1995 PEP

The ULS Report

Helping people conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff

September-October 1995 Volume 2, Number 5


Environmental Pet Peeves

Do you own a pet? The odds are, you own somewhere between one and two dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs or, if you're part of the pet avant garde, ferrets. We haven't even included the 7 million reptiles or the 20 million-plus fish slithering or swimming around the house!

Raining Cats and Dogs

Type # of Pets # of Homes Per Home
Cats 63.0 million 30.8 million 2.1
Dogs 54.2 million 34.0 million 1.6
Birds 31.0 million Not Available Not Available
12.2 million 4.7 million 2.6
TOTAL 160.4 million 96.4 million 1.7

Just like people, pets eat, drink, multiply, play and (ahem) use the facilities. All of this activity creates a lot of waste. In fact, we estimate that kitty litter alone accounts for about 1 percent, or 2 million tons, of annual municipal solid waste. Add in the doggy equivalents and we're talking a lot of stuff headed to landfills.

We were surprised to learn that the typical pet owner is married without children. That helps explain why the little dears are so pampered, and stores are filled with all sorts of toys, foods and other accessories.

There are some easy ways to reduce the amount of pet-related waste. And since recycling of pet wastes is not going to happen anytime soon, the concept of waste prevention (using less stuff) will have to play first fiddle in the fight. Here are a few simple ideas:

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Coming to an EPA Office Near You...

When faced with pollution, businesses have to make choices. They can pay for cleanup, pay for fines, or pay in the long run for nasty publicity. Most companies are finding that the best idea is to not create pollution, since you don't pay if you don't play.

Carrying this concept to consumers, the EPA is promoting the idea of garbage unit pricing, commonly known as Pay-As-You-Throw. Under this scenario, households pay for their garbage the way they pay for anything else: by the bag, pound, bin, barrel or can. The result? Less trash, since no one wants to shell out extra for it. Thus, the approach uses a powerful incentive -- money -- to change behavior.

How does one produce less trash? We're happy to say that the EPA's recommended first step is to source reduce, or use less stuff: buy in bulk, buy in thinner, lighter more flexible packages, use concentrates, and reuse products and packages as much as possible. Then, compost what you can and recycle paper, glass, steel, aluminum and rigid plastic packaging.

To spread the word, the EPA is holding a series of workshops you can attend. We're proud to say that ULS Editor Bob Lilienfeld and Columnist Dr. William Rathje have been asked to participate. If you live in the Washington, DC area, you can join us on Wednesday, September 20. If you're in Boston, we'll be there on Tuesday, September 26. On Thursday, September 21, we will also be participating in a live, interactive satellite hook-up that will be beamed to EPA offices across the country. Please call (617) 674-7374 for locations, times and other details.


... And (Not) to the Post Office

Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service seems to be working at cross-purposes with the EPA. To be more competitive with direct mail firms, the Post Office is testing a plan whereby businesses can send unaddressed flyers to everyone in a particular neighborhood at a very reasonable price -- less than 12 cents apiece.

It's possible that this program will lead to a large increase in the amount of unrequested mail you receive, since businesses that cannot afford to buy newspaper space, or mailing lists, can afford to pay for this new service. The result will be a growing amount of paper in the waste stream.

You may have also noticed that the Post Office sells self-stick stamps that don't need to be licked. They're incredibly convenient, but also wasteful: the paper backing contains a "release agent" that allows you to peel off the stamp and then stick it on the envelope. This backing is non-recyclable, and weighs more than the stamps themselves. One possible answer: reflect the true convenience value and environmental costs by charging more for these stamps, say 35. That way, the lickers don't subsidize the stickers.

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Ask Bill and Bob

Joan Gleckler of Vernon, CT wrote and asked us two questions which we can actually answer with one response: Is there an easy, safe way to clean old shower curtains; and what can I do with old towels?

We found the answers in a new book called Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun and Frugal Uses by Vicki Lansky -- wash mildewed or dirty plastic shower curtains and liners in the washing machine on gentle, along with two (old) bath towels. Add 1/2 cup baking soda and your regular detergent during the wash cycle. Add 1 cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle. Then let the curtain drip dry. By the way, the towels make great dusting cloths and cleaning rags. They're also terrific for drying just-washed cars, bikes and boats.

Here are a few other good uses for baking soda. You'll cut costs and the use of other cleaners.

Speaking of composting, a few readers wrote to chastise us about our suggesting you not add meat to your compost piles. We stand by our original statement: don't try it unless you're an expert. It's not worth the potential problems.

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All the News That's Fit to Dig Up

By Dr. William Rathje

I believe that the best case for source reduction is made by newspapers which, ironically, are one of the most "recycled" commodities at the household level. Today, markets are strong, prices are high, and almost 60 percent of newsprint is recovered for recycling. This is impressive and worthwhile, but it really won't cut down on the paper wastes going to landfills. Newspaper can only be recycled so many times before the lignin-cellulose fibers are too short to form paper again. Thus, every increase in the rate at which newspapers are recycled adds a lag time of a year or two between when virgin wood is turned into paper and when that same wood/paper is finally discarded and languishes for decades in a landfill.

Speaking of languishing in landfills, do you happen to know the guy who has the newspaper with a "LINCOLN ASSASSINATED!" headline? He found it when someone was digging up his old dump to put in methane wells. I have heard about him from any number of informal sources, but he hasn't been easy to locate. After I heard about the Lincoln Newspaper a few times, I recognized it as a modern-day urban myth. (I retell it only to clearly separate it from the Garbage Project's documented recovery of old, datable and readable newspapers from landfills.)

Since 1987 the Garbage Project has conducted digs at 14 landfills across North America-2 each in Arizona, California and Illinois; 3 in Florida; 1 in New York; and 4 in Toronto. The exhumed refuse was sorted and recorded by student researchers. Most were from the University of Arizona, but every dig outside of Tucson involved students from universities in the vicinity of the landfill which was excavated.

The analysis of nearly 300 refuse samples led to a record of 2,425 identifiable newspapers which were both datable and readable-that is an average of 6.43 newspapers per sample. These papers were not mere bits and scraps. Out of ten tons of refuse (excluding cover soil) extracted from landfills and analyzed, fully one ton (2,251 pounds to be precise) was easily identifiable by sorters as newsprint -- that is an average weight of .93 pounds per newspaper. By weight, the newspapers extracted from each of the Garbage Project's 14 study landfills range from a low of 5.7 percent of refuse to a high of 18.5 percent. Nine of the 14 values for newsprint are higher than 13 percent, including the values for two landfills-one in Canada and one in Arizona-which received waste only during the 1950s. Overall, one pound out of every ten in a sample of 19,314 pounds of landfilled refuse was newsprint.

The only way to cut down on the vast quantity of newsprint which consumes space in our landfills is to produce fewer or, better, smaller newspapers. There are a wide variety of means to accomplish this goal. Sharing subscriptions with neighbors is one. Getting news directly through electronic media is another. Reducing the number and size of newspaper ads by charging more for the ones which are printed is a third-because of fewer ads, Sunday newspapers in Germany's largest cities are smaller than daily papers in Tucson, Arizona.

The measures mentioned will not come easily, as they go against the grain of the way we have always lived our lives and done our business. But as I remember it, the South told Mr. Lincoln that they could or would not survive without slavery. In 1995 the South is still there and stronger than ever. Let's not allow myths to divert us from reality and from what we can each do to make it better.

Dr. William L. Rathje is Professor of Archaeology at The University of Arizona and Director of The Garbage Project. The Project studies contemporary cultures by digging up their landfills and examining the resulting debris.

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Reduction Roundup

We're Floored -- It's better to reuse first and then recycle. That's the strategy behind Milliken Carpet's Earthwise Ennovations process, which cleans and restyles old modular carpeting for reuse. Since carpeting gets ugly long before it wears out, it's more efficent to make it pretty once again rather than try to recycle it.

Green Ink -- Hewlett-Packard's new Deskjet 850 printer is made with 25 percent recycled plastic and is molded with a process that allows for thinner and lighter parts. The result is 6 million pounds of waste kept out of landfills.

Measuring Up -- Sears is selling tape measures made from reconditioned parts and recycled housings. The Recycled Locking Tape sells for about 5 dollars.

Blowhard (please) -- Kenetech Windpower has started construction on the largest U.S. windfarm outside of California. The 35 megawatt project is being built in Culbertson County, Texas, and includes 112 turbines.

Cash for Cars -- Up to 80 percent of automotive-related air pollution is generated by old cars that burn oil and have few, if any, emission controls. To cut this smog, ECO-SCRAP, a Southern California subsidiary of Unocal, will buy pre-1982 models for 500 dollars and pre-1975 cars for 600 dollars. If you live in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or parts of San Bernadino counties, call 213-977-7243 for details.

Hard Driving Fuel -- MicroPulse Controls has announced a new engine design that could help cars reach fuel efficiency levels of up to 80 miles per gallon. The Burbank, CA maker of fuel injection systems says that its new technology would allow a 1994 Chevrolet Geo Metro to achieve 78 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving, versus today's EPA rating of 53 mpg.

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The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. Send e-mail to uls@cygnus-group.com. Snail mail address: P.O. Box 130116 Ann Arbor MI 48113 Phone: 313-668-1690 Fax: 313-930-0506 Editor: Robert Lilienfeld Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje Editorial Advisor: Tony Kingsbury

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