Now that being green, or being seen to be green, is popular, it can be difficult separating facts from fiction, especially when environmental issues are never simple in the first place.
I’ve been thinking about a couple of ‘green’ victories recently, and my trip to the recycling centre this morning touched on both of them. The first is what a fine stand the supermarkets are making for the environment by not giving out carrier bags. Erm, that’s the best they can manage?! I don’t get a simple bag to carry my shopping home in, which I get plenty of use from, but everything in the bag is still completely over packaged, often in materials that can’t be recycled anywhere.
The best kind of recycling is when you can reuse something pretty much as-is in your own home: no transport costs, no energy required to remake anything, and less waste. Plastic bags are great. Among other things, I use them to carry shopping in, use as bin liners, keep extension leads and wires in (stops them getting tangled up), pack clothes in (keeps them dry when bag gets rained on), carry swimming stuff in, and take broken energy saving light bulbs to the recycling centre in…
It just seems odd that the thing you’re putting in the hazardous mercury bin is somehow environmentally friendly. Now I’ve used energy saving light bulbs for well over 10 years, but so far that’s been my choice. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll be getting less choice in the future.
There are pros and cons to traditional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent energy saving bulbs (CFL). Like the mercury content for example; that’s not great and certainly adds to the end of life energy required for more transportation and recycling, but it doesn’t seem as bad as some of the headline grabbing articles like to make out. CFLs are a fair bit more complex as well, so they’ve already used more energy before you’ve every turned it on, but they should more than make up for that during use. The complexity seems to reduce reliability as well; energy saving bulbs are supposed to last much longer but in my experience they always seem to go wrong prematurely, sometimes with quite worrying special effects! Maybe that’s just the freebie ones you get with breakfast cereals though. The first CFL I ever had seemed quite sensible in that the bulb was separate to the electronics. If either stopped working, you didn’t need to replace both. The assumption was that the electronics would last longer than the bulb, which works if you use better components.
It doesn’t seem that easy to come by hard facts related to the energy used for production, but there’s some interesting discussion on the Watt with some useful comparisons. Over all, I do think that energy saving bulbs are better where I choose to use them. On the other hand, it seems crazy to ban incandescent bulbs while at the same time doing nothing to stop the trend to light rooms with loads of small spot lights; each bulb may only be 20W but when they’re all on, my kitchen uses a huge amount of power!
So, can I have my carrier bags back, and please don’t ban the bulb. Ban tumble driers instead.