Secrets of the garbage and recycling industry? What is not so green? etc
January 15, 2010 6:02 PM   Subscribe

With everyone being "green" and rushing to save the planet, what are some of the things that people should be wary off? From sketchy advertising to just pure fraud to other not so obvious ploys. For example, there was a story in my local paper where a reporter found out the city did not actually recycle some of the truckloads of compost for a period of time because of unforseen circumstances. There was a cover up and this was going on when the city paid a premium price to have the waste recycled. People believed that they were helping the planet by recycling instead of putting out the waste in the landfills. What other things have you read or seen first hand in your city or community or workplace?
posted by abbat to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Be wary of cities and towns where any sort of problem with the recycle chain leads to them incinerating rather than storing. Some cities have been less than up-front with their citizens about what happens when their recycling contractors can't get a good price for their materials. A lot of it goes up in smoke.

One of the big problems with incinerating, aside from emissions, is that "Incinerators only capture one-fifth of the energy in trash. Recycling saves three to five times that amount."
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:45 PM on January 15, 2010

My understanding is that most recycling is irrational, with aluminum cans and some large-scale commerical collections being among the exceptions. Residential recycling needs to be transported, sorted, and cleaned; this takes money and energy; this money and energy would often help the environment more if put the other uses.

A lot of green food labeling is outright deceptive. As an example, many (most?) "free range" chickens never go outside. Many of the producers who do use better (in my opinion) practices avoid things like the organic certification because the certification is costly and only partially sensible.

I'm not an expert about this, so maybe I've been lied to.
posted by kprincehouse at 6:52 PM on January 15, 2010

Computer-electronics recycling: Do some research about domestic computer recycling and where our recycled computers really go and you'll encounter many cited articles about recycled computer parts that end up exported to developing countries where these materials end up polluting water sources and creating heath hazards that exceed the problems posed by landfilling these materials here.

Consumer Products: Sophistry is everywhere. There's big money in "going green"...or just making consumers think you have. Your local supermarket likely has aisles and aisles of depressing examples, like this Peter Pan peanut butter, which boasts its "EARTH FRIENDLINESS" right on the label. How is it Earth friendly? Because the jar that doesn't need to be made out of plastic in the first place is now made with "8% to 12% LESS plastic" than before.
posted by applemeat at 7:00 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Most environmentally-appropriate behavior requires you to do less, to buy less, to consume less, so most stuff that you might buy to "save the planet" is just more stuff. There are notable exceptions, like CFL bulbs. Re-doing the kitchen in green materials is wasteful, unless you were already re-doing the kitchen. Even then, the greenest option is to re-purpose what's already there.

You can get involved with your city's recycling efforts. You'll learn that waste management is big business and a complex problem.
posted by theora55 at 7:03 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

(Correction, that should read "9% to 12% LESS plastic.")
posted by applemeat at 7:07 PM on January 15, 2010

Those stupid energy-saving CFL Fluorescent light bulbs that have been pushed on everyone? They contain shit that shouldn't be allowed into the environment. From

Work it through. Some folks claim that if one of those bulbs break in your home, you should evacuate for x # of hours - this is the source of the Snopes question. The answer is "No" you don't need Hazmat to show up. But seriously, think it through.

Yes. The things contain mercury, and if broken, require special care for removal.

Now. Think of all of those bulbs, broken and oozing their contents within landfills, oozing heir toxic shit into the water table and soil.


Energy saving, my ass. They poison us. And LED's are now cheap and safer. At least incandescent bulb waste doesn't cause brain damage and cancer. Seriously.

The CFL bulb scam is a HUGE green energy faux-benefit.

Fuck that. Spread the word.
posted by jbenben at 7:26 PM on January 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

I've read articles (which I can't find right now unfortunately) saying that it's only economically viable at the moment to recycle PET (#1) and HDPE (#2), but a very sizable portion of the plastic packaging of common items at the grocery store are polypropylene (#5) which is technically possible to recycle but rarely done because it's not profitable. On the other hand, municipalities are finding that participation levels are only high enough to turn a profit if the customers don't have to sort plastics by resin code. So you end up with a situation where your city says you can put all kinds of hard plastic in the bin, but really they're only doing that to get you to participate and what's really happening is they are sorting out all the #5 and just throwing it in a landfill, leading to the misconception that all those #5 tubs and bottles you're buying are being recycled when they're not.

I also read an article that claimed that most of the contents of those "bring back your plastic bags to be recycled" grocery store bins just end up landfills in China, but that one's easy to fix by bringing your own reusable bags.

The saying goes "reduce, reuse, recycle" in that order because recycling is supposed to be more of a last measure kind of thing.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:30 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Think of all of those bulbs, broken and oozing their contents within landfills

Uh, it's illegal to put those in the trash, at least in my state. They don't go in landfills, they are handled by household hazardous waste collection sites and properly disposed of.

Also, coal fired electrical plants also put out mercury into the atmosphere so it's not like incandescent bulbs are somehow environmentally better.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:38 PM on January 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

Rhomboid beat me to it but I'll reiterate. DEcycle before you REcycle. As soon as a profit motive appears, things will start to get wonky. And obviously a profit motive is making its way into all kinds of ecological issues. Free range eggs, mentioned above, are a good example. Twenty years ago, when not too many people cared, you could more or less trust eggs that were marketed as "free range", because the motivation for doing that was ethical and political. Now that there's money to be made, people will twist the definition of "free range" out of all recognition in order to be able to slap the term onto their packaging because it's profitable. The same has been happening with the words "natural" and "organic" for decades. Just for the record, these words on packaging mean NOTHING.
My advice is to simply avoid everything that you can. My rules of thumb (in decreasing order of desirability):
1 - Don't get it.
2 - Borrow it.
3 - Scavenge it for free from a friend, a dumpster, or wherever.
4 - Buy it used.
5 - (gritting my teeth) - buy it new.

This doesn't apply so well to food. Used food is pretty gross. Try to get things in bulk and as unprocessed as possible. Try to avoid anything that's advertised.

And avoid like the plague all this trendy bullshit about "downsizing" or "downshifting" or whatever they're calling it, complete with $29.95 books that you can buy to tell you how to do it. I've even seen books about walking. Seriously. Okay, I'll shut up now.
posted by crazylegs at 7:45 PM on January 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

Many people intuitively feel that the green answer to "paper or plastic [bags]?" is "plastic," but it's a pretty complex question.

Canned beans are greener than dry beans. (That's from Slate's Green Lantern, which has a lot of things like this.)

Environmentalists should love skyscrapers. "Living surrounded by concrete is actually pretty green. Living surrounded by trees is not. ... [I]f you want to take good care of the environment, stay away from it and live in cities." Manhattan might be the greenest place to live in the United States.

"Recycling" can mean sending your trash to China, not quite the green idyll some might be imagining when they recycle.

Organic soil might be more contaminated with heavy metals than conventional soil.

Deforestation is good for the environment, and old-growth forests are bad.

(More "inconvenient truths.")

posted by Jaltcoh at 7:52 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Uh, it's illegal to put those in the trash, at least in my state.

Good thing no one ever does anything illegal.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:54 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Woops, I meant: Many people intuitively feel that the green answer to "paper or plastic [bags]?" is "paper" ...
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:56 PM on January 15, 2010

Also - don't sweat too much the idea of landfilling things, as long as leaching is addressed.

There's craptons of valuable resources in the landfills we already have, and some day we'll have little nanocritters that will extract those for us (i.e., imagine artificial worms that crawl through the landfill soil and congregate in a programmed location to excrete turds of gold; another place for turds of plastic; another for turds of aluminum). i'm not in la-la land here. This stuff is in the works.

It's better to lockup our current waste than it is to expend resources over-cycling it inefficiently, or wasting it by incineration.
posted by yesster at 8:02 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not doubting that there are copious amounts of CFLs in landfills. It's also illegal and pretty heinous to dump used motor oil or antifreeze down the storm drain, or to put used batteries in the trash, or to pour paint down the drain, or... But I'm sure people still do all of these things as well. The fact is that we are surrounded by lots of things that can potentially be hazardous if not disposed of properly, but there are established procedures for handling all of them. We should blame the people that choose not to follow the procedures, not their mere existence or presence in our world.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:03 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nothing will ever be perfect. And whiny nitpickers will complain about everything. It doesn't mean it's a bad idea. Dumping CFLs might be bad for the environment, but so is dumping tons of CO2 into the air. One is worse then the other, and you have balance it out, or sit in the dark.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 PM on January 15, 2010

My mom has complained my entire life about recycling, particularly the communities that enforce it. Her father ran several dumps and a garbage collection business, and she saw first-hand how many "recycled" things wound up straight in the landfill anyway. One green glass bottle in a container truck full of clear glass bottles would get the whole thing pitched.

I don't know how things work now. I recycle because I think it's better than the alternative, but I try to reduce first.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:18 PM on January 15, 2010

You have to be careful, though, because there are certain people who think that arguing against green "myths" is great sport. Many people just like to be contrary. For instance, if you read Jaltcoh's links above, you'll find that many of the articles are themselves BS and that Jaltcoh has named the links to make much stronger (and in some cases completely different) claims than the articles themselves make (e.g. "Deforestation is good for the environment").
posted by ssg at 8:46 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, it's definetly true that living in a high-density urban environment is good for the environment overall. You don't have to drive very far and in Manhattan hardly anyone needs to drive.

The rest of the stuff is nonsense, though. Conservatives love to spout 'contrarian' environmental nonsense in order to confuse the issue and make people think the science is unresolved.
posted by delmoi at 8:51 PM on January 15, 2010

You can drink bottled water and feel good about yourself for recycling the bottle.

Or you can drink tap water.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

My perspective is that people want simple answers but simple answers are seldom available. Someone above discussed compact fluorescent light bulbs. They have it all figured out, the bulbs are a scam because it turns out they contain mercury. But the CFL proponent will tell you that if you look at the bigger picture CFL bulbs reduce net mercury emissions even if not properly disposed of because so much electricity is produced by coal-fired plants and coal-generation of electricity is one of the biggest if not the biggest source of mercury emissions into our ecosystems.

Great, so CFLs are okay, except that someone else comes along and says that if you really look at the TOTAL big picture - the energy and environmental impact of manufacturing the lightbulbs, as the CFL manufacture is predictably more complicated and consumes more energy than the manufacture of the much simpler incandescent bulb. Note I'm not advocating either of these points of view. My research has led me to the opinion that on the whole CFLs are a net environmental gain, particularly if you dispose of them properly. But that is an opinion.

It is generally recognized by people who aren't inhabiting some kind of frothing anti-CFL fantasy land that for everyday consumer uses LEDs are not yet viable because of their high expense. I've read many complaints about poor performance and lifespan issues with the cheap version drop-in LED lightbulb replacements currently on the market. Right now the gold standard, guaranteed LED lightbulb replacement costs over $100. There's little doubt the life cycle picture on it, from energy costs alone, would create a net economic benefit. But I can't afford to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade my lighting that I will recoup in 20 years.

It is exceptionally hard to know what the truth of many of these life-cycle questions is. All you can do is do your research, go with the best consensus you can find, and hope the give and take ends up with a net benefit.

I guarantee you that not few if any of those "environmental heresies" Jaltcoh lists above is uncontroversial. Someone else will have all sorts of great-sounding reasons why whatever idea is a bunch of crap. The popular press is egregiously guilty of dishing up dim-witted but appealing oversimplifications of environmental issues.

Ethanol is a controversial topic and I'm surprised it hasn't come up in here yet (maybe by the time I actually post this someone will have gotten to it). It is routinely asserted with absolute assurance around here that ethanol is an enormous boondoggle that is actually worse for the environment and is all a scheme of the corn industry. I've discussed here and there that the situation is more complicated than that. The latter comment there in particular gives some case-study examples in ethanol of why life-cycle and net-energy questions are so complex and controversial. It doesn't help that this sorts of analysis is seldom produced in a vacuum - there is almost always some sort of vested interest, be it an entrenched ideology or a straight-up corporate fix, behind the studies that are done. I guess the bottom line of my input would be look with great suspicion at simple answers, and consider the motivations of sources of information.
posted by nanojath at 9:20 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been in the environmental/sustainable dev./conservation field for 15 years, & in my very humble opinion, it boils down to this:

Buy less shit.

As someone upthread mentioned, if you're being told you have to buy something to save the planet, it's BS.

Beyond that, people need to stop being such suckers, think for themselves & do some research. Clearly preaching to the choir, here on the filter.

Overall, I hear anecdotes here & there about "OMG they don't really recycle it just goes in the garbage evil" stuff, but generally I think those stories are just the same loads of crap as those people/organizations who foam at the mouth about how green they are. Just like anything else, it's a spectrum: there are a lot of factors that go into creating a corporate or municipal compost/recycling/whatever program, and sometimes things go well & really work & sometimes they don't. If someone can make $ on something, they'll label the hell out of it so unsuspecting people will think they are saving the planet.

The bottom line is that while some things are better, environmentally-speaking, than they were 15, 20, 50 years ago, in other ways, we've created new clusterfucks (sometimes with the best intentions). Humans will never have a light footprint - create a more sustainable product & we'll find a way to overuse it. (I'm waiting for those pesky old-growth forests to be cut to make way for more bamboo plantations.)

Maybe I'm a little jaded, & for that I'm sorry. But I think our biggest environmental issue is people not thinking things through & using common sense...
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 9:44 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes. The things contain mercury

Apart from what others have said, I would like to point out that those fever thermometers any of us over about 30 have had stuck in our ears, mouths, and, uh, butts? That we stuck in our kids ears, mouths, or, uh, butts? Those thermometers? They contained roughly ONE THOUSAND TIMES as much mercury as a CFL. Yes, 1000x as much mercury. And we stuck them in our mouths. Without a thought.

Mercury should be treated with respect but it isn't EVIL DEATH METAL. We put tiny glass tubes full of a thousand times as much mercury in our mouths. (and butts). And they often broke. And we played with the mercury.

It was cool.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

What nanojath said. People are right to be concerned about the mercury in CFLs, and they should dispose of them properly. But also consider that many regular, old-fashioned fluorescent bulbs contain mercury too.

But back on topic, many people have had the experience of staying late at the office and seeing the maintenance staff empty the recycling bins straight into the garbage.

The batteries in hybrid cars contain highly toxic metals which have a big impact during their manufacture and disposal. A regular sedan, like the Toyota Corolla, may be better for the environment over its entire life-cycle than the Prius.* But on the other hand, hybrid vehicles are an emerging technology. We could argue that the purchase of a Prius encourages further development, and that mature hybrid tech that has the advantages of economy of scale will someday soon beat the pants off the Corola.

*Source: Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable by Nathan Shedroff. I've only yet thumbed through it, but you might find it interesting because it tackles a lot of the issues raised by your question.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:10 PM on January 15, 2010

Driving your older fuel efficient car is way more green than ditching it for a new hybrid.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:27 PM on January 15, 2010

Some examples in here: The Six Sins of Greenwashing, which is about how to spot overblown eco claims when you see them.
posted by harriet vane at 11:41 PM on January 15, 2010

I could be wrong about this but aren't most modern thermometers colored alcohol? That or other kinds of liquid alloy.
posted by laptolain at 12:32 AM on January 16, 2010

Corn-Derived Ethanol as fuel is completely bogus from pretty much every standpoint except that of enriching the agricultural lobby. I'm generally pretty skeptical of biofuels in general. For one thing, plants aren't that efficient at turning sunlight into biomass anyway, even before hauling it, and converting it into fuel or electricity, and in the end, the whole thing is a waste of fresh water and top soil.

But really, I'd rather debunk the debunkers. Adding to the CFL thing, I'd rather have mercury from florescent lights in a modern sealed landfill than dumped into the atmosphere by a power plant. Someone will probably pipe up about how photovoltaic solar panels take more energy to manufacture than they'll ever produce over their lifetimes, which isn't true, at least not for modern commercial solar panels (unless you get hung up on e=mc^2), even someplace like Seattle, they should return the energy that went into their manufacture in ~2 years.
posted by Good Brain at 1:02 AM on January 16, 2010

I think CFLs are such a great example of wooly 'green' thinking that I'm going to offer my thoughts even though they've already been discussed a bit.

The first thing about CFLs is that they cost more. A lot more - at least 10x as much as an incan, and that is not the true price, because most countries trying to get people to buy them have to subsidise them a lot before people become willing to buy them. The price you and your fellow tax-payers pay to purchase CFLs is not arbitrary. It represents the cost of producing the bulbs, and directly the energy used and emissions produced in manufacturing the bulbs.

So this initial emission cost must be recouped over the lifetime of CFL use before it an energy-saving/emissions-reduction is achieved.

However. Apart from subsidies, governments keen on CFLs have also pushed the CFL industry into lowering prices (because they used to be even more prohibitively expensive), and the industry has responded in part by reducing quality assurance. I don't know if anyone else has shared the experience of installing CFLs only to have them break soon after. After I realised that my CFL bulbs were experiencing a failure rate of something like 30% breaking within three months - nothing like the lifespans promised on the box - I stopped buying them.

CFLs are much much more complicated than incans. That efficiency comes at a price - I believe a CFL bulb contains between twenty and thirty electronic components in its base. With complexity comes a much greater risk of failure. This is usually the case with efficient variations of machines - the efficiency is produced a much more complex, delicate, and costly version. Take a look under a Prius' hood, and compare it to any car pre-1973 for example.

Things I will gloss over: the large spool of copper each CFL contains, the increased cost of recycling or properly disposing of CFLs.

So CFLs break more. Well, let's imagine that, when you work out all the pluses and minuses of energy used in production, energy saved over an entire lifespan, energy used in disposal, that CFLs do, on the whole, save energy. Well, what happens? People use less electricity, so electricity becomes cheaper. People then use more of it.

Unless governments introduce taxes which keep the price of electrcity constant, and then use the money from these taxes in some way which does not then result in energy being used of emissions being produced... nothing is achieved.

Oh, and as a last point, for anyone living in temperate climes, where do you suppose the energy that is lost by inefficient incans goes? It doesn't just magically disappear - it becomes heat. Incans contribute to the heating of your home. Use CFLs and you will spend a small proportionate amount more on your heating bill.

My conclusion is that CFLs are nothing but a token to assuage guilt. As is the majority of 'green' talk and behaviour that I see. Oh dear I am jaded.
posted by schmichael at 1:48 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

LEED certification, insofar as it is interpreted as a green-building stamp of approval, is very problematic. I took a course in the history of western architecture last semester. One of the points the prof. made repeatedly as we discussed current trends was that LEED awards points for "efficient" use of energy rather than for NOT using it. Over the last few decades we've gotten more and more finicky about the physical comforts afforded by our buildings; new ones are designed to provide ever-tighter control of temperature and light levels, with the result that many "green" LEED-certified buildings, despite their use of highly efficient climate control machinery, use considerably more energy than similar structures built 20 or 30 years ago.

Efficient lighting technologies are certainly thorny. The quality of light produced by even the best CFL's, in terms of color-rendering, does not compare well to what we're used to getting from incandescents, and LEDs are even worse. I think their visual unpleasantness fosters a lot of the ill-will directed at them. Compound that with quality control problems, panicky mercury fears and the spectre of new government mandates, and it's no wonder that many people dislike them. Nevertheless, the energy savings are real and the performance and reliability will inevitably improve. Before long, I suspect, most of these complaints will fade into memory.
posted by jon1270 at 3:27 AM on January 16, 2010

Here is a life cycle analysis of CFLs vs incendescent bulbs. It demonstrates (based on Danish data) emissions of ~80% less for CO2, NOx, SO2, CH4, fly ash and mercury for the CFL based on similar light production. (Mercury reduction is due to the output to the environment at the power station. Localised spillages due to breakage of CFL would result in a small localised release of mercury vaopuir which needs to be handled carefully, though not with the level of care that has so freaked out poor jbenben earlier in the thread.) These figures assume a comparartive life time of 8000hrs vs 1000 hours implying the CFL has to operate on average 60% longer than the inca to achieve any comparative emission reduction.

The CFL requires approximately five times more energy for production (1.7kWh for the CFL, 0.29kWh for the inca) but this is small in comparison to the lifetime comparative savings (16.7kWh lifetime use for the CFL, 82.2kWh for the inca).

There is some vidence that if people save money on energy they spend it on other things which engnder other energy use, however the evidence suggests that the added energy use corresponds to only a fraction of the energy saved (previously).

Apart from subsidies, governments keen on CFLs have also pushed the CFL industry into lowering prices (because they used to be even more prohibitively expensive), and the industry has responded in part by reducing quality assurance.

Can you demonstrate this? Government do support technologies they see as having long term public benefits, though this is generally with the aim of pushing the cost down through innovation. This paper suggests the learning rate for CFLs is ~18%, ie the cost reduces by 18% for every doubling in production. So we would have expected to see reductions in the cost of the technology over time, given the rates of expansion in production.

It is also worth noting that in the UK, utilities have some obligations to help reduce carbon emissions through a mechanism called the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, they can select the methodology for acheving their reduction themselves on the basis of least cost. they have uniformly selected CFLs as the main method for meeting their obligation.

It is worth bearing in mind that there are an estimated 33 billion light bulbs around the world light bulbs worldwide consuming 2600TWh per year, that's 19% of global electricity use, and 30% of this consumption by the residential sector (Mills & Schleich, 2009, Resource and Energy Economics). This is a huge area where societal and technological change could massively reduce carbon emissions.
posted by biffa at 3:41 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Small windmills: in urban environments and without careful siting work, I'd agree. But if it's your only power option and you have the resource and you choose a reliable design, then they work great.
posted by scruss at 5:43 AM on January 16, 2010

Hi scruss, are there that many places which fit that bill though? The prices for small turbines are incredibly high, e.g. the new quiet revolution turbines are 4x-5x the cost of large scale turbines per kW installed in the UK, the Proven are 2.5x cost/kW and I struggle to see how that level of cost can be justified, especially when the turbines seem to regularly underperform. A new QR near me delivered considerably less than promised then shucked a blade within the first year. A row of 6kW Provens nearby have a capacity factor <5%, and while that is a siting issue its doesnt do the wider wind sector any good to have turbines constantly idle in public view.
posted by biffa at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2010

If your motivation in this question is finding a way to dismiss the entire "green" project and go on with your life the way you want to, this will not be of interest to you.

If your motivation is to try to be well-informed about what kinds of changes are useful and what kinds of changes are not, I strongly recommend Energy In America: A Tour of Our Fossil Fuel Culture and Beyond. It aimed at non-academic readers and is intended, according to the author (full disclosure: I know her) to prepare people to be part of the conversation about energy policy in the United States. There's lots of interesting stuff in it. She takes a very critical look at both fossil sources and "green" sources of energy, and she does not hesitate to point out which "green" energy alternatives are currently impractical in terms of providing the kind of energy that we need. She also points out a number of successes that we have made in reducing energy consumption over the last 25+ years. Overall, it is a practical book that provides both a solid, informed grounding and ideas about what individuals can do to move forward.
posted by carmen at 7:22 AM on January 16, 2010

You can drink bottled water and feel good about yourself for recycling the bottle.

Or you can drink tap water.

Actually, your second sentence should read: "And you will be drinking tap water if you're drinking Pepsi's Aquafina or Coca-Cola's Dasani, because that's what they are."
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:42 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I'll say it: stop breeding. There. I've heard all the arguments about how humans are able to live in harmony with nature if they're tribal hunter gatherers etc. etc. But let's face it: it's 2010, you're on Metafilter, and your kids are not going to be hunter gatherers. They're going to use at least as many resources, and create at least as much crap, as you. Unless you don't make them. I know all the arguments about social justice and carrying capacity, and they're valid arguments. But the fact remains: if you don't create a human, that human won't use any resources or create any waste because he/she doesn't exist. And that will help the problem. In my opinion not creating any babies will do more to help the ecosystem than all your other efforts combined, over your entire lifetime.
posted by crazylegs at 8:04 AM on January 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Crazylegs' posts hit the nail on the head.
posted by Bangaioh at 8:41 AM on January 16, 2010

Well, I'll say it: stop breeding.

One problem with this: at best, the people who read this comment on Metafilter and actually follow your advice are presumably going to be relatively educated folks with mostly liberal, feminist, environmentalist, tolerant values. So, those people wouldn't pass on their values to future generations. Meanwhile, people with other values (and the same values, of course, but largely other values) would keep breeding like rabbits. Have you seen the movie Idiocracy?

If your concern is really about "creating babies," of course, you can still raise children by adopting.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:49 AM on January 16, 2010

Now that there's money to be made, people will twist the definition of "free range" out of all recognition in order to be able to slap the term onto their packaging because it's profitable. The same has been happening with the words "natural" and "organic" for decades. Just for the record, these words on packaging mean NOTHING.

Not true everywhere. Free Range is specifically defined under EU law. Organic is defined under UK law.

Rules of Thumb...This doesn't apply so well to food.

I think there can be some rules of thumb that are food specific. This is off the top of my head, but to include:

1: Grow your own
2: Less (or no) meat
3: Plan meals to reduce waste
4: Source locally (not always easy)
5: Minimise processed food use
posted by biffa at 9:10 AM on January 16, 2010

I see a lot of "green renovations" done on channels like HGTV and that Planet Green station. And then I'm always dismayed to see people's perfectly serviceable furniture and fixtures ripped out and discarded and replaced with brand new "green" items instead of just being repurposed wherever it's possible.

I understand that people like the shiny and new, but a lot of the time is it really necessary to have brand new "eco friendly" everything that is purchased and delivered? That's just more strain on the environment that it takes to manufacture and transport these things.

Like maybe instead of throwing away your kitchen cabinets and then replacing them with ones that are made out of bamboo, why not just sand and repaint them with low VOC paint? Or instead of replacing a 3 year old set of furniture that's in good shape with brand new stuff that's made out of renewable wood and fibers, why not just reupholster them to match your decor. There are a lot of household fixtures that could probably just be refreshed instead with a lot less waste.

I'm not talking about adding energy efficient features to old homes and things like that though. I'm more concerned about people who have a perfectly nice house with relatively new items in it who just gut the place and get rid of all their old stuff and then replace it with so-called eco friendly everything. That's just weird to me because if you really wanted to be green, you probably be attempting to wring every ounce of use out of the things you already have and buyinig secondhand whenever you could.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:43 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

biffa, they can work - but there's never any question of small turbines being cheaper than any alternative. If you have alternatives, use 'em. If a standalone solar/wind system is your only option, then enjoy your power at however much it costs you.

I have a suspicion that living offgrid is not very green, as you need a bunch of expensive, toxic infrastructure just for your power needs.
posted by scruss at 11:29 AM on January 16, 2010

my boyfriend took a mechanical engineering class that was about energy and the environment. it explored the life cycle of product engineering - like how much energy did a washing machine require from time of build, lifetime use, end of life.

everyone did a report then on a particular consumer item to discover what it's life cycle costs were in terms of the environment and energy/resource consumption.

someone did cloth vs disposable diapers. when you go through the whole thing, it ends up being about even, with disposable actually coming out a little on top. this is because cloth diapers, during their lifetime of use, require a lot of washing. that washing requires a lot of water (not everyone has the super HE machines), and a lot of electricity to run the washer and heat the hot water, then there's a lot energy to run a dryer (or you can just hang them up all over the basement). detergent is required as well, which has to come from somewhere, even if it is "green" or green.

disposable diapers have an initial build cost and then a disposal cost. yes they go to a landfill, which is it's own cost. they are plastic etc etc, they aren't perfect either.

but the point is, cloth diapers aren't magically "better". they consume an enormous amount of energy and resources during their use and lifecycle. and the myth is that they are SO much better, when they are not really. they're just about even.

it kinda sucks to know that. i'm sure someone will want to dispute this, but that's i got.
posted by sio42 at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2010

Watch out for "environmental" stickers on essentially unenvironmental products.

For instance, if an airline tells you about its environmental efforts, that doesn't mean it's OK to fly. Any flight you take on any airline is very bad for the environment. Some airlines might do a marginally better job of reducing pollutants or waste, but they're all very bad because their business is to use aircraft to fly people places they usually don't need to go.

Similarly, a hybrid car is better for the environment than your old all-gasoline car, but they both still suck. The right answer, in environmental terms, is to not drive, or to drive much less. Don't buy a Prius, buy a home near public transportation and your job.
posted by pracowity at 2:14 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have any new examples, but the term you're looking for is "greenwashing" if that helps in your search.
posted by radioamy at 2:17 PM on January 17, 2010

Not exactly recycling per se, but electric cars are a typical example of greenwashing. Assuming that electric cars get plugged into the grid, in North America most electric power is generated by coal, oil, or natural gas.

As well, the energy cost of creating a hybrid battery is pretty intense.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2010

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