Recycling resolves guilt?

“According to an Environmental Protection Agency report released Monday, nationwide recycling efforts eliminated more than 50 million tons of guilt in 1996.” 

That type of statement could only come from The Onion, a popular news satire site. Rather irreverent, often politically incorrect and downright crass at times (consider yourself forewarned); but some of their articles get me thinking a little more about whatever topic they are lampooning as they tend to cut right through to the bone of aspects of human behavior and attitudes. I have to admit some of them also appeal to my rather dark sense of humor too!

This article from the site pokes fun at a pretty serious issue – recycling and buying green products, but highlights something we all need to bear in mind in our efforts to “go green” – it’s not just what we consume, but how much.

I was just reading another article, this time on CNN, that states “the world now digs up the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings in materials every day with the typical American consuming an average of 88 kilograms (144 pounds) of goods every day”. I’ve also published some interesting consumption statistics here.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying green, thinking we’ve done a good thing when perhaps we didn’t need to buy whatever the product was.

An example of “green” hyperconsumption I’ve mentioned in my article “Green Rebound Effect” is paper towel. I buy paper towel made from recycled paper, but I (still) use way too much of it. It’s a hangover from my obsessive cleaning days when I was the proud owner of a cleaning cupboard containing a wide range of chemicals that would have rivalled most toxic waste dumps.

However, even if I cut back, it wouldn’t matter how environmentally friendly my paper towel was – the person who uses none is still light years ahead of me. In many situations, there are alternatives.

The Onion’s article also touches on the point of greenwashing, before the term was even invented; regarding tricking consumers into buying stuff that seems to be environmentally friendly, but really isn’t. 

The article is quite old, dating back to 1997 and well before going green was trendy – in some ways it has been quite prophetic. 

While there’s so many more products and services on the market now touting their environmental credentials and choice is a wonderful thing; it’s also more confusing for the average consumer to discern what is really green and what isn’t. 

Look beyond the label. Look beyond the marketing. Ask yourself. Do I really need this?

OK, I’m about to strike paper towel off my shopping list for next week.. the shakes and sweats are already beginning to set in. I’ll just close my eyes as I roll my trolley down that part of the supermarket aisle and hope I don’t hit anyone :).