Archive for June 2013 | Monthly archive page

Farmgram SLO

Local CSAs are a great way to eat healthy, support local farmers, and renew a connection with the land. However, what happens if you run out of ideas for all of those veggies? Often times, too many pieces of produce end up rotting in the compost bin because you either have no clue what to do with them, or cannot bear to look at the same ingredient for the third week in a row.

Farmgram San Luis Obispo is a project designed to deliver fresh food from the county as well as provide ideas and directions on how to use them. Each box follows a theme, such as the “breakfast box”, “juicing box”, or “meals with friends box”. In addition to vegetables and value-added items such as eggs, nuts, honey, or bread, the Farmgram comes with a chef’s recipe, starter kits for projects, and discount coupons. The canvas boxes are delivered directly to the home or office, making grocery shopping a breeze. Buying a Farmgram also helps those in need with funds each box sold used to donate fresh produce to hungry families in San Luis Obispo.

The project was started as a collaboration between three 5th year Seniors at Cal Poly. The trio hopes to encourage customers to learn new ways to enjoy the agricultural heritage of their homes, bolster local businesses, and promote food culture across the county. The Farmgram project is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, and is looking for donations to get off the ground! A pledge of $35 will secure you the first pre-order box. Contribute now to go on a culinary adventure that is good for the body, community, and creative spirit!

Between signing up for a two-century-long cell contract and buying a smartphone, it seems as though purchasing a mobile device is laden with guilt. Many contain metals from conflict areas and are assembled where working conditions are poor, so looking for a green and socially conscious alternative can seem like an epic quest into researching each step along the supply chain. Now, an international team of developers have created the Fairphone, the world’s first conflict-free, open-source smartphone.

The Fairphone runs on the Android Jellybean 4.2 platform and contains dual SIM cards, a Mediatexk 6589 chipset, and possesses 16 GB of internal memory. Dragontrail glass keeps the touch screen free of scratches, and two 8MP cameras are able to take pictures from the front and rear. As an open-source device, the phone can be programmed by those who are familiar with Firefox and Ubuntu code. Even more importantly, Fairphone works with organizations in Rwanda, Indonesia, and Zambia. They have partnered with groups such as Solutions for Hope, the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, Action Aid, and Friends of the Earth. Each comes with a Bill of Materials that lets the consumer know where each material has come from. The units are assembled in China at a factory where a fund has been created to improve worker wages and comply with environmental regulations.

The company’s ultimate goal is to have a phone that is made completely from recycled materials. Until that day, they have committed to reclaiming old, obsolete devices. Each Fairphone can either be donated or sold back, and for every one purchased the company contributes €3 to removing waste from Ghana. The Fairphone costs €325, and although it is currently only available for sale in Europe, its success could set a new standard for tech giants around the globe. Of the 20,000 machines already built, half have already been claimed. In a world where e-waste, social welfare, and environmental health challenge even the most well-intentioned of consumers, it is heartening to see a group of people willing to create a product that cares for both people and the planet.

Living in an age of rapidly developing technology and planned obsolescence, most of us can admit to still hanging on to a random assortment of old or broken electronics. Finding a place to recycle e-waste can be a bit of a hassle during a busy workweek, and attempting to regain a little of the money spent for our phones, tablets, and music players can lead to obsessively checking your email after posting twenty different Craigslist ads.

Sitting in the Santa Maria Town Center is a novel new machine that can give you cash for your old gadgets in a matter of minutes. The ecoATM allows you to scan your gear, check its global market value, and safely deposit your mobile device. To ensure that the items are not lost or stolen, a valid ID and thumbprint scan is required for each transaction. All deposits are monitored by staff through two cameras, the serial number is extracted and stored, and all devices are held for 30 days before being sold for extra security.

Since its debut in 2011, the company estimates that only 1 out of every 4,000 units have been reported lost or stolen. Most people walk away with at least $25, but some can earn up to $300 for a smartphone in good condition. No personal information is ever taken from the gadgets, and all are either sold to a third party to be repurposed or recycled in facilities that are certified by R2 Solutions or e-stewards.

The inventor of the ecoATM, Mark Bowles was inspired to create his clean kiosk after observing the success of the Coinstar change machines. Seeing as the US trashes over 384 million units of e-waste each year, he knew that selling defunct electronics to refurbishers could mean big business. ABI research sees the market for electronic waste at $15 billion by the end of 2014. About 350 ecoATMs have been placed in 24 states, and Bowles has plans to expand to international markets as well as working on technology to also accept computers.

Now there is no excuse not to grab your gear and do a little e-cycling for some extra cash and an environmentally friendly way to dispose of your unwanted electronics.

No one wants pollution spewing into the air, waterways, or land near where they live. Yet with chemicals and substances that are naked to the human eye, how can you know with any certainty what is entering your backyard? Thank heavens for the Internet and crowdsourcing. With the help of modern technology, scientists, and advocates across the world, you have access to the information you need to monitor your home habitat.

Poisoned Places- NPR and their Poisoned Places series has created an interactive map that allows the user to see how polluted their neck of the woods has become. They take their aggregate data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: the Clean Air Act watch list, the Air Facility System (AFS), the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model (RSEI).

Superfund Sites Where you Live- The EPA allows you to find out if you are living next to a Superfund Site, or an area where pollutants or hazardous waste is located. The site also allows you see how the cleanups are progressing and access community resources that help educate and involve residents in the restoration of their neighborhoods.

Landsat Satellite Images- Pictures have the power to express what data sheets, charts, and tables are unable to infer. Google Landsat takes satellite images from space and through timelapse photography creates videos that chronicle urban development, climate change, and environmental destruction. Time magazine has compiled several of the most stunning pieces on their website.

Ventus: Developed by researchers at Arizona State University, Ventus is a computer game that uses crowdsourcing to track CO2 pollution from power plants across the world. Users are able to enter information as to the size, capacity, and output of each facility in a competition to win top honors from the website’s founders. In addition to identifying the new plants springing up around the globe, Ventus can be used as a tool by policy makers and scientists looking to reform energy infrastructure.

U.S. NRC – Chances are if you live near a nuclear power facility, you are already aware of your radioactive neighbor. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers several interactive maps that show the locations of nuclear power plants, waste storage and materials facilities.

 

CFLs and LEDs not quite green enough for you? Solar panels too rigid and unforgiving? How about illuminating your living space with living creatures? Algae has long been used to produce biofuel and clean water, and now it is finding a brand new application as a light and power source. Far from your average pond scum, these tiny organisms are being harnessed for their ability to bioluminesce and sequester carbon.

Gyula Bodonyi has created an algae-powered light bulb that looks like the verdant version of a standard Christmas fixture. The tear-shaped bulb works by harnessing the natural biology of algae to power and LED bulb with the aid of a tiny air pump and hydrophobic container. Carbon dioxide and water is taken in near the E27 screw-top, and as the air passes through the bulb, it helps to nourish Chlorella pyrenoidosa microalgae. The oxygen the algae generates in turn operates the LED. When not turned on, the bulb appears green due to the hue of the organisms inside.

The Latro Lamp is another great example of algae’s ability to shed a little light on the subject of indoor illumination. Designed by Mike Thompson, the conical light only needs a little CO2, sunlight, algae, and water to function. The has to be set outside during the day, and a battery stores the energy created by the algae for later in the evening. A light sensor modulates the lamp’s intensity and prevents the algae from becoming malnourished.  Acting as a bio-battery, the technology was made possible through research done by Stanford and Yansei universities.

Scientists at Cambridge University are laboring towards creating biovoltaic panels (BPVs) that use algae to power electronics much in the same manner as photovoltaics. Alex Driver and Carlos Peralta  understand that such a novel concept could be a little difficult for consumers to imagine, and have created several renderings of products that could possibly hit the market once the technology becomes viable. The researchers believe that their innovations could be stiff competition for solar panels in the next 5-10 years.

Are you ready for the algae revolution?

Oh, honeybees! Forgive me for a moment while I extoll the virtues of the this humble insect. These hard-working ladies accomplish so much to contribute to human well-being. Aside from pollinating our crops and producing the miracle elixir that is honey, scientists have also found that bee venom can contribute to destroying HIV. Yes, that is correct, nanoparticles found in their naturally occurring compound can help to cure one of mankind’s most pressing medical catastrophes. So, in case it wasn’t enough to honor these brilliant bugs for their contributions to health, you may be surprised to learn how honeybees are working towards ensuring our collective safety.

Some very out-of-the-box scientists in Croatia are training honeybees to detect landmines. It may sound ridiculous at first, but upon further reflection, a tiny flying creature with a fantastic sense of smell might just be the perfect tool to identify the location of such destructive and sensitive weapons. Researchers from Zagreb University have developed a method of using a sugar solution laced with TNT to condition the bees to recognize the chemical signatures of the landmines. Nikola Kezic, the lead scientist of the project dubbed “Tiramisu” has high hopes for his hives. Weighing less than rats or dogs who have also been taught to search out the underground explosives. the bees have the potential to find the mines without setting them off.

During the Balkan wars, 750 square kilometers were laced with 90,000 ballistics without a set pattern or legend. Since the beginning of the conflicts in 1991, over 2,500 have perished from landmine explosions. For a country that is set to enter the EU this summer and one that hopes to maintain the safety of its population, any tool in its efforts to rid the country of the scourge of its turbulent past can be seen as nothing if not a step in the right direction. Croatia would like to become a tourist destination, and using the bees to make certain an area is safe for recreation could be an added reassurance. Now, if only we can return the favor to our winged warriors by reversing the colony collapse disorder brought about by climate change, pesticides, mites, and a host of other man made actions.

As a climate scientist, tackling global warming is an immense challenge. The most basic information, such as the location of the world’s fossil fuel-burning power plants and how much CO2 they emit, is difficult to obtain while sitting in an office. Through the power of crowdsourcing and the Internet, researchers at Arizona State University have created a computer game called Ventus that takes advantage of data provided by citizen scientists. Led by Kevin Gurney, the website operates on the belief that every facility in the world has at least a dozen or so people living or working near the plant that could provide valuable information. Players register through the page and are asked to provide the name and location of the plant along with what kind of fuel is used, how much electricity is produced, and the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. They are able to view all entries as well as make adjustments and edits. Participants who have provided the most useful data at the end of the year will win.

The team at ASU has already compiled a list of 25,000 plants through Google Earth. They estimate that there are over 30,000 fossil-fuel sites across the world, and the number is likely to grow as countries such as India and China continue to industrialize. With power plants accounting for nearly half of the world’s CO2 output, understanding where and how much greenhouse gas is being expelled into the environment will be a powerful tool for governments and communities to use in shifting towards alternative sources of energy.

X