Day: July 20, 2011

Bill Gates Wants to Rethink the Humble Toilet

Read the full post at DesignTaxi.

Water sanitation is a huge health concern in most parts of the developing world that even designers are attempting to solve the problem.

Now, technologist-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates is now hoping to address that issue with a new initiative that hopes to reinvent the humble toilet.

Gates and his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is ponying up US$42 million in grants to be awarded to university teams who can develop a better flushing porcelain pot. These pots have to be able to capture and store waste hygienically as well as be able to process waste into energy or fertilizer—all for the operational cost of US$0.05 per user, per day.

Once booming, green-tech investing shifts down

Read the full story at CNET.

The latest numbers on venture capital investing emphatically show what insiders have seen for some time: many venture capitalists have cooled on once-trendy green-tech investing, creating a tough funding environment for fledgling green businesses.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association today released their quarterly MoneyTree Report, which shows a sharp increase in Internet investing and drop in the amount of money going to the clean-tech category.

Obama Administration Officials and Industry Leaders Unveil Federal Strategy to Promote U.S.-Based Electronics Recycling Market and Jobs

At an event today, in Austin, Texas, at a certified electronics recycling center, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, General Services Administrator Martha N. Johnson, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley were joined by the CEOs of Dell Inc. and Sprint, and senior executives from Sony Electronics to release the Obama Administration’s “National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship” – a strategy for the responsible electronic design, purchasing, management and recycling that will promote the burgeoning electronics recycling market and jobs of the future here at home. The announcement today includes the first voluntary commitments made by Dell, Sprint and Sony to EPA’s industry partnership aimed at promoting environmentally sound management of used electronics. The Administration’s strategy also commits the federal government to take specific actions that will encourage the more environmentally friendly design of electronic products, promote recycling of used or discarded electronics, and advance a domestic market for electronics recycling that will protect public health and create jobs.

Every year, Americans generate almost 2.5 million tons of used electronics, which are made from valuable resources such as precious metals and rare earth materials, as well as plastic and glass. From computers and cell phones, to portable communication and music devices – United States is, and will continue to be, a global leader in designing and developing new and improved electronic technologies. The responsible management of electronics provides an opportunity to create economic development and jobs by developing a strong domestic electronics recycling market while preventing pollution at home and abroad.

As outlined in the strategy report, the federal government will:

  • promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products;
  • direct federal agencies to buy, use, reuse and recycle their electronics responsibly; 
  • support recycling options and systems for American consumers; and 
  • strengthen America’s role in the international electronics stewardship arena.

Under today’s strategy, GSA will remove products that do not comply with comprehensive and robust energy efficiency or environmental performance standards – from its information technology purchase contracts used by federal agencies, and will ensure that all electronics used by the Federal government are reused or recycled properly. In addition, EPA and GSA will promote development of new environmental performance standards for categories of electronic products not covered by current standards. Several federal agencies will work together to identify methods for tracking used electronics in Federal agencies to move toward reuse and recycling.

A key component of this strategy includes the use of certified recyclers and increasing safe and effective management and handling of used electronics in the United States and working with industry in a collaborative manner to achieve that goal. As a first step in this effort, EPA Administrator Jackson in Austin, TX today signed a voluntary commitment with Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse to promote a U.S. based electronics recycling market. Sony Electronics Inc. representatives were also present and also committed to improving the safe management of used electronics.

This collaboration with industry aims to encourage businesses and consumers to recycle their electronics with certified recyclers, and for electronic recyclers to become certified. There are two existing domestic third-party certification recycling entities, R2 and E-Stewards. The electronics recycling industry is increasingly embracing these certification programs. Certified recyclers are regularly audited by these certification entities to ensure that electronics are recycled in a manner that is safe for human health and the environment. As the next steps in this collaborative effort, EPA will continue to work with industry to encourage other companies to voluntarily commit to help grow the domestic recycling market, create the green jobs of the future in the United States and educate consumers.

“A robust electronics recycling industry in America would create new opportunities to efficiently and profitably address a growing pollution threat,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The participation of industry leaders like Dell, Sprint and Sony is absolutely essential to this effort, and will help ensure that the work of the federal government — the largest electronics consumer around — is protecting our people from pollution at the same time we support savings and job creation through e-cycling and re-use of valuable materials.”

“Through a strong federal partnership, and coordination with manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, State and local governments, and other stakeholders, the actions outlined here will help address the potential health and environmental problems caused by the mismanagement of discarded electronics,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “This strategy will encourage the recycling of these valuable resources and allow the U.S. to take advantage of the economic opportunities of remanufacturing and create jobs of the future here in America.”

“The Nation’s largest single consumer of electronics, the Federal Government, will now be the Nation’s most responsible user of electronics. The steps outlined in the report will ensure that government leads by example and that the billions of dollars in IT equipment the government cycles through annually will be either reused or recycled properly,” said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson.

“Our goal at Dell is to deliver the highest quality and most efficient products to our customers with the least environmental impact,” said Michael Dell, chairman and CEO, Dell Inc. “Last fiscal year, we diverted more than 150 million pounds of end-of-life electronics globally from landfills, and we are well on our way to meeting our goal of recycling 1 billion pounds by 2014. We encourage everyone in our industry to commit to easier, more responsible recycling as we all work to protect our planet.”

“To be recognized by the EPA for responsible e-waste recycling is an honor for Sprint and a chance to build on our industry-first Electronics Stewardship Policy,” said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse. “Our current policy and today’s commitment with the EPA highlights our goal to handle electronic waste holistically – from product design to disposal – and is another proof point to our broader commitment to sustainability innovation.”

“At Sony, any product we make and put our name on, we will take back and recycle in the most responsible manner,” said Mark Small, Vice President for Corporate Environment, Safety and Health. “‘We Make It, We Take It Back’ has been Sony’s policy since 1995. This partnership – in coordination with the EPA and other stakeholders – will help us reach our “Road to Zero” goal, Sony’s vision of zero waste and zero environmental impact throughout the complete life cycle of all our products and related activities.”

Transparency: How Much Water Do You Use?

Read the full post and view the infographic at Good.

As we become more and more aware that we may be using water at an unsustainable pace, the idea of water footprints-the amount of water an individual uses-is becoming more common. Water footprints can be hard to calculate, depending on how far up the chain of production you go, since everything you eat and buy used some water to produce (to feed cows for beef, for example, or to use in the factory that made your cell phone). With our latest Transparency, we give you some examples of how much water is used in some of your daily activities, so that you can begin calculate your footprint and try to reduce your gallons.

What Carmageddon taught us about behavioral economics

Read the full story from Mother Nature Network.

It was supposed to be Carmageddon in L.A., but instead the two-day closure of the busiest freeway in Los Angeles reiterated a timeless lesson about cars: We lose less than we think when we make them a lower priority in our cities.

New App Connects Social Media Users with Municipal Services

Read the full story in Government Technology.

A new Facebook application is making it easier for citizens to report problems and request services from local governments.

Called the Citizen Request Tracker (CRT), the app can be downloaded from Facebook, installed onto a person’s account and then used to contact the city or county about items such as pot holes, graffiti, barking dogs and malfunctioning streetlights.

Zipcar Baltimore Car Share Members Drive Less, Give Up Cars, Use Mass Transit

Read the full story at Clean Technica.

Urban transport is changing in any number of innovative ways as cities around the US look to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and make their cities more “livable.”

One year on, the driving habits of Zipcar members in Baltimore have changed substantially, and that’s having several beneficial effect on the city’s “transportation landscape,” according to one-year anniversary survey results released by the City of Baltimore and the Parking Authority of Baltimore City.

15 Ways to Recycle Star Wars Movie Memorabilia

Read the full post at Earth911.

If you have never heard of the epic film franchise Star Wars then you literally must be from outer space. The films, created by George Lucas, are some of the most successful in movie history, and they have become a pop culture phenomenon for fans around the world.

All of the films, from the first Star Wars released in 1977, all the way up to the most recent Episode III: Revenge of the Sith released in 2005, have spawned millions of movie memorabilia, from books to bedspreads, action figures to lunch boxes. There is a huge demand for Star Wars memorabilia from fans who can’t get enough of the sci-fi classic, but there are some fans who are going green with their collections and recycling original merchandise into cool new products.

Here are 10 examples of innovative ways to recycleStar Wars memorabilia, all for sale on Etsy:

Video: Does saving the world mean learning jargon?

Watch the video from the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Bob Willard, author of The Sustainability Advantage, left IBM to become a sustainability advocate. But he sells the cause to corporations using familiar words. “I think we need to clean up our language,” he says of sustainability efforts. “We need to talk the language of business.”

Large human study links phthalates, BPA and thyroid hormone levels

A link between chemicals called phthalates and thyroid hormone levels was confirmed by the University of Michigan in the first large-scale and nationally representative study of phthalates and BPA in relation to thyroid function in humans.

The U-M School of Public Health study also reported suggestive findings consistent with a previously reported link between a chemical called bisphenol-A and thyroid hormone levels. BPA is best known for its use in certain plastic water bottles and in the linings of canned foods.

Researchers used publicly available data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare urine metabolites and serum thyroid measures from 1,346 adults and 329 adolescents. Generally speaking, greater concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites and BPA were associated with greater impacts on serum thyroid measures, said John Meeker, assistant professor at U-M SPH and lead study author.

Specifically, researchers found an inverse relationship between urinary markers of exposure and thyroid hormone levels, meaning as urinary metabolite concentrations increased, serum levels of certain thyroid hormone levels decreased.

Phthalates and BPA are chemical compounds that appear in solvents, plasticizers and common household products. These latest results were consistent with findings from previous smaller studies by Meeker and others that suggested the relationship.

The current study showed the strongest relationship between thyroid disruption and DEHP, a phthalate commonly used as a plasticizer. Research has shown that the primary exposure to DEHP is through diet. Urine samples in the highest 20 percent of exposure to DEHP were associated with as much as a 10 percent decrease in certain thyroid hormones compared to urine samples at the lowest 20 percent of exposure.

“This seems like a subtle difference,” Meeker said, “but if you think about the entire population being exposed at this level you’d see many more thyroid related effects in people.”

Researchers looked at another phthalate called DBP but overall, didn’t find a significant relationship between exposure and thyroid measures. DBP is also a plasticizer, and is also used in solvents and personal care products.

Thyroid hormones play an important role in many body functions, from reproduction to metabolism and energy balance.

While the study focused primarily on adults, these findings underscore the need for more research on adults, pregnant women, and children, Meeker said, because fetal and child development may be particularly vulnerable to disruptions in thyroid hormone levels associated with exposure to environmental chemicals.

Meeker pointed out that the study had limitations. Since urine and serum samples were collected at a single point in time, researchers couldn’t conclude a cause-and-effect relationship; it would be better to follow people over time and collect several samples, especially since these chemicals metabolize quickly and one snapshot may not represent the true chemical exposure.

The group has several ongoing studies on the potential impacts of phthalate and BPA exposure on pregnancy outcomes and child development.

The paper appears on the recent edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives

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