eight percent of recycled content saves five hundred gallons of water per ton

Eight percent of recycled content saves five hundred

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- eight percent of recycled content saves five hundred gallons of water per ton of glass produced and avoids emissions of twenty pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere.” And yet all those other impacts remain, despite the recycling. This transforms our notions of “green” from what seems a binary judgment green or not into a far more sophisticated arena of fine distinctions, each showing relatively better or worse impacts along myriad dimensions. Never before have we had the methodology at hand to track, organize, and display the complex inter-relationships among all the steps from extraction and manufacture of goods through their use to their disposal and summarize how each step matters for ecosystems, whether in the environment or in our body. Every small step toward green helps, to be sure. But our craze for all things green represents a transitional stage, a dawning of awareness of ecological impact but one that lacks precision, depth of understanding, and clarity. Much of what’s touted as “green” in reality represents fantasy or simple hype. We are past the day when one or two virtuous qualities of a product qualify it as green. To tout a product as green on the basis of a single attribute while ignoring numerous negative impacts parallels a magician’s sleight of hand. Consider a study of 1,753 environmental claims made for over a thousand different products plucked from the aisles of big- box stores. Some paper brands, for instance, focus on a narrow set of features, like having some recycled fiber content or chlorine- free bleaching, while ignoring other significant environmental issues for paper mills, such as whether the pulp comes from sustainable forestry or whether the massive amounts of water used are properly cleansed before return to a river. Or there’s the office printer that proclaims its energy efficiency but ignores its impact on the quality of indoor air or its incompatibility with recycled printer cartridges or recycled paper. In other words, it was not designed to be green from cradle to grave, but only engineered to tackle a single problem. To be sure, there are relatively virtuous products, building materials, and energy sources. We can buy detergent without phosphates, install carpeting that exudes fewer toxins or flooring of sustainable bamboo, or sign up for energy that comes mainly from wind, solar, or other renewable sources. And all that can make us feel we have made a virtuous decision. But those green choices, helpful as they are, too often lull us to more readily ignore the way that what we now think of as “green” is a bare beginning, a narrow slice of goodness among the myriad unfortunate impacts of all manufactured objects. Today’s standards for green ness will be seen tomorrow as eco-myopia.
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  • Summer '17
  • Glass, Life cycle assessment, LCAs, Gregory Norris

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