Plastic Recycling in the Netherlands

Last week I put my plastic, can and carton recycling wheelie bin out for collection for the last time. The Cities of Utrecht and Amsterdam have decided to let us put our plastic etc in the regular waste, rather than separating it and putting it into its own special bin.

This might sound strange, a backward step, but that is not the case. Over the last 2 years, the Utrecht City Council has conducted a study into plastic waste recycling and discovered something unexpected: they can improve recycling percentages mechanically.

The research found that when the population is asked to separate plastic, cans and cartons from their household waste, the recycling percentage sits at about 26%, but if the process is conducted mechanically on all household waste, this rises to 51%.

I should add at this point that paper, glass and organics will still be collected separately.

There is a huge plastic separation system currently in operation in Rotterdam, take a look at this video. It’s impressive, although it does depart from already home divided materials. And of note to me is that it is transported by boat.

The system uses magnets and infrared cameras to determine and separate the different types of materials, and appears to be so precise that it can be used with regular nondifferentiated waste as described in this video (in Dutch).

I would also like to add that here plastic bottles have a tax that is returnable in the supermarket. 25 cents is added to the price of your water or cola, and you take the bottle back to the supermarket and feed it into a machine (along with your glass). The machine prints you out a receipt and it comes off the shopping bill. As the photo at the top of this post shows, such an approach seems to work. Less bottles are left on the streets, and less are thrown away.

I first came across this idea in Norway more than a decade ago. Collecting bottles that tourists had thrown away in the city centres was a good source of income for the University students.

Art in Responsible Innovation, Maurizio Montalti in Conversation

Long ago, back in February of 2015, I wrote this post about Maurizio Montalti and his work with fungus.

Montalti produces various materials in what he calls a collaboration between living organisms, compostable materials that can be used to replace plastics and chemical based products.

Since I first met him he has begun to produce a host of materials on an industrial scale with the foundation of his company MOGU, and earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to catch up with him again and record the video interview you find below, part of my Art in Responsible Innovation series for the Bassetti Foundation.

Maurizio is a designer, scientist and artist whose works is extremely innovative, research and experiment based and perched on the border between art, design and biology.  He has been active in promoting responsibility within innovation throughout his career, with lots of ideas around sustainability and science communication and the role of science in society.

Learn more about this intriguing character and his work through the video and podcast below.

De-extinction!

De-extinction

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the Earth BioGenome project in which I suggest that the idea of the project collecting and sequencing all of life was aimed at working towards being able to ‘de-extinct’ species that may be lost in the coming years.

Well this week the Guardian UK newspaper has run an article specifically about de-extinction, leading with the title Firm Raises $15m to Bring Back Woolly Mammoth from Extinction.

Now headlines don’t tell the whole story as we know, and what the article appears to be saying is that scientists (and I will come back to who) want to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos in the laboratory that carry mammoth DNA. The plan is to begin by taking skin cells from Asian elephants and reprogram them into more versatile stem cells that carry mammoth DNA.

This could lead to the hybrids having long hair, larger fat depositis and other characteristics that would allow the animals to live in cold environments, rather like a mammoth.

The article has a subtitle though that makes for even more interesting reading: Reintroducing large animals can help restore ecosystems.

This is actually a link to an article that talks about the introduction of wolves and other non-extinct species into environments that suit their lifestyles, although the scientists proposing to do this with mammoths argue that their introduction may help to restore the degraded arctic tundra habitat and help in fighting global warming.

As we might imagine however none of the above comes without criticism, with other scientists arguing that these environmental claims might be baseless and the problems of producing such a hybrid aminal should not be underestimated (in technological terms).

George Church

Now to come back to the scientists. The money has been raised by bioscience and genetics company Colossal, co-founded by Ben Lamm, a tech and software entrepreneur, and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has pioneered new approaches to gene editing. I don’t know much about Lamm, but George Church is a very interesting character. He has been at the forefront of all types of genetic research for many decades, raising plenty of controversy along the way.

He is a pioneer who has pushed scientific boundaries, and I had the pleasure of meeting him and sharing lunch back in 2012. I have to admit I was a bit frightened though. What do you say in such presence? There doesn’t appear to be any box to think out of for him!

This seems like an incredible project to me, to the point that I don’t know what to think. I grew up in the era of the Jurassic park films! Will I one day look out to see a pterodactyl fly past?