Eco-Resorts Going up in the Azores

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The Azores, a group of gorgeous islands just off the coast of Portugal, has seen increased tourism in recent years. However fortunate that maybe, it also presents a problem for the environment, so in a bid to retain the unspoiled state of the landscape, the local Tourism and Agribusiness Development Company of the Azores (TADA) has come up with a way to preserve it. They will be developing eco-resorts across the islands, which will be sustainable and have a minimal footprint.

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The resorts will basically be made up of solar powered cabins, which they are calling the Eco Pods. They are currently planning to build six of these eco-resorts and the first is already under construction in the Vila Franca Do Campo Region of São Miguel Island. It’s set to open in the summer of 2017.

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The resort will feature an as yet undisclosed number of Eco Pods. The smallest of these will measure 161 sq ft (15 sq m) and will feature a sleeping area and a sitting area, along with a small food preparation space. The pod will be equipped with a fridge, a coffee machine and a TV. The bathroom will be located outside and will be heated by an external wood burner.

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There will also be a few 215 sq ft (20 sq m) Eco Pods. These will have all of the above, but the bathroom will be an inside one. The largest of the Eco-Pods making up the resort will measure 322 sq ft (30 sq m) and will feature all of the above as well as a small kitchenette.

All the EcoPods are prefabricated and raised off the ground on stilts that are made from recycled electricity poles. Among the other materials used for the construction are locally-sourced pumice stone, windows made from recycled plastic bottles, and timber that is grown locally. The cabins will be powered by a solar panel array. The Eco-Pods currently have normal toilets with septic tanks installed, though the plan was to equip them with composting toilets, which sadly fell through.

The Eco-Pods are built to withstand high-winds and earthquakes, while TADA also plans to put the designs to use for other purposes, such as disaster relief housing, or garden pavilions.

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Chopsticks Recycled Into Beautiful Modern Furniture

Chopsticks have been around for almost 4000 years, but they also present quite an environmental problem. It is estimated that just in China, around 80 billion chopsticks are thrown away every year, with the number much higher if we factor in all the Asian food restaurants around the world. I’ve often wondered, when eating at an Asian restaurant, what happens to the used disposable chopsticks. And so have the founders of the Vancouver, Canada based startup Chopvalue. They went a step further, and founded a project that turns used chopsticks into awesome pieces of modern furniture and home accessories.

Felix Böck, the founder of Chopvalue is a PhD student at the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia. According to his research, over 100,000 pairs of chopsticks get sent to the landfill every day just in Vancouver. That is quite an alarming statistic, which is why he decided to try and offset this waste. He started out by purchasing recycling bins, and asked restaurant owners to use them for throwing away the disposable bamboo chopsticks. Once full, the contents were collected and taken to the Chopvalue lab. There they were first cleaned, then coated in resin and finally hot-pressed with a machine, which yielded a flat board.

These bamboo boards can be cut and assembled to build a wide range of furniture and other accessories for the home, such as tables, shelves, coasters, cutting boards and more. For example, a side table they made reuses almost 4000 chopsticks, while the base for it is made from steel that was salvaged from local demolition sites.

The company was started in July 2016, and thus far, they have already successfully recycled 800,000 chopsticks. The recycling service Chopvalue offers to restaurants is also free of charge and greatly reduces their waste production and consequently the costs associated with waste disposal. This is a great example of how a simple idea executed by a small company can have a far-reaching positive effect on the environment.

All-in-One Home Office and Yoga Studio

When working from home, having a dedicated office space is awesome, and having one that serves more than just a single purpose is even better. The firm Neil Dusheiko Architects from London, UK, recently built this sustainable garden office, which also doubles as a yoga studio and even a playroom for children. This space is used by a psychiatrist who practices from home, and they use it to see patients during the day. The structure is called the Shadow Shed, and they chose this name because it was envisioned as a space with a dark skin, but with light and warmth at its center. I think they did a good job of bringing this image to life.

The office shed is located at the far end of the garden and was sunken slightly into the ground. It is clad with heat-blackened cedar, also known as the shou sugi ban technique which is a popular all-natural way of protecting wood from fire, pests and rot. The main aim in the design of this structure was to make it blend into the surroundings as much as possible, and I think they pretty much succeeded.

The interior is comprised of just a single room, which was clad using recycled birch plywood. The furniture was also made using this same material, which gives the interior a clean, seamless look. The shed has two large windows on the side, as well as a skylight, which togetehr let in plenty of natural light. LEDs in the form strips and tubes, as well as multi-colored, pinpoint bulbs placed into the ceiling, are used to illuminate the interior after it gets dark outside. Due to it’s dark façade, the office shed is virtually invisible at night, save for the light spilling out of it’s oversized windows.

This cleverly designed garden shed is definitely one of the nicer ones we’ve seen. The fact that it was also built using sustainable methods and techniques is also commendable.

Home in Japan Scaled to Fit and Irregular Lot

Japan has very stringent building codes and high taxes on land, which means that most of the homes, especially in cities like Tokyo, get built on oddly-shaped lots. These are usually the result of existing plots of land getting further subdivided to accommodate several generations of a family.

This peculiarity of Japan’s housing market has also let to many unique and innovative architectural solutions. Such as this so-called Near House, which was designed by the local firm Mount Fuji Architects Studio for a middle-aged couple.

The home is comprised of two parts, and fits nicely into the interestingly shaped plot of land it stands on. The first part is a narrow “gatehouse” which is just 6.5 ft (2 m) wide at the entrance. Located behind it is the second part, namely the main house. The gatehouse portion serves as the entryway as well as a gallery and studio for the wife who is an artist. Above this, and accessible via a ladder, is the husband’s office and library. Everything within this space is in easy reach, or near, which is where the house got its name.

The gatehouse is separated from the main house by a small courtyard. The main part of the home is set partially into the ground, due to Japan’s strict guidelines on building height. The bedroom and bathroom are located in this partial basement section of the home, and the architects planted plenty of greenery around the large windows here to give a sense of sleeping and bathing outdoors in nature.

The second level of the main home features a large kitchen and living area. The interesting fixture in this part of the home is an archway which ties these areas together, provides storage space, and also serves as a structural element by holding up the roof. They used affordable and lightweight materials to construct the home, such as medium-density fiberboard (MDF) paneling, and wood, which eliminated the need to use heavy machinery for the construction.

In Japan the land the house stands on is considered much more valuable than the home itself, which is why disposable and lightweight materials such as paper and wood are often used in construction. These can easily be recycled and scaled up or down.

Off-Grid Recycling Plant Built Out of a Shipping Container

While we have many options for recycling in developed areas of the world, such is not the case in remote, underdeveloped regions. Transporting plastic waste to a recycling plant from such areas is costly, but there is a new solution now. The so-called Trashpresso machine, created by the firm Miniwiz upcycles plastic waste into useful products, such as floor tiles, and it can do so off-the-grid.

The Miniwiz Trashpresso machine was built using a standard 40-foot shipping container, which means it can easily be transported to any area that is accessible by a truck. The structure is self-powered thanks to the solar power array on it’s exterior, so that it does not need to be connected to the grid or a generator in order to perform the upcycling processes it was designed to carry out.

Once the Trashpresso is deployed, the process of upcycling can start. Trash is first collected and then washed, shredded, melted, and finally molded, which all happens via an automated process. The water that is used for cleaning is filtered and reused in the process.

They first introduced the Trashpresso in Shanghai on Earth Day 2017, while it was also the subject on the National Geographic documentary series called “Jackie Chan Green Hero.” They are planning to deploy the first Trashpresso in July of this year, and it will be used to clean up the glacier region of NianBao Yuze on the Tibetan Plateau, which feeds into the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong rivers. An increase of tourism in this area has led to a vast increase in litter, which is a problem the Trashpresso is perhaps most suited to solve. It will also be a great tool to teaching people living in isolated areas about the benefits of recycling, while also giving them a way to do so.