Saturday, 31 March 2018


11 beautiful surreal forests fit for a fairy tale
By Melissa Breyer,
Treehugger, 19 March 2018.

Bewitching, bizarre, and crazy beautiful, these enchanted sylvan escapes are the stuff of dreams. A single tree alone is a majestic thing, but a throng of them together growing in the wild transforms majestic into magical. Forests cover around 30 percent of the Earth's land surface and play an integral role in the health of the planet; but they also offer a storied place of mystery and enchantment. Hardly a classic fairy tale is told without the woods as a supporting role. While there are forests and woods of every stripe, we've gathered a few here that stand out for their uniqueness. The list is certainly not exclusive, but features some of the more curious collections of trees on the planet...a brief walk through some of the world's dreamiest, most extraordinary woods.

1. Zhangjiajie National Forest, China

Credit: chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons

Pictured above, this wildly beautiful forest is located in Zhangjiajie City in China's northern Hunan Province. Covering an area of of nearly 12,000 acres, it is an officially recognized UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. And is it any wonder?! With a forest coverage rate of more than 98 percent, the green is punctuated with more than 8,000 pillar formations.

2. Yili Apricot Valley, China

Credit: China Tour Advisors/Facebook

Now we're approaching the happy Disney type of fairy-tale forest; all the wicked stepmother stuff behind us and the princess and her prince finally get to settle down. Because this is a giant forest of blushing apricot-blossom festooned trees. Apricot Valley is breathtaking, and is the largest apricot forest in the province of Xinjiang, China, located in Xinyuan County close to the border of Kazakhstan. Every year from June to September the valley is flooded with blooms, making it one of the straight-out prettiest forests on the planet. Meanwhile, the countries that produce the most apricots are Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Algeria - are their apricot valleys as lovely?

3. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Credit: Frank Vassen/Flickr

Not so sure that 25 trees can be called a forest, but this grouping of baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) is a striking reminder of the forest heritage of Madagascar, and worthy of inclusion. Lining a dirt road in the western part of the island, the oddly blobby baobab trees can live to be 800 years old and are known locally as renala, meaning mother of the forest. They reach up to 100 feet tall! The trees once stood crowded with other flora in the dense tropical forests that fruitfully covered the island; as human population spread, the forests were cleared - yet the beautifully bizarre baobab trees were spared. They do look a bit lonely, but serve as a potent reminder of forests past.

4. The Crooked Forest, Poland

Credit: Kalasancjusz/Pixabay

The Crooked Forest is comprised of some 400 pines trees all with a serious crook. Located outside Nowe Czarnowo in West Pomerania, Poland, no one is exactly sure what is going on here; especially since the wonky trees are within a forest of perfectly straight one. It is suspected that the human hand was involved, though by which tools or techniques, or better yet why, remains unknown. Speculation includes intentional deformation to create curved wood for building; though some think a prodigious snow could have causes the curves. Nobody has suggested the spell of a sorcerous, but really, nobody knows...

5. The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

Credit: Colin Park/Wikimedia Commons

Game of Thrones, anyone? More grove than forest, this striking arcade of beech trees was actually planted in the 1700s as a landscape feature near Ballymoney in Northern Ireland - but have served as forest muse to the troves of tourists who come to photograph the incredible array. This one goes in the "future forest" file, as we dream of more of these wonderfully animated beech trees taking over the land to create one of the most enchanted forests around. And in the meantime, they have actually served well as the King's Road in HBO's Game of Thrones.

6. Forest of Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

Credit: Son Doon Cave

Nestled deep in the largest cave known to man is, of all things, a forest. True story. The 5-mile long cave with 500-foot ceilings comes complete with its own river and several areas of rainforest courtesy of collapsed ceilings that have created skylights. In comes the sun, up comes a forest to greet it.

The Son Doon Cave is one of the most incredible “lost world” places on the planet, as you can see in the video above.

7. Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean, England

Credit: Stuart Herbert/Flickr

Tucked away in the Forest of Dean in western Gloucestershire, England, is Puzzlewood. This incredibly evocative woodland is home to gnarled trees and twisted paths, like something straight out of JK Rowling's wonderful brain - though it is said to have inspired J. R. R. Tolkien for Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings. Especially enchanting are the moss-enshrined rock paths that snake through the woods; likely the remains of collapsed caves, they offer this spot of forest a feature magical enough to make any wizard happy.

8. Dragon's Blood Forest, Socotra Island

Credit: Valerian Guillot/Flickr

220 miles from mainland Yemen exists an isolated island called Socotra. And on Socotra is a strange collection of flora and fauna specifically adapted to suit the hot and harsh island, including the wonderfully weird dragon's blood tree. Looking like odd Dr. Seuss mushroom trees, Dracaena cinnabari, has a curious skyward orientation to enable the collection of moisture from the highland mist, while also creating shade to protect the seedlings sprouting up beneath the adult tree. But maybe best of all? They have cool red sap, hence, their name.

9. Sunken Forest, Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan

Credit: Jonas Satkauskas/Wikimedia Commons

In Kazakhstan’s Tian Shan Mountains sits Kaindy Lake, a 1300-foot long lake created after an earthquake in 1911 triggered a landslide that created a natural dam. In the process, a large grove of spruce was flooded to become the hauntingly beautiful Sunken Forest.

One especially special part of this place is that while the trees are bare above, the cold serene water below has preserved the pine needles, so that from beneath the surface it appears to be a living forest.

10. Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Japan

Credit: Jordy Meow/Wikimedia Commons

OK, this forest is the spookiest, and saddest, on the list. Known variously as the Suicide Forest or the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara has the tragic distinction of being the world's second most favorite site for taking one's own life. (First place goes to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.) Located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji, the forest is said to be "the perfect place to die," with between 10 and 30 suicides per year. Knowing the strong salubrious effect that trees can have on one's spirit, we can only hope that being in the presence of the great forest may have changed a few minds over the years.

11. Birch forests, Russia

Credit: Miroslavik/Pixabay

Our last stop on this armchair tree tour are the birch forests of Russia, where the towering birch serves as the national tree. Because after all is said and done, it's hard to beat the fairy-tale elegance of tall slender white trees glittered with white snow and shooting forth from a sparkling white ground. Not sure if unicorns like the cold, but if so, then here is most certainly where their lairs are hidden.

Top image: Zhangjiajie National Forest, China. Credit: Carlos Adampol Galindo/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Treehugger. Some images and links added.]

Thursday, 29 March 2018


Top 10 Underwater Or Subglacial Water Bodies And Waterfalls
By Oliver Taylor,
Listverse, 29 March 2018.

Imagine you are diving underwater, and you suddenly come across a river below the surface. That’s weird, right? However, such phenomena can and do occur in nature.

Underwater rivers aren’t the only bizarre things you can find beneath the waves. There are also lakes under glaciers, waterfalls below the surface of the ocean, and an ocean deep inside the Earth’s mantle. Here are ten pools, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls that are right under another river, ocean, or glacier.

10. Cenote Angelita


Cenote Angelita (Angelita meaning “Little Angel”) is one of the cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A cenote is almost like a sinkhole except that it is filled with water. It is formed when a weak limestone collapses and exposes groundwater below.

Cenote Angelita actually contains a saltwater river at the bottom. It is separated from the fresh water above by a halocline, a deadly cloud of hydrogen sulfide that contains a mixture of both waters.

The halocline is so misty that it is impossible to see through it without a torch. It is also poisonous. Besides acting as a natural barrier between the fresh and salt water, the halocline also acts as the de facto seabed of the freshwater portion and stops lighter objects that fall into the cenote from reaching the salt water below.[1]

9. Lake Whillans


Lake Whillans is located under the Ross Ice Shelf in Western Antarctica. Scientists believe it is between 10 and 25 meters (33–82 ft) deep, although they found it to be only 2 meters (6.6 ft) deep when they drilled into it for the first time in January 2013. This doesn’t mean it isn’t deeper at other areas, though.

Water samples retrieved from the lake revealed the presence of microbes that have evolved to survive without the need for sunlight.[2] These microbes feed on fossilized pollen that has been buried under the ice for over 34 million years.

Drilling 730 meters (2,400 ft) to reach a 10-meter-deep (33 ft) body of water at a nearby location, scientists found more microbes, crustaceans, and some small, strange-looking fish with large eyes. Scientists could not say for sure why these fish have exceptionally big eyes, but it might be connected with their dark habitat.

The largest of the fishes were also translucent, and their internal organs could be seen from the outside. This colorlessness is believed to be the result of the unavailability of hemogoblin, the protein that makes blood red. However, scientists could not confirm whether this translucent fish was a new species.

8. Hamza River


There is a river 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) below the Amazon River in Brazil. This river is 5,950 kilometers (3,700 mi) long, which is long but still shorter than the Amazon. It is unofficially called the Hamza River in honor of geophysicist Valiya Hamza.

The Amazon may beat the Hamza in length, but the latter trounces the former in width. It is 200 kilometers (125 mi) wide at its narrowest and 400 kilometers (250 mi) wide at its broadest, dwarfing even the mighty Amazon. The Amazon wins in every other category, though. Water flows through the Hamza at a rate of one million gallons per second, which is way too small when compared with the Amazon’s flow rate of 35 million gallons per second.[3]

Water doesn’t even travel more than 100 meters (330 ft) a year in the Hamza, which has caused some scientists, including Professor Hamza, to argue that it doesn’t technically qualify as a river. A mere 100 meters a year is an abysmally slow speed for a river. Even glaciers cover more than that distance in a year. The Hamza’s extremely slow rate of flow could be the result of it flowing through porous rocks and not open space like the Amazon.

7. Denmark Strait Cataract


Type “the highest waterfall in the world” into your search engine, and it will most likely return with Angel Falls in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. At 979 meters (3,212 ft), Angel Falls is incredibly high - so high that some of its water evaporates before it reaches the bottom. However, it is no match for the 3,500-meter-tall (11,500 ft) Denmark Strait Cataract under the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Iceland.

The Denmark Strait Cataract is the result of the cooler waters of the Greenland Sea meeting the warmer water of the Irminger Sea. As the waters meet, the cooler and denser waters of the Greenland Sea sharply slide down to the ocean floor, creating the waterfall. The water doesn’t remain where it is after hitting the seabed. It travels south and rises to the surface to replace the warmer waters traveling north, and the process continues.[4]

6. Unnamed River Under The Black Sea

Photo credit: University of Leeds

There is a river flowing under the Black Sea. The unnamed river is not your average underwater river. It features waterfalls and rapids along its length. Had it been overground, it would have been the sixth-largest river in the world in terms of how much water flows through it. It has ten times more water than the Rhine, which is the biggest river in Europe.

The river is up to 35 meters (115 ft) deep and 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) wide and flows right on the floor of the Black sea. This is possible thanks to its high salinity, which prevents its water from mixing with that of the Black sea. It was observed by scientists from the University of Leeds, who tracked it with a robot submarine for 60 kilometers (37 mi) until it dissipated into the deep sea.[5]

5. Nigardsbreen Ice Cave Pond

Photo credit: Guttorm Flatabø

Ice caves are caves found within glaciers. They are formed when water melts an entry point to pass through the glaciers. The water could be melting off the glacier itself or come from a river or ocean where the glacier ends. Ice caves are found in several countries close to the Arctic and Antarctica, but tourists prefer those found in Norway and Iceland.

One of these ice caves was found in 2007 in the Nigardsbreen glacier range in Norway. It features a chamber 8 meters (26 ft) high and 20 by 30 meters (66 x 98 ft) in area. This cave even contains a pond. The pond was formed after water from the melting glacier melted an entry point and started accumulating under it because it couldn’t flow anywhere else. The pond warms the air inside the cave, causing the glacier to further melt from within and increasing the volume of water in the pond.[6]

4. Hot Tub Of Despair

Photo credit: OET/NautilusLive

The Hot Tub of Despair is a brine pool 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists believe it was formed millions of years ago when the Gulf of Mexico evaporated, leaving behind heaps of salt. The salt soon submerged and ultimately became an underwater pool when water returned.

Having an unusually high salt density is the defining characteristic of brine pools. Some are so dense that submersibles can “land” on them. The Hot Tub of Despair is four times saltier than the surrounding ocean. It lacks oxygen but is rich in hydrogen sulfide and methane, which are almost always disastrous to marine life.

Unfortunate fish and crabs that dare to swim into the pool almost never leave alive. The high salt content of the pool also leaves their bodies preserved for years. However, other organisms like bacteria, mussels, and tube worms have adapted to live by the side of the pool.[7]

3. Lake Vostok


In 1990, Russian researchers at the Vostok Station in Antarctica were drilling for ice cores when they discovered the presence of a lake right under their station. The lake was named Lake Vostok, after the research station, although some prefer calling it Lake East. It is 240 kilometers (150 mi) long and 50 kilometers (31 mi) wide and contains over 5,400 cubic kilometers (1,300 mi3) of water.

How Lake Vostok was formed remains a source of speculation, although most scientists agree it came to be after volcanic activity melted glaciers into water. Its time of formation is another mystery. Some scientists believe it was formed 30 million years ago, while others believe it was formed as “recently” as 400,000 years ago. One thing scientists agree on is the fact that the lake probably contains unique organisms that have evolved separately from those found elsewhere on Earth.

Russian scientists extracted water from the lake in February 2012 after drilling through 3,769 meters (12,366 ft) of ice. A year later, they announced the discovery of an unknown bacteria from water extracted from the lake. However, there are concerns that the bacteria might not be from the lake and might have even been introduced into it by contaminated drills and freeze-resistant fluids used during drilling.[8]

2. Unnamed Lake Under Antarctica


Lake Vostok is the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica. This unnamed lake is the second-largest. Scientists have not actually seen this lake or drilled water from it, but they established its size and existence by analyzing satellite pictures of the ice covering Antarctica.

They noticed that the top of the ice in some areas had depressions that were consistent with those seen above other known subglacial lakes. Scientists believe this unnamed lake has the shape of a ribbon. It is a 100 kilometers (60 mi) long and 10 kilometers (6 mi) wide.

The lake itself has several feeders that travel for over a 1,000 kilometers (600 mi). Two of these feeders might even be channeling water from the lake into the ocean. Scientists hope to drill into the lake in the coming years and find out whether it contains unique life-forms not seen anywhere else on Earth.[9]

1. An Ocean Inside The Earth’s Mantle


How did water reach planet Earth? No one can say for sure, but most scientists say that some icy comets crashed into our planet.

According to Steve Jacobsen and other scientists from Northwestern University, however, the water on Earth might be from Earth itself. The scientists have evidence that there is an ocean 660 kilometers (410 mi) below the Earth’s crust, in an area of the mantle called the transition zone. This ocean contains three times the amount of water found in all oceans of the world combined.

The water is inside a mineral called ringwoodite and is slowly brought aboveground by geological activities like earthquakes and erupting volcanoes. Besides providing the oceans of the Earth with water, scientists also believe that this ocean also regulates the water aboveground. If it weren’t so, the world would have been covered with water.[10]

Top image: Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica. Credit: NASA.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]


Six unusual signs that you may have heart disease
By Adam Taylor,
The Conversation, 21 March 2018.

The heart, so integral to life, sits in its protective cage in the chest, going about its work without any external sign to the owner. In the West, where one in four people die of cardiovascular disease, the importance of keeping the heart in good working order is hard to overstate. Sadly, the first sign many people have that their heart isn’t in good working order is when they have a heart attack.

Although you can’t see your heart beating in your chest - not without specialist imaging technology, at least - there are visible, external signs that can indicate if something is wrong with your heart, before you suffer from a life-changing - or ending - “cardiovascular event.”

1. Creased earlobes

Credit: Med Chaos/Wikimedia Commons

One such external indicator is diagonal creases on the earlobes - known as Frank’s sign, named after Sanders Frank, an American doctor who first described the sign. Studies have shown that there is an association with the visible external crease on the earlobe and increased risk of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque builds up inside your arteries.

Over 40 studies have demonstrated an association between this feature of the ear and an increased risk of atherosclerosis. It is not clear what the cause of the association is, but some have postulated that it is to do with a shared embryological origin. Most recently, it has been seen that these creases are also implicated in cerebrovascular disease - disease of the blood vessels in the brain.

2. Fatty bumps

Credit: Min.neel/Wikimedia Commons

Another external indicator of heart issues is yellow, fatty bumps - known clinically as “xanthomas” - that can appear on the elbows, knees, buttocks or eyelids. The bumps themselves are harmless, but they can be a sign of bigger problems.

Xanthomas are most commonly seen in people with a genetic disease called familial hypercholesterolemia. People with this condition have exceptionally high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol - so-called “bad cholesterol.” The levels of this cholesterol are so high they become deposited in the skin. Unfortunately, these fatty deposits are also laid down in arteries that supply the heart.

The mechanism that causes these fatty deposits in tissues is understood and it holds an iconic place in medicine as it led to the development of one of the blockbuster group of drugs that reduce cholesterol: statins.

3. Clubbed fingernails

Credit: Sidsandyy/Wikimedia Commons

A phenomenon known as digital clubbing may also be a sign that all is not well with your heart. This is where the fingernails change shape, becoming thicker and wider, due to more tissue being produced. The change is usually painless and happens on both hands.

The reason this change indicates heart issues is because oxygenated blood is not reaching the fingers properly and so the cells produce a “factor” that promotes growth to try and rectify the issue.

Clubbing of the fingers is the oldest known medical symptom. It was first described by Hippocrates in the fifth-century BC. This is why clubbed fingers are sometimes known as Hippocratic fingers.

4. Halo around the iris

Credit: Afrodriguezg/Wikimedia Commons

Fat deposits may also be seen in the eye, as a grey ring around the outside of the iris, the coloured part of the eye. This so-called “arcus senilis,” starts at the top and bottom of the iris before progressing to form a complete ring. It doesn’t interfere with vision.

About 45% of people over the age of 40 have this fatty halo around their iris, rising to about 70% of people over the age of 60. The presence of this fatty ring has been shown to be associated with some of the risk factors for coronary heart disease.

5. Rotten gums and loose teeth

Credit: Zeron/Wikimedia Commons

The state of your oral health can also be a good predictor of the state of your cardiovascular health. The mouth is full of bacteria, both good and bad. The “bad” bacteria can enter the bloodstream from the mouth and cause inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Studies have shown that tooth loss and inflammed gums (periodontitis) are markers of heart disease.

6. Blue lips

Credit: mbelencabrera190/Pixabay

Another health indicator from the mouth is the colour of your lips. The lips are usually red, but they can take on a bluish colour (cyanosis) in people with heart problems, due to the failure of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygenated blood to tissues.

Of course, people also get blue lips if they are extremely cold or have been at a high altitude. In this case, blue lips are probably just due to a temporary lack of oxygen and will resolve quite quickly.

In fact, the other five symptoms - mentioned above - can also have a benign cause. But if you are worried or in doubt, you should contact your GP or other healthcare professional for an expert opinion.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: The Conversation. Some images added.]

Tuesday, 27 March 2018


With the boom of social media, it is very common that people upload all sorts of private information in their platforms without realizing the risks this might represent. This infographic by Creative Social Posts explains how hackers take advantage of these situations and how to prevent them from accessing and stealing your private information on your social media account.

[Post Source: Creative Social Posts.]

Saturday, 24 March 2018


Top 10 Fascinating Alternatives To Plastic
By Lauren Donohue,
Listverse, 24 March 2018.

Why must we transition from plastic-based materials to biodegradable alternatives?

Beyond noticeable everyday plastic pollution, the methods of extracting the petroleum and natural gas required to produce plastic often devastate the surrounding environment. The toxic chemicals contained in plastic also leach into foods, beverages, oceans, and groundwater.

Most shockingly, recycling merely slows down the journey of plastics to landfills where the material fragments into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic rather than biodegrading. Alas, scientists, engineers, and environmentally conscious individuals are shifting their focus to ecologically friendly alternatives that can biodegrade and add nutrients to the soil.

Could these unusual alternatives to plastic propel us toward a cleaner, greener future?

10. Fungus

Imagine if you could grow your own surfboard, urn, or furniture.

Fungus is invading the ecodesign industry, replacing materials like Styrofoam, protective packaging, insulation, acoustics, core materials, and even aquatic products. (Wax up the mushroom surfboards!)

By simply culturing fungi in different ways, a vast array of materials like rubber, leather, cork, and plastic can “germinate” like a plant sprouting from a seed. This is because fungi consists of many different filaments which grow from a core.[1]

At some point, those filaments start branching out to create a network. When fungus grows with wood pulp, for example, it decomposes the wood while simultaneously gluing the pulp together. The result is a composite which is held together naturally.

If the thought of a fungi chair growing in your living room sounds slightly grotesque, fear no more. Mycelial products are rendered inert before the point of distribution. By baking at precise temperatures, the microorganisms are inactivated while the mass and new structure itself is solidified.

The end result? A material that is light, strong, fire-resistant, water-repellent, and fully compostable - breaking down within 180 days.

9. Algae

Photo credit:

Sustained by four simple ingredients - carbon dioxide, sunlight, water, and inorganic nutrients - algae are very reasonable in their dietary needs. What else is there to love about algae?

Serving as bioremediators, algae have the incredible ability to consume waterborne contaminants while quickly yielding clean water. Through the process of photosynthesis, algae also capture carbon dioxide and produce fresh, clean oxygen. A bioplastic producer called Solaplast reveals that each pound of algae collected for production consumes approximately two pounds of carbon dioxide.

The process of creating this type of bioplastic requires breaking down harvested algae into tiny granules. Companies can then produce 100 percent algae-based plastics or a mixture of algae and petroleum. These granules become a key ingredient in a variety of consumer products such as USB drives, toys, eyeglass frames, key chains, road signs, food packaging, and lamps.

So, what’s the future for these mighty little beings?

According to researchers, the hunt is on for a new species of algae which produces the right kind of hydrocarbons and sugars.[2] Could genetic engineering yield such organisms and thrust humanity into a new era of consumer products completely free of fossil fuels?

8. Potato Starch

Did you know that the starchy residue left over in the production of potato chips and french fries could be an eco-friendly ingredient in the composition of your bioplastic bag?

A company called BioLogiQ is successfully combining potato starches with polyurethane to produce plastic bags that are much stronger and thinner than entirely polyurethane-made bags.

The outcome? A potato-based plastic that requires less polyurethane than traditional bags and reduces the use of oil-based materials. Sounds like a step in the right direction.[3]

No longer a spectator to the promising advantages of starch-based products, the pharmaceutical industry is now widely incorporating potato starch in the production of medicinal capsules. In fact, making potato starch bioplastic is so easy that you can follow the process at home with common household ingredients.

7. Millets, Rice, Wheat - Edible Cutlery

Photo credit:

Imagine if you could eat your cutlery right alongside your meal. Bakeys Edible Cutlery, the future of eco-friendly utensils, has figured out the perfect combination of simple grains (and a touch of salt) to produce a nutritious alternative to landfill-bound plastic disposables.

Without using added fat or emulsifiers, the recipe is so simple that the shelf life of these crispy, moisture-free utensils averages three years (if you can resist eating them). The main ingredient in Bakeys cutlery is a hearty and abundant crop that requires little energy for cultivation - sorghum flour.

A Bakeys representative said, “Of the energy it takes to produce one plastic utensil, we can produce 100 sorghum-based spoons.”[4] Additionally, an increased demand for sorghum may motivate farmers to focus their energy on growing millet over rice, requiring 60 times less water to propagate.

Keep an eye out for this totally vegan alternative to plastic on the market. Bakeys will soon be releasing edible chopsticks, dessert spoons, forks, cups, and plates in three flavors. The only decision will be: plain, sweet, or spicy?

6. Banana Tree

A resourceful new technique for ecoplastic production is blossoming from a surprising locale - the banana plantations of the Canary Islands and Uganda.

The banana fruit is harvested, but the remainder of the plant typically goes to waste. An estimated 25,000 tons of this natural fiber is dumped in ravines around the Canaries every year. An eco-blunder with a promising future!

The natural fibers of the banana tree are incredibly durable and useful in the production of rotationally molded plastics - a technique used to make everyday items such as water tanks, wheelie bins, traffic cones, and even boats.[5]

Once processed, treated, and added to a mixture of plastic material, the banana plant fibers can be incorporated to strengthen plastics and reduce the amount of polyurethane used by a substantial degree. What’s more, opportunities for research and development are already creating jobs and increasing profits for banana tree growers.

5. Leaf

Photo credit:

Still in its Kickstarter phase, Leaf Republic has conceived of a method that turns fallen leaves into tableware. Their vision? No chemicals, no plastic, and not a single tree cut down. In fact, these plastic replacements are as renewable and biodegradable as the vines from which they fall.[6]

The leaves are sourced from local villagers in Asia and South America. They sustainably collect the leaves from species of the “wild creeper.”

Designed for durability and multiple uses, three layers of leaves are stitched together with palm fibers. The product is a naturally elegant work of art - you won’t want to leaf them at home!

4. Corn

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Polylactic acid (PLA) is a substitute for plastic that is made from fermented cornstarch. It has already hit the bio-based plastic market, albeit with its fair share of issues. Have you ever found yourself confused about how to dispose of takeout containers with PLA labels?

As they look almost identical to common plastic recyclables, PLA containers often end up in the recycling stream rather than the compost bin. This slows down the entire waste management process.

Though certified PLA is expected to biodegrade, the process is painstakingly slow under typical landfill conditions. For example, a PLA bottle is estimated to take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.

Furthermore, PLA is typically made from genetically modified corn - a process in which the environmental and social effects are unknown and potentially harmful.
Any redeeming qualities?

Though many steps need to be made in the proper use of PLA products, proponents observe its effectiveness as a renewable, carbon-absorbing, plant-based material. Also, when incinerated, PLA does not emit the toxic fumes characteristic of traditional petroleum-based products.[7]

3. Cassava


Cassava grows abundantly in Southeast Asia, but don’t underestimate this cheap and common root vegetable. A recipe combining vegetable oil, organic resins, and cassava starch promises a 100 percent biodegradable and compostable plastic alternative.[8]

Cassava-based plastic can instantly break down in hot water and takes only a few months to decompose on land or at sea while leaving no trace of toxic residue. The team producing cassava plastic bags at Avani Eco maintain that this bioplastic is so harmless to sea animals that a human can drink it.

Avani Eco now produces four tons of cassava-based material a day that is used for products including plastic bags, food packaging, and covers for hospital beds.

2. Shrimp Shells

Photo credit:

Could the overabundance of crustacean shell waste in Egypt be the answer to the search for an eco-friendly plastic?

The natural polymer derived from the hardy shells of shrimp is called chitosan, a form of chitin, and is the second most abundant material on Earth. The most available chitin comes from discarded shrimp shells, although this long-chain polysaccharide can also be found in other crustaceans, fungal cell walls, armor-like insect cuticles, and butterfly wings. In fact, just 1 kilogram (2 lb) of shells can yield 15 biodegradable bags.

To make the bioplastic, the collected shrimp shells are boiled in acid to remove their calcium carbonate. An alkaline substance is applied to produce the long molecular chain of which the biopolymer is comprised. The dried chitosan is then dissolved and developed into a polymer, plastic-like film using conventional processing techniques.[9]

The resulting polymer is biodegradable, has antibacterial properties, and makes use of otherwise wasted materials. Shrimp shell–derived polymers may be one of the more obscure bioplastic materials and just the type of creative thinking we need.

1. Hemp

Photo credit:

What makes hemp an ideal bioplastic material?

The natural fiber composite harvested from the Cannabis sativa L. stalks (aka hemp) is an affordable, biodegradable, recyclable, and toxin-free material. Applications range from cordage to automotive parts, Styrofoam, and even resilient building materials.

The Cannabis plant is not called “weed” for nothing. From seed to harvest, hemp plants take just three to four months to grow and have adapted to every continent except Antarctica. As hemp plants are amazing at absorbing carbon dioxide, they grow quickly and outpace competing plants. Hemp plants also require few pesticides, fertilizers, and water, providing a low-maintenance, high-yielding crop.[10]

With the technological advancement of 3-D printing, the future of hemp bioplastics looks promising. Companies such as Kanesis and Zeoform are using hemp cellulose as the feedstock for 3-D printers and are producing an almost unlimited product range.

Top image: Bakeys Edible Cutlery. Credit: Bakeys Foods Private Limited.

[Source: Listverse.]