Little 'Green' Myths: Busted

In the 'green' age, it is hard to wade through the sea of information coming at us. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish truth from trend. And simply because your neighbor is doing it, does not necessarily make it environmentally beneficial. Here are just a few of the common misconceptions making their way through the 'green' grapevine:

Myth- Paper bags are better for the environment than plastic ones.

In 2007, the city of San Francisco passed the first-ever plastic bag ban, making it illegal for local retailers to distribute non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags. And for good reason, they clutter our streets, clog our waterways, threaten our wildlife and fill our landfills.

But the debate over which is better, paper or plastic, does not end there. Several other elements must be considered. How much energy does each use in their production? What does it take to transport them? How much space do they take up in our landfills?

The Environmental Literary Council (ELC) compiled an analysis, 'Paper or Plastic,' and the findings were that, "plastic bags require less energy to produce."

Plastic bags are made from the waste of oil refineries. Paper bags are made from timber. Overall it was concluded that the energy used to process timber into paper outweighs the combined process of oil extraction and the manufacturing of plastic.

Plastic bags are thought to be less environmentally damaging when it comes to transportation. They are lighter and more compact; they take up less space.

"It would take approximately seven trucks to transport the same number of paper bags as can be transported by a single truck full of plastic bags," according to the ELC. In this way, plastic bags are responsible for fewer emissions into the atmosphere.

By the same logic, plastic bags take up less space in our landfills than paper do. And although plastic doesn't biodegrade, according to the ELC's analysis, "modern landfills are designed in such a way that nothing biodegrades, because the waste is isolated from air and water in order to prevent groundwater contamination and air pollution."

In the end, neither are good for the environment - the best choice is always a reusable bag. Cotton or mesh carry-alls can last a lifetime, they can be washed, easily stored and are often made of natural materials - they blow the other bags out of the water.

Myth- Planting trees is a quick-fix to global warming.

Unfortunately, it just isn't that simple. Although planting them helps to green our planet, and the ecosystems they provide for are vital, many scientists agree that trees aren't the answer to the problem of global warming.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and evaporate water. These are all ways that trees help to cool the Earth.

But the effectiveness of trees to cool the Earth's atmosphere is limited to those in tropical rainforests, according to a Carnegie Institution study titled 'Combined climate and carbon-cycle effects of large-scale deforestation.'

The researchers found that: "tropical deforestation warms the planet everywhere." Whereas deforestation of temporal, or higher latitude, forests has a slight cooling effect.

This is not to conclude that deforestation is a positive thing.

Just that planting a forest in the Northern U.S., or someplace along similar latitudes, will do little to cool the Earth.

SF State biology professor Lance Lund says that although no one can say with absolute certainty, there are some truths to be considered:

One, because trees take a while to develop, "replanting efforts would undoubtedly have to be coupled with a vast reduction in our current global energy consumption as we wait for our new trees to grow."

Two, "clearly, with annual increases in deforestation, population growth and consumption of energy resources, planting trees alone to offset global warming will not be sufficient."

And three, that given recent data, "we would have to plant enough trees to cover eight times the amount of plant biomass currently found in our tropical forests just to offset the carbon we introduce into the environment each year."

In other words, it will take more effort on the part of the human race to reverse the damage we've done.

Myth- All Farmers Markets sell certified organic food.

Although most do support organic food, they are primarily focused on locally grown products- which may not always be organic.

This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Just because a booth is not labeled 'organic' does not mean the farmer's methods are not sustainable.

Karin Schlanger and husband David Winsberg own Happy Quail Farms, an East Bay pepper farm. They can be found at the Ferry Building Farmers Market behind a stand brightly decorated with ripe produce.

Although Schlanger and Winsberg do not use pesticides and instead opt for more natural ways to control pests, they do use a man-made time-release fertilizer. For this reason, their product is not certified as organic.

But non-organic food bought from a farmers market can be more environmentally beneficial than organic produce purchased at a local chain. This is because organic food shipped from far away to your local grocer can leave its carbon footprint via large cargo trucks or planes. Whereas locally farmed produce will not have traveled very far, leaving a smaller trail of emissions.



Jason Rosete | staff photographer
Karen Schlanger, of the Happy Quail Farms, an East Bay pepper farm sells non-organic produce at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.





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