The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 5, 2002


Don't worry ­ be happy

The most important environmental decisions for a consumer involve major purchases (house, car, appliances). A good rule of thumb is that heavier products have more environmental impact than lighter ones. As a result, consumers do not need to feel guilty about minor everyday decisions. Examples of things NOT to worry about are:

Cloth vs. disposable diapers. Cloth diapers save on landfill waste, but disposable diapers have been getting thinner and lighter, lessening their impact. Disposable diapers save water since they need no washing, but washing machines are becoming more energy efficient, lessening the impact of cloth diapers. The overall difference is minimal.

Paper vs. plastic bags. Paper bags are made from renewable resources (wood), but plastic bags are lighter and take up less space in landfills. Manufacturing plastic bags actually requires less energy and produces less air pollution and waste than manufacturing paper. However, paper bags are more often reused ­ they fit inside kitchen trash containers, and they can be reused at the market. Best of all is to re-use cloth grocery bags.

Disposable cups, paper plates, plastic utensils, paper napkins. These lightweight items take little energy to make and take up little space in landfills. Styrofoam cups no longer damage the ozone layer. Disposable dishes can be harmful in large quantities, but washing dishes in a dishwasher also uses resources water, and energy to heat the water.

Spray cans. Since the late 1970s, these products, as mandated by the Clean Air Act, no longer contain ozone depleting propellants.

Cotton vs. synthetic clothes. Cotton is not really better for the environment because cotton farming uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and cotton dyeing and processing uses more harmful chemicals. Polyester and other synthetics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Even wool clothing has the disadvantage that it usually requires dry cleaning, a process that uses toxic chemicals. The bottom line is that all materials have about the same ecological impact (except for polar fleece, which is made from recycled plastic bottles.)

Crumpled up newspaper vs. polystyrene (Styrofoam) packing peanuts. Paper is made from natural materials, but foam peanuts are lighter and so easier to transport. A good alternative is the new biodegradable peanuts that are water soluble. But don't worry about this unless you own Federal Express.

For more information, see The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists, by M. Brower and W. Leon, 1999.

Winter and Spring

Good-bye Winter snow

and skiing and sledding

Hello Spring

Hello Spring flowers and robins

and Spring peepers

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito