As Brazil gets ready for half a million Olympic tourists, the government recently decided to start spraying pesticides from planes to kill Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus. Workers in hazmat suits are also walking through the streets blowing chemicals in the air. The problem: many experts think that aerial spraying isn't an effective way to kill this particular mosquito, because it lives in hard-to-reach places.
Some public health researchers and doctors have argued that the games should be postponed or moved to avoid spreading Zika around the world; some athletes have refused to attend. But the games will go on. One company is hoping to help eliminate mosquitos another way, through a recycled cardboard "Biotrap" that kills females when they try to lay eggs.
The company also makes a compostable compost bin and is using the same containers for the mosquito traps. Like other traps, it recreates the type of stagnant pool where mosquitos like to breed, and it's coated with a small amount of insecticide. But it has a couple of advantages. First, the paper pulp container is more appealing to insects than the typical plastic trap. It's also cheaper to make, so it's easier for low-income consumers to afford.
"We use used end-of-life recycled cardboard to make our traps, which is essentially a waste product," says Morgan Wyatt, founder of Greenlid Envirosciences, the startup making the trap. "This makes it easy for us to manufacture at a fraction of the cost. In addition, other traps may require felt strips or another landing surface for the mosquito to land on to lay their eggs because the mosquitoes prefer these types of surfaces to plastic."
When the insecticide wears out in a plastic trap (something that usually happens in four to six weeks), the traps often become an unintentional breeding ground for mosquitoes. But because the new cardboard traps are biodegradable, they start to leak by the time the insecticide loses effectiveness and can't hold stagnant water.
The business hopes the traps can be used as an alternative to fogging or spraying, which tends to kill beneficial insects—like butterflies and bees—along with any mosquitoes it manages to catch. "Spraying can also increase drug resistance within the mosquito population because of the sheer amount that is being used," he says.
The traps are in use in Australia now to fight dengue fever, and the company is working to get regulatory approval in North America. In the meantime, they've partnered with Direct Relief and International Medical Corps to deliver the traps to Brazil for the Olympic Games. In a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, they'll give away a trap in Brazil for every trap someone pledges elsewhere.
"We chose a one-for-one model because we knew we had to do something to help during the Zika crisis now rather than wait for a fully North American approved product," says Wyatt. The company hopes to donate 100,000 mosquito traps in 10 countries in 2016.
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