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Here on Conveniently Green we talk a lot about reusable products that require washing. It often comes up in conversations about things like cloth napkins, cloth diapers, etc. that while these seem like environment-savers on the surface, there’s the additional concern of the impact of energy and water consumption and whether or not that balances out the benefit of non-disposables.
Here’s my take on the issue.
When it comes to environmental choices, resources are not interchangeable. You can build a wind turbine to generate pollution-free electricity, but you can’t build a wind turbine and get clean drinking water from it. A wind turbine is not going to magically grow into a tree or somehow create new landfill space.
Landfills worry me. We bury our trash in the ground, and much of it can take hundreds of years to decompose, if it does at all. So while we’re waiting for that, we dig a new big hole and put more trash in there, and then another, and another. We may reclaim that land and build a golf course on top of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is plastic under there that is probably going to still be there in 500 years.
Eventually, we’re going to run out of places to dig. What are we going to do with our trash then? Stick it in the bottom of the ocean? Shoot it into space? There aren’t really a lot of good options when it comes to trash disposal. And don’t get me wrong–there’s no judgment here at Gen X Moms. I throw away my fair share of trash every day. Remember our Conveniently Green motto: “Just a Little Bit Less.” You don’t have to reduce your trash to one tiny bag a month and feel guilty about everything else.
But we do need to consider our environmental impact in the short term and the long term. Take cloth diapers.
It’s true that they do take water and energy to clean, and in places like Southern California where the water table is low, it may not be the “greener” thing to do. But that’s just right now. Because the thing is, we can make more energy (the green way), and we can clean more water (not easily, but we’re getting there), but we can’t create more landfill space or force our disposable diapers to melt away to nothing in twenty years. So while it may be more environmentally advantageous now to conserve the water and energy and use disposables as some people think it is, what about later when they don’t have any more land area to dig up for a landfill? Are they going to look back and say, “I’m so glad Great-Great-Great-Great Granny decided to conserve water and energy in 2010 by burying all of these diapers in the ground that are still here!”
That doesn’t mean that we should be rampant energy and water wasters, of course. Our Conveniently Green motto means a little bit less of everything. A little less trash, a little less water, a little less paper, a little less energy. We all know we should reduce, but if we make choices that do create a bigger impact in some areas, like cloth diapers do to water and energy, then we need to take special care to use a little less water and energy in other areas. It’s all about balance.
Conveniently Green: Just a Little Bit Less!