Noelle’s Links – Bay Area Edition


Interesting tidbits from my web travels…

The SF Chronicle’s Chip Johnson weighs in on a promising Oakland streetcar proposal from Stanford student Daniel Jacobsen. The proposed line would link Piedmont to the Jack London waterfront, creating a focused amenity for downtown Oakland. Jacobsen’s careful and well-researched proposal which he gave to the city as a gift, is based on a similar street car system in Portland. Jacobsen includes feasibility analyses, job creation projections and a funding strategy.

East Bay Local Alert: The Beehive Market, a brand new sustainable-focus community market kicked off on Saturday, June 12 in West Berkeley. The Beehive features local food and produce vendors, eco-fashion, home, and personal care, and even features local bands, and speaker/educational events. What better way to start the weekend?

Berkeley’s recent intimations that it will begin collecting a fee for curbside recycling has been receiving a fair amount of press lately. While it may seem like an ecological dis-incentive, it is important to celebrate the success that Berkeley’s recycling program has had and its influence on the creation of recycling programs around the country. It is actually good news that recycling in Berkeley can no longer be funded solely on fees for landfill garbage collection. As municipalities start to make progress toward their waste diversion targets, it is time to start making headway on new models for funding mechanisms; be prepared- it may take a few tries to get it right.

The Red Vic Movie House in SF will be screening the new documentary “Oceans” on Sunday June 20, and Monday June 21st. With all of the harrowing events still unfolding in the BP Gulf oil spill, now seems to be an especially important time to raise our awareness of the ocean and its inhabitants. The documentary provides extensive underwater imagery captured with state-of-the-art techniques, and also discusses the human impacts on the ocean’s vital ecosystems.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)


This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

photo by Ian Britton,

Extended Producer Responsibility refers to the concept that manufacturers have an obligation to take a more active role in the entire life-cycle of their products in order to reduce the burden of recycling and disposal currently borne by local governments and taxpayers. The approaches to EPR may vary, from optimized manufacturing processes that allow a product to be dismantled and recycled more easily thereby reducing the amount of waste and/or toxic materials sent to landfill, to “take back” programs that allow consumers to return an end-of-life product back to the manufacturer for recycling or disposal.

EPR is often achieved through mandates from local  and state governments. Besides “take back” programs, strategies may include:

–Additional fees or taxes for producers and consumers of certain products to recover disposal costs;

–“Environmentally preferable purchasing” guidelines for manufacturers that may, among other things, ensure less waste by setting recycled-content requirements for new products; and

–Design requirements that reduce the unnecessary packaging waste, extend the life of products, etc.

One common application of EPR programs and/or mandates is in regard to electronics waste, or “e-waste”.

Related term:

Product Stewardship is often used as another term  for extended producer responsibility, but can also incorporate actions that do not directly target manufacturing practices. Product stewardship may examine the entire structure of production and consumption including all stakeholders: manufacturers, vendors, consumers, and government, with the emphasis on shared responsibility for the end-of-life-cycle of products. Product stewardship, as EPR, may be achieved through any combination of legislation, mandates, incentives, collaborative processes, voluntary action from manufacturers and education and outreach to producers and/or consumers.

What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

The Murkowski Resolution and the EPA


Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska introduced a resolution seeking to disrupt the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, wrote a response to the proposed resolution that was posted today at The Huffington Post.

The Senate vote was today – the resolution failed 53 – 47  according to the Associated Press.

The White House had threatened a veto if it reaches the President’s desk. The official Statement of Administration Policy is posted here.

Anna’s Links – E-Waste Recycling and Green Roofs

New York state passed the “Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act,” requiring that manufacturers accept and recycle many types of e-waste starting in April 2011 (soon!)- NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation and NRDC.

Green roofs are now required for many new buildings in Copenhagen – Treehugger.

A lawyer has started a blog focusing on legal issues specifically related to green building, with many recent posts focusing on the LEED rating system and the USGBC – Green Building Law Update.

Informal Garbage Collection – Egypt’s Zabaleen


This post is part of our series exploring the ways people and communities reuse, recycle and dispose of waste around the world.

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For decades the Zabaleen*, the regional garbage collectors, have gathered and processed the recyclables, managing to earn a living in the process. The Zabaleen are generally Coptic Christians, a minority in Muslim Egypt. One way in which they have dealt with organic waste is to feed it to their pigs. Once the pigs were fattened, the Christian Zabaleen could eat the pigs or sell the meat.

In 2009 the Egyptian government killed all the pigs in a misguided effort to forestall a swine flu epidemic.

The population of Cairo is about 18 million people. The government has tried to institute formal garbage collection in various ways since the 1980s, with the most recent effort involving multinational companies, but with limited success. And since the government killed a major part of their livelihood, the Zabaleen  stopped handling the organic waste.

Garbage began piling up in Cairo (images here).

In November 2009, the Egyptian government unsuccessfully tried to end its contracts with the Italian, Spanish, and French companies charged with garbage collection, saying the companies failed to do their jobs.

The international companies have now hired some of the Zabaleen as Cairo struggles to find a lasting solutions.

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There is a Sundance Channel documentary about Cairo’s garbage collection history called “Cairo: Garbage” that looks interesting.

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*Also seen spelled Zabbaleen.

Virtual Water


This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Virtual water (also referred to as embodied water) is the volume of fresh water used to produce a product at the location of production. This concept of virtual water applies to everything we use or buy, such as clothes, electronics, food, and building materials. For example, the average virtual water associated with 1 egg would be 53 gallons.

(For those familiar with energy issues, this is similar to embodied energy.)

The creator of the virtual water concept, Professor John Anthony Allan, was initially researching agricultural water issues in the Middle East and concluded that the region could survive with scarce water because it was importing large amounts of “virtual water” embedded in its food imports.

You can hear a podcast of Professor Allan’s seminar on virtual water here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Finding Data – GDP and Electricity Consumption


I thought it would be interesting to graph GDP against a metric of per capita energy use (in this case kWh/capita).

(Click on the chart to see a larger version.)

There are a number of interesting things to note about this chart. First, compared to the other countries shown, the United States has a really high GDP. Counting countries individually (sometimes the European Union is counted as one entity), the USA has the highest GDP, then Japan, then China. In general, the chart indicates that as a country’s GDP increases, so does kWh/capita. If we also take the size of the population into account, this is one reason many people are increasingly concerned about the potential effects of economic growth in India and China on climate change. Exceptions on the chart seem to generally be very cold countries (Canada, Sweden, and Russia) or very hot countries (Australia and Saudi Arabia).

In the chart above, the data comes from Key World Energy Statistics 2009, put out by the International Energy Agency (data is for 2007).

Electricity consumption is calculated for the entire country as gross production + imports – exports – transmission/distribution losses. It is then divided by the population of the country to get the per capita value.

Curitiba Brazil’s Green Exchange

Curitiba Brazil has a number of innovative waste management programs. Follow this link to view a short video that features Curitiba’s Green Exchange Program. The program operates by exchanging fresh food for recyclable items that residents collect and bring to a transfer station.

Also see information here on the documentary A Convenient Truth, a film that chronicles how this typical South American city is transforming itself  through innovative, sustainable community initiatives.  Curitiba’s ideas and expertise are being exported to other cities around the world. I haven’t seen the doc yet, but it appears to be worth a look.

Noelle’s Links – 6/3/10

Interesting tidbits from my web travels…

The Green Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit that kicked off in May that provides guidance on the manufacture of safer products. The group offers the new “Cradle to Cradle” certification. Read Triplepundit‘s coverage of the launch.

Visit the Green Product Innovation Institute’s site here.

Read about Jerry Glover, Agroecologist, working towards the establishment of perennial crops that could be the next agricultural revolution, at National Geographic.

In case you haven’t seen one of the many tech blogs buzzing about this one yet, check out the Prepeat Printer as covered The Prepeat is a rewritable printer from Japan’s Sanwa Newtec that uses special plastic sheets that can be written and erased up to a thousand times each. The machine is prohibitively expensive at $US 5,500 and a set of sheets will set you back thousands more. A laudable achievement, but plastic sheets? Discuss…