Sunday, April 18, 2010

Little green actions DO count

Have you ever been laughed at for your green efforts? Have people ever poked fun when you wash out plastic food containers for reuse or fussed over your recycling? Have folks ever told you that your efforts will never make a difference?

Well, the joke, and responsibility, is now on them.

Next time you face this ridicule, either good natured or malicious; offer the following information to those who taunt you.

Carbon emission reduction strategies come in all shapes and forms, usually very expensive, but even if something could reduce the emissions of a nation by 5%, it's big news.

But how about an easily achieved 15% reduction? That would be incredible.

What about if it cost little to implement? That would be utterly amazing.

Congratulations, you're probably already playing your part.

An analysis recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has revealed Americans can reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 15 percent - or one billion tons - through personal actions that require little to no cost (some can save you money too).

Some of the suggested actions include:

* reducing junk mail
* cutting down on vehicle idling
* using programmable thermostat for heating and cooling
* replacing light bulbs with CFLs (or LED lighting I guess)
* greener computer practices
* reducing red meat consumption by replacing it with chicken 2 days a week (or mock meat)

Nothing too strenuous or expensive there - in fact all bar one will save money!

Another example is cutting food waste. The NRDC analysis says if Americans collectively cut personal food waste in by 25%, this could avoid 65 million tons of greenhouse gases, around the level of emissions generated from 11 million cars - and again, another money saver!

There's a ton of other simple ideas throughout Green Living Tips and a bunch of bite-sized of ideas contributed by readers in the article "One Green Thing" that can help with reducing our personal carbon impact. One super-simple but important one that will save you money every time is use less of everything - particularly the stuff you don't really need. Consider all non-essential purchases carefully (see my impulse buying reduction tips).

Of course, to achieve this incredible estimate 15% reduction, it requires full participation. The good news is, we don't need to wait for governments to take decisive action. Remember Copenhagen? We might be waiting a while). We can spread this news to all who we meet.

Politely point out what can be achieved to those who tease you and say something along the lines of, "It can be done, but you need to be part of the solution too!". If you get their interest, don't overwhelm them with actions to take, just a little at a time - the longest journey starting with a single step and all that stuff :).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tips for buying recycled paper products

As I was researching for my article on how different products are recycled, I was amazed to discover that recycling paper can at times be a rather environmentally damaging affair and the promotion of recycled paper products be somewhat misleading.

This doesn't mean we should stop recycling paper or buying products made with recycled paper - but perhaps just make more informed choices.

First up, there's the issue of recycled content. There's no hard and fast rules in most countries for how much a paper product needs to have in terms of recycled components to make the "recycled" claim - it could be as little as 5%. So when shopping for paper, look past the big "Recycled!" blurbs and look for smaller text on the package that should indicate the % of recycled content. The higher the %, the better.

The more people buy the higher percentage recycled content paper, the quicker those manufacturers offering the lower percentage varieties might lift their game and stop trying to pull a fast one on the consumer.

Then there's a couple of different variations of recycled content

Post-consumer content

This uses material that has previously been consumed as a product, whether it's a newspaper or cardboard box.

Pre-consumer content

This is from waste generated by the manufacturing process. For example, around 20 years ago I used to work as a printer's assistant for a company that printed copies of a local Yellow Pages. The amount of waste we used to generate was horrific - dumpster loads of telephone books that weren't up to scratch were binned each day.

Of the two types, I guess the post-consumer content could be considered the "greener" of the two as it has completed an entire consumption cycle. However, that doesn't mean you should necessarily turn your nose up at pre-consumer content as its better the waste is reused than goes to landfill.

Some brands of recycled paper also may be a mix of post-consumer content and pre-consumer content; the amount of each should also be noted on the package as a percentage.

Recycled paper scams

There have been instances in the past where companies have been touting their paper is 100% recycled and it's simply not the case. This hasn't confined to small operators either.

For example, in Japan in 2008, a major scandal involving Nippon Paper hit the headlines. Nippon Paper admitted copy paper it claimed to be 100 per cent recycled contained only 59 per cent recycled paper. Other Nippon Paper products were also found to have lower than stated recycled content. This had been going on for 15 years according to this news item. Some of the virgin fiber used in these "recycled" products was coming from the forests of Australia!

I do think the Nippon Paper scandal put all the major manufacturers on notice though, so this type of blatant greenwashing shouldn't be a problem these days. Still, it doesn't hurt to do a search around the web on brand names to see what you can uncover.

Recycled vs. recyclable paper

Another trick to watch out for is the term "recyclable". This just means the paper can be recycled and has no bearing on whether it contains recycled content.


As mentioned in my article "How stuff is recycled" sometimes during the process of making recycled paper, nasty chemicals may be used. Try to avoid products that use chlorine in their production - chlorine bleaching creates highly toxic chemicals called dioxins.

As with all things green living related, remember it's not just what you use that makes a difference, but how much - as recycling takes energy and resources too. Pick up some related tips - the paper reduction diet

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nail polish and nature

I'm not really known to wear nail polish, but as a result of a question from a reader, I thought I would take a look at what's in nail polish, the environmental impact and green nail polish products.

Nail polish isn't a modern invention by any means. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians were using it thousands of years ago based on henna extracts and the Chinese used a mixture of natural components such as Arabic gum, gelatin and beeswax.

These days, nail polishes tend to be synthetic chemical cocktails, often petro-chemical based (crude oil). Components may include:

- butyl acetate or ethyl acetate
- tosylamide-formaldehyde resin
- dibutyl phthalate
- stearalkonium hectorite
- benozophenone-1
- toluene
- Nitrocellulose

Some nail polish manufacturers are said to use industrial grade nitrocellulose in order to save money. Industrial grade nitrocellulose is mostly used for furniture finishes and car paints.

Of particular concern are formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate - known as the "toxic trio" for their potential impact on human health.

Formaldehyde : carcinogen
Toluene : volatile organic compound
dibutyl phthalate : suspected "gender bender" and carcinogen

Past our own health, the wider environment needs to be considered - what poisons us is often toxic to a whole range of other creatures.

Given that over 50% of women (and some men) use nail polish, I hate to think how much of the stuff is produced a year - and it all has to end up somewhere once removed from finger nails. Additionally, there is the issue of all those little jars it comes in. It's just another source of waste in an overburdened waste stream.

As for the packaging; specifically the bottle and even if it is glass, it shouldn't be recycled as the contents that remain are considered hazardous waste - yet another item in our home toxic waste dumps. It's my understanding that in the USA it's recommended that nail polish bottles don't go out into the trash but to a hazardous waste facility.

On a positive note, nail polish manufacturers have been responding to the "toxic trio" issue. A survey by the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance last year found the majority of the manufacturers questioned no longer use these chemicals. You can download a Nail Polish Wallet Card here (PDF) that identifies the complying major brands. The use of dibutyl phthalate in cosmetics, including nail polishes, is also banned in the European Union.

However, as to what these companies replaced the toxic trio with, I'm not sure. The Alliance also points out that further work needs to be done to ensure that alternative chemicals are safe as do all other chemicals used.

As there are so many nail polish brands and some coming from countries with a less than stellar records when it comes to toxins, if you have a favorite nail polish, contact the company and ask them what's in it. Ingredients may not only vary from brand to brand, but product line to product line. The individual components can then be quite easily researched.

You can also start looking into "green" nail polish.

Aside from being free of the toxic trio, these "earth friendly" products are water-based; often plant based and contain no petroleum products. They may use less packaging or bottles made from recycled glass.

However, they may not be totally free of toxins, so even makers of products touted as "environmentally friendly" nail polish should be questioned.

I think natural, manicured nails without the goop look nice too - and fingernails don't have to be long do they? Health and environmental issues aside, think of the money you could save. Ditching the nail polish altogether for some people may be an easy greening step and as we've discovered, little green actions can make a difference!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Transonic combustion improves gas engine efficiency Over 50%

Conventional gasoline engines are terribly inefficient things. Only 13% of the energy of the fuel actually moves the car. 62% is lost in the engine as waste heat, and driveline losses, accessories, and idling also reduce the efficiency.

Transonic Combustion is planning to build automobile engines with improved efficiency obtained through heating and pressurizing gasoline before injecting it into the combustion chamber. "This puts it into a super-critical state that allows for very fast and clean combustion, which in turn decreases the amount of fuel needed to propel a vehicle," according to MIT Technology Review. A transonic test vehicle achieved 64 MPG in highway driving, compared to a 48 MPG hybrid Prius, and running at a steady cruising speed of 50 mph, the test vehicle achieved 98 MPG.

Like diesel and HCCI, the Transonic Combustion technology operates without needing a spark plug. Timing software also further enhances the operating efficiency of the system. Transonic injection is being developed for use with gasoline engines at present, but will also be compatible with advanced low carbon footprint bio-fuels in the future. Transonic expects its system will be comparable in cost to other current high-end fuel injection systems.

Because of the higher operating pressure, the longevity and durability of the engine will be important considerations the company will need to address. The company plans to build its production facility in 2013 and expects to be building engines for production vehicles in 2014.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

High-efficiency hydraulic hybrid car could get 170 mpg

INGOCAR is a developmental concept for a 5 passenger car with a hydraulic drive system in place of a conventional power-train. With the weight reduction this offers and other efficiencies in the systems, the designers say their vehicle could get 170 mpg.

The INGOCAR is a hydraulic hybrid vehicle. Like some electric hybrids such as the Chevy Volt, it uses the motor indirectly instead of using the mechanical motion of the motor to move the car. But rather than using a motor as a generator to produce electricity, the INGOCAR has a highly-efficient 2-stroke diesel engine which is used to pressurize a hydraulic tank called the accumulator. Pressure from this tank is then used to turn individual wheelmotors in each wheel.

Hydraulic power makes the regenerative braking of the INGOCAR much more efficient than that in electric motor vehicles, as well. Regenerative braking with hydraulics is able to recover 75 to 85% of the energy which is used to repressurize the system. The wheelmotors that serve as both propulsion and braking for the vehicle are smaller than the disc brakes they replace.

The INGOCAR's efficiencies work to benefit it in several ways. For instance, eliminating the conventional power-train provides a 30% weight reduction for the car. Also, the engine only needs to run for a short period of time to recharge the pressure tank. It can also be smaller since it is only being used to develop pressure, rather than needing to be strong enough to run the car directly.

The vehicle is able to be significantly lighter than an electric hybrid because the motors are much lighter. "A comparable electric power-train, able to recapture the entire braking energy, is significantly heavier. The weight of the currently best electric motors is 20 times higher than that of the new hydraulic motor. The weights of the energy storage devices (battery, accumulator) are about the same. As result, the weight of the car would increase by about 50% - from 2200 lb to 3300 lb - consequently increasing the fuel consumption."

The 5 passenger INGOCAR would weigh 2200 lbs (998 kg). The Chevy Volt's curb weight is expected to be around 3500 lbs, and the current Toyota Prius curb weight is also around 3000 lbs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What activities can I do when I turn off the lights for Earth Hour?

Earth Hour is coming up on March 27 and I, for one, am excited to get in on the action and turn off my lights. One question though – what the heck am I supposed to do in the dark for a whole hour?
You’ve come to the right place, my friend. For those of you who don’t know, the World Wildlife Fund started Earth Hour three years ago, asking people to turn off their lights for one hour to raise awareness about the need to take action on climate change. It has since become a global phenomenon, with more and more people turning out their lights each year.

In 2009, nearly 1 billion people in 4,100 cities in 87 countries on seven continents turned out their lights for Earth Hour. The only question many people have is exactly yours. What am I supposed to do in the dark for a whole hour?

Well, I’ve got some great ideas for ways you can spend Earth Hour. And you know what? These activities are so fun, you won’t even remember to turn on the lights come 9:30.

Eat a candlelit dinner
Prepare the whole meal in advance and make sure the table’s set, so you don’t stab anyone with the dinner knives while trying to set the table in the dark. Then, once you switch off the lights, settle down at the table and enjoy a candlelit dinner. Whether it’s with your honey, your family, or just a friend or two, you’ll be sure to enjoy.

If you’ve got kids, play games or tell them stories
How often is Saturday night just movie night? This Saturday night, get the kids together for some ghost stories by candlelight or a game of Monopoly. If you’re really ambitious, you can even try building a fort with them in your living room.

Look at old picture albums
In this day and age, everything’s electronic — on a hard drive, a memory card, a USB stick, in an online album somewhere on the Internet. You get my point.

For Earth Hour, why not pull out the dusty albums from years past (everybody’s got one somewhere) and leaf through some old pictures of yourself or your family by candlelight. You can even make it into a game (“Who can find the only picture ever taken of Grandma in a two-piece?”). It’s sure to make for some good times, good memories and some great stories.

Get some friends together for a game night
What says I care about the Earth more than Taboo by candlelight? And the best part of it is, it’ll be dark enough that nobody will see you cheating.

Go outside for some stargazing
When was the last time you looked up at the sky and actually saw more than a few stars? That’s because with all the light pollution out there these days, it’s hard to see much of anything in the sky besides the moon — or the lights of a passing plane if you’re lucky.

Take advantage of the Earth Hour opportunity, and head outside for some good old-fashioned stargazing. Unless of course, you’re fortunate enough to live in Salt Lick, KY — then you might see stars any ol’ night of the year.

Don’t forget to check out this video promo for Earth Hour 2010, featuring landmarks across the world that went dark for 2009’s Earth Hour, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York City — definitely inspiring to watch.

And remember, no matter how you decide to spend Earth Hour, know that you’re one of billions of people joining together to take a stand on the future of our planet, and that, my friends, is more than enough.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

High fructose corn syrup worse than sugar

As if you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS): researchers at Princeton University have found that HFCS is actually much worse than regular sugar when it comes to causing weight gain.

The study found that rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more weight than rats with access to table sugar -- even when their caloric intake was the same. A second study by the researchers found that HFCS lead to long-term increases in body fat, obesity, and a rise in body fats called triglycerides.

Said Princeton psychology professor Bart Hoebel, "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

This new study contradicts earlier beliefs that high fructose corn syrup and table sugar were similar in that they both contained high levels of fructose. Instead, say the Princeton researchers, they now believe that fructose -- in HFCS -- and glucose -- in table syrup, may be processed by the body differently. Fructose is metabolized to produce fat, they believe, while glucose is processed as energy or stored as a carbohydrate in the muscles and liver.

Researchers also pointed out that since high fructose corn syrup was introduced 40 years ago, U.S. obesity rates have skyrocketed. In 1970 15% of the population was considered obese, and today around 1/3 of American adults qualify as obese.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Return Carbon to the Ground

Carbon Capture and Disposal
Coal gasification with carbon capture and disposal (CCD) technologies are essential if continued use of coal is to be reconciled with preventing dangerous global warming. Long-term geologic disposal of CO2 (for thousands of years) is viable now and must be implemented quickly if we are to meet the challenge of sharply reducing global emissions this century. 1

These technologies could prevent 100 billion tons of CO2 from escaping coal plants in the next 50 years. Well established but in limited use, CO2 capture and disposal technology involves capturing nearly pure CO2, compressing it to liquid form, and injecting it into deep, porous rock formations beneath impermeable cap rock. Such geological formations are common throughout the world at varying depths.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that CCD is viable. In most cases, the CO2 is gradually (over thousands to tens of thousands of years) absorbed by the surrounding rock, where it mineralizes into solid form. It is possible, however, for stored CO2 to leak up through well bores and other deep fissures, so accurate siting of injection wells and monitoring of CO2 floods and disposal are essential.

As a result, ensuring that CCD results in the permanent sequestration needed for climate protection will require rigorous criteria and performance standards for CO2 injection and disposal sites.

CO2 and Enhanced Oil Recovery
Coal gasification and carbon capture and disposal are more costly than conventional coal plants. But this cost can potentially be offset by producing additional oil from already developed fields using carbon dioxide captured from coal-fired power plants.

When CO2 is injected at high pressure into mature oil fields, it pressurizes the well and mixes with the oil, increasing the oil’s mobility and promoting enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The oil is displaced by the CO2, which can be safely stored in the geologic formations that held the oil.

And although some CO2 is pumped out along with the oil, this CO2 can be recaptured and re-injected for additional oil recovery or permanent disposal.

Standard primary and secondary oil production without EOR only recovers about one-third of the original oil in typical reservoirs. Current state-of-the-art EOR techniques generally allow an additional 10 percent of the original oil in place to be recovered.

In fact, 35 million tons of CO2 are currently used each year to recover 75 million barrels of oil. Unfortunately, most of this CO2 is pumped out of natural reservoirs rather than captured from industrial sources.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if CO2 were widely available for EOR, current techniques could recover more than 60 billion barrels of oil from domestic fields in the lower 48 states. 2

Advanced techniques have the potential to double the amount of recoverable oil to upwards of 120 billion barrels—more than 18 times the amount of oil that is estimated to be economically recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 3 At $40 a barrel, these domestic reserves would be worth between $2.4 and $4.8 trillion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Return Carbon to the Ground

Americans need to transform how we produce and consume energy to prevent dangerous global warming. In fact, scientists say that significant carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions should begin within 10 years and that U.S. CO2 emissions should be cut by 50 percent or more by 2050 to avoid the most severe, irreversible effects of heat-trapping pollution. Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies will be the cornerstones of the solution.

To the extent that coal continues to be used, an important additional strategy is to capture the CO2 emitted from coal-fired power plants and pump it into natural geologic structures deep in the Earth, where it is gradually absorbed.

More than 50 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States is produced from coal. Yet coal has the highest uncontrolled carbon dioxide emission rate of any fuel and is responsible for 33 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide (as well as other harmful emissions) released into the atmosphere.

There is no such thing as “clean coal”: coal production, processing, and transportation practices scar the landscape and foul the water, harming people and ecosystems that range from Appalachian coal-field communities to Western ranchers. Although Clean Air Act standards helped reduce sulfur and nitrogen emissions somewhat, carbon dioxide emissions from power plants increased by 27 percent since 1990, and there is no end in sight unless emission limits are put into force.

More than 100 new conventional coal-fired power plants are in various stages of development throughout the United States. By 2030, the Department of Energy projects that the equivalent of 450 new large (300 MW) coal-fired power plants will be completed.

With a lifetime of more than 60 years, these plants will produce more than 60 billion tons of CO2 in total—10 times the current annual emissions from all sources—enough to effectively foreclose the option to prevent dangerous