Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Toxic Technology

Every time we buy a new cell phone, computer, or trade in that television for a shiny, new flat screen, we often struggle to figure out what to do with the old one. Many of these electronics contain toxic chemicals, and the fact that the parts come from all different parts of the world makes regulation difficult.

This relatively recent problem of e-waste is not ignored by the press. Outlets like Wired, the New York Times, and National Geographic have written about it for a few years now, but it still remains a growing problem.

So how do we make our technology greener and help stop the toxic electronic waste from piling up? In 2005 the European Union decided to enforce stricter standards and as a result, many new cell phones are built without chemicals like mercury and lead, according to a recent article in the Inter Press Service News Agency.

In the EU, all mobile phone companies are obligated to set up take-back and recycle programs for batteries and phones under the bloc's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive that entered into force in 2005.

Some states here in the United States are ensuring that electronics already in existence don't end up in landfills where the chemicals can seep into groundwater. So far, four states--New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts, and Maine--all approved legislation that restricts dumping of certain electronics. That leaves only...46 more states to go!

Some things that you can do include recycling your old cell phone through your service provider, waiting to take that old computer monitor out of your closet until the city sponsors an electronics recycling day like they have here in New York, or buying a recycled product. Will that be enough? Probably not, but it's a start.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wal-Mart in Lights

Wal-Mart's greening image turned to emerald a couple of weeks ago when chief executive H. Lee Scott, Jr. announced the ambitious goal of selling 100 million fluorescent light bulbs each year by 2008.

A fluorescent light bulb is an easy way for people to conserve energy, as explained by an article in the New York Times:
It uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb.
Now, with Wal-Mart's help, this technology could help to reduce the nation's collective energy use.

So why, aside from feeling some social responsibility, is Wal-Mart setting its sights so high and trying to sell so many of these light bulbs? Well, that's up for debate, but as James Kunstler points out in "Making Other Arrangements," an article in the January/February issue of Orion magazine, with less oil will come necessary lifestyle changes that could threaten the Wal-Mart way of life.
We're not going to run Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, or the Interstate Highway System on solar or wind energy, hydrogen, ethanol, tar sands, oil shale, or anything else you can name. We will desperately use many of these things in many ways, but we are likely to be disappointed in what they can actually do
The more energy we conserve, the less oil we use, and the longer places like Wal-Mart will be able to survive. Regardless of the company's motivation, using less energy is an environmentally friendly endeavor. So put on your sweater and curl up by the fluorescent light.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Caviar from the Caspian

Days after the New Year, the United Nations announced that it would lift the ban on caviar harvested from the Caspian Sea. The ban was in place during 2006 because the main exporting countries failed to provide information on fish stocks (check my previous post for more information). New 2007 quotas on the delicacy from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, where 90 percent of all caviar originates, are 15 percent lower than they were in 2005.

In the early '90s, caviar production fell by over 90 percent, environmentalists estimate, because of over-fishing. In 2001, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) began monitoring the fish stocks.

Despite the monitoring, sturgeon numbers are still declining. The Secretary-General of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers, admitted so much in a press release:
Ensuring that sturgeon stocks recover to safe levels will take decades of careful fisheries management and an unrelenting struggle against poaching and illegal trade. The income earned from the sale of sturgeon products in 2007 should provide both an incentive and the means to pursue the long-term recovery of this commercially and ecologically valuable natural resource.

The group put off the decision to lift the ban on the more expensive beluga caviar until next month so it can have more time to collect information. If they decide to remove that ban as well, there will be at least one definitive consequence--fewer baby belugas in the deep blue sea.