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Tech for Change: CES 2021 reveals new devices and tech to fix the planet

The U.S. government in recent years has wrestled with questions like “should we join the Paris Agreement on climate change?” and “should battling climate change be a top priority?” — questions that aren’t hard to answer when you stop to think about them. Of course we should. But keeping the planet healthy a little while longer isn’t merely a government chore — it’s a goal furthered incrementally, by each and every one of us. And hundreds of small changes to the products we use, including the technology tools being unveiled at CES 2021, can help us to act locally, even as we think globally.

Last year, we spoke with HP about the Elite Dragonfly, one of the most sustainable laptops ever assembled. The chassis is made from 90% recycled magnesium and the keyboard from 50% recycled plastics from DVDs. Even the trackpad uses some recycled materials. It’s all part of what Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP, calls the “circular economy,” which is aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.

The chassis of HP’s Elite Dragonfly laptop is made of 90% recycled magnesium.

“Not only does it look amazing and have incredible battery life and performance, but over 80% of it is part of a circular economy,” she told Digital Trends. Part of that is ocean-bound plastic, or mismanaged plastic waste like bottles. Using it means reclaiming it from beaches and the ocean and putting it back into products. We anticipate further news from HP on this front, as well as from other brands.

For example, there’s Chipolo, which makes Bluetooth-based tags to help you find your gear. The company already makes Chipolo ONE Ocean Edition, which is made from recycled fishing nets, with the help of Oceanworks. Chipolo says the goal is to act on the projected tripling of plastic waste flowing into our oceans, which is expected to reach a rate of 29 million metric tons per year by 2040 and further harm our climate, ecosystems, and marine life. At CES 2021, Chipolo will announce a donation of $10,000 to Oceanic Global, which supports ocean cleanup efforts.

A variety of startups from the Netherlands aim to aid the planet as well. The Dutch are uniquely aware of the planet’s plight; it’s hard to miss stories suggesting that the low-lying country will disappear completely due to rising sea levels. The government has long committed to battling climate change, which may explain the preponderance of Dutch companies aiming to pit technology against this problem.

There’s Skoon Energy, for example, which touts clean energy on demand. Most mobile power solutions rely on diesel generators, which are notoriously dirty. Skoon offers a suite of mobile batteries and hydrogen generators to make mobile energy clean, accessible, and affordable.

SoundEnergy, another Dutch company, converts waste heat into usable cooling via sound waves. That’s right, sound waves. It uses them as “an intermediate step to move heat and create a cooling effect,” which sounds just futuristic enough to astonish us.

A passion for reversing climate change is on display from many companies exhibiting at CES, including U.K. startup Emitwise. The company offers automated tools to monitor and manage your carbon footprint, thanks to artificial intelligence that can track emissions in real time. It’s hardly alone. Dozens of companies have ideas for how tech can improve the world around us. There’s Carbyon, for example, which believes it can help reduce global warming by “harvesting” the carbon in the air around us. The company aims to enable the renewable energy sector, supporting systems to make fuels from water and air in a closed loop powered by renewable electricity — and ultimately helping to end the use of fossil fuels, oil, and natural gas that causes worldwide climate change.

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