10 reasons why you’re not green!

Recycling is not the answer

Recycling doesn't mean you're green

First, there were the hotels with their “Please reuse your towels so we can save water” cards. They were one of the first industries to get on board with greenwashing about a decade ago. I admit, at first, I was happy to see this, and reused my towels. Yet, it was really just a ploy to save money for if they really cared about the environment, they would have also had recycling boxes in every room and offered non-disposable plates and cutlery in the restaurants.

I’m starting to see this same kind of green superficiality making its way into our society. With its guise of being positive (and I’m not saying it’s 100% not) it’s not challenging us to question our daily habits and make changes that will really make a difference. I constantly hear  “Oh I’m green because I recycle” or “I’m green because I buy energy-efficient lightbulbs” and “Oh cool, my X brand coffee cup is compostable”. As if it took just a purchase to be green.

You are not green simply because:

  1. You recycle
  2. You use energy-efficient light-bulbs
  3. You eat organic meat
  4. You use a low-flow toilet
  5. You own a Mac book
  6. You buy recycled paper
  7. You own a hybrid vehicle
  8. You buy fair-trade coffee
  9. You donated to Greenpeace
  10. Your “X” packaging is recyclable or made of X% post-consumed products

Although these are good habits, this isn’t what I consider “green-living”, this is just common sense. For example, if you use a low-flow toilet, that’s great, but consider that you’ll save more water by not eating a pound of meat, then by not showering for 6 months. Do you see where I’m going? We’re not going to change the environmental problems we face by continuing in our current (destructive) ways and adding green purchases on top. We need to consciously rethink our consumption and waste habits. We will, however, make a difference if we add these green purchases to a change in our habits.

You are green if:

  1. You’ve consciously rethought your consumption habits
  2. You’ve rethought your wants vs. needs (Do I really need to upgrade my iPhone every year?)
  3. You’ve taken dramatic steps to reduce your waste
  4. You’ve watched and understood The Story of Stuff
  5. You’ve stopped eating meat or at least, eat lower on the food chain and implement Meatless Monday’s into your diet

Being green is a conscious lifestyle change. It takes effort, but then, becomes routine.  In my opinion, there are 2 key areas that are intertwined to being green; our consumption habits (what we buy) and our waste habits (what we throw out).

For everything we buy, you have to consider what happened in order to produce the products; from the mining of natural resources, to the production of the products (air and water pollution, energy consumption and waste) to the transportation of them to stores (think Tar Sands to produce the oil needed for fuel then air pollution from the transport). Consider this, 99% of all products bought are disposed of 6 months after. So all the pollution that was created to get you the product in the first place, was for something you threw out 6 months later, and now we have to deal with overflowing landfills, air and water pollution…

Resourcing -> production -> retail -> consumption -> disposal

Resourcing -> Production -> Retail -> Consumption -> Disposal

To reduce our waste, let’s start at the roots of the famous waste reduction mantra, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Unfortunately, most people skip the first three steps then just recycle the waste.

Examples:

  1. Disposable coffee cups made with recycled paper are good, but a reusable coffee cup is better
  2. Organic cotton tampons are good, but reducing waste by using a Diva cup is better
  3. Recycling your shower gel bottle is better than throwing it out, but using a bar of soap is better as there is no packaging waste
  4. Energy-efficient light bulbs are good, but turning the lights off at night is better

The moral of this story is recycling is good if there’s no other alternative, but trying to reduce the need for creating the waste in the first place, is better.

Quick facts on consumerism from Story of Stuff:

  1. The single biggest contributor of Greenhouse gas emissions (GhG) is consumption of meat (more than all transport combined)
  2. If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.
  3. For every one garbage can of waste put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the garbage you just put out.
  4. In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed.
  5. The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago despite the fact US happiness peaked in the 1950’s.
  6. The U.S.has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
  7. Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable.
  8. Six months after goods have been purchased, 99% have already been disposed.
Factory farm runoff = water pollution

Factory farm runoff = untreated sewage = water pollution

Quick facts on meat production from PETA

  1. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the runoff from factory farms pollutes US waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
  2. According to Oregon State University agriculture professor Peter Cheeke, factory farming constitutes “a frontal assault on the environment, with massive groundwater and air pollution problems.”
  3. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you do by not showering for six months!
  4. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
  5. It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.
  6. More than 70 percent of the grain and cereals that we grow in this country are fed to farmed animals, not humans.

15 thoughts on “10 reasons why you’re not green!

  1. I’m on board with you for almost everything you wrote except on which choices are “better” than others… example: reusable coffee mug versus styrofoam trashable cup. The mug is environmentally better, right? WRONG! A lifecycle analysis showed that expanded styrene (styrofoam) is environmentally better than a (probably) China made mug… yes, styrene is made from petrol, but since its expanded, it uses infinitely less matter than the energy guzzling ceramics industry (think heat, inks, people power (often children), weight and shipping). The manufacturing of styrene cups is extremely efficient, shipping is easy and low cost (styrene being almost weightless) and at the end of its life, it will produce way less CO2 than a mug. Now of course, its a different story if its a mug that you’ve made yourslef out of local clay and fired on low heat, etc. But what are the chances of that in, say, a large company where they buy things at Bureau en Gros or at the Dollar Store? Next to nil.

    What I’m trying to say is, what and how we consume is not inherently wrong or right, green or black, right or wrong… there are many “green” choices that, I think, have led to far more waste in recent years, like the the reusable bag. Sure, its reusable, but where was it made? By whom? And who’s benefitting from you carrying it? In comparison, the single use plastic bag is less environmentally bad than the brown paper bag (again, according to a LCA).

    One thing we should be picketing for is environmental labelling… wouldn’t it be great if we could choose between 2 products based on ingredients but also based on where it was made and how much energy it took to make it? Until this happens, I’m afraid there are many choices that people make, thinking its greener, that really aren’t all that green.

    Also, and this is sad to say, but our personal consumption has very little consequence when compared to the waste created by the construction industry for example (something like 1 to 200). In fact, I believe if a person bought one single house in their lifetime that was energy efficient and made from environmentally preferable materials and was well insulated, they could take 25 minute showers every day and not dent into the green brownie points. This isn’t to say I’m advocating ecoenergetic McMansions! I’m not. Its all a question of balance and not focusing on just one thing, and also taking things into perspective. And also on getting a little bit better all the time. Some people will start with reusable bags and end up compositng. Some won’t… but every little bit counts.

    Where I completely agree is where we have to rethink our consumption. Whatever goes in, has to go out. So the less and better stuff go in our house, and the better we dispose of the stuff that goes out, the lighter we are on the planet. This includes what goes in our mouths and you’re dead on about red meat.

  2. Excellent points Luce! I really like the idea of environmental tags for ingredients to be seen.

    For the purpose of my blog, I try to focus on green living for individuals. For sure, industries cancel out all the good we do, but we are still responsible for our own footprint. You’re right about the whole reusable coffee cup vs. stryfoam cup. Another parallel I often see is companies trying to go paper-less tootings it’s eco-advantages but not realising that the e-waste created from computers is far worse than cutting down trees. For this reason, I try to speak in generalities to get a broad concept across, but for sure there will always be exceptions. Thanks for reading!

  3. So was the idea to not shower sarcasm or serious? What are your suggestions as far as showers go? I usually shower every other day and wash my hair like once a week. I have started using environmentally friendly products and try to cut down on packaged materials as often as possible.

  4. Hi,

    The credit for the photo from our blog is actually “courtesy Chooseveg.com (in other words, Mercy for Animals), as stated on our website.

    I also wanted to add a question about styrene vs. clay mug: is the first commenter (Luce Beaulieu) talking about a situation in which one keeps using the same “disposable” cup over and over, rather than throwing them out each time? It’s hard to understand the comparison. It’s clarified somewhat by the additional example of single-use vs reusable bags. That was eye-opening. However, there is the problem of disposal (http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2008/12/plastic-bags-and-animals-making-the-wild-safe-for-wildlife/). I think the answer to which is environmentally worse—in the case of both bags and cups—might vary depending on whether you’re looking at the source (energy use and the concomitant emission of pollutants) or at disposal.

  5. Hi Lily – No, the shower comparison was real. It wasn’t meant to deter people from showering but to simply show how some green efforts we make around the house are really insignificant compared to a small reduction in the amount of meat we eat. We save more water by cutting out meat, even a few days a week, then all the water saving techniques implemented at home combined.

    From a hair care perspective, it’s true that we often wash our hair too much, which rids the hair of its natural oils and dries it out. If you can get away with only washing your hair once a week, that’s pretty good. I know my hair dresser advises me to wash it no more than 2 times a week.

    I’m really happy to hear you’re making the switch to environmentally friendly products and cutting down on packaging. This is great news and will help you reduce your eco-footprint.

    Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. Hi – I’ve updated the link for the image. Thanks for pointing this out. With regards to your question, I don’t think it’s a black or white answer, it really depends on the source of where the cups or bags are coming from. My understanding was that the Styrene cup was being disposed of each time to prove it was still better than a reusable cup coming from China. None the less, it makes us think. Thanks for reading!

  7. @LMurray: I’m sorry, I should have written more thproughly about this example… but I realized along the way my comment was very long and so I cut down on parts of my response.

    So yes, the example does in fact concern a mug that a person will use over and over again. The researchers studied the amiunt of time it should be reused, the time it would take for it to be chipped/broken and then disposed of, versus the single use styrene cup. And sald, the styrene won every time, no matter how many times the mug was reused.

    There was also another LCA study about our beloved stainless steel canteens versus single use plastic water bottles, and the canteen has to be used something like at least 52 times (I lost the link to this one) to become environmentally neutral… whereas the plastic bottle would have to be reused a handful of times to be neutral. (of course we are not talking of the environmal effects of what’s inside the bottles, here, merely the container).

    Many of us greenies do actually use our canteens that much, but think of the “normal” person who is moderately green, who works, say, in a corporate environment and who receives on a regular basis these plastic and steel canteens as gift in tradeshows and you can easily see that most of those canteens will not be used 52 times… therefore, something that started out as a great idea for the environment, actually starts being a bad idea if not used (and reused) properly, in the same way that reusable purchase bags are an environmental blight right now, in my humble opinion, and only serve marketing purposes.

  8. So Luce, what,s the solution? Should I write an article telling me they need to use their reusable bottles at 52 times for it to be worth it?

  9. @UrbanGreenGirl: it really depends on you… the one main thing I’ve learned about sustainability is that we have to embrace complexity. There’s no “miracle solution” to these problems… like electric cars are not “the” solution to transportation, but a mix of reducing our car use + injecting more $ in public transportation + finding better fuels + building better and denser cities + fostering “work from home” practices in companies +…+….. Same for eating: local veggies with pesticides or international organics? It depends on whether you want to encourage local farmers or are really careful to never ingest anything chemical. There’s no black and white… only many shades of green. I was merely trying to give nuance to your article.

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