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Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

Students meet challenge to reduce energy

Santa Clara University's first energy-saving competition for students living off campus wrapped up in late May with notable results. All participating houses reduced their energy consumption. The winning house, which lowered its electricity use an average 40 percent compared to the previous year, will receive a cash reward to pay for its energy bills during the three months of the competition. Two prizes were awarded each month of the contest to the houses that used the least amount of energy per capita.

A website built specifically for the competition offers tips for how to save, reduce household energy consumptions and compete for prizes. The contest, called Living Green in the Neighborhood, was co-sponsored by Santa Clara's Associated Student Government and Office of Sustainability.

Options for electronic waste promotes stewardship

The following is a post summary from The Technological Citizen, a blog affiliated with Santa Clara University, written to promote reflection and dialogue about ethical issues in modern technology. The full article by Recycling Intern Kaelin Holland, '11, can be viewed here.

On any given day, we’ll constantly check our cell phones, finish papers on our laptops, watch season finales on the TV, and block out the world with our iPods. However, when we are done using these items, they’ll become E-Waste. E-Waste is a broad umbrella category that covers the ever-growing universal amount of discarded electronic items including computers, cell phones, printers, hair dryers, and basically anything that uses an electric cord or battery. If not recycled properly, these items are hazardous because they contain toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Many companies illegally export E-Waste to places like China and India; workers then extract valuable raw material from these items. These workers only have rudimentary recycling technologies and aren’t equipped with the protective gear to shield them from the chemicals that emanate from this waste. E-Waste doesn’t only endanger the health of the workers, but their materials pollute the air, water, and soil in the surrounding area, causing incredible environmental degradation in these communities. Furthermore, since we live in such a highly globalized society, it is only a matter of time before this contamination circles back to us.

For us individuals, what can we do to minimize the amount of E-waste we generate? First, we can choose our electronics consciously. Try to resist the temptation to buy the newest, trendiest product if the one you already have works just fine. However, if there is no hope left for your computer, MP3 player, or cell phone, do some research: find out which new product is the most durable and has gone through the most eco-friendly production process.

Fortunately, our Facilities Department will accept and responsibly recycle all E-Waste and universal waste (such as batteries, ink cartridges, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and cell phones). If you’re a student living in one of the residence halls, you can leave your large E-Waste under the sign where you take your trash and recyclables, and smaller items can be dropped off at the residence hall service desks. Faculty and staff can request a pickup by emailing or calling 554-4742.

To learn more, email Kaelin at

Graduates pledge sustainable living after college

Over 150 of Santa Clara's 2010 graduates pledged to consider social justice and environmental consequences when considering their post-college plans, more than doubling the number of students from last year and setting a record high participation rate.

The Graduation Pledge for Social and Environmental Responsibility, which began at Humboldt State University in 1987, asks signers to make future plans using a broader worldview, but allows them to define social and environmental responsibility for themselves. Participants include students from Santa Clara's undergradute and graduate colleges. Graduates who took the pledge received a green ribbon to wear on their gowns at last weekend's commencement ceremonies to show their support. The Office of Sustainability also unveiled an updated Grad Pledge web page in the spring, offering resources like how to live sustainability at work and links to socially and environmentally responsible jobs.

To learn more about the Graduation Pledge, visit Check out Santa Clara's Grad Pledge web page to sign up.

Gulf Coast oil spill

An explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon just off the coast of Louisiana on April 20 left an oil tap at the ocean floor exposed and unregulated, allowing millions of gallons of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico each day. The disaster, already called the worst oil spill in U.S. history, is estimated to have since dumped 116 million gallons of oil into gulf waters. The Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989 was only 10.8 million gallons by comparison, which the current spill emits about every five days. Oil giant British Petroleum owned Deepwater Horizon. The company has dispatched cameras to the ocean floor so that the public can view the oil flow. The oil pipe is currently capped and connected to a ship at the surface to collect the crude. Crews are also working to build containment wells on either side of the oil well so that the oil flow can eventually be redirected and turned off at the surface, but those efforts are not expected to be ready until August.

Plastic bag law heads to Senate

Paper or plastic? Californians may not have the choice for much longer. The State Assembly passed AB 1998 last month, phasing out all single-use plastic grocery bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience and liquor stores in the state. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated he would sign the bill if it came across his desk, but for the now the measure awaits what politicos expect to be a tough fight in the State Senate.

The bill aims to reduce the more than 19 billion single-use grocery bags generated in California each year. Shoppers will be encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, but can also purchase paper bags with high levels of recycled content for actual cost. Paper bags typically retail between five and eight cents.

Plastic bags are often discarded as litter and can have severe impacts on aquatic ecosystems. "Californians use and discard more than 2 million plastic bags every minute of every day and many of those end up as pollution in our parks, streams and ocean," said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. More than 1 million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die annually through ingestion of and entanglement in marine debris, including plastic bags.

To learn more, visit Californians Against Waste.


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