duster_90A few weeks ago I wrote about an alarming discovery concerning an everyday office product. Those little compressed-gas keyboard cleaners (pictured at left) are vicious climate killers. They emit jaw-dropping amounts of greenhouse gases. A single canister is roughly the climate equivalent of driving my car across the country and halfway back. No kidding.

Evidently, my post struck a nerve: versions of it appeared here, here, and many other places around the web. Better yet, people began to take action.

Here’s an example: the City of Seattle’s “Green Team,” an internal group that helps set sustainable purchasing guidelines, decided to take a close look at retiring the cleaners. One purchasing employee even contacted Office Depot to tell them that the product was verboten in her sector.

What else happened? I have no idea. Do you?

I heard about Seattle’s movement only because I happened to know someone involved. Are other places doing the same thing? Is anyone doing more? Do any governments or companies or workplaces already prohibit these things? I’d like to know, but I need help finding out. To put a finer point on it: Sightline needs a volunteer to do the legwork. If you’re interested, drop me a line and we’ll sort out the logistics. (A few more details are below the jump.)

What’s more, I want to figure out how one would go about getting these canisters banned or at least restricted. (After the jump, I spell out a little more about the way I’d like to see a ban work.) As we move toward responsible climate policy, it makes no sense to sell needlessly harmful products when there are perfectly good substitutes available.

There’s another angle to the story too: the canisters are health hazards. In fact, many office supply stores are already treating them as dangerous products. That’s because, apparently, they’re popular for huffing, which causes brain damage and sometimes evendeath. (Sheesh, the kids these days.) In fact, at a downtown Seattle Office Max, an employee told me that they’re kept out of view for precisely this reason. And sure enough, the product label explains that it contains a “bitterant” added to make the taste of the gas unpalatable to would-be huffers.

  • Some context. As far as I know, the canisters always contain one of two kinds of climate-wrecking hydrofluorocarbons, HFC-134a or HFC-152a (these are sometimes called tetrafluoroethane and 1,1-difluoroethane, respectively). Here’s why it matters:

    There are also a raft of benign products that accomplish the same thing as the chemical canisters. Notably, there are compressed CO-2 cylinders (similar to the ones used by cyclists to quickly inflate bike tires) that are far less harmful to the climate. And then there are vacuums, and gravity, and feather dusters, and so on.

    What I’d like to see happen. Best outcome: a total ban on both compounds as computer cleaners. (There are many industrial and commercial applications for these chemicals; we’re not yet ready to tackle those.) Second best outcome: a ban on 134a as a computer cleaner, but leaving 152a alone for the time being.

    (Post a comment or email [email protected]  for more info.)

    When I say ban, I mean an outright government prohibition on their sale. But that may not be likely, and it probably makes sense only at a state or federal level. So I’d be willing to settle for workplace purchasing restrictions, or voluntary phase-outs by retailers.

    The low-down about volunteering: this is a low-supervision deal. We need someone who’s fast, smart, motivated, and extremely independent. And someone who gets the facts right—really right—every time.

    I’m looking for a researcher, not a campaign coordinator. Sightline doesn’t run advocacy campaigns. But it’d be a huge plus if the volunteer could figure out how to connect our research up to someone who does do advocacy.

    What’s in it for you? Untold fame and fortune for one. If that’s not good enough, well, this is a good opportunity to help both Sightline and the planet score a tangible and meaningful win. And I promise to give you lots of credit for it. Plus, if you’re around Seattle (which is certainly not a requirement for this position), I’ll buy as much beer as it takes to convince you to do the work.