Business

#1164 Paper or plastic? The environment wants more from us

Leyla Acaroglu; photo clip from her TED talk

“Paper or plastic?” That was the mantra a few years back, when people were arguing over whether tree- or petroleum-based products were the better environmental sacrifice. In her TED2013 talk, Leyla Acaroglu addresses the environmental complexity of a seemingly simple…

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#1159 Print-and-plug solar panels coming soon

Dr. Scott Watkins shows what a printed solar cell looks like; photo courtesy of CSIRO

While governments and energy companies have dragged their feet on alternative forms of energy, others have quietly gone about developing solutions. A team of Australian scientists have come up with printable solar panels. The flexible sheets can power our devices,…

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#1113 Lettuce in LED-lit tiers; food factory of the future grows in Japan today

The future is today; lettuce factory in Japan; photo from video below

The future is today; lettuce factory in Japan; photo from video below

Food waste accounts for somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of all the food produced around the world. That is a shocking number. That means land, seed, water, storage, manufacturing and everything else that contributes to the food on our table is wasted.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, a Sony factory abandoned in the wake of the 2011 tsunami is producing lettuce with only 3 percent waste. According to Truth Atlas (a good source of hope), one of the main reasons for that impressive percentage is water. It isn’t leaching through the soil, and it isn’t evaporating, at least not the way it would in a conventional lettuce-growing operation.

Shigeharu Shimamura, a plant physiologist, is CEO of Mirai Co. He explained that conventional farms can grow 26,000 plants on an acre of land. By stacking the plants and growing them under LED lights, the plant factory can harvest 10,000 heads a day in a much smaller space than an ordinary farm. In terms of feeding a burgeoning population, the ability to grow lettuce is a small start, but this factory is pioneering techniques that can be applied to other kinds of food plants.

Maybe it’s my age, but I have a hard time getting excited about food grown in tiers in a 2300 square metre factory. I think I’m lucky. I will go to my grave with the image of seed, soil, water and sun producing a miracle of food. Still, it appears we humans are reproducing like rabbits and using up the planet’s resources at shocking speed. A factory like this will stave off disaster while we figure out more rational ways of living in harmony with the beautiful earth.

With water and food in peril, a growing population to feed, and the future of my grandchildren at stake, I am encouraged by the creativity of people such as Shigeharu Shimamura. They are working hard to ensure a future for all of us.

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