cat in bag

Even if you recycle, compost your food waste and clean with vinegar instead of harsh chemicals, there still may be a few sticky eco-conundrums that have you scratching your head. We answer seven of them once and for all.

1. Paper or plastic?

Neither. Okay, we all know that we should bring our own bags to the grocery store (and the clothing store, and the book store, and any other store), but what to do when you forget them at home? Don’t stress. The impact of both is about the same, in the end. Paper bags use renewable resources and are biodegradable; plastic bags use less water and energy to produce. Our advice? Choose the one you know you can reuse at home many times over…or see how often you can actually go without a bag altogether.

2.  Hand wash dishes or use the dishwasher?

The dishwasher wins for being more water-efficient and hygenic—but with a few caveats. Your dishwasher should be fully loaded, but not overloaded. Don’t pre-rinse your dishes (that wastes all the water that the dishwasher saves). And opt for a low-energy cycle, ie: turn off the heated dry.

3. Cloth or disposable diapers?

Again, this one pretty much comes out in the wash—literally. Disposable diapers suck for filling up landfils with plastic that will be around for years. But cloth diapers use a ton of water and energy to get them clean and sanitary. If you’re really concerned about this conundrum, why not try going diaperless?

4. Organic or local?

Ideally, both. But when you have to choose, buy conventional products that are grown and produced locally. The environmental impact of shipping food across the globe outweighs the impact of growing it organically.

5. Diesel or regular gas?

Many people believe that diesel engines are the more eco-friendly choice because they get better gas mileage and have lower CO2 emissions, and because of the pollutants released during the refining of petroleum into regular gas. But diesel is worse than gasoline on almost all counts, because diesel is dirtier, and the allowable emissions from diesel exhaust are much higher than gasoline. Go with regular gas. Or better yet, vegetable oil. Or even better yet, a bicycle.

6. Continue using an old appliance, or buy a new one?

If your appliance (dishwasher, oven, washer and dryer, refrigerator) is more than, say, 10 years old, it’s almost certainly going to save energy to replace it with a new one. Just be sure that your old one gets recycled.

7. Is _______ recyclable?

Unfortunately, we can’t answer this one for you. Nearly everything is recyclable—if you can find somewhere to recycle it. Standard home pick-up or city drop-off recyclers vary widely in what they do and don’t accept and how it needs to be handled (ie: mixed or separated). Your best bet is to do a little research. Print out a list of what your recycling company does and does not accept, and then get to Googling to find a place to recycle the rest.

You can follow Lacy on Twitter @LacyLu42, on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Image by AlishaV