Potty Tech: Which Is Greener, Toilet Paper Or A Bidet?

Over the course of our publication day, we might receive a dozen or so unsolicited product pitches. Some are useful; some are blatant greenwashing; and a few make us think.

Take, for example, the note waiting for us this morning in the inbox:

Hi, I was hoping you could incorporate the story below into your site/blog.  It talks about a bidet invention that helps reduce toilet paper usage, helping the environment in the process.

Ah the bidet. Common in parts of Europe and a few other places around the world, but a mystery to the majority of Americans. For most, a bidet is a novelty to be contemplated in the dark recesses of some French hotel room, not a component of greener living.

The bidet in question, the Biffy Personal Rinse, seemed nice enough: a bolt-on attachment for standard commodes which retails for about $100. That’s a good value when compared to the rather hefty price people pay for traditional bidets. But it got us wondering: how green is this thing, really, especially when compared to recycled toilet paper?

A touchy subject

Its difficult to understand why environmentalists are so willing to discuss their bathroom habits with perfect strangers or get those same strangers to start greening up by changing such an intimate aspect of their lives. With all the possible ways to lighten ones environmental footprint, you’d think potty time would be about the last thing on the list.

Sheryl Crow learned this the hard way, becoming the butt of late night talk show jokes after calling for the rationing of toilet paper. Public reaction was predictable. Colin Beavan, a New York writer also known as No Impact Man, quickly discovered his family’s abandonment of toilet paper was usually the first topic raised when interviewed about his year of low-impact living.

That being said, were all about saving resources. Lets jump in.

Greenwash Alert: Power-Saving Flatscreens

Discount electronics company Vizio has announced that they’ve cut the power consumption of their televisions in half. But that’s a long way from being green

Vizio best known for offering cut rates on HDTVs has rolled out a new television technology in time for the energy crisis to peak this summer, and hopefully draw panicked Americans their way. While each individual set draws almost 50% less power than the competing brands a 35 inch model will only use 55 watts, amounting to an average savings of 107 kWh, annually, cutting the average utility bill by five dollars.

This is Great News, Right?

Maybe, and maybe not. While the technical advances are certainly something to be haile dafter all, you don’t see Sony, or Panasonic, or anybody else making this announcement, and its not because they’re not trying it’s always on environmentalists to step back, look, at the larger picture, and call out green washing. Vizio? Unfortunately, this doesn’t look good for  !ViaIta! brand of choice.

Vizio And The Great Greenwash

Vizio is an American brand, and is based in Irvine, California. While this would seem to speak well at least the money is generating revenue in the American economy the factory isn’t anywhere near the corporate suits. Vizio instead relies on a contract manufacturer called Amtran, which is based out of Taiwan and Suzhuo, China. So despite the dramatically reduced power consumption of the TVs, they’re still traveling over half of the planet to reach consumers. Worse still, while they’re at that factory, Vizio has given no indication that the processes used in building these televisions have become any more eco-friendly than they were at the inception; a menagerie of corrosives and toxic solvents are used in manufacturing.

But what about after that? They’ll have a long life with the consumer, saving tons of power over a lifetime, right? Not quite. Vizio represents one of the least-reliable televisions on the market based on rate of returns and customer complaints. And after their sets fail? The corporate recycling program is an anachronism, long left in the dust by Sony, Toshiba, and others. This is greenwashing in its most pure form.

University Of Iowa Using Oat Hulls From Quaker Oats As Fuel Source.

For a couple of years now the University of Iowa has been partnering with a nearby Quaker Oats plant to use the otherwise discarded oat hulls (the protective shell of the oat) as an environmentally friendly fuel source instead of burning coal. The oat hulls fuel 14% of the school’s total energy – equal to displacing the carbon emissions of 1,200 passenger cars and equivalent to powering 900 American homes. Not bad at all!

According to the university, some of the benefits of burning the oat hulls as biomass include:

  • Burning 25% less coal and lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Saving the University over a million dollars in fuel savings since its inception in 2003
  • Program resulted in the University of Iowa making the EPA Top 20 list of on-site green power users.

While it sure is convenient that the Quaker Oats plant is nearby, maybe this will inspire many other universities to look around for alternative sources of energy that they can easily access, saving both money and emissions!

Apple Debuts a Greener, Less Toxic iPod Nano

Last year, Steve Jobs promised that Apple work work toward less toxic, easier-to-recycle consumer products. So how do the new iPod Nanos measure up?

It came as no surprise to the consumer electronic press that Apple introduced a sleek new line of iPod Nanos at its Lets Rock media event Tuesday afternoon. The Nano media players was a bit overdue for a refresh, and its the time of year when companies look ahead to the Christmas retail season.

But the attention given during Steve Jobs presentation to the environmental improvements to the 4th generation Nanos underlines how seriously the company takes improving its Green cred. Thats a tough sell for the electronics industry. Those cute little entertainment devices and wireless phones we carry around punch beyond their weight in terms of materials youd rather not see getting back into our soil and drinking water: Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), and a variety of exotic metals used in semiconductors.

Green My Apple

Apples environmental policies began drawing fire a couple years back when Greenpeace mounted its Green My Apple website. The campaign highlighted Apples lack of leadership in Green electronics something you wouldnt expect from a commercial concern so geared to artsy, socially aware consumers.

We love Apple. Apple knows more about clean design than anybody, right? So why do Macs, iPods, iBooks and the rest of their product range contain hazardous substances that other companies have abandoned? A cutting edge company shouldnt be cutting lives short by exposing children in China and India to dangerous chemicals. Thats why we Apple fans need to demand a new, cool product: a greener Apple.

From the Green My Apple website

Apple responds

In the spring of 2007, Apple responded with a five-page environmental statement called a Greener Apple. While pointing out that the company had, indeed, been making progress, Company CEO Steve Jobs laid out an aggressive program to reduce product toxicity and improve recyclability by 2010.

Specifically targeted: reducing lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and PVCs in computers and home entertainment components. Apple has also been giving some thought to its packaging, opting for biodegradable materials and reducing unnecessary bulk wherever possible. This summers 3G iPhones shipped in Styrofoam-free trays made from potato starch.

Greener Nanos

At todays Apple event staged to introduce a general overhaul of the companys iPod line and announce the availability of iTunes 8 Jobs took a few minutes to highlight some of the environmental improvements to the new Nano line. They include:

    • Arsenic-free display glass
    • Construction free of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs)
    • No use of mercury
    • No use of PVCs
    Highly recyclable metal casings

These moves are consistent with Apples promise to green its products as suitable eco-friendly materials and technologies become available. Of course, dedicated Greenies will resist impulse purchases of manufactured goods, particularly those manufactured and shipped from overseas. But for most consumers, programs such as Apples represent a growing trend by companies to respect consumer desire for cleaner, less toxic products.

The new Nanos are priced at $149 for 8 GB storage and $199 for 16 GB. Featuring nine colors, an improved video display, and the addition of the motion-sensing accelerometer first introduced in Apples popular iPhone, theyre already onsale at the Apple Store. Retail outlets should stocked by this weekend.