Every time I get to the bottom of the peanut butter jar, I think about the environment. Here’s why: The plastic container is recyclable, and my neighborhood has a great recycling program. However, they only take clean containers.
Every time I get to the bottom of the peanut butter jar, I
think about the environment. Here’s why: The plastic container is recyclable,
and my neighborhood has a great recycling program. However, they only take
So, the conundrum is this: Do I waste gallons of water
washing and rinsing the jar, or do I throw away a recyclable container?
Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse for the environment. Ideally I remember to
wash and rinse the jar after I’ve done a load of dishes, so I don’t use very
much water after all. But either way it gets me thinking about the trade-offs
between the many components of sustainability.
“Sustainability” is a word whose definition is still
evolving, but most agree that it concerns a product or system’s impact on the
environment. Sustainable projects are designed to meet the needs of people with
minimal adverse impact on the environment. When evaluating roof systems, for
example, there are several areas that commentators cite as key areas to
consider when evaluating sustainability. These include durability, life span,
amount of recycled content used in manufacturing, recyclability at the end of
service life, effect on future energy use, life-cycle cost, effect on urban
heat islands, and storm water management, to name a few. Considerations such as
the amount of energy used to manufacture and deliver components and how much
ends up in a landfill after use are also key considerations.
Ideally, a product would excel in all of these categories,
but in the real world, there are often trade-offs you have to consider. Here
are some hypothetical scenarios that illustrate the point: What if a product
used a lot of energy to manufacture and the manufacturing process resulted in some
toxic byproducts, but it lasted twice as long as all other competing options
and resulted in the lowest life cycle costs? What if a product was highly
recyclable and had high recycled content, but it had to be shipped a great
distance, increasing the initial cost and burning fossil fuels?
These scenarios are a lot more complicated than my peanut
butter jar example - and a lot more important. As sustainability becomes more
important to designers, manufacturers, consumers (and their neighbors), these
types of debates will come into sharper focus. Arguments over which products or
systems are “more sustainable” will be interesting to watch. However,
manufacturers and others striving for sustainability have already realized
great benefits. Great strides have already been made in making existing
products and manufacturing processes less harmful to the environment. And every
little bit helps.
Now, if they could only make peanut butter easier to wash