Who would think that one of the staple side dishes of a regular American meal could also be a source of the world's pollution? But the next time you're shopping for rice in your local grocery, you should consider this: in Asia alone, rice production produces over 770 million tons of rice husks a year that up until recently were dumped in rivers and landfills or burned into the atmosphere. That number doesn't even take into account markets in North America or the Middle East, also major hubs of rice as a mass commodity.
The waste of rice husks is doubly tragic, considering research is showing more and more by-products of rice production can serve a multitude of uses and has much more value than western industry has given it. In India, a company funnels the gas from burning husks into turbines that create electricity that runs 30 percent cheaper than diesel-based turbines. In Taiwan, researchers successfully showed how rice husk "biochar" can integrate with soil to grow heartier green vegetables than char based from wood. Despite these small victories of cyclical use, any true sustainable manufacturing that can yield impressive profits and positively contribute to the environment has to be on a much larger scale, and would involve convincing a giant market force to take a risk on a new approach to cost-efficiency.
Enter Goodyear, which certainly qualifies as one of those giant forces. It seems the company has caught green-lit plans to use silica in ash leftover from burnt husks as an environmentally friendly form of traction-control and fuel efficiency for its tires. While it's not clear yet whether Goodyear can buy ash from power plant contractors that minimize the air pollution from burning husks, it's a much-needed improvement from the tons of silica filling up landfills. The move also helps Goodyear fulfill its 2008 mandate to have zero waste to landfill from its facilities.
It may be a small step, but it's being made by a giant of American tire manufacturing. And if tangible savings are measured, this move could serve as a template for all companies to pursue cyclical, sustainable industry.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.