Saturday, December 29, 2007

Electronic Waste

The January 2008 issue of National Geographic has a great article, High Tech Trash, about electronic waste. This e-waste is generated from old computers, computer monitors, cells phones, televisions, electronic game consoles and other electronic devices we no longer use and throw away.

It is amazing where much of our old electronics end up. Places like West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast), China and other Asian Countries. This waste has many negative environmental and human impact it has. The sure amount is also staggering. The EPA estimates between 1.5 and 1.9 millions tons of e-waste is generated yearly in the US.

There are two things I think we should take away from this article:

  • Understanding of what happens to our old electronics and the negative environmental impact it has.
  • There are things we can do to lessen the impact of our old electronics.

On the last point, National Geographic gives us some E-cycling Etiquette which provides web links to help us recycle our old electronics properly.

My Thoughts on the Prius Part 6 - Final Word

This is the last of my six part series about my new Prius. I discussed some miscellaneous features about the car and then provide a final word.


I love the Smart Key feature that come on many Prius models. I never have to take the key out of my pocket to get in and out of the car.

The backup camera is a great feature, especially when backing out of a parking space between two SUVs or full size pickup trucks.

Backup Beep that sounds when every the car is put in reserve is annoying. There is a way to turn it off. However, my wife likes its, so I have to live with the beep.

The Prius now comes with side curtain airbags standard. This is a great safety feature, especially in Texas, where over half the vehicles are full size SUVs and pickup trucks.

Final Word

Prius is still a car that uses gasoline so it still has environmental impact. It's not perfect from an environmental standpoint. It needs to be manufactured. Steel, aluminum and nickel need to be extracted from the earth to for its manufacture. It may have much lower impact than most cars and trucks on the road but it is not zero. It think the Prius is a good first start to making cars with lower environmental impact. However there is much more work to do. I hope to see even better cars from an environmental perspective in the future.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Green Hypocrisy - Greensumption

Check out this very interesting video by the International Forum on Globalization. I learned of it from a Living In A Toxic World blog. The video points out the hypocrisy of many forms of "green consuming." I think its important that when we buy things, we should consider the environmental impact in our choices. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that we can simply buy our way to a green world. For example, the Prius may be a better choice in vehicles since it has a lower environmental impact than most cars, but it still has negative environmental impact because its a car that consumes oil.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Consequences of Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining

Extraction of natural resources can have devastating consequences for our environment. The NASA Earth Observatory Feature on the Coal Controversy in Appalachia explains the environmental consequences of the mountaintop removal mining of coal. After reading the NASA article, it makes me think twice about turning on a light powered by electricity from a coal fired power plant. It shows coal has devastating consequences beyond the global warming CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants. Its another illustration why energy conservation and alternative clean energy sources are so important.

Bring Your Lunch to Work

Bringing your lunch to work is one way to lower your impact on the environment. It can have other advantages too. Every day that I don’t have a lunch appointment, I bring my lunch to work.

There are several ways bringing a lunch reduces my environmental impact:

  • I stay in the office, thus I don’t burn gasoline driving to a restaurant. A trip to the nearest restaurants involves about 4 to 5 mile round trip drive. I save about one gallon of gas per week which reduces my CO2 emissions by 20 pounds and I also avoid putting other tail pipe pollutants into the air.
  • Using reusable containers and an insulated lunch box reduces wastes from plastic lunch bags and paper sacks. I just used a couple of paper towels as a napkin and to clean my containers after lunch. My waste is much lower than that of a typical fast food meal with all its throw away papers bags, cups, wrappers and napkins. Many of these items are made from Styrofoam or plastics which increases their environmental impact.

Some of the other advantages of eating lunch at work include

  • Saving money. My lunches cost less to make than a typical fast food meal. I save even more over a full service restaurant. I am also not using gasoline to drive to a restaurant. I probably save $25 a week by bringing my lunch.
  • I eat healthier. Most fast food meal are low in nutrition and contain much more salt (sometimes double or more -- see A Calorie Counter) than we need for our daily intake. Excess salt can lead to high blood pressure. I usually include fruits and vegetable plus some walnuts and almonds with my lunch. I can also limit the portions so I don’t over eat.
  • I have time for a short walk which provides exercise and helps clear my mind so I am ready for an afternoon of work.

I often have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (PB&J) with my lunch. Lately I replaced my PB&J with peanut butter on a celery stick as an even healthier alternative. I didn’t realize that eating a PB&J may be better for the environment then eating a burger until I learned about The PB&J Campaign. By replacing a hamburger with a PB&J you can reduce of carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 2.5 pounds and reduce water consumption to produce the food by about 280 gallons.

I also have an slightly off topic thought to share regarding a few good weight loss tips by Dr. Mao: Dr. Mao’s New Year's Weight Loss: 6 Tips. Weight loss is not directly an environmental issue. But by not eating more food than we require, we will reduce our impact on the environment.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Thoughts on the Prius Part 5 - Value

This is Part 5 on my 6 parts series on my experience with my new Prius during the last 8 months

I needed an economical car but it had to be able to carry my son’s upright bass. In smaller cars, that meant getting a hatchback. The only other small car that worked was a Toyota Matrix and its twin, the Pontiac Vibe. The Matrix / Vibe is very close in size and features to the Prius. These car get around 30 mpg but cost $3,000 to $5,000 less depending on how the cars are equipped. The gas savings of the Prius doesn’t justify the additional cost even with gasoline at $3 per gallon.

Having said that, the extra passenger room in the Prius is a plus. It is just a few inches wider and has more rear leg room. From a status standpoint, especially a green status standpoint, the Prius is definitely a plus. People who do not necessarily care about green issues or cars take an interest when I tell them I have a Prius because it is still a novelty to most people.

Finally, comparing the Prius to mid-size cars that have about the interior space and comfort, I think it’s a better value. Compared to many bigger cars and SUVs simply used for commuting, the Prius is definitely be a better value. Compared to my Chevy Impala, it has almost as much passenger room and as much cargo capacity. A similarly equipment Impala also cost more. So the gas saving with the Prius is a bonus.

Since I purchased my Prius in March of 2007, I am eligible for a $1575 tax credit on my 2007 income tax. The tax credit is no longer available to people purchasing Prius now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Thoughts on the Prius Part 4 - Performance

The Prius is a good handling vehicle. I had to make a quick maneuver once on the freeway going 60 mph when a car tried to change lanes into me. The Prius provided a quick solid respond. I felt like I had the car completely under control during the whole maneuver.

The Prius has a very tight turning radius. Its great for get in and out of tight places and quick turn-a-rounds.

The acceleration of the Prius is excellent. The combination the gas and electric engines provide deceptive power. When accelerating hard, one doesn’t hear the engine roar in the same way a with a conventional gas engine. The acceleration seems more quiet and reserved but one look at the speedometer or the cars around you know, you are moving out quickly. Getting onto a freeway is no problem. Driving at freeway speeds and accelerating to pass is also no problem. Driving at 70 mph on the Interstate and accelerating to pass a tractor trailer truck quickly is no problem. I can quickly from 70 to 85 mph and feel like I still had a lot of engine in reserve.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Prius vs. Hummer in Environmental Friendliness

An organization called CNW Research claims in their report Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles from Concept to Disposal “The Prius registered an energy-cost average of $3.25 per mile driven over its expected life span of 100,000 miles. Ironically, a Hummer, the brooding giant that has become the bĂȘte noir of the green movement, did much better, with an energy-cost average of $1.95 over its expected life span of 300,000 miles.“ Therefore, the Hummer is the more environmentally friendly vehicle. Of course the claim is bogus. What first made me suspicious was big difference in the mileage lifetimes.

Washington Post Columnist George F. Will publicized this information in his syndicated column in April 2007 (click here). I am particularly disappointed that a respected columnist and journalist like George Will would promulgate such information without proper fact checking.

The real facts are the Prius is much more energy efficiency over its life time, There are many good rebuttals to the CNW Research paper that get the facts right. All one need to do is a quick search on the web to find them. A few of the good articles are:

Sierra Club Mr. Green Rebuttal

Climate Progress

Rocky Mountain Institute.

I suppose the CNW Research article is comforting to those who drive a Hummer or dislike environmentalist. But facts are fact.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Thoughts on the Toyota Prius Part 3– Interior Space and Cargo Room

I bought the Prius because we needed an extra car since both my children now have drivers licenses. One criteria the car had to meet was that it had to be able to carry my son’s upright double bass and a front seat passenger. My Impala can carry the double base in the passenger compartment along with a passenger. However, the passenger has to sit in the rear seat behind the driver.

Not only can the Prius carry the upright bass, it can carry two passengers. Beside the front seat passenger, there is actually plenty of room in the back seat for a passenger. The bass takes up about have of the back seat and the cargo area. In fact, we took a summer road trip to take my son and his bass a to jazz camp in Louisville. It was an 800 mile trip one way. My wife, son and I piled in the Prius, along with the bass and all our luggage for a week trip. Everyone had plenty of room and everyone was comfortably.

My two boys often use the Prius to carry themselves and music gear to their jazz gigs around town. They carry the upright bass, a couple of amps, a guitar, music stands and other miscellaneous equipment. At one gig when they were unloading, a bystander was amazed at all the gear they carried. He said to them “you got all that in a Prius?”.

The Prius has a deceptively roomy interior for a compact car. The rear seat leg room in the Prius is as good as in most full size cars. It has equivalent rear leg room to my Chevy Impala. The interior space in the Prius is much better than the typically compact car. The Prius is a few inches than most compacts which makes it feel much roomier.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Lights

The environmental scrooge would say don’t put out any Christmas lights. They just add to the electricity load which adds needless global warming CO2 to the atmosphere if your power comes from a coal or gas fired power plant.

However, the pragmatic environmentalist says, lights are part of the holiday spirit. It alright to put them up. Its even important if you have little children. Just use a little common sense to reduce energy consumption.

The first thing to do is be a lazy environmentalist like me. It takes time and effort on my part to put the lights up and take them down. So, I feel a small display is best. You don’t need to try and out do the neighbors. There is no need to have lights on every square inch of your yard and house. My advice is small, simple and elegant. Its just less work.

The next thing to do use LED lights. They use 80 to 90% less energy than traditional Christmas lights.

Finally, use a timer. There is no need to have lights on all night. I usually set my lights to goes off somewhere between 10 and 11pm. I see many of my neighbors burning their outdoor lights all night. Using a timer is also the lazy environmentalist thing to do. You don’t have to make the effort to turn them on in the evening and off again before you go to bed. Also, you don’t need to go outside in the cold and snow just to turn off the lights.

So use some common sense and be lazy. This will minimize your Christmas light energy use and has the side benefit of reducing your electric bill.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My Thoughts on the Prius Part 2 - Exhaust, Traffic Jams, Parking in My Garage

This is Part 2 of my experience with my Prius after driving it for seven months.

Thought about the Toyota Prius Hybrid – Traffic Jams.

I discovered the Prius is a great car to have in during traffic jams. I only have a 4 ½ mile commute to work on surface streets. I rarely get stuck in traffics jams. Once in a while I do need to drive on the freeways. The first time I drove a freeway with the Prius was during a rush hour. I got caught in about a 3 mile backup. Overall, I was in the traffic jam for about 20 minutes before I reached my exit.

I was creeping along at 15 to 20 mph with an occasional stop. At such low speeds, sometime on a downgrade, the gasoline engine rarely runs. In fact, during this particular traffic jam, the gasoline engine did not run at all. The miles per gallon indicator on the Prius’ display was maxed out at 100 mpg the whole time. While the other cars around me were experiencing their worst gas mileage, my Prius was getting its best. Also, I was not putting noxious air polluting exhaust fumes into the air. At that time, I wished all cars could be like the Prius. The air in our cities would me much cleaner.

In general, my experience is that the Prius gets its best gas mileage in slow heavy freeway traffic. It takes a little of the frustration way from being stuck in traffic.

Thought about the Toyota Prius Hybrid – Exhaust in Garage.

One of the best things about the Prius is that it never leaves exhaust fumes in the garage. When the car is turned on it is powered by battery. There is generally plenty of time to back the car out of the garage before the gasoline engine kicks in. Thus no exhaust in the garage. On the return home, as I drive slowly down the alley, the gasoline engine turns off. So when I get to garage the car is running only on battery power.

I never paid much attention to exhaust fumes in the garage until I got the Prius. The first time I parked my Chevy Astro Van in the garage after getting the Prius, I began to notice the exhaust fumes. No exhaust fume in garage is a good thing since I have an attached garage and the fumes can get into the house.