1995 PEP

The ULS Report

Helping people conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff

May-June 1995 Volume II, Number 3


The War on Waste:

Doing a Little to Save a Lot

How often do you drive? There are 172 million licensed drivers in the U.S., each driving an average of 13,000 miles per year, using 769 gallons of gas at a rate of 16.9 miles per gallon. What happens if these drivers a.) improve fuel economy by only about one mile per gallon to 18 MPG; b.) drive 10% less by switching to public transportation or walking to work one day a week; or c.) both?

                               Out for a Spin (Control)
		  (Based on 172 million U.S. licensed drivers)

                                                          In billions    
            # of Miles           Gallons   Total    Total   Gallons     $ 
             /Driver    MPG     /Driver  Gallons     $       Saved    Saved
Today	     13,000     16.9      769     132.3     158.8     ---      ---

Better Fuel 
Economy      13,000     18.0      722     124.2     149.0      8.1     9.8

10% Less     11,700     16.9      692     119.0     142.8      13.3   16.0

Better Fuel 
Economy +
Drive Less   11,700     18.0      650     111.8     134.2     20.5    24.6

Raw data sources: Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Dept.
of Transportation

As shown above, the savings are nothing short of staggering. Just improving gas mileage to 18 MPG would save 8.1 billion gallons of gas and almost $10 billion annually! Savings for reduced mileage, and better fuel economy plus reduced mileage, go up even more dramatically.

Now, let's look at vegetarianism. According to a recent Vegetarian Times study, 12.5 million Americans don't eat meat. That may sound like a lot of people, but it's only 5% of the total population. The other 95%, or 250 million of us, are m eat eaters.

Vegetarians actually are helping the planet by minimizing the resources needed to collect and consume protein. That's because raising animals for food stock is a far more resource-intensive process -- from four to ten times as intensive as processing vege table protein.

Will the rest of the population follow their lead? To be honest, the answer is probably "no". But, in reality, they don't have to, as long as they're willing to just do a little. Here's why:

Let's say we declared the first workday of every week Meatless Monday. (Sounds familiar to those of you who lived through World War II, doesn't it?) Doing so means that 95% of Americans give up meat for one day a week -- hardly a major inconvenience, and potentially a money-saving one. What's the approximate effect on total meat consumption?

The math is rather simple: Since Monday is one-seventh of all days, it accounts for 14.3% of meat serving occasions. Thus, we would reduce meat consumption by about 15%. That's almost three times the amount of meat saved by the full-time vegetarians!

As you can see, conserving resources and energy is really a big numbers game. Because there are so many people in this country, each of us doing a little will save a lot. In fact, it's better to have all of us participate in some small way than to have re latively few of us go all-out.

This type of thinking is far from new. Asking everyone to pitch in and do a small part was actually a big part of the 1940s war effort, bigger even than recycling. Today, we're also fighting a war -- a war on waste. And the exact same strategy applies: It 's up to all of us to use less stuff. Remember, the small contributions of many far outweigh the large contributions of a few.

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Reducing through Reusing

A good option for reducing waste is to reuse items yourself or provide them to others who will. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways for people to reuse a wide variety of household items.

One way to start reusing is by picking up a copy of the new book Choose to Reuse, by Nikki and David Goldbeck (Ceres Press, $15.95). It's an encyclopedic look at "More than 2000 Resources and More than 200 Topics from Air Filters to Zippers." Here are a f ew of the more ingenious tips included in the book:

If you can't find the book in a local store, call Ceres Press at 914-679-5573. Better yet, why not make sure your library stocks a few copies, so that they can be reused?

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One method of measuring the conservation potential of source reduction (using less stuff) is tby finding ways to deliver more value with less material. An interesting technique for doing so is to compare changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with change s in the amount of packaging needed to produce that level of GDP. (GDP refers to the annual value of goods and services produced within a nation's border.) Let's see what such a comparison tells us about our packaging efficiency progress.

Between 1960 and 1970, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased about 25%, while packaging waste increased by 35%. Packaging efficiency, measured in terms of GDP per pound of packaging, fell by 8%. Given the relatively cheap cost of energy, such ineffic iency went unnoticed. (See Fig. 2.)

          Fig. 2 U.S. Per Capita GDP and Packaging Waste Generation
                                 (1987 dollars)

		                                 1960-70	  1970-93
				1960  	  1970   % Chge.   1993   % Chge.

	GDP ($)                11,200    14,000   +25%   20,000   + 43%

	Packaging waste (lb.)     310       420   +35%      550   + 31%

	GDP/Lb. of Pkg.	       $36.12    $33.33   - 8%   $36.36   +  9%

Source:  Franklin Associates, EPA Characterization of Municipal 
Solid Waste in the United States, 1994 Update. Data interpolated 
from various graphs.

The oil shocks that began in the early 1970s were a wake up call to industry. With energy costs rising; and the long term threat of continued higher energy prices and/or wild supply swings; it became prudent to reduce the use of both energy and materials. The effect of this source reduction strategy was fairly dramatic: between 1970 and 1993, GDP grew by 43%, while packaging waste grew at a slower rate of 31%. Packaging efficiency thus climbed by 9% (Fig. 2).

Weight reductions for various container types confirm this finding. As shown below (Fig. 3), all major container materials evidenced weight reductions of at least 18% during the period 1972-1992.

           Fig.3 Reduction in Weights of Soft Drink Containers
             (in pounds per 100 gallons of product delivered)
                                             1972    1992    % Chge.

	One-way glass bottle (16 fl oz)     605.6    384.3    -36.5%
	Steel can (12 fl oz)                112.0     76.7    -31.5%
	Aluminum can (12 fl oz)              48.0     37.5    -22.0%
	PET bottle (2 liter, one-piece)       7.6     22.6    -18.1%

Does not include weight of labels and caps. PET data for 1977 and 1992.

Source: Franklin Associates, EPA Characterization of Municipal 
Solid Waste in the United States, 1994 Update. 

How much was this decline in the packaging growth rate worth? Using pre-oil embargo trend data, we estimate that without source reduction efforts, packaging waste in 1993 would have been 83 million tons. That's almost 17% higher than the actual figure of 71 million tons.

Looking at the complete picture, total 1993 solid waste generation would have been at least 219 million tons, almost 6% higher than the actual figure of 207 million tons. (On a per capita basis, we would have generated between 4.6 and 4.7 pounds of trash per day, versus the current level of 4.4 pounds.)

A savings of 6% is bigger than you might think. It means that, on average, we don't generate a full year's worth of trash every 12 years! Thus, between now and the year 2007, lighter weight packaging will be responsible for reducing trash generation by ab out 250 million tons. Given the fact that reduction efforts continue, the amount saved should be significantly higher.

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Ask Bill & Bob

It seems that recycling is on everyone's mind this month. Virtually all of the questions we received related to the third R. Here are two of the more interesting queries:

A national charitable organization is always sending out mailings to solicit funds. This time, they sent lovely cards with Monet paintings. On the back, the cards say "PRINTED ON RECYCLABLE PAPER." Is this a meaningful claim? -- Becky Elder, Manit ou Springs, CO

For all intents and purposes, the answer to your question is "no". Virtually anything is recyclable. It's just a question of how much time, money and effort is applied. In this case, the various inks and coatings will probably make the paper very hard for the typical community to recycle.

It's generally more important that a product says it is "made from recycled paper," and post-consumer recycled (PCR) paper, at that. At least you know that it has actually been used by the public and is now being reused.

You'll note that The ULS Report states that the paper it's printed on is "recycled and recyclable." That's because the paper has been made from recycled stock containing at least 20% PCR fibers. We also know that the combination of non-coated paper and ty pe of ink used will allow the paper to be easily recycled yet again.

I read that a number of big companies have reduced the amount of recycled plastic in their detergent bottles. Since these companies claim to be environmentally conscious, how can they do such a thing? -- Sue Orr, Farmer City, IL

The answer is that these companies really don't want to reduce the amount of PCR plastic in their bottles. But right now, there is a major shortage of the type of plastic they need -- HDPE (#2), which comes primarily from milk jug recycling programs. The shortage has driven the price way up, and the quality of the plastic available way down (if they can get any at all).

So those of you who can recycle milk jugs as part of your local program, please do so. (Those of you who can't should find out why, and encourage a milk jug recycling program.) It'll be profitable for your town and the environment, while providing compani es with an affordable supply of good quality PCR plastic.

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Spring into Action

It's not hard to save resources, energy and money. And springtime is a great time to start. Here are some easy ways to do your part: