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13 Quirky, Game-Changing Innovations for 2013

1. Staples, the office supplies giant, has partnered with Mcor Technologies to offer 3D printing for pickup in their stores. The service, called “Staples Easy 3D,” will start by offering paper models only. Before you turn that sheet of 8 1/2 X 11” into a tidy and efficient miniature Notre Dame (or whatever it is you’re into), you’ll need to upload CAM or CAD files. Next up, architects and engineers for hire in aisle 3.

2. You know that drawer of obsolete cell phones hiding somewhere in your house? Sprint knows your dirty little secret, and they’ve got a solution. Their trade-in program for mobile clunkers has outpaced those of competitors Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Sprint Buyback offers a good chunk of change for those old, obsolete devices and finds responsible ways to dispose of or upcycle them.

3. Say hello to SupperKing, the newest iPhone app that allows you to sell seats at your dinner table to complete strangers. The innovative app gives would-be guests a peek at what’s cooking and even lets them rate meals for future attendees. Aside from the extra cash and the opportunity to show off their culinary expertise, joining the program as hosts is the perfect solutions for couples who no longer have anything to say to one another.

4. ParkingPanda, another smartphone app, uses the peer-to-peer model to connect drivers with parking spaces in busy metropolitan areas. Those circling the block (again) can log on to find public parking garages with free spaces or hire privately owned parking spaces. Parallel parking nightmare solved. No word on where the pandas factor into the equation.

5. Johnson & Johnson isn’t just about baby lotion and tear-free shampoo anymore. Their Project Phoenix is set to transform a waste cooperative in Brazil into a sustainable business enterprise. In a country where many people eke out a living scavenging from official and unofficial dumping grounds, the company is creating real jobs by hiring workers for the initiative, giving them wages that exceed the minimum living wage. Its aim it to improve conditions in the city’s slums and to build packaging from the recyclables its workers process.

6. Just in case you can’t locate, much less understand, the nutritional label present on just about every food item in the supermarket, Fooducate makes nutritional decisions as easy as elementary school. The app grades products just like a spelling test, with A’s, B’s, and C’s. Its emphasis is on minimally processed foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, no thinking required. Just don’t expect to feel like you’re top of the class when you’re scarfing down that bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

7. TerraCycle, an “upcycling” venture, takes materials that don’t fit in the recycling bin and repurposes them into gifts, bags, toys, and general ephemera. The company is now expanding into interior design services, meaning that you too can own a conference table made out of kitschy old doors, wall art made of obsolete records, or a giant British Flag made out of soda cans. Take that, Etsy!

8. Water Funds, an investment that seems like it would be about water, is actually about preserving forests. The innovative scheme creates public-private partnerships in order to fund the protection and restoration of green spaces and grasslands throughout Latin America. So where does the H2O come in? The organization has teamed up with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility to incentivize water utility companies, hydroelectric facilities, and beverage businesses to help them achieve their goals.

9. UPS and USPS have found a way to get along for the sake of the environment. UPS helps out by allowing the postal service to use their global transportation network. USPS, in turn, aids UPS when they need to deliver to residential addresses in small or remote towns. The slogan, “Blue and Brown Make Green,” doesn’t really make much sense from a color perspective, but we will let that slide.

10. The folks at the Fibershed Project have created the Fibershed Marketplace, pairing local farmers who sell wool, yarn, and other animal fibers with handy types who turn them into fashionable garments. The fibershed clothing, which is just the sort of rustic chic that’s huge in spots like Brooklyn and Portland, is all made from farms and ranches within 150 miles of San Geronimo, Ca. Oh this old thing? Totally locavore.

11. With all the talk about electric, plug-in cars of late, Ford, Whirlpool, SunPower, and Eaton are exploring paths to make powering up the family car as easy as plugging in your hair dryer. While this doesn’t mean you can toast a bagel in your car (yet), just think of the possibilities.

12. The smart creative types at Participant Media (the film company that brought you the likes of Syriana, North Country, and documentaries like Waiting for Superman and The Cove) don’t just want you to buy a movie ticket and a bucket of popcorn. To harness the power of their thought-provoking projects, they’ve launched campaigns to raise awareness about the issues the movies highlight, whether it’s advocating for better schools or saving dolphins. Can you say that about The Fast and the Furious: 17, or whatever number they’re up to now?

13. Hitchhiking in the modern age just took a huge leap forward. Except you have to pay for Sidecar, the newest Uber-like app to hit the market. Like Uber and Lyft, Sidecar allows users to take cashless cab rides from company-verified drivers in a number of major cities across the country. So what actually sets it apart from its competitors? It’s name channels the age-old image of a tiny dog in goggles riding alongside his master, fur blowing in the wind. That or a delicious cocktail.

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