Archives for April 2010

Finally, Off-Shore Wind Farms Are Coming To US Waters

From the New York Times

Off-Shore Wind Turbines

The Cape Wind off-shore wind power project has finally received its permit and will be the first of its kind in US waters. The project has been “in progress” since 2001 and has faced strong opposition from residents of Cape Cod, environmentalists and other groups based on aesthetics and costs. With federal approval, the Cape Wind project should make it easier for other wind power projects along the eastern seaboard to move forward. [New York Times]

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The ReUsie Is ReAwesomie

ReUsiesAs a kid, getting a sandwich in a Ziploc bag was a treat and as such, we were always expected to bring the bags home. My mom would even write “Bring Home” on the bags sometimes to make sure we did not throw them out. Today, disposable Ziplocs are everywhere, in every color and in multiple sizes and my kids wouldn’t hesitate to put a Ziploc in a Ziploc… for double protection. Thank goodness for ReUsies.

ReUsies have been around for almost 2 years and are a great alternative to disposable sandwich bags. ReUsies are made from 100% cotton and are lined with 100% water resistant nylon. After each use, they can be safely cleaned in a dishwasher, washing machine or with a sponge. ReUsie Website - Order ReUsies online. ReUsie’s website has an instructional video on how to best clean and care for their product. According to ReUsies’ founders, customers not only purchase their products to reduce the amount of waste, but some use ReUsies because they don’t want plastic to come in contact with their kids food. Whatever the reason, ReUsies come in sandwich and snack sizes and in 20+ different styles.

I came across ReUsies about the same time a 37? Gray Whale washed up on a local beach. When scientist examined the contents of its stomach, they found 20 plastic bags and a golf ball. We think we know who is responsible for the golf ball, Kramer, but the plastic bags could’ve been from any of us.

Jubbling is powered by ideas like the ReUsie. Ideas that are simple and effective and can go a long way toward reducing our consumption and waste. Now I do have to warn the ReUsie team to watch out for my mom; she may request some credit and/or royalties for the idea.

Order ReUsies online.

Related Articles:
Ziploc teams with TerraCycle to recycle bags, containers

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PepsiCo Dream Machine Recycling Kiosks

PepsiCo Dream MachineFrom the Wall Street Journal article PepsiCo Plans Recycling Initiative.

From one beverage to another – PepsiCo, partnering with Waste Management, is planning on installing 3000 recycling kiosks around the country to encourage consumers to recycle more cans and PET plastic bottles. PepsiCo is calling them “Dream Machines” and they are rewarding recyclers through a points system that can be applied toward movie tickets, travel or as discounts for Pepsi products. Currently in the US, only 34% of aluminum and 25% of the PET plastic bottles are being recycled and PepsiCo hopes to increase that number with their Dream Machines. The machines can hold 300 cans/plastic bottles and when they are full, an alert is sent to a Waste Management employee responsible for emptying the machine. Crushing does not occur at the machine because in product tests, consumers were put off by the noise. Here is how they work [WSJ]:

The machine itself is like a vending machine in reverse. A video screen plays advertising and informational videos, which are updated wirelessly and tailored to each site. A consumer first touches the screen and follows instructions, either to swipe a key fob to track rewards points or to defer registration for later, if at all.

PepsiCo Dream Machine Nightmare

A PepsiCo Dream Machine Nightmare

As much as Jubbling wants these great ideas to be the solution, they almost seem to be more of the problem. We felt the same way about ecoATM. It seems like companies are throwing grenades at a problem when they probably only need bb’s. PepsiCo’s Dream Machines are things of beauty and obviously a lot of thought was put into making them work but their limitations – only holding 300 cans or plastic bottles – and the cost of raw materials to build alone seems to outweigh their usefulness.

Alternatives? I keep imagining a person in a cardboard box paying you a compliment every time you recycle a can or PET bottle but that’s not going to be enough. I think the best method to increase recycling rates is for PepsiCo, Coke and the American Bottlers Association to support Bottle Bills in every state. Oregon was one of the first states to pass a Bottle bill and it passed in 1971 despite opposition from bottlers and beverage container manufacturers. It was expanded to cover water bottles in January 2009. With their Bottle bill in place, every beverage container leaving an Oregon grocery store or vending machine has a fee added to it that covers the refund and processing costs of recycled beverage containers. According to Wikipedia, recycle rates in states with Bottle bills is around 90% vs 34% in states without, and the collection sites are already in place – grocery stores.

I hope PepsiCo proves me wrong with their new Dream Machine kiosks. It’s just a feeling that companies like PepsiCo should look at the problem and find their next solution as if they had no resources; try to be truly grassroots. Maybe they’ll discover that the incentive to recycle occurs when you buy your soda and at the very least, maybe they’ll realize that another kiosk is not the solution and they’ll start supporting Bottle bills.

Useful links:
Bottle Bill Resource Guide
Container Recycling Institute
Keep America Beautiful

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Starbucks Was Correct. Now Bring In Your Own Damn Cup!

Starbucks took a “kick in the middle” last month when their shareholders voted down a resolution from As You Sow that would’ve forced Starbucks to develop a comprehensive plan for in-store recycling and a commitment to disclosing and increasing use of recycled content in their consumer products and plastic lined coffee cups. Starbuck’s consumer products include Ethos Water (plastic), Frappucino (glass) and Doubleshot (aluminum). But the focus was on the cups – all 3 billion of them that are consumed in the US annually. Starbuck’s plastic-lined cups are made from 10% post-consumer recycled fiber and are not recyclable; Starbucks hopes to remedy this by creating a fully recyclable cup by 2012.

Starbucks Shared PlanetBy voting down As You Sow’s resolution, Starbucks and its shareholders took a hit in the media and blogosphere. Starbucks responded by stating they are not abandoning recycling and green initiatives and encouraged people to check out their corporate responsibility program, Shared Planet.

To us, this seems like another Jubbling no-brainer. Yes, Starbucks’ shareholders did vote down this initiative and yes, they are about 90% away from their goal of having fully recyclable cups. But whose responsibility is it? That’s the no-brainer part and where we as consumers need to take responsibility and bring in our own traveler mugs. By using our own cups, mugs, tumblers etc., we can cut down the amount that has to be recycled. It all goes back to the idea of pre-cycling and it’s definitely preferred over the cost of throwing out or recycling cups.

And Starbucks has incentivized this effort by offering a $.10 discount on any drink consumed in your own container. A perk Starbucks has been offering since 1985. And on April 15th, Starbucks went a step further and offered a free cup of drip coffee to anyone that brought in their own tumbler. I’m sure the motivation for this offer had less to do with tax day and was more about encouraging customer’s to beat a path to their local Starbucks with their own mugs.

Some other ideas for encouraging the use of tumblers and cups include:

  • Remind coffee drinkers that coffee tastes and will retain heat better in a stainless steel or ceramic mug.
  • Have cheap, reusable “guilt” cups by the register for people who forget their cups.
  • Offer a free drink every 5th time somebody uses their own cup. Raw materials wise, giving a free coffee every 5th visit is probably cheaper for Starbucks than giving $.10 each time. Plus, it’s more valuable and motivating for the customer.

Of course we’d like to see Stabucks add in-store recycling and move in a direction of including more recycled content in their packaging. But in-store recycling probably won’t happen until Starbucks starts producing recyclable cups. If they added recycling now, fishing the plastic lined cups out of the bin would almost be a full-time job. Plus, Starbucks employees would be questioned and confronted with the fact that they’re cups are not recyclable when customers use the bins.

But the onus shouldn’t be heaped on Starbucks alone. As customers, we need to accept our share and look at using our own mugs/tumblers as an opportunity to buy “bulk” coffee and save another cup in the process. No packaging or recycling required and a $.10 reward to boot. I’m just as guilty as the next person so it’s also up to me to bring in my own damn cup.

[youtube width=”380″ height=”239″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMqH_c1zY_8[/youtube]

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US Agencies Toughen Up Energy Star Standards After Embarrassing Lapses

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com, and is reprinted with permission.

From April 16, 2010 – James Murray, BusinessGreen.com – Undercover investigators gain Energy Star accreditation for phony gas-powered alarm clock.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy this week announced emergency measures to tighten the procedures governing the award of Energy Star certification after undercover investigators revealed the current system was so flawed that made up products were able to attain accreditation.

Energy StarAccording to a report released late last month, investigators with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) were able to obtain Energy Star accreditation for 15 out of 20 fake products that they submitted under the energy efficiency labeling scheme.

The phony products included a gas-powered alarm clock and a “room air cleaner “, which was displayed in mocked up photos showing an electric space heater with a feather duster attached to it.

The GAO report, which was commissioned by Republican Senator Susan Collins, said the practice of approving products based on energy savings data presented by manufacturers themselves left the scheme “vulnerable to fraud and abuse”.

The agencies responsible for the scheme moved this week to address the issue, announcing that effective immediately all manufacturers applying for Energy Star certification would have to submit complete lab reports and results for review and approval by EPA prior to labeling.

The tightened procedure replaces the previous automated approval process that would dish out certification to any product that appeared to meet the necessary criteria.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, said the new rules would help to restore confidence in the scheme. “The safeguards we’re putting into effect are essential for the millions of consumers who rely on Energy Star products to help save energy, money and the environment,” she said.

The EPA added that the approval process would be further tightened at the end of the year when new rules will be introduced requiring all manufacturers to submit test results from an approved, accredited lab for any product seeking the Energy Star label.

However, it remains to be seen if the crack down will help restore the scheme’s badly bruised credibility.

The Energy Star scheme covers a huge range of products, including white goods, computers and building materials, and is meant to promote products that are between 10 and 25 per cent more efficient than minimum federal standards.

But it has been widely criticized over the years for failing to adequately police the scheme and update standards as technologies improve – a scenario that in some cases has seen Energy Star labels carried by virtually every product in a market.

The EPA launched a crack down on products that should not be carrying the label at the start of the year, claiming its first victim when LG was ordered to stop using the label on a number of fridges that failed to meet required energy efficiency standards in independent tests.

But the reforms did not come quick enough to halt the latest embarrassing revelations and the EPA is likely to require much more widespread testing if it wants to restore confidence in the scheme.

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What The Heck Is “Slack Fill”?

Ginger Snaps CSPIEvery consumer has experienced “slack fill” but might not have known the name for it. It’s the process by which food manufacturers excessively package products to give consumers the feeling they are receiving more product. It is commonplace in snack foods, cereals etc and the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) is taking up the fight against it. They are urging the FDA and states attorneys general to enforce their own rules against deceptive and excessive packaging. CSPI’s Executive Director, Michael F. Jacobson, stated that

“…as consumers we’ve almost come to expect that our food packages will be half full of food and half full of air. Slack fill is just one trick that food marketers employ to make us think we’re getting more for our money than we are.” [FPD]

Mr. Jacobson went further and used a box of Nabisco Ginger Snaps to make the point that since the box is half full, the shipping container used to get it to consumers would be half full too. Now it’s an efficiency issue.

But the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) believes current packaging and slack fill is necessary in order to adhere to the FDA’s policies and to protect their member’s product in transit. They responded by saying:

“The realities are that there are a multitude of reasons why certain packages are certain sizes, including FDA food safety requirements as well as size, shape and rigidity requirements that enable products to withstand the demands of the supply chain (i.e., shipping, storing, etc.). [MediaPost.com]

The whole “slack fill” debate reminds me of the cold war where each side waited for the other side to blink. Hopefully one food manufacturer will step up and blink first so the others will follow. I understand part of the reason why food companies over package and slack fill their products; it’s all about being eye level and most importantly, it’s about occupying as much shelf space as possible. But maybe the benefits of reduced packaging & freight costs and some good marketing could change that thinking. Then it will be up to consumers to support this move.

Hunger has led me to focus on groceries but excessive packaging is found in kids toys, electronics, storage media etc. It’s everywhere. If want to see change, look on the back of the products you buy and call or email the company and ask them to reduce their packaging. Companies do listen and “reasonable” negative comments carry more weight than positive ones.

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