Ask the EcoGeek: Recycling CDs

Dear EcoGeek,

Is it possible to recycle old CD’s or DVD’s?

The perpetual scourge of EcoGeekiness is obsolescence. We pay good
money for what we see as a good product, and then five years down the
line we’re surrounded by useless junk!

But I can’t help but answer this seemingly straightforward question with several different answers.

First, I’ll actually answer the question:

Yes, you can, but it’s not as simple as curbside pickup. CDs and DVDs
do contain valuable materials (CDRs even sometimes contain gold) and
there are techniques to harvest that material for reuse, but those same
materials make them too complicated for regular recycling centers.
Unfortunately, the materials aren’t expensive enough that someone will
pay for them. To recycle CDs you’ll have to ship them to a special
recycling center. Several are listed at the bottom of this post.

Continue Reading

Electronic Newspaper Vending

Converting all of the world’s newspapers to paperless publishing is an excellent idea. We like it, for a lot of reasons. We’re not old-fashioned, we don’t like ink on our fingers, we want instantly searchable, zoomable, shareable newspapers that don’t kill trees.

But what are we going to do with all those newspaper boxes!  Well, somebody has answered that question as well. Just take a look at the video, and see. Just slap a 17 inch LCD in there with a cellular internet connection and bam, you’ve got yourself an instant advertisement for your newspaper.

Plus, it’s one wireless upload and credit-card transaction away from a pay-based system for digital papers. But we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Via Engadget

Middle-Schoolers Start Up Solar Company

When eighth graders start turning a profit in an industry, that’s when you know there’s opportunity for real growth.

A Santa Clara solar firm, CalSunTech, has a middle-schooler for a CEO, but seems to be doing well for a local firm, and it’s in the running for a California Clean Tech Open award. The company is developing concentrators to increase the efficiency per unit of silicon in photovoltaics. It’s not a new idea, but the folks who do it best do stand to make a lot of cash selling the technology. CalSunTech already has one patent on file.

Frankly, it seems unlikely that the parents aren’t involved fairly significantly. At the very least, it reminds me of crazed sports dads. Except, in Santa Clara, the dads force their children to startup companies, instead of play football. Which, for some reason, doesn’t surprise me at all.

Via CNET News Blog

EcoGeek Newsletter

Why Your Electricity Meter Sucks

My electricity meter is about fifty years old, and it’s likely that yours is too. Even if it’s new, it probably uses the same ancient technology as mine. Those meters were created for a world with cheap, abundant power. Well, the world has changed…so why hasn’t my electricity meter?

It turns out, that if all United States power companies were to upgrade to new electricity meters today, America would save roughly $35 billion in energy costs over twenty years and it would eliminate the need for around 625 power plants. How could something as simple as an electricity meter suck so bad?

The most significant (though not only) problem with old electricity meters is that they charge you the same amount no matter what time of day it is. Electric utilities keep a constant supply of electricity flowing out into the world in order to maximize the efficiency of the power plants. At night, electricity flies through the grid and, with no one awake to use it, it simply dissipates. Then during peak hours, all electricity produced by large power plants is used. In fact, expensive and inefficient ‘peaker plants’ have to be turned on daily to meet demand.

But none of that matters to me. Running my dryer during the day costs exactly as much as running it at night. So why should I change?

This is why the great green state of California commissioned a study three years ago, in which they switched a few thousand Californians to a new kind of electricity meter that charged higher rates at peak hours and lower rates at off-peak times.

And now, the results are in. People with programmable thermostats decreased their peak power use by as much as 10%, and no consumers in the study didn’t decrease their peak power use substantially. The Brattle Group recently got a hold of this data and they’ve done some economic analysis that knocked my socks off. Their report, which is where I got the statistics above, is shocking.

New meters that enable "dynamic pricing" programs would decrease the energy use of America by 5% minimum. If broader technology applications were put into place, such as in-home power plants, plug-in hybrid-to-grid technology and other so-called "peak shavers" we could decrease the electricity demand of America by 20% in 20 years!

On top of that, the program would eliminate the need for expensive peaker plants, reduce greenhouse emissions, and reduce or eliminate brownouts. More than that, though, i just makes sense that you’d pay more when demand is higher and supply lower. Isn’t that how economics works? Apparently not when you let the snail-paced power companies lead the charge.

Via GreenBiz and The Brattle Group

Check out the full report from: The Power of Five Percent

See Also:
What is the Electranet
The EcoGeek Newsletter
Personal Power Plant

Photovoltaics 100X More Efficient than Biofuel

A reader over at AutoblogGreen (one of my all-time favorite blogs) sent in a short essay comparing the efficiency of photovoltaics to the efficiency of biofuels. and ABG rightly saw fit to publish it.

I’m not tremendously surprised that photovoltaics won…I’m just surprised by how big the difference is.

Now biofuels are kinda like solar power. Plants capture the the sun’s light and convert it to energy. We then convert the plants into fuel, and then turn the fuel into useful power.

Photovoltaics skip a few of those steps, converting sunlight directly to power without any pesky nature getting in the way. It turns out that creating biofuel with an acre of land produces about 100 times less power than covering that same land with solar panels.

While it’s fascinating to discover, the sad fact is, it doesn’t really matter. We can hope that someday our global footprint will shrink.  But right now, it doesn’t matter how much space we take up, it only matters how much money we spend. What we really need to see is a per-unit-of-power analysis of the cost of biofuels vs. photovoltaics. It’s my guess that that analysis will make it quite obvious why no one’s replacing corn fields with solar panels.

Via AutoblogGreen

Sun – Wind – Strength: Bike Add-On Creates Power

For those of us who are interested in distance travel without fossil fuels, but can’t do without our cellphones, iPods and laptops, designer Paul Smith has put together the Navitas.

The Navitas can charge it’s on-board, 24-volt battery in three different ways: Strength, Sun and Wind. The device, which I imagine doubles as extra storage space as well, uses the attached rear wheel to charge the battery when the bike is moving. Then, once stopped, the Navitas can be snapped off the bike and the rear wheel becomes a wind turbine, while a square foot of solar panels pops out for good measure.

It’s good to see someone thinking about these kinds of things, but it won’t be all that useful until there are a lot more distance bike travelers on the road.

Via Gizmodo and Bicycle Design

Bigger graphic after the jump.

Electric Mower Review at Wired

Wired Magazine has an excellent starter guide for folks looking to green up their lawn maintenance. They make some good points for why you should do it. Most lawn mowers are powered by two-stroke engines that produce more than ten times the pollution of a four-stroke car engine. Plus electric mowers are far more carbon-efficient, and keep pollution out of your yard.

You can get a lot more green for your buck by upgrading your lawnmower than by upgrading your car. Plus, they’re just as powerful, and so much pleasant on your sleeping neighbor’s ears. In fact, I’m about ready to buy one for my landlord, so his early-morning mowing isn’t quite so obnoxious.

See Also:
Electric Hovercraft / Lawnmower

EcoGeek of the Week:The Directors of Arctic Tale

Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson have been filming the arctic for more
than twenty years. Now, for the first time, they’re telling a story of their own. Arcitc Tale will be hitting theaters next month and is
expected to draw huge crowds of all ages. Adam and Sarah were kind
enough to talk with me last week to give me some insights on this
marvelous new film. I’m proud to have them as this week’s EcoGeek(s) of
the Week.

Arctic Tale is a coming of age story about a polar bear cub
and a walrus calf. The story of these characters lives over three years is
constructed from Sarah and Adam’s footage and decades of experience. But whereas the villain in The March of the Penguins
was a noble albatross, Arctic Tale’s villain is much more sinister: climate change.

As our protagonists grow, they discover that the lessons
taught to them by their parents are becoming less and less applicable
in this new warm world.

Sarah says that she sees the film as more than education,
but also more than activism. The film makers obviously see a lesson that must be learned here…and an EcoGeeky lesson at that.

As Nanu the bear and Seela the walrus encounter new and difficult
situations, they learn, adapt and change in order to survive. Sarah
tells me that we, as humans, will be required to do the exact same
thing in this changing world. The moral, in short, is that we aren’t
quite dead yet, and just like walruses and polar bears, we’re going to
have to change, make some difficult decisions, and even go against
tradition to make it out alive.

Continue Reading

Power Output of Healthier Americans: 3650 gWh/year

Using muscles to power our lives is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a really really old idea. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

Especially since there’s probably a million people trying to burn off calories on treadmills all over the world at this very moment. And all those calories they’re burning are pretty much going to waste.

Well, almost all. There are actually a couple of gyms across  the world that are converting those burned kilocalories into usable kilowatts. TreeHugger recently wrote about the "California Gym" in Hong Kong, which uses juice generated from people running on treadmills to power the establishment’s lights.

But can this really help? Is it worth attaching generators to millions of treadmills and elliptical machines all over the world?

I think it may be time for some quick calculations.
50 watts per adult * 200 million adults in America * 1 hour of exercise per day * 1 billion watts per gigawatt * 365 days per year = 3650 gigawatt hours per year!

Solving the obesity epidemic and the energy crisis at the same time. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

The added cost to the treadmills would likely be a lot less than putting solar panels all over the roof of the gym and the power would be generated exactly when the establishment needs it. I can’t imagine this wouldn’t pay for itself relatively quickly.

LED ‘Fluorescent’ Tubes

A lot of us have been waiting to see LED lamps in homes and offices. Good news! EverLED now
has LED replacements for fluorescent tubes. These connect directly into
the lamp, and require no retrofitting of the ballast or the fixture.

"The EverLED TR is a direct, “drop-in” replacement for standard
fluorescent light tubes. It is compatible with virtually every standard,
ballast equipped fluorescent light fixture, without any need for

These are currently available as standard 4′ size tubes in 5 different
color temperatures. The distributor advertises these as having a 10 year
typical lifespan and 20% energy use reduction versus standard fluorescent
tubes. They also note that there is no mercury or lead in these
replacements, and that they do not have a breakage hazard as do standard
glass tubes.

The $150 price tag will probably keep the rush to a minimum…but if my calculations are correct, they’ll pay for themselves easily over the life of the bulb.

via: hugg and Gizmag

See Also:

Ask the EcoGeek: LEDs

Solar-Powered Motorbike Hides in its Own Shell

Aside from being fairly ugly and entirely imaginary, SunRed’s new snail-shell-based solar bike is completely awesome.

All the other blog posts I’ve read about this are reporting that the snail-shell covering will stow away during transport…but that’s not entirely accurate. Obviously, the nose panel (which contains the light and rear-view mirror) will remain in place, while the three back panels will fold away. Thus, the bike will still pull some charge while traveling.

Even though the bike has way more surface area than any other solar motorbike ever will ever again, it still doesn’t pull enough juice to be very useful. A full charge will only get you 13 miles at 30 mph.

Nonetheless, it’s an interesting design and I’m looking forward to seeing the real-life prototype from Sun Red soon.

Via AutoBlogGreen

See Also:
Enclosed Motorcycle
Stealth Motorcycle

Bio-Plastic Building Components

Wall guards and corner guards don’t make for particularly compelling architecture by themselves. Most people don’t pay attention to them. They are an element in hospitals and offices, particularly where there is high traffic, to protect the walls from damage. And they are often made of PVC plastics.

Rather than being manufactured with PVC plastic, Arden Architectural Specialties has introduced a line of wall-and corner-guards that is made from corn-based biopolymers. Not only does this reduce the toxic byproducts of vinyl manufacture, and require less energy overall for the manufacture, but the end product is also stronger and more damage resistant, and is easy to recycle at the end of it’s life.

Finding yet another non-food use for corn is not without its drawbacks. But finding a substitute for PVC and helping to reduce dioxin pollution
are a positive step that EcoGeeks are in favor of. We’re hoping this is just the beginning of this trend. Bio-plastics should be showing up in everything from pipes to food packaging in the near future.

via: Architectural