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Our stuff - Dec 28

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Your Stuff: If It Isn't Grown, It Must Be Mined

Jeremy Faludi, World Changing
Where does your stuff come from? Before the store, before the factory, where did it really begin? If it isn't made of wood, cloth, or other living matter, it was dug out of the ground.

Number one of The Natural Step's four System Conditions is that "In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust". So ultimately, one day our industrial economy will be made up entirely of recycled and biologically grown material. That day, however, may be a long way off. How do we get there, and what is the world of mining like today? How rapidly are we depleting the minerals we have, and how do we get to sustainable mining?

How much mining is needed to support your life today? Last spring on a road trip, I visited the Robinson mine in eastern Nevada (also called the "Liberty Pit mine"), one of the biggest copper mines in the world. A shadow of its former self, the mine is now mostly piles of tailings (leftover rock and dirt that doesn't contain ore). Climbing up one, I found these piles of tailings are so gigantic that they stretch over an area a mile wide and four miles long. A future civilization stumbling on them might think them earthen-mound architecture like Cahokia. Literature they gave me said that "Every year 40,000 pounds of minerals must be provided for every person in the United States to maintain our standard of living." Online, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) quoted the Mineral Information Institute with these stats:
(25 December 2007)
Brilliant headline. -BA


Plastics provoke 'wrap rage'

Etan Horowitz, Orlando Sentinel
Packaging Deters Thefts but Angers Many Buyers

... Walk into any Costco, Target or Best Buy and you'll see everything from digital camera cards to children's toys in seemingly impenetrable fortresses of plastic. That has made doing battle with blister packages, heat-sealed clamshells and dolls restrained as if they're flight risks as much a part of the holidays as colored lights or eggnog.

There's even a term for the anger and frustration that accompanies the bloody fingers, sore shoulders and teeth filled with plastic that come from trying to open these packages: "wrap rage."

Plastic packaging is often cheaper than other materials, and it does a better job of clearly displaying items on store shelves. But the primary reason clamshells are so popular is the same reason many consumers despise them: They're nightmarish to open. Unlike a paper box, it's virtually impossible for a thief to open a clamshell and remove

"The challenge is how to have something that is easy to open but also hard to steal from," said Daniel Butler, vice president of merchandising and retail operations for the National Retail Federation. "It's a tough balance."
(25 December 2007)


‘Paper or Plastic?’ The Eco-Friendly Answer is ‘Neither - Reusable’

Ilana DeBareR, San Francisco Chronicle
Paper or plastic grocery bags - which are better for the environment?

You probably think you know the answer. And you’re probably wrong.

Paper bags are not necessarily better for the environment than plastic - despite many consumers’ long-standing assumption that paper beats out plastic hands down when it comes to eco-friendliness.

“There definitely was a period of time when the message was, ‘Choose paper over plastic,’ ” said Jenny Powers, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s not the way to view it.”

Powers and other environmental experts now say the best choice is neither paper nor plastic - it’s reusable shopping bags made of substances like cotton, hemp, nylon or durable mesh-like plastic.

“The ideal option is bring your own bag,” Powers said. “Second choice is to ask for the type of bag that you know will be reused - plastic if you’ll use it for holding trash, or paper if you will recycle it.”

The question of the relative merits of various kinds of grocery bags sounds simple.

But in fact, scientists spend large amounts of time trying to nail down the environmental impacts of creating, transporting and disposing of products such as grocery bags - a process known as life cycle analysis.

The final answer depends on numerous details, including...
(21 December 2007)
Also at Common Dreams
Related: Business is booming for makers of reusable grocery bags.


Christmas lights spark electricity concerns

SwissInfo
As the number of lights increases in Switzerland every Christmas, questions are being asked about whether they are a waste of precious electricity.

There are concerns about the climate and a shortage of electricity in Switzerland after the year 2020.

Many towns and villages used to decorate a local tree with lights at Christmas, but nowadays street decorations and illuminated shop windows shine alongside the rising number of electric window displays put up in private homes.

Giuseppina Togni from the Swiss Agency for Efficient Energy Use said Christmas lighting accounts for 0.17 per cent of total electricity consumption in Switzerland.

...Zufferey and Togni make a plea for moderation. That means switching off decorative lights during the night, using a time switch, avoiding one-upmanship by putting up a decoration that's bigger than your neighbour's, and buying lights that do not exceed 20-25 watts.

Although the bill in December might not show much of an increase for households, Swiss local authorities are beginning to take a closer look at what they have to pay and are choosing decorations that use less energy
(24 December 2007)

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