Green bits: April 2010

By Pax Rasmussen

New ideas from near and far for a healthier, more sustainable future.
by Pax Rasmussen

Fill ‘er up

Most of us are aware by now of the horrendous waste and pollution caused by plastic, disposable water bottles (think, people: you use these things once and just trash ’em!), but it’s not always that easy to find a place to fill up your reusable bottle when you’re out on the go (I don’t know about you, but I’m loathe to fill my Sigg from the bathroom sink at Smith’s). Well, now Salt Lake is part of the TapIt water network. The idea is that once a city partners with TapIt, businesses around town can sign up to let folks out there know that they’ll fill up water bottles for free. You can find fill-up sites using their webpage or through various smartphone apps (yes, there’s an iPhone version). Also keep an eye out for the TapIt sticker on windows.

Urban farming in SLCo

Somewhat old news (but good news): Salt Lake County is well underway in developing their new Urban Farming Initiative, which will make land currently lying fallow available for use as small farms and community gardens. Wasatch Community Gardens is administering the program, which currently has 47 parcels under consideration. There’s an application process for lease/use. List of parcels available here (PDF):

Growing green

The Organic Trade Association reports that a 2008 survey (a follow-on to the 2007 Census of Agriculture) shows that organic farming is on the rise in the United States. A total of 4.1 million acres were designated as organic (14,540 farms!). Moreover, organic farming is on the rise worldwide: 86.5 million acres total.

Sicky poo

Remember the big E. coli spinach scare a few years ago that got people all riled up about the safety concerns of organic farming? Even more evidence debunking the idea that organic farming is somehow less safe: A couple of researchers (from the University of Florida and the Universities of Wageningen and Groingen in the Netherlands) put together a computer program that predicts the risks of E. coli contamination, and guess what? Yep, good organic practices are less likely to produce contaminated foods.

Google maps for bikes

You knew it was coming: Google Maps now has biking directions. It works just like normal Google driving directions—you type in point A and point B and it makes you up a route between them. Dark green lines mark official bike trails, i.e. no motor vehicles. Light green lines show streets with bike lanes, and dashed green lines are streets that are “recommended” for bicycle travel. The only problem is, it sucks. Not real bad, but it’ll be nice when Google fills in the holes. For example, it thinks that the Jordan River Parkway ends at 45th south, and I have some pretty solid memories of zipping along south of there just recently.

Questionable solution

Trash stinks. Lots of trash in one place stinks a lot. China has a lot of dumps, and yep, they stink. Their solution? Giant. Deodorant. Guns. No kidding. They’re going to put 100 high-pressure fragrance guns at several landfill sites around the country, dousing the dump and surrounding area in what is essentially perfume. Sounds like putting lipstick on the pig to me, but I’m no engineer.

Quit growing corn

Ok, so HFCS is bad, but so is corn in general. For lots of reasons. It’s bad on the soil, it eats up huge amounts of taxpayer funded subsidies, fuel made from it is basically mining the soil, and on top of all that, it’s not very nutritious. Check out this in-depth meditation on the subject from Tom Philpott over at

Eating green

There’s lots of options out there for finding out how green the things in your life really are, from cars to cleaning supplies. I’ve got that GoodGuide app on my iPhone that I mentioned in the column a while back that lets me scan my groceries and get an instant report on their eco impact. Well, now there’s a way to find out how green your favorite eatery is. The new Sustainable Restaurant Association is now sending ‘green inspectors’ to participating restaurants, and posting the findings on their website. How much you wanna bet McDonald’s won’t be signing up?

Fructose fatties

You’ve probably heard reports that HFCS, or high fructose corn syrup, isn’t very good for you. You may have also seen the TV ads right on the heels of the corn syrup naysayers, claiming that anti-HFCS rhetoric is nothing but hippie hype. Well, it turns out the hippies had it right: fairly conclusive research from Princeton University has shown that when it comes to weight gain, HFCS is a deadly culprit. HFCS is close enough in chemical composition to table sugar that plenty of folks (including, most vocally, the Corn Refiners Association) claim it’s no different for the body. Well, according to the Princeton study, rats eating HFCS gained “significantly more weight” than rats eating table sugar, even when total caloric intake was the same. Exact, and rather damning, quote: “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese—every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.” Take that, Corn Refiners Association.

BPA: Not just for babies anymore

More than once I’ve reported in this column on the dangers of bisphenol A (BPA). The stuff is used to make really hard plastics (so its nasty side mostly gets attention in regard to infants’ exposure via nipples and bottles—it’s an endocrine distruptor, and a particularly virulent one), among other things. A team of scientists has recently reported that BPA is, well, everywhere. But particularly the ocean. Having probably come from the epoxy plastic paint used on the hulls of ships, BPA has now “widely contaminated” the earth’s oceans. And guess what? The FDA has still refused to ban the stuff.

Trust them Dems

The Washington Post just released the results of their new poll, addressing how much people trust Democrats versus Republicans on eight issues: the economy, health care, immigration issues, the situation in Afganistan, the federal budget deficit, taxes, the war on terror and energy policy. Guess what? The Dems are more trusted on each, except for the war on terror. The Dems got the widest “trust advantage” on energy policy (read: environment).

Cash for…coolers?

Last year in this column, I reported at least twice about the Cash for Clunkers program (which was either a huge success or a colossal failure, depending on whom you ask). Well, the feds are at it again, but this time, they want your crappy old refrigerators. The program is modeled after Cash for Clunkers, and is offering up $300 million to talk Americans into getting newer, more eco-friendly fridges. The program works on a state-by-state basis; so far Utah isn’t one of the eight states jumping into the program.

This article was originally published on March 31, 2010.