Inspiring Inventors and Ideas for Avoiding Plastic

New Invention: Solar hydro panel captures 10 litres of clean drinking water out of the air per day.

The Nature of Invention

Fresh perspective and inspiration can come from many places, happily, and often times, serendipitously.

We would like to share some un-related stories of invention and innovation that we happened upon by chance recently, which we found energizing and oddly then inspired us to reflect on our daily habits with “fresh eyes,” asking ourselves what more we might be doing to shrink our carbon footprints.

We say “oddly”, since these stories of invention are not about climate change or global warming per se, and yet, however, we find a connection in a broad sense, through the hope in the future they inspire us with as they showcase the best of what might be achieved via human ingenuity and perseverance, aimed at solving real world, seemingly intractable problems. The stories of youthful inventors are especially inspiring we find. Teen inventors, such as Ann Makosinski, who “was inspired to help her friend in the Philippines who couldn’t study or read in the dark and had no lights in her home.” So, she invented a battery-less flashlight. Anne’s story and many more fascinating stories of invention are profiled in this 44-minute episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things: The Nature of Invention, accessible on CBC Gem   (https://bit.ly/3vPv0Zu) and on Youtube ( https://bit.ly/3BYaV6X).

In it, we learned about “biomimicry” or “bio-inspiration,” via the story of Canadian doctor, Jeff Karp, and his lab at Harvard Medical School where they invented “heart glue”. “…He was asked to find an adhesive to deal with septal defects in babies — a hole between the chambers of the infant’s heart. When he encounters challenges, Karp often turns to nature for inspiration, a concept called biomimicry, or bio-inspiration. In this case, he looked at creatures like the sandcastle worm, slugs and snails. Their secretions contain components that can repel water, which is exactly what’s needed in the wet, messy environment of a beating heart.”  We appreciate this fascinating documentary, including the opportunity it offered us to learn about and marvel with “fresh eyes” at, Nature’s wonders.

Not all the profiled inventions necessarily have the “wow factor” of Karp’s “heart glue,” but they still make a big impact in improving people’s daily lives by solving practical problems. Such as Lift Labs’ invention of the Google spoon, aimed at helping people with essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease eat a meal with dignity and ease. The spoon is profiled in this short Youtube clip. https://bit.ly/3QyY932

Ideas for Avoiding Plastic Use

One of the common traits shared by the inventors is their capacity to look at the world/problems with fresh eyes and perspectives, coupled with a can-do attitude, agency and motivation ‘to act’. Somehow this inspiring energy propelled us to take a renewed look at some of our own daily habits with ‘fresh eyes’, wondering what we might do differently or better to reduce our carbon footprints further. For Catherine, there are two A-Ha’s and immediate areas to make change to reduce plastic bottle waste. Even while we both are avid recyclers and composters, appreciating these services offered by Toronto and Edmonton municipal garbage collection, the A-Ha for Catherine came in realizing that a new approach to her taste for carbonated water would avoid for the need to recycle bottles altogether. So, now she intends to make her own bubble water, rather than buy bottles of it shipped to Canada from Italy and France – much gentler on resource consumption, including transport, and waste production. In her household, on average this should obviate the need for at least 300 bottles per year.

According to this government of Canada piece profiling Soda Stream (not an endorsement),

“…just 32 people working together in Canada are able to prevent a whopping 217 million single‑use plastic bottles and cans from ending up in our landfills.”

“That is exactly what happens every year thanks to SodaStream, the at-home sparkling-water-making machine that turns tap water into carbonated bubbly water on your countertop, according to Rena Nickerson, SodaStream Canada’s general manager.”


“SodaStream’s environmentally friendly home carbonation systems are centred on a sustainable circular return and reuse system.”

“The canister that provides carbonation is refillable rather than disposable, and the accompanying plastic bottle for the final product lasts up to three years. The compact system, which includes reusable BPA‑free bottles and concentrated sparkling drink mix, greatly reduces the use of recyclables and disposables.”

“It’s kind of staggering how big of an environmental impact we are able to have. Canadians understand; they get it. They are looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint.”  (https://bit.ly/3bLz9GT)

Eco Laundry Strips

Thank you, Lisette, for putting this cool innovation on our radar – eco laundry strips. Who knew?! Another way to avoid for and divert 100s of plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and oceans.

According to one provider, TruEarth (not an endorsement), “Each laundry strip packs ultra-concentrated, hypoallergenic, eco-friendly cleaning power into a tiny, pre-measured strip of liquidless laundry detergent that you just toss in the wash. Its low-sudsing formula works in all types of washing machines, including high-efficiency (HE).”

“Every 32-load package eliminates 1 plastic jug from potentially ending up in landfills and oceans.”

“According to #TruEarthMovement, 7 312 201 plastic jugs elimated to-date.”  (https://bit.ly/3Qu48WL)

Canada – Single-use Plastics Ban – December 2022

David Suzuki reminds us in this Now Toronto piece about Canada’s list of six single-use plastics that will be banned beginning this December, including single-use plastic grocery bags. Mostly, we both have made the shift already to bringing our own re-usable bags when we shop. However, Catherine still acquires some plastic shopping bags for use in emptying the cat’s litter box, in order to avoid “the yuck factor.”  Some changes are harder to make than others!  But, we can do it!! She is now motivated to make this final shift in practice, letting go of “convenience,” and plastic bag use entirely, in favour of more eco-friendly options such as using the biodegradable compost bin bags for litter box disposal too. (https://bit.ly/3doCTic)

Plant Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies

We were dismayed to learn that our beloved monarch butterfly is now on the endangered species list! For those of us with garden space, please consider planting milkweeds. According to this CP24 piece, it is one tangible impactful action we can take that will really help.

“What can home gardeners do to support the monarch?”

“If everyone reading this planted one milkweed plant, the benefit would be palpable. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, and it’s where the adult butterflies lay their eggs. Without it, the species simply could not exist.”

“ ‘But not all milkweed is the same,’ says Dawn Rodney, chief innovation and growth officer at the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Virginia. For instance, ‘there is an invasive species called tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) that we’re seeing more and more, and people are not understanding that it does more harm than good.’ ” (CP24–https://bit.ly/3BUHiTW)

A Better Way to Look at Trees (The Atlantic)

Rebecca Giggs writes in The Atlantic on “A Better Way to Look at Trees,” profiling new research on the forest and “the paradigm shift” in our understanding of “what a tree is – tree botany in its essentials – feels utterly changed.” 

“Meg Lowman and Suzanne Simard are two pathfinders who have worked for decades in this field (that is, the forest), and they have now written books not just to instruct, but to reorient and inspire.” To learn more – https://bit.ly/3Pb6ybF

New Favourite Tree

While volunteering at this year’s Leaside Garden Society’s Garden Tour, Catherine “met” for the first time, her new favourite tree – the larch, pictured above. To learn more about larch (larix) trees, see Encyclopedia Britannica resource at: https://bit.ly/3AjY3ah and be on the lookout especially for the Japanese Larix Dianna for its spiral cascading graceful beauty.  Happy summer gardening and touring!

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