Posts filed under ‘Be Green’

We’re Running Out of Helium and We Need It

By Chad Upton | Editor

Most of us only encounter helium at parties, but its role is far greater than floating balloons and squeaking voices.

Like oil, helium is formed deep in the earth over millions of years. It is created by radioactive decay of underground terrestrial rock. Helium is often trapped with Natural Gas and separating the two during natural gas extraction is typically how we get it.

Helium Balloons

About half of the world’s helium is located at the National Helium Reserve in Texas. This government reserve was originally setup in 1925, when the extraordinary value of helium was first recognized. The government believed airships were the future of defense and helium was the safest lighter-than-air gas to use since it’s not flammable. They were right in a way, helium was an important gas for future defense and science, but blimps were not a big part of that.

Helium is used to cool infrared detectors and was critical in the development of the atomic bomb and other scientific discoveries. Hospitals need helium to cool MRI scanners. It is also used in space rockets, defense systems, deep-sea diving, airships, optical lenses, power plants, wind tunnels, and other important areas of science.

Despite its great importance to our health and safety, we are squandering helium to the point where experts believe we will run out in as little as 15 years. (more…)

January 3, 2013 at 2:00 am 4 comments

Potatoes: Green Means Stop

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you eat potatoes, in any form, you’ve probably come across a partially green one.

Most importantly, don’t eat the green part — it’s toxic enough that you may get very ill, and it can cause death in rare cases. Secondly, it’s very bitter, so you’re not going to enjoy it. French fries and potato chips are also affected, so avoid the green stuff there too.

The green coloration is chlorophyll. Like many other plants, chlorophyll is formed with enough exposure to certain types of light. Of course, many green leaves are part of a healthy diet, so it’s not the chlorophyll itself that is the problem.

Exposure to light can also cause another reaction that forms a substance called “solanine.” It is not related to chlorophyll, but is often formed at the same time. Solanine is toxic. 16 ounces of a fully green pototo could be enough to make a 100lb person sick.

The green chlorophyll is a good warning about the presence of solanine, but solanine can form when chlorophyll does not. So, even if the potato looks normal, the bitter taste will serve as a warning.

Cooking a green potato will not help, it’s still toxic. But, a cooked potato cannot turn green since the required enzyme mechanisms are destroyed in cooking.

Bottom line: if it’s green or bitter, skip it.

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Photo: Selva / Eden (cc)

Sources: Purdue, Elkhorn

January 14, 2011 at 2:00 am 8 comments

How to Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste

By Chad Upton | Editor

Every home has things that should NOT go in the trash. Yet, many people don’t know what to do with them or even what some of these items are.

Some examples are:

  • batteries
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • paints and stains
  • pesticides and herbicides
  • fertilizers and poisons
  • cleaners and disinfectants
  • car fluids
  • medicines and prescription drugs

The main concern is that when many of these hazardous materials make it to landfills, they will eventually leech into our water supply and have potentially dangerous consequences.

Many large retailers such as Lowe’s, Radio Shack, Best Buy, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods and many others will accept certain types of batteries, Ni-Cad and Car Batteries being the most popular types accepted. Some retailers, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, will also accept compact fluorescent light bulbs.

For most other hazardous materials, you’ll likely need to go to your city’s drop off depot. Sometimes this service is paid for by your taxes, other cities charge a usage fee depending on what you’re dropping off.

A great site to help you find a nearby retailer or city depot to recycle or safely dispose of some of these items is earth911.com. You tell it what hazardous material you have and where you are, it will try to tell you the nearest place you can take it. I got really good results for everything I tried.

For medicines, check out this previous post: How to Dispose of Medicine.

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Sources: Oregon Live, Earth 911City of Toronto

January 3, 2011 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

How to Dispose of Medicine

By Chad Upton | Editor

You should regularly check your medicine cabinet for expired drugs. Because, if you’re like me, it’s probably more like a time-capsule than a medicine cabinet. Yesterday, my wife excavated a teeth whitening kit of mine that expired almost 5 years ago.

When you come across unused or expired medication, you have two options: keep it or get rid of it. There is some debate about the safety and effectiveness of expired medication, but there is no debate about the risk to pets and children when they get into unused medication. Prescription medication can be extremely dangerous, in fact: the second leading cause of death in 35-54 year olds is accidental overdose.

The best way to get rid of old medication is to give it to an organization that can properly dispose of it.

Your local police department may have take back programs where you can return drugs and they will send them away to be discarded. Some local drug stores have take back programs and others, such as Walgreens, sell special envelopes that can be used to mail your drugs to a proper disposal facility.

If professional disposal is not available to you, the next option is to discard the drugs in your own trash. The FDA, and other experts, recommend putting the discarded drugs in a small Ziploc bag and mixing item with undesirable waste such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. This reduces the chance of pets and children finding them or being interested in them if they do find them.

The FDA also maintains a small list of medications that you can flush down the toilet, because they could be potentially dangerous to pets or children if found in the trash. Some of the common ones include demerol, percocet, oxycontin and morphine.

Although flushing these drugs is better than putting them in the trash, sending the drugs away for proper disposal is always the best option. Professional disposal reduces the probability that the drugs will end up in the water supply that we, and many other species, rely on.

You may also want to read this post: Most Medication is Still Good After the Expiration Date

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Photo: Sparktography (cc)

Sources: FDA, Tylenol.com, Smarxt Disposal, Walgreens.com, Sharps

November 15, 2010 at 1:00 am 2 comments

Air Conditioning Affects Gas Mileage

By Chad Upton | Editor

In most cars, the air conditioner’s compressor is powered by a drive belt on the engine. When the air conditioner is activated, the compressor adds resistance to your engine. That extra resistance means your engine requires more fuel to turn at the same speed.

In other words, using your air conditioner burns more gas than not using it. Modern cars have very efficient air conditioners, but this truth still stands.

On a hot summer day, you have to keep cool. Does that mean it’s more fuel efficient to drive with your windows down?

Yes and no.

The Society of Automotive Engineers performed a study that examined this question in detail. They performed wind tunnel and track experiments comparing a car and an SUV. With the windows down, the car was half as efficient at 50 mph (80 km/h) than the SUV’s at 30 mph (50 km/h). It’s clear that driving the car with windows down has a dramatic effect on fuel economy, but it affected the SUV even more, especially when a 10 mph (16 km/h) crosswind was added in the wind tunnel.

Consumer Reports found that below 40 mph (65 km/h), drivers are better off with their windows down and air conditioner off.

Jason Toews from GasBuddy.com found at speeds above 45 mph (70 km/h), “wind drag becomes an issue.” He says, “Drive at speeds over 55 mph with windows down and you’ll decrease fuel economy by up to 20 percent or greater.”

Myth Busters has also looked at this issue on a couple occasions. The first time around, their methodology was flawed, so they tried it a second time. The second time, they came to the same conclusion as Consumer Reports and GasBuddy, that windows down are more efficient than running the air conditioner at speeds less than 45-55 mph (70-90 km/h) and the drag at higher speeds makes the air conditioner the more efficient option.

Of course, results vary by vehicle.

There are many factors other than windows and air conditioning that affect fuel economy: drive train, power-train, body aerodynamics and tire rolling resistance. If you want to know exactly how it affects your car, you might try experimenting for yourself. Some cars have a driver information center that displays fuel economy, otherwise you could order an after market product, such as CarChip Pro ($75-$85), which may help you get that data. If you’re interested, some of these are explored in more detail in another post, The Ideal Vehicle Speed for Best Fuel Economy.

If it’s hot outside, you should probably start with your windows down anyway. This gives your air conditioner a bit of a break by clearing the extremely hot air out of the car first.

Do prefer windows down or the air conditioner on?

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Sources: SAE (PDF), MythBusters (Ep 22, Ep 38), Edmunds, Bankrate, Consumer Reports, Missouri Gov

Photo: Tomás Fano (cc)

August 10, 2010 at 5:00 am 12 comments

Lights Use More Energy While Turning On

By Chad Upton | Editor

There is a belief that it takes more energy to turn a light bulb on than it does to leave it running. That is true.

But, in some cases it’s still more energy efficient to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

That’s because the spike of additional electricity that is used to turn on a light bulb, is very short lived. That extra energy varies depending on the type of light bulb.

For most bulb types, the extra energy is equivalent to less than one second of energy that is consumed while the light is on. That means, you’d have to leave the room and return within one second to save energy by leaving the light turned on.

The one exception is fluorescent tubes (not compact fluorescents), they require a lot more energy to turn on than they consume while running normally.

Depending on the source of the information, fluorescents use energy equivalent to 5 to 24 seconds of regular use, just to power up. Therefore, if you use fluorescent tubes, there would be times when it would be more efficient to leave them on than turn them off.

If you have a large room that is lit with fluorescent tubes and you were going to leave the room for a few minutes or less, it would be more efficient to leave them on instead of turning them off and then back on when you return. But, if you’re leaving for more than that, you should shut them off.

That said, turning lights on and off does cause wear and tear on the bulbs. LED “bulbs”, which are now available at most hardware stores, are most resilient to this type of wear and tear.

Incandescent bulbs are extremely cheap, so the cost of replacing these bulbs isn’t an important consideration, although the environmental impact may be. But, it is important to consider this wear and tear for more expensive bulbs such as compact fluorescents. It is for this reason that the EPA recommends that compact fluorescent lights are used in areas where they will usually be turned on for at least 15 minutes at a time. This will contribute to bulb lifespan.

Although I used a couple other sources for this post, Mythbusters did some great experiments on this subject and I’ve embedded the video if you’d like to watch it.

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Sources: Mythbusters, EPA, EnergyStar (PDF)

July 30, 2010 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Diesel Fuel Nozzles Don’t Fit in Standard Fuel Cars

Diesel cars are not popular in North America. But, diesel engines are fairly popular in pickup trucks and are becoming more popular in North American cars.

Although they have a limited history in America, foreign car manufacturers sell many diesel models in Europe.

Diesel engines are generally very efficient and that behind their new found demand. As diesel becomes more popular, you will likely see more diesel pumps.

This is good if you have a diesel car, potentially bad if you don’t. Diesel pumps present a slight risk to your standard gasoline vehicle — you do not want to put diesel fuel in a car that uses standard unleaded fuel.

Standard engines use spark plugs to burn the fuel, diesel engines use pressure and heat to cause a reaction in diesel fuel. That means standard engines will not burn diesel fuel. If you inadvertently put diesel in an unleaded car, the engine will stop very quickly. It’s not usually a total loss, the fuel system will have to be cleaned, filters will need to be changed and the whole process can cost as much as $600.

But, there is an easy way to avoid this costly mistake. First, diesel fuel dispensers are usually clearly marked with text and with a special color handle (the color varies by station).

Second, the nozzle on the end of a diesel fuel pump is slightly larger than a standard fuel nozzle. That means it won’t fit in your car’s gas hole, at least not that way you’re used to a pump nozzle fitting. If you notice that the nozzle isn’t going as far in as it usually does, check the pump, you might be holding a diesel trigger.

This same principle was used in the 80s when we transitioned from leaded to unleaded fuel. Leaded fuel nozzles wouldn’t not fit in unleaded gas holes.

Checkout some other gas related Broken Secrets:

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Answer Bag, WTSP, Dixon Nozzles (PDF)

Photo: teachernz (cc)

June 9, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

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