Monday, 28 February 2011

No Plastic Song & Dance

Here at Back to Tap we started dancing this morning to the sounds of No Plastic:

Does anyone else have eco-friendly music out there? We would love to hear more of it.

10 Ways to Use Less Plastic

How do we change behaviour to be more sustainable? Of course there are many inspiring examples of how to reduce our collective carbon footprints, yet when it comes to creating change at the individual level, it can be very difficult to really get things done. In this post, we've tried to help you move away from plastics by breaking things down so that you can choose individual steps towards reducing plastic use:

(1) Stop buying and using bottled water - Plastic bottles are a major source of marine debris and are piling up around the world. Make your own filtered tap water and carry it in a stainless steel drinking flask, or simply drink straight from a filtered tap.

(2) Say "no" to plastic grocery bags - Plastic bags are a leading source of ocean garbage. Purchase and bring your own reusable bags when buying groceries.

(3) Say "no" to plastic snack bags, baggies and sandwich bags - Cloth napkins, wax paper or reusable sandwich bags and boxes can be used in place of their plastic equivalents.

4) Avoid Products that use Plastic to Begin With - Plastic is convenient but most of the cheaper grades (the clear stuff) find its way into our food, often leaving a film on anything that is wrapped in it and which we then eat. Microwaving anything in plastic cooks plastic residues right into the food, vaporizing other chemicals that contaminate the food and air.

5) Recycle or Reuse Materials - Plastic can be recycled and you will find that when you start recycling you at least save money on trash bags. Many containers can be washed out and reused (though they should be sterilized with apple cider vinegar). Note that only the higher grade plastics can be reused.

6) Choose Products with Biodegradable Plastic - Now many plastic cups along with packaging peanuts and other supplies are available in a biodegradable form. Companies like Ecosafe and Natur-Tec are providing real solutions to the plastic problem.

7) Repair, Sell or Upgrade Gadgets Many people run out and buy the latest new cell phone or iPod more often than needed, discarding their old phones in the rubbish where they not only add to plastic landfill but also leak out various other contaminants like Mercury. Meanwhile older components, while larger, are often superior as they tend to be constructed of much more solid materials. By repairing your items you can keep things in top shape much longer. Tackle small problems when they arise. Take the time to fix things. Buy used products when possible and sell your items online or at the local rummage sale when they are no longer needed. Prefer products that offer replacement parts.

8) Recycle Computer Parts - If you must discard items like monitors or printers, at least take them to an electronics recycler. The claim that most plastics can be recycled has been proven false, but for some plastics, the option is there. So recycle where possible while proactively cutting out plastic from your life.

(9) Experiment with New Materials & Innovative Products - From bamboo to glass and stainless steel, there are many options to help you make the move away from plastic.

(10) Convert those around you to plastic free living!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Pacific Ocean Gyre

If anyone has found themselves drifting in the middle of Pacific recently, they may have found themselves in a sea of plastic waste. As our friends over at the Plastiki know so well, plastic waste poses a major threat the health of aquatic ecosystems from the mid-Pacific to local beaches.

Here at Back to Tap, we are hoping that people will stop using bottled water and put an end to one major source of plastic waste. This will hopefully lead a shrinking of the Pacific Ocean plastic gyre:

Watching the Price of Liquid Gold

As we continue to think of new ways to manage water, and to discuss whether or not bottled water makes sense, we thought that you might be interested in a recent BBC series on "The Foods That Make Billions."

Things like cornflakes and bottled water that people would never have considered paying for are now some of the biggest money spinners for persuasive food companies. As was laid out so cleal

Friday, 18 February 2011

Building for Water in the Sky

Dear to Back to Tap’s heart is the issue of pollution from water delivery services, as building design evolves to reflect new technological capabilities, and as people seek to re-connect with the concrete world around them, water is certain to play a role. Already, celebrity architects are incorporating water into buildings in exciting ways, and the next step will be the adoption of creative water designs for everyday use.

In Singapore, as buildings rise skyward, so do parks and water features, with the Sands Skypark perched 57 stories above the ground. If humans are going to continue expanding skywards, water must always accompany them.

Rendering of Sands Skypark by Safdie Architects. Courtesy of Marina Bay Sands.

Moving from the monumental architectural use of water by architects from Frank-Lloyd Wright to Zaha Hadid, designers are now thinking about water systems at the household level. Designs for porous concrete, green roofs, grey water recycling systems, and innovative irrigation systems are changing the way we use, recycle and dispose of water.

Artist's impression of Dubai fountains, by Emaar

Monday, 14 February 2011

Culture, Nature & the Future

How will we adapt to the future without plastic? Are people ready to accept that we must change patterns of consumption in order to protect the environment and repair the damage that has already been done.

In this TED Talk, cultural historian and ethnographer Wade Davis describes the interlinking webs of belief and ritual which link humanity - it is through connecting with these universal values and humanism that attitudes towards the Earth and its resources can hopefully be changed.

Enjoy the talk and we hope you will get in touch with Back to Tap to start a discussion on some of his points.

Cities of Future: creative adaptation for an urban species

By 2030, there will be more people living in urban than rural areas. This shift from rural to an urban majority represents a new phase in humans' relationship with the environment. In the next 20 years, Homo sapiens, “the wise human”, will become Homo sapiens urbanus in virtually all regions of the planet. What will this change mean for how natural resources are managed?

Will we all be living in mini apartments and eating produce grown in vertical farms, and how will everyone get along amidst increasing scarcity? All of these questions have been raised before, and what we are interested in is water.

(© Vincent Callebaut)[pixelab]

What is clear is that the coming urban renaissance will require new ideas about how water is managed. Already, cities are starting to re-evaluate how they use and plan for water use. From academics pondering theory to household systems designed to recycle grey water, there are a range of existing solutions to water shortage use and unnecessary pollution. As the global population booms and moves to cities, we are certain to see more innovation.

Already, countries in the Arabian Gulf are using large-scale desalinisation plants to extract water for their desert metropolises - this practice is already leading to hyper-salinity in the sea, with toxic impacts on sealife. As the unsustainable efforts in the Gulf demonstrate, the tightly packed urban world of the future our relationship with water will have to evolve.

When we run out of freshwater on land will be moving to the sea?

Gyre Seascraper © Zigloo

Changing Energy Use - The Way Forward To 2050

Over the weekend Back to Tap read the recently released The Energy Report. 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 launched by WWF, AMO and Ecofys. Amidst so much negative press around climate change, the report is an encouraging plan for the future. Back to Tap was happy to read that solar, wind, hydro and other renewable could conceivably replace fossil fuels within forty years.

This change would mean better water quality – water borne pollution from natural gas drilling and fossil fuel extraction is polluting water from Nigeria to Nebraska, and as we transition away from fossil fuels, it will mean the end of highly polluting industry.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Water for all the neighbours

As Green Design takes off around the world, it is hard to forget that billions of people continue to live on less than $10 per day. As transnational businesses increasingly seek out the custom of the bottom billions, designers must consider the distinctive needs of the global majority. Innovations range from low-cost water pumps, solar heaters and mobile phone chargers to biomass fuel briquettes.

Of particular interest to Back to Tap are low cost water filters and pumps, along with other innovative projects that are leading the way to affordable, safe drinking water for the global majority.

Low-cost water pumping in Uganda with the a treadle pump

With this goal in mind, designers have been experimenting with established technology and new techniques, including the process of layering nanoparticles which can be used to provide safe and affordable water filters .

The experimental process, known as “atomic layer deposition”, involves layering nanoparticles onto a metal or a ceramic to create a thin film of cells. While nanofilters remain in the trial stage, these efforts show a commitment to finding solutions for problems facing billions of people.

As other products like the Hippo Roller and bamboo frame bicycles continue to be developed by designers and manufactured locally in Africa and Asia, it seems as if design is destined to will live up to its potential in transforming lives and creating livelihoods.

Bamboo bicycle glory from Indonesia

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Designing for the Future

In a recent issue of Architectural Design, the authors ask if people would prefer to rely only on technology to adapt to shifting circumstances rather than alter their lifestyles to suit nature's limits. Ironically, we live in a time that is obsessed with both monolithic architecture experiments, and micro efficient lighting, heating and water technology. How do we square the micro with the macro in an increasing inter-connected world?

As we come to the realisation that the planet’s resources are indeed finite, how will these two contradictory desires manifest themselves? Can we build enormous tower block luxury hotels and casinos and still claim to care about the environmental impacts of our actions?

The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest free-standing structure in Dubai. What about design and buildings on a human scale that acknowledge the environment around them?

As buildings get taller and more energy and material intensive, it makes sense to return to the components that make up the built environment and to begin evaluating from the bottom up. Cultivating grassroots change and engaging professionals in design and architecture will be a key challenge for future development.

It remains to be seen how crowd sourcing design solutions for everything from toilets to taps will filter up towards a structural change in the way architects build our cities.

How will small innovations in design come to influence the design of large systems? In one hundred years, will we be living underground, in the sea or in the sky? How will our relationship with the natural world change in the future, and how can design help to improve our relationship with the natural environment? Creative suggestions are most welcome.

New Eco-tower planned for Singapore, by Architects TR Hamza & Yeang

Monday, 7 February 2011

Water in Space

Reading this month's Blueprint Magazine on designing for space, the question of design innovations to meet astronauts’ needs was conspicuously absent. There were fascinating profiles on a new Norman Foster designed commercial spaceport in New Mexico, hopeful space elevators and a re-design of the classic spacesuit, but no mention of water.

Somewhere on the Moon. From:

As on earth, water is essential for life in space – while spaceships and fancy pressurised zoot-suits capture the imagination, water remains a key sticking point for those planning a space holiday or emigration to the Moon. Each astronaut on the International Space Station is allocated about two litres of water daily. They stretch the ration by collecting, cleaning and reusing wastewater, condensate in the air and urine. Water management in space might have lessons for those of us firmly grounded on earth.

The current Water Recycling System (WRS) in use on board reclaims waste water from the Space Shuttle's fuel cells, from oral hygiene and hand washing, and by condensing humidity from the air, and from urine. Without such careful recycling 40,000 pounds per year of water from Earth would be required to resupply a minimum of four crewmembers for the life of the station.

Slightly more complex than earthly water filters, the Sabatier process uses a nickel catalyst to interact with hydrogen and carbon dioxide at elevated temperatures and pressures to produce water and methane. The water is retained for recycling processes, and the methane is vented outside of the space station.

Finally, a little comic irony from those who claim to be using water filter technology developed by aliens.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Plastiki sails the seas

The Back to Tap team enjoyed following the exploits of David de Rothschild and hope that his expedition will inspire others! Where will the Plastiki sail next?

Why choose tap water?

Once regarded as just another European fad, bottled water is now big business in the UK with a market worth close to £2 billion per annum. Now more health conscious and sensible about what we eat and drink, we accept that clean water is important for more than just hydration, but at what are the costs of bottled water?

Environmentalists have begun to question the ethics and logic behind an industry that transports a natural product many thousands of miles and produces mountains of plastic waste. In 2009, over 200,000,000,000 litres of bottled water were consumed globally. This generated 1,500,000 tons of plastic waste, and 170,000,000 litres of oil were required to produce and transport plastic bottles. What happens to all of this waste?

With most plastic bottles being produced for one-time, disposable use, roughly 90% never makes it to be recycling. The UN estimates that at least 80% of the waste in the sea comes from land-based sources, with most it being plastic.[1]

Is it morally acceptable to waste the earth’s energy resources when clean water is still an unthinkable luxury in certain parts of the world? Why are we continuing a cursed love affair with bottled water and what is the alternative?

The alternative is to install a filter tap which will pay for itself in less than a year. As designers catch up and begin to lead the environmental zeitgeist, water filters

Today we are in a position to choose between a number of different water filtering systems and styles according to health requirements and taste. The quality of the filtration systems available today and their appealing range of designs are a clear sign that it is time to return to tapwater.