When it comes to caring for the environment and fighting global warming, innovative ideas and real talent are needed to bring about real change. In Chile, there are many sustainability-focused start-ups that are generating, from this corner of the world, clear responses to problems afflicting the planet that resonate around the globe. To mark World Environment Day, we are showcasing 10 green innovations made in Chile that are creating a better future for the planet.
Saving glaciers is the goal of this initiative. The General Directorate of Water (DGA) estimates that Chilean glaciers occupy a total surface area of 23,641 km2 (9128 Mi2), meaning they account for 80% of all the glaciers in South America. And there is clear evidence showing that they are retreating as a result of global warming. For this reason, lawyer and the former Chair of the Santiago Metro, Clemente Pérez, together with the company Suyai, spend the summer months each year building removable metallic structures to cover large masses of ice. This system uses white geotextiles that protect the glaciers from the effects of solar radiation and dust in suspension and they also generate an air pocket between the structure and the ice, which acts as thermal insulation. This action prevents up to 65% of the glacier melt.
This true textile laboratory was created by Pamela Castro and Felipe Ferrer, a couple of industrial designers who, since 2001, have specialized in upcycling or creative reuse. They give new life to used designer clothes and use discarded fabrics from different industries, like PVC fabric from electoral campaign signs or movie posters and other materials that would otherwise take more than 500 years to decompose. They add new value to discarded materials by studying their components, applying technology to the textile material, and using ecology and design to create anything from clothing accessories to home products. Their proposal has earned them several international accolades, such as being included in the book 100 Textile Innovations of the 20th Century by Thames and Hudson editorial (UK) and they have been exporting to countries like the United States, Japan, the Netherlands and the UK since 2002.
A bee colony monitoring system that runs 24/7, delivering timely and clear information in order to reduce the risk of bee mortality through non-invasive sensors, notification systems and alerts about potential plagues or pest outbreaks. The technology, created by Chilean Mónica Herrera, seeks to provide a smart solution to the drastic decrease in the world’s bee populations so that apiarists can keep their hives healthy, and in order to keep bees well protected, as they are responsible for one of nature’s most important processes.
José Manuel Moller wanted to contribute to caring for the environment and came up with the idea of Algramo for neighborhood stores. It is a retail bulk sales system that is changing the way that people buy food products around the world. The stores purchase large quantities of goods like beans, chickpeas, lentils, rice, detergents and other basic products and then sell them in dispensing machines, where people can buy them using reusable containers. This reduces the price and at the same time decreases the waste of contaminating plastic containers while benefiting families’ wallets and the planet. This successful, award-winning model of refilling and reutilizing containers is growing in Latin America, the United States and Indonesia and there are plans to open offices in Europe.
15 billion cigarettes are consumed daily around the world and it is estimated that 70% of them are discarded into the environment. It was with this problem in mind that a group of Chilean scientists set up Imeko in 2018. This company is a global pioneer, as it has taken on the job of collecting, transforming and giving value to cigarette butts, converting them into sustainable products like coasters, planters and ornaments. All of this is done through a process that removes the toxicity from the butts and recovers the filters, which are not made of cotton, as may tend to think, but rather of cellulose acetate, a plastic non-biodegradable product.
Erwin Uribe and Diego Cartes want to convince the world that we can save the planet by building houses and other structures with the right materials. This regenerative business transforms recycled plastics into innovative products for the construction industry, such as sustainable precast concrete, interior and exterior wall coverings, etc., based on a circular economy model with social, environmental and economic impact. They repurpose two to three tons of plastic waste each month by transforming it into 300 to 400 square meters of sustainable construction materials, without having to forego design or aesthetics.
Meeting the world’s food needs and reducing the amount of organic waste that winds up in landfills are two challenges that Chileans Cristián Emhart and Alejandro Tocigl decided to address. How? By feeding organic waste to an insect that in turn becomes food for fish and animals. This project, the only one of its kind in Latin America, takes advantage of the high protein content of the black soldier fly to transform organic waste collected from outdoor markets, cafeterias and breweries into insect protein meal. Not only intended for the salmon industry, it can also be used to feed aquarium fish, pets and even livestock. Overfishing and deforestation can be prevented by replacing fishmeal and soybeans with this protein that they contend is the most sustainable in the world.
Supermarket shelves free from plastic packaging. This is the dream held by the founders of Solubag, who earlier this year launched the first food packaging in the world that dissolves in water. The technology is based on the same material that is used to make the capsule shell for medications. The aim is for the typical plastic packaging used for potato chips, cookies and the endless array of products that are consumed on a daily basis to be replaced by packaging that disappears once it comes into contact with water.
Solubag has a range of water-soluble products, including flexible and rigid films and fabrics that are sold in the United States and Europe. During the pandemic, they have also produced masks from a water-soluble material as an alternative to disposable masks.
This statistics services and artificial intelligence company, led by four Chilean experts in different fields, created Recíclame (Recycle Me), an application that uses bar code scanning to trace plastic waste from production to recycling. Developed in conjunction with ECLAC and Euroclima, the blockchain system aims to address the missing link in the plastics chain: traceability after it reaches the consumer. As an incentive to help generate traceability of the plastic, consumers receive cryptocurrency as a reward for registering the plastic and closing the recycling loop in smart containers, which make the final record of the plastics collected and classify them to give new value to the waste. Through predictive modeling with artificial intelligence, the data gathered makes it possible to anticipate the resources needed – and where they will be needed – to recover the waste and close the loop, thereby generating projections for consumption patterns and recycling. Implementation of Recíclame is underway, and the app will be launched on a large scale next year in Chile and other countries around the world.
Created by the Valparaíso Metro in 2017, this reverse vending machine solution provides a positive recycling experience by rewarding users for recycling. The smart network accepts cans and glass or plastic bottles. Collection machines connect to a mobile application that rewards people for recycling their containers with Ekopesos, which can be exchanged for products, services and other benefits.
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From glacier conservation to robots that assess your mental health: Chilean companies are finding solutions to global problems