When I was in second grade, we saw a film strip (am I dating myself?) about forest fires, ecology, and the like. I spent the rest of the week wandering my neighborhood with a bag in hand, collecting litter. It’s a no-brainer not to dump your personal trash in public areas.
Cloth Diapers? No!
When our first child was born, I didn’t want to have trees cut down to end up filling the landfills with diapers. So I scheduled a diaper service. Then I began to wonder if a diaper in a landfill was really worse than:
- Resources used to make cloth diapers
- Resourced used to make plastic pant or diaper covers
- Vehicle (and associated fossil fuels) used to deliver and pick up diapers
- Water, detergent, energy used to wash diapers
- Extra water, detergent, energy used to wash clothes due to cloth diaper failure
Ultimately, the uncertainty or real benefit — coupled with the inconvenience and smell — meant that we tried the service again with our second baby, but then opted out of the cloth diaper business and moved to disposables for the rest of the children.
Fluorescent Bulbs? Yes!
While I think legislating the type of bulbs used is a terrible government intrusion, we have opted for near 100% fluorescent bulbs in our new home. While I prefer the look of the most incandescent bulbs, we’ve decided to give up the warm glow for the cost savings.
Once again, I’m not really sure of the savings. The bulbs are supposed to last a long time and use very little electricity, but in our experience for the past eight years, they seem to burn out just as quickly as the “old-fashioned” bulbs. We’re on it, but the jury is still out on effectiveness.
How Do You Conserve?
Recently there was a big summit for eco-solutions somewhere in the US. The conference rooms were filled with tree-hugging, sandal wearing college students who looked like throwbacks from Woodstock. They were preaching the eco-gospel and calling for mighty change. And most of them drove to the event, alone, in their gas-powered cars.
What a disconnect!
In my ripe old age, I’ve come to take the loudest eco-warnings with a huge grain of salt. No matter what I do, transporting my six children in my enormous SUV for the rest of my life, Al Gore and his jet-setting, multi-mansion lifestyle will always eclipse my carbon footprint. He talks the talk, but as far as behavior goes, many proponents of “green solutions” are far worse at walking the eco-walk than my family of eco-unbelievers.
If Gore really believed that the world was going to collapse on itself if we used to much fossil fuel, wouldn’t he start spreading the word via teleconference instead of private jet?
I was raised by frugal parents. We lived by the rarely explicitly spoken motto:
Use it up,
Wear it out.
Make it do,
Or do without.
We didn’t sit around chatting about saving the delicate balance of the universe, but we did do common sense things that saved money and other resources. And that’s still how we generally look at such environmental concerns. Cost-benefit analysis.
In that vein of “what really works,” there are a handful of so-called eco-friendly products that actually make sense to me. Here are a few of them.
- Home insulation — put some padding in your attic or caulking around your windows. Use less gas/electricity to heat/cool your home. Easy and very effective.
- Walking and biking — not only is it good for your heart, but also for your pocketbook and the environment. When possible, using your own power to get yourself around is an obvious environmental preference to blowing fumes into the air. If you walk or run for exercise, consider whether you can get some of your usual driving errands done on foot!
- Batch driving — when we do have to drive, we try to get as much done for the mileage as possible. In a few minutes, for example, I’ll be taking my daughter to her rehearsal. While there, I will pick up tickets for a show, drop by my dad’s house to pick up some equipment, take a couple of packages to the post office, and pick up the groceries. One trip, many errands completed.
- Solar lighting — when the results are adequate, using lights that are powered by the sun require almost no production resources at all. We have used solar outdoor lighting for landscaping and night lighting with success.
- Reusable shopping bags — we bought our first cloth bags in the late ’80s and they are still going strong. Since we rarely have to wash them, it’s a safe bet that they’ve saved a ton of resources that would have been used for disposable plastic shopping bags.
- Recycling — given the actual resources used to recycle, I’m not entirely sure that the efforts to make milk jugs into park benches is really a net gain for the environment. Given, however, that in my area recycling is relatively painless, we are happy to sort our garbage into the two types: paper/plastic/metal and other.
Please add your own ideas for sensible ecologically sound products or activities.