I was thrilled to see these super cool, eco-friendly plant-based sneakers by Reebok. They’re made with 75% USDA certified biological materials:
The tops, or uppers, are made with 100% cotton, and
The soles are made with DuPont’s Susterra® propanediol, which is an eco-friendly, sustainable, corn-based chemical compound that can be used in polyurethanes and polyester resins.
Susterra propanediol is non-toxic and petroleum-free, and it’s also 100% sustainably sourced and renewable. Furthermore, it’s a USDA 100% certified bio-based product.
And it gets better – Susterra generates up to 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than similar petroleum-based products.
Here’s a video about Susterra propanediol:
Reebok’s sustainable sneakers are called “The NPC UK Cotton + Corn” and they retail for about $95.00. They’re not quite biodegradable enough to throw into your compost bin once you’re done with them, but Reebok says they’re heading in that direction with upcoming product iterations.
Here’s a video about Reebok’s eco sneakers:
Reebok made the sneakers in a limited edition, and they’ve already sold out. But you can get on their mailing list for updates on when they’ll be available again. While the natural-colored sneakers have a simple, minimalist look, they’re truly groundbreaking, and they promise great things for not just the eco fashion world, but the entire world.
Eco-Friendly Footwear from Reebok’s Parent Company: Adidas
In 2005, shoemaking giant Adidas acquired Reebok, and it’s really cool to see both organizations breaking new ground with using more eco-friendly materials in their shoes.
“This is truly a place where nature reminds you just how little you are in this big, incredible world.”
–Travel Writer Breanna Wilson in Forbes
With a mountainous desert landscape and a coastline along the Arabian Sea, the Sultanate of Oman has great opportunities for eco adventure travelers.
As the world weans itself off of oil, Middle Eastern countries like Oman are putting a stronger emphasis on tourism to fuel their economies. According to a story in The Telegraph, Oman plans to double the number of tourists visiting their nation from 2.5 to 5 million people by 2020.
Oman is an absolute monarchy. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has ruled since 1970 and, according to Wikipedia, he’s the longest serving current ruler in the Middle East. Needless to say, culturally Oman is different from the U.S. and other democratic countries. For example, Sharia Law is upheld in the courts, particularly for family-law matters.
Middle Eastern Hospitality That Doesn’t Disappoint
But despite these cultural differences, Oman is considered one of the safest countries in the Middle East for western travelers. Commenters on Trip Advisor shared their Oman travel experiences, and the majority say the citizens of Oman go out of their way to be friendly and welcoming to visitors.
Perhaps it’s due to their desire to be perceived as a hospitable country, but Oman has made some positive cultural shifts in recent years, notably around the treatment of animals. An article in Wikipedia mentioned that travelers had complained of seeing animal abuse on the streets of Oman, particularly of stray dogs and cats.
But in 2017, the country passed an animal welfare law that stipulates that “owners and care takers of animals should take all precautions to ensure that no harm, injury, pain, or suffering is caused to the animals. The animals are defined as ‘all types of animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.’”
While we always have to be circumspect about any claims of improved animal welfare, Oman’s passing of this law and openness to visitors can only be seen as a positive.
Oman is home to a diverse array of indigenous animals, including leopards, hyenas, foxes, wolves, hares, oryxes, ibexes, vultures, eagles, falcons, and others. Here are some pics of Oman wildlife shared by fellow animal lovers on Instagram:
According to Vijay Handa, the general manager of the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve in Sur, Oman, the nation’s green turtle population has increased by 5%, which has been good for tourism.
“A lot of tourists actually land in Muscat and then directly go to Ras Al Jinz because they want to see the turtles.”
Here’s a video of the reserve shared by Ewa Negra:
In addition, Oman is becoming a destination for whale watching. In particular, the Arabian humpback whale is critically endangered. It’s the most isolated and the only non-migratory species of whale in the world.
Travel writer Breanna Wilson gushed about her recent trip to Oman with a friend in her article in Forbes – “Oman Is the Best Place to Travel in The Middle East Right Now.”
“Two girls traveling alone in a part of the world that most people are completely terrified of, and we couldn’t have been more excited. The trip was setting itself up to be an experience of a lifetime.”
Here are a few of the adventurous activities you can enjoy in Oman:
“We’re committed to leaving the world better than we found it… We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities, and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”
–Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
We replace our cell phones, on average, every two years. This, as you can imagine, creates a lot of waste. But what do you do with your old cell phone once it dies – or, more realistically, when it’s still alive but you want the newer, fancier model? Well, if you own an iPhone, you can now turn it over to Daisy, who will recycle it for you.
Daisy, a robot created by engineers at Apple, can take apart practically any iPhone (nine models to be exact) and sort the components so they can be re-used. Daisy can do this at a rate of about 200 iPhones per hour. This is a good thing, since we buy about 217 million of these puppies every year. At this consumption rate, we’ll be keeping Daisy pretty busy. Right now, one Daisy robot is operating in Austin, Texas and soon another will be in the Netherlands.
Other good news happened on the cell phone recycling front this week when a research team at the University of British Columbia shared their findings about perfecting a process to efficiently separate fiber glass and resin materials in cell phones. Traditionally, these materials have been impossible recycle and ended up being discarded as waste.
Here’s a Video of Daisy in Action – Recycling iPhones
Right now, Apple is enticing its customers to turn in their used iPhones with a give-back program. According to Brian Heater at TechCrunch, from now until April 30th, for every iPhone or other Apple device turned in, Apple will make a donation to Conservation International.
You can turn in your used iPhone or Apple device here. When you turn it in, you can get a deal on an upgrade.
Apple Is Now Powered 100% by Renewable Energy
Another reason to respect Apple – they announced on April 9th that the company now runs on 100% clean, renewable energy. This includes all of their retail stores, offices, and data centers, as well as co-located facilities in 43 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., China, and India.
I can’t help thinking that hippie Steve Jobs is smiling down from Heaven.
The UN Environment program has just announced a new project – “Advancing sustainable resource management to improve livelihoods and protect biodiversity in Palau.” The goal of the program is to help the citizens and government of Palau to better protect their nation’s substantial natural biodiversity.
Located in the Pacific Ocean, 946 miles east of the Philippines, Palau is an archipelago of over 576 tropical islands. It’s also home to many endangered species of animals and plants that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Maintaining a pristine natural environment not only helps the animals and plants that make Palau their home, it also helps the local people whose livelihoods depend on tourism, which is the country’s largest source of income.
The nation-wide program is the first of its kind for Palau. It’s being funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and will be managed by Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism.
The program will focus on sustainability, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and reducing invasive species. The approach is to bring together people from different backgrounds to create a united effort to protect Palau’s native biodiversity and the local community’s way of life.
Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) have unwittingly engineered a mutant enzyme that can super-charge the breakdown of PET plastic – the plastic you find in everyday plastic bottles. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and reported on Phys.org.
Dr. John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr. Gregg Beckham were studying the structure of PETase, an enzyme found in 2016 in bacteria in a waste recycling center in Japan. This bacterium had naturally evolved to slowly digest PET plastic.
To better understand how PETase works, the team utilized intense X-ray beams that are 10-billion times brighter than the sun to see individual atoms. They did some tweaking of the enzyme to better understand its structure during their research, which resulted in the mutation.
The unintended result? They inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is much faster at degrading plastic than the one that was discovered in Japan.
“It’s incredible because it tells us that the enzyme is not yet optimized,” said Dr. McGeehan, in an article by science writer Damian Carrington in the Guardian. “It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years to make a super-fast enzyme.”
We Need to Get a Handle on Our Plastic Consumption
Humans consume 50 billion plastic water bottles every year; 30 million of which are consumed by Americans. And plastic bottles and bags are the most prevalent form of pollution found on our beaches and in our oceans.
Every square mile of the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. (Source: Ocean Conservatory via the Huffington Post.)
Yet, we only recycle about 28% of the PET plastic we use. This recycled PET is generally used in different products than what is was originally used for, such as clothing, carpets, and even dog collars, flip flops, and sunglasses. Utilizing enzymes, plastic can be recycled back into its near “virgin” form, which means it can be used again to create similar products, reducing the need to create new plastic from fossil fuels, and not to mention – giving us even more reason to recycle it.
“Discarded cellphones are a huge, growing source of electronic waste, with close to two billion new cell phones sold every year around the world, and people replacing their phones every few years.”
–Dr. Maria Holuszko, Lead Researcher and Professor of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia
On UniGuide, I’ve written about eco-friendly cell phone cases, but what about the cell phones themselves? While phone cases that are made with plastic and other un-sustainable materials are not desirable, cell phones also present environmental problems when they’re thrown away.
While some parts of your cell phone can be recycled (as long as it’s disposed of properly, which means not throwing it into the trash), other parts – not so much.
When it comes to recycling cell phones and other e-waste, the focus is usually on recovering useful metals, such as gold, silver, copper, and palladium. These metals can be recycled and then used again in other products. But non-metal materials, like fiber glass and resin, which comprise a large portion of your everyday cell phone, are usually discarded, which means they’re either burned or added to the landfill. This results in hazardous chemicals entering our groundwater, soil, and air.
This is why the work by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is so groundbreaking: They’ve perfected a process to efficiently separate fiber glass and resin, so these materials can be re-used as well.
How did they do it? With one of the Earth’s most powerful natural forces: gravity.
Dr. Maria Holuszko, a professor of mining engineering at UBC, and the lead researcher on the project, along with PhD student Amit Kumar, developed a process that uses gravity separation and other simple physical techniques to separate the fiber glass and resins in a way that is not environmentally harmful.
Here’s a video with Dr. Holuszko talking about the process:
Bringing Zero-Waste Cell Phones to Mass Scale
The research team is now working on developing a scalable commercial model of the process. They’re partnering with Ronin8, a recycling company that already separates different plastics, fiber, and metals from electronic waste without using toxic chemicals in the process or losing the precious metals.
According to Ronin 8 director of engineering Travis Janke:
“Our vision is to achieve a zero-waste, end-of-life solution for electronics, and our work with Maria and Amit at UBC has moved us closer to this reality.”