Bottled Water Boycott Highlights Waste, Resource Depletion

by Shreema Mehta

Apr. 26 – Environmentalists are calling for a boycott of bottled water in an effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels, protect the environment and protect local drinking supplies.

Campaign leader Food and Water Watch says bottled water dangerously "undermines confidence" in public tap-water supplies. "The more those who can afford bottled water depend on bottled water, the harder it is for communities to muster political and financial support for urgent upgrades to public water systems that most people depend on to provide safe, affordable water," the group said on its website.

Activists are urging members of the public to sign a pledge to end daily bottled-water consumption and to refill bottles with tap water rather than buy new ones.

The pledge is part of several environmental groups' efforts to halt the "commodification" of the nation's water supply through an increase in bottled-water production and private management of local systems.

"We need to maintain [the public water] system by adequately funding repairs and improvements to our national water infrastructure so that every citizen has access to clean and affordable tap water," stated Public Citizen on its own Water for All campaign site. "Bottled water is not the answer."

Over the past few years, sales of bottled water have risen sharply in the United States, to over 8 billion gallons in 2006, and with it the number of plastic thrown in landfills. According to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit that promotes recycling, most bottled water is sold in "single serve" sizes which are "prone to being littered." The Institute's report also noted that 96 percent of bottled water is sold in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, and that less than 15 percent of those bottles get recycled.

The activists calling for the bottled-water boycott also point out that the water sold in gas stations and grocery stores throughout the country is not necessarily safer than cheaper tap water. Tap water is regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, while bottled water is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA gives inspecting water-bottling plants a low priority because of water's stable safety record.

But a widely cited Natural Resources Defense Council study tested 103 bottled-water brands, finding that 26 of them at had at least one sample that contained enough contaminants to violate California state regulations, which are among the strictest. The group did not test tap water to see how it compared.

Additionally, as a federal agency, the FDA does not regulate water that is bottled and sold within one state, leaving it up to state agencies. While most state agencies surveyed by the NRDC said their regulations were equal to or stricter than the FDA's, thirteen states said they had no staff or resources allocated specifically to enforce regulations on bottled water, while an additional 26 states had "less than one" full-time staff member enforcing bottled-water programs.

Advocates say that while bottled water is generally safe, the public wastes money and plastic at the detriment of tap water accessible to everyone. In addition to calling for more money to go into protecting and improving local water supplies, the anti-bottled-water campaigners also point out that the popularity of bottled water can have long-term dangers on local communities where the water comes from.

Nestle's plan to build a water-bottling plant at Mt. Shasta in McCloud, California, for instance, has drawn criticism for its potential to deplete aquifers and reduce river flow.

Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lives near the proposed plant, said Nestle should not "sell what is a public trust, and take it out from people who need it."

Zap Your Trash to Create Energy and Hydrogen

Written by Philip Proefrock

Trash in, energy out. Sounds too good to be true, and it may yet be. But StarTech claims to have a method of rendering any waste stream into two by-products, a glass-like slag and "syngas," and a combination of mostly hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which could be used to provide hydrogen fuel for vehicles. Most impressive, Startech claims that the process would be self-sustainging. "[O]nce the cycle is under way, the 2,200°F syngas is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. About two thirds of the power is siphoned off to run the converter; the rest can be used on-site for heating or electricity, or sold back to the utility grid."

In addition to the benefits of energy generation, the process also greatly reduces the volume of waste. The slag output may turn out to be usable for paving or may simply be landfilled, but requiring a much smaller volume than a comparable amount of unprocessed trash. Even more environmentally beneficial, though, are the extreme temperatures (30,000 degrees Fahrenheit, three times hotter than the surface of the sun) which break down any kind of toxic materials which are put into the system into their component atoms. In fact, the company's first units sold are in use in toxics disposal. "In 1997 the U.S. Army became Startech’s inaugural customer, buying a converter to dispose of chemical weapons at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. A second reactor went to Japan for processing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, an industrial coolant and lubricant banned in the U.S since 1977 ("really nasty stuff," Longo says)."

There are concerns about this system. One critic noted that the slag produced from the Plasma Converter contains toxic heavy metals. However, those metals are not introduced by the process, and are present in unprocessed trash waste, as well.

Conceivably, elements that are water soluble could be leached out via additional post-processing and potentially even reclaimed and usefully recycled. However, even without these mitigations, it is easier to contain and monitor the final output in order to minimize adverse environmental effects.

Now, this is not a piece of household technology. "A Startech machine that costs roughly $250 million can handle 2,000 tons of waste daily, approximately what a city of a million people amasses in that time span." But, as the Popular Science article points out, a city with an average tipping fee for waste disposal in a conventional landfill would pay back its investment in a Startech system in about 10 years, and that's not even factoring in the excess electrical production or the sale of syngas fuel.

Zero Carbon House

The Zero Carbon House is a low energy demonstration project to show how renewable energy can create a unique living experience on a remote island in a severe climate. A holistic approach has been taken to eliminating household carbon emissions that would normally result from heating and powering the home, running the family car and growing and transporting food.

The house is based on a standard design from a timber frame company. Timber is a low embodied energy, renewable material that will be sourced from Scotland to minimise transportation costs and impacts.

The house will be constructed to very high levels of energy efficiency. Heating will be provided by an air-to-water heat pump serving an underfloor heating system and providing domestic hot water via a heat store.

Power will be provided by two on-site wind turbines and can be stored in a Redox Fuel Cell system to even out fluctuations in generation and demand. Power can also be stored in the electric vehicle's battery system. A grid connection will be retained as backup but the power storage system will maximise the use of renewable energy on site rather than exporting power to the grid. This improves the project economics as well as minimising impact on the local electricity distribution network.

Zero carbon heat from the heat pump will augment passive solar collection in a doubly-insulated greenhouse to provide suitable growing conditions for a range of fruit and vegetables grown in a hydroponics system. The availability of fresh affordable food is a major concern on Unst and other remote islands in Scotland. The erection of the first greenhouse will demonstrate production of locally grown food to reduce food miles and to give the community fresh affordable produce to improve the dietary habits of the community in line with the Scottish Executive's objectives.

The project has been designed to be self financing after 3 years through establishment of a horticulture business, training and education facility. Real time monitoring of the system will be made available to the general public on this web site, including information on costs and pay backs.

This project is highly replicable and addresses social economic and environmental issues that are of relevance across the whole of Scotland, the UK and beyond. Support is being provided by Communities Scotland, EST Scotland and Shetland Enterprise.

Support Organisations
Energy Saving Trust in Scotland
Communities Scotland
Shetland Enterprise

For further information, contact:
Michael Rea
Auld Batavia
Tel: 01957 755 309

Duncan Price
Energy for Sustainable Development Ltd.
Fourth Floor, West Entrance
1-3 Dufferin Street
Tel: 020 7628 7722

Urban Sea of Green

by Jo Hooper, 22 Apr 2007

The phenomenon of Green Roofs currently sweeping across Europe inverts our spatial perception by taking vegetation from the ground to the rooftops. Aside from their ecological benefits, nobody would deny the aesthetic improvement of replacing an ugly old rooftop with a floral delight. Advocated by the UK Minister for housing, Yvette Cooper, these ‘living roofs’ come in two main types, ‘extensive’, which needs little maintenance, consisting of laying moss or sedum as a fertile base to nurture wild vegetation, and ‘intensive’ roofs, basically the creation of a more labor-intensive roof-top garden or patio. Aside from absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, green roofs also take-in rainwater, meaning run-off and flooding is lessened, and they act as natural insulation by keeping heat from escaping. The figures suggest savings of 3-10% on your winter fuel bills Best of all, they provide an excellent way of attracting wildlife back to the city.

Although turf-topped buildings were popular in the 1930’s, their current presence in the UK is much less than in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the Austrian city of Linz, there are 40 acres of green roofs to be found. That’s the equivalent of 40 football pitches! The British government provides no financial incentives to property developers, but Swiss environmentalists have had the opposite experience after research in the biodiversity found in urban areas. Swiss Federal law requires all new roofs larger than 100m squared to be constructed with vegetation.

British examples of these rabbit burrow-esque abodes are growing. Nottingham University library has taken to the turf, as has the Horniman Museum in London. Canary Wharf boasts the highest green roof in Europe covering the Barclay’s bank headquarters at 160m. Manchester ’s city center, historically an industrial and polluted place, will see a landmark green roof erected this summer over the Piccadilly Pavilion.

If you are planning to green-roof your property, it is advisable to check with your local authority as rules over planning permission vary. But in some urban areas including a living roof in your plans for a new building can make it more favorable to the council. According to Dusty Gedge, one of the first pioneers of green roofs in the UK, someone who regularly practices DIY at home should not find the creation of a roof garden overly difficult. Certainly it is less costly than roofing with the usual materials like tar and bitumen.

Unlike the Chinese government’s extensive forest reclamation programs, the UK’s tree-planting efforts tend to manifest themselves mostly as local, community projects.
However, by capitalizing on the acres of unused space available above the urban landscape, green roofs are helping to put a little more vegetation on the map.

For more information see