Monday, July 4, 2011

Green and Greener

Earlier this week I saw an ad online for a company called "The Check Gallery" that calls itself "the green choice for checks." Their checks, they claim, are all printed on recycled paper with vegetable-based inks. If I still used checks on a regular basis, I might have been tempted to pay the $13 for a couple of boxes of these. But I go through checks so slowly these days that I'm still working my way through the box my husband and I got when we opened our current checking account more than four years ago. (We changed addresses shortly after that, but I couldn't bring myself to throw out a practically new box of checks and order new ones; I've just been crossing out our old address and writing in the new one on every check I use for the past four years.)

The reason I use so few checks now is that our bank offers free online bill payment, and so nearly every bill we receive on a regular basis—phone, cable, credit cards, utilities—gets paid that way. I use a check four times a year to pay our water bill, and once in a very great while to pay a merchant who doesn't accept credit cards. Even my taxes now get paid electronically. And as far as I can tell, this option is not only quicker and cheaper than paying by mail with a check; it's also greener. There's no paper waste, and no fuel used for mailing the stuffed envelopes (or for manufacturing new checks and shipping them to me). Admittedly, I do presumably use some electricity to run my computer for the minute or two it takes to log on and pay a bill—but considering that my computer is on nearly all day anyway for work, I'd say the extra electricity used is negligible. (In fact, if I weren't taking a break from work to pay my bills, I'd probably just take a break to play solitaire and keep the computer on anyway.)

This got me thinking about how many other things that are touted as "green" choices are actually less green—and in many cases, less frugal—than other alternatives. Here are a few examples I was able to come up with:
  1. Paper bags rather than plastic ones. Actually, in terms of their overall resource use, it's not altogether clear that paper bags are greener than plastic—but it is decidedly clear that neither one is as green as a reusable bag, which also nets you anywhere from two to ten cents off each time you shop.
  2. Household products, such as cleaners, that are marketed as nontoxic and eco-friendly. Some of these are genuinely green and some not obviously so—but pantry staples, such as baking soda, vinegar, and salt, are decidedly nontoxic and much cheaper than either the "green" cleaning products or their conventional equivalents.
  3. Clothes made from hemp, bamboo, and other sustainable fabrics. These are probably greener than new clothes made from conventional cotton (the most pesticide-heavy crop on the planet) or petroleum-derived synthetics, but they can't compare to secondhand clothes, which require no materials and no energy to produce.
  4. Recycled-paper products such as tissues (not as green as reusable handkerchiefs) and copier paper (not as green as one-side-used paper that would otherwise go straight into the bin).
Those are all the examples I could come up with off the top of my head. Can you think of any others?
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