Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 1, 2011. You can read it in its original version from May 30, 2009 here.
Just like the game of Telephone has taught us, information filtered through multiple sources starts to get a little less reliable. The same concept can be applied to environmentalism. In celebration of April Fools Day, we thought we would shed some light on common eco-myths.
1. Just throw it out, it’s biodegradable!
“I can just throw this ‘biodegradable’ bottle out, because it will break down.” That would be true if we kept our landfills open to the elements such as light, air and water.
This, however, is not the case. Throwing a biodegradable bottle into a landfill means it’s not going to break down (at least in a time frame that counts). Landfills are meant to keep the elements out, and it is precisely these elements that need to be present in order for a material to successfully biodegrade.
Biodegradable packaging is great, but the most important factor is disposal. Composting is the best option, but bioplastics may need a more advanced system than your at-home compost. Try your city’s composting program or check out local stores or garden centers that utilize composting.
2. All paper should be recycled
Though we would be the first to promote recycling as a fantastic option, it isn’t always the right thing to do. You can actually do some damage if you just throw everything into your recycling bin. Enter the pizza box. Though there are some obvious recycling bin no-nos, paper is usually a perfect participant in the recycling game.
Unlike plastic or glass, where the recycling process includes heat, paper is broken down using water. And as the old adage clearly states, water and oil don’t mix. That’s right, throwing a used paper plate, napkin or stained pizza box in with the rest of the paper for recycling can actually do more harm than good. In fact, we’re talking about 700 million dollars in contamination each year.
3. Organic food is always better for the planet
An organic banana from Chile that had to travel more than 5,000 miles to reach your table in Los Angeles, is not overall better than a conventional banana that was grown at a farm five miles from your home. It just doesn’t add up. Buying locally has a huge impact on a product’s overall footprint.
If local options are abundant and you have to make a decision between the two, make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each.
For more delicate skins, the levels of pesticides that can be absorbed is much greater. In fact, according to studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group, 97.3 percent of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides. The below list can help be used as a shopping guide:
When you should buy organic
When you can pass on organic
4. But the label said Eco!
According to the Natural Products Association, which represents more than 10,000 natural product companies and retailers, Americans spent $7.5 billion in 2006 on personal care products that claimed to be all-natural but often were not.
Thankfully there are some major regulations in place for some products. Organic, for example, is a statement that is regulated by state and federal agencies.
5. Adjusting my thermostat wastes energy
Many people come from the school of thought that maintaining a temperature uses less energy than dropping the thermostat while gone and adjusting when you return. It isn’t that crazy of a notion. In fact, we can recall some similar theories around florescent lights and computers.
According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, it is better to turn down the thermostat while not in the the house. In fact, “If you are out for a good stretch of time (say 8 hours or so), this temperature ‘set-back’ will save more energy than it will take to bring your home back to the desired temperature.” There, it’s settled!
6. I have to spend a lot of money to go green
If you have ever checked out the price of a hybrid, or taken a stroll through a natural market, you know that green can add some extra numbers to most price tags. But don’t let those higher priced items dictate your level of commitment because this isn’t the only way to go green.
7. I’ll just plant a tree – that’ll fix it!
The issue at hand is not so much about the what (planting) but the where (benefit). According to writer Maria Colenso, “Recent scientific studies show those benefits depend on where those trees are planted. Plant in the wrong part of the world and you may be wasting time and money.”
Don’t give up on the planting, just make sure you have a plan. If you are planning to donate to a company or support a cause, do a little research to make sure they are putting their resources to the best use. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Forests that are located in the tropical belt that surrounds the equator have a large benefit on the planet.
- These forests absorb CO2 (a process called carbon sequestering) which helps lower temperatures.
- Forests located outside of the this belt could have little or no impact on climate change.
- In fact, the farther away from the equator forests are, the more harm they can do.
- Known as the albedo effect, forests outside this belt are more likely to trap in heat, in turn, raising temperatures.
8. If I can’t do it all, I might as well do nothing
The overwhelming number of factors involved with the act of changing can leave even the most steadfast individual discouraged and on the verge of giving up. It is usually around this time that a little voice pops in with the final blow, “What difference does it make anyway?”
Though you may not see the results of your actions in one day, over time, all those actions add up. Take for example our curbside recycling rate.
In 1960, U.S. curbside recycling processed 5.6 million tons of waste. In 2006, we recycled 81.8 million tons, an increase of more than 1,300 percent! Though not everyone who recycled an item between the 60s and today knew about it, they were part of a huge movement that helped change the way we approach waste disposal. What movement are you a part of?