Points of Progress: Building a recycled highway, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the Sept. 21, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

A stretch of Highway 162 just west of Oroville, California, has been repaved using 100% recycled materials. Caltrans, the state transportation agency, partnered with engineering startup TechniSoil to pave the nation’s first highway with recycled plastic. The company uses reclaimed PET, a type of plastic commonly found in water bottles and other single-use containers, to bind ground-up, recycled asphalt. The binding agent in traditional asphalt paving is a black sticky substance called bitumen, produced by oil refining. TechniSoil’s process uses the equivalent of roughly 150,000 plastic bottles per mile and requires less energy than traditional repaving projects. The plastic binder resists cracking, meaning the road can last two or three times longer than traditional pothole-prone asphalt, the company’s president says. TechniSoil is also working on another plastic road project in Los Angeles. (Fast Company, Chico Enterprise-Record)

2. Guyana

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In a climate-smart agriculture pilot project, farmers in Guyana are being taught sustainable farming techniques. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) have provided training and materials to more than 30 farmers and their families. Specifically, the program is teaching participants to build and utilize a small, affordable greenhouse known as a shadehouse. In flood-prone communities, learning to embrace greenhouse crop production makes agriculture more resilient to climate change, and could result in more profitable yields and improved food security. FAO and IICA plan to expand the project to other locations, seeing it as a learning-by-doing opportunity for farmers and their children, who are home from school during the pandemic. (Guyana Chronicle)

3. United Kingdom

Noor Inayat Khan, a spy who operated in occupied France during World War II, is the first woman of South Asian descent to be honored by London’s blue plaque program, which identifies buildings connected to notable people with a round blue sign. Her former family home in Bloomsbury will be recognized as an important English Heritage site. 

Olivia Harris/Reuters/File
A statue of Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled in London in 2012. She was the first female radio operator sent into occupied France during World War II.

It’s a milestone in the effort to diversify the public history program. In 2016, when English Heritage created a working group to address the lack of diversity among blue plaque recipients, only 33 of the nearly 1,000 plaques highlighted Black and Asian figures. Khan, born to an Indian father and an American mother, served as a British spy for months before being captured, and later executed, by the Nazis. Khan’s biographer describes her as Britain’s “first Muslim war heroine in Europe.” (The Guardian)

4. Norway

A black turbine blade could reduce fatal bird collisions at wind farms by about 72%, a new study suggests. Impact on wildlife has always been a major concern for onshore wind farms. At Norway’s Smøla wind farm, trained dogs found nearly 500 dead birds scattered among the 68 turbines over the course of a decade. But researchers may have identified a simple solution. If one rotor blade is painted black, birds seemed better able to identify and avoid the spinning blades. Compared with an adjacent, unpainted turbine, the adapted machine caused 71.9% fewer fatal collisions.

Jan Kare Ness/NTB Scanpix/Reuters/File
Wind turbines, like those pictured here in Fitjar, Norway, can pose a deadly threat to passing birds. Researchers are testing the introduction of one black blade to reduce collisions.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Bård Stokke, a lead author on the study. But he concedes its limitations. “So many different species of birds have different ways of seeing things,” he said. “We don’t know what they see.” While more research is needed, he hopes that future wind energy developments embrace the painted blade method, given its relatively low cost and potential benefit for bird populations. (E&E News, BBC)

5. Africa

With more than 95% of the continent immunized, the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission has declared Africa free from wild polio. Vaccination campaigns are credited with eradicating the virus. In 1996, poliovirus affected more than 75,000 children across the continent, with some cases in every country. Nigeria’s remote Borno state, epicenter of the Boko Haram insurrection, saw the last recorded case of wild polio in 2016. The wild strains of the disease are now found only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though the World Health Organization identified 177 vaccine-derived cases in Africa this year. This strain is a rare mutation of the oral polio vaccine, which experts say will disappear as countries achieve herd immunity and phase out the vaccine. (BBC)

6. Egypt

Egypt’s parliament has approved a law granting survivors of sexual violence automatic anonymity. And anyone who exposes the identity of a sexual assault survivor faces jail time. The law is largely the result of a growing #MeToo movement in Egypt. Research suggests that sexual violence is widespread in Egypt, but rarely reported due to a fear of backlash. The Instagram account Assault Police has also created a space for women to come forward with accusations of abuse, pressuring authorities to act. Most recently, prosecutors ordered the arrests of a group of men allegedly involved in a 2014 gang rape in Cairo. Assault Police, which first reported the incident in July, shared the arrest announcement, saying, “Great news for the first time in a while! Praise be to God and thank you.” (Reuters, BBC)

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