It’s pretty likely that your company’s sustainability goals do not include a commitment to reducing the amount of eutrophication associated with its activities. In fact, I’m willing to wager that most readers might not even know what eutrophication is. That’s okay. It’s a bit science-y, and it doesn’t elicit half as much response from consumers as, say, carbon footprints and waste generation. For the purposes here, let’s just say that it’s a water quality problem caused by an overabundance of algae, which is caused by excess nutrients introduced by certain emissions. Maintaining good water quality is an important part of sustainability, so in short, eutrophication is a pollution problem that we ought to address.
The typical mentality used to address pollution is to think that it should be prevented at the source. Usually it is advocated that companies should try their very hardest to drive those emissions down to zero, and that usually means awaiting new cleaner technologies. The newer mentality, however, applies the idea that any output, wanted or unwanted, is a resource. This mentality was made famous by the recycling industry and the problem of solid waste generation, but it certainly also rings true for the problem of eutrophication. After all, eutrophication is caused by an overabundance of nutrients, and nutrients are certainly a resource.
To put this mentality into practice, a startup company called Algix is partnering with the University of Georgia and SPC member Kimberly-Clark. Their plan: capture the nutrient-rich water emissions from industry and agriculture, let nature take its course in a controlled environment, and then harvest the algae before releasing the water. Then instead of causing eutrophication problems in our freshwater resources, the algae is used as a feedstock for bioplastic conversion. Pretty neat, huh?
Along with Novomer’s efforts to create plastics from carbon dioxide emissions, it goes to show that “pollution” is an unwanted problem only until we can figure out how to make something out of it. Once the value of eutrophication-causing emissions are understood, your company’s commitment to reducing eutrophication might be a bit easier – and possibly even profitable.