Monday, November 23, 2015

Mealworms and Styrofoam: How Nature Once Again Proves It Can Save Us

Researchers from both Stanford and China Beihang University have successfully proven that beetle larvae- commonly referred to as "mealworms" are an efficient way to break down polyethylene plastic: by eating it.  The discovery  does one important thing right away: it negates the classification of polyethylene plastics as "non-biodegradable", opening a huge door to research in how to eliminate the estimated 33 million tons of plastic waste the US produces annually (and that's only the US).

Using beetle larvae from various sources, the researchers fed them a daily diet of Styrofoam. According to their published results in Environmental Science and Technology:
"The Styrofoam was efficiently degraded in the larval gut within a retention time of less than 24 h. Fed with Styrofoam as the sole diet, the larvae lived as well as those fed with a normal diet (bran) over a period of one month."
Mealworms chow down on Styrofoam. The creatures break down the material
much faster than it normally takes for Styrofoam to break down on its own

The findings go on to report about half (47.7%) the byproduct of the mealworms' digestion was carbon dioxide and the rest biomass and non-toxic fecal matter. The average biodegradation was found to take 16 days; an astoundingly fast measurement compared to the eons Styrofoam takes to break down on its own.

While carbon dioxide as a byproduct will produce its own challenge of how to responsibly introduce it back into the ecosystem (it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a mealworm farm integrated into a controlled forest, is it?), the hope is with further research, labs can isolate the bioenzyme that enables mealworms to do this and utilize it on a grander scale to break down plastic waste en masse.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Permeable Pavement The Key To New Water Infrastructure

Recently, we wrote about one of the ways California is addressing its drought-afflicted water systems: a multi-millions dollar city-wide push for capturing urban runoff by Los Angeles's Department of Water & Power. The effort will demand many innovations that need to be implemented to existing infrastructure as quickly as possible.

One new company has provided an excellent option for that innovation; UK-based Tarmac has introduced its new Topmix Permeable pavement. The material is capable of absorbing an astounding 880 million gallons of water in a single minute. That's fast enough to keep up with most rainfall averages but the real value is not merely in preventing flood accumulation on city streets; it is in the many ways the pavement can supplement current water storage systems that already exist:

While storing rainwater is not a new feature, the average American city still relies an astounding amount on water melted from the snowpack of nearby mountains (the Cascades of New York, the Sierras of California, for example). But with shifting weather patterns all over the nation, the traditional methods of water capture yield less and less amounts, and it has become clear 21st century urban designs must take these changing nature patterns into effect in order to survive.

Topmix Permeable not only serves as an excellent alternative to traditional snowmelt systems (if heavily invested in), but is also pliable enough to be applied to a variety of existing models. TechInsider breaks it down:
"The system can accommodate three designs: full infiltration, partial infiltration, and full attenuation.

Full infiltration refers to a system where all water goes through Topmix to flow into the soil underneath. It's particularly useful in wet areas that don't need to collect the rainwater.
Partial infiltration involves a semi-permeable barrier beneath Topmix that acts as a drainage system into nearby sewers or waterways — useful when the layer beneath Topmix can't pass the water through on its own.
Full attenuation uses a capture system to store all the water that flows through Topmix. This option is most useful in areas with unclean water and high recycling rates, since the captured water can be reused later."
The variety of applications means Topmix has the chance to replace existing pavement areas immediately. And judging by the drastic changes in weather around the nation- specifically in the Southwest- immediate and widespread changes are definitely in demand. Its only shortcoming is that it risks cracking if the absorbed water expands in cold weather. That may rule out a few urban markets, but not nearly as many as those that stand to benefit the greatest.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.