Vampire power problem bigger than expected

The problem of vampire power, also known as phantom load or standby power, has been highlighted in a recent report from Natural Resources Defense Council, a respected US environmental group. Vampire power is the power that today’s appliances consume when they are not in use, or are turned off. Many of us, including Gallondaily’s editor, understood vampire power to be of the order of one or two watts of consumption, basically just the power used by one or two LED lights or the ubiquitous liquid crystal clock. How wrong we were!

The target of the NRDC report is “set-top boxes”, the converter box that takes cable or satellite television service and makes it so that your television can use it.  The problem is that these pieces of equipment cannot be turned off and even when the box does have an on-off switch, turning it off hardly reduces power consumption at all. To eliminate the phantom load one has to unplug the appliance and doing this may interfere with the functionality of the equipment, possibly meaning a very slow startup and perhaps even a reboot or a download of needed data when it is turned back on.

The study shows that even low end set-top boxes are typically consuming about 15 watts and that high end boxes, such as  digital video recorders, are often consuming more than 30 watts and in some cases more than 40 watts. That is when they are turned off, so they are consuming that power 24 hours a day 365 days a year. NRDC estimates that all the set-top boxes in the US are consuming 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants. There is no reason to believe that the situation in Canada is any better.

Energy efficient set-top boxes are available and NRDC is urging accelerated roll-out in the North American market. Although NRDC is not promoting a regulatory approach, it would not surprise Gallondaily to see activist environmental legislators pick up on this report as a basis for legislation regulating the phantom loads consumed by information and entertainment technology. Maybe that would not be such a bad thing.

The complete NRDC report is available at

Scientific Paper Ratchets Up Concern Over Breast Cancer Chemicals

A paper published in the online peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives last week sends a stronger warning about the possible impact of quite a long list of substances on breast enlargement in males, breast cancer, and female lactation impairment.

The report, the outcomes of a technical workshop held in 2009, is based primarily on animal studies showing that exposure to certain chemicals changes development of mammary glands in both male and female rodents. It also includes evidence to show that rat metabolism and human metabolism respond in similar ways to the presence of hormones. However, existing research is insufficient to draw definitive conclusions on the extent to which endocrine disrupting chemicals behave similarly. The report urges increased research on the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

The paper is available at

A list of suspect chemicals is published in a research paper at

Leaked emails trash business of shale gas

The most important element of environment and business news in this GallonDaily article may not be the trashing that the shale gas industry has received in the New York Times but that a major newspaper of the New York Times’  reputation has engaged in a kind of information gathering and dissemination more often associated with WikiLeaks. If other mainstream media follow suit, the quantity and, perhaps, the quality of environmental information available to the public could increase very dramatically.

In an article on the front page of the New York edition of today’s New York Times entitled Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future Of Natural Gas, reporter Ian Urbina suggests that industry reports may be massively overstating the amount of shale gas that can be extracted from the ground. The article suggests that the shale gas industry, currently attracting very significant investment, may already be set up for failure and financial collapse.

The NY Times’ article is based on thousands of emails and reports obtained by the Times. Hundreds of these documents, almost all extremely critical of the shale gas industry, its production estimates, and the purported role of the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy in helping to promote shale gas extraction, have been published by the New York Times in redacted form. The purpose of the redaction is to protect the sources, many of whom, the Times states, were not authorized by their employers to provide them to the media.

GallonDaily welcomes the New York Times’ initiative to carry out such an in-depth probe of an area of energy exploration and development with such potentially high environmental impact. We last carried an article about shale gas entitled More on Fracking Flap in GallonDaily on 18 April 2011: see

Today’s New York Times article is available at

The leaked documents can be viewed by following the Multimedia link from the news story or by going directly to

Predictions for Sustainable Packaging

Tony Kingsbury, Dow Executive-in-Residence in the Sustainable Products & Solutions Program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, spoke on the topic of Future Predictions for Sustainable Packaging Materials at the Fifth Walmart Sustainable Packaging Conference in Toronto yesterday.

Kingsbury’s seven predictions included:

  1. The most resource efficient packaging – from a system thinking standpoint – will win. In particular, the most carbon and water efficient packages will be the winners in the marketplace.
  2. Functionality will be king. Particularly, this means packaging must protect the contents and not let them go to waste.
  3. ‘Keeping the molecule in play’ will gain momentum.
  4. Reuse of packaging will gain market share.
  5. Biobased, but not necessarily biodegradable, packaging materials will grow in market share. Traditional plastics made from bio-materials, rather than upstarts like PLA, PHA, etc., will dominate the bioplastics packaging market. Composting of packaging materials is an inefficient way to ‘keep the molecule in play’.  The word ‘biodegradable’ should be banned.
  6. Transparency of information about packaging and packaging materials will drive societal full life cycle thinking about packages.
  7. Life cycle data will increasingly drive material decision making.

Green Manufacturing Expo Disappointing

The Green Manufacturing Expo Canada opened today at the Toronto Congress Centre. The event is co-located with five other trade shows: PackEx Toronto, a major packaging equipment expo; Plast-Ex, a major Canadian plastics processing equipment show; Automation Technology Expo Canada; Process Technology for Industry Canada; and Design and Manufacturing Canada; but Gallondaily attended specifically for the Green Manufacturing Expo Canada.

Unfortunately the Green Manufacturing Expo, tagged as Canada’s Industry Resource for Sustainable Manufacturing, was pretty unimpressive. There was no green manufacturing section on the enormous show flow and green manufacturers located throughout the expo were identified only by a green flash in the show catalogue and, in some cases, by a small green manufacturing label on the display counter. In most cases the label was the only mention of green manufacturing on the display. We asked a few of the staff at booths with the green manufacturing label what it was about their product offerings that made them green: some did not know, some mentioned improved energy efficiency, and some proposed green attributes that made little or no sense. Only a few had any concept of the attributes that might be expected of a green manufacturer or a green industrial product.

Like all kinds of equipment, the latest plastics and packaging equipment is often more energy and material efficient than older equipment. That is a positive, but not necessarily enough to qualify it as a green technology, which Gallondaily and Canadian government regulators would define as technology that has a significantly lower environmental footprint than similar new mainstream equipment.

Some of the packaging equipment was designed to provide more packaging from less material. Some of the motors and valves were more energy efficient than the industrial fleet average. The most interesting piece of equipment that Gallondaily noticed was a 3-D printer that printed with a plastic resin and something like an ink jet printhead to build up with microscopically thin layers a 3-D model of almost anything you could depict on a computer screen. When we went by it was printing a 3-D model of theEiffel Tower – impressive and conserving of materials compared to conventional model building but perhaps on the border of what one might consider a green manufacturing technology. Then again, perhaps in future we will be building our own computers and steaks using somewhat similar printing technology.

Gallondaily would generally see it as a positive that a mainstream industry show has a significant green theme but frankly we were not convinced that the Toronto Plast-Ex and PackEx shows this year have enough green content of any kind to qualify as a Green Manufacturing Expo. For those who are thinking that by attending the Green Manufacturing Expo  they will get to see the latest in green manufacturing and green products from green manufacturing we suggest you will likely be quite disappointed unless you are also interested in plastics fabricating and/or packaging. We think that Canadian green manufacturers can do much better than this show.

The six co-located expos continue on Wednesday June 22 until 5.00pm and Thursday June 23 until 4.00pm at the Toronto Congress Centre on Dixon Road  not far from Pearson Airport. Show details are at

Oregon adopts strict water quality regime

Last week the State of Oregon adopted a new regime for protecting the health of humans who consume fish and shellfish from State waters. Previously, health standards were based on a daily consumption of 17.5 grams of fish and shellfish. The new regime increases the consumption level to 175 grams per day, seeking to protect the health of people who consume Oregon fish and shellfish as a major source of protein.

The rules, which are based on concentrations of persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances (PBTs) in the water and in the fish and shellfish, are likely to impact both point and non-point discharge (point = industrial pipes and sewage treatment plants and non-point = runoff, including agriculture and forestry, contaminated sites, and airborne) of a range of toxic substances including methylmercury (from the burning of fossil fuels), bis (2-ethylexyl) phthalate (a plasticizer), benzo (a) pyrene, chlordane, toxaphene, dioxin, PCBs, and the pesticides aldrin and DDT. The rules in fact cover a much wider range of substances but the state has identified those on this list as among those in discharges which will be affected by the new rules.

The environmental press is touting these new regulations, which still require US Environmental Protection Agency approval, as the most strict in the United States.

Extensive detail and documentation on the new rules is available at

Readers who may be affected directly or indirectly by the new rules are encouraged to consult with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality or a lawyer with knowledge of this state’s rules. While measures are in place to ensure accuracy, Gallondaily is not responsible for the content or accuracy of information provided in this daily summary.

China, children and lead

The US-based international ngo Human Rights Watch has published a report which claims that significant numbers of children in four provinces of China are being poisoned by industrial emissions of lead. To some extent it is not really a surprise that environmental and public health standards, as well as enforcement, in what is still, to a considerable extent, a developing country do not meet the standards of OECD countries. What is more troubling is the Human Rights Watch claim that Chinese authorities are denying people access to testing and treatment for lead poisoning and will not address the ongoing harmful emissions.

The HRW report suggests activities that are inconsistent with the stated objectives of the government of China. Gallondaily suspects that these inconsistencies arise not because the government of China does not want to address these problems but because local officials have neither the expertise or the economic resources to follow through. Factories processing and using lead are important to the local economy in many communities and dealing with pollution problems while maintaining jobs is often a challenge even in more developed countries.

Noticeably absent from the HRW report is an analysis of the end uses of the production from the pollution factories. North American and European brandowners can expect that the HRW report will find its way into documentaries and articles that further sour consumer attitudes toward products from China, particularly those that contain lead or other heavy metals. Gallondaily recommends that brandowners take steps as soon as possible to ensure that their supply chain is free from materials produced in plants that are harming the health of Chinese kids.

The Human Rights Watch report is available at

Industry lawsuit against reusable bag claims

Three plastic shopping bag manufacturers have launched a lawsuit for misleading advertising claims against a small reusable bag manufacturer.

The plastic shopping bag manufacturers claim in documents filed in Federal court in South Carolina that textile reusable bag manufacturer ChicoBag is making false and misleading claims including:

  • the cloth bag only needs to be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than 11 disposable bags
  • that only 1% of plastic bags are recycled
  • that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year
  • that “the world’s largest landfill can be found floating between Hawaii and San Francisco”
  • that “each year hundreds of thousands of sea birds and marine life die from ingestable plastics mistaken for food”

The Plaintiffs in this case, who claim that the false and/or misleading statements by ChicoBag have caused them irreparable injury, are Hilex Poly Company, LLC., Superbag Operating, Ltd., and Advance Polybag, Inc. The claims made in the civil action have not yet been proven in court.

Unless settled earlier, the case will go to trial in the first quarter of 2012.

The Plaintiff’s complaint and the Defendant’s Answer can be found at

The Court has ordered that certain documents in this case may be designated as confidential.

Miners add slag to Canada’s environmental reputation

If ever there was an almost universally recognized icon for the environment in the United States, it must surely be the Grand Canyon. In 2009 the Obama administration placed a moratorium on uranium mining on more than 400,000 hectares of public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon. Now the moratorium is expiring and the Administration has to decide whether or not to renew it.

Clearly this pits the mining industry against those who wish to protect the icon of America’s national parks. According to Pew Environment Group, part of Pew Charitable Trusts and one of the most respected environmental organizations in the US, more than 8300 (yes, eight thousand three hundred!)  staked mining claims are currently in limbo on the public lands around the Grand Canyon as a result of the moratorium. That makes it one huge battle of mining versus the environment.  Pew Environment is already griping that several of the companies involved are based in Canada and that they would not even pay royalties to the US Government if granted the right to open mines.

So why would a Canadian company that is already mining in the area and that says that it has no active claims launch itself into the debate? When such a large battle is brewing one might have thought that the best strategy for such a company would be to lie low and stay quiet. But some miners apparently don’t see the world that way.  One of those gaining media profile in the debate is Ron Hochstein, CEO of Denison Mines, a mining company with its head office on Bay Street in Toronto. GallonDaily does not need to explain that Denison believes that the lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon should be opened to mining.

The part that leaves GallonDaily puzzled is why a Canadian miner would seek to raise its profile around such a contentious issue. Surely this is an American issue with plenty of American individuals and organizations available to prosecute the debate? Engagement of a Canadian mining company in heated discussion in which one side is already painting foreigners as the bad guys will surely only add fuel to the fire while causing further damage to Canada’s reputation in the global environmental community.

For an excellent, though admittedly one-sided, summary of the debate about opening lands in the Grand Canyon area to mining, as well links to relevant media stories from across the US, visit the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining at

UK Govt links Nature and the Economy

The UK government today published a Natural Environment White Paper outlining its vision for the natural environment for the next 50 years. While much of the Paper focuses on protection and enhancement of nature, there are also significant proposals for linking enhancement of nature with business activity. Among these are:

  • offsets for biodiversity, allowing development of sites with high biodiversity if  the biodiversity of other sites is enhanced;
  • phasing out sale and use of peat;
  • strengthening local public health activities which connect people with nature;
  • an independent Natural Capital Committee to make recommendations on how to put the value of nature at the heart of the Government’s economic thinking, reporting to the Government’s economic affairs committee chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister).
  • an annual statement of government green accounts; and
  • a task force chaired by the CEO of Kingfisher Group, Europe’s largest home improvement retailer, to expand the UK business opportunities from new products and services which are good for the economy and nature alike.

The White Paper, along with the recently published UK National Ecosystems Assessment, can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the press release at