Ball of Ecoconfusion

July 2, 2009

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Toilet paper
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I found myself wondering yesterday, as I folded what seemed like 680 cloth napkins in the clean laundry pile, whether our switch from paper napkins to cloth was actually the environmentally friendly act that we meant it to be.

Sure, we are throwing away less paper, but we are also using more water and detergent to clean the cloth ones on a regular basis – and that is with me sometimes re-folding them and sneaking them back onto the pile after dinners that I deem  “pretty clean.”  (Don’t worry, I always make sure guests have a newly laundered one.)

I realize that I can get a little over-thinky about stuff like this so I was urging myself to “Let it go,” (I actually spend a good portion of my life urging myself to “Let it go”) until I realized that it is one of many questions that I have contemplated recently, on the topic of supposedly environmentally friendly practices. My conclusion?

I am eco-confused.

On a positive note, I can say without hesitation that I care, which puts me near the front of the pack. Here are some of the good things I can say, confidently, that I do to be eco-friendly:

  1. I recycle, a lot.
  2. I buy a lot of food locally when possible (as in, the three months of the year when it is nice in New England. Yes, you are sensing bitterness.).
  3. I have a garden (I can’t really take credit for any of the garden, but I do eat from it).
  4. I bought re-usable shopping bags and I use them whenever I remember to bring them in from the damn car (I’m working on this and I have asked Caralena to remind me, which is probably the best thing I can do to make it happen.).
  5. I host and attend clothing swaps with friends.
  6. I drive a reasonable car (2005 Subaru).
  7. I send Caralena’s lunch to school packed in re-usable containers – no Zip-locks except when really necessary, and when I do use them I even rinse out a few for re-usage.
  8. I keep my heat under control in the winter months (cue David’s rant about how we sometimes wear hats inside the house) – and that’s using my current definition of winter, which is November through May, so that is a long time!

Having said that, there’s also a lot that I could do better. Remember when Sheryl Crow told everyone that they should use, like, two squares of toilet paper per sitting? Without getting too personal, let that be first on my list:

  1. I, along with my little family, go through a decent amount of tp around here, and my thoughts are that you should use the amount you need to get the job done.
  2. I sometimes leave lights on in rooms that are empty.
  3. I buy some (not a ton, but some) of the individually packaged snack items for lunch boxes.
  4. I wait until the shower is hot before getting in (I do feel guilty watching the cold water run down the drain. Do I get points for feeling guilty?).
  5. I do not unplug appliances when they are not in use.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m starting to look bad, which seems ridiculous since this is my blog.

So, back to my question about the cloth napkins. Perhaps you’re thinking that the cloth vs. paper napkin issue is so small that it doesn’t warrant a whole blog post in the first place, and maybe you’re right. But, on the other hand, until people start caring about little choices like this we’re going to be stuck on the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg when it comes to this whole movement.

One last question: Is the extra freezer that we bought for the basement, which we use to store meat for grilling and lots of Trader Joe’s frozen items, worth the electricity? Our thinking was that it would save money on gas, and time, for all those frequent trips to TJs, but now eco-confused me is wondering whether a large and constant electricity sucker is doing more harm than good.

I’m pretty sure what Sheryl Crow would say. Then again, I don’t really care what Sheryl Crow would say.

Here’s what I have say: I’m thinking yes to the cloth napkins, but the freezer is debatable. But I want it, so can I keep it if I promise to start turning off all the lights in empty rooms? Or am I fooling myself and unless we get solar panels, and hybrid cars and start collecting our rain water, all our changes are worthless?

  • Melissa

    It is a battle isn't it? I know all of the things I should do in my house, and yet I do very few of them. I do go around behind my husband turning off lights (and televisions – is mine the only husband who feels the need to always have the tv (both of them) on when he's not watching or not even home?!) and I do complain about the amount of paper towels and tp that we go through and I do say that we should recycle better. BUT when it comes right down to it, when I got married and had kids, my eco-conscience took a huge hit. There are way too many other things to worry about. Like why I don't care as much about Iran as I should. :)

  • lcarrigg

    My ecoconfusion is made even worse because of the sometimes conflicting information that is available. Like, it seemed that everyone was on board with those new energy-saving light bulbs, but then I heard that they are very difficult to dispose of, mush more so than regular bulbs. (Disclaimer: I have no idea whether this is true or not – it's just an example of my own confusion!) Another example would be when you see clothing made of bamboo or some other natural fiber and it's called “eco-fashion” or something, but then you find out that some of these natural materials are really difficult to dye so they had to use crazy chemicals to make it whatever color it is. So…maybe not so eco-friendly.

    I wish there was some kind of equation to be found that would use some kind of point system to tell you how to prioritize. So, driving a hybrid car would be maybe 50 points, and changing light bulbs around your house would be maybe 1-2 points, and then you could decide how many points you wanted to score, and then see different possible ways to make it happen.


  • Dana

    That's funny because on our four hour post holiday car ride tonight we arrived at the very same question about the extra freezer for stocking up on our unpicked local fruit and yet unpurchased beef from Vermont. The freezer issue actually arose from another fuel burning trip to Oregon when my husband read both of Michael Pollan's new books about food.
    Why is it that when we're burning fuel we have the best eco-versations?
    Thanks for sharing your new blog, Lise!

  • Melissa

    The lightbulbs have mercury in them – that's why they are hard to get rid of – or at least that's what my understanding is! Plus, I'm not really crazy about the light they give off….. I think the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that we live in a capitalist society and everyone is trying to sell you something. They slap that “eco” label on it and charge twice as much!

    BTW – I love your blog (even though I too hate that word)!

  • Melissa
  • Andrea

    You have inspired me to start using cloth instead of paper napkins! As for the extra freezer, my understanding is that it's great (you can buy in bulk which is cheaper for you and uses less wrapping, and as you point out, less trips to and fro) but not to put it somewhere where it needs to work extra hard to do its job. For instance, not in the garage, where it has to toil away in summer to stay cool. I think basement – > you're golden….

  • lcarrigg

    Ah, mercury. Makes sense. Thanks for the info and link. Actually, I noticed that my husband has TiVO's that “Lazy Environmentalist” show so I'll check it out.

  • lcarrigg

    Honestly I do think there should be some kind of regulations on the labeling of supposed “eco-friendly” products. I don't mean a government agency, but more like an independent group who would rate products and help you evaluate which are actually helpful and which are money-wasters. And don't even get me started on the whole “organic” thing.

  • lcarrigg

    Interesting, had not thought of that. The basement here stays really cool – plus, it hasn't been a hot summer anyway. That makes me feel better. Thanks!

  • max191

    I was just going to relax and read this morning then in the meantime I got your blog to read. Really good one.
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