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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.

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"Using a recycled product saves natural resources," Hudson says. "It's something people are not always thinking about - the long line of energy and resources needed to turn natural gas and oil into plastics. So the more we can use recyclable products, the better."

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Recycline's products are a tad pricier than their kin that end up in the landfill, Hudson says. A four-pack of Preserve toothbrushes costs $13 and a four-pack of Preserve razors is $7. You can buy them online at a discount. They also are available at Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and other natural-product retailers.

Hot water, no tank

Some green gadgeteers are all fired up about tankless hot-water heaters. Unlike conventional hot-water heaters, which typically keep 50 to 70 gallons of water hot all the time, the tankless version uses high-tech coils and computer-controlled gas jets to heat cold water on demand. Popular in Europe and Japan, the device has a tiny but growing piece of the US market.

"I think it was a little under $1,000, about the same as buying 70-gallon hot-water tank," says Charles Fleenor, a retired high-school teacher from Laguna Beach, Calif. (Today, the unit's suggested retail price is $1,400.)

The plumber who installed Mr. Fleenor's unit warned him that his hot-water flow would be limited, though it has not been, he adds. And the Japanese-made Takagi T-K2 has cut his bill for heating water in half - and puts far less CO2 into the atmosphere.

"Just the fact we're using so much less gas, multiply that by every household, if they all cut their hot-water bill in half, the gas company would probably have to go on welfare," Fleenor says.

Fuel-cell band

Perhaps the most extreme green gadget in this year's eclectic mix is the one that powers Ross McCurdy's electric guitar and amplifiers - and those of the rest of his musical group.

Mr. McCurdy, a high school science teacher at Ponaganset High School in North Scituate, R.I., has started "Protium." He bills it as the world's first hydrogen-powered rock 'n' roll band.

The group has played its eclectic rock/rhythm-and-blues mix at fuel-cell conferences across the country, local festivals, and school parties. For Earth Day this year, it will play at a festival at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I. The band will rely on about $25 of hydrogen gas, which flows from a big metal bottle into three fuel cells, to create some 3,000 watts, enough to power the band's equipment, including a big subwoofer dubbed the "portable earthquake." Cost for the fuel cells: about $6,500 each - though they were donated by Relion of Spokane, Wash., and Ballard Power Systems in Vancouver, British Columbia. Emissions: a cup of water.

"Combining fuel cells with rock 'n' roll has been a great mix because it really demonstrates what they're capable of," says McCurdy in a telephone interview. "Sure, sometimes you see a fuel-cell car driving along. But when you hit guitar chords of AC/DC and fill up a ballroom with that sound, well, you just know it's generating a lot of power - and helping the environment, too."

The contentious origins of Earth Day

People disagree on how many celebrations got started. But Earth Day supporters can't even decide when their day should be observed. Here's a look at how the event that popularized environmental issues got its start:

• In 1969, activist John McConnell persuaded San Francisco's mayor to observe Earth Day on March 21, 1970 - the day of the equinox. U Thant, the United Nations secretary-general, initiated Earth Day observances at the UN on the equinox the following year. This year, three mayors in the United States designated March 20 as International Earth Day.

• Also in 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin proposed a nationwide teach-in for April 22, 1970, that became Earth Day. The event, drawing 20 million people, was an immediate hit. Demonstrators dumped oil-coated ducks in front of the US Interior Department and dragged a net of dead fish down New York's Fifth Avenue. Now run by Earth Day Network, the event involves more than 12,000 groups in 174 countries.

• In 1972, Japan pushed through a resolution at the Stockholm Conference for a World Environment Day to be celebrated on June 5. It is still observed Friday.

Sources: Earthsite.org; US EPA; United Nations Environment Programme

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