BPA-Free Receipt Paper

Last year we saw a series of news stories on how our gas station receipts were toxic because of “BPA.” But it didn’t stop there, receipts from the ATM, the grocery store, at the mall and at the library also contain BPA. [BPA Receipts Bombshell (CBS); Cashiers May Face Special Risks From BPA (Science News); Another Reason You Don’t Need Your Receipt (U.S. News & World Report)]

BPA, Bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been “used for more than 40 years in the manufacture of many hard plastic food containers such as baby bottles and reusable cups and the lining of metal food and beverage cans, including canned liquid infant formula. Trace amounts of BPA can be found in some foods packaged in these containers.” [1]

The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry has stated that “when it comes to BPA in the urban environment, “the biggest exposures, in my opinion, will be these cash register receipts.” [2]

The man-made chemical has been shown in scientific experiments to mimic the hormone estrogen, and government reports in the US have, in the past, expressed relatively minor concern about exposure. However, the fact that BPA is found everywhere – in a study conducted in2009 by the US Health & Human Services Department it was found in 93% of all test subjects’ urine – the saturation of the chemical in our environment – and our bodies – has become a larger concern.

So large, in fact, that in September 2010 Canada officially declared BPA toxic. BPA is now on their toxic substances list based on concern about possible risk to fetuses and babies

Last year I came across an article about the Eugene Public Library which reported that the library had switched to BPA-free paper:

“When deciding whether to make the costly switch — the BPA-free paper costs 5 percent more — library staff members said they used the city’s “triple bottom line” standard, which assesses the best decision based on environmental, social and fiscal costs.[emphasis mine]The conclusion: Switching was the best option.

Looking ahead, the library hopes to make paper receipts a thing of the past.”

Bravo Eugene!!

An even bigger “Bravo!” to Multnomah County, also in Oregon, as they actually realized a cost savings through switching to BPA-free:

“Jeremy Graybill, marketing and communications director for the library, estimates it will save between $1,400 and $3,200 through its switch to BPA-free paper this fiscal year.

Graybill said it is tough to pinpoint the exact savings that will result from the change, since the library has yet to move through a whole year of inventory. But the library uses about 8,300 rolls of receipt paper annually, mostly as hold slips to direct patrons to books they’ve ordered. In its previous fiscal year, the library spent $10,000 on receipt paper. At the low end, the projected savings from the switch looks to be at least 14 percent.” [3]

So take a fresh look online or call your current receipt paper supplier, prices have come down on BPA-free paper throughout 2010 and I expect this trend to continue.

Make the switch, it’s the right thing to do for your staff and your patrons.

Toy Recalls

TheDailyGreen does a nice job of promoting the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s toy recalls. I point this out because I routinely shudder at some of the items libraries purchase as Summer Reading Program “incentives.” Libraries seek items for kids to encourage reading over the summer and end up buying mass quantities of junk (IMHO). My first tip is to avoid buying such crap but if you do, be aware of this site so you can alert parents of your SRP kids should something you’ve purchased end up on the CPSC list…

Furnaces and Boilers

Developing a survey for my member libraries this week to help me benchmark how much electricity, gas, and/or oil they are using in their libraries. Along the way I found this nice page on the Department of Energy’s web site: Energy Savers: Furnaces and Boilers.

A number of my libraries are facing the realities of having to replace their equipment and making the right choice seems easy as just about anything new is more efficient than what they have now. This site gives some great tips for making that decision be an even more energy efficient one that it might be if you just went with whatever your installer suggests.

ChargePoint America

ChargePoint America is a program sponsored by Coulomb Technologies to provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure to nine selected regions in the United States. The is made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Transportation Electrification Initiative administered by the Department of Energy and the objective is to accelerate the development and production of electric vehicles to substantially reduce petroleum consumption, reduce greenhouse gas production, and create jobs.”

9 program regions:

  • Bellevue-Redmond, WA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • San Jose-San Francisco Bay Area
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Austin, TX
  • Detroit, MI
  • New York City, NY
  • Washington D.C.
  • Orlando, FL

Thin Clients

Learn about thin clients – they are a great solution for public access computing/networks in libraries as most patrons are not doing intensive computing, just surfing, typing, social networking, etc.

They are “green” because they:

  • use less electricity
  • require less equipment
  • take up less space
  • once set up, they are easier to administer

Just my opinion …

Green Roofs… Revisited

At my Greening workshop in Onondaga County last week I was confronted with a challenge to my answer that green roofs were not necessarily a great choice for buildings in the Northeast. When asked to expand on my statement I shared my feeling that while it is true they mitigate rainwater runoff, add insulation and combat the heat island effect in urban settings they are not cost-effective in terms of payback for libraries in NY and that adding them to existing buildings, particularly historic buildings, was not a great idea in terms of weight load and maintenance.

A speaker later in the day, who works for Onondaga County (OC), shared that the county was investing considerable funds  in green roofs. Since everything else the speaker reported on sounded fantastic and smart (really, it was, I’m not being sarcastic!) I started second guessing my assured answer that green roofs were not the way to go.

I did a bit of searching and learned that OC is under court order to reduce the amount of pollution flowing into Onondaga Lake with stormwater. The county is pursing a number of stormwater mitigation solutions, porous pavers, rainbarrels for residents… and testing out a green roof on a correctional facility. So to start off with I feel better that the case isn’t that they’ve invested millions of dollars into green roofs but that they are testing it out to see if it works for their situation.

This is a take-away folks: different green solutions work for different reasons. This county is faced with a specific problem – pollution caused by stomwater run-off – and is seeking solutions to rectify that. This does not mean that is the best solution for everyone but it may turn out that it can put a dent in a serious problem they are faced with.

Almost every green solution has a pro and con list to contend with. In New York City a study was done in 2007 to assess cool roof options:

So, as a general policy, DDC does not encourage the use of green roofs as a sustainability strategy on City
projects, and recommends more cost-effective, environmentally-beneficial strategies such as street trees, light-colored surfaces, and permeable paving–and building-related energy improvements. However, it is important to note that green roofs have numerous other benefits, primarily those in human terms. A green roof might be the right solution in a particular situation, and would be supported by DDC. Examples are:

  • As a public or staff amenity. Intensive green roofs can provide protected, usable outdoor space forlibraries, residential facilities and 24-hour agencies, such as Police and Fire. An extensive green roof might provide a welcome visual amenity for cultural institutions or a situation with a bleak view.
  • As a mission-related or educational tool. An example is the new building at the Queens Botanical Garden, where the green roof supports the Garden’s mission and is usable by visitors.

Although green roofs offer many benefits, they are not the environmental panacea sometimes put forth.
Design teams should review the project-specifi c goals, alternate methods of providing green open space
and controlling stormwater and craft an effective environmental approach.

  • From the report, “DDC Cool and Green Roofing Manual” Prepared for the NYC Department of Design & Construction Office of Sustainable Design by Gruzen Samton Architects LLP with Amis Inc., Flack + Kurtz Inc., Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects P.C., and SHADE Consulting, LLC

So I guess the real answer here is what is your goal? What is the priority? And what is the right solution to address the goal? Simple payback formulas would show that it is not a cost effective option for energy efficiency but calculations may indicate it is a viable solution for stormwater management in a particular case.

As is the case with many green solutions this is not a clear cut answer but I find solace in my finding that it is a “right tool for the job” answer.

Energy Star Program: Flaws & The Future

As mentioned in a previous post, an attendee at one of my workshops asked about flaws reported in the Energy Star program. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) played “secret shopper,” or in this case secret manufacturer, and tried to get some crazy products certified by the Energy Start program – gas powered alarm clock anyone? Of 20 fictitious products 15 were certified which was a clear sign the program is unreliable. Their report was released in March and was widely covered in the press.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DoE) announced in mid-April, 2010 that they were enacting “sweeping changes” to safeguard the program and restore credibility:
  • Manufacturers wishing to qualify their products as Energy Star must submit complete lab reports and results for review and approval by EPA prior to labeling;
  • Test results must be from an EPA/DoE approved and accredited lab.
  • Lab testing will now be required for all 60 product categories, previously they were only required for certain categories like windows, doors, skylights and compact fluorescent lighting.
  • The EPA will no longer rely on an automated approval process.
  • The DOE conducted off-the-shelf product testing for some of the most common household appliances and a recent Inspector General audit found that 98% of products tested fully complied with Energy Star requirements.

While these changes were necessary and their delay in being enacted could be blamed on the explosive growth of the program there now is a haze of doubt surrounding the once comforting light blue Energy Star label we all have learned to look for. Another consideration is that there is additional cost for manufacturers to have their products certified due to the required lab results, adding to the oft-heard complaint that it costs more to be green/innovate green.

My take on the Energy Star program is that it is better than nothing. Consumers are awash in products claiming to be energy efficient and the Energy Star program is one of few tools available to help cut through the chatter to what really pays off. I say we not dismiss Energy Star but give it the chance it deserves to redeem itself in the wake of the GAO findings.

40 Tips for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Tomorrow is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, to mark the occasion I am doing a Greening Your Library workshop for my member libraries and have brainstormed the list below:

40 Easy Ways to Go Green @your library for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

1.       Establish a “Green Team” at the library to brainstorm ways the library could be greener

2.       Develop a recycling policy for your staff (paper, plastic, cardboard)

3.       Ask the board to pass a green policy that encourages and validates the exploration and investment in energy saving and resource saving options

4.       Create a routine maintenance plan for major systems (roof, HVAC, etc.)

5.       Create a building plan to predict timelines for long-term goals –  replacement of HVAC, roof, expansion plans – this will give you more time to find green options

6.       Recycle bins for paper next to printers (for staff and the public)

7.       Purchase recycled paper for printers and copiers

8.       File as much as you can electronically rather than in paper files (be sure to have an offsite back-up solution and schedule!)

9.       Add a footer to your email signature that urges people to think twice before printing out an email message: “Please consider the environment before printing this email”

10.   Recycle bin for plastic and glass in the staff break room and meeting rooms

11.   Encourage staff to eliminate the use of plastic water bottles at work

12.   Offer an enewsletter option

13.   Turn off lights in offices and meeting spaces not in use

14.   Only purchase ENERGY STAR computers/appliances

15.   Do not water the grass

16.   Use native plants in your landscaping so you don’t have to water them extra.

17.   Recycle book sale donations that don’t sell

18.   Recycle printer cartridges

19.   Appropriately dispose of e-waste (computers, monitors)

20.   Use Century Gothic font (it uses 30% less ink when printing than Arial)

21.   Turn off all equipment (copies, printers, computer towers and monitors) at the end of the work day

22.   Use “smart” power strips to cut off power completely when equipment is off

23.   Use the energy saving features through your operating system to put computers into standby/hibernation

24.   Turn down the temperature on the hot water heater

25.   Wrap the hot water tank with insulation to reduce heat loss from the tank

26.   Green the cleaning – purchase “Green Seal” cleaning products

27.   Use biodegradable soap in the bathrooms

28.   Only purchase formaldehyde free furniture

29.   Use low-VOC paints in the library

30.   The next time you replace your vacuum, get one with a HEPA filter

31.   Plan story hour crafts that can use recycled paper, cardboard, “found items,” etc.

32.   Invite a local walking or cycling group in to do programs at the library

33.   Partner with local environmental groups in your community to do programs at the library

34.   Offer a program on energy efficiency incentives from the state and federal for homeowners

35.   Highlight books from your collection that help families go green (green cleaning, eating locally, energy efficient home ideas)

36.   Encourage families to “turn off” (the TV and computer) and hang out together at the library

37.   Have the library property assessed for geothermal and solar placement.

38.   Schedule an Energy Audit to get professional recommendations to reduce energy usage in your building ($100) Usually available through your state energy authority

39.   Get your hands on a Kill-a-Watt to discover ways to cut back your electricity bill (we got one to share with our member libraries)

40.  Get your hands on a thermal leak detector to discover air infiltration in your building (we got one to share with our member libraries)