Monday, February 16, 2009

Paper, Plastic, or CFL?

This is an interesting article by Eric Bloom posted in Environmental Lovins blog. He indicates that changing your light bulbs to CFL is more effective in contributing to the enviroment compared to avoiding to use plastic bags. Here's the story.

For concerned environmentalists like us, bags are always on our mind. Checking out at the supermarket often poses the eternal dilemma: Paper or plastic?

The debate surrounding this issue pits the durability and lower material demands of plastic against the renewability of paper sources. Many of us have come up with alternatives such as reusable canvas tote bags or bringing our own plastic.

When we feel we've made the best decision, we rest easy, knowing our actions are in some way improving the condition of our global ecosystem. And they certainly do.

But does that "eco-guilt" we so often feel motivate us to the best possible solutions for the environment -- and for us?

You might be surprised by the answer.

According to the Allen Consulting Group, the use of a reusable bag (like canvas tote bags) creates just 4.4 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every year, while single-use plastic bags average 13 pounds, and paper bags ring in at 66 pounds.

As well as restricting trash volume, saving a few pounds of carbon by switching to reusable bags certainly counts. But should it be the focus of our stress when the buildings we live and work in emit carbon dioxide on the scale of tons every year?

The average American's transport, housing, food, goods, and services emit a total of 42 tons of carbon dioxide a year. What this starts to tell us is that we might be sweating the small stuff, and we ought to give some serious thought to our overall carbon emissions profile.

So, while the canvas tote bags do make a difference, there's a lot more we have in our power (literally) to reduce our carbon emissions, which one might say is a good way of measuring eco-guilt.

For example, replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL can reduce our energy demand, leading to carbon dioxide reductions of about 70 pounds per year -- that amounts to a little more than one person switching from paper to reusable.

If you have even 10 lightbulbs in your own house, the carbon dioxide savings would reduce emissions as much as 11 people switching from paper to reusable bags.

It's great you can save 5 cents for every paper bag you don't use at Whole Foods (assuming you avoid the use of 6 bags a week, that's a savings of about $15), but if we were to switch just 10 incandescent bulbs to CFLs, we could pocket $65 a year in saved electricity costs.

That's money in the bag -- in fact, you'd have to save over four years' worth of paper bags at Whole Foods to realize savings like that.

So the take-home point is this: The paper-or-plastic dilemma is an important one, but we should remember to take that same concern and transform it into actions that bring about the biggest carbon dioxide reductions.

If you're willing to sweat the small stuff, then don't forget to sweat the big stuff as well. Our homes are a really good place to start.

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