Saving Lives: Reducing Trafficking in Japan and Landmines in Angola


1. Canada

Chopsticks prove that a circular business can be created from single-use products. The idea for a sustainable furniture business came to engineer Felix Böck after he had just given a sustainability seminar in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a waiter threw his chopsticks into a sushi restaurant. “Suddenly I realized that I had to show people how the circular economy works instead of just talking about it,” Böck said. He launched his startup, called ChopValue, by creating coasters and cutting boards from discarded chopsticks, usually bamboo. Since then, the company has grown to a workforce of 35 people; the team collects 350,000 baguettes from Vancouver restaurants each week, or 70 million in total across its operations so far.

The beadings are treated with high heat and pressure in franchised micro-factories from Liverpool to Bali to create products such as shelves, desks, wall panels and stairs. ChopValue alone will not solve the global waste problem. But if other companies follow suit, the effects could spread. Mr Böck’s hope is that “every city will adopt the concept of urban recycling instead of just hauling its waste out of town and saying[ing], great, now we’re done. … Because trash never goes away.
Source: Reasons to be Joyful

Why we wrote this

Our progress roundup examines the big problems with multi-faceted solutions that also produce multiple positive effects. In Angola, teams of women clear landmines to make places safe again. And in Japan, everything from better rail service to small cars has reduced the number of road deaths.

2. United States

US Navy Col. Nicole Mann enters the International Space Station from a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on October 6, 2022.

Nicole Mann became the first Native American woman in space. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission launched on October 5 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With Colonel Mann as commander, the crew will spend five months on the International Space Station. Colonel Mann is a member of the Wailacki, one of the Round Valley Indian tribes. She served more than two decades in the US Marine Corps, which includes 47 combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. She joined NASA in 2013.

Despite Colonel Mann’s success, structural barriers persist for young Native Americans. As of last year, 24% of Native Americans ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, compared to 41% of the general population. Colonel Mann said she hopes her trip will leave a mark on young observers from disadvantaged backgrounds: “[I hope it] will inspire young Native American children to pursue their dreams and realize that some of those barriers that are there or were there are being broken down. Colonel Mann is also the first female commander of a SpaceX mission.
Sources: Smithsonian, BBC, National Post-Secondary Policy Institute


Angolan women are shaping their country, breaking stereotypes while earning a stable living. Three decades of civil conflict between 1975 and 2002 left some 73 million square meters (18,000 acres) of Angola contaminated with landmines, which continue to claim lives and stifle agriculture and development. When demining work was once considered too dangerous and demanding for women, the HALO Trust launched an initiative in 2017 to recruit 100 female deminers in Angola. Today, nearly 400 women have answered the call and dozens more are in training.

Mine detection and deactivation work is difficult, with days starting at 4:50 a.m. and home visits only once a month. But the $350 regular income goes a long way in a country with an average monthly income of around $35, according to 2018-19 data. So far, only a fraction of the contaminated land has been cleared, although deminers are making progress. Huambo province, once one of the most mined areas in the country, was fully demined in 2021. “Every time we destroy a mine, I am proud,” says deminer Cecilia Manuel. “When you clear the mines, you free the people.”
Sources: NPR, Mining Advisory Group

4. Finland

The world’s first “sand battery”, capable of storing green energy for months at a time, is operational in Finland. One of the barriers to year-round renewable energy is the difficulty of capturing and storing energy when intermittent sources like wind or solar are not available. The Finnish engineers at Polar Night Energy used a simple material solution: low-grade sand.
The battery they imagined consists of a tank measuring 4 by 7 meters, filled with 100 tons of sand, for a heating power of 100 kW and a capacity of 8 MWh. Solar or wind energy is converted into hot air, which keeps the sand at a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit). For the city of Kankaanpää, this heat heats water which is then pumped to local buildings via a district heating network, serving some 10,000 people.

Unlike expensive lithium batteries, which leave a huge physical footprint, the sand battery has a minimal environmental footprint. The developers claim that the design will not be affected by sand shortages in the glass and concrete industries, as the technology uses low-grade sand or sand-like materials.
Sources: Dezeen, BBC

5. Japan

Discouraging driving with narrow streets and fewer parking options has improved pedestrian safety in Tokyo.

The annual number of road deaths in Japan is 16% of what it was half a century ago. Since their peak in 1970, when 16,765 people died in collisions, deaths from road accidents have steadily declined in Japan. The 2021 total was the lowest on record, lower even than when data collection began in 1949 – a per capita rate less than a fifth of the rate in the United States.

The late 1960s became known in Japan as the “Traffic War”, prompting a government response that spanned regulations, law enforcement, education, and vehicle safety standards. Since then, improved train travel and driving disincentives such as street parking bans have shifted consumer preference away from cars. The average Japanese drives a third less than the average American. Meanwhile, microcars, whose compact designs reduce blind spots and generate less force in a collision, account for a third of new cars sold in Japan.
Sources: Bloomberg, The Asahi Shimbun, Journal of the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences


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