The Common Good

Recycling Rumors

Nowadays if you slap the word "green" across any event, industry, or article of clothing it is rumored this will boost sales and recognition. As a nation always in hot pursuit of the latest trend, we've managed to make ourselves feel good by recycling, repurposing a few items, and maybe buying a hemp handbag or backpack. Sales of many "green" products are up in spite of a down economy. The average American plans to increase spending on "earth-friendly" items and food products this year.

So we haul our recycling to the curb, slap a few free-range chicken breasts on the grill, and sit back feeling rather ecologically accomplished.

And of course, most of us are aware of the looming ecological crisis that hovers over us like the black cloud that followed Gargamel on the Smurfs. It's ever present but we sort of forget about it off until it starts to rain down on us. Most of the time we are happy to wallow in our do-gooder intentions.

I've spent a lot of time agonizing lately over where this green trend ends and actual progress begins. Where do the trendy fetishes of green consumers ends and planet-preserving advances actually begin?

My husband and I were sitting in the kitchen last week and as we were chatting with one another he looked over at the mounting pile of alkaline batteries on our counter. "What are you going to do with those?" He politely asked. I offered my typical response "oh, you know, recycle them next time I am out."

To which he replied "you know battery recycling is a complete joke don't you?"

Normally, I would bristle at a statement like this. But lately I have been musing over thoughts like these. There are places all over town that collect batteries. This past August I was involved in an event that collected hundreds of pounds of household batteries to be recycled. And yes, there are places that do take them and ship them off to facilities that pull chemicals out and reuse some of the metals and make it all nice and pretty.

But what I found was also astonishing. And I won't unpack it all here, you can see the tip of the debate here

Batteries: Toss out or recycle?

Is Recycling Worth It?

Basically, our good intentions often end up unintentionally thwarted.

Take for example batteries that, when polled, many drop off sites confess to simply tossing in the trash (same with those plastic bags at the grocery store). Or take for example that should you try to do your recycling duty and rinse every last drop of yogurt out of that plastic container, that you are actually wasting more water to wash it than recycling it is worth.

Then there is the simple fact that if you buy a new green gadget, even if it claims to be earth-friendly, you still had to buy something NEW. Which means packaging, shipping, marketing, energy. If you just used the dish, lunch bag, or laptop carrying case you already had, no extra waste would have been generated.

Now I know this all seems a little dismal from a gal who blogs under the moniker "Green Mama," but one of the greenest things we can do is to be sensible, thoughtful, and practical about everything we do.

Whipping batteries into recycling bins and hoping for the best as we dash off to buy another alkaline powered gadget is not the greenest move. Skipping the purchase, shying away from battery operated toys, or using rechargable batteries is the best move. Finding a good use for what we already have rather than racing out for a green product is truly greener than anything else we might do.

Making wise moves to stop the buying and selling, shipping and fueling of goods is where we need to make changes. I will not need to placate myself with the number of yogurt containers I recycled if I can do the bigger things that matter, like limiting my consumption, advocating for lower emissions in my community, neighborhood, church, house.

And yes, all the little things add up big. And yes, we should still recycle those containers and batteries when it makes sense (after researching drop-off sites that actually get them to the right place), but this whole green thing needs to start becoming more about the bigger global issues than the trendy t-shirts.

It needs to look at actually changing our trajectory than our handbags.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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