Today is Earth Day and I thought this was a good opportunity for me to finish off my series of eco-questions and answers, so read on to find out what is the most effective thing we can do for the environment and, ultimately, our planet.
How long does it take for a micro-windmill to pay for itself?
According to the article in the New Scientist, where I found all these eco-questions and answers, that depends on where you live and what you mean by paying for itself. Last year the UK Building Research Establishment compared the payback times of different turbines in different locations. In inshore urban settings, it found wind turbines produce such puny amounts of juice that they struggle to recoup their cost and, after allowing for manufacturing and distribution, end up costing more carbon than they save. On the coast it’s different though. The study showed a turbine at Wick in the Scottish Highlands generated 2000 kilowatt-hour a year, about 40% of an average household’s needs. Payback time for the investment could be as little as a year.
Will washing my clothes at 30 oC really get them clean?
If the reaction of consumers is anything to go by, washing powders formulated for use at lower temperatures do work (I can vet for this, as I have been doing all my washing at 30 oC and my washing come out as clean, if not cleaner, as they did when I washed at higher temperatures). In a 2006 study by the UK’s Energy Saving Trust , 89% of families who had been asked to test Ariel at 30oC said they would continue using it. Likewise, while only 2% of households were washing at 30 oC in 2002, five years later that figure was up to 17%. Meanwhile in Germany, where people have traditionally used lower washing settings than in the UK, they are turning down to 20 oC, and in North America growing numbers are doing their laundry in cold water (In Brazil the majority of the population does the washing in cold water; usually by hand). Researchers from the University of Seoul, South Korea, found that washing with biological detergent at 30 oC only killed 6% of dust mites, compared with 100% at 60 oC, and traces of other allergens, including pollen grains, remained. The global detergent manufacturer Unilever, which has been keen to promote the eco-message, still advises customers to run one wash per week at 40 oC to ensure bacteria don’t have a chance to grow in the machine and cause unpleasant smells. I have been washing my laundry at 30 oC for quite a while now and have never noticed any unpleasant smells build up, but I do leave the machine door open for a while after I take the washing out of it.
What does the circling-arrow logo on European packaging mean?
Most of us have to admit that we thought the arrows circling each other meant that packaging can be recycled and we were wrong. In fact, this so-called ‘green dot’, or ‘grüner punkt’, which is often printed in black, originated in Germany and indicates that the manufacturer has paid into a scheme to meet the general costs of recycling under the terms of the EU legislation. So particularly packaging bearing the logo may or may not be recyclable. In countries such as the UK that have not adopted the system, the logo is especially perplexing, as its use appears quite arbitrary. Katherine Symonds, from the Tesco supermarket chain, explains that they typically deal with multinational suppliers that often sell the same product in multiple countries and therefore include things on packaging that may be irrelevant in one of those markets.
And finally, what is the single most effective thing we can do for the environment?
Over a 75-year lifespan, the average European will be responsible for about 900 tonnes of CO2 emissions. For Americans and Australians, the figure is more like 1500 tonnes. Add to that all of humanity’s other environmentally damaging activities and, draconian as it may sound, the answer must surely be to avoid reproducing. Hands up who saw this answer coming!
Be kind to mother Earth, today at least! I know it’s easier to say ‘but what difference will one little thing I do make?’ Well, each person’s small action will surely add up to a whole load of difference. For ideas of what to do for the environment, have a read through the other blogs in this little series of eco-questions and answers, or check out the Earthday network’s ‘a billion acts of green’.
The Cabi Environmental Impact database also contains many reports, articles and reviews on man's impact on the environment.
Source: New Scientist No. 2682, vol 200.