January 2007


Recycling &Uncategorized25 Jan 2007 09:14 am

Typek 50% Recycled Paper

For years, I have been phoning around trying to track down recycled office paper. It was simply impossible to find. So I was very excited when SAPPI last year introduced Typek 50% Recycled, in appropriately green packaging. It takes me more than a year to finish a ream of paper, however, so only when I ran out of paper this week did I get a chance to try it.

Finding Typek Green was not easy. My local Waltons and CNA did not stock it, even though a wholesaler told me that they do supply it to CNA. Makro, however, had plenty of stock, and even had it on promotion: R129 for a box of 5 reams. That’s several rand cheaper than the price of ordinary red Typek at Makro or Game. (Sale price ends January 29.) Five reams would last me until approximately 2014, but I’m happy to sell it on to friends and family.

I tested the paper in my cranky, paper-jam prone laser printer, and it worked perfectly. Compared to ordinary Mondi Rotatrim paper, it appears fractionally less white, though no one would call it grey, or even off-white. It is also a wee bit less opaque and has just enough pin-point flecks of pigment to give it credibility as recycled paper, but not enough to be noticed by a casual reader. I see no reason to ever buy non-recycled office paper again.

The actual content of the paper is 30 percent post-consumer paper and 20 percent “post-industrial waste,” which basically means clean off-cuts from paper factories. This pre-consumer paper would get recycled anyway, but it’s still impressive to see waste paper being made into a high-value product instead of toilet paper or paper towel, which is the more common fate of recycled white paper. The other 50 percent of the content comes from trees, but even this half of the paper has some green virtues. The trees come from commercial forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. I first started choosing Mondi Rotatrim paper because Mondi had FSC certified paper before SAPPI. To be certified, a forest must meet certain environmental conditions, such as natural areas of indigenous trees maintained alongside commercial plantations.

Though it’s a major improvement, using no paper at all is even better. So I will stick to my usual office procedures. Most documents are read and stored electronically and never printed. I even receive faxes on my computer through Telkom’s Virtual Fax service (R11 per month) and most of these faxes I save on my PC or discard without printing. When I do print, I usually use paper that already has printing on one side. I collect this half-used paper for free from relatives in big offices or from printing shops. New paper is for printing formal documents, letters and school projects.

As a result, it may be a few more years before I can reward SAPPI for its innovation with another purchase, so I will have to rely on others. If you know a person who makes office supply decisions, encourage them to try it. If your local stationer doesn’t carry Typek 50% Recycled, ask them to stock it. And let us know where you do find it stocked by clicking on the comments link below.

Recycling &Uncategorized23 Jan 2007 02:32 pm

Steel can, left, aluminium can, right.

Steel (left), Aluminium (right)

I am a student of litter. I use my jogging time to see what people are tossing out, and I also pick up a few cans on each run. So it quickly became obvious to me that 2007’s litter was not the same as 2006’s. Suddenly Coke cans were not rusting. They were shining up at me. They were made of aluminium.

I phoned Coca-Cola to find out what had happened, and they explained that they were temporarily importing Coke from Singapore and elsewhere because of the local shortage of carbon dioxide. (How ironic that as we swelter from the greenhouse effect, South Africa should have a shortage of carbon dioxide!)

I mention this not because I am appalled at the thought of the energy required to get a can of Coke from Singapore to Johannesburg. (Though I am.) It’s too late to do anything about that. What matters now is that these are aluminium cans instead of the usual steel cans used in South Africa. And in the hierarchy of recyclables, aluminium is king. Whether you recycle or toss away a polystyrene cup matters little in the scheme of things. Throwing away an aluminium can is a mortal sin.

Making aluminium from bauxite requires ghastly amounts of electricity, which is why you will find aluminium smelters in places like Mozambique that have none of the raw materials for aluminium and no market for aluminium but do have lots of cheap energy. For every ton of aluminium produced from coal-based electricity, 13 tons of carbon dioxide are spewed into the air.

That’s the downside.

The upside is that aluminium recycles beautifully, saving 95 percent of the energy originally used to make it. Recycling an aluminium can saves the energy equivalent of enough petrol to fill half of that can. It’s enough energy to burn a 100 watt globe for 4 hours.

For this reason, aluminium cans have a high value to recyclers. The men who wander the streets in search of scrap metal might not want your steel cans, but they will gladly take aluminium. If you can’t get the cans to a recycling depot, leave them to the side in a separate bag on your garbage collection day. They can also be taken to any Johannesburg Pikitup refuse site or Collect-A-Can depot. (Don’t expect any money for your cans. Collect-A-Can requires a very large quantity before they pay for aluminium.)

There are several ways to tell if your can is aluminium. Look at the bottom: steel cans are dull; aluminium shines. Hold a fridge magnet against the can. If it doesn’t stick, it’s aluminium. And if the can feels light and makes a rattling noise when you crumple it, it’s aluminium. Some imported beers, Red Bull and V energy drinks are all packaged in aluminium.

Since all of these are imported drinks, they are inherently wasteful. If you must drink them, picking up a littered aluminium can and recycling it is a great way to atone for your sins.

Global Warming &Uncategorized21 Jan 2007 10:22 am

An Inconvenient Truth Poster

I finally took my family to see “An Inconvenient Truth,” yesterday. This global-warming documentary has lasted for three months now at Cinema Nouveau, Rosebank, which suggests that the word-of-mouth has been positive. We were an unusually tough audience: I’ve already read hundreds of articles on global warming, while my children (ages 9-15) are accustomed to more entertaining fare. So I am happy to report that we tough critics give the film two thumbs up. (To read what other critics said, see this post.)
I was nervous taking my children to such a serious film. But as we walked out of the theatre, my son said, “that was a good movie, not the best movie I could have chosen, but a good movie.” I consider that high praise coming from an 11-year-old boy who has just sat through a serious, 95 minute documentary created for adults. When I stood up from my seat during the credits, my kids wouldn’t budge. They were watching the hints for reducing your personal contribution to global warming, which were interspersed among the production credits. “You already do all of those things, Dad,” said my eldest. I have a feeling that, at the very least, the film has helped them understand why their kooky father rides his bike to the post office and climbs up a ladder to clean his solar panels.

From my perspective, I found the film’s use of graphics enlightening. (And frightening.) I learned a thing or two, and the explanations of complex science were well thought out and organised. I thought that the movie successfully held the audience’s attention with a variety of perspectives, the human interest element of Al Gore’s life, and a sprinkling of humour.

My severest criticism would be that it seems very American. The brief asides about Al Gore’s political career may or may not interest South Africans. More worrisome is that in highlighting America’s role in global warming, An Inconvenient Truth inadvertently gives South Africans an opening to think, “we’re not the problem.” One graphic shows Africa’s tiny per-capita contribution to carbon dioxide production, next to America’s giant contribution. Since it was the only mention of Africa, it caught the attention of both my wife and my children. I explained to them that the millions of Africans who by necessity get around on bikes, buses, trains, mini-bus taxis and their own two feet take the credit for that low figure. If all Africans lived like the few South Africans who can afford R40 to see a movie, we would probably rival the Americans.

Eventually, An Inconvenient Truth will reach video stores and television screens. But I don’t suggest that you wait. Even an action-packed adventure film struggles to hold a viewer’s focus when competing with ringing phones and doorbells. This film deserves your full attention.

Global Warming &Uncategorized11 Jan 2007 11:27 am

Chargers and Converters

My family is away this week, so I’ve been playing with vampires. It’s not as kinky as it sounds. “Vampires” is the nickname for all of the nasty little electrical devices that suck juice from your electrical outlets even when they are supposedly off. The most common vampires are televisions and computer equipment in standby mode and battery chargers that are left plugged in even when they are idle.

I wanted to know how much these little suckers use in my house. Does their electrical consumption add up to something significant? The municipal electric meter was my measuring device. With no one else in the house to surreptitiously turn on a light, I could control exactly what was and was not drawing power.

First, to establish a baseline, I switched off all lights and geysers, and I unplugged everything, including the refrigerator. Over two hours, I used just under 0.2 kilowatt hours of electricity. I assume that means my security system draws a little bit less than 100 watts.

Then I plugged in every cellphone charger, battery charger and toothbrush charger I could find. I turned on two televisions at the switch and then zapped them “off” with their remotes, and I did the same with any video devices attached to them. I powered up the stereo amp and CD player. I plugged in my electric piano, but left it off. I booted up computers-then put them into standby mode-and I plugged in any printers or other peripheral attached to them. Finally, I plugged in two voltage converters that I use for a few appliances I brought over from America.

I want to emphasize that I was not using any of these devices. I wasn’t watching TV, listening to music or using a computer. None of the chargers had anything to charge. Nothing was plugged into the voltage converters. The lights stayed off and the fridge remained unplugged. The house was as dark and silent as you might expect it late at night when we are all asleep.

Two hours later, my municipal meter told me that I had used 0.5 kilowatt hours, which means that those thirsty little vampires were cumulatively lapping up 150 watts to do absolutely nothing. Left alone, that’s 3.6 kWh a day or 108 kWh a month, costing nearly R34 at Johannesburg’s electricity tariff. Over a year, I could be using 1 314 kWh, pumping well over a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and paying R410 for the privilege. It’s like having a leaky faucet that drips around the clock, but it’s leaking electricity instead of water.

Was my scenario extreme? Perhaps a little. Most people don’t have voltage converters. But otherwise our family lives like many suburban South Africans. Studies quoted by the Economist magazine in an article last year found that vampires account for 7 percent of domestic electricity consumption in France and up to 10 percent in some American homes. Vampires in the U.S. alone drink up the equivalent output of 18 typical power stations, according to the Economist.

I am sure that my family does not use all of those 150 watts as we sleep. My children know that remotes are for changing channels, not for switching televisions on and off; that’s the function of the button on the front of the TV. I turn my PC all the way off when finished using it, reaching behind the case to the switch at the back. And I only plug in chargers when they have a job to do. But this exercise did make me realize that there were gaps in my vigilance. I noticed that even when my electric piano was off, its AC/DC transformer at the wall was very warm, a sure sign that it was wasting power. From today, I have decided to switch the piano off at the wall when I’m not playing it. I will sleep better knowing that I have slain another vampire.