Hot stuff for a cool Earth
Earth Day, which the world observes Friday, is an increasingly high-tech affair. Here are several green gadgets to help conserve the planet's resources.
Two of Kelly Daley's pet peeves are global warming - and cellphones that always seem to run out of juice.Skip to next paragraph
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So as Americans celebrate Earth Day Friday, Ms. Daley plans to mark the occasion by wearing her sporty new "Juice Bag" - a large bag with a flexible solar panel sewn to the back. This way the multitasking accountant can charge her phone, laptop, and iPod as she walks to work. By using sun power, she keeps at least a pound of carbon dioxide from wafting into the atmosphere each year. "I'm my own power plant," she says.
Ever since the first Earth Day in 1970, a steady stream of inventions and gadgets have been popping up to help make the planet a little bit better. The old brick in the toilet, which saved a brick's worth of water with each flush, eventually gave way to today's low-flow models. Stand-alone solar panels have been integrated into systems that let consumers actually sell excess power back to their utilities.
Small wonder, then, that this year's Earth Day is a high-tech affair. From superefficient home appliances to recyclable razors, new ideas to save the planet are quickly coming on the market. Many of these are significantly more expensive than standard-issue stuff. The Juice Bag, for example, costs $199. It's sold by Reware, a division of venture marketing company, Reluminati, which is promoting renewable energy in Washington, D.C.
"Renewable energy has always been ahead of its time," says Henry Gentenaar, a managing partner at Reluminati. "But this is its time. We're seeing a confluence of events and technologies that are getting to point that they're right here. So individuals can really start to make a difference."
Prices, in some cases, are coming down to the point where wise choices - multiplied by millions - can have an impact. Compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of incandescent bulbs are just one example.
Other gadget gains are a bit less obvious. Take the lowly refrigerator. After the oil shocks of the 1970s, the federal government mandated higher efficiency standards for refrigerators that, alone, have made it unnecessary to build hundreds of power plants, energy experts say. Today's models use only about a third of the power consumed by models 30 years ago.
Last week, the government announced steps that may boost refrigerator efficiency another 30 percent beginning in 2011 - saving consumers $10 billion in electricity and cutting energy requirements by the equivalent of more than 230 power plants.
But consumers don't have to wait. Larry Schussler's company in Arcata, Calif., sells the Sun Frost RF-12, which uses just 171 kilowatt hours of power a year, 51 percent better than today's federal standard. There's a downside though. Sun Frost doesn't have an icemaker, holds only about 10 cubic feet of groceries, and costs about $2,400. "We're not making much of a dent in the overall market yet," Mr. Schussler concedes. "They sell 8 million fridges in the US and we're just tiny fraction - less than 1 percent of that. But we're leading the way."
The company ships the machines worldwide, especially to places that have no power grid. They're so efficient they can run using just a modest solar array. And Sun Frost expects them to last well over 20 years.
For those who don't want to sacrifice space or an icemaker, Frigidaire's FRT21FR7E has 20 cubic feet of space and is still 28 percent more efficient than federal standards, tops among comparably equipped refrigerators. Suggested price: $799.
You don't need fistfuls of cash to begin saving the planet, says Eric Hudson, president and founder of Recycline in Waltham, Mass. The company's "Preserve Razor Recyclable," which hit the market last fall, is an alternative to the 2 billion disposable razors the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates are thrown into landfills each year.
At least 65 percent of the handle of the Preserve razor is made out of Stoneyfield Farm yogurt cups. To recycle, the handle can be easily separated from the blade, which isn't yet recyclable. (Mr. Hudson insists they are working on it.) The handles can be pitched into a recycling bin or mailed back to Recycline in a company envelope.