The Environment

Today many talk shows highlight the host of things being done today in an effort to save our planet using the garbage swirl the size of Texas now present in our ocean as a reason to urge people to stop the use of plastic. They go on to showcase the plight of animals that get caught in plastic rings from cans or other packaging along with the animals that mistake it for food; one show presented a fish that was filled with plastic pieces it had ingested as food, a fish slated to be on our plates. These environmentally conscience programs and news segments often demonstrate how much garbage the average family throws away; an Oprah earth day special looked at what exactly goes into our landfills including books, mattresses, a piano, old toys, electronics and of course the now villanized plastic. No matter what the show, solutions are also presented in abundance like one area in California that was the first to ban plastic bag usage in supermarkets as well as mentioning countries like China and Bangladesh who banned the use of plastic bags entirely.

Now the environmental champions try to tie in green alternatives with the economy and saving money. In response to the increased concern have created a new recycling program; in which everyone is given a special recycling container, the things you put in earn you points that can be redeemed on-line for products. The more you recycle, the more points you earn. We have all been acquainted with the popular canvas bags for groceries; other green and economically sound ideas often given include compact florescent or LED lights to replace the incandescent, smart power strips that when you turn off the primary electronic device it turns off other things plugged in like lamps, reusable mugs for coffee, reusable straws, reusable lunch carriers and snack totes, rather than plastic or paper lunch bags, weather stripping along with energy star appliances usually round out the green alternatives and all of this is done in an effort to make the public aware of their habits and change the way we all do things to preserve the world for future generations.

While this all sounds well and good there are drawbacks and real flaws to the latest push to save our planet; banning plastic, or charging for the purchase of the bags, as was done in Ireland may sound great for the planet but is bad for people and not just on a convenience level. The canvas bags used as a replacement first of all cost money, more than the 33 cents charged in Ireland for use of plastic, they cost anywhere from $1 to $2. By forcing people to buy the bags they are making things harder on the poorest of Americans; not only that, but the canvas bag when packed with frozen food gets wet which can lead to mold and thus can cause allergy problems. Once mold is present the bag is no longer safe for food and must be replaced; this also becomes the case if raw meat products, such chicken or beef, packaging leaks the juices into the bag. Even if a person attempts to clean the canvas bag, they run the risk of spreading things like Ecoli and salmonella. Even if it’s not those bacteria specifically, people take the chance of making them or their family sick reusing such bags. In addition, contrary to popular belief, many people have their own way of recycling, or at least reusing, those pesky plastic bags; they often become liners for trashcans, impromptu lunch bags, backpacks, suitcases.

What we really need to avoid plastic bags ending up in oceans and being mistaken for food by animals is better recycling programs. Despite the new program where points and products can be earned on-line, it still means the consumer must sort recyclable goods; then, if you put the wrong thing in the wrong bag or container the recycle truck or delivery site won’t take them. A better way to do it would be to charge people a little more on their trash bill and then the city sorting all the trash and recycling those things that can be, as has been the practice in one California area for years. This can serve a duel purpose, especially in these troubled times; it takes the burden off of already busy people while simultaneously having the potential of creating jobs.

The reason we have so much junk in our landfills, including computer parts and other things that need proper disposal, is because people have no idea where to take their paint cans, computer parts and motor oils; they also have no idea where to take their good will items, hints the toys and mattresses clogging landfills and not helping the needy. We need to have city centers that take the hazardous items, preferably one center that takes all hazardous materials not meant to be put in trashcans, so the ordinary citizen isn’t overly confused by a barrage of phone numbers and does not increase their carbon footprint driving them to various sites in their area. If public works departments can’t do that, they can add to the usual flyer found in city trash bag packages reminding people not to put sharp objects or glass in their trash, the numbers for hazardous material sites as well as good will sites for unwanted items thereby reducing what is found in landfills.

Other green ideas simply seemed designed to make us spend more money. No one cares if the compact florescent bulbs last ten years when they can’t afford the $4-10 a bulb or the whopping $4O for an LED light, considering you can get a 4 pack of traditional bulbs for $2-3. And there is now a government mandate that by 2010 retailers only sell the compact florescent bulbs forcing changes rather than giving choices. Not only that but these lights have mercury derivatives that must be properly disposed of; which means when the average person, unaware of the danger or at a loss for what else to do with it, puts it in their trash it will end up in a landfill potentially leaching mercury into the soil and water tables. It is a similar case with reusable straws and snack totes; one could easily start with the fact that creation of steal used in said straws adds to the pollution or that the plastic ones associated with sports bottles is nearly impossible to clean. But they are also more expensive up front than plastic or paper and the snack totes have a shorter user span than people might think, when the smells from all the different kinds of chips, party mixes and family snack choices converge into this stale stench no one wants to be near and there’s no easy way to remove it.

Some parts of the environment movement leave members of the public wondering did they think this through; for example, with the smart power strip, sometimes people don’t want to turn off everything in the room they are just done watching TV or no longer need the lamp. Suggestions that people use reusable mugs for coffee as opposed to the paper and plastic ones dispensed in coffee shops sounds good, yet to keep the drink hot or cold it requires an insolated container, something not always dishwasher safe and that no one has time to hand wash. Likewise with the plastic sandwich containers, if you are a large family, your dishwasher may not have room, at the same time, if you are a single person you may not run your dishwasher enough to keep a clean one without time consuming had washing. The pattern repeats itself with the tip to have your name removed from catalogs and magazines that inevitably end up in land fills; however, no one is going to spend anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes on the phone with customer service, when it is easier to throw it away. Again the better thing would be to make sure magazines and catalogs along with paper and plastic drink containers are both recycled and made from recycled goods.

One woman was able to drastically reduce her electric bill when she began unplugging everything not in use, but this too has unseen consequences. Repeated plugging and unplugging items can lead to frayed cords or damaged prongs on those cords, causing costly repairs or replacements on items like washers, dryers, microwaves. Damage to outlets can also be caused by repetitively taking appliances in and out of them; that can cause fire or other costly repair. In addition most TV’s VCR’s DVR and Tivo electronics lose program setting like channels, date and time if unplugged for extended periods; recoding devises also fall victim to this and cannot record anything if unplugged. People are not interested in having to rescan their TV every time they watch it or constantly set up their Tivo before recording. Most of the clocks used today are digital and require either a battery or AC power source; unplug it using only the latter and the time is lost, as well as the alarm getting people up in the morning for work or the kids to school.

Perhaps the saddest thing is watching the public dig into their wallets thinking they are indeed saving the planet making it better for their children; in actuality much of what is described here is either hype, programs that look like they were created by amateurs in a blind panic to save the world more than anything close to ingenuity, innovation. Or they are initiatives created to solve one problem that end up creating a dozen more. People may reduce the amount of paper and plastic they use but in turn use more water washing all of those new lunch holders and coffee containers by hand or with a dishwasher.

News shows and environmentalists try to shock us all into changing out habits by showing us the number of disposable diapers a family will go through in a lifetime, pushing the cloth ones instead of trying for a biodegradable diaper or insuring they are made from recycled materials. Furthermore people increase their carbon footprint depositing all the appropriate hazardous material to the correct place, dropping items off at goodwill. California has passed legislation that in the next 3 years those big screen TV’s we have all come to love must drop their energy output significantly making 25% of some current brands illegal, all to curb an the estimated 10% of energy bills they reportedly occupy rather than focusing on the other 90% spent heating and cooling homes and apartments across the nation. Do we need environmentally sound policies, yes; do we need things that preserve both the health of citizens as well as the planet, yes, but none of these things are the way to do it.

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