Busting the (Green) Myth
Every time that I am at a departmental store, I find myself vacillate between the two choices that I have to make. Should I settle for an organically grown or a conventionally grown produce?
But shouldn’t I be able to answer a question like this easily, especially since consumers have access to a plethora of information. What makes this a difficult choice is the lack of complete information that we now carry. Going green has become more of a trend than a solution.
It just isn’t east, at least if your definition of going green is by buying green stuff. Products marketed as being earth-friendly are not often so. The compostable fiber bowls one gets at ‘Chipotle’ leach toxic chemicals into the ground and groundwater. Using those shared, dockless scooters produces more emissions than traveling by bus, electric bicycle, regular old bicycle, or moped, or on foot. Reusable grocery bags need to be employed dozens or even thousands of times before they are truly a greener alternative to flimsy plastic. Replacing certain forms of consumption with other, marginally better forms of consumption is not going to save the planet.
Going green gives a competitive advantage to the businesses trying to increase their sales. In reality there is no such thing as a “green” product. I’m afraid you read that correctly. The corporate sustainability gospel—that green companies sell green products, and green products have some absolute and well-defined environmental attributes—evaporates on closer inspection.
Let’s first take a closer look at the current thinking about green products. Most managers realize that virtually all products and services have environmental impacts, just as they have economic costs. In other words, practically all products and services require the extraction of natural resources and cause the release of wastes and emissions, and both these activities are almost certain to affect the natural environment adversely. The environmental benefits of green products are not that they somehow fix the environment or have zero impact, but rather that their environmental impacts are less than those of similar products.
Products can have an impact on the environment during one or more stages of their life cycles, which are production, use, and end of life. A natural step is therefore to tally up the environmental impacts of similar products throughout their life cycles and compare the results. And the product need not always be a green product.
In the case of plastic straws, those problems include overflowing landfills, dead marine life, and a garbage-clogged ocean. Plastic straws are a luxury, not a need. Still, we use an astronomical number of them a year. Their life span is short: Get extracted from a paper sheath, swim around in Diet Pepsi for three minutes, an die. And their afterlife is long. Plastic gets entombed in landfills. In the oceans, it suffocates and strangles birds and fish and orcas and turtles, and breaks down into microplastics, pervading the food chain. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s waterways each and every year. In our lifetimes, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
Replace plastic straws with paper straws; solve some proportion of the problem, right? Yes, if only a tiny share. Straws make up just 0.025 percent of the plastic that finds its way into the ocean each year; the United States, the biggest per capita producer of garbage on Earth, is not even close to the biggest producer of mismanaged plastic waste. On the one hand, straw bans will lead to thousands and thousands of fewer straws in the ocean; on the other hand, straw bans will not change the underlying environmental calculus at all.
We may believe that recycling can help in most cases. However, Overzealous recyclers, in their desire to avoid waste, too often toss everything from banana peels to wooden picture frames to broken cellphones into blue bins, ignoring the posted rules
Today, about a quarter of everything consumers place in recycling bins ultimately can’t be recycled by the programs that collect them. This includes such items as food waste, rubber hoses, wire, low-grade plastics, and many other items that overly hopeful residents toss in. Such materials waste hauling space and fuel, jam up machinery, contaminate valuable materials, and pose hazards to workers.
The best way to help the environment is to ‘Reduce’. Reduce your needs, reduce your superfluous expenditure and reduce your pressures on the environment. Practice ‘Minimalism’.