Sometimes the environmental cost involved with “green living” isn’t exactly what we expect. When I wrote about using reusable cotton or canvas grocery bags, as opposed to using plastic grocery bags, who knew that, scientifically speaking, the best choice was a reusable bag made of recycled plastic rather than cotton? Green living is often grey and the professor who made this fact known may not have heard that I’m reusing cotton or canvas second-hand bags!
This article from The Oregonian, “University of Oregon chemistry professor turns beliefs about environmental consumerism upside down,” is a good reminder that sometimes we need to keep in mind the facts behind the decisions we make about being green and not just go with what is popular, fashionable or subjective. As you might have suspected, the overall “life cycle” environmental impact is almost always more nuanced and less black and white than we think.
As it turns out, plastic bags aren’t as bad as we all think, as long as we’re talking about the big global picture. Until the plastic bags end up in a landfill where they don’t break down or they land in a waterway and fish choke on them, they’re not all that bad, relatively speaking. Global warming? Pollution impact? Overall resources used? Green living that gets grey? See what I mean?
Green living is often grey
What works for me in terms of green living may not work for someone else and visa versa. And that’s okay – at least we are all thinking about it.
The point where frugal and green living meet is what I shoot for. Because I want things to cost little and be good for the environment, I try to take both factors into account. Usually, that sweet spot is win-win where good for the environment equals good for my wallet. When I stop myself from buying something new because I want to put more money into our savings account rather than buying something, that meets both criteria.
I’m not going to be upgrading my 20-year-old car (that we’ve owned since the beginning!) to buy a Prius anytime soon even though according to this article, that may be the best environmental choice. For my pocketbook, driving our well maintained older car less and walking or riding my bike more is the best choice for us. This may not be the best choice for someone else and that’s okay.
I love the ideas that we’re sharing and exchanging here when the topic is green living like hanging laundry, buying second-hand items, and reducing the amount of garbage we generate. Living well on less means less money spent and fewer resources used, regardless of how you choose to go about it.
Just knowing that we’re thinking about it and changing our behaviors (or trying to!), even if what we do may be arguable in terms of its overall environmental impact, is a baby step in the right direction. Reducing our consumption, reusing more items, and recycling rather than throwing out are all small steps that we can each make every day, in our own way.
Do you think green living is often grey? What “eco-friendly” things do you struggle with or wonder about?
Go Gingham related links:
Using nature to decorate your home – frugal and fancy decorating
Found treasures for decorating your home
A free chair – that was rejected!
Wrapping presents with free maps makes for pretty gifts
Green and frugal living – the sweet spot where green and frugal meet
More related links:
Another article about the same topic can be found on OPB: Ecotrope – Fresh ideas fresh ideas on nature and community.
Lili from Creative Savv, who’s an expert at using more ingenuity than cash to create the life and home she wants, wrote about conserving water. Check it out HERE.
6 thoughts on “Green Living Is Often Grey”
The supermarket near our house has a barrel near the entrance to gather plastic bags for recycling. Now if I could just remember to take the bags with me to the store!
Karen – that’s great that your supermarket gives you a spot for that. Yes, I hear ya’ on the remembering to bring items INTO the store! When you figure out the secret to remembering, please let me know.
Thank you for posting this, Sara! You are so right–we cannot live in a black and white world concerning green living. Life on so many planes, including this one, just isn’t black and white. There is so much we all have to learn, and no one has complete knowledge of what “green” should look like. Lili at creativesavv.blogspot.com did a post a while ago about water consumption and there were many interesting points of view which I had never considered before.
Thanks, Kris! I contacted Lili and she was kind enough to send the link and I’ve listed it above.
To me, some of the current “Green” hype has become a pet peeve. One that has gotten under my skin has been the plastic shopping bag ban in Portland, Oregon.
There is a cost to using reusable bags — health-wise for sure. They are harbingers of bacteria and are perfect breeding ground for pathogens. Juice from meats, poultry, fish, and dairy can seep into the fibers and conventional washing, will not kill all the pathogens. Also, these bags are not sanitary – depending on where and how you handle them, you can pick up more bacteria. Some folks put the bags on a dirty floor then put them on the conveyor belt at the store where you and I put our bread. Some of us do not have a fantastic immune system. Viruses are real, bacteria is real. Yes, we are surrounded by all sorts of bacteria, bad and good. But when bad pathogens hit the food supply, not all of our immune systems are equipped to handle it. Food-borne illnesses are a reality, whether you get it from restaurants that improperly handle food or cloth fibers that could not be properly sanitized.
So you say, wash those bags? Hmmm, that requires electricity to wash and dry them (and this process will not always kill some of the bacteria), water (a precious resource), detergent, waste water into the sewer. What about those bags that have split at the seams — who will mend those? Also, the washing process will not always kill the pathogens – the hot water may not be hot enough to kill germs.
Oh by the way, did you test those reusable bags for lead or pesticides? Yes, some have been tested for lead and guess what, they turned out to be positive. So, how safe is that for humans?
Others say, “Don’t waste oil on making plastic shopping bags.” But plastic bags are made from petroleum byproducts and some from natural gas. It takes less energy to manufacture a plastic bag than a paper bag.
What is the real issue? Seems like the issue is trash in our waterways put there by unfortunate circumstances (either by weather conditions, shipwrecks, plane wrecks) or deliberately by people who have not learned to pick up after themselves.
Sometimes junk science drives policy which is very unfortunate. The so called “islands of plastic” cannot be seen via satellite as our Office of Sustainability (Portland, Oregon) claims. Plastic debris in waterways is a problem, but it does not all come from plastic bags – it comes from all sorts of plastic.
Don’t forget we have many hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and other weather disasters that wash debris (plastic and non-plastic) in to the oceans. Currents carry them hither and yon. Also, ship traffic has increased as well as air traffic which leads to downed planes, shipwrecks, boats capsizing. Plastic breaks down over time, and yes, marine life eats the broken down plastic.
So, if we are to say all plastic is bad for the environment, then we need to ban all plastic — plastic plumbing, plastic seats (as in boats and planes), plastic cushions and furniture, plastic cosmetic packaging, plastic containers for liquids and solids, plastic electronic housings, plastic wrap, sandwich bags, freezer bags, carpet, plastic bottles and plastic tubs, plastic pails, plastic car bumpers, plastic shoes, plastic eye glass frames, plastic toy and toy parts, — just look around you and see all the plastic that you touch every day and throw out every day. Not all is recycled and some of those cargo ships do sink. What about medical debris? Count all those syringes, plastic wrapping for gauze, plastic tubing for oxygen, plastic body parts (joints). What about all those diapers, plastic table cloths, plastic tarps, plastic canopies, plastic flooring — I could go on but I won’t. Just reach out your arms around you and see how much plastic you touch (either things that are made totally from plastic or contain plastic parts). Single-use shopping bags are not the problem; they can be re-used many, many ways and recycled. They constitute only a small percentage of all the waste and debris swirling in the oceans and waterways.
So what is the answer? Definitely look at the facts. Analyze the facts and don’t pass legislation based on junk science. Figure out ways to clean the waterways. We have no control over natural disasters that sweep whole towns into the water – all that debris from homes, cars, planes, boats, ships gets swept into the ocean. Better methods for recycling ALL forms of plastic, not just shopping bags. Throw the book at those who litter. Reducing the types of packaging aimed at shelf space and marketing purposes. Ever open an eye drop box? Small vial, HUGE box. And, yes, the vial is plastic.
I like to re-use what I can — re-purpose it ,and that which I cannot, for fear of being called a hoarder, I recycle or throw away. Back in the day, of great grandmas and great grandpas, things were re-used and re-purposed until they could no longer serve any purpose. That meant that great grandma stored things for “later use.” Today we call that hoarding; back then they called it survival.
Living responsibly — not littering, being resource wise, saving more spending less, not wasting things, and those things that can be fixed, fix it, repair it, re-use it, donate what is still usable and clean – that’s what it means to me to be “green.” Not the latest fads and commercialization of being green.
I agree with you that the plastic problem is so much bigger than the grocery bags we receive (or don’t) at the grocery store. Plastic is everywhere.
Several years ago on a trip, we came across a gorgeous beach in the Bahamas that was a beautiful little inlet where water had washed every item ever afloat in the Caribbean ocean. I couldn’t believe how much garbage there was. It was all plastic. It was heartbreaking.
What you said, “Living responsibly — not littering, being resource wise, saving more spending less, not wasting things, and those things that can be fixed, fix it, repair it, re-use it, donate what is still usable and clean – that’s what it means to me to be “green.” Not the latest fads and commercialization of being green.”
This is the key. Green living that’s really old-fashioned living – reduce, reuse, recycle, repair. That’s what all of us can do.
Thanks for sharing, Sue.
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