Small and big solutions for recovery

In Jinan, China, Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co. is growing... cockroaches. The topic does not seem enticing. And yet a photograph of these insects, that we consider repulsive because they feed on waste, is the image that Eco-Business magazine has chosen to illustrate some of the decisions - sometimes bizarre - that the economy of the future is making. What does this have to do with cockroaches? An army of these insects transforms food waste sent to landfills, producing foodstuffs for livestock. Starting from a seemingly strange idea - using “roaches” as workers - Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co. became a respectable company in 2019. Back in 2017 it had 300 tonnes of cockroaches that could consume 15 tonnes of kitchen waste per day, about 25% of the quantity produced in the district. Managing 100 tonnes per day, the company could earn CNY 7.5 million per year (about € 1 million) and another CNY 36 million from the sale of protein nutrients produced from insect eggs. Is that enough to change your mind about roaches?

Founded in 2009, Eco-Business is a media resource in the Asia-Pacific region that focuses on sustainable development, a focus that – due to innovation and experimentation of new technologies – is becoming increasingly popular in Asia. It is based in Singapore, with offices in Manila, Beijing and correspondents in the major cities in Asia and the Pacific. Eco-Business says it has capitalised on what it learned at a seminar co-organised with the World Bank in Singapore, specifically, that eco-aware readers got tired of laments regarding the climate and would rather read about solutions instead of becoming depressed from only bad news.

It is an idea that can also be applied to the “re-opening” phase in relation to Covid-19. We can complain about it and learn to live with it but, most importantly, we can learn that we should not stop research and innovation efforts. And especially now that we are re-opening, it is better to take advantage of these efforts to look ahead: making proposals for the future that are not simply reformulations of the past. We can borrow more ideas from Eco-Business and what it has reported as some of the most innovative proposals of 2019, both from a technological standpoint as well as in terms of work, and therefore from a profit and employment perspective. Here are five good examples from five different countries.


Sweden has designed and opened a road that charges an electric car while it is being driven. An electric rail is incorporated in the road, which can charge the batteries of electric vehicles as cars pass over them. A mobile arm attached to the lower part of the vehicle lowers onto the road to absorb the charge, which does not however disperse on the asphalt, so that it can be walked on without danger.

The Netherlands
“Great Bubble Barrier”, co-invented by a Dutch citizen, Philip Ehrhorn, is a system to remove plastics from rivers that does not use physical barriers, rather a device is placed diagonally on the river bottom that pumps jets of air that push the plastic to the surface where the water flow transports it to the shore for recovery. According to Eco-Business, it could deflect more than 80% of the waste before it reaches the ocean.

Hong Kong
Recovering the wasted heat produced by ovens, computers and air conditioning systems to transform it into energy is the challenge undertaken by researchers at the University of Hong Kong, who have developed a low-cost waste energy recycling system. It consists of an accumulator that can be folded and stacked.

United States
A new protein produced with micro-algae, which requires only 0.02 hectares of land to be grown, can be used for multiple purposes: from food supplements and cooking oil to bio-fuels. Created by the Californian company Sophie’s Kitchen, the alternative protein won the Liveability Challenge in 2019, a global search for ideas to make the cities of South East Asia more liveable.

Tote bags and straws produced by the starch in the roots of the cassava trees, developed by the Malaysian social enterprise Green Hope, take just a few months to bio-degrade instead of about 400 years for regular plastic bags. Unlike other bio-plastics produced from edible crops such as corn - which can interfere in food chains - cassava is not a staple food in the country where it is grown, Indonesia.