CO2 Emissions due to Electric Vehicles

We cannot argue with the fact that Tesla has been in the headlines lately for several reasons. First, they announced that the company would be profitable this year and was on track paying back government loans earlier than planned. Second, they got the 2013 MotorTrend Car of the Year award.

Tesla Model S

Opponents argue that electric vehicles, since they are powered by the public grid which is largely fueled by coal, emit twice the amount of CO2 that gasoline vehicles spew over their lifetime.

It turns out that this claim is incorrect, yet I admit that it is definitely not a simple calculation, and depending on the outcome one likes, one could come up with different results.

An electric vehicle in 2008, charged from the public grid, emitted indirectly 115 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven whereas a conventional U.S. gas-powered car emitted 250 grams of CO2 per kilometer, mostly out the tailpipe.

As the U.S. power grid is converted away from coal to wind, solar and other alternative and renewable power sources, this ratio got better with every year that has gone by since 2008 and it will continue to do so in the future.

In addition, Tesla is installing supercharging stations on major highways, where their cars can be re-charged halfway in 30 minutes – for free – giving a range of another 150 miles. The stations are completely solar-powered. Zero emissions when going to the superchargers.

30 minutes is a long time on a road trip, but the strategy of locating the stations near restaurants, shopping centers and other attractions allows customers to plug in their cars, go to lunch, get coffee and come back for another 2 hours of driving.

The Hotel Soap Travesty

SoapI spend about 60 to 80 nights in hotels every year. Given that some stays are for more than one night, I therefore estimate that I use about 50 hotel soap bars a year. Some of those are small, but some are quite substantial and elaborate.

About a year ago I put a little zip-lock bag into my wash kit so I could take those home, either to use, or to accumulate to see how much soap I personally wasted in a single year. The little box in the bathroom started filling up and eventually I threw it all out.

Soap BoxThis particular bar of soap in the picture is from the Embassy Suites. It’s actually fairly large, according to the box, 50 grams or 1.75 ounces of soap.

So let me step on my soapbox, literally  this time.

I recently read an unsettling book about children in the slums of India titled Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Look at the little girl on the cover, sitting on her haunches in a pool of sewage. I believe that this bar of soap that I left in my hotel room this morning could wash this child for a month or more, keeping her clean and above all, much more healthy. Yet, I have no way to get this bar of soap into the hands of the child, just like I can’t deliver to India the pile of perfectly good food that the people at the table next to me just left on their plates and on the floor.

Behind the Beautiful ForeversIt is estimated that 1 million bars of soap are thrown away by hotels in the United States every day.

I personally, doing simple math, probably throw away ten times as much soap in hotels every year as I legitimately use at home  in my shower.  Due to the large amount of travel I do, I may not be a very representative example. But 1 million bars of soap is a lot of soap that is going to waste.

Researching this further, I found that there are movements underway to recover this. For instance, Clean the World is a foundation that does just this, collect slightly used bars of soap, cleans them and recycles them.

I found it somewhat astonishing they are actually worried about the “gently used” bars of soap harming the recipients.

Clean the World is committed to maintaining an environmentally and hygienically safe recycling process. As the world’s first, high volume soap recycler, Clean the World ensures that all bars of soap recycled and distributed domestically and abroad are completely safe and will not harm the end-user due to disease or pathogens that can be transmitted if proper re-purposing does not exist.

Read the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers and you will be convinced that if this little girl on the cover actually DID get a used bar of soap from the Embassy Suites into her hands, the last thing she’d do would be using it. She would trade it for money or something to eat, because she would look at a used bar of soap as something of a treasure, far higher in value than the bottle caps, pieces of plastic, glass and metal trash that she normally trades with.

Here is some more information in case you are interested in hotel waste recycling, something most of us don’t even give a second thought in this country of abundance.

And that’s why they call us Rich Americans. We can waste soap.

Breakfast Anyone?

On my way to work the other day I was in need of picking up a bite for breakfast. Feeling like some pastry, I stopped at a Panera. I bought a bear claw and a cinnamon roll (yes, pastry sugar shock). I expected to get a little paper bag, but instead the attendant put it into a nice box, added four napkins and topped it off with two plastic forks and knives, assuming there would be two different eaters.

This is what it looked like when I opened it at my desk.

I put the plastic utensils aside and enjoyed the pastry.

All the while I was dismayed about how much trash I generated with a little breakfast snack. A carboard box (trees) with a see-through cellophane cover (oil, manufacturing), four plastic utensils (oil, manufacturing, shipping) that I didn’t even use, four napkins (trees, albeit recycled material) of which I used one.

The pastry was great.