Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Not So Smart Smart

News from Daimler Benz is that they and their partner Teslacle will offer an electric version of the Smart for Two. The Smart for Two is a two seater car that is overpriced even in the gasoline version. Sales of the basic Smart are stalled and the resale value of used Smarts are low. I saw on Ebay that a two year old Smart for Two is selling for $8,999 or about half of its original cost. The sales of the Gasoline Smart have been declining as it simply is overpriced and underperforms against a Toyota Corolla that gets the same MPG, costs $5,000 less and seats five not two. There are a limited number of buyers for the impish Smart that need it in a cramped urban setting where parking spaces are limited. In Peoria or Pretoria it is simply a novelty that is expensive. Well to add insult to financial injury, Daimler and Teslacle have announced their E Smart that is equipped with Lithium Ion batteries instead of a gas tank.

The E Smart will have a range of about 80 miles on paper but about 60 miles on the road. It will be available for lease at $599 a month. Leasing an E Smart for this price is pretty dumb as one can lease a Gas Smart for $169 a month. When one does the tedious math to calculate the carbon savings of running an E Smart on electricity with power coming for the US Grid versus running a gasoline Smart one sees a savings of about three quarters of a ton of carbon dioxide a year. Calculating the total operating costs of the two alternates (fuel plus lease costs) and dividing the added costs of the E version by the carbon savings one gets that it cost about $6,000 per ton of saved carbon dioxide. Even Alaric La Deux’s The Bloom is off the Rose Box does not have as high a price tag for saved carbon dioxide. The E smart is plain dumb. One can lease a Prius for about $200 a month and have lower emissions than the E Smart and simply pocket $400 a month in savings.

No doubt that Obama and his energy secretary Dr Chew On That will provide Teslacle more money for this dumb idea. Teslacle will never get their S Sedan off the ground and will tell old BO that they succeeded in providing the US consumer an E Smart for a lease of only $599 a month and that the electric car is an American success story. If only Abe Lincoln could come back and see what has happened to the country he so desperately held together. Perhaps in 1860 he should have provided the Pony Express billions of dollars of Federal aid to stave off competition from the Union Express. Had old Abe done this Teslacle could compete effectively against each of us riding a horse to work. Actually in 1898 the gasoline engine was considered the clean alternate to horses as there was no manure to deal with. Back then folks were not worried about greenhouse gases they simply did not want to step in it. Unfortunately now with the pure manure we have as public policy we are swimming in it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Time for PlasTax

Americans go through an astounding 92 to 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, according to various sources. Many locations, such as grocery stores, accept their plastic bags back at the store for recycling, but it’s estimated that only about 5% are actually recycled. So what is the fate of the remaining 95%? Well of course some end up littering roadways and waterways, especially around urban areas. The bags are unsightly and potentially hazardous to wildlife who can mistake them for food and ingest them. About 10 percent of all bags make their way into the ocean and due to currents contribute to huge patches of floating plastic waste like the one in the North Pacific Central Gyre. But the vast majority end up as “trash” in landfills where they leach toxins into the soil, groundwater, and air as they degrade. Or worse, they are burned in incinerators releasing carcinogenic dioxins into the air that we breathe. There is also a production cost: it takes 1 gallon of petroleum oil to make between about 25 and 40 plastic bags, depending on size.

The reason this bag problem is ongoing is that plastic bags are free and the cost of cleanup are externalized. If you put the environmental costs into the bags and make people pay upfront for them, as sort of “PlasTax”, then plastic bag use magically goes way down as people switch to a biodegradable option or reusable tote. Individual retailers have discovered this neat trick as a way to save money on supplying bags to their stores. Aldi, Ikea, Fred Meyer, Loblaw, and Marks & Spencer are just some of the retailers around the world charging customers for plastic bags. Walmart and other retailers are running plastic bag charge pilot programs.

Other larger efforts have also been undertaken in recent years. In 2007, San Fransisco outlawed petro-plastic bags in grocery stores and drug stores in favor of paper, bio-degradable cornstarch, and reusable totes. The results thusfar are estimated to be a 50% reduction in plastic bag litter on the streets. Just this year, Washington DC instituted a 5 cent per bag charge, resulting in an 86% drop in bag usage and $150,000 in its first quarter year. In 2008, China instituted a ban on free plastic bags, reducing bag usage by an estimated 66%. In 2002, Ireland introduced a fee of 22 euro-cents (~29 cents USD) per bag which resulted in a 90% drop in their use, plus it raised a 9.6 million euro fund that year to benefit the environment. Other countries around the world, such as Bangladesh, India, Australia, Greece, Israel, Italy, South Africa, and Taiwan have also instituted taxes or bans on plastic bags. Is it now time for a PlasTax in your city?

~Mark Bremer, Green Explored Contributor