Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits

By Pax Rasmussen

News and ideas for a healthier, more sustainable future.
by Pax Rasmussen

Ban the bead
Have you noticed the surge in face and shower products that claim to exfoliate? Wonder how they do that? Well, the answer’s not very nice: Thousands of tiny plastic shards dissolved in the cream or soap. Exfoliating products have been around for a while (originally, manufacturers used ground-up apricot or walnut shells, or sometimes dried coconut), but the plastic bead craze didn’t really start till the 1990s. Since then, up to 1,200 cubic meters of the tiny beads are flushed down the drain each year. Unfortunately, the beads are so small (usually less than a millimeter wide) they can’t be filtered out by water treatment facilities, so they make their way into lakes, streams and, ultimately, the ocean.
And now they’re showing up in wildlife. They often cause problems themselves (lodging in the guts of animals), but they can also carry toxins with them, poisoning fish, mussels and crabs—and then people.
Illinois has already banned the beads. Now there’s a federal bill to phase them out, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) last month. But is expected to be killed in the Republican-controlled House. Bummer.,

The cost of getting dry
There have been huge advances made in the past decades in the efficiency of household appliances. Refrigerators, air conditioners, dishwashers and washing machines have all become, on average, nearly twice as efficient since 1981—but not electric clothes dryers. For some reason, these still consume nearly as much energy as they did 30 years ago!
According to a report from the National Resources Defense Council last month, if U.S. manufacturers offered models akin to what’s available in Europe, Australia and Asia, it would cut the cost of drying clothes in this country from $9 billion to around $4 billion (yes, that’s billion with a ‘b’!)—that’s 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions saved every year.
Of course, you could just hang those clothes up outside and dry them for free (especially if you live in the Southwest!).

Bike thieves suck. I’ve had two bikes stolen, and yeah, they were on their last legs, but it still pissed me the hell off. Till now, there’s no real national system for tracking bicycle serial numbers like there is for cars.
Two websites, and have teamed up, sharing databases. And Twitter is making it easy to use. Both are places to register your bike’s serial number, but is now collecting data pre-theft. The two services together make it much easier to track down your bike or check to see if a bike you want to buy is stolen.
Even better, they’ve set up a Twitterbot: Just send a tweet with a bike’s serial number to @isitstolen and the bot will check both sites, and report back! Both sites, and the Twitterbot (of course) are free.

Classy move, Tesla!
Ok, anyone who reads this column (or knows me personally) knows that I seldom have anything good to say about any big business—or any business with more than about 50 employees, really. But in this case, I have to step back from my usual stance: Tesla has announced that they will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone that uses their technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a blog post last month: “Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.
“Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. … We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.” Pretty cool, Musk, pretty cool.

This article was originally published on July 1, 2014.