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October 14, 2009

A Crappy Idea

Sewer.manhole.cover Add a new substance to the list of unlikely materials that can fuel cars: sewage.

Yes, poop is poised to join corn, algae, sugarcane, vegetable oil and all the rest as they jostle for a place in the biofuel market. 

Sludge-as-fuel doesn’t sound pretty, but it has some definite eco-benefits. More than half of the 15 trillion gallons of sewage produced annually in the U.S. gets turned into fertilizer for farms and gardens; some contend this poses risks to our health

A few poop-powered projects are turning up. Flint, Michigan plans to transform the city’s sludge into fuel for their buses. In ecologically advanced Sweden, cars that can run on sewage-based biogas have been on the market for years. More recently, an Israeli and an American company have partnered to create biofuel from the cellulose in processed sewage. They say a wastewater plant serving a population of about 2 million can produce enough cellulose to make ethanol.

No word on how it smells.

-- Année Tousseau

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Book Roundup Wednesday: Nature Photography

Books about environmentalism Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending nature photography books.

The New Earth from Above: 365 Days (by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, $30, Abrams, Oct. 2009): Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand continues his Earth from Above series with striking new photos of beautiful places around the world. Each month is organized by topic with a mini-essay introduction. Photo captions are well-written and provide just enough for readers to be satisfied. 

The Life and Love of Trees (by Lewis Blackwell, $50, Chronicle, Oct. 2009): Lewis Blackwell worships trees, and not just your standard, run-of-the-mill trees. He loves the baobabs of Madagascar, swamp cypresses in the southeast, and the lace bark of a pine tree. In this book, he shares one of the world’s most precious resources and writes poetically about his adoration. But the message here is subtle; he lets the trees speak for themselves.

Nature’s Great Events (edited by Karen Bass, $40, University of Chicago Press, Mar. 2009): A follow-up to Planet Earth, Natures’ Great Events chronicles six important events in the planet's natural history, including the great salmon run of British Columbia, the melting of the ice caps, and the great migration of African animals in the Serengeti. This documentary book narrates each event in a poignant, straightforward manner, much like the original TV series. And the photos, which have the feel of a live-action nature show, are arresting: snow geese in flight, lions attacking zebras, and bears tearing apart salmon.

Continue reading "Book Roundup Wednesday: Nature Photography" »

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Green Your Hair Care: Drying Your Hair

Woman.drying.hair Last winter we recommended a few green shampoos. This week we're offering more tips on eco-friendly hair care.

Tip #3: Towel-Dry

Towel-drying is greener than blow-drying because it saves energy. The intense heat from blow dryers can damage hair, so towel-drying is also easier on your mane. Hemp and organic-cotton towels are earth-friendly choices.

If you must blow dry, know that Barbar makes a blow dryer with a ceramic coil that reduces the radiation that all hair dryers produce. Rusk's Go Green dryer uses about 25% less energy and comes in recycled packaging printed with soy ink. Whatever dryer you use, storing it unplugged conserves energy. Dead hair dryers are sometimes accepted during e-cycling drives; call your public-works department to check. 

Tell us: How do you dry your hair?

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October 13, 2009

Daily Roundup: October 13, 2009

Don't Call It a Comeback: The Banggai crow, thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered by scientists in Indonesia. Science Daily

More Power to Ya: California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will require utility companies to compensate homeowners who add surplus electricity to the grid through solar panels or wind generators. San Francisco Chronicle

Groovy: A new study found that buying music online can cut CO2 emissions by 40 to 80 percent compared to traditional CD distribution. Treehugger

Downgraded: According to a new opinion poll, Australians no longer see climate change legislation as a top priority. "Job security" is now the top issue, while "fighting global warming" ranked seventh in the survey. Reuters

The Burning Earth: The result of dry conditions, underground fires are burning in Spain's Tablas de Daimiel National Park, a wetlands area that is home to diverse wildlife. AFP

--Della Watson

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So You Really Can Recycle Styrofoam?

Styrofoam Styrofoam: the ultimate environmental offender. It’s made of polystyrene, a petroleum product that takes ages to break down. Plus, animals can easily ingest it, which messes up their digestive systems. So, how do we get rid of it? Recycle it, of course!

Dart, a food-packaging production company, launched a campaign encouraging people to recycle foam food containers (a.k.a. polystyrene) to coincide with the opening of its newest recycling station in Kentucky.

You can recycle any styrofoam container with a No. 6 on it (take-out boxes, cups, and foam meat trays) through Dart. The company uses the foam to create products for insulation, toys, and more. Unfortunately, they only have seven recycling centers in the U.S.

If Dart’s recycling locations are too far for you, check out Earth911.com's searchable function to find a recycling center near you. (Tip: You get more results when you type in "polystyrene" instead of "Styrofoam.") The site also has some great tips about other options for recycling Styrofoam.

--Julie Littman

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Buying Music Online Saves Miles and Materials

Downloading music is more eco-friendly than normal retail delivery methods With digital technologies phasing out the conventional use of what once were everyday products, it looks like the CD is going the way of its tape and vinyl predecessors. Which means the eco-impact of buying music is improving.

Carnegie Mellon, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Stanford released a study in August about the emissions associated with delivering a single music album. The conclusion: Buying music digitally (as opposed to driving to the store to buy a burned, packaged, and shipped CD) slashes emissions between 40 and 80 percent.

Continue reading "Buying Music Online Saves Miles and Materials" »

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Green Your Hair Care: A Green Shave

Razor.blade Last winter we recommended a few green shampoos. This week we're offering more tips on eco-friendly hair care.

Tip #2: Shave Green

Reusable razors are always a better choice than disposable ones. Preserve makes reusable razors that have a recycled, BPA-free handle. You can even download a postage-paid label to send 'em your old handles for recycling.

Braun makes an Energy Star-certified electric razor with a rechargeable battery. But if you use an electric razor, unplug it when it's not charging.

Though shaving-cream aerosol cans can be recycled, bar soaps use much less packaging. And olive oil can be used as a shaving gel to lengthen the life of razor blades.

Share your tips: What eco-friendly shaving products do you use?

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October 12, 2009

Daily Roundup: October 12, 2009

High Hopes: The International Air Transport Association committed to new fuel efficiency and emissions targets, including a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Treehugger

Salad Spinner: An unusual species of spider made headlines for its vegetarian lifestyle. Scientific American and New York Times

A New Dane: Less than two months before world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark's top climate policy negotiator, Thomas Becker, resigned and was replaced by Steffen Smidt. Reuters

Born Free: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a new management strategy for roughly 69,000 wild horses living in the western United States. The government intends to create seven reserves for the animals and control population through sterilization. About My Planet and Washington Post

Heat Rises: Police officers arrested environmental protestors who scaled the roof of the British parliament and unfurled signs calling for government action on climate change. Grist and Reuters

--Della Watson

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Vertical Farms Grow Up

Vertical farm With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, some eco-thinkers have been advocating the idea of  vertical farms. But those ideas have mostly stayed in the wouldn’t-it-be-cool stage of design. Now, England's Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is launching the world’s first working vertical farm to grow food for their animals.

VirtiCrop, the company developing the Paignton farm, says it will grow up to 11,200 plants on 100 square meters, 20 times as many plants as a standard farm can produce. It will also recycle water and use solar power to reduce resource consumption. All that might eventually add up to a more sustainable way to feed the world’s city dwellers. But we can’t imagine giving up on good old-fashioned organic soil for most of our food anytime soon.

--Kyle Boelte / photo courtesy VirtiCrop

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Green Fashion Monday: Eco-Sunglasses

ECO sunglasses On Fashion Monday, we highlight a hip, green fashion item. Got a stylish eco-friendly product to recommend? Tell us about it and look for it in an upcoming blog post.

Shopping for new shades? Dragon Alliance debuted an undeniably cool pair of sunglasses inspired by pro surfer Rob Machado and made of 100 percent renewable materials. E.C.O. (Environmentally Conscious Optics) is a product of Machado's desire to meld greenness with surf fashion. The glasses come in Forest Stewardship Council-certified packaging and an organic-cotton storage case printed with water-based ink. Starting at $100.

--Michael Mullaley

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