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NIKE, NASA Just Do It, Partner on Waste

Words by Leon Kaye

Last week NASA and NIKE kicked off “LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Challenge” to find 10 “game changing” innovations that could revamp current waste management systems. The immediate steps are to find new methods to minimize waste or alter it into new products. In the long term, the goal is to have these new waste processing systems aid space travel in the future.

Those interested in participating in the program have until May 15 to submit ideas for the elimination, transformation and mitigation of waste. LAUNCH is also seeking proposals for waste reduction education and financial strategies. This initiative welcomes any innovations that can help with waste diversion or zero-waste strategies that can benefit in households, communities, businesses or industry.

The fundamentals behind LAUNCH are growing concerns over the effects that the world’s increasing population coupled with diminishing resources call for a complete redesign and rethink of how societies approach waste. Current practices from the obvious, incineration and landfill disposal, to even other more sustainable processes like recycling and “upcycling,” (which use energy and do not always address consumerism and the accumulation of "stuff") are untenable in the long run.

LAUNCH’s organizers, which also includes the U.S. State Department and USAID, hope these 10 new ideas can help with future space exploration through new green engineering practices, reduced mass, and lower power consumption. On Earth, landfilling and incineration has long been the easy out because there is (still but not for long) land mass and an atmosphere in which to dump unwanted materials. But in an inhospitable environment like outer space, reducing, repurposing, reusing waste becomes critical in order to “mitigate orbital debris.” Meanwhile earthlings would benefit from new waste management practices, efficiency and a healthier environment. Businesses, and this is where NIKE comes in, would score improvements from an even leaner and greener supply chain.

NIKE and NASA have been at this before with a similar program that announced 10 new energy innovations last fall. NIKE’s leadership on the integration of innovation and sustainability, linked with the brain power at NASA, should result in some creative ideas that push the boundaries. As for the other two government agencies, the contributions of one that has the reputation for caution (the State Department), and one criticized for being ineffective in the developing countries in which they operate (USAID), any contributions they could possibly bring to the table remain to be seen. But at the very least, it is exciting to see the tools NASA and NIKE can inspire, giving the world more resilience tools and in the end will be far, far better off.

Leon Kaye, based in California and who has recently returned from the Middle East, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, from which LAUNCH will be based, courtesy Wikipedia.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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