Showing posts with label Black Hole. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black Hole. Show all posts

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Five Ways to Go Green Without Really Trying

We like green. Green apples. Green Bay. The Green Mile. Asparagus. And we have this sweater. Anyway, we like green, but we've never been "green." We're, shall we say, suspicious about any word so often swathed in so much righteousness. Because "green" can too easily be equated with "good," which is a vast oversimplification, especially when so much fact gets aggressively manipulated by so many interested parties in the name of "green."

We have this friend who gave us some perspective on "green." His name is Bjørn Lomborg, a political economist, environmental activist, and fierce optimist, who brought eight economists (including five Nobel laureates) together a year ago to come up with a sensible plan for environmental activism. It's called the Copenhagen Consensus. He wrote an essay in our 75th Anniversary Issue (October 2008) that convinced us that the small things we do (and some of the big things we do) can't amount to much unless we overhaul our list of priorities (placing malnutrition above, say, reducing CO2 emissions). His essay makes environmentalism a powerful and complex idea. You can read it here.

So, about being "green" we're a little ambivalent. But about doing good we aren't conflicted at all. The products on these pages are good, and using them feels good. They improve our lives. They work. And they're environmentally sound. Which is a bonus.


+ Gas-free

+ Noise-free

+ Aerobic

If pollution and sloth ever become virtues, self-propelled and riding mowers will be the trappings of the righteous. Until then, we'll stick with old-fashioned manual mowers. They don't use gas, don't stink, don't involve a potentially arm-snapping rip cord. And then there's the whisperlike sound they make. It's almost worth the looks you'll get from neighbors.

The hatchback already comes close to the practical ideal: Seats five, sips gas, handles like a go-kart, looks cool — enough. Utilitarian. But the new breed of sport hatchback is more sport, less hatchback. Take the MazdaSpeed3 pictured above. (See also: Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX.) With 263 hp, 26 mpg highway, and a $23,500 base price, it's frugal enough for daily commuting, roomy enough for errands — and powerful enough to remind you you're not driving a Prius.

Until the late 1800s, beer came in one kind of container — the keg — and was sold in one place: the local saloon. Folks wishing to drink elsewhere would bring jugs to be filled at the tap. These were known as growlers. And the invention of the beer can all but killed them.

These days beer makers across the country are distributing growlers again. (And many brewpubs and specialty grocers will let you fill your own growlers directly from their taps.) Plunk down seven or eight bucks plus a two- or three-dollar bottle deposit, and head home with half a gallon of the crispest, freshest ale (or stout or pilsner) you've ever tasted. When you're done, you bring the bottle back and reclaim your deposit — or treat it as a down payment on the next growler. The bottle itself gets cleaned and returned to its source, ready to be filled again.

Before modern chemistry gave us oil and latex varieties, "house paint" meant milk paint. You'd take a bucket of milk, add powdered lime (the mineral, not the fruit) and some pigment, and stir. The result was an odor-free, fade-proof coating with the added benefits of extreme toughness and zero cases of lead poisoning. Since 1974, the Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company has been offering genuine milk paint in powder form, and there's a new version formulated specially for interior walls. Look for it wherever gorp is sold (or at

There's no reason to buy hand soap, dish soap, shampoo, body bars, body wash, or shaving cream when you can just buy a bottle of Dr. Bronner's. The stuff's been around since World War II, is 100 percent organic, and cleans everything from rugs to babies. Dr. Bronner's comes in eight scents — we prefer the original peppermint — and according to the label can be used in eighteen different ways. (According to the Internet, there are hundreds more.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

E-scrap program inches closer

Electronics recycling in Washington is another step closer to becoming a reality. The state’s Department of Ecology (Olympia) has conditionally approved the Standard Plan for Recycling Covered Electronics, which can be found on the department’s Web site. The 2006 legislation, creating the e-recycling program, allows manufacturers, importers and sellers of covered electronic products — including desktop and laptop computers, monitors and televisions — the option of participating in either Washington’s Standard Plan, or an approved independent plan.

The Standard Plan will receive final approval when three conditions are met:

A collection service plan that meets the rule requirements is completed
The Washington Materials Management & Financing Authority (Woodland) conducts at least one public hearing
The DOE determines that the WMMFA is meeting public outreach requirements.
Over 220 manufacturers of covered items have thus far registered with the electronics recycling program, with no proposals for independent plans being put forward, to date. Implementation of Washington's electronic recycling program is scheduled for January 1, 2009.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The end of garbage

Can you imagine a world of zero waste? Cities and towns across the world - and a surprising number of companies - have adopted that goal, says Fortune's Marc Gunther
By Marc Gunther, Fortune senior writer

"Garbage," says the character played by Andie MacDowell in Sex, Lies, and Videotape. "All I've been thinking about all week is garbage. We've got so much of it, you know? I mean, we have to run out of places to put this stuff eventually."

In 1989, America had garbage on its mind. A barge called the Mobro had carried 3,000 tons of unwanted trash up and down the East Coast. California told its cities to recycle 50% of their garbage by 2000 or face steep fines. The national recycling rate was only 16%.

John Casella's company recycles trash - and uses it to produce insulation, fertilizer, energy, and (soon) tomatoes.

Step 1: Prep cook Juan Carlos Rojas disposes of carrot peelings in one of San Francisco's compost-designated carts.

Step 2: Scraps from homes and businesses are taken to a facility where machines sort out stray nonfood.

Step 3: Norcal Waste's facility takes in about 300 tons of food scraps a day. The stuff is mixed with yard waste, ground up, and stuffed into 200-foot plastic bags for "curing."

Result: Four-Course compost, a nutrient rich mix that sells for $8-$10 per cubic yard...

and is used by Kathleen Inman, a former management consultant who owns Inman Family Wines, to enrich her ten-acre vineyard in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. Her 2005 pinot noir sells for $42 a bottle.
More from Fortune
Square milk and mulch from old tires

What's that made of?

To achieve zero waste, everything that's no longer wanted will have to be made into something else. Sounds hard, but the idea is as old as nature, where one organism's detritus becomes another's food.
Herman Miller
Aluminum beverage cans are made into the base of the Aeron chair, which is also recyclable.
Worn-out athletic shoes collected by Nike are ground up to make basketball and tennis courts, soccer and football fields and running tracks.
The company collects print cartridges and then turns them into parts for its Scanjet printers.
Stonyfield Farms
The company takes back yogurt cups, which are made into the Preserve toothbrush by a firm called Recycline.
Scrap plastic packaging is transformed into park benches by a company called Tangent Technolgies. Unilever then donates the benches to national parks.

Today San Francisco has a recycling rate of 68%, the best of any American city, and it intends to do better. Much better. San Francisco and Wal-Mart (Charts) do not have much in common, but there is this: Both have a goal of achieving zero waste.

So do cities and towns from Boulder and Carrboro, N.C., to Buenos Aires and Canberra, as well as a surprising number of businesses, including Toyota (Charts), Nike (Charts), and Xerox (Charts). They're making headway: Toyota has eliminated all the waste from its 5,000-employee U.S. headquarters near Los Angeles. Governments, meanwhile, are stepping in to regulate the disposal of computers, cellphones, and packaging.

Zero waste is just what it sounds like - producing, consuming, and recycling products without throwing anything away. Getting to a wasteless world will require nothing less than a total makeover of the global economy, which thinkers such as entrepreneur Paul Hawken, consultant Amory Lovins, and architect William McDonough have called the Next Industrial Revolution.

They want industry to mimic biology, where one species' excrement is another's food. "We're not talking here about eliminating waste," McDonough explains. "We're talking about eliminating the entire concept of waste."

This utopian vision is a long way off. But the changing economics of waste disposal, technical advances, and grass-roots activism - along with the feverish desire of big companies to appear green - are bringing it closer than you might think.

San Francisco offers a glimpse of the future. Norcal Waste Systems, the city's trash hauler, provides customers with color-coded 32-gallon carts known as the Fantastic Three - a blue cart into which they can throw paper, glass, plastics, and metal for recycling; a green cart for food and yard waste; and a black cart that's destined for the landfill. (Remember, in cowboy movies the bad guys wore black.) Norcal also recycles tires, mattresses, and light bulbs. "The other garbage companies think we're nuts," says Mike Sangiacomo, Norcal's CEO.

Sangiacomo, 58, has been trash-talking for years. His dad collected garbage back in the days when sanitation men were called scavengers because they salvaged bottles, rags - "anything they could come up with that had value," he says. Now he's trying to return the waste industry to its roots.

Technology is a big help. Norcal operates a $38 million facility that disaggregates all the recyclables in those blue bins. Conveyor belts, powerful magnets, and giant vacuums separate computer paper from newsprint, plastic jugs from water bottles, and steel and tin cans from aluminum. Materials are then sold to global commodity markets - and we do mean global.

Wastepaper, for example, is the U.S.'s No. 1 export by volume to China, according to PIERS Global Intelligence Solutions, which tracks trade. Ships that bring products from China to the U.S. return with wastepaper, which becomes packaging for goods made in China.

A second innovation is the city's handling of food scraps. Another Norcal facility grinds all that up with yard waste and cures it for three months. Banana peels, onion skins, fish heads, and other detritus are thus transformed into a nutrient-rich product dubbed Four Course Compost, which sells for $8 to $10 per cubic yard.

One satisfied customer is winemaker Kathleen Inman, who knows that all good wine - her 2004 Olivet Grange pinot noir retails at $42 a bottle - begins in good soil. She spreads Four Course Compost on her ten-acre vineyard in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. "I was very taken by the concept of bringing into my vineyard what would normally go into a landfill," Inman explains. "When someone enjoys the wine at a table, they are completing the recycling circle."

Driving this virtuous cycle are market incentives. San Franciscans get about $5 off the standard $22-a-month collection rate if they can make do with a smaller black bin, sending less to the landfill. Merchants earn discounts for recycling, and Norcal gets bonuses for keeping waste out of landfills.

Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city's environment department, says, "The most important thing we do is incentivize people financially to do the right thing and make it more expensive for them to do the wrong thing." This "pay as you throw" pricing scheme drives up recycling rates sharply, studies show. But only about 20% of Americans pay for trash collection based on how much they discard. No wonder we're an effluent society.

While the concept of zero waste is as old as nature, recycling is newer. In 1968, Madison, Wis., became the first U.S. city to offer curbside recycling, for newspapers. Recycling got a boost with Earth Day in 1970, and again after the EPA imposed strict regulations on landfills in 1991. When done right, recycling saves energy, preserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, and keeps toxins from leaking out of landfills.

So why doesn't everyone do it? Because it's often cheaper to throw things away. The economics of recycling depend on landfill fees, the price of oil and other commodities, and the demand for recycled goods. Paper, for example, works well: About 52% of paper consumed in the U.S. is recovered for recycling, and 36% of the fiber that goes into new paper comes from recycled sources. By contrast, less than 25% of plastic bottles are recycled, and we use five billion (!) a year.

Americans generated an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage per person per day in 2005, the EPA reports. About 1.5 pounds were recycled. That's a national recycling rate for municipal solid waste of just 32%.

What's in our garbage? Paper and cardboard (34%), yard trimmings (13%), and food scraps (12%) are the three biggies. All can be easily if not always profitably recycled. Plastics (11.8%) are next, and are harder to recycle. "The plastics industry hasn't been as interested as others in working through its problems," says Gary Liss, a California zero-waste consultant. "They have fought bottle bills all over the country for 30 years."

Bottle bills are an example of "extended producer responsibility," a key tenet of zero-waste. It puts the onus for safely disposing of products on the companies that make them. Yes, it's a controversial concept. (In this country. In the EU, makers of household appliances are obliged to take them back.)

The deeper purpose here is to change the way things are made. "From our perspective, waste doesn't need to exist," says San Francisco's Blumenfeld. "It's a design flaw." Carpet companies Interface, BASF, and Milliken, furniture makers Herman Miller and Steelcase, and clothing firms Nike and Patagonia have all redesigned products to make them easier to recycle.

Over time the economics of recycling should improve. The costs of virgin commodities are likely to rise as supplies dwindle; fees will climb at landfills as they fill up. Landfills also release methane, a greenhouse gas that could be taxed because it contributes to global warming. Meanwhile, recycling has become a $238 billion business, employing 1.1 million people, according to the EPA.

Despite all that, recycling rates have flattened lately. "We have to reengage the consumer," says Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, a trade group whose board includes executives of Dell (Charts), Coca-Cola, and Time Inc. (Fortune's parent company). "If we don't, then all the commitments that Wal-Mart and Dell and others have been making will be difficult to keep."

A Hewlett-Packard (Charts) executive named Rene St. Denis went to China in 1994 to see what happened to printers and computers after they were thrown away. In the coastal city of Guanjo, she watched hundreds of people smash machines to get at the metals inside. "The disassembly process was basically - and I'm not kidding - hit it with a rock," she recalls. "You pay someone $2 a day to strip away $3 worth of copper, and it's a pretty good business." It's also a dangerous business because computers may contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium.

Within a year St. Denis had begun to clean up HP's act. She helped form a partnership with a Canadian metals and mining firm called Noranda to build a recycling facility near Sacramento. Here, old printers and PCs come to die: After technicians recover reusable parts, the machines are chopped up by powerful shredders, smashed to bits by a granulator, and sorted by magnets and air currents. Precious metals go to Noranda; aluminum, glass, and plastic are sold to recyclers. Nothing goes to landfills.

HP provides free recycling to some customers but charges others $13 to $34 per item. Even so, HP's recycling operation runs at a small loss, which is viewed as an investment in the firm's reputation and values. "To the degree they understand, customers have a better view of HP," says St. Denis, who now runs HP's recycling business.

As HP set the pace, Dell became a target. Because Dell used prison labor to recycle PCs, protesters picketed a speech by Michael Dell at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2003. The company began offering recycling: first to buyers of new equipment, then to anyone willing to pay $30, then $15. Last year it eliminated the fees altogether - the only PC maker to do so. In January at CES, Michael Dell said, "I challenge every PC maker to join us in providing free recycling for every customer in every country all the time. No exceptions."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Soaring Over the Alps on Homemade Jet Wings

By Dave Demerjian May 16, 2008

Playing to a mesmerized audience, Swiss pilot and adventurer (some might say nutcase) Yves Rossy has soared above the Alps with homemade jet-powered wings strapped to his back.

Rossy, an extreme sports guy who has spent years assembling his wings, casually stepped out of an airplane at 7,500 feet, unfolded the wings and quickly passed from free fall to mellow glide. He then fired up the wings' engines and accelerated to more than 180 mph.

As if that weren't cool enough, Rossy showed off a bit, making a few dives, some figure eights and a 360-degree barrel roll before landing at an airfield near Lake Geneva.

"That was to impress the girls," he said after the five-minute flight.

It's not your average DIY project, but then again Rossy doesn't seem to be your average guy. One look at the video proves that.

Fusionman, as the 47-year-old adventurer calls himself, is intimately familiar with flight. As a military pilot he spent years flying Hunter, Tiger F-5 and Mirage III jets, and he flies airliners for Swiss International Airlines.

He's spent several years developing the carbon fiber wing, which is eight feet long and features four German jet engines that provide 200 pounds of thrust. Rossy and his sponsors, which include the Swiss watch company Hublot, have spent $190,000 on the project, and with no plans to bring the wing to market, there's no guarantee they'll get a return on their investment.

The flight above the Alps was a big test for Fusionman and his wings, and it went off without a hitch. His mother wasn't even worried, explaining to the Associated Press, "He knows what he's doing."

But it hasn't always been smooth sailing -- er, flying -- for Rossy. Damage to a set of test wings in 2007 forced him to build another prototype, and he lost control during a jump three years ago and didn't deploy his chute until he was a mere 1,500 feet above the ground.

Soaring above the Alps is only the start. Rossy is planning to cross the English Channel -- a flight of about 23 miles -- by the end of the year. But his dream is to fly over the

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to Escape From a Black Hole

Written by Nancy Atkinson

According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, black holes are regions of space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. And in the 1970's physicist Stephen Hawking asserted that any information sucked inside a black hole would be permanently lost. But now, researchers at Penn State have shown that information can be recovered from black holes.

A fundamental part of quantum physics is that information cannot be lost, so Hawking's claim has been debated. His idea was generally accepted by physicists until the late 1990s, when many began to doubt the assertion. Even Hawking himself renounced the idea in 2004. Yet no one, until now, has been able to provide a plausible mechanism for how information might escape from a black hole. A team of physicists led by Abhay Ashtekar, say their findings expand space-time beyond its assumed size, providing room for information to reappear.

Ashtekar used an analogy from Alice in Wonderland: "When the Cheshire cat disappears, his grin remains," he said. "We used to think it was the same way with black holes. Hawking's analysis suggested that at the end of a black hole's life, even after it has completely evaporated away, a singularity, or a final edge to space-time, is left behind, and this singularity serves as a sink for unrecoverable information."

But the Penn State team suggest that singularities do not exist in the real world. "Information only appears to be lost because we have been looking at a restricted part of the true quantum-mechanical space-time," said Ashtekar. "Once you consider quantum gravity, then space-time becomes much larger and there is room for information to reappear in the distant future on the other side of what was first thought to be the end of space-time."

According to Ashtekar, space-time is not a continuum as physicists once believed. Instead, it is made up of individual building blocks, just as a piece of fabric, though it appears to be continuous, is made up of individual threads. "Once we realized that the notion of space-time as a continuum is only an approximation of reality, it became clear to us that singularities are merely artifacts of our insistence that space-time should be described as a continuum."

To conduct their studies, the team used a two-dimensional model of black holes to investigate the quantum nature of real black holes, which exist in four dimensions. That's because two-dimensional systems are simpler to study mathematically. But because of the close similarities between two-dimensional black holes and spherical four-dimensional black holes, the team believes that this approach is a general mechanism that can be applied in four dimensions. The group now is pursuing methods for directly studying four-dimensional black holes.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles