Skip to Content

Better Informed Choices! Better Informed Choices! DWR is making better choices. Watch the video as Deputy Director Kathie Kishaba, Business Operations, explains how DWR is working to make better business decisions for Sustainability.

Information Helps! Information Helps!

Making better choices may not seem like a lot, but better choices make a big difference towards a more sustainable future. Some of the examples on this page help highlight the importance of being aware of the options available. This page will be updated frequently, both with ideas for personal choices and professional choices for DWR. Remember, making better choices does not mean doing without, or making sacrifices. Rather it means recognizing such things as:

What goes into a product? Is it a renewable resource?

What is the end life of the product? Is it biodegradable, or can it be deconstructed?

Can the product be reused either by you or someone else?

Is a comparable substitute available that incorporates some of the above considerations?Structure of PolyProprolyene

Am I aware of the time horizons implicit in my decisions? For example, most plastics do not ever decompose. (See photo of molecular structure of polyethylene right) .Rather, they continue to break into smaller and smaller pieces. These small pieces find their way into the food chain, but still remain plastic molecules. The impact of this over time is not know, but in some ocean samples, the amount of plastic molecules exceeds the amount of zooplankton.

The impacts of our choices add up! By considering the above questions prior to making a decision, it is easier to make a better informed, more sustainable choice.

Better Choices in Plastics Better Choices in Plastics

Apps Can Help! Apps Can Help!

Smartphone Apps: Energy Efficiency at Your Fingertips

Managing Energy Consumption

Want to reduce your electricity and heating bills, but don't have the time to analyze monthly charges and thermostat levels?  These apps will do the job for you:

  • Monitoring: Meterread reads your electricity meter using your phone. It shows how much power was used since the last read, predicts energy use for the next 30 days, and calculates savings from insulation or lighting improvements.
  • Controlling: Control 4, Ecobee and Wiser convert your phone into a remote control. After installing a thermostat, you can use your phone to control room temperature and lighting, program appliances, and receive alerts. So, if you forgot to turn off your TV, you can do it from the office.

Switching to Efficient Lighting

Shopping for energy-efficient lighting can now be as quick as screwing in a light bulb. T hese apps not only help you find a light bulb that fits your lighting needs, but also calculate savings from replacing your current bulb and estimate the payback period:  

Apps for Thermostats

  • Nest is a popular smart thermostat that has excellent video instructions on how to install it and control temperature. If you have a Nest thermostat, download the Nest app from Apple.
  • Like Nest, Ecobee thermostats come with an app that lets you control your home's temperature from your phone. If you have an Ecobee thermostat, download the app from Apple or Android.

Apps for Power Strips

  • Smart power strips from UFO Power Center tell you the real-time energy cost of the devices plugged into each of them and allow you to turn off the power strips from your phone. Download the Energy UFO Plus app from Apple.
  • EnergyHub offers power strips and sockets that turn off connected devices from your phone. Download the EnergyHub app from Apple or Android.

Apps for a Variety of Appliances

  • General Electric's Nucleus system estimates real-time electricity rates and energy use to tell you how much you are spending on electricity from moment to moment. Nucleus is designed for homes with smart meters but can be modified to work without them. If Nucleus is operating in your home's Wi-Fi network, download the GE Nucleus app from Apple.
  • The Control4 home automation system comes with an app to dim lights, turn off your TV and program the thermostat. Hotel for the holiday? If your hotel is equipped with Control4, you can control your room's appliances, housekeeping and dining options from your phone. Download the Control4 home app and the Control4 hotel app from the Apple. Control 4 will be available on Android soon.

BioPlastics BioPlastics

About Bioplastics

Bioplastics are plastics in which all carbon is derived from renewable feedstocks. They may or may not be biodegradable!

Products on the market are made from a variety of natural feedstocks including corn, potatoes, rice, tapioca, palm fiber, wood cellulose, wheat fiber and bagasse. Products are available for a wide range of applications such as cups, bottles, cutlery, plates, bags, bedding, furnishings, carpets, film, textiles and packaging materials. In the US, the percentage of biobased ingredients required for a product to be referred to as biobased, is defined by the USDA on a product-by-product basis. ILSR has recommended that the USDA set a minimum threshold of 50 percent biobased content for products to be considered biobased.

Sampling of compostable Food Service Ware Products

Sampling of compostable Food Service Ware Products

A biodegradable material is, according to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), "where under the right conditions the microbes in the environment can break down the material and use it as a food source".

In other words, a biodegradable plastic is completely mineralized by microorganisms. Biodegradable plastics are not necessarily biobased. Biobased and biodegradability are not the same. Some biobased products can biodegrade in municipal or commercial composting facilities, home composting, and aquatic and roadside environments, others will only biodegrade in very specific environments and some will not biodegrade at all.

In North America the BPI is the third-party certifier for products that are compostable in commercial composting facilities. To receive the BPI Compostable Logo, products must meet the ASTM Standards D6400 (for Compostable Plastics) or ASTM D6868 (for Compostable Packaging). (See article on left.)

Potential Benefits of Bioplastics, Problems with Petro-Plastics


Benefits of Biopolymers Petro-Plastic Woes
Can replace many harmful conventional plastics Non-renewable (geological timeframes to produce but 1 to 10 years to consume)
Can be fully biodegradable (capable of being utilized by living matter) Health impacts (polymers differ)
Can be made from a variety of renewable resources Generally nonbiodegradable with devastating affects on ocean life
Can be composted locally into a soil amendment Demand and production skyrocketing
Can contribute to healthier rural economies Plastics industry supports more drilling
  Recycling and reuse low

Nothing is Simple! Further Challenges Lie Ahead-

Re-refined Oil Re-refined Oil

Did You know? 

  • 1 gallon of used oil produces 3 quarts of refined lubricating oil

 Re-refining is energy efficient -- less energy is used to produce a gallon of base stock from used oil than to produce the same gallon from crude oil.

Re-refined oil prices are competitive to equivalent virgin oil prices.

If the oil generated by all of the do-it-yourself oil changers in America were collected and re-refined, it would provide enough motor oil for over 50 million cars each year.

This would:

  • Reduce our dependence on imported oil
  • Help reduce our trade deficit
  • Provide American jobs
  • Be environmentally friendly

 In California alone, over 120 million gallons of used oil were recycled in 2006. However 20 million gallons of used motor oil is disposed of each year in an unknown manner by do-it-yourself oil changers. This equals nearly 1 gallon of improperly disposed used oil for every adult Californian.


  • Don't pour it down the drain or on the ground, there are more than 2700 state certified collection centers and 70 curbside collection programs, which accept used oil for free.
    • Used oil can foul sewage treatment processes.
    • Oil dumped on the land reduces soil productivity.
    • Oil from a single oil change can ruin the taste of a million gallons of drinking water.

 Of the over 1.3 billion gallons of used oils (industrial and lubricating) generated each year in the U.S. less than 10% is Re-Refined. Crankcase oil accounts for more than 40% of the total oil pollution of the nation's harbors and waterways.

Who Rerefines Oil In California?

Evergreen Oil, Inc. is one of the largest waste oil collectors in California, and the only oil re-refining operation in the western United States.

 Where Can I Buy Rerefined Oil ?

You can ask for rerefined oil when you have your vehicle serviced.

Valvoline markets a refined oil that can be found almost everywhere.

Want more information? See:

Folding Cars Folding Cars

New York Times, Monday, January 30, 2012

M.I.T. CityCar, Renamed Hiriko, Is Headed to Production



January 25, 2012, 4:42 pm

Getty Images/Getty Images José Manuel Barroso, with the first prototype of the Hiriko folding electric car, on Tuesday at European Union Commission headquarters


 At European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, the commission chief, José Manuel Barroso, inspected a small city-car prototype. It was the commercial version of the long-gestating CityCar from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Mr. Barroso posed for pictures inside the vehicle, which has been renamed the Hiriko, the Basque word for urban. The trial production of 20 cars and a pilot program are scheduled to begin next year in Spain's Basque region, at Vitoria Gasteiz, not far from Bilbao.

Gorka Espiau, a spokesman for the project, wrote in an e-mail that final prices for the cars would depend on the number of vehicles ordered by a potential customer. M.I.T.'s partner in the project, the Basque investment group Denokinn, plans to deploy the Hiriko in city fleets around the world. Mr. Espiau added that the parties were targeting a vehicle price of 12,500 euros, roughly $16,400, if they chose to sell the Hiriko to private individuals.

The podlike electric vehicle, whose battery pack would be leased, is a two-seater with 4-wheel drive and a range in excess of 100 kilometer, or about 60 miles. Because its wheelbase can collapse, a single parking space can accommodate three vehicles. Driver and passenger enter through a windshield that swings upward.

The CityCar project has garnered significant attention over the years, but funding from General Motors, its initial corporate supporter, ended in 2008, and the resident visionary of the scheme, Prof. William J. Mitchell, died in 2010. The project is currently headed by Prof. Kent Larson.

"Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century," published by M.I.T. Press and written by Dr. Mitchell, Chris Borroni-Bird and Lawrence Burns of General Motors, was dedicated largely to making the case for the CityCar. The vehicle was also included in the National Design Museum triennial, called "Why Design Now?", in 2010.

Along with regional and national officials, the European Union regards the Hiriko as an asset to the Basque country. Like the Guggenheim Bilbao museum project, which brought tourists to the old port city, the factory is aimed to help revive the aging automotive-supplier infrastructure in the region.

As originally envisioned by Mr. Mitchell and his lab's students, the CityCar was less a vehicle than a system and set of ideas that could be applied to many kinds of vehicles, including scooters. The lab's objective is to preserve the advantages of individual transportation while minimizing drawbacks like congestion, parking scarcity and tailpipe emissions. The electric cars fold together like shopping carts. They communicate over a central network, much like bicycles in share programs in major European capitals, to alert users where and when one might be available.

The manufacturing project is headed by Armando Gaspar, a Belgian-born former engineer for the defunct Daimler-Chrysler consortium. Parts will be sourced from local manufacturers, and a newly created company, Basque Robot Wheels, will work on realizing the Hiriko's trick in-place turning radius, handy for urban maneuverability.

Dr. Larson wrote in an e-mail that the Hiriko would initially be intended for shared-use projects. At Tuesday's event were representatives of cities that had expressed interest in starting programs, among them Malmo, Barcelona and Berlin. "The M.I.T. team is studying deployment in those cities, plus Hong Kong and San Francisco," he wrote.

Consistent with Mr. Mitchell's vision, Mr. Larson added that the student team, headed by Ryan Chin, and the designer of the car, William Lark, had also created a three-wheel E.V. prototype that would also function in bicycle mode and would meet all European bike-lane regulations.