Top 10 most-read innovations of 2021

While 2020 was undeniably the year of the COVID-19 innovation, the Springwise team were interested to see other trends emerging to sit alongside it in 2021. We have more than 11,000 innovations in our database, but those on the list below kept being viewed over and over again.

This top 10 shows us that you, our readers, are strongly interested in long-term issues linked to the climate crisis – particularly those relating to the circular economy. And, almost all our most popular innovations were consumer-facing – which suggests you’re searching for solutions that can help real people make a difference.

Our friends at Re_Set are calling 2022 ‘The Great Transition’, as we move into a post-pandemic world – and if the 2021 list is anything to go by, the Springwise team predicts innovation will be a key part of any shifts we see. 

Our top 10 most-read innovations of 2021:

Photo source: RuudMorijn/iStock, Marie Bee Bloom

1. Biodegradable mask grows into flowers

Facemasks still dominated many public spaces in 2021 – so it’s no surprise our most popular innovation was in this area. Perhaps readers were looking for something more creative? The ‘Marie Bee Bloom’ mask is made from biodegradable rice paper and contains a Dutch meadow seed mix. This means that if you bury it once used—and if conditions allow—wildflowers will start to sprout. A positive metaphor for a post-COVID world?

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Photo source: Acme

2. A rooftop farm tops the supermarket of the future

With ‘locavore’ practices (where food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed) going from strength to strength in 2021, another of our top innovations focused on a way for consumers to minimise the carbon footprint of the food they eat. Germany’s second-largest supermarket brand REWE has teamed up with UK architecture firm Acme to take locavore principles to extremes. The Wiesbaden Market is topped by a rooftop farm that grows food to sell downstairs in the store. 

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Photo source: Ulmer Nest

3. Solar-powered sleeping pods help shelter the homeless

Springwise readers care about the wellbeing of others, as this next innovation shows. There are many reasons why homeless people choose not to stay in dedicated homeless shelters – from fear of crime, to a desire not to be separated from their pets. In response to this, a team of German designers has developed windproof and waterproof pods that serve as an emergency shelter to protect the homeless from harsh winter conditions.

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Photo source: Mokulock

4. Natural wood lego blocks offer kids a sustainable alternative

Who doesn’t like a twist on a classic toy? You certainly do. While toys like Lego, Mechano and yo-yos have never gone out of fashion, they can be made more sustainable.  Japanese toy manufacturer Mokulock, has created an alternative type of toy building block – one made from sustainably-sourced timber. 

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Photo source: JRT3D

5. Machine turns plastic soda bottles into 3D printing filament

Will we ever tire of 3D printing? Not in 2021, that’s for sure. While 3D printing offers almost unlimited opportunity for creativity and prototyping, one limitation is the availability and cost of filament. Russian recycling tech company NovaTech Machines has partnered with 3D printing community JRT3D, to come up with a creative solution to this problem – a small machine that recycles plastic from drinks bottles into filaments used for 3D printing. 

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Photo source: Coso

6. Ultrasound-based male contraceptive encourages gender-balanced approach to pregnancy

This innovation certainly got our readers interested. We saw a spike in our social activity on the day it was published, as people commented and shared with their networks. There are around 12 female contraceptive methods, yet only two options for men: condoms or a permanent vasectomy. Now a German designer has created a new option – a reversible and hormone-free device that is safe for home use and works to temporarily inhibit sperm regeneration.

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Photo source: Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

7. A wearable sensor for tracking stress

Pandemic-related stress is a well-documented phenomenon – and one that many of us have experienced. But until now, there has been no easy way to accurately determine stress levels. Researchers have developed a wearable sensor that can measure stress levels without the need for a blood test.

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Photo source: Simone Caronni, Pietro Gaeli and Paolo Stefano Gentile

8. Packaging for French fries made from potato peels

Perhaps readers were feeling particularly hungry last year, with this fry story coming up in the top 10. French fries are delicious. All that leftover peel waste, however, is not so appetising. In Italy, innovators have realised that the starch and fibre properties of potato skins makes them a perfect packaging material. A Milan-based team of product designers has turned discarded peels into biodegradable packaging, creating the ultimate circular product.

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Photo source: Helsingin Sanomat

9. Finnish newspaper creates ‘climate crisis’ font that visualises melting arctic ice

The artwork we featured for this innovation made many of you stop in your tracks. There is increasing pressure on journalists and news outlets to play their part in combatting climate change by sharing information about the very real threat it poses to our lives. A newspaper in Finland has taken a unique approach, creating a typeface can be adjusted along a sliding timescale to reflect the gradual disappearance of ice caps since 1979.

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Photo source: MoEa

10. Trainers made from fruits and vegetables

Just because we’re facing climate change disaster doesn’t mean we can’t still look stylish – and our readers seem to agree. More and more people are turning away from fashion items made from traditional materials, either out of concern for animal lives, or for the waste created by traditional fashion – or both. Now, a new company, MoEa has created recyclable, sustainable, vegan trainers made from plants.


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Words: Matthew Hempstead

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