The ULS Report TM

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

July-August 1997
Volume 4, Number 4


Bad Car-ma?

You've probably heard about the U.N. conference on global warming that will be held this December in Kyoto, Japan. While there is little expert agreement as to the likelihood of global warming actually occurring, there is general agreement that if it does occur, greenhouse gas increases will be the cause. The greenhouse gas that will take most of the blame is carbon dioxide, or CO2. What causes much of the increase in atmospheric CO2? We do. Our burning of fossil fuels is considered to be the primary contributor to greenhouse gas build-up.

Our favorite way to increase greenhouse gas emissions is by driving. That's because every gallon of gasoline burned produces about 20 pounds of CO2. The fact that Americans are driving faster and farther only exacerbates the problem, since we end up burning more fuel. Our desire to drive less fuel efficient cars -- those big sport utility vehicles -- doesn't help either, and the darned things are getting even larger! Ford is testing a new king of the roadhogs: a 19 foot monster that seats 8 adults and comes with an optional V-10 engine.

Along with greenhouse gases, automobiles produce other waste headaches. According to Consumer Reports:

Combine the effects of burning fossil fuels with normal wear and tear and maintenance, and a rather startling fact emerges: Ninety percent of environmental damage done by cars occurs during their use, not during production or disposal. Thus, rather than focusing so heavily on automotive recycling, Environmental Job One is to decrease the total number of miles driven while increasing the efficiency of driving those miles.

By the way, it's not as if we're getting anywhere much faster, either. In 1972, the average speed on Los Angeles freeways was 60 mph. In only 10 years, the number had dropped to 17 mph. City driving has fared no better. The average speed of traffic is 8 mph in London, 10 mph in New York and 11 mph in Paris. Ironically, in 1900 a horse-drawn carriage moved through these downtowns at 8 mph, not all that much different than

Taking a look at the rest of the world, it becomes easy to see why there is so much concern about cars. The odds are good that we will see huge increases in the number produced and driven globally, as underdeveloped nations begin their drive to catch up to North America and Europe:

# of People Per Car

United States

As shown in this table, there is enormous room for growth in the number of cars on the road in China and India. What's more, this potential is doubly big, since the markets are not only underdeveloped per person, they are huge, to boot: By the year 2000, China and India will contain about 2.4 billion people, about 40 percent of the world's population. Long term, this is a potential auto market at least nine times the size of the one that exists in the U.S. today.

A Few Encouraging Signs
There are a number of positive steps being taken by industry and government which deal with these issues:

Car design is changing rapidly, too. Toyota has just announced a new hybrid gasoline and electric powered vehicle that achieves nearly 70 miles per gallon, even in city traffic. When starting or at low speeds, the car runs on the electric motor, drawing power from batteries. As the car approaches normal speeds, the gasoline engine comes alive, powering the vehicle and recharging the batteries at the same time. Quick bursts of power are achieved from running both the electric motor and gas engine, while slowing shuts down the engine and converts some of the braking energy back to electricity.

American car companies have taken a different approach, looking to streamline and lighten the next generation of automobiles via radical redesign and use of new composite materials. A variety of powerplants are being considered including hybrids, all-electrics and high efficiency direct-injection diesel engines. Only time and testing will tell which ones will make it to market.

What You Can Do
We realize that you're not about to abandon your car and hop on your bicycle for every trip you take. But you can make a difference and save a few bucks at the same time if you:

  1. Consolidate trips. If you're going to the west side of town, think about everything you can do while over there: hit the post office, stop at the dry cleaner, shop for food, etc.

  2. Comparison shop. Saving a few miles per gallon when buying a new car really adds up. Over its 120,000 mile life, a car that gets 23 mpg will use 780 gallons less than one that gets 20 mpg. That's a savings of almost $950, the equivalent of about three free monthly loan payments!

  3. Lighten up. Smaller, lighter cars get better gas mileage. If you have a small family, you probably don't need a big car. Not going on safari or living near the Arctic Circle? You probably don't need a 4x4, especially one with full-time 4 wheel drive.

  4. Check your tires. If properly inflated, gas mileage is maximized and tires last longer, saving you money on both accounts. Many tire stores will further help you get the most from those wheels by balancing and rotating them free, if you bought them there.

  5. Turn the engine off. Leaving the car running while you jump out for a few moments is a real waste of natural and financial resources. It take a lot less energy to turn the key than to turn the crankshaft.

  6. Shop where you live. You'll drive less and help support the local economy. You'll also make new friends in the neighborhood, thus improving the local quality of life. This increase in civic pride will have you walking around town, waving and whistling. That urge to hop in the car to get away from it all will vanish!

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The Littlest Irony

By Dr. William L. Rathje

Superconsumption in the United States is symbolized by any number of our material artifacts -- cars that more and more transport only one individual as they consume gas and emit residues; fat newspapers delivered to millions of homes today to replace the ones delivered yesterday; or gaudy high-top sport shoes with embossing, coloring, layering and sometimes even flashing lights that kids have been known to literally kill for. But to me, one of the littlest symbols is the most striking -- the credit card!

The credit card is, of course, something many of us "superconsume." (I have friends who carry up to twelve.) It is probably the greatest single-handed facilitator of superconsumption. You do not need to have the physical wherewithal with you to pay for the material goods you covet. When in need or desire, who questions your future ability to pay for a purchase as long as you are not over your card's spending limit? And with some elite cards, like American Express, there is no ceiling -- the sky is literally the limit.

Credit cards make money for the banks that issue them when consumers buy ahead of their ability or willingness to pay in full. Banks are now aligning with well-known names in the field of consumption -- gas companies, automobile manufacturers, airlines and fancy retailers -- all in the hopes of cashing in on the "credit card interest payment bonanza."

To me, nothing symbolizes or promotes superconsumption as much as credit cards. Imagine, then, my surprise when I recently discovered that some environmental groups are themselves cashing in on the role of credit cards by offering their own cards to their supporters. The first two I have heard of are the Environmental Defense Fund in the United States and Greenpeace in England.

Let me be perfectly clear about what bothers me in this picture. Although I hope that consumers will make informed decisions with the environment in mind, I am not against people buying what they need or what they want. I have and use credit cards, and although I try to avoid interest payments, I understand why they accrue on extended bills. What I have trouble accepting is a credit card sponsored by an environmental group, meaning that the more the carrier buys and consumes, the more the environmental group profits.

I am, by trade, an archaeologist. As such, I despise looters who destroy archaeological sites in order to steal and profit from the buried antiquities they sell to private collectors. If source reduction means anything to environmental groups, issuing their own credit cards is like archaeologists selling their finds on the black market in order to raise funds to put a stop to such piracy. It might raise a lot of money, but it just seems wrong.

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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A Little Good News, Thanks to You

The EPA has just released its latest figures on trash generation in the United States. For the first time, overall generation of municipal solid waste has actually decreased somewhat, from 209 million to 208 million tons. The reason, of course, has to do with more efficient use of materials, which is what using less stuff is all about.

This decrease in waste creation was also accompanied by an increase in the recycling rate, from 25 to 27 percent. This combination of increased source reduction and improved recycling rates is good news, but we can't afford to rest on our laurels. The reason is that the EPA projects that garbage generation will pick up speed once again, hitting about 222 million tons by the year 2000. Even with another increase in recycling to the 30 percent level, that'll still leave 155 million tons of trash headed for the landfill -- a little more than the 152 million tons we send there today!

As the Red Queen said to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, "in this place it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." That's why it's so important that we keep reducing the amount of waste in the first place by using less stuff. Keep up the good work!

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Reduction RoundupTM

To Life! Philips has developed an alkaline battery that apparently lasts almost twice as long as ordinary alkalines. Called the PowerLife, the battery uses graphite to boost the efficiency at which an electrical current passes through it. The battery contains no heavy metals, and is expected to go on sale later this year.

Crystal Power. American Technologies Group of Monrovia, CA announced that it has found an alternative to conventional laundry detergents that is both biodegradable and reduces the use of harmful chemicals. The company's products contain Ie crystals, which are claimed to improve cleansing power by enhancing enzyme activity and reducing the surface tension of water. Call Jim Nicastro at 818-357-5000 for details.

Green Paint. Australian scientists are developing new automotive coatings that reduce the need for solvents. A joint development of DuPont and the CSIRO Division of Chemicals and Polymers, the paints use a catalytic process that gives very precise control over molecular weight and structure.

A Cool Idea. Chicago public housing developments are going to receive 10,000 super-efficient Maytag refrigerators as a result of a recent public-private cooperative agreement. The Chicago Housing Authority is buying the units and expects to recoup its investment, and even make money, on the reduced operating costs.

ULS Day News It's official. ULS Day will once again be held on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, making it November 20, 1997. We're also happy to mention that the first national America Recycles Day will be held on Saturday, November 15. Call 313-668-1690 for more info.

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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

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Copyright 1997 Partners for Environmental Progress

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