Here's to an innovative new year

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2015

Lucky for us there are folks taking initiative on some ingenious and beneficial ideas.

Last fall the Dutch town of Nuenen unveiled a kilometre-long stretch of bike path that was inspired by the iconic Van Gogh painting “Starry Night.” Bike paths are nothing new to The Netherlands but this particular section, through the town where Van Gogh once lived, takes the cycling experience to a whole new height. 

More than 50,000 “stones” incorporating glow-in-the-dark technology and solar powered LED lights were inlaid in a dreamy, swirling pattern intended to evoke a ride along the Milky Way. The result is genius, not only for its beauty but also for the triple win it scored for the community: In one fell swoop Nuenen acquired a public work of art commemorating its most famous artist, a well-lit, carbon-neutral bike path for commuters riding home after dark, and—bet on it—the next big tourist attraction. This is innovation at its very best.

The wheels of innovation turn here too, powered as they are by thinking people who, fortunately for us, happen to be plentiful in our neck of the woods. Take geography grad student Chris Krasowski, for example. He’s the impetus behind the City of Victoria and the University of Victoria’s partnered effort to develop a map that will help gauge how feasible our rooftops might be for solar energy production. It’s a timely project, given Victoria’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses to 33 percent of 2007 levels by 2020.

Using irradiance measurements currently being collected by an instrument he installed last April on the rooftop of City Hall, plus Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for the region, as well as data from the University of Victoria’s School-Based Weather Network, Krasowski is creating a solar map that will eventually enable residents to zoom in on their own roof and check out its potential for generating solar energy. Later this year the solar map is to be integrated into Vicmap, the City’s online interactive mapping tool.

Then there’s the Plastic Bank, the ultimate enabling venture founded just two years ago by Victoria-raised entrepreneurs David Katz and Shaun Frankson. The way we mindlessly waste plastic is abhorrent. Every year the world produces almost 300 million tons of this petroleum-based product, much of which ends up swirling in the oceans everywhere and clogging the shorelines of the world’s most impoverished countries. 

But plastic is 100 percent recyclable, and in that fact Katz and Frankson saw an extraordinary opportunity to benefit the world in untold ways: Not only could full-scale recycling virtually eliminate the need for producing new plastic, it could also provide sustainable work for impoverished people, restore marine habitats, and prevent the anguished deaths of millions of ocean creatures every year. 

In a nutshell, the Plastic Bank buys plastic from local collectors and turns it into good-as-new pellets to sell as “Social Plastic” to corporations interested in supporting ecological and social sustainability while enhancing their own image in the process. 

Last year it opened its first collection centre in Lima, Peru, where the plastic pollution is pandemic, and also devised a ground-breaking method for making 3D printing filament from multiple grades of waste plastic. This filament will eventually use onsite plastic to feed onsite 3D printers, to which plastic collectors can buy access for making new products (such as cell phone covers) they can then sell in their own micro-businesses. It’s a brilliant, close-looped system with beneficiaries every step of the way. Little wonder the Plastic Bank won the Recycling Council of BC’s Innovation Award last year. 

Michele Paget, marketing director for Hillside Shopping Centre, also acted on a great idea that connected many dots. Last summer the mall was in the throes of a major renovation and expansion that included a completely upgraded food court. All the old tables and chairs—seating for 400—were earmarked as waste but Paget opted to recycle them instead. She painted up a set to show people the potential and posted it on Facebook. Buyers streamed in and soon everything was sold. Then she donated the entire proceeds, $4300, to the local chapter of the SPCA. Her assessment of the experience: “There is a way to be successful and also sustainable.”

Whether it’s a bike path extraordinaire, new resources harvested or old resources repurposed, good things are happening and innovations abound. That’s a great starting note for 2015.

Trudy wishes everyone good health, happiness and good ideas in 2015. She also wishes she’d snagged one of those bistro sets Michele was selling.