Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Susan Carpenter

Hewlett-Packard tops Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics

GreenpaceGreenElectronicsGuideHewlett-Packard Co. has claimed the No. 1 spot on the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics released Wednesday. The Palo Alto-based manufacturer of printers, computers and other consumer electronics scored 5.9 out of a possible 10 points on the 17th iteration of the guide from the international environmental organization.

Hewlett-Packard took the No. 1 position due largely to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations as well as its suppliers, and a procurement policy that excludes paper from companies linked with illegal logging and deforestation. Computer maker Dell Inc., based in Round Rock, Texas, took second place, and also scored well for its greenhouse gas emission reductions and paper policies. 

Nokia Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of cellphones, based in Finland, fell to third place from the No. 1 ranking it held for more than three years. According to the guide, Nokia reduced its carbon emissions only 18% in 2010 -- far short of its 50% goal.

Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., was ranked fourth, winning maximum points for e-waste and sourcing  minerals from countries that do not trade with insurgent rebel groups. In 2010, 70% of Apple's personal electronics products were recycled. It also scored well for creating products that are free of polyvinyl chloride and brominated fire retardants.

Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry smartphones, scored last out of the 15 companies included in the guide. According to Greenpeace, the company does not have a clean electricity plan or a target to increase use of renewable energy. Its products are also energy inefficient, the guide said.

All of the consumer electronics companies Greenpeace researched were ranked in three general categories -- energy, green products and sustainable operations -- each of which was broken down according to more detailed criteria such as clean-energy advocacy, product energy efficiency, avoidance of hazardous substances and use of recycled materials. The information reported in the guide is publicly available and provided by the companies.

"When people say they want green electronics, these are the things they care about," said Casey Harrell, a Greenpeace information technology analyst and co-author of the guide. "They want the products to be as energy efficient as possible. They want them to be recycled and not go overseas. They don't want to be contributing to conflict."

The current guide is the first in which Greenpeace has incorporated companies' paper policies and use of so-called conflict minerals that often come from countries in conflict.


Put e-waste in its right place

Ecollective makes recycling electronics easier

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics rating. Credit: Greenpeace

Malibu elementary school opens zero-waste campus

Muse3The students at Muse School CA in Malibu canyon will no longer throw their spent glue sticks and granola bar wrappers in the trash. On Monday, the nonprofit private school for children age 2 through 12 unveiled a new zero-waste sorting unit that not only recycles valuable commodities such as plastic, glass, metal and paper, it reuses broken electronics and office materials and upcycles pens and other classroom castoffs that aren't recycled through the city's curbside system.

A sign at the school's entrance lists the many items the school actively, if politely, disallows, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic straws, noncompostable takeaway containers, styrofoam and single-use plastic utensils, plates and cups.

Muse1In their place, the school provides refillable stainless-steel bottles to all students, faculty and staff. School lunch is prepared from scratch using organic and locally raised foods -- 30% of which will eventually be grown on site -- and all food waste is composted on the school grounds.

"I have visited so many platinum LEED school buildings, and you walk in and there are plastic bottles and toxic cleaners and plastic straws. Muse is really about going 100% of the way," said school co-founder Suzy Amis Cameron, mother of five and wife of "Avatar" director James Cameron.

Cameron, 49, co-founded Muse with her sister in Malibu in 2006 and relocated it two years later to Topanga Canyon, "but there was only so much we could do having landlords," she said. "The vision was always there," but it wasn't until she and her husband bought the Malibu Canyon property from another school in 2010 that its 22 acres could be transformed into a facility that was truly sustainable inside and out. And not only in its day-to-day operations as an educational institution.

Muse4As the campus was created, Cameron worked toward 100% landfill waste diversion with sustainable design consultant Darren Moore and his Canoga Park company, Ecovations Lifestyle. All of the buildings on the Muse campus contain at least some materials that were salvaged from existing structures, including doorway trim reclaimed from the wood siding of torn-down buildings and a play structure repurposed from a water tank. 

All of the wood chips in the garden were ground up from wood that was torn from other buildings and run through a chipper. The garden's xeriscaped planters are ringed with broken concrete, also found on site.

But the most difficult aspect of Cameron's zero-waste remodel was what she found inside the buildings before they were deconstructed.

"It was as if a smart bomb had gone off. There were half cups of coffee, paper everywhere. That was really the beginning of some very difficult philosophical questions," said Cameron, who struggled with proper disposal of phthalate-laden plastic toys and two-stroke garden equipment, and how to get rid of outdoor pests without chemicals.

Cameron worked with a recycler that specialized in plastics with phthalates. She had the two-stroke weed whackers and leaf blowers disassembled into parts that were then used for the school's robotics program. To rid the grounds of rodents, she hired a falconer, who now lives on site and unleashes his hawk on the grounds to dine on squirrels. The school is home to house cats and is also dotted with owl boxes, inviting both types of predator to hunt mice. Cameron said the rodent population has been reduced 90% as a result.

But the centerpiece of the zero-waste school is how the students interact with it. For that, sustainable-design consultant Moore devised a five-bin collection area that emphasizes reuse first. The first bin is for anything that can be reused or repurposed. The second is for pens, glue sticks, cereal boxes and whatever else the school has agreed to upcycle into other products through Terracycle. Only then are objects considered for recycling. A fourth bin is for e-waste, and the fifth, and final receptacle, is for trash, which the kids themselves dispose of after weighing it to see how close to their zero-waste goal they've gotten.   

The next step is to install solar and move the school to net zero energy, said Cameron, adding, "Give me a couple years." 


ReUse Haus: A miniature dwelling made with used materials

L.A.'s green schools

L.A. charter school adopts green curriculum

The Garbage Maven

-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: A building constructed from reclaimed materials at Muse School CA; the 5-bin sorting system; James Cameron, Suzy Amis Cameron and their kids at Muse School CA. Credit: Brandon Hickman / Muse School CA

Laguna Beach hotels to recycle all soaps -- a first in U.S.

HotelbarsoapsLaguna Beach welcomes more than 6 million visitors annually to its sandy shores. Now visitors who stay in the beachside city's 22 hotels and lodging establishments will be inadvertent participants in a citywide effort to recycle all of the soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, lotions and bath gels that are left over after a night's stay.

Starting Monday, Laguna Beach becomes the first city in the nation to have all of its hotel properties with more than 20 rooms participate in Clean the World -- a Florida-based nonprofit that provides recycled hotel soaps and hygiene products to those in need. Montage Laguna Beach, Pacific Edge Hotel and Best Western Laguna Brisas are among the 18 participating hotels, along with four of the city's six bed and breakfasts, for a total of 1,229 rooms.

In an average year, with an estimated 75% occupancy rate, Laguna Beach hotels generate 336,000 bars of soap and a slightly lesser number of shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and lotion bottles, all of which were previously thrown in the trash. Working with Clean the World, those hygiene products will be reclaimed by the housekeeping staff and set aside in a separate receptacle to be shipped to a Las Vegas processing facility. The bars of soap are cleaned of hair and paper, sterilized, ground into pellets and pressed into new bars of soap that are distributed to non-governmental organizations in 45 countries that do not have ready access to soap.

The bottled amenities are likewise reclaimed. If they're full, the bottles' exteriors are sterilized and redistributed to homeless shelters and soup kitchens inside the U.S. If the bottles are 25% empty, the plastic is recycled or potentially upcycled for use in other products.

Founded in 2009, Clean the World has 1,200 partner hotels across the U.S. and Canada, 126 of which are in California, including the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel in Anaheim. Since joining the Clean the World Hospitality Partnership Program in July, Disney's three Southern California resorts have collected 3,152 pounds of hotel soap and 2,212 pounds of bottled amenities such as shampoo.

Clean the World charges hotels 65 cents per room per month for the service. Of the 4.6 million hotel rooms in the U.S., Clean the World recycles the hygiene products for about 6% of them, said Shawn Seipler, who co-founded the nonprofit in 2009.

At the time, Seipler was a business executive and on the road four nights a week.

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Gulf of Mexico fish-tracking system goes full steam ahead

FishResponding to deepening concerns about seafood mislabeling and the safety of fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico, a trade association of Gulf fishermen is tagging and credentialing each of the fish its members pull from the water. It is also routinely sampling catch for dispersants, heavy metals and other oil-based contaminants to allay customer concern over the safety of fish caught in the vicinity of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf. 

The new Gulf Wild system follows a six-month pilot program, during which 100,000 American red snapper and Gulf-caught grouper fish were tagged with identification numbers after being hauled aboard fishing boats. Upon reaching shore, the numbers were electronically recorded and uploaded to an online database with information about the fish's species, the harvesting vessel that caught it and the approximate harvest location. The Gulf Wild program went into full production this week with 100 high-volume commercial fishermen within the five-state Gulf region.

Bubba Cochrane, of Galveston, Texas, is one of the fisherman participating in the program. "We take each fish off the hook individually, so we tag them when we gut the fish and then they go down below for the ride home," said Cochrane, who typically catches 10,000 pounds of red snapper per four-day trip.

Cochrane then manually enters the tag numbers on data sheets, where he also writes the time, date and GPS location where he caught the fish. The data sheets are logged in lots of 100 fish, and are then given to the fish buyer, who enters it into the Gulf Wild database so the individual number on each fish can be tracked.

A recent investigation by the Boston Globe reported that fish was mislabeled 48% of the time.  Consumer Reports also reported recently that red snapper is labeled correctly just 45% of the time.

The Gulf Wild system is being rolled out just as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ramp up its new DNA fish-testing program. Early next year, FDA regulators will take DNA samples from fish as presented for import and from domestic warehouse and distribution centers, processing the data at six field labs in a program to determine how the FDA can best focus its efforts to reduce seafood fraud.

"Mislabeling seafood is illegal, and in recent years we’ve ramped up our focus on that," said FDA spokesman Doug Karas, adding that the FDA's main priority is seafood safety. He said seafood mislabeling presents a safety concern to people who may have allergies to certain types of fish and mistakenly eat something labeled as something else.


Targets commits to 100% sustainable, traceable fish by 2015

Fish often mislabeled as wild salmon or red snapper, report says

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Red snapper, mackerel and rainbow trout on sale at a fish stand. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Plastic water bottle-makers sued by California over green claims [Updated]

AquamantraThis post has been updated. See below for details.

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris filed a lawsuit against three companies Wednesday for allegedly making false and misleading claims about their plastic water bottles' recyclability and biodegradability. The lawsuit is the first to enforce California's environmental marketing law, which  makes it illegal to label a plastic food or beverage container as biodegradable because plastic takes thousands of years to break down naturally and may never do so in a landfill.

According to the lawsuit, Balance and AquaMantra plastic water bottles, marketed by ENSO Plastics in Mesa, Ariz., falsely claim the bottles are both biodegradable and recyclable. The labeling states the bottles contain a microbial additive that helps them break down in less than five years. The lawsuit says the microbial additive doesn't accelerate the breakdown process and also compromises the bottles' recyclability because the microbial additive is considered a "destructive contaminant" by the Assn. of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers.

In 2008, California banned the use of the terms "biodegradable," "degradable" and "decomposable" in plastic food and beverage container labeling. Senate Bill 567, going into effect in 2013, will expand the 2008 law to all plastic products.

An email request for comment to ENSO Plastics' public-relations department did not receive a response as of publication time.

[Updated 1:40 p.m., Oct. 28: ENSO released a statement Friday in response to the lawsuit. “Our industry is young, and we are still improving standards and dispelling false beliefs," ENSO president Danny Clark said. "Our products perform as we claim, and we have the data to prove it. The situation in California is a lack of education and misunderstanding new technologies; this is not an issue of false claims. We will take this opportunity to bring legislators up to speed with ENSO technologies and the value they bring to the environment.”]

[Updated 3:01 p.m., Oct. 28:  The L.A. Bureau of Sanitation also issued a response Friday afternoon. "Development of new materials, for packaging and otherwise ... [is] often made without regard to the recycling infrastructure in place, resulting in incompatibility or outright non-recyclability of the new material," said Enrique Zaldivar, director of the bureau. "The Los Angeles Recycling Program urges the material manufacturing industry to work with the recycling (and composting) industry to avoid misrepresentations to the public on the recyclability of products."]


Can I recycle PlantBottles?

Why recycling in Los Angeles is so confusing

Biodegradable plastics: Plant symbol chosen as icon

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: AquaMantra water bottles. Credit:

California falls behind Massachusetts in energy efficiency

EnergyStarapplianceCalifornia has fallen behind Massachusetts as the country's most energy-efficient state, according to the 2011 Energy Scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy on Thursday. California had ranked first for each of the previous four years' scorecards.

While California and Massachusetts have both effectively implemented demand-side management plans, "Massachusetts regulators have sent a very consistent message that they want to ramp up their energy-efficiency programs. California has been staying even, and Massachusetts has been flooring it," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Part of Massachusetts' energy efficiency increase is due to long-term investment. In 2009, the state spent $61 per customer to improve energy efficiency, compared with $32 per customer in California, Nadel said. That investment is now paying off. In 2012, Massachusetts will reduce its electricity demand 2.4%, the report said, whereas California demand will decline by 1%.

The 2011 scorecard reported that 29 states had adopted or made significant progress toward adopting new energy-saving building codes for homes and commercial properties; just 20 states had done so in 2010. It also found that 24 states had adopted an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, setting long-term energy savings targets for utility-sector investments in energy efficiency.

"More and more states recognize that energy efficiency is a way to reduce costs," Nadel said. "You reduce energy bills, but energy efficiency is less expensive than new power plants." 


61% of Americans unaware of energy efficiency rebates

Light-bulb standards equal energy efficiency

Designs on energy efficiency

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A man looks at an Energy Star appliance. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

Target commits to 100% sustainable, traceable fish by 2015

A steak is cut from the tail of an Atlantic blue fin tuna.The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced Thursday that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. operates 1,762 stores, many of which are converting to incorporate PFresh markets that sell fresh and frozen foods, including fish.

In 2010, Target stopped selling farmed salmon, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy due to various sustainability issues. It currently sells 50 different brands of fish certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council or the Global Aquaculture Alliance. 

"We thought this larger commitment to fully eliminate anything that's not certified by 2015 would be the right thing to do to encourage our guests to make the right decisions," said Shawn Gensch, vice president of marketing for Target's sustainability initiatives.

Target is partnering with the nonprofit marine conservation group FishWise to reach its sustainability goals. According to FishWise executive director Tobias Aguirre, the group will assess all Target seafood products with vendor surveys to understand how the seafood is caught or farmed and will evaluate the environmental impacts associated with each product.

Aguirre said the fish species with the largest such impacts include big eye tuna caught with 50-mile fishing lines that snag high levels of unintended catch, including sharks, turtles and sea birds, and farm-raised shrimp that may have contact with natural bodies of water and spread disease.

Tracing Target's fish from the water to the store is likely to be more difficult because "there is no national traceability policy and the seafood supply chains are incredibly complex," Aguirre said. Supplier audits and a tracking system are among the tools FishWise plans to implement in partnership with Target.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently have a seafood tracking database. Just 2% of the seafood eaten in the United States is inspected, according to a seafood fraud report issued earlier this year by the Washington, D.C.-based international ocean advocacy group, Oceana.


Fish often mislabeled as wild salmon or red snapper, report finds

Gov. Jerry Brown signs shark fin ban, sparks protest

Genetically engineered salmon must be labeled

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A steak is cut from the tail of an Atlantic blue fin tuna. Credit: Sachi Cunningham / Los Angeles Times

Get your EVs running: First National Plug In Day is Oct. 16

NissanLeafRedElectric-vehicle enthusiasts from New York to California will wheel into the streets en masse Sunday as part of National Plug In Day. Twenty-one cities, including Santa Monica, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Orange in California, will  hold electric car parades and tailpipe-free tailgate parties to celebrate -- and test drive --currently available plug-ins from Nissan, General Motors, Tesla and SMART, and soon-to-be available models from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Ford and Coda.

"We wanted to get the word out to the American public that electric cars are here now and viable," said Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug In America, which teamed with the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Assn. to organize the nationwide event. "In the past, a lot of our activities had been centered around California because that was virtually the only state you could get an electric car.  Now the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster are in most states and have new drivers who are excited about their cars."

About 400 electric cars, trucks and motorcycles are expected at the Santa Monica parade Sunday. The EVs will start their trek at Santa Monica City Hall and drive down Main Street starting at 10 a.m. Ed Begley Jr. and "Revenge of the Electric Car" director Chris Paine are expected to attend.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Nissan Leaf. Credit: Nissan USA

California's new B Corp law eyes social, environmental interplay

Bcorp California businesses soon will be able to set up shop as so-called Benefit Corporations, or B Corps, under a new law signed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown. AB 361 enables businesses to pursue a "material positive impact on the environment and community in addition to maximizing profits," according to a statement from California Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who authored the bill.

Incorporating under AB 361 allows companies greater access to social impact and venture capital investments; legal protection for directors and officers as they consider non-financial social and environmental goals; and validation of their social and environmental responsibility claims since their annual benefit report must assess their performance against a third-party standard.

"Corporations, particularly in California, don't have legal protection to consider non-financial factors when making decisions, particularly in liquidity or sale scenarios, like when the company's up for sale," said Jay Coen Gilbert, a B Corporation advocate and co-founderof B Lab in Philadelphia. "That's one fundamental constraint on sustainable businesses: They're doing that at significant legal exposure. [AB 361] helps to provide them with legal protection to pursue what some people perceive as a triple bottom line -- creating financial profit as well as social and environmental impact."

Before AB 361, Gilbert added, "corporations have one fiduciary duty: to maximize value to shareholders even if that comes at the expense of workers or the community or the environment. It's a system that's set up to externalize costs to society."

AB 361 goes into effect Jan. 1. Similar Benefit Corporation laws exist in Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia. Benefit Corporation legislation is awaiting approval in New York and is moving forward in North Carolina, Pennyslvania and Michigan.

-- Susan Carpenter

Image: B Corporation logo. Credit:

'MythBusters' asks: Are motorcycles greener than cars?

BubbleBike2A trend is afoot, according to "MythBusters" television host Adam Savage: "People are trading in their cars and driving motorcycles instead because they believe that's the more environmentally friendly choice," Savage said in Wednesday's season opener of the popular Discovery Channel show. "The logic is because motorcycles are generally more fuel-efficient than cars, they burn less gas and thus they must be better for the environment."

The question is: Are they really? As the MythBusters have done with each of the show's previous seven seasons, Savage and his co-host Jamie Hyneman set out to test the theory.

Selecting three motorcycles and three cars that represented popular models from the '80s, '90s and '00s, they put the six vehicles through a 30-minute, 20-mile course. Seventy-five percent was freeway driving; the other 25 percent was in the city. Savage drove the three cars. Hyneman trailed him at speed on each of the three bikes. None of the vehicles' makes and models were disclosed.

All of the vehicles were equipped with portable emissions-measuring systems that took exhaust gases from a probe in the tailpipe and engine information from the engine control unit.  The devices  determined the vehicles'  fuel economy and emissions profiles while the vehicles were running on the real-world course in California's Alameda County earlier this year.

The upshot? Motorcycles were indeed more fuel-efficient than cars and emitted less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but they emitted far more smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, as well as the toxic air pollutant carbon monoxide. For the most recent model year vehicles tested -- from the '00s -- the motorcycle used 28% less fuel than the comparable decade car and emitted 30% fewer carbon dioxide emissions, but it emitted 416% more hydrocarbons, 3,220% more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065% more carbon monoxide.

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