Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Five Ways to Fix the Future of Water

Rather than trying to solve the water shortage through conservation, some radical entrepreneurs are doing something ingenious -- making more of it.

By Doug Cantor

Please read; http://www.esquire.com/features/best-and-brightest-2008/how-to-solve-world-water-shortage-1208

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can you recommend a space heater?

I am looking to purchase two new electric heaters, to be used with timers, for my children's preschool. Do you have any suggestions where I can find information on electric heaters?

Thank you,
Jennifer Straw

The Green Guide replies:

Thanks for sending in your request for information, Jennifer.

As you probably know, safety is of utmost concern when choosing space heaters for any room that houses children. Some of these appliances pose a fire hazard if they can be tipped over, placed in proximity to flammable objects, or are otherwise operated in an unsafe manner. Indeed, according to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are a leading cause of home fires during the winter months, with kerosene models posing the greatest hazard. Gas heaters pose a similar risk of death from unvented carbon monoxide. Overall, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 25,000 residential fires and 300 deaths caused by space heaters each year.

Your first step, given these risks: confirm that the preschool's administrators have verified that any space heater -- that is, a freestanding appliance that does not connect with the building's heating and cooling ducts -- is allowable. If yes, check if restrictions, including the building's fire insurance policy, exist that stipulate the type of space heater permissable. For example, "vented" heaters may be mandated, requiring direct access to outside air in order to reduce fire hazards.

And before you get started in researching specific units, Jennifer, you'd be well advised to review a couple of key governmental documents on space heaters. Please see the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) brochure, by searching for "space heaters" on the cpsc.gov web site (or to receive this free brochure by mail, call the CPSC at 800-638-2772). Please also see the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse brief on space heaters at www.eren.doe.gov/consumerinfo/refbriefs/eb1.html or call 800-DOE-EREC (363-3732).

Since you asked about electric space heaters, we will start by providing manufacturers of this kind of appliance. Precisely which company has the most efficient model depends on your building's needs. We'll simply supply contact information for reliable manufacturers, with whom you can discuss the room's (or rooms') specifications, including size, ceiling height, and number of windows, etc. Once you've obtained product info from individual manufacturers, Jennifer, you will be able to make your own analysis, weighing the purchase price of the units against their cost of operation -- along with any drawbacks they might pose. (Please note our final section on safety tips, which should be passed along to the adult who will operate the appliance.)

Electric radiant heaters are a safe and energy-efficient choice. Because no fuel is involved, they offgas no fumes, and are often chosen by consumers with chemical sensitivities, according to the Radiant Electric Heat, Inc., manfacturers of a portable radiant heater on wheels. Radiant heaters work in the same way that the sun does: instead of heating the air -- which, when hot, rises, thus reducing energy efficiency -- radiant heat is absorbed by objects in its path, which, in turn, radiate back the heat. A drawback: some of the units cost several hundred dollars (depending on size). Go to www.radiantheat.com or call 800-774-4450 to discuss your needs.

Vornado also manufactures a line of electric heaters that use fans to help warmed air circulate -- which can be noiser than fanless models. Go to www.vornado.com (click on products) or call 800-234-0604. DeLonghi is another reliable manufacturer, although phone reps for this Italian company are difficult to access. To view the DeLonghi MG15E Magnum Oil-Filled Radiator, at about $100, go to www.appliances.com (and note that this model is electric -- the oil it uses is sealed off and isn't combusted in any way, but is instead used to transfer heat).

Many space heaters on the market are powered by fuel as well as electricity; propane, natural gas, and kerosene are all common. These models are sold as "vented" -- requiring access to outside air -- and ventless (sometimes "vent-free"). According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, "most building scientists and indoor air quality professionals do not recommended ventless heaters...where small children and elderly persons live or where the heater is likely to be operated for more than two hours per day." The concern: "ventless" heaters often introduce carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) into a room. While new models are subject to codes that reduce risks of tipping over and toxic emissions, we feel hazards still exist. We recommend that you either go to the trouble of venting your heater or go with the more expensive, electric models.

Safety Tips:

Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.


Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater. Keep portable heaters more than three feet (one meter) away from any furniture, drapes, decorations, and walls.


DO NOT leave a portable heater running unattended or while you sleep. Do not use a portable heater in a bedroom.


Use only the approved fuel for your heater. Never use gasoline! Follow the manufacturer's fueling instructions. Fill portable heaters outdoors, wipe up spills, and do not use old or contaminated fuel. Never fill a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater; you must allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers clearly marked for that particular fuel, and store them outdoors.


Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can enter the home causing sickness and death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.


Whenever using an unvented heater, always open a window about a half inch (1.3 cm) to let in fresh air.


If dizziness, drowsiness, chest pain, fainting, or respiratory irritation occurs while using an unvented heater, shut off the heater immediately and move the affected person to where he/she can breathe fresh air.


Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater has the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label attached to it.


Only use portable heaters that have a tip-over safety shut-off device which will automatically extinguish the flame if the heater is knocked over.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

5 Ways To Green Your Christmas Tree

For millions of people, the Christmas tree is an iconic image of the holidays. The smell of pine, the sight of twinkling lights and the colorful packages which lie at its base all conjure up images of warm memories from Christmases past. But unlike the days of yore, today's generations have many options to consider for their holiday tree. This year, make your Christmas tree eco-friendly with five simple tips from the elves at Earth911:

1. Replant or Donate

Want to enjoy the smell and look of a real pine tree without the guilt? This year, purchase a potted living tree from your local nursery that can be replanted after the holidays (climate allowing). A single tree can absorb more than one ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Imagine how much CO2 could be absorbed if we all replanted our trees!

Live in an apartment or don't have a yard to replant a tree? Consider donating your potted tree to your local parks department, church, school or friend.

For years, many considered the purchase of an artificial tree to be the environmentally friendly choice. After all, it meant you wouldn't be responsible for cutting down a tree and you can reuse it year after year. In reality, artificial trees are made from mainly non-renewable plastics, often containing PVC, a petroleum derived plastic. They are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning their eventual disposal has a significant negative impact to the environment.

Want to upgrade to a living Christmas tree? Donate your old artificial tree to Goodwill or to a local community group.

2. Let There Be LED Light

Make the switch from regular incandescent lights to LED (light emitting diode) lights this season and watch your energy bill and carbon footprint drop. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ten incandescent Christmas light strands, running all night, produce 300 pounds of CO2, versus 30 pounds with LED lights.

If every American home were to switch to LED holiday lights, we could save $160 million in energy costs this season alone. Some famous Christmas trees have already made the switch like the Christmas trees displayed at Rockefeller Plaza and on Capitol Hill, using 90 percent less energy than they had previously.

Convinced you'll make the switch? Don't throw away those old incandescent light strands — recycle them! Holidayleds.com will recycle your incandescent lights for you. Mail them in and the company recycles the lights and the box they were shipped in, and they will send you a coupon for 15 percent off LED light purchases through their site. You can save even more and use those new LED lights on a timer!

3. Make or Buy Recycled Ornaments

Until the mid-19th century, Christmas ornaments were entirely handmade. Families would get together and make ornaments from pine cones, pieces of cloth, wood carvings, fruit and berries. Today, most ornaments are made of plastic or glass and purchased from a retailer.

Try reconnecting with the holiday spirit of Christmases past and make ornaments out of recycled materials. Pine cones, gingerbread cookies cut into shapes, paper chains made of used paper or junk mail, painted old light bulbs or ribbons made from wrapping material all make great recycled Christmas ornaments.

Not the creative type? Many online retailers offer ornaments made of recycled materials for sale.

4. Alternative Christmas Tree

There are some fun alternative options out there for celebrating the holidays with a Christmas tree this year. One of our favorite options is renting a Christmas tree. The Living Christmas Tree Company in Portland, Ore., will deliver you a living Christmas tree, then return and pick up the tree after Christmas and deliver them to local parks, schools and other groups who pay $10 to have the trees planted on their property. It is a great way to enjoy the look and pine scent of a real tree, at the same time ensuring it is replanted after use. And the hard work is done for you!

Or, try adopting a Christmas tree this year. Adopt a Christmas Tree in San Diego, Calif., will deliver a potted living tree to you via singing elves! They set up the tree for you, then pick it up and replant the tree in areas devastated by California fires.

5. Recycle Your Tree With Earth911

Real Christmas trees can be recycled in a variety of ways. They can be turned into mulch and used in gardening and landscaping or chipped and used on hiking trails, paths and walkways. Christmas trees have also been used for erosion control, soil stabilization and shoreline maintenance. When used in this manner, the trees not only stabilize the soil, but also provide habitats for fish, birds, amphibians and mammals.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bottom drops out of recycling industry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Norm Steenstra's budgeting worries mount with each new load of cardboard, aluminum cans and plastics jugs dumped at West Virginia's largest county recycling center.

Faced with a dramatic slump in the recycling market, the director of the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority has cut 20 of his 24 employees' work week to four days from five, shuttered six of the authority's drop-off stations and is urging residents to hoard their recyclables after informing municipalities with curbside recycling programs that the center will accept only paper until further notice.

"The market is just not there anymore," Steenstra said.

Just months after riding an incredible high, the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown. As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills' demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables.

Cardboard that sold for about $135 a ton in September is now going for $35 a ton. Plastic bottles have fallen from 25 cents to 2 cents a pound. Aluminum cans dropped nearly half to about 40 cents a pound, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a gross ton to about $100.

It's getting more difficult to find buyers in some markets, Streenstra said.

While few across the country appear to be taking such drastic measures as Streenstra, the recycling market has gotten so bad that haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases are having to pay to unload their wares.

In Washington state, what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year as the city may have to start paying companies to take their materials.

Some in the business are describing the downturn as the worst and fastest ever.

"It's never gone from so good to so bad so fast," said Marty Davis, president of Midland Davis Corp. in Pekin, Ill., who has been in the recycling business since 1975.

The turnaround caught everyone off guard, said Steven Kowalsky, president of Empire Recycling in Utica, N.Y.

"Nobody saw it coming. Absolutely nobody," Kowalsky said. "Even the biggest players didn't see it coming."

At the height of the market just months ago, customers lined the street outside Kowalsky's business, hoping to hawk scrap to pay rising food and fuel costs.

"That's not happening anymore," he said.

The Kanawha County authority, which sells donated recyclables from residents and municipalities, sells about 7,500 tons of paper, plastic and aluminum a year, Steenstra said.

Ted Armbrecht III, managing partner of The Wine Shop at Capital Market in Charleston, says it won't be a problem piling up his recyclables at home, but he doesn't have that luxury with his wine business, which uses a lot of cardboard boxes.

"We'll hold onto it as long as we can, but once it reaches a tipping point, the only other place it's going to go is the dumpster," he said.

Trey Granger, spokesman for Earth911, a national environmental resource group, said the public's interest in recycling should be able to weather the downturn in an industry that has been growing for more than 30 years and has always been cyclical.

"Obviously times are tough," Granger said. "I wouldn't worry more about this more than any other aspect of the economic downturn we're facing."

Last year, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They recycled about 150 million tons of material — roughly 80 million of that in iron and steel — supporting an industry that employs about 85,000 with $70 billion in sales, said Bob Garino, director of commodities at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents more than 1,600 companies worldwide.

Most recyclables are shipped to Asian countries that use the material to make products that are shipped backed to the United States to be sold.

But the market shift is now jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of long-term contracts for scrap metal as some companies that signed when prices were high are trying to cancel or postpone deliveries to take advantage of the cheaper spot market, Garino said.

Davis, of Midland Davis Corp. in Illinois, said he hopes to wait out the market and may rent warehouse space to store his more perishable recyclables, like paper, until he can find buyers. He has some room to stockpile cans and plastics because in July, when prices were high, he unloaded more material than during any month in the past 10 years.

"It's going to be bleak for a while," he said. "We can just make our piles taller, and hopefully by spring, things will be a little better."

Whether that will come as early as spring is debatable.

"I don't know if we are at the bottom yet, bouncing along the bottom or we have new lows to achieve," Garino said.

The market's not likely to bounce back until the economy improves. Kowalsky estimates it could be several years.

"It's just time to pull in your horns and maintain what you have and try to survive until 2010," he said.

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