Tell Walmart: Take Back the Mercury!

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has got a lot of cleaning up to do.

Recently, Walmart has been pushing a wide range of ‘green’ initiatives. They’ve been focusing on the environment very big, very public way.

One of their biggest initiatives is their effort to sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs — one for each of their estimated 100 million customers.

This is wonderful. If they meet this target, they will be pretty directly responsible for freeing up enough energy to provide power for 450,000 single family homes. We applaud them for this effort!

But there’s a catch, and it’s an important one. Every one of these 100 Million bulbs contains Mercury — a chemical poison that means the bulbs aren’t allowed to be thrown out in household trash. Instead, they need to be recycled using special procedures to ensure that Mercury stays out of landfills across America and around the world.

If Walmart is going to sell these bulbs, they should provide a way for their customers to recycle them. Putting brochures in their stores isn’t enough — they should provide some convenient, direct way for customers to recycle the bulbs. Otherwise, these bulbs will end up in local landfills where they could build up over time and require local communities to pay for clean up costs later. And the clean up costs would be huge.

About Walmart

As one of the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world, they literally make almost $1 Billion in profit each month. They exert a control over the manufacturing and retail industries unlike any other corporation.

From Wikipedia:

It is the largest private employer in the world and world’s fourth largest utility or commercial employer, only trailing the People’s Liberation Army of China, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and the Indian Railways.

They’ve also been the target of some dramatic criticism recently. The recent movie The High Cost of Low Prices chronicled in detail many of the company’s worst abuses.

For example, here’s some information from a recent article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Five of the 10 richest people in the country are from the founding Walton family. But to help the company offer its proclaimed “Every Day Low Prices,” workers are paid an average of $17,530 a year, nearly $2,000 below the poverty level of a family of four. Almost half of the children of those associates are uninsured or on Medicaid.

Walmart has been doing some good things for the environment recently, and they deserve credit for that. Their 100 Million CFL bulb effort has gotten them a lot of press, including this interview on NPR, this article in Fast Company.

Is it too expensive?

Of course, the reason they don’t provide recycling already is that it costs too much. It will reduce profits.

But according to Wikipedia, they earn almost $1 Billion in profit each month. Clearly, they won’t lose money if provide a way for customers to recycle bulbs.

Other companies are helping consumers recycle products

Also, other companies provide similar services. IKEA, for example, provides recycling of CFL bulbs in each of their stores. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Sony, Dell, Apple and HP are all unveiling recycling programs to allow customers to recycle products they buy from them. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Walmart even held a recycling day in 5 US States and accepted CFL bulbs from customers for recycling. It was a single day, 8-hour event, but they took in a lot of bulbs.

Pressure from customers will be key in determining when they role it out permanently. They’ve announced no plans to do so as of yet. But, with pressure from us, I’m certain they will.

What should you do?

So what should you do?

Well, to begin with the first thing is to contact Walmart and tell them to Take Back the Mercury! If Walmart wants to sell 100 Million CFL bulbs they should arrange in-store recycling for the bulbs. It’s that simple.

Right now, the best contact information I have is this contact page on Walmart’s corporate site. For e-mail, this form is the best I can find.

I’d prefer more direct contact information — preferably to Andy Ruben, Vice President of Corporate Strategy/Sustainability for Walmart. If you have better contact information please leave it in the comments here and I’ll add it to this page. For now, here’s the contact info from their corporate contact page:

Contact Walmart:

By e-mail
To contact us by e-mail, fill out our online feedback form.
Submit feedback for your local Wal-Mart
Submit feedback for our corporate headquarters

Via mail
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611.

By phone
If you’re a customer, call 1-800-WAL-MART (1-800-925-6278).

If you’re an investor or analyst, call 479-273-8446.
If you’re a journalist, call 1-800-331-0085.

How Social Media Sites Expand Reader Comments on our Site

Social Media sites like Digg, Stumbleupon and Twitter (among others) have dramatically changed how readers find and discuss our website. I thought it would be interesting to talk about this a bit and show the rest of our readers how different people discuss our posts using these different sites.

As an example, let’s look at reader response to our post from yesterday on a new study showing that 87% of Americans were ‘seriously concerned’ about the environment.

The feedback itself was pretty consistent — our readers seemed to be all thinking the same thing: “Yeah, that’s great. But does it mean that people are actually going to do anything?”

And that’s a fair question to ask. It’s one thing for someone to be concerned about the environment, but quite another to for them to be more aggressive in recycling, or sell their SUV and by a Hybrid car.

Regular reader jhimm, summed it up well in his comment on our site :

ok, great, 87% of americans are concerned about the environment. BUT, of that 87% a significant percentage are going to be liberal/progressive and will expect the government to take a leading role in -fixing- the environment and so may not do as much on their own as they should, focusing instead of their “activism” by voting Green (or DNC).

another significant percentage are going to be lazy americans and while they are “seriously concerned” they aren’t actually going to get off their fat asses and -do- anything to -fix- the environmental issues we face.

Reader Jeremy added another comment on this site :

I agree, education is the hardest part, and the part od the equation that is lacking the most. I feel that most people want to live a more ecologically responsible life, but they dont know where to start. They know that they can recycle, but most dont know that there are rules (most of which make recycling harder to form habits around).

I bet a good 95% of the information that people are hearing is trying to just prove the fact that the environment is being depleted.

Social media sites like stumbleupon, digg, and twitter provide another avenue for interaction with readers — as well as new avenues for readers to comment on content.

For example, this story was submitted to stumbleupon, where stumbler tecknopuppy left the comment:

I am utterly amazed at the results from this study about how 87% of Americans are seriously concerned about the environment.

I posted a link to the story to twitter, and twitter user greenskeptic (who blogs at The Green Skeptic ) responded (in the standard twitter 140 characters or less):

concerned, but will we DO something about it? Will we change our lifestyle?

The Climate Heretic commented on the post on Digg:

This is what I am trying to get answered, what are people prepared to really do it about it? I am trying to understand the level of frustration that is portrayed in the media about the lack of action on this issue, not just here in North America, but globally. I am a skeptic, but I would like to know what people think on this, If you have time drop by http://www.theclimateheretic.com and post a reply, or post the reply here.

I personally think this is great. It gives readers more options and expands the opportunity to collaborate with more like-minded people. It also gives the story itself a wider readership and helps us get feedback from a more diverse group of people.

We’ll be back next week with our reader comments of the week post on Friday. Thanks for reading!

Links from Readers

Links!

Sometimes readers send me links. I think it’s great because I get to know what interests people. Here are some recent ones:

Our twitter follower bythebayou @replied me a link to Co-op America. They look interesting — I like that they encourage people to take action.

Another twitter follower monkchips, sent this link on saving energy by turning computers off at night! He recently learned that in Japan, insurance companies offer lower rates to companies that turn their servers off in the evening, since the believe it lowers the risk of fires. He describes it as “a commitment to not 24/7, not follow the Sun, not have uptime for its own sake.”

Finally, regular reader jhimm e-mailed me a link to a rant of his on some current Chicago news — the recent proposals to add a 10 – 25 cent tax to all bottled water sales. Let’s just say jhimm is a bit upset by the news. We’ve been discussing the role of government (see here and here) in changing people’s behaviors, so thanks jhimm for adding to the conversation.

If you run across something that’s big news where you are or that you think we should be covering, let us know through a comment on the site or send us an e-mail at ’21c AT 21st-century-citizen.com’.

Pass the Eco-Barf Bag. I’m Going to Lose My Eco-Lunch.

Recently, the prefix ‘eco’ has gained a life of it’s own. Like a Frankenstein’s Monster, it is being mish-mashed onto every conceivable idea, thought, brand, product and celebrity around. It endows a certain sense of Al Gore-ish, environmental correctness to whatever it touches.

In just this morning’s news we have the following examples:

  • “Eco-protesters” are setting up an “eco-village” at Heathrow!
  • Ozarka Water now comes in an “Eco Shape Botttle”!
  • CNN tells us: “Erin Brockovich in new eco-fight”!
  • And a new “Eco-Salon” is opening in Denver. (To help those with “green” hair, no doubt.)

We’ve even had news recently of “Celebrity Eco-Babies” – which I can only surmise means the mums in question here must have become impregnated using organic sperm from certified ‘eco-hottie’ males.

And the list goes on. And on. And on.

And part of me is sick of it. I feel like losing my ‘eco-lunch’ by ‘eco-barfing’ into a reusable, recyclable ‘eco-barf bag’.

But another part of me doesn’t mind. Another part of me thinks that all this is good.

In fact, when I read today’s news about Paris Hilton attending a screening of the 11th Hour (featuring “eco-hero Leo”), I was able to hold down my eggs, albeit with a bit of effort.

Because when they describe Paris and her escapades like this: “Eco-fashion show producer Rob Ganger of EcoNouveau was an eyewitness of the spectacle and said, “It was amazing to see her and think about the footprint that woman has on our lives.” — I know they’re right.

Paris does have an impact on our lives. She’s like a car crash we can’t look away from. A glitzy, rich, prettied-up, jailbird, car crash that we can’t look away from.

But now, for some reason, the media has re-framed her — as they’re re-framing seemingly everything — with a whitewash of ‘eco’.

And in this way, the media is reaching far out past the audience of this blog — or the audience of all blogs for that matter — and they’re presenting ‘eco’ as a new, important value that’s worth reporting on.

The question about Paris Hilton and whether or not she drives a hybrid car is actually critically important — because it’s helping to change how some segments of our society think.

There are literally millions of people who will never read this or any other ‘eco-blog’, but will know all about Paris Hilton and her presence at the 11th Hour screening, her hybrid vehicle dilemma, and probably even which kind of eco-friendly makeup and fashions she wears.

“Eco” has become short-hand for describing the changes we’re going through as a society. It’s become a new value.

More importantly, eco-improvements are news that the media will report. And in doing so, they make an impact on the values of the people who follow the reporting. They impact the values of society as a whole.

And only by changing the values of society can we make the changes we need to succeed in this new, 21st Century.

Choices: Take Action? Or Watch?

Global Warming Day of Action at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, MN

Why is it important to take action? And how big does the action have to be before it makes a difference?

Taking action is hard. It’s an additional activity on top of your already-too-busy daily schedule. How can you find time to change the world when you barely have time to get to work and back, take care of the kids and the house, and then have a bit of fun once in a while?

Few people have a lot of extra time. To have the time to work on behalf of global warming and other environmental issues is a luxury that most people just don’t have.

Or do they?

The truth is, many actions you can take actually don’t take that much time. Here are some that actually take very little time at all:

Global Warming Day of Action at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, MN

1. Write a short letter to the editor of your local paper.

Have it say simply this: “I’m writing because I am concerned about climate change and global warming. I hope you will consider devoting more print space to these issues. Thank you very much.”

2. Write a short letter to an influential media outlet.

In this post earlier, we referred to blogger a seigel who wrote a letter to Consumer Reports magazine asking them to make power consumption one of the criteria they used when they ranked television sets. This is a simple action that could influence how many consumers make buying decisions.

3. Read and support blogs and websites that are working to make a difference.

There are many new blogs starting, like this one, that are working to educate people and push environmental issues to the forefront of people’s minds. Reading them will help you educate yourself on what you can do to make a difference.

Also, given the distortion in the media and efforts by corporations to confuse the facts and science behind the issues, educating yourself on the facts behind global warming is your best defense against being manipulated by those who don’t want things to change.

Stop watching TV and do something! Anything!
4. Stop watching TV for an hour and do something. Anything!This is the most important step. By far.Taking action — any action at all — is the most important step because the first action you take is the hardest. It’s the hardest because you’re changing your habits and behaviors.

Taking even a simple action empowers you. It makes you feel great — like you’re making a difference. And, the truth is, you are. Because the action you take — even a small one — might motivate you (or someone around you) to take a bigger action next time.

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Want to change how products are developed? Here’s a chance to make an impact.

“MBDC is a product and process design firm dedicated to revolutionizing the design of products and services worldwide.”

So reads the self-description of a design firm working with clients to redesign how their products are conceived, created and disposed of.

MBDC was founded by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart in 1995. In 2002, they released their groundbreaking book on sustainable product lifecycles, Cradle to Cradle.

They were so interested in redefining how products are created that they printed their book on a polymer film rather than paper, because they believed it to be a more sustainable process.

MBDC moved on to develop a Cradle to Cradle Certification program that allows companies to demonstrate that their products met certain ‘green’ criteria in their design and manufacture. According to their website:

Cradle to Cradle Certification provides a company with a means to tangibly, credibly measure achievement in environmentally-intelligent design and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality.

This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials; design for material reutilization, such as recycling or composting; the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency; efficient use of water, and maximum water quality associated with production; and instituting strategies for social responsibility.

If a candidate product achieves the necessary criteria, it is certified as a Silver, Gold or Platinum product or as a Technical/Biological Nutrient (available for homogeneous materials or less complex products), and can be branded as Cradle to Cradle.

They are currently developing a second generation of their certification criteria and are seeking public input.

If you’re interested in reviewing and commenting on their proposed criteria, here is more information. In addition, here is a summary of the criteria [PDF] as well as the current draft version of the entire program [PDF].

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Steve Loo is Changing the World

Steve Loo rides his bike even in the Winter up in Calgary

Steve Loo is a passionate guy.

When he heard about Wheels for Change, a 1000 kilometer bike ride across British Columbia in Western Canada to raise awareness of global climate change, it seemed like a perfect fit for him. He had vacation time planned already, so he decided to join the ride.

He had already helped organize a 140 km bike ride to the Trails to Sustainability Conference earlier this year, and in 2005 he rode from Calgary to Yorkton (approximately 1200 km) to, in his words, “do environmental and social justice presentations and workshops in schools, community halls, churches and people’s living rooms.”

Not bad for a college student who’s passionate about climate change.

One of the differences between being concerned about climate change and actually doing something about it is taking action. Steve takes action.

According to Steve, “I am part of the problem and therefore must be part of the change.”

Steve’s passion for the environment really awoke after a hike in the desert in Australia a few years ago.

“When your life depends on all the water you’re carrying on your back, you gain a whole new perspective on this liquid that most people take for granted every day. I also learned a great deal about the importance of planning and preparation. I finished my long dry hike with roughly 200 mL of water and one extremely dry throat. I quickly rethought my attitudes and behaviors towards water.

After returning to Calgary, during a process over 3 or 4 years, I had to rethink much of my life – not just water consumption, but also transportation, food, clothes, media, government and our education system. As a result, it gradually changed to one involving better health and environment, greater creative and organizational skills, and more critical thinking.”

The only way we can collectively address the challenges we face together, is for each of us to change as individuals. Our values have to change first, and then our behaviors will follow.

For Steve, this has meant some personal changes as well:

“For example, now I am:

1. Using my bike as my main form of transportation including winter time (I still drive once a week through carsharing)

2. Using less paper (in fact, I haven’t bought any new paper in 3 years);

3. Having not just shorter showers but also having staggered and fewer showers; recently we bought a dual flush toilet. Woohoo!

4. Creating my own artistic notebooks reusing old materials

5. Becoming more integrated with my local economy – not just local foods but also locally made products and services (yay Calgary Dollars)

6. Organizing and promoting documentary screenings focusing on social justice and environmental issues, and showcasing local activists working on local causes

7. Gardening (with mixed success but still trying)

8. Questioning and challenging our politicians, journalists, teachers and other “professionals” (along with fellow students) regarding government policy and media portrayal of all the issues

9. Encouraging my friends to take up more sustainable lifestyles while emphasizing that this is progression rather than perfection.

Steve is changing things by changing his own behaviors and by working to encourage others to change theirs as well. He’s talking about his concerns and he’s taking action.

in this way, Steve Loo is changing the world — one person at a time.

Are you?

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What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.



The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

Next Actions:

Seacoast EatLocal Blog reviews video on food supply

Here’s a wonderful post from Seacoast Eat Local, wonderful, very-local blog located in the Seacoast area of Southern, NH.

They blogged today about a youtube video that very simply lays out the story of our food supply and some of the issues surrounding it. For example, did you know that the process of growing, processing and shipping food where it’s grown to your door consumes about 17% of the energy used in the United States?

This short video takes just a few minutes to watch – and it’s simple message will stick with you.

Another great part of their site is their wiki page. It’s a collection of local food information for their local area. It’s a great example of how local communities can gather and share knowledge about local food optoins in their area.

This video was published by ‘Video Nation’, the video arm of ‘The Nation’ magazine. For background on ‘The Nation’, see this article in Wikipedia which provides information on this publisher.

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8 Great Global Warming Podcast Episodes / Series

I’ve been looking for Podcasts that discuss Global Warming and that aren’t a waste of time. After doing all my research, here is a set of podcasts that I believe are the best around.

Please leave a comment here on this post if you have other favorites to add — or if you disagree about one of the podcasts linked here.

1. Global Warming podcast from PRI’s “The World”

Special Tech Podcast #146 [MP3]

This is a podcast from the radio show The World.

The World is a well known radio program from Public Radio International. Here is the description from their program guide:

“A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change looks at the impacts of global warming. This podcast explores how climate change is affecting our world: from Africa, to South America, to Europe. And what global warming could mean in your neck of the woods.”

2. Are Americans ready to believe in global warming?

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