EarthTechling Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:35:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choosing A Safe, Efficient Insulation Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:00:26 +0000 Dear EarthTalk: The cold winter we’re having here in the Northeast has convinced me to finally beef up my home’s insulation, but I’ve heard that spray foam can off-gas noxious chemicals and pollute the indoor environment. Are there safer options? – Rose Donahue, Framingham, MA

Making your home more energy efficient is certainly good for the planet and will cut your heating/cooling bills, but you’re right to worry about chemical off-gassing. According to the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), most common spray polyurethane foam insulation contains methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, a synthetic chemical that has been linked to asthma, lung damage and even death.

Because of the chemical’s risks, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set the maximum legal limit for MDI exposure among workers who handle it and related chemicals at 0.02 parts per million in workplace air,” reports EWG. “However, independent contractors and the general public, including homeowners who take on DIY insulation projects, may not be aware of these federal regulations or the risks associated with MDI exposure.”

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it was studying whether to regulate, restrict or even ban MDI in consumer products. (MDI is also used in a variety of adhesives and coatings like Gorilla Glue.) “Four years later, the agency has yet to take real action to protect ordinary people who go to their local hardware store and pick up a product that contains MDI,” adds EWG.

There is hope from the West, though, as the state of California has made finding safer alternatives to MDI a priority in its Safer Consumer Products program, which requires manufacturers to look for greener, healthier alternatives. Time will tell if this new initiative in California will move manufacturers there and elsewhere away from MDI. Meanwhile, EWG wants the federal government to step up on the issue and restrict or ban MDI insulation across the country.

Homeowners willing to spend a little extra do have some safer alternatives to polyurethane spray foam at their disposal. Soybean-based spray foam doesn’t rely on MDI or any other synthetic chemicals but has a similar R-value (measuring the strength of the insulation in blocking air) as conventional spray foam. Leading soy-foam manufacturers include Biobased and Demilec. Castor oil-based Icynene is another chemical-free spray foam alternative great for green-minded home renovators.

Cotton denim batting—typically made from recycled scraps from denim factories—is another healthy alternative, but can’t be sprayed in and costs almost twice as much in material costs as spray foam. Sheep’s wool insulation is another effective choice, but also can’t be sprayed in and costs significantly more than foam. These and other greener insulation options are available at mainstream and specialty home improvement stores, and also online via vendors including Green Depot, Green Home Solutions and Green Building Supply.

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An E-waste Blizzard Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:29:39 +0000 Dear EarthTalk: The collective impact of all the iPhones and other devices we buy, use and then discard must be mind-boggling at this point. Has anyone quantified this and what can we do to start reducing waste from such items? – Jacques Chevalier, Boston, MA

With a record four million pre-orders for Apple’s best-selling iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it’s more evident than ever that consumers want the latest in smartphone technology at their fingertips. A new report by analysts at German market research firm GfK determined that global smartphone sales exceeded 1.2 billion units in 2014—a 23 percent increase over 2013.

With so many new smartphones and electronics being purchased, are users disposing of their older devices properly? According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, approximately 2,440,000 tons of electronics, such as computers, mobile devices and televisions, were disposed of in 2010. Twenty-seven percent, or 649,000 tons, of that “e-waste” was recycled. Because some materials in electronics, such as lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury, could pose risks to human health or the environment, the EPA “strongly supports” keeping used electronics out of landfills.

“Recycling electronic equipment isn’t quite as easy as leaving it in a bin in your front yard, as we’ve learned to do with paper and plastics, but the health and environmental benefits of recycling e-scrap are tremendous,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Mary A. Gade. “Also, we know that half of the devices thrown away still work.”

If Americans recycled the approximately 130 million cell phones that are disposed of annually, enough energy would be saved to power more than 24,000 homes in a year. If we went ahead and recycled one million laptops, too, we would save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year. Furthermore, for every million cell phones we recycle, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered. Recovering these valuable metals through recycling precludes the need for mining and processing that much new material from the Earth, thus not only conserving natural resources but preventing air and water pollution as well.

Thankfully, recycling old smartphones and other electronic devices is an easy, typically cost-free process for consumers. Electronics retailer Best Buy offers the most comprehensive appliance and electronics recycling program in the United States, with more than 400 pounds of product collected for recycling each minute the stores are open. Best Buy offers free recycling for most electronics and large appliances, regardless of where they were purchased, allowing the company to achieve its ambitious goal of recycling one billion pounds of electronics and appliances by the end of 2014.

Some charitable organizations, like Cell Phones for Soldiers, also offer free cell phone recycling. Since 2004, the non-profit has prevented more than 11.6 million cell phones from ending up in landfills. All cell phones donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers are sold either to electronic restorers or a recyclers, depending on the phone’s condition. The proceeds from the phones are used to purchase prepaid international calling cards for troops and provide emergency financial assistance to veterans. “Cell Phones for Soldiers truly is a lifeline,” says Robbie Bergquist, co-founder of the non-profit. “To withstand time apart and the pressure of serving our country, the family connection is a critical piece to survival.”

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EverCharge Expands To Provide Vehicle Charging Thu, 19 Feb 2015 21:08:29 +0000 As Electric Vehicles (EV) grow in popularity it has become commonplace for multi-tenant buildings to be faced with the issue of how to support resident requests for EV charging in shared parking garages. As demand increases how will your building provide a scalable solution to your residents? Do you understand your available power infrastructure and are you in a position to maximize the buildings potential?

In the past, properties have looked the other way while residents charge off 110v outlets, dismissed EV requests, or allowed residents to setup chargers off common area power. These residents are potentially stealing power from the building, creating fire hazards, and blockading EV growth potential by occupying all available power. This will make expensive infrastructure upgrades necessary sooner. Ultimately, you are in need of a comprehensive charging solution that addresses short- and long-term demand while being a win for both you and your residents. EverCharge makes charging at multi-tenant properties possible.

Customer Quote, BMW owner: “Evercharge offers a charging solution that keeps the initial installation costs affordable. The billing is automatic and requires the minimum work from the HOA.”

Launched in 2013, Evercharge has solved the ev charging needs of condominiums and apartment developments including signature buildings in Miami and San Francisco. Now with years of experience EverCharge has expanded nationwide.

EverCharge provides a scalable, fully managed charging solution to HOA, building owners and residents while increasing charging capacity by up to 10x through proprietary power management technology. We handle the entire process from beginning to end.

Evercharge consists of:

  • Dedicated wall mounted charger
  • Power management technology
  • Liability insurance coverage
  • HOA reimbursement for power
  • Included support and maintenance
  • End-to-end service that completely manages everything from installation to permitting.

In summary EverCharge provides an essential service to residents, costs the HOA nothing, requires no oversight of installs or permitting, carries liability coverage, reimburses for power consumed, and expands the available power capacity of the building to support demand for many years into the future.

Customer Quote, Tesla Owner: “Thank you Evercharge, no one else can do what you do and without your charging services I would not have been able to keep my Tesla”.

Contact EverCharge to learn what we can do for your property!


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Louisville: All-electric ZeroBus Fleet Launches Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:20:27 +0000 Mayor Greg Fischer joined TARC and other local officials today at the Louisville Slugger Museum to kick off the start of ZeroBus service in downtown Louisville.

ZeroBus, TARC’s all-electric fleet, is now providing fare-free rides for passengers along  Main, Market and Fourth streets. The zero-emissions all-electric buses  replace diesel-powered trolleys, the highest polluting TARC vehicles.

“ZeroBus changes the game for public transportation in downtown and represents the type of progress and forward-thinking focus we are embracing to improve our city,” said Fischer, who joined TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker and others on a maiden ZeroBus trip.

“Louisville is the first city in this part of the country to have a fleet of all-electric buses in operation, putting us at the leading edge of high-technology, cleaner, greener transportation,” Barker said. “We encourage everyone to hop on a ZeroBus and stop along the way for some of the best Louisville has to offer in restaurants, museums and entertainment.”

The vehicles, with free wi-fi onboard, arrive at stops frequently – from every 10-18 minutes depending on the time of day – and offer a quiet ride. With expansive windows, an oval shape and a colorful blue and green design, they’re a distinctive addition to downtown.

”The city’s replica “Toonerville” trolleys have helped downtown’s revitalization over the years and all-electric buses can help take us to the next level,” Fischer said.

The all-electric system – 10 buses and two charging stations – is an $11 million investment, with the bulk of funding from federal and state grants.  Louisville Metro contributed $500,000.

“The Federal Transit Administration congratulates TARC on the launch of its new ZeroBus fleet,” said Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator of the FTA, which contributed $8.7 million in federal funding for the new buses. “Barry Barker and his team continually seek creative opportunities to serve the people of Louisville.  Putting these zero emission buses on the street will connect residents with jobs, education, and other opportunities, while improving air quality and offering 21st century transportation options to the region’s growing population for years to come.”


“This investment in new technologies is not just about improving public transportation in Louisville; it is also a down payment on ensuring healthier, cleaner air, and a more energy independent future,” said Congressman John Yarmuth.

The ZeroBus recharges in just a few minutes along the route while passengers load and unload at a charging stop. Each time a ZeroBus pulls up to a charging stop, it automatically connects to an overhead, high-capacity charger. Charging stops are on the south side of Market Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets, and on the west side of South Third Street, between York and Breckinridge streets.

Since 2010, Proterra Inc., of Greenville, S.C., has produced 38 of these type of vehicles which are operating in eight other states, mostly on the east and west coasts.

“Proterra is honored to partner with Louisville Metro, TARC and the Federal Transit Administration on this innovative project,” said Ryan Popple, president and CEO of Proterra Inc.  “As an American technology company, and the U.S.  market leader in electric buses for public transit, we’re especially proud to see this newest fleet of Proterra vehicles providing high performance, zero-emission service in Louisville.  We are pleased that Proterra could share in your city’s vision to promote a sustainable, cost effective transit solution protecting the environment for generations to come. “

The five oldest trolley buses combined now emit a total of about 1,135 pounds of carbon monoxide in a year, compared to zero emissions from the all-electric buses. TARC will also save thousands of dollars each year in lower operating costs. In fuel costs alone, each electric bus will save TARC an estimated $10,000 per year.

Main-Market ZeroBuses circle between 10th and Campbell streets. On Fourth Street, the buses travel between Breckinridge Street and the Galt House, circling around Fourth Street Live! by taking Fifth Street northbound and Third Street southbound. South of Broadway the buses travel south on Third Street and north on Fourth Street.

ZeroBuses operate on Fourth Street from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and on Main-Market from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. on weekdays. Buses run on both routes from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays. The Main-Market route features red ZeroBus stop signs. Green bus stop signs are on the Fourth Street route.

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New Nissan Clean Diesel Truck Unveiled at Detroit Auto Show Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:00:14 +0000 A major new addition to the diesel pickup truck stable was introduced this morning as Nissan unveiled its new 2016 Nissan Titan powered by a Cummins 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel engine during the opening day of this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“Because of their unmatched combination of efficiency, performance and towing capabilities, diesel engines have long dominated the heavy-duty pickup market,” said Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum.  “The New 2016 Nissan Titan with the Cummins 5.0L V8 turbo diesel will provide a great new option for those  who want all the performance and fuel economy benefits of a diesel – but who may not need all the capacity of the largest heavy-duty pickup trucks.”

Schaeffer noted that Cummins is a recognized leader in clean diesel technology in a wide range of applications in heavy-duty pickup trucks, commercial trucks, power generation and construction and industrial equipment. The 5.0L V8 Turbo Diesel brings together a compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block, forged steel crankshaft, high-strength aluminum alloy heads, and composite valve covers to offer maximum durability in a lightweight package. These features, along with dual overhead camshafts, also contribute to the excellent noise, vibration and harshness characteristics achieved by the 5.0L V8 turbo diesel.

Nissan Announcement Increases U.S. Passenger Vehicle Market Growth

“Clean diesel cars, trucks and SUVs are growing in popularity in the US. with 47 diesel cars, pickup trucks and passenger vans currently available and 15 more having been officially announced to be introduced in the next two years,” Schaeffer said.

“With increasingly stringent fuel economy requirements that will be mandated in the near future it’s easy to see why manufacturers like Nissan are introducing more clean diesel choices into their line-ups. This new diesel option comes at a time when consumers are showing renewed interest in investing in pickup trucks and SUVs, and the Cummins Diesel V8 will have a lot of appeal in a truck of this size and caliber.”

And while the U.S. diesel passenger vehicle market is considerably smaller than the European diesel market – 3 percent compared to over 50 percent – Schaeffer said the new federal fuel efficiency standards and increased number of clean diesels in the market will significantly improve diesel sales in the U.S.  Many analysts predict diesels will increase to 7 to 10 percent of the total U.S. vehicle market by 2020.

Clean Diesel Technology Increases Efficiency & Reduces Emissions in New Vehicles

“Consumers evaluating diesel as a personal transportation choice will find they don’t have to sacrifice vehicle size or performance to also have fuel efficiency and very low emissions, not to mention a great driving experience,” Schaeffer said.   “And consumers can consistently count on diesel engines to exceed the posted fuel economy on the window stickers, not fall short of it.

“Clean diesel technology in today’s vehicles emits near zero levels of emissions. That’s why we call it ‘clean diesel’. And because diesels deliver up to 40 percent better real-world fuel economy, national fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks beginning in 2017 are also expected to be met in part by an increasing number of clean diesel passenger vehicle choices,” Schaeffer said.

“International experts predict that diesel is on course to remain the number one global transportation fuel,” Schaeffer added. “The International Energy Agency recently stated that diesel is expected to overtake gasoline as the top transportation fuel used in passenger vehicles and in the freight transportation sector. One of the largest global oil producers, ExxonMobil, recently confirmed diesel’s expected dominance while also stating the much of the anticipated growth in diesel will come from emerging economies.”

Go here to learn more about the North American International Auto Show.

 Go here to see a list of the currently available diesel passenger vehicles in the U.S. and an updated listing of diesel vehicles coming soon to the U.S. market.


The Diesel Technology Forum is a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. Forum members are leaders in clean diesel technology and represent the three key elements of the modern clean-diesel system: advanced engines, vehicles and equipment, cleaner diesel fuel and emissions-control systems. For more information visit

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Revenge of the Bacteria Mon, 12 Jan 2015 17:23:51 +0000 Dear EarthTalk: How is it that antibiotics are being “overused,” as I’ve read, and what are the potential consequences? – Mitchell Chase, Hartford, CT

The development and widespread adoption of so-called “antibiotics”—drugs that kill bacteria and thereby reduce infection—has helped billions of people live longer, healthier lives. But all this tinkering with nature hasn’t come without a cost. The more we rely on antibiotics, the more bacteria develop resistance to them, which makes treating infections that much more challenging.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overuse of antibiotics by humans—such as for the mistreatment of viral infections—means these important drugs are less effective for all of us. Besides the toll on our health, researchers estimate that antibiotic resistance causes Americans upwards of $20 billion in additional healthcare costs every year stemming from the treatment of otherwise preventable infections.

A bigger issue, though, is our growing reliance on feeding antibiotics to livestock for growth promotion, weight gain and to treat, control and prevent disease. This increasingly common practice is a significant factor in the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges can get passed onto humans who eat food from treated animals. The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that the majority of the ground beef and ground turkey sold in the typical American grocery store contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Last year, 26 animal pharmaceutical companies voluntarily complied with an FDA request to re-label medically important antibiotics used in food-producing animals to warn against using them for growth promotion and weight gain. FDA also recommended that medically important antibiotics be prescribed by licensed veterinarians and only to treat, control and prevent disease. “We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” says William Flynn of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

Still some worry that the FDA’s action doesn’t go far enough, given that farmers will still be able to administer antibiotics to their livestock for disease prevention. The fact that more and more livestock operations are switching over to Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) whereby animals are confined in crowded enclosures (instead of allowed to graze at pasture) means that antibiotics will play an increasingly important role in disease prevention.

For its part, the FDA argues that since veterinarians need to authorize antibiotic use for disease prevention, farmers and ranchers are less likely to overuse antibiotics for their livestock populations. The same can be said about doctors’ limiting the prescription of antibiotics for their human patients, but only time will tell whether such newfound restraint is enough in the fast evolving arms race between bacteria and our antibiotics.

Of course, consumers can do their part by avoiding antibiotic medications unless absolutely necessary and eating less meat (or giving it up entirely) to help reduce demand.

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Watch Bill Gates Drink Water From Human Waste Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:31:52 +0000 We know that Bill Gates made a lot of money from Microsoft and since he left the company, he’s been very busy spending it.

One of the latest projects he’s funding is the Omniprocessor, which turns human waste intorenewable energy and drinkable water. How drinkable? Gates demonstrated by drinking a glassful himself.

“I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin,” said Gates. “They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water. The occasion was a tour of a facility that burns human waste and produces water and electricity (plus a little ash). I have visited lots of similar sites, like power plants and paper mills, so when I heard about this one—it’s part of the Gates Foundation’s effort to improve sanitation in poor countries—I was eager to check it out. The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.”

The Omniprocessor was created to simultaneously address the issue of poor sanitation indeveloping countries and their frequent lack of adequate drinking water and electrical power. Waste piles up in latrines or in open fields, or it’s trucked away and dumped somewhere, maybe in a nearby body of water, causing the spread of disease. But western-style toilets require sewage lines and treatment plants that aren’t feasible in many places. The Omniprocessor, designed by Seattle-area engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy, reinvents the sewage treatment plant.

In the Omniprocessor, sewer sludge is fed into tubes and boiled, producing water vapor which is purified for drinking. The dry solids are then fed into a fire, which creates steam to fuel a steam engine that drives an electricity-producing generator. That energy in turn fuels the machine, with excess available for other needs. The water burns the waste at temperatures of 1000 degrees Celsius, so high that there’s no smell. The next generation of the machine could process waste from 100,000 people and produce about 22,700 gallons of drinkable water and 250 kilowatts of energy a day.

“If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry,” said Gates. “Our foundation is funding Janicki to do the development. It’s really amazing to see how they’ve embraced the work; founder Peter Janicki and his family have traveled to Africa and India multiple times so they can see the scope of the problem. Our goal is to make the processors cheap enough that entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries will want to invest in them and then start profitable waste-treatment businesses.”

The Omniprocessor turns sewage into water and electricity. Photo credit:

Those entrepreneurs would make money from the sludge they remove from the environment, and the water and electricity they create.

Later this year, Janicki will set up the first Omniprocessor in the field in Dakar, Senegal.

“They’ll study everything from how you connect with the local community to how you pick the most convenient location,” said Gates. “They will also test one of the coolest things I saw on my tour: a system of sensors and webcams that will let Janicki’s engineers control the processor remotely and communicate with the team in Dakar so they can diagnose any problems that come up. If things go well in Senegal, we’ll start looking for partners in the developing world.”

“The history of philanthropy is littered with well-intentioned inventions that never deliver on their promise,” he said. “Hopefully, these early steps will help us make sure the Omniprocessor doesn’t join the list.”

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