August 5, 2014

Blog Post #4500

I consider myself an environmentalist. But I've been around a long time and I'm a skeptical person, so I tend to question things. And it seems to me that a lot of common advice on what an individual can do to save the environment is inadequate and sometimes foolish.

First of all, most of these things won't make a dent in the problem. We're fiddling while Rome burns, congratulating ourselves and feeling superior while not really accomplishing much. So here are some things I wonder about.
  1. Driving to the recycling center. We don't have curbside recycling where I live. Most rural areas don't. Our garbage is picked up weekly but we have to take our recycling to big dumpsters at the transfer station.  Sometimes we can do this when we happen to be driving that direction so we only drive a few hundred extra yards, but other times the stuff piles up so we drive far out of our way to go there. If I drive three miles (or six!) out of the way to recycle a trunk full of plastic and cardboard, am I wasting more in resources than I'm saving? 
  2. Reusable shopping bags.  I own a bunch of these, mostly the kind that I can throw in the washer so they don't become hotbeds of bacteria. But when I don't get plastic bags, I have to buy plastic bags! I especially need them for cleaning up after the dogs and occasionally for other dirty tasks. They aren't cheap either! So then I'm paying about ten cents a piece for something I could get for free, plus I pay for the cloth bags, pay for the extra fuel to carry them around, and pay for the detergent and hot water to wash them! My compromise has been to use the reusable bags just part of the time.
  3. Filtered water instead of bottled water.  Our well water contains iron and sulfur so it isn't pleasant to drink. Sometimes it stinks! So we have a whole-house filter plus water softener AND a fancy filter pitcher. This last item uses a ZeroWater filter, the only kind recommended by EWG for removing sulfur. It makes the water drinkable but each filter only lasts 6 days to two weeks (depending on what's coming into the well at the time). The filters cause $15 (US) so I can actually drink bottled water for less money! (I can get a 6-pack of spring water for a dollar, for instance.)  So I wind up using filtered water at home and bottled water on the road much of the time. "Experts" want me to feel guilty about drinking bottled water but those filters contain plastic too, and since they weigh 3 pounds when wet, I don't ship them back for recycling. However, I do recycle plastic bottles almost religiously.  (By the way, activated carbon filters can become little bacteria farms so if you have one, be sure to change it at least as  often as recommended by the manufacturer.)
  4. The setting on the water heater.  Our electric co-op says to set the temperature on the water heater at 120° F to save electricity. But other experts say the temperature of water in your washing machine needs to be 140° F or more to kill dust mites and other nasties on sheets and towels. And water heaters and shower heads can accumulate hazardous bacteria if water isn't hot enough!  A Science News article gives examples of why the cooler temperatures are not healthy. Since we set our water heater a little high to try to control the sulfur smell anyway, I imagine it's hot enough to kill most microbes, but it's costing us in electricity.
I could go on about the hazards of CFL bulbs and so on but a rant can get annoying so I'll spare you. What do you do to try to save energy and do you feel it's effective?


  1. Thought-provoking post. I take some reusable cloth bags to the grocery store, but also use some of their free ones too which I use, like you said, for other tasks.

  2. I tend to use the cloth reusable bags for the store- they're sturdier than plastic bags anyway, and I tend to shop every day, so I don't pick up much at any time. And being in the city, our recycling gets picked up right at the door.

  3. We tried the CFL bulbs excited to save money... but in our experience they last no longer than a regular incandescent bulb, plus the light isn't as good. The "lasts 5 years" thing seems to be untrue.

  4. Yes, and CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin. If you break one, you have to clean it up carefully according to EPA guidelines to avoid mercury poisoning. Plus when you burn one out, do not put it in the trash! Take it to a place that recycles them.

  5. Right, I bring them to the transfer station...


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