supply in Fiji, for instance, has lead to typhoid outbreaks and parasitic infection. The pollution caused by Coca-Cola through its Indian bottling plants has included dangerous compounds such as lead.

Of course, the causation of health problems through privatization only brings to attention a broader issue in the bottling and privatization of water—the philosophical denial of the right to water. Nestle came under fire in 2013 after the emergence of a video of CEO Peter Brabeck stating that water is not a human right, but a commodity to be given a market value and sold. Nestle owns over 15 bottled water brands, including Poland Springs and San Pelligrino, and has been criticized for its sale of Nestle Pure Life water to the developing world at the expense of the development of clean-water infrastructure. The sale and purchase of bottled water on its own denies the right to water as an infrastructural need, and instead treats it as a commercial product through which the wealthy continue to benefit at the expense of the world’s poor.

Protecting the right to water, globally, is highly important. It is a right which must exist to protect the health, agriculture and infrastructure of the developing world. Water privatizations, and the actions of the companies that control significant portions of the world’s water supply, deny the important progress to be made on this front.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Food Is Power, Mother Jones, World Watch, The Guardian, UN Water, Huffington Post,
Photo: Food and Water Watch

India's Sanitation Solutions Poor Sanitation
Build toilets, not temples. This is the message from India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, reflecting on India’s sanitation solutions.


A Need for Solutions to Poor Sanitation


The goal is to end defecation in public places by 2019. About 130 million households do not have toilets – 53 percent of India’s population. The number jumps to 70 percent when villages are singled out, where most people simply relieve themselves in fields, on the side of roads or behind bushes.

The issues that come with this are massive. Health is impacted in numerous ways. The spread of disease is pervasive when open defecation is common: “because India’s population is huge, growing rapidly and densely settled, it is impossible even in rural areas to keep human feces from crops, wells, food and children’s hands. Ingested bacteria and worms spread diseases, especially of the intestine.”

Poor sanitation is the reason for 80 percent of illnesses in India, as well as the leading cause of death for children under 5-years-old. Malnutrition is also a huge problem, despite some children’s diets improving and others getting more than enough to eat. When bacteria gets into children’s intestines, it causes something called enteropathy, which prevents bodies from absorbing nutrients and calories. Because of this, half of India’s children are still considered malnourished.

Hundreds upon hundreds die each year from diseases related to poor sanitation, but politicians have been slow to face up to the problem, and locals have been known to actually prefer “going” in a field instead of a government-built toilet. Culture comes into play here: in the Hindu tradition, it is sometimes encouraged to relieve oneself far away from the home to preserve its purity.

There is a safety aspect to the issue, as well as the issue that people have to leave their homes at night to relieve themselves. There have been instances of young women being raped and murdered while venturing out to take care of business.


Innovative Aid at the Heart of India’s Sanitation Solutions


What is being done to help solve India’s waste problems? The government’s toilet building campaign is a good start, despite the usage issues that they face. Convincing the public to forget old ways is never easy. Even more worrisome is the fact that while many toilets have been built – around 77 percent of households under the poverty line have toilets – countless numbers of them are out of order.

While toilets are certainly needed, safe water is also key. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing in a machine called the Omni Processor which is capable of turning sewage into drinking water while powering itself independently.

Bill Gates even tried out the water it produces. One machine can produce enough clean water for 100,000 people. Construction is already underway for a machine in Senegal, and Gates says that there is one in India’s near future as well.

A simple Google search provides a multitude of water-filtering devices similar to searching for solar-powered flashlights. However, the problem runs deeper than simply purifying water in India. There simply is not enough of it. The country is home to 16 percent of the world’s population, but it only has four percent of the world’s freshwater. The groundwater for many of India’s major cities is quickly disappearing, with levels so low in places like Mumbai and Delhi that they could be depleted entirely within a few years. Machines like the Omni Processor could be the answer to this water depletion catastrophe.

– Greg Baker

Sources: Economist, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Clean Leap, New York Times, India Sanitation Solutions,
Photo: Acumen

sealed air
There is no surprise that the world will continue to see a vastly growing population in the upcoming years. This means that society will need to provide food for an increasing number of people to meet the needs of an expanding population.

One company, Sealed Air, works to protect the food and water the world consumes. With the intent of maintaining an efficient distribution of food and water for people worldwide, Sealed Air focuses on the processing, shipping and preparation of consumable products in “a safe and efficient environment.” In essence, Sealed Air focuses on packaging, cushioning and clean hygiene.

According to the company, its recognized brands, including Cryovac, Bubble Wrap and Diversity, help to ensure “a safer and less wasteful food supply chain, protect[ing] valuable goods shipped around the world, and improv[ing] health through clean environments.” Today, the company employs nearly 25,000 people, and services 175 countries with its products.

Therefore, Sealed Air is in the business of ensuring that food and water arrive to the consumer in as safe and accessible a way as possible. The company works with a number of government agencies and NGOs, including the EPA, the U.N. World Food Programme, the World Wildlife Fund and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

One of Sealed Air’s primary focuses is to change and reverse public perception of waste. In the U.S., roughly 40 percent of food grown is wasted. The world as a whole wastes one-third of its food each year. A rising global population means more people, more food and potentially more waste, which Sealed Air is working to prevent.

A publicly traded company, Sealed Air, generated a revenue of nearly $7.7 billion last year. Declaring itself as the “new global leader” in food safety and security, facility hygiene and product protection, the company intends to cement itself as a global player in the fight to deliver as many consumable products to as many people as possible.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: World Food Program USA, Sealed Air, European Cleaning Journal
Photo: Sun Earth