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Trash from the K-Cups sold last year would circle the Earth almost 11 times

k-cups-keurig-flickr
Patrick Gensel

K-Cups seem like the complicated Starbucks order of today: an expensive, caffeinated way to express your oh-so-unique taste and personality. Who needs to run out for a tall caramel macchiato when you can make a single serving of Wolfgang Puck’s Jamaica Me Crazy medium roast in the comfort of your kitchen?

Except all those little plastic cups add up to some massive trash. Ten and a half loops around the equator, in fact, according to Mother Jones. Kind of ridic for a company owned by a fair-trade, organic coffee brand, no?

Plus, the #7 plastic blend is BPA-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Even if all that plastic magically disappeared into the ether on disposal, its manufacture could still be making workers sick, writes MoJo:

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Ask Umbra: What’s the greenest way to re-side my house?

license-plate-house-siding
Bob Jagendorf

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Do you know anything about polypropylene house siding? We have to get our whole house re-sided and (obviously) wanted to avoid using vinyl, but it's so much cheaper than all the other options. And then I saw that Consumer Reports seems to differentiate between vinyl siding and "other plastic/polymer siding" in their rankings and I did some research. It looks like PP siding is an entirely different product.

Jeff K.
Brighton, Mass.

A. Dearest Jeff,

The greenest house is probably one we build ourselves from natural materials gathered from the forest floor. Somehow this sort of back-to-nature carpentry is a nonstarter for most people, however, so we’re stuck with actual houses that need some type of protective siding. I’ve spent the better part of a day immersing myself in polypropylene, and I’d be tickled to share what I've learned.

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Global buying spree is saving solar panel manufacturers

solar panel in a shopping cart
Shutterstock

The sun is starting to shine again on the solar-panel manufacturing industry, a year after a string of corporate collapses.

The glut of cheap solar panels that pushed manufacturing giant Suntech and others into bankruptcy is being whittled away by a worldwide surge in solar installations. The manufacturing sector's gradual return to profitability comes eight months after China announced it would go on a solar-buying spree to cash in on the oversupply of panels.

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Keystone foes turn their fire to natural gas exports

Cove Point protest
chesapeakeclimate

Republicans in Congress, and some Democrats too, are pushing hard to get the U.S. exporting more natural gas, using the crisis in Ukraine as an excuse. The House is considering a bill that would require the Department of Energy to immediately approve more than 20 pending applications for natural gas export facilities.

Some of the nation’s leading environmentalists, including Bill McKibben of 350.org and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, are now launching a counter-campaign, fighting natural gas exports in general and one proposed export terminal in particular.

On Tuesday, a coalition of 16 environmental organizations sent a sternly worded letter to the White House. "President Obama, exporting LNG [liquefied natural gas] is simply a bad idea in almost every way," they write. They express irritation with Obama's enthusiasm for natural gas exploration and argue that gas exports would harm American consumers and the environment.

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This “ski lift for cyclists” helps you get up hills

trampe-cyclocable-bike-ski-lift
Trampe

Not every cyclist has monster thighs or an electric bike (or access to switchbacks, for that matter). Trondheim, Norway, has a solution for those of us with Gumby legs: the Trampe CycloCable.

The city built “the world's first bicycle lift intended for urban areas” in 1993, and over the next 15 years it ferried some 200,000 cyclists up the 426-foot Brubakken hill. The way it works is that you stand on your bike with your left foot and rest your right on a foot plate that looks like a track-and-field starting block; the plate runs on a recessed cable that winches you up the hill.

Last year, Trondheim made safety upgrades, and now the CycloCable is functional again:

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This bike glows in the dark when headlights hit it

mission-lumen-glow-in-the-dark-bike
Mission Bicycle Company

Aside from stringing your bike and entire body in flashing holiday lights, it’s hard to find an elegant solution to the cyclist night visibility problem. Enter Mission Bicycle Company’s new bike, the Lumen. The cycle, which comes in eight-speed or single-speed, is a normal charcoal gray during the day and shines radiantly when night drivers’ beams glance over it. Wired explains:

The entire bike -- frame, fork, and rims -- has been sprayed with a retro-reflective coating. Hundreds of thousands of tiny transparent spheres are embedded in a top-layer of powdercoat. This trick was mastered by a company called Halo Coatings, which joined Mission Bicycle Co. to develop the Lumen.

Or as Mission says, “Dark gray by day, bright white at night.” Genius, no?

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Designer furnishes an entire room with trash

recycled-chairs-paulo-goldstein-small

“In an increasingly deskilled society,” wrote the sociologist Richard Sennett, “‘making' can be viewed as a form of political resistance.” British designer Paulo Goldstein recently took this to heart, dumpster-diving not only as part of a design job, but as an opportunity for commentary on our culture of consumption.

London’s Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design tasked Goldstein with outfitting one of its entry rooms. Inspired by the idea that scarcity could be an opportunity rather than a constraint, the recent grad put together a team that scoured London for bits of broken furniture. Using only 980 feet of rope and pieces of old chairs and tables, Goldstein’s team furnished the entry room with 10 cobbled-together chairs, a side table, main table, and wooden mobile.

Writes Fast Company:

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Finally, a way to actually make your office a comfortable temperature

You can finally do something about the frigid temperatures at work other than whine and pretend a Snuggie is business casual. New app CrowdComfort tallies employee votes about whether it’s too hot or cold straight from your smartphone, mapping out what parts of the office are uncomfortable and helping building managers save energy.

CrowdComfort’s creators are based in the Boston area, where humid summers and snowy winters make climate-controlled workspaces a must. The app, however, is more quantitative and, ultimately, more fair than just having your bossiest coworker get up to fiddle with the thermostat.

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This tandem bike shrinks to a solo one for after you’ve been dumped

Before your breakup.
Gizmag
Before your breakup.

Calfee Design makes some pretty sweet bamboo bikes, but now it's even anticipating your change in Facebook relationship status. To make breakups a little less painful -- or just make tandem bikes more versatile -- the cycle company created a convertible tandem that you can turn into a solo bike. (It’s a bicycle built for two! Slash one!)

...aaand after.
Gizmag
... aaand after.

The carbon fiber bicycle was a custom design for a couple, so it’s not widely available (yet), but it was recently on display at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show for people to drool over. Gizmag explains the bike’s logistics:

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Sticky green

Can the pot industry make buds with sustainability?

marijuana plant
Shutterstock

The first thing Scott Durkee does when he picks me up at the ferry dock is laugh. "You’re funny," he says. "You thought you could just hail a cab on Vashon Island, just like that? This isn’t Seattle!"

And indeed, Vashon is not. With its winding rural roads, vegetable stands, and slow-paced island charm, it's hard to believe that the island of a little more than 10,000 residents is only a 20-minute ferry ride across the Puget Sound from the city.

Durkee's lived on Vashon since 1990. A self-described "freelance factotum," he reuses just about everything he can find from his various jobs around the island. He makes garden beds out of old barrels from his job at a nearby winery. He powers all three of his cars with vegetable oil from his gig inspecting grease traps for restaurants. He used to build water systems and wants solar panels to make his rainwater catcher "carbon footprint free."