Technology is crucial to addressing the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change, pollution and resources scarcity. Here are six ways that entrepreneurs and innovators tried to solve the world’s toughest problems in 2017:
1. Finally, Unilever finds a way to recycle plastic sachets
When Unilever introduced single-use plastic sachets in Asia, it gave lower income consumers the ability to afford its brands. It also created a monster plastic pollution problem. This year, the consumer goods giant finally tried to do something about it. Enter Creasolv, technology that enables every part of a used plastic sachet to be recycled. The process uses same amount of energy used to produce one kilogram of virgin plastic to recover six kilograms of pure plastic polymer.
2. Deforestation-fighting palm oil seeds
In a breakthrough for the palm oil industry this year, Golden Agri-Resources developed seeds that could potentially slow deforestation in Indonesia. The Eka 1 and Eka 2 seeds yield three times the industry average, enable palm trees to reach maturity much earlier and produce fruit within 24 months compared to 30 months typically. Even more impressive, the seeds have not been genetically modified; they were grown from tissue culture.
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3. Chill your home without aircon
American scientists invented a way to keep homes cool without using electricity or water. Developed by the University of Wyoming, a film slightly thicker than aluminium foil can reflect the sun’s rays and allow the surface beneath to shed heat. It can also improve the efficiency and lifetime of solar panels, which can overheat in direct sunlight, hampering their ability to convert sunlight into energy.
4. Don’t buy, borrow
An app called Lendor enabled people to live more minimalist lifestyles by giving them an alternative to buying stuff. The app, developed by Singaporeans Chuan Wei Zhang and Pauline Lim, is an online inventory of items that can be shared between users at a price decided by the owner. Items such as sporting goods, power tools and video game consoles that would otherwise be collecting dust can be used by someone who needs them.
5. Fruitfully fighting food waste
Italian biotechnology start-up Green Code developed a natural way to extend the shelf life of fruit by preventing it from ripening. Called Demetra, the treatment consists of a mixture of plant extracts that stop fruit from ripening by delaying the rotting process while retaining its nutrients.
6. Think while you drink
Scottish craft brewer BrewDog launched a beer made with water from melted polar ice caps. Branded Make Earth Great Again, the beer, which contains Arctic cloudberries, was designed to raise awareness of climate change, prompted by Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.
The label reads: “This beer will be as bitter as a world ignoring climate change.” Marketing gimmick? Possibly. But profits from the brew go towards 10:10, a charity that supports projects tackling climate change.
This story is part of our Year in Review series, which looks at the top stories that shaped the business and sustainability scene over the last 12 months.