Constructing a Better Environment

The Los Angeles Times ran a story recently about illegal dumping in neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles.  It seems funds and manpower diverted from public works to fight crime in the city have lead to severe delays in picking up trash and refuse dumped in the streets, causing an increase in illegal dumping in some less fortunate neighborhoods.

The Times offers two reasons. One, a rather interesting if perhaps city specific idea – L.A. gangs are known to block alley ways and streets with refuse (items like furniture, junk cars, appliances) to slow down police. The second is dumping by building contractors who leave construction debris in public places for municipal cleanup in order to avoid the costs of disposing of it themselves. 

Illegal dumping, unfortunately, is quite common in the construction industry, according to Mary Wilson of Pennsylvania Cleanways. The illegal dumping, or “midnight dumping” problem, is often complicated. As a result, and because much illegal dumping happens traditionally in rural or underprivileged areas, well meaning, green minded folks can inadvertently contribute to illegal dump sites without even knowing.

Considering the popularity of home remodeling, the temptation to dump construction debris may be getting to more of us.  If you’re dedicated to a true neutral existence, and are planning a construction project, there are a few ways to ensure that debris from your next home improvement project doesn’t wind up in a rural ravine, in a vacant city lot, or even in someone’s yard.

For true do-it-yourselfers, do your homework. 

1. Build the cost of debris disposal into your budget.  Call your nearest landfill to calculate tonnage fees so you’re prepared when taking construction waste to the site for disposal. Or simply have a dumpster or roll-off box delivered to your construction site, and picked up when you’re done.  Check out Dumpster.com for an easy online option for ordering.

2. Consider opportunities to recycle, and look around your area for centers and organizations that encourage the reuse of architectural items.  This works particularly well if you’re remodeling or dismantling a vintage home. Architectural salvagers will often accept and in some cases even pay for older wood moldings, railings, doors, cabinets, and flooring. There are also markets for older house fixtures like sinks, door knobs, fireplace mantles, cabinet pulls, etc.

But don’t think you need an old house to recycle.  Someone may be interested in your kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity, carpet remnants, appliances, furniture, light fixtures, and mirrors if they are still in good shape. Some places will even accept unused wallpaper rolls, unopened cans of paint and the like. Some communities have construction depots that accept salvage and resell it to do-it-yourselfers or contractors. If your community doesn’t have a salvage depot,  look into places like Goodwill and Web communities like Freecycle.

3. Know what your municipal waste hauler will and will not accept.  In most cases, don’t expect yard waste and soils, major appliances, and furniture to get picked up during regular service.  Depending on the contract your municipality has with your waste hauler, it’s unlikely your curbside pickup will accept construction debris – even the smallest or what may seem to be the most benign scrap. 

And there are good reasons.  According to Lynn Brown, spokeswoman for Waste Management, Inc., some materials can be damaging to refuse trucks, including compaction blades, hydraulics, and side walls. Construction waste can also be dangerous to drivers and waste workers – some materials can be injurious to workers lifting them into trucks, and others, under the pressure of truck crushers can create harmful projectiles.  Browns says in some areas, construction debris is not permitted in local landfills at all, and that most residents are not aware that there are limits on the amount of trash that can placed at the curb for pickup.

Wilson says some larger communities have special contracts for larger items – check in with your local public works department.  Some municipalities also have special pick ups for larger, hard-to-dispose-of items, or schedule pick ups by appointment.

4, Metals are sought after these days. Scrap dealers are quite interested in larger appliances (not refrigerators) for their metal value, and can help you defray remodeling costs.  Some will even pick up. But be sure your dealer is licensed and not simply taking payment and dumping your washer or dryer over a hill side. You also may want to check with your state environmental agency to make sure your dealer is reputable as well as licensed.  Scrap metal collection can be a front for junkyard operators and is often a contributing factor to the growth of such established dumps and the development of new ones.

5. Home improvement projects can generate what is commonly referred to as household hazardous waste.  These items include unused portions of paints and stains, paint strippers, chemical cleaners, thinners, and other items that should not be tossed in your curbside trash, or washed down a drain (they can pollute waterways and cause serious problems in the wastewater treatment process).  For a complete list, visit http://www.epa.gov/garbage/hhw-list.htm.

To dispose of these items, check around your area for a household hazardous waste collection day.  Most event carry a small fee for disposal, and you’ll likely have to wait in line to dispose, as the expense of these events makes them few in number, but more and more popular with responsibly-minded individuals and families.

6. Remember, if you’re disposing of a refrigerator or an air conditioning unit, you’ll need to have the Freon removed before disposal.  Check in with a local appliance dealer, and be sure to confirm that the technician and his or her equipment is licensed to recapture Freon.  The easiest way to deal with major appliances, even those without a Freon component, is to purchase your new one from a major retailer like Lowes, Sears, or Home Depot that offers to take away the old when they deliver the new.  According to Wilson, companies like these can more easily absorb disposal costs because they work with bulk quantities.  You can rest assured a major appliance source wouldn’t tarnish its name by dumping illegally.

If you are planning to employ a contractor for your project, check the initial estimate for a disposal cost.  If you don’t see one, talk to the contractor, or consider getting another estimate.  The exclusion of disposal costs in the project estimate can be a red flag that your contractor engages in illegal dumping of construction debris, Wilson says.  Be comforted when a dumpster shows up on your property, instead of embarrassed by the eye sore it causes for a short period.

Home Depot Anounces CFL Recycling Program

Tuesday, Home Depot announced their new CFL recycling program, which puts them on the map as the single largest retailer and recyclers of the Mercury filled compact fluorescent lightbulbs. While many companies, governments and organizations have been pushing hard for the adoption of the CFLs, not many have addressed the issue of what happens to the bulbs when they die, except for telling people to recycle them. Until now, there has not been a readily accessible place to recycle CFL’s, but now that almost 2,000 Home Depot’s across the country are accepting spent CFL’s, it makes it that much easier to reduce atmospheric CO2 and Mercury.

The amount of Mercury in a CFL is quite small and the fact is, the amount of Mercury one CFL will save from entering the atmosphere as a result of dirty coal generated electricity is much more than it contains. Interestingly enough, your household thermostat has over 1,000 times more Mercury than a CFL, but still CFL’s get a lot of negative criticism because of this.

Fortunately, this negative criticism should quiet down with the announcement of this new national Home Depot infrastructure for properly disposing and recycling of CFLs. So, don’t let a little Mercury hold you back from updating your home to a more energy efficient lighting system.

Via: The New York Times

A New Twister On Green Wind Energy

There is no shortage of green energy generation ideas lately, and while some have very little merit and usefulness, others, like the brain child of engineer Louis Michaud, bring an very interesting twist. Michaud’s idea is to make and contain a twister to harvest its energy with wind turbines. At first glance, the idea seems doubtful at best, but upon further inspection, his concept is quite brilliant.

Michaud plans to harness the waste heat from a power plant and push that heated air into a round room at an angle to create a swirling air current. Then, because the air temperature above is cooler, the spinning tunnel of hot air would naturally rise and dissipate. Once circulating at over 200 mph, a vacuum is formed which holds the vortex together allowing it to extend into the sky where temperatures of -60°F can be found. This massive temperature differential is what perpetuates the spinning of tornadoes and hurricanes, as the lower warmer air is drawn up into the sky, massive amounts of outside air is drawn into the vortex creating the powerful spinning effect.

The energy in Michaud’s system comes from the air rushing into the bottom of the man-made tornado. With electricity generating wind turbines strategically placed at the lower inlets, as much as 200 megawatts of electricity can be generated without draining the twister of its power. 200 MW is enough energy to power a small city and at a price of only $60 Million to construct, this would be the cheapest form of power generation to date.

via: LiveScience

Solar Industries First 1GW Production Tool

Nanosolar is a thin film photovoltaic manufacturer who is making major strides in the solar industry. The most notable stride is the fact that Nanosolar is the first manufacturer to figure out how to make solar panels at less than $1 per kW. This news broke many months back and Nanosolar has been all over the green blogsphere, so we did not write about it at the time even though it was probably the larges solar breakthrough we will ever see.

Since then, Nanosolar has been producing their thin-film photovoltaics on a very large scale and have only been providing panels for 2-10MW municipal solar power plants. Much to dismay of die hard solar enthusiast(like me) eager to get their hands on these $0.96 per kW solar panels, Nanosolar has not begun selling their panels on the free market. Nanosolar wants to make the biggest environmental impact they can, and by only selling to large municipalities at first, they will do just that. Even though it hurts, it is whats best for the solar industry and for the environment.

Along with these major stride in pricing, Nanosolar just put into production the solar industries first 1GW thin-film photovoltaic production tool. The tool shown in the video above is printing thin-film solar panels at 100 feet-per-minute and is capable (in theory) of ramping up to over 2,000 feet-per-minute. The photovoltaic printer cost Nanosolar $1.65 Million. Now considering that the current high-vacuum process that other manufacturers are using will generally produce 10-30MW per year and cost almost ten times as much as Nanosolar’s printer, I’d say Nanosolar is about to dominate the solar industry and give coal a run for its money.

 

BLUE PLANET RUN BOOK “MOST LIKELY TO SAVE THE PLANET”

PICTORAL MASTERPIECE CHRONICLES 2007 EPIC GLOBAL JOURNEY FOR WORLD WATER AWARENESS

June 13, 2008—SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Blue Planet Run, a photo essay by renowned photographers Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt that provides an extraordinary look at the global water problem, was awarded the Outstanding Book of the Year IPPY Gold Award (Independent Publisher Book Award) in the category of “Most Likely to Save the Planet.”  With the Independent Publishers Awards attracting a total of 3,175 entries, Earth Aware Editions and the Blue Planet Run Foundation are proud to accept this honor.

The “Most Likely to Save the Planet” award comes from books entered in the Environment, Current Events and Science categories. The IPPY judging criteria consists of content, originality, design and production quality, with emphasis on innovation and social relevance. For the Outstanding Books of the Year, Blue Planet Run is a “work that exhibits the courage and creativity necessary to take chances, break new ground and bring about change, not only to the world of publishing, but to our society, our environment, and our collective spirit,” said Jim Barnes, Managing Editor and Awards Director, Independent Publisher Online.

Blue Planet Run provides an extraordinary look at the water problems facing humanity and some of the hopeful solutions being pursued by individuals and organizations around the world. The Blue Planet Run is designed to be a wake-up call to the world, sounding both a warning and a note of hope, letting mankind know that there is still time to solve this problem if we act now, before it is too late.

Blue Planet Run is two books in one: It is a showcase of powerful, inspiring, disturbing and hopeful images. For one month, 40 talented photojournalists crossed the globe taking photographs to show the extent of the problem. At the same time, a team of researchers contacted photographers on every continent to identify existing bodies of work focused on this crucial issue. The book also documents the epic 2007 Blue Planet Run® – an inspiring 15,000-mile relay race, the longest in human history, in which 20 athletes spent 95 days running around the globe to spread awareness of the global water crisis.

In addition to the world class photographs, Blue Planet Run includes essays from a passionate group of writers, environmentalists, inventors and journalists including Robert Redford, Diane Ackerman, Fred Pearce, Bill McKibben, Jeffrey Rothfeder, Michael Specter, Dean Kamen, Michael Malone, Paul Hawken and Mike Cerre.

Blue Planet Run is available for $45.00.  All proceeds go directly to clean drinking water projects around the world.  Select images from Blue Planet Run are currently available on TIME.com and a free, downloadable .pdf file of the book is available on Amazon.com.

For more information or to order a copy of Blue Planet Run, please visit http://www.blueplanetrun.org.

About Blue Planet Run Foundation

The Blue Planet Run Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to raising global awareness about the need for safe drinking water and funding working solutions today for the billion people living without water. 

The U.S.-based foundation connects nongovernmental organizations worldwide with funding and promotes operational sustainability. In 2007, the foundation conducted the Blue Planet Run – a first-ever around-the-world relay race to raise funds and awareness for drinking water projects.  The Blue Planet Run mission is extended within the Blue Planet Run 24 series.

For more information about Blue Planet Run Foundation, or to make a donation, please visit http://www.blueplanetrun.org. 

Blue Planet Run is a registered trademark of Blue Planet Run Foundation.

Our Senators Failed Us Again…

Unfortunately this failure of our senators to do what is right, seems to be the norm lately. With gas prices souring, oil companies showing record profits and global warming on the rise, you would think that our senators would make a sound decision to help invigorate the solar and wind industry creating jobs and helping the economy, but you would be wrong. The HR 6049 bill on the table to extend investment tax credits failed to pass the senate.

SunPower, one of the leading companies in the renewable energy sector has promised to pick up shop and leave the US should the ITC bill not pass. Now that this bill is dead in the water only time will tell whether SunPower will leave the country. This would result in a loss of over 16,000 job opportunities and an additional $19 billion dollars in lost investments. This would be a major blow the the renewable energy, solar and wind industries.

If you are as upset as I am, you can check out this website to see how your senators voted and let them know how disappointed you are in them if they voted against this bill.

1970’s Global Cooling Concern, A Myth?

After being in the environmental field for quite some time now, you can imagine that I have had my fair share of “Global Warming” debates. One of the most commonly used lines I hear from the global warming skeptics is, “These scientists can’t get their facts straight, first they said global cooling back in the 70’s and now they say global warming, which one is it? This just goes to show you that they don’t know what they are talking about.”

Until recently, I never really researched this common belief among global warming skeptics. A few months back, I found that only a hand full of journalists from the National Geographic, Times and the New York Times reported on this “global cooling” issue, but it was pure speculation as to the reason for the unusually cold decade. It was NOT a scientific consensus that global cooling was happening and that we would soon see a second ice age, it was basically journalistic speculation from a few key sources.

As Thomas Peterson from the National Climatic Data Center recently pointed out, only 7 of the 71 peer-reviewed scientific articles regarding climate issues between 1965 and 1979 supported the global cooling theory, while 44 of them actually predicted global warming (the last 20 were neutral at assessing climate trends). Peterson’s study not only focused on the peer-reviewed scientific articles of the time, but on the news media coverage of the issue as well. Peterson found that as in the scientific community, there was NO consensus on global cooling among journalist either.

A senior fellow in environmental studies, Pat Michaels, explained that what really happened in the ‘70s was that a few scientists were trying to explain the reason for the sharp cooling from the mid ‘40s to the mid ‘70s. They explained that excess pollution in the atmosphere was preventing solar radiation from hitting earths surface. Michaels further explained that, “At the time, scientists thought the cooling effect of pollution was greater than the warming effect of carbon dioxide.”

While most global warming skeptics believe that the prevailing scientific consensus of the late 70s predicted a new ice age, the facts show that this simply is not true. Global warming was the dominant subject in the peer-reviewed literature of the time. Even in the mid ‘70s the majority consensus of climate scientists, predicted global warming due to excess carbon dioxide, and this still holds true today.

Via USA Today

Clean Coal My Ass

First off, sorry for the language, but I am just so darn tired of seeing this misinformation on the TV, the radio and now even on MY website. Yea that’s right, i just saw and ad for clean coal on MY website and I was shocked. I have written a few articles about how dirty coal is here and here and to see an ad for clean coal on my website is nauseating. For the record I did go into my Google Adwords site filter and filtered out the offending website shown in the picture. I will not even mention their website name because I don’t want Google crawling my site and wrongfully thinking I am promoting them and increase their link ranking.

Anyway I just found a very interesting article over at EcoGeek where the exact same thing happened to Hank. He wrote a nice little letter to the U.S. Coal Lobby stating the simple facts straight from the heart. If you have a minute it is well wort the read and I couldn’t say it better myself, so I will just let his letter speak for us as well.

Solar Battery Charger Review

I have a 10 month old son and if you are at all familiar with children, you end up with a collection of toys, vibrating seats, singing walkers and many other gadgets all requiring batteries. After a few months of buying and replacing batteries, I decided to follow one of my own “green tips” and buy a bunch of rechargeable batteries to help the environment and save some money in the long run. Now all of these toys take different size batteries such as AA’s, AAA’s, D’s and C’s, so when shopping for a battery charger, I knew I needed one that could handle all of the major battery sizes.

During my search I ran across this solar battery charger which fit all of the major sizes, so I decided to try it out and see if it really worked as advertised. I was also searching for good products to sell on the Neutral Existence Eco Store and definitely wanted to test it before recommending it to anyone.

The package arrived in a small box with directions and approximate charging times for each size battery. The product was as advertised, however I had somehow gotten it in my head that it would hold 4 AA batteries at once, and that is not the case. Unfortunately, this charger will only recharge two batteries at a time, but considering that the recharge time for AAA’s and AA’s is under 4 hours, I can recharge 4 in one day. The C and D size batteries take a little longer to recharge due to their size and capacity, so they take 6-8 hours for C’s and 9-12 hours for D’s.

This solar battery charger is well made, very durable and able to keep water out. The hinged top piece is made of a very durable clear plastic with the solar panel actually molded inside of the plastic. The top of the plastic top actually has concentrator cones molded into the plastic which helps to concentrate the suns rays into the photovoltaic cells. It is this ingenuity which allows such a small solar panel to generate enough energy to recharge these batteries in such a short time.

The bottom of the recharger box is made of a durable black plastic and has different gaps and holder to fit all of the major battery sizes (AA, AAA, C and D) and a small switch to choose between the type of battery you are charging. The bottom part of the charger box has a little “kick stand” of sorts which can be folded out from the bottom. This allows you to tilt the box in such a way to get a perfect angle towards the sun for a quicker recharge time. The hinged top also opens to allow you to have even more flexibility when angling the box toward the sun.

The most notable characteristic of this box is the fact that it keeps water out when it is closed. This wasn’t an advertised feature either, this was something I learned first hand after leaving this charger outside one day while it poured down raining. While at work, I was worried all day that the batteries would get wet and begin to rust and degrade. As soon as I got home, I checked the charger to see what type of damage had occurred, and to my disbelief, the box had not let in a single droplet of water. I must stress that this was no ordinary downfall, we are talking 6 inches in one hour and the streets were flooded all over town, so I was very surprised and impressed that this box kept all that water out.

To conclude this review, I was very impressed with this solar battery charger so much so that I decided to carry it in our Eco Store. I know you can get a regular plug in recharger for about the same price, but the flexibility of this solar charger allows it to be used anywhere. How else would you recharge your batteries while camping?
Also, how much does it cost to generate the solar electricity to recharge the batteries? So, in my opinion the combination of rechargeable batteries and a solar charger will save money in more ways than one.

Why Wal-Mart isn’t as Bad as You Think

Wal-Mart.  It makes many an environmentalist see red.  But like it or not, the retail giant, the biggest in the US, if not the world, and those like it, have an important role to play in the neutral living revolution.

Those inclined to live their lives in a more earth-friendly way often have the tendency to assume the entire population of Spaceship Earth has heard the news.  And they likely have – if not they may have been visiting another planet for the last few years.  But hearing the message and making the commitment to “do your part” are different things.

Consumer behavior is most often driven by the economy. When purchasing anything in tough economic times, consumers are obviously more likely to buy the least expensive items they can find. Most grocers and retailers, working hard to survive a tough economy as well, probably aren’t pricing or stocking items based on their environmental impacts.  As a result, being “green” in many stores requires a shopper with more green in his or her pocket, supporting the long-held assumption that shopping for the earth is a pastime for the affluent.

Enter Sam Walton’s much maligned yet often shopped-in chain of discount stores.  All criticisms aside, everybody knows one thing about Wal-Mart.  It’s a great place to get almost anything you can think of cheap.  As a result, large numbers of Americans find themselves in its aisles quite often.

Wal-Mart’s pledges to green its operations have met mixed reaction.  Some have denounced any of Wal-Mart’s efforts as green-wash.  Others have heaped kudos on the retail giant, some of which are deserved, some of which may not be.  But there is one thing Wal-Mart’s greener retail strategy does that few other corporations or organizations can – it brings environmentalism to the masses by making it affordable to care about the planet.  The promotion of compact fluorescent light bulbs in its stores alone has spread the benefits of energy efficiency to a wider audience.  Wal-Mart offers apparel, bedding, and home linens made from sustainable fabrics, and Forest Sustainability Council certified furniture, and now carries only concentrated liquid detergents in order to minimize packaging waste.

Additionally, Wal-Mart’s corporate side is using its retail weight to encourage its product suppliers to significantly cut product packaging, and continually re-evaluates business practices to find more ways to cut waste, recycle and reuse.  Adam Werbach, who gained famed in the environmental community years ago as the youngest ever president of the Sierra Club, was once a fierce Wal-Mart opponent.  The company changed his mind, and hired him on as a consultant for its green efforts – Werbach has become a force behind the company’s green efforts, much to the chagrin of many of his old-school fellow activists and one-time friends. (Check out a great story on Werbach and Wal-Mart at http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/118/working-with-the-enemy.html) 

Wal-Mart is far from perfect – it’s probably impossible for a retailer its size to offer the prices it does and receive all A’s on its corporate responsibility report card. And its job on the environment is far from finished.  Among issues still to be addressed fully are concerns related to new store siting, development, and construction.  But it deserves the respect of the green community for making clear strides toward a notable goal – bringing the spirit of environmental responsibility to millions of American consumers.  Love it or hate it, shop there or snub it, Wal-Mart may well be remembered for providing millions of Americans with an education in greener living.