The ULS Report TM

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

January-February 1997
Volume 4, Number 1


Watt's the Problem

You can't see it, smell it or touch it. Yet it literally makes the world go round, and forms the most basic "food" that powers all living things. It's energy, and it's the subject of much of this Report.

There's plenty of energy available, thanks to the virtually inexhaustible supply we receive constantly from the sun. But it comes with a price: The harnessing of energy to perform useful work creates unwanted byproducts: air pollution from power plants and automobiles; water pollution and sludge from factories; and greenhouse gases from ALL processes that use fossil fuels. The latter include wood, coal, natural gas, oil and gasoline.

Greenhouse gases are called such because of their potential to trap heat in the atmosphere and the possibility that this may lead to the phenomenon known as "global warming." If it should occur (a hotly debated point), global warming could significantly disrupt the biosphere: ecosystems could change so dramatically and so quickly that much of the planet's flora and fauna would disappear through their inability to cope with their new surroundings.

While the occurrence of global warming isn't certain, the fact that greenhouse gases are increasing is a generally accepted fact in the scientific community. The key culprit is carbon dioxide (CO2), the buildup of which has resulted in large part from humanity's burning of fossil fuels for cooking, cleaning, heating, cooling, washing, drying, transporting and manufacturing.

Man isn't alone when it comes to pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Nature does her share, as well. Scientists at Penn State University have found that huge quantities of the stuff are sent skyward via gas vents, springs and volcanoes, with large amounts emitted from parts of Europe and California. In certain areas of Italy alone, there are between 150 and 200 carbon dioxide vents. Further, a University of Michigan research effort has discovered that the arctic tundra is increasing the atmospheric release rate of its own huge supply of trapped carbon dioxide.

Given the potential for drastic climate and habitat change, we can't afford to wait for proof that global warming is imminent. Thus, the time to seriously improve energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions is now. Doing little things today will help ensure that we can avoid having to take undersirable and far more painful, costly steps in the not-too-distant future.

The Solution: Source Reduction
Energy isn't recyclable, so it has to be conserved. Thus, the key is to source reduce by not using so much to begin with.

The best place to start is right at home, since about 36% of energy consumption occurs in residential and commercial facilities. Most of this energy is used for heating and cooling. But a significant amount of total energy usage -- about 20% -- is consumed for lighting, water heating, food storage, cooking, washing, etc.

The good news is, it's easy to reduce. The really good news is that saving energy is good for the environment and for your bank account. And with winter upon us, there's no better time to start. Here's how:

The Refrigerator...

The Dishwasher...


The Washer...

The Dryer...

The Water Heater...

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The Ironies of Wastefulness

By Dr. William L. Rathje

Before Columbus, the Native Americans of the Northwest Coast regularly indulged in a ceremony called a potlatch, which was the opposite of source reduction. Community leaders, or "bigmen," would flaunt their wealth by showering it on other bigmen in the hopes of increasing their standing in the community and of eventually receiving return gifts worth may times more.

Potlatching is actually not unusual. Whole societies frequently do it by pumping resources into flashy ceremonies and monuments. In theory, there are economic benefits -- building morale among insiders, drawing the attention of outsiders to local goods and services, and offering customers the opportunity to identify with "success." Nevertheless, potlatching is a big gamble, and an over-extended potlatcher can be tapped out quickly.

Consider the merchant princes of Venice, Europe's busiest port in the 1400's. The mainstay of the trade was spices from the Far East carried overland to the Mediterranean. Disaster struck in 1500 when, after 100 years of costly explorations, a Portuguese sea expedition finally reached India and established Lisbon as the new European entryway for oriental goods.

Did the Venetians respond to their impending economic doom by increasing sea exploration? Not really. (This is an especially ironic situation given that one of the best explorers was Venetian, but was employed instead by the Portuguese.) Not oblivious to their predicament, Venice's merchants took action instead by replacing outmoded ships and diversifying local publishing and glassmaking ventures. However, most of their ducats were poured into a potlatch.

Oddly enough, during the good times, Venice had remained rather plain. In fact, one historian observed, "Venice, despite her wealth...and sophistication of wide travel, long stood aside from the main currents of the Renaissance." That is, until her trade empire faltered.

By 1481, the Renaissance had arrived, one example being the Palazzo Vendramini. And beginning in 1450, a torrent of famous artists -- Titian, Tintoretto, Giorgione and the brothers Bellini -- flooded the walls of their patrons' palaces with paintings.

Thus, the more the economy was threatened, the more Venetian merchants gussied up their city. They were shouting "Hey, come on down! Venice is better than ever!" And the outside world believed them.

In hindsight, we know that this same Venice of marvelous cultural achievements was in the midst of a 100 year period when her commerce suffered its most serious setbacks. Nevertheless, a combination of pragmatic moves and fancy floorshows succeeded in maintaining the economy, but only for a short time: In 1508 the city met its downfall, being politically conquered and divided by the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain.

Did this squandering ultimately lead to the downfall, or did the downfall lead to the squandering? Frankly, it's hard to say. But as l ong as we recognize that the two are directly related, it doesn't much matter. Let's hope that today's world leaders are smart enough to understand this relationship and to act accordingly.

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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ULS Day A Smashing Success!

Thanks to the efforts of our 100+ official participants, ULS Day 1996 was a major success. Besides many local and state activities, ULS Day received significant national media coverage through the likes of CNN and other TV networks/stations, magazines, radio broadcasts and newspaper articles.

But the best news is that people are beginning to understand the value of waste prevention and are becoming involved in reducing, as well as recycling.

We hope that your government, educational, non-profit or business organization is interested in learning more about ULS Day 1997. We still have lots of details to work out, but please mark November 20, 1997 on your calendars.

Call us at 313-668-1690 or send e-mail to to discuss your interest. Hope to hear from you soon, and a resource-full New Year to one and all!

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Reduction RoundupTM

Plastic Power. What's tough enough to withstand temperatures of -45 degrees C, doesn't contain any toxic metals and can be molded into any shape? It's a new rechargeable battery made of plastic, being developed by a joint team at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Air Force. Developers claim a potential recharge rate of 10,000 times.

Electric Announcement. American Honda introduced the four-passenger EV PLUS, the first production electric vehicle to use advanced nickel-hydride batteries. The car can be leased in California for a fairly reasonable price of $499 a month. Standard features include regenerative ABS brakes, dual airbags, electronic power steering and a 4 speaker audio system. Charge!

In the Ozone. EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Tri-O-Clean Inc. are introducing a new laundry system for the healthcare market. The technology uses ozone to reduce water and cleaning chemicals. The venture claims that ozone disinfects significantly better than alternatives, and that the system can reduce chemical use by 60% and water costs by 80%.

It Grows on Trees. A Korean research institute is developing a biodegradeable plastic made of fiber taken from genetically engineered aspen trees. Potential application areas include packaging, information technology and transportation. (Don't expect to see this on store shelves anytime soon -- it takes years to grow a forest!)

Hot Idea. Got a PowerBook 1400 laptop computer? Keep It Simple Systems of Helena, MT has developed a solar charging lid called the PowerCover. It acts as an external battery charger or as an assist to the internal battery, extending run time by up to one hour. Contact the company at 406-442-3434.

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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

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 1997 Partners for Environmental Progress


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