Solving Environmental and Development Issues Through Technology

By Bryce Bower, Editor-in-Chief

In remote villages, where children and adults alike suffer from anemia (lack of iron in the bloodstream), the trick was to find a waste-free solution to dietary supplements. Small plastic packages filled with minerals are often used as a remedy, but this leaves a bunch of trash that doesn’t degrade. Instead, people took inspiration from one of the oldest professions. No, not that one. I mean blacksmithing.

Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

Companies like The Lucky Iron Fish literally smelt a “fish” made of metal that releases a healthy dose of iron into a pot of soup, for example. In certain rural villages, nearly every meal is cooked in this pot, and those preparing the soup only need to put the fish in (with a slightly acidic food) for 10 minutes.

Continuing with the theme of using old tech in new ways, drones are helping people solve two dimensional problems with three dimensional solutions. In isolated areas without roads or efficient means of travel, drones have been used to carry things like blood transfusions and surgical equipment. Where a village may be too densely surrounded by forest for cars, too far away by boat or too far to walk, medical workers have been able to fly in vials of blood or medicines in an emergency. Marie Stopes International, a non-profit devoted to reproductive health, started delivering contraceptives to rural Ghana with great success.

The World Health Organization estimates “225 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop having children but lack access to reliable birth control methods.” Drones like the one pictured above could help greatly with family planning efforts. Extreme fertility rates put a strain not only on the families themselves, but on infrastructure and resources – resources and infrastructure that may already be pushed to the limit.

In one of our strategy classes we studied a case about what Haier did in rural China. Their customer service representatives found that many machines were being clogged with mud. When they went to investigate, they found that farmers were using the washing machines to clean peanuts and sweet potatoes that they grew. Instead of trying to change customer behavior, they saw an ingenious way to solve two problems with one machine. The R&D department at Haier created a machine that was gentle enough to handle clothes, but rugged enough to clean dirt out if customers wanted to use the machine to wash their crops.

Clean water is near the top of many NGOs’ and non-profits’ lists, and with good reason. 780 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. An estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation and easy access to on-demand running water. I want to highlight two different ways that this issue is being tackled. The first is how an Australian city found a cool way to control the problems they had with trash.

Courtesy of Surfer Today

The city of Kwinana in western Australia wanted to find a more cost effective way to cut down on pollution in their water. Previous efforts had cost over $100,000 and were very difficult to maintain. The city decided to try something that looks pretty weird, but is surprisingly effective. They put special nets in place- which cost roughly $20,000 – on the end of drainage pipes that carried vital water through the city. In only five months, over 815 pounds of trash were caught and able to be taken to recycling facilities. The nets were set up in two locations near residential areas, and the city reported that not a single animal had been caught in them. Neighboring cities and towns have taken notice, and are looking to adopt these nets into their own waterways.

Courtesy of LifeStraw

There are also more affordable, and portable, inventions that are cleaning water around the world. Companies like LifeStraw have created drinking straws that can sanitize even the dirtiest of waters for human consumption. Originally for backpackers who were drinking stream water, these companies have made stronger, more industrial versions that are tailored towards water conditions in lesser developed nations.

Products like these are being invented every day, and the future of sustainability is in technology and conscious capitalism. Be on the lookout for problems that can be solved using technology in a new way!

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