E-Waste Revisited

Spring is having a heck of a time getting sprung around here. It’s cooler than normal and way wetter than normal, so we need some heating-degree days in a big way. But even though the farmers are fretting, everyone is moving ahead with clearing out junk. Municipalities are organizing dumpster days and opportunities for the public to dispose properly of electronic waste. Since it’s illegal in Illinois to throw e-waste into the regular trash or a landfill, I am glad the public does have disposal options. I’ve got enough old equipment here at work to fill a pickup truck!

Our IT support company, MCS, has organized an e-waste collection event, and I’m hopeful we can clear out a lot of old gear. We are lucky in that we only have computer monitors that are the old tube type. Televisions with cathode ray tubes are flooding recycling centers as consumers upgrade to flatscreens, and the recycling industry can no longer make money on taking them. Big box retailers charge at least $10 to take old CRT TVs, and if you have one, I would strongly suggest getting rid of it now before the disposal cost increases.

I think it is wonderful that manufacturers are coming up with ways to save energy with electronics. Flatscreens save money, no question. Digital video players use less energy than DVD players. However, the constant stream of new products forces those who buy them to dispose of the old equipment. Unfortunately, it is not in the manufacturer’s best interests (right now) to make their products in such a way that the products can be easily broken down into reusable components. For the longest time, the tech industry has been dependent on China for crucial heavy metals. By keeping the cost of heavy metals low, China drove any competitors out of business. But where are those heavy metals now? In the very e-waste we are disposing of. Reclaiming heavy metals from e-waste should be a priority, but it may not be cost-effective. I hope that such technology makes it to the market soon, because the more heavy metals that are reclaimed, the less that can get into our food and water.

If you have a closet full of e-waste, I urge you to call around your area to see what disposal events are planned. Responsible disposal is part of being a good consumer. Do you have any tips on disposing of e-waste?

New Year, New Hopes

I apologize for the shortness of this entry, but I’ve been enjoying my holidays and avoiding the office. Catching up with my workload on my return has pushed me to the deadline for this blog. So, here’s a pie-in-the-sky list of what I would love to see happen relating to sustainability in 2013!

1) Development of a viable capacitor-battery hybrid. It would have the quick charging & discharging abilities of a capacitor, the storage capabilities of a battery, and be very scalable (since I’m dreaming, here). Solar and wind power could finally be dependable energy sources! Whoa, this would be huge.

2) Banning plastic shopping bags. This is based less upon the raw materials going into them and more upon the post-use life of this filmy plague. They either fill up our landfills or escape into the environment and wreak havoc. They’re also a potent symbol of our ridiculously disposable culture. They are single use items with a common lifespan of an hour.

3) Here’s an easier one: banning EPS foam from consumer goods. No more Styrofoam cups, throwaway coolers, or foam product packaging. Vast mats of tiny little beads float in our oceans, never to dissolve.

4) An agreement between major electronics manufacturers to design their products so that at least 95% of the components can be safely recycled after the device becomes obsolete.

5) Industry and political leaders admitting that global climate change is a direct result of human society. If I can’t be optimistic in January, what’s the point?

Here’s to dreaming!

How Green Is My Litter Box?

First off, I’ll admit this post has a limited audience. If you don’t have a cat, just skip on to the next blog entry. However, if you do have an indoor (or semi-indoor) cat, let me pass on some handy information.

Back in the day, there was only one kind of cat litter, a clay litter that was incredibly dusty and didn’t clump around urine. My job as a teenager was to scoop the litter box twice a day and to change out the litter weekly. I hated that chore. Fortunately, clumping litter was developed, which cut down on how often I had to change the litter, since I could scoop out the majority of the waste and leave a relatively clean litter box. It is still very dusty, because the clumping litter is still clay-based. To produce it, companies strip mine clay deposits (energy-intensive and an environmental nightmare), then transport it to a factory where it is dried (more energy!) and packaged. Just in terms of production, clay-based clumping litter is red, it’s so not green.

Fortunately, there are much greener options. People have figured out how to use several waste products for litter, including pine chips, wheat stalks, and corn waste. You might have to pay a little more and figure out who stocks it, but you might be surprised where it has turned up recently. SWheat Scoop is a wheat-based product, while Yesterday’s News is pellets made from recycled newspaper. Feline Pine is pretty self-explanatory, while my personal favorite is Arm & Hammer’s Essentials, which is made from corn waste and has some baking soda goodness built right in. Not only is Essentials almost dust-free, it’s carried at my local mega-big-box store, so I can get it easily. I can even delude myself into thinking there’s a processing plant somewhere nearby, since we’re surrounded by cornfields.

Short of a cat-litter disposal fairy with a magic wand, this is about as green as cat poo gets! Yes, I still have to put the litter in the landfill stream, but at least the litter source is low-impact. Little steps, right? That track litter all over the house…

A Lot of Hot Air (is just what we need)

Due to the former life of our office building, we have a bathroom every twenty feet. That’s a lot of sinks (that need aerators), toilets (that waste water), and paper towels. Alternatives to paper towels exist, most notably electric hand dryers and reusable cloth towels. I admire the intent of reusable cloth towels, but the reality is I avoid them like the plague. Maybe because they feel like they might carry the plague. Wrinkled and clammy. Which leaves you with electric hand dryers. They have been around forever, doing an OK job, but they take forever. Nothing like a hand dryer in a humid highway rest area bathroom, hot steamy air somehow making your hands wetter than they already were.

Fortunately, the hand dryer has evolved. Radical new designs and more efficient motors have made hand dryers faster and a lot more effective. The headline-grabber has been Dyson’s Airblade, which resembles a UV nail polish dryer at your salon. Slide your drippy hands into the gaps and they are blasted by a blade of wind, drying them in less than five seconds. A more modest option is Excel Dryer’s Xlerator. This looks related to the older dryers, which helps rookies figure out what they need to do. It takes a little longer than the Airblade, since it doesn’t enclose your hands, but it’s still a lot faster than the old version.

Why am I regaling you with the fascinating details of hand drying options? You were feeling sleepy already, so now your head is nodding and…YOU CAN SAVE MONEY. And reduce your environmental impact. We could buy one and a half of an Xlerator-type dryer for what it costs us to stock paper towels for a year. That dryer would last at least five years. The cost for the electricity to run the dryer would vary according to the model, but here’s a great cost calculator provided by (surprise!) a hand dryer manufacturer. So there’s your cost savings. As to the environmental benefits, take a look here and here to find out estimated impacts from producing and transporting paper towels. These links also include the carbon footprint of the manufacturing of the hand dryer and the electricity it uses when running.

Personal hygiene is well, personal, and your preferences about using paper towels or hand dryers will cover a broad range. I hope that more people will give the new hand dryers a try and reduce the volume of paper towels entering the trash stream. I know I will be canvassing our staff about what they would be comfortable using. Has your company provided hand dryers in your restrooms? How have they been accepted?