The ULS Report

Helping people Use Less Stuff by conserving
resources and reducing waste.

July-August 1996
Volume 3, Number 4



Waste of Olympic Proportions

Going to Atlanta for the Games? While you probably aren't, 2.1 million athletes, trainers, officials, staff, reporters and spectators will be going. For a few weeks, the population of metro Atlanta will increase by about 80 percent, to 5 million people. While this short-term, massive influx may be good for the economy, it will definitely not be good for the ecology.

The major problem that faces the city appears to be additional water pollution of the Chattahoochee River. Atlanta is currently paying a $9,000 daily fine for its current river pollution activities. The Olympics will only exacerbate the problem.

A second concern is solid waste. We estimate that an extra 90 million pounds, or 45 thousand tons, of garbage will be generated during the Olympic fortnight. What can be done to reduce these twin flows of unwanted waste?

Here are some water conservation and waste reduction tips for Games Goers and those of you watching from the privacy of your own homes.

On the road...

At the hotel...


Camera ready...

Let the Games begin!

Return to Index

Back Talk

In the spirit of seeking the truth and nothing but, we humbly submit the following errata, with appreciation to those who have shown us the error of our ways.

Fill the Fridge...
Both Nathan Rowland of Boise and Eric Hendelsohn of Chicago wrote to let us know that a full refrigerator is actually more efficient than an empty one. That's because the full one contains lots of cold stuff that stays in the fridge, while the empty one contains mostly cold air, which sneaks out every time the door is opened.

If you don't have a full fridge, fill empty milk jugs and soda bottles with water and put them in the back. You'll be reusing containers while reducing energy use.

Mow, mow, mow the lawn...
Jim Lewis, Director of the Florida Office of Environmental Education, wrote to tell us that while sharpening lawn mower blades is fine up to a point (bad pun), blades do need to be replaced once they become worn. Otherwise, they become unbalanced and can damage both the mower and its master.

Jim also reminded us to mention electric mowers, which are quieter, create less uncontrolled pollution and need far less maintenance than gas powered models. Without a heavy engine, they tend to be lighter and thus easier to handle, too.

Return to Index

Cash and Trash

The EPA is sponsoring its second satellite forum, this time on Full Cost Accounting (FCA). If you're a solid waste professional interested in state of the art accounting practices, call 617-674-7374 to find out how to have this Sept. 11 event beamed down to your community.

Return to Index

Fuel Costs Giving You Gas?

Are you outraged at the price of gas? Do you think that there's some secret conspiracy of petroleum refiners out to get you? Are you glad that the government reduced the Federal Excise Tax by 4.3 per gallon?

Who's to blame for all of this? As Pogo said, "I have met the enemy, and he is us". We once again drive big cars, and do so farther and at faster speeds. As a result, fuel efficiency erodes and gas consumption increases. Prices tend to increase, too, as demand exceeds supply.

As for that tax roll-back, it's not going to help much, since it translates to a weekly savings per car of just under 64. In fact, gas tax rollbacks could conceivably hamper energy efficiency efforts, since portions of the monies raised from these taxes go to state programs that improve transportation infrastructures or promote mass transit.

The real answer, of course, is to use less stuff -- in this case, gasoline. The savings to both the ecology and your personal economy are considerable, as shown in the table. The difference between the most and the least fuel efficient autos is enormous: Over its lifetime, a Geo Metro will burn almost 4,000 gallons less and save over $5,500 versus a Suburban. Even much smaller differences are significant: The Metro saves 1,200 gallons/$1,600 versus a Corsica and 2,200 gallons/$3,100 versus a Concorde.

Comparative Gasoline Consumption and Costs
Based on U.S. Average for Miles Driven at $1.40 per Gallon

Annual* Lifetime**
Vehicle MPG Gallons
Cost Gallons
GMC Suburban
Chrysler Concorde
Chevy Corsica
Toyota Corolla
Geo Metro

So when it comes to gasoline, the best way to save both money and energy 
is to think light and think small. It wouldn't hurt to properly inflate your 
tires, get a tune-up and take the bus, either.

*Average U.S. miles driven per year = 13,000
**Average U.S. miles driven during car's lifetime = 104,000

Source: ULS Report, Consumer Reports, U.S. Department of Transportation

Return to Index

Will Xers Mark the Spot?

By Dr. William L. Rathje

It's summer '96, and our attention has turned toward Atlanta and the Summer Games. To most people, the Olympics mean top competitors; but to the media and advertisers worldwide, the Olympics mean spectators, and spectators mean garbage -- lots of it. In trying to imagine the mountainous middens of garbage which hordes of spectators will deposit in Atlanta, I was reminded of news stories on the debris left behind after Woodstock and Woodstock II.

Reporter Fred LeBrun described Woodstock's aftermath for the Albany Times Union as a generous littering of "what is traditionally considered garbage and trash... very little useful gear, belongings or food was purposely discarded." That seemed predictable in 1969 -- well before Keep America Beautiful's war on litter and before campers were encouraged to take everything they brought in, including all their garbage, back out with them again.

Given this precedent, the remnants of Woodstock '94 shocked even LeBrun. Strewn amongst the traditional garbage was a more than generous quantity of reusables. "I stopped counting at 200 the tents left standing and abandoned," he wrote, adding that he had also catalogued thousands of functional sleeping bags in addition to duffel bags and backpacks full of clothing and other valuables ripe for scavenging.

This dramatic contrast is quite surprising, especially given the highly-publicized environmental concerns so often attributed to younger generations. In fact, the aggravated discards of Woodstock II seem to embody a depressing irony. The Garbage Project has long been aware of the divergence between what people say they do and their actual behavior, but the theory has been that people who say that they are doing the right thing will eventually talk themselves into actually doing it. Maybe that isn't the case with Generation X.

As concisely described in Doug Coupland's best-seller Generation X (St. Martin's Press, 1991), Xers are lost in the gap between the comfy and exciting life they were raised to expect and the nitty-gritty humdrum of their everyday lives. Even though by every standard they are well off, Xers are all too well aware that what they have falls far below their expectations.

As a result, they have come to believe that they can't achieve their birthright and don't try very hard at obtaining their vision or, in fact, much of anything else. The Olympics might provide one key measure to determine whether or not this self-imposed purgatory was just a phase that the Xers were passing through.

Xers, who will be a large portion of both athlete and spectator populations, all know where garbage goes -- in nearby trash receptacles. But will those privileged enough to actually walk through the Olympic village, grounds and arenas follow this pc protocol? Xers also know what garbage is -- items which are not recyclable or reusable. But will they take the time to find recycling bins and carry all of their reusable possessions away with them?

So Xers, your off-the-field Olympic challenge is clear. Let's hope that the hotel rooms of Atlanta in August don't become the scavenger's goldmine that the fertile fields of Woodstock turned out to be.

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.

Return to Index

A Mulch Better Solution

We've pointed out a few times that yard waste accounts for about 20% of household trash and that grass clippings represent a sigificant portion of this -- about half, or 10% of total household waste. What happens when you attempt to reduce pick-ups of grass clippings? Pinellas County, FL decided to find out.

Using an education program designed to get residents to mulch or compost grass clippings, the County came up with some stunning results: First, they increased the percentage of residents leaving clippings on the lawn from 36% to 61%. At a rate of 1500 pounds of clippings generated per year per household, that represents a potential reduction of 127,125 tons of stuff from entering the waste stream. (The financial savings are just as big.)

What's more, the study dispelled two myths people use to keep from having to mulch. First, contrary to popular opinion, mulching does not create thatch build-up. Second, mulching does not significantly change the PH (acidity) of the soil.

More good news: Mulching reduced the need to fertilize as often, saving time, money and resources. Call Rebecca Stone at 813-464-7565 for details.

Return to Index

Reduction RoundupTM

Reusable Rockets -- NASA has been successfully testing a reusable rocket that takes off and lands vertically. The unmanned craft will be used to carry payloads such as satellites into orbit. Known as the Clipper Graham, it will probably replace the Space Shuttle at some point.

Charge It -- A group of Scottish scientists have reportedly found a way to produce cheap, rechargeable lithium batteries. The new batteries could eventually find their way into mobile phones, appliances and electric cars. The batteries use manganese as a cheaper, environmentally safer alternative to cadmium.

New Life for Old Fossils -- Santa Clara, CA is home to a new municipal electrical station that generates power via a virtually pollution-free fuel cell. Considered one of the most efficient ways to generate electricity from fossil fuel, the cells act like batteries, generating electricity via electrochemical reaction, without the pollutants associated with typical combustion systems.

My Heavens, It's the Energy Star! -- The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy have announced an expansion of their successful "Energy Star" program. Manufacturers of building materials and appliances will be offered the right to use the government-owned seal if their products meet stringent energy standards. The objective is to lower enery consumption, save money and reduce pollution. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Return to Index

ULS Day News

There's still time to join the 50 environmental groups, universities, zoos, military bases and government groups that will be official ULS Day participants. Call Bob Lilienfeld at 313-668-1690 for details. Attention trade groups: we need you, too!

Return to Index

The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. Send e-mail to

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

The ULS Report is free. We do accept contributions of up to $5.00 to help cover the costs of production and distribution.

We encourage you to reuse and recycle our information. Since The ULS Report, Use Less Stuff, Reduction Roundup and the ULS logo are trademarks of Partners for Environmental Progress, please contact us prior to reprinting.

Copyright 1996 Partners for Environmental Progress

To return to the top of this report, click here. You can browse ULS back issues or go to our Web home page.