Saturday, November 15, 2008

When Green isn't Black and White!

I have been thinking a lot about "going green" lately, and what small changes I can make in my family that will have less of a negative impact on the environment. However, I have found many times when green just isn't black and white.

Here are a two examples:

1. Energy vs. Disposal -- Styrofoam cups
Styrofoam is not recyclable (as far as I have found) so it has to be disposed of somewhere. On the other hand, plastic cups are most of the time recyclable, and paper cups are normally biodegradable; they are both much heavier than Styrofoam, however, and consume more gasoline to move them to their distribution center. So, if forced to choose, which one is really "greener"?

2. Water vs. Paper & Disposal -- cloth napkins
Paper napkins are disposable and biodegradable; they create waste, and they use our tree resources. Cloth Napkins, however, require regular washing, using valuable water, and creating waterborne waste. So which one is "greener"? What if you use paper napkins that are made from recycled paper?

I know these debates don't have black and white answers. Most of the time they answer is dependent on local conditions. In the U.S. we have great water treatment plants, and plenty of fresh water, so we don't tend to worry about using water. Either way, though, there is a negative impact on our environment.

What do you think? What are some areas where you have had to try to choose the "greener" of several options?


  1. I really liked the post. It is hard to tell what is the greener option. Since moving to Portland, OR people here are just active in being green. One thing that I have noticed is that the church we attend is very green conscious. They have asked that you bring your own travel coffee mug for coffee after the service to cut down on the waste of paper cups. They also ask that you hand back your bulletin if you don't want to keep it, to cut down on paper. It makes me think about what I am doing as I live. I guess I have taken my resources for granted.

  2. Something that I consider, like paper towels or cloth towels (or paper napkins vs. cloth napkins) is the energy and water and waste that goes into making all those paper products and then comparing that to the energy and water cost of cloth. Recycling is always a great choice, but that doesn't make using plastic water bottles good for the environment... "greening" is an ever ongoing process and I wish there was a cheat sheet!

  3. Sometimes it is overwhelming to think about all the possibilities here.
    One thing I think about, as far as using cloth napkins, is that in reality, it takes far less water to wash napkins than you think. They are "extras", that I toss in with other loads. They take up so little room that they really don't use any extra water to wash. I've never washed an entire load of only cloth napkins. And I use an environmentally friendly detergent - soap nuts - which doesn't adversely affect the water supply.
    But that's just one area. :)
    It is interesting in the ethanol vs. gas debate that ethanol has a larger impact on the environment than oil does because for example, ethanol must be trucked in while gas can be transported through a pipeline. In our area of the country, ethanol has been a huge money-maker, but it's not turning out to be the dream that everyone thought it was. Sometimes we jump on bandwagons of ideas before they're fully tested and proven.


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