1996 PEP

The ULS Report TM

Helping people conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff

January-February 1996 Volume 3, Number 1


Green Resolutions

Happy New Year! It's time to think about how we're going to change a few of the little things we do every day in order to ensure healthy, sustainable ecosystems and social systems. There's no better way to start the green revolution than with a few simple green resolutions. So here's our list, perfect for sticking on the fridge...


Saving Energy

  1. Driving less and walking more, carpooling, bicycling and taking public transportation.

  2. Tuning up my car, properly inflating my tires, slowing down, avoiding jack-rabbit starts and turning off the engine while waiting.

  3. Planning my shopping and errands ahead of time, so that I can get more done in fewer car trips.

  4. Turning down the heat and wearing a sweater or using an extra blanket.

  5. Buying a heat exchanger to turn my fireplace into an efficient heater rather than a heat remover.

  6. Insulating and weather-stripping my house and closing or installing the storm windows.

  7. Turning off the lights, TV and radio when I leave the room. I will also replace regular incandescent light bulbs with longer lasting ones, bulbs of lower wattage, and/or compact flourescent bulbs.

  8. Running the dishwasher, washer and dryer only when full and using the coolest setting possible.

  9. Whenever possible, start cooking in a cold, rather than a pre-heated, oven.

  10. Tuning up my furnace and replacing any air filters.

  11. Setting the hot water heater so that water is a bit cooler, and setting the refrigerator and freezer so that air inside is just a little bit warmer.

  12. Taking showers and baths with slightly cooler water.

Minimizing Packaging
  1. Using concentrates, refills and flexible packaging.

  2. Purchasing products that come in packages which contain post consumer recycled (PCR) materials.

  3. Reusing packaging as much as possible, especially paper and plastic bags, glass containers, cans, etc.

  4. Buying items with multiple uses, such as detergent with bleach or fabric softener, shampoo with conditioner, and polishes that work on many materials or metals.

  5. Buying in bulk, as long as I can efficiently use up all of the product in the package.

Throwing Away Less Organic Material
  1. Composting food scraps and yard debris.

  2. Mulching or composting grass clippings.

  3. Storing foods properly and using them before their freshness dates expire.

  4. Making meal plans and grocery lists before shopping.

  5. Reducing the size of portions or helpings.

Saving Water
  1. Fixing leaky faucets, hoses and couplings.

  2. Installing flow restrictors in showers.

  3. Using/purchasing water-efficient appliances.

  4. Taking shorter showers or smaller baths.

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A Second Look

Besides a great deal of attention, our recent ULS Day activities produced many comments and questions from readers and members of the press. Here is some additional information on the four topics that seemed to draw the most interest.

Christmas Trees
Quite a few readers took exception to our statement that artificial trees are an environmentally friendly choice. The basic feeling was that tree farms are a renewable resource. A few people mentioned that since young trees absorb more carbon dioxide than old ones, it's actually beneficial to cut them down and replant yet again.

We prefer to take a more holistic, life-cycle perspective. While trees *are* a renewable resource, they are generally grown on a low-diversity, monoculture-type farm. It's not uncommon for fertilizers and pesticides to be applied to promote growth, or herbicides used to control unwanted species. Trees are also regularly watered to help ensure quick and continued growth. Thus, Christmas trees are really a crop, and not truly a forest.

While artificial trees are not renewable, we suspect that the amount of resources consumed over the life of a reusable tree are significantly less than the resources consumed when buying many live trees over many years. Thus, we'll stick with our recommendation: buy a live tree which can be planted, or an aritificial tree, before purchasing the more standard tree. (Mulch it if you do!)

As for the carbon dioxide issue, we're not sure that the reduction from Christmas tree farming is that significant. And taken to its logical extreme, this line of reasoning becomes silly, since it implies that it would be better to clearcut all of the Earth's forests, let them re-grow for a few years, and then cut again, re-grow, etc.

By the way, if anyone has produced a broader life cycle analysis (LCA) on Christmas trees, we'd love to see it. (More on LCAs in general in the next issue.)

Junk Mail
Many readers wanted to know if there are more active steps that can be taken to stop junk mail than merely contacting the Mail Preference Service. Some asked how they can reduce phone solicitations. We've found an excellent resource to help with both concerns.

Stop Junk Mail Forever is a little booklet published by Good Advice Press. Here are a few of the many tips included:

  1. Don't send in warranty cards, as they are used mainly for marketing purposes. (You're legally covered regardless of whether you fill out and send in the card.)

  2. Beware of change of address forms at the Post Office, since names are sent to mail list developers.

  3. You can legally refuse any piece of mail.

The $3 booklet can also help reduce phone solicitations. To order, call 914-758-1400 or write to Good Advice Press, Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523.

The Worms Crawl In...
City dwellers have bombarded us with questions about ways they can reduce food waste, since compost piles seem to be frowned upon in apartment building elevators, halls and lobbies. The answer appears to be vermicomposting, which is the process of creating compost by feeding organic material to worms.

The worms come in small plastic boxes. Food scraps are added, then left alone while the worms do their thing. The result is a high quality, high-nitrogen fertilizer which, when cut with a little peat moss, makes for great plant food. Contact Worm World at 412-356-2397 or write them at 26 Ihnat Lane, Avella, PA 15312.

Paper or Plastic?
A few readers asked us which is more harmful to the environment, paper or plastic. Once again, we are back to taking a big picture look at the complete life cycle of the product in question. The correct reply is never simple, especially when one includes the effects of raw material extraction, transportation, production, safety, energy use, emissions, recycling efficiency and disposal.

The answer, unfortunately, is it depends. The material that consumes the fewest non-renewable resources (or conserves the most) during the whole life of that material, from cradle to grave, is probably the better choice. But getting to the point where one has enough information to make a choice can be tricky.

Take bags. While plastic ones are derived mainly from natural gas, a non-renewable resource, they weigh seven times less than paper bags. This means that the extra fossil fuel used to produce and transport paper bags offsets the fact that they come from trees, a renewable resource. The real answer? Reuse both.

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Parkinson's Law of Garbage

By Dr. William Rathje

Proper packaging is critical to the source reduction of solid waste. Nowhere is this truer than in the packaging of garbage itself. Seattle's "pay as you throw" strategy is based on this very premise. Residents are charged for their discards based on the number and size of garbage containers they regularly fill, with every additional container costing exponentially more than the previous one. When Seattle inaugurated the system in 1981, the average household filled three-and-a-half 32-gallon garbage cans a week. By the early 90's the average was only a little more than one 32-gallon can.

Seattle and the cities which have copied its system are the good news. The bad news is that the process seems to be able to work in reverse, not unlike a Parkinson's Law of Garbage: Garbage expands to fill the receptacles available for its containment. The Garbage Project has documented one example.

In hopes of cutting labor costs and worker injuries, many municipalities have installed systems which provide residents with special garbage containers that trucks can empty mechanically. Since large households must be accommodated, most cities end up choosing very large (90 gallon, usually) wheeled containers. In 1980, Phoenix adopted such an automated system.

City data from 1975 through 1990 showed that while average household size shrunk by one-quarter, discards per household remained unchanged: In other words, Phoenicians in 1990 were each producing one-third more refuse than their 1975 counterparts. Later, when Tucson adopted automation, garbage-generation rates of households in Garbage Project sample areas shot up by one-third in only a few months -- comparable to the apparent increase in Phoenix.

The dynamics of Parkinson's Law of Garbage are quite simple. When people have small garbage cans, many of the larger kinds of garbage that they have on their hands -- yard debris, old cans of paint and bags of clothing, all awaiting some special action such as the construction of a compost pile, a hazardous waste collection day, or a trip to a charity outlet -- do not get thrown away. But large garbage mausoleums on wheels present a new option. Before long, what was once an instinctive "I'll just put this in the garage" becomes an equally instinctive "I'll bet this will fit into the garbage."

In fact, the items which account for most of the increase in discards are of serious concern. For example, in areas with curbside collection of recyclables, newspapers represent a significant new occupant of the larger garbage cans, probably because the cans represent an easier alternative than separation. Another important addition to discards is household hazardous wastes. Their substantial increase is the highest in concentration in Tucson's first garbage pickup after the weekend, when most household and auto improvement chores are done.

Seattle's garbage container enhancement of source reduction contained within it the key to understanding the source reduction dilemma of Phoenix and Tucson: Parkinson's Law of Garbage!

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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Join Us for ULS Day 1996

The First Annual ULS Day was a smashing success! Thanks to our participants, as well as to the obviously growing interest in source reduction, we estimate that our message was received almost 175 million times!

Stories about ULS Day appeared in over 180 newspapers, on national television, on network radio, and in a host of magazines from Better Homes & Gardens to U.S. News & World Report. Many organizations and even corporations have asked how they can help with next year's events. Call Bob Lilienfeld at 313-668-1690 to express your interest and learn how your group or firm can participate.

About ULS Report Contributions

Due to the positive response to ULS Day, our readership has grown substantially. This has dramatically increased our costs. While The ULS Report will continue to be free, we welcome contributions of up to $5 to help offset printing and postage costs. Make checks payable to The ULS Report and mail to the address below. Thanks in advance!

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Reduction Roundup

Bright Spot in Lighting -- New sulfur vapor lamps may save huge amounts of electricity throughout the world. The lamps produce light much more efficiently than incandescent, fluorescent, mercury vapor or sodium bulbs and closely resemble sunlight. Contact Fusion Lighting at 301-251-0300.

Hold the Ketchup -- A mixture of soybean oil and diesel fuel is being used in some cities to reduce bus emissions and petroleum consumption. A Cincinnati study has found that a 20/80 mixture of soybean oil to diesel fuel can reduce carbon monoxide by 12 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 21 percent. The exhaust not only smells cleaner, it reminds people of cooking french fries. Contact the National Diesel Board, 314-634-3893.

Food for Thought -- According to the Cornell Waste Management Institute, little attention gets paid to food waste composting. To change that, the Institute is creating a food waste educational program for businesses and other institutions. For more information, contact Jean Bonhotal at 607-255-8444 or jb29@cornell.edu.

It's a Gas -- NASA has invented a device which uses a new class of catalysts to convert toxic carbon monoxide to non-toxic carbon dioxide at room termperature. The device, which might help reduce vehicle emissions, has no moving parts, requires no energy to operate and lasts a long time. Contact NASA at 202-358-4043.

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers -- Wal-Mart has opened what it calls an environmental demonstration store in City of Industry, CA. The building employs state of the art skylights which track and direct sunlight to needed areas, solar panels for power, and an air conditioning system based on evaporative-cooler condensers. Annual energy savings are expected to be about 1.3 million kilowatt hours, which translates to a $75,000 reduction in operating costs. Pretty cool.

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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

Feel free to reduce, reuse and recycle this newsletter and its contents. (But please give appropriate credit when referencing our material.)

1996 Partners for Environmental Progress. The ULS Report and Reduction Roundup are trademarks of Partners for Environmental Progress.