Just how green are we prepared to be?

This weekend I read about two technological advances that offer innovative and practical ways to be green – but that present enormous challenges when it comes to convincing the public.

A method of using the toxic residue from steel production (Waelz slag) to make house bricks has been developed by Dr Ana Andres of the University of Cantabria. Reported in this week’s Economist magazine, the research shows that up to 30% of bricks can be made with slag, with no loss of mechanical properties and no leaking of the toxic metals inside.

It is a brilliant idea. Toxic waste is put to good use, and safely contained. The cost of bricks is reduced – slag is free. And the carbon foot print is smaller as firing bricks made with clay requires the presence of wood pulp – slag does not.

Now there is just the small problem of convincing customers that it is OK to live in a house made from toxic industrial waste….

Another morally complex question is how we should use the excess heat from cremations. A short paragraph in this month’s Physics World introduced me the research of the Centre for Death and Society (CDAS) at the University of Bath. A year-long project is underway to explore the ethical and moral questions around recycling heat from cremations.

A few councils in the UK – as in Sweden and Denmark – already make use of the energy in some ways. One council uses excess heat to heat a local swimming pool. The council carried out a survey beforehand and found over 80% of residents to be in favour. Still, moral outrage is felt by some with the scheme being described as uncomfortable, strange and eerie, disrespectful and distasteful.

“It’s about the relationship between death, the body and technology” says John Troyer.

Read more about this in an article from the Guardian here.

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