Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gas vs. Charcoal Grills: The Battle Rages On

Last week, I gave into the peer pressure of suburbia and kept up with the Joneses by purchasing a gas grill. I just plain wanted one. After I got home and realized it would take three hours to assembled, I began to wonder if a propane grill is an awful carbon dioxide emitter. Well, according to this ultra-perky video from TitansGreens, yes there is a significant carbon impact from the propane grill, but it's not quite as bad as charcoal and lighter fluid. Check it out, Web Nerdz!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Carbon Map of U.S. Skewed By Geek's House

A bunch of scientists at Purdue university have produced an updated map of U.S. carbon emissions. As you can see from the red blotches, densely populated areas generally produce a lot of pollution, with the east coast emitting more than its fair share. What's surprising is that one of the largest blotches of carbon pollution appears to be blooming directly from my own home.

How do I know for sure that my house is to blame for all that carbon? Well, I knew it for sure in January, when I opened my gas bill and saw that I owed more than $250. < highpitchedscream > What?????? < /highpitchedscream >. And then I knew it again in February. Keep in mind that my winter thermostat is set at 62 while I'm awake and 58 when I'm asleep. That's not too warm, folks. I can't go any colder without endangering my pets.

I'm a quasi-environmentalist! I have a green-colored blog! How can I have $250 energy bills?

The answer to that question is both complicated AND annoying. First of all, the price of natural gas is really high right now. As I am not an energy trader, there's nothing I can do about that except to reduce my consumption. And since I refuse to turn the thermostat any lower, that means plugging leaks. Here is a short list of all the drafts I found in my home:

  • Windows: Lead paint-sealed-shut ancient in some cases. They do have storm windows, but they aren't helping much.
  • Electrical sockets: I could feel cold air blowing on my hand through the little holes.
  • Doors: Weatherstripping is worn away or missing. Letter slot is uninsulated.
  • Ductwork: Duct in unheated garage is leaking hot air and the insulation is ripped and falling apart.
  • Walls: Cold to the touch, possibly indicating that they lack sufficient insulation
That right there is a lot for a less-than-handyman with limited funds to tackle, but I'm trying. Stay tuned for updates on my progress. And yes, some progress has been made. But not much.

BTW: You can view the real carbon map here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Philly Cleanup a Sparkling Success

If there's one thing I hate, it's people who disrespect their own community and chuck their refuse on the ground. This goes for everyone from the mom who tosses her Macdonald's bag out of her car window to the lawyer who drops his cigarette butt onto the sidewalk as he enters his office building. (How come if you're a smoker, the world is your ashtray? Can someone explain that to me?) Bottom line: litter sucks. It turns cities into garbage dumps, hurts tourism, lowers property values and encourages crime. It damages the human environment, which just happens to be the one in which we all have to live.

That's why this past weekend I was happy to participate in Philly Cleanup, a one-day city program promoted by Mayor Michael Nutter to pick up some of the litter and trash across Philadelphia. On Saturday morning, I headed out with a group of my coworkers at Philadelphia Tourism to beautiful FDR park in South Philly, where volunteers handed out gloves, rakes and trash bags. We were given a tough assignment, which was to walk over to the skatepark under Interstate 95 and clean up some of the trash. And boy was there ever trash to clean. Thousands of plastic bags chucked from car windows. Hundreds of bottles and cans chucked by kids. Car tires. Candy wrappers. Newspapers. A real mess. I even found a parking meter that had been liberated and cut in half for whatever coins it once held. But no decayed bodies--thank Jeebus.

When we first got to the area, I thought we wouldn't even make a dent. I was wrong. Even though there were only nine hardy souls in our group, we managed to pick up at least ten large bags of trash and recyclables. Within a couple of hours, the place actually looked decent (for a skatepark underneath an interstate highway). We even saw a living creature in the sea of detritus--a little snake curled up in the sun. He seemed happy to see us cleaning up his home.

Thank you Mayor Nutter, for showing us what we could accomplish with a little elbow grease and a few hours of our time. Let's keep this going and have another cleanup day in the summer and then every warm season after that. I'll show up and I bet a whole bunch of my fellow citizens will as well. It's time to clean up Philadelphia's act for good! Huzzah!

**Thanks to Rawle for the photos.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ice Shelf's Death is a Wake-Up Call

Yesterday I read that an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Manhattan is collapsing into the ocean. The shelf was so massive, old and permanent-seeming that it had a name: Wilkins. Poor icy Wilkins is now all sad and busted up. Seems the temperature around the western Antarctic peninsula has been rising a rate of nearly one degree Fahrenheit per decade over the past 50 years.

I think most of us know what killed Wilkins. We did.

Luckily our old friend Wilkins was already floating, so there won't be any change in sea levels. That won't always be the case. Higher tides are coming with the warmer days ahead. We may not all end up drowning like polar bears, but the temperatures, they are a-changin'.

Wilkins' warning woke me up from my blogging slumber. Despite some frustrating setbacks that I will write about later, I'm still trying to get a little bit greener and I hope you are too. Let's work this problem together. It's too late for Wilkins, but it might not be too late for us.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Conserve Water With the Lowest of Low Flow Shower Heads

If you're like me, you love a nice hot shower, and sometimes you enjoy a loooong hot shower. It's one of life's simple pleasures, and something that few of us would be willing to sacrifice. But of course, there's a price to be paid for every hot shower. Fresh water is precious and showers can use thousands of gallons per year in a typical household. On top of that, every time you turn on the hot water, your water heater has to kick on, burning gas or electric energy. All of that comes out of your pocket, even if you forget the environmental ramifications.

So, short of taking shorter, colder showers, what's a green person to do? Install a fantabulous low flow shower head, that's what! Now I know what you're thinking: I don't want some pansy-ass dribbly fixture ruining my showers. Well, I'm here to tell you that I installed a very inexpensive water conserving shower head last night, and this morning's shower was better than ever. It was hot, strong and satisfying. I'm a clean dude today, trust me.**

What is this miracle shower head? It's the $12 "Lowest Flow Showerhead," and you can order it from Gaiam. I learned about the device on Treehugger and it really seems to work. According to Gaiam, the head's "maximum flow is 2.25 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi, and 1.2 to 1.4 gpm is about average for most folks." Just to compare, the maximum allowed by law is now 2.5 gpm, so you're beating the average by quite a lot.***

The device even has a handy pause button that lets you cut off the water while you lather up. Oh, and did I mention that it has a 10-year guarantee? All for a measly $12 investment. That's one hott shower head.

According to the EPA, here's how to see if your shower head needs to be replaced:

1. Get yourself a bucket and a stopwatch--anything with a second-hand. It helps if the bucket has lines indicating gallons.

2. Hold the bucket directly under the shower head and turn on your normal water pressure.

3. Time how long it takes for the water to hit the one-gallon line.

4. If it takes less than 20 seconds to fill a gallon, go ahead and install a low flow shower head.

Note: If you don't have a bucket with gallon lines, just collect water for 20 seconds and then pour it into a measured pitcher or something. If you collected more than a gallon of H20--bingo. Get the new shower head!

TreeHugger's take on the Lowest Flow Showerhead
Buy it on Gaiam
EPA Consumer Guide to Conserving Water

**Except for my mind.
***There are a few shower heads out there that claim to have lower flow rates, but I don't know of a better value than the one I'm recommending.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Macbook Air is as Green as it is Thin and Awesome

Most of my friends, enemies, and even some of my frenemies know that I love Apple products. I've used their computers since I was a wee lad, and I'm one of the many fanboys who sits at work furiously reloading macrumors to get the latest updates whenever Steve Jobs gives one of his famous keynote speeches at the Macworld Convention. I just plain like Apple gear. It makes me happy.

So, of course I was all geeked up to learn about the spankin' new Macbook Air that was announced yesterday. I read every speck of information about the new notebook on Apple's site, even knowing full well that I can't afford the darn thing. Well, here's a speck of information for you. Buried on the technical specification page for the Macbook Air, Apple included a little "Environmental Status Report":

"MacBook Air embodies Apple’s continuing environmental progress. It consumes the least amount of power of any Mac and is also designed with the following features to reduce environmental impact:

Highly recyclable aluminum enclosure

Mercury-free LCD display with arsenic-free glass

PVC-free internal cables

Largely recyclable, low-volume packaging

Meets ENERGY STAR requirements

MacBook Air received a Silver rating from EPEAT"
What are we to make of this information? Apple hasn't had a particularly good reputation for its environmental responsibility and Greenpeace pummeled it in 2006, ranking it lowest among top tech manufacturers for their actions and policies. They cited the company's weak (at the time) take-back recycling program and lack of timelines for eliminating yucky polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

Probably in response to the activist pressure (which Jobs once called BS), Apple has improved its practices and Mac nerds in the United States can trade in their old computer to be recycled for free. You even get a 10% discount on a new iPod when you trade in the old one. Apple has also commited to completely eliminate PVC, BFRs and arsenic from all of its products by the end of this year. It's hard to believe that I've been buying computers full of deadly ARSENIC and other carcinogens for so many years, but thank God that's going to stop.

What do I think about Macbook Air? If you're choosing a notebook computer based upon its green properties, the Air isn't a bad choice. In fact, it may be the greenest laptop currently on the market. It uses less power due to its LED display backlighting; it has less PVC and BFRs than previous models (but not none); and its aluminum enclosure is ripe for recycling. If you have $1,799 hidden under your mattress and your old lappy is truly obsolete, then I say trade the old one in and go for it. I'll grit my teeth and stick with my 2000 Pismo Powerbook for now. Must... resist... new... toys...

Apple's Recycling Program
Apple's Official Environmental Stance
Macbook Air is Greener (GreenTech)
Macbook Air: Green Equals Sexy (Eco Chick)
Macbook Air is Greenest Apple to Date (Ecofriend)
Apple Grows Greener (Earth2Tech)
Apple Gets Greener (Inhabitat)
Your Computer is Bad for You (Wired)
Greenpeace's Take on Macbook Air

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mailbag: Recycling Microwaves & Printers

Chris Mesure from Philly asks:

"I have an old Microwave and Computer printer, both of which I am trying to dispose of in the most earth-friendly way I can. Do you know of any recycling, or disposal program in Philly (or the area) for both?"

Thanks for the question Chris. If your printer and microwave are still in working order, my first recommendation would be to try Freecycle, a global grassroots network where you can list items that you have to give away, as well as items you're seeking. Phillyfreecycle has a very active membership, with more than 8,000 participating, so if you have working appliances, there is a good chance you can find someone to happily take them off your hands.

I have not personally tried Freecycle, but I have friends who swear by it. It takes 100% less energy and raw material to reuse than to recycle, so by all means take advantage of any opportunity to give your old items new life in new homes.

Now if your electronic gadgets are all busted up, you can head over to Pottstown and take them to Recycling Services, Inc. RSI is a non-profit organization that accepts many, many materials for recycling, from wire coat hangers to clothes to used fishing line. God bless them!

You'll have to fork over an $8 donation for each carload, and $5 extra if you're dropping off something really large, like TVs, copiers and computer monitors. This covers the cost of recycling your junk and I think it's a small price to pay for a clear conscience. RSI is open for collection on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Recycling Services, Inc.
365 Elm Street Pottstown, PA 19465
Phone: (610) 323-8545

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Please keep the questions coming! They makes me a happy eco-nerd.
blukas (AT) gmail (DOT) com