The Stickiness of Environmental Trends

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

From composting to hybrid cars, why do some environmental trends catch on in some places but not in others? And how many people need to adopt these green habits for them to actually make a difference? Joining Leonard to answer these questions are: Laura Haight, Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group in Albany, and Alex Steffen, Executive Editor of World Changing.


Laura Haight and Alex Steffen

Comments [36]

F Hussey from lindenhurst, ny

The Irish effort against the plastic shopping bag was not a response to a trend but rather a means of addressing a very real crisis of litter throughout the country, which everyone could see and accept remediation.

Jul. 08 2008 07:17 PM
V JIJON from New Canaan

I use to live in urban London - we didn't own a car and walked or bused; we had a tiny refrigerator and had to hand carry our groceries so we shopped every day or two and used a small pulling cart and didn't use plastic or paper.

Now I live in the suburbs in the US. The closest grocery store is a 15 minute drive, so I shop twice a month that uses 15-20 plastic bags. Using 20 canvas bags would be impossible (so I reuse plastic bags as trash bags or I take them back to the grocery stores). I try to recycle, but my town doesn't have curbside recycling and when I take my cans and bottles to the recycling stations at the grocery store, they reject 80% of them.

I feel guilt ridden constantly about my green footprint, but unless we move to Manhattan and put the kids in bad schools, there is no other solution except taxing or laws on mandatory recycling...

Jul. 08 2008 05:24 PM
hjs from 11211

i'm not pro paper bags either. we should be using reusable cloth bags. don't u think

Jul. 08 2008 02:44 PM
peter from bergen county

That STUFF movie was great; thanks!

Jul. 08 2008 02:32 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


Well then it comes down to what’s more important, a much bigger carbon foot print with paper bags, weather you recycle them or not which affects all of the environment. Or you tax recycled bags and the ones that get away might affect some sea life. Put it in this perspective, compare the number of soda cans on the side of the road in a state that has a bottle tax to a state that does not have a bottle tax. Plus plastic bags are a lot more lucrative to collect then cans. How many plastic bags can you fit into a stolen shopping cart compared to cans?

Jul. 08 2008 02:13 PM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

Jane and Tom

Click on "News" at the top of the page and a media player will open. You can also wait a couple of hours and listen to the program after it has aired.

Jul. 08 2008 02:08 PM
peter from bergen county

I've beeen recycling mhy plastic bags for about 5 yrs now at the local A&P. My family of 6 collect hundreds per month. I always try to minimize the # of bags they provide, eg, a plastic bottle with a gallon of milk in a single plastic bag is wasteful (I always take it without a bag); maybe the stores should train their employees on how to pack more efficiently?

Europeans use 1/2 the electricity as Americans; why do we need to light up the outsides of our houses all night long and too lazy to turna light out in an empty room?

Conservation is a big part of the solution!

Jul. 08 2008 02:06 PM

Unlimited landfill real estate to fill with refuse of our choice is one of our inalienable rights as Americans. tee hee.

Jul. 08 2008 01:56 PM

another item for my list: forsight.

the need for efficiency often becomes obvious during a crisis when the resources required to improve efficiency are least available. it takes forsight to make the adjustments without the crisis.

Jul. 08 2008 01:54 PM
hjs from 11211

Jon p
good point but still paper bags don't end up in the stomachs of sea life another curse of cheap plastic is what it does to the ocean

Jul. 08 2008 01:53 PM
Moiz Kapadia from NJ


Can you ask your guests what kind of environmental platform they think the current presidential candidates should run on?


Jul. 08 2008 01:51 PM
jane from hudson valley, NY

1. I agree with TOM: bring back To The Point, one of the BEST NPR shows Ever!
2. We visit relatives in Portland Ore; recycling is a way of discussion.
3. We live in the town of Poughkeepsie. We recycle. Today 2 different trucks picked up our a. recyclables and b. our garbage.
Same with our garbage in Cold Spring (we live there too)..garbage and recyclables are discussions!!
NYC doesn't even have can/bottle collection, but MetroNorth does. every station and Grand Central Station...
bring back To The Point, please!

Jul. 08 2008 01:50 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ


Not in a land fill. Newspapers from the 20’s have been recovered from land fills that are just slightly yellowed and perfectly readable. The idea is to recycle, not throw away. Plastic takes a lot less energy overall to recycle then paper. Hence a bottle tax on plastic bags would seem to be the most realistic solution.

Jul. 08 2008 01:47 PM
hjs from 11211

you can compost at union square every saturday.

Jul. 08 2008 01:46 PM
Jennifer H from Brooklyn

I really like the notion that we can not privatize the responsibility for resolving environmental issues. I do what I can - I buy organic and bio-degradable - ride public transport - and eat vegetarian - but it can be very expensive, and much of the time I feel overwhelmed and impotent in spite of my families efforts.

We must bear down on govt and corporations to act responsibly.

Jul. 08 2008 01:44 PM
Fish from brooklyn

This website has a very informative movie to view online by Annie Leonard.

Very good. Very Simple.

Jul. 08 2008 01:44 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Keep in mind with biodegradable bags, they do not break down in a land fill. Nothing breaks down in a land fill because the trash is compacted over and over again to get the most garbage possible in the land fill. So unless you throw your biodegradable trash bags on the side of the road where they are exposed to the elements, chances are they will not break down in a land fill.

Jul. 08 2008 01:44 PM
chestinee from ny ny

In Europe you pay a little (it's mandatory) when you buy and appliance and the mfr has to take it when you're finished with it.

I lived in Europe before we even had the plastic bag thing going here and was impressed that they didn't use even paper bags - you brought your net bag to the grocer's. (I forget what you did at the hypermarché) Now you pay a euro for a plastic bag taht you return for a better one when you've worn through that one.

I wish it were easier to get the composting thing going - it's hard but I do try to save scraps and drop them at the union sq market. I've figured out putting them in old yogurt containers so i am not schlepping a stink bag on the subway.

Composting makes you feel more like part of teh cycle, like the Inuit who traditionally put bones back after eating their catch

Leonard - Tide is harmful to the people who use it, too - check

Jul. 08 2008 01:43 PM
Pomeranianzdad from NYC

Here's something I'd like to know: is bagging doggy poo that lands on grass, not the street or sidewalk, worse for the environment or better? One can correctly surmise from my name that I have Pomeranians, and I do pick up after them, but I think that it would be easier on the environment if I let it lie in the grass and decompose, rather than bag it in plastic and send it to the landfill. I realize that mine are just two small dogs in a city full of dogs, and that all of that crap would add up, but has anyone considered this from an environmental/scientific approach?

Jul. 08 2008 01:43 PM
hjs from 11211

i too miss TO THE POINT

jon P but plastic never breaks down and paper does

Jul. 08 2008 01:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Why stick your plastic bags in the closet? Why not fold them flat & put one in each of your shoulder bags or backpacks or whatever you use? I pull clean plastic bags out of the recycling area in my building & can keep using the same one for a month or more before it starts getting holes in it. This keeps the bags out of the waste stream for a while, & I'm not taking new plastic bags from it's free. Now that some stores are collecting plastic bags for recycling, it's even better (although I'd rather the SDNY collected them from homes).

BTW, Gaiam offers compost bags that break down & become compost themselves.

Jul. 08 2008 01:38 PM
Tami from New Jersey

fyi - in Toronto, Ontario (Canada), people do have to put organic garbage into a separate garbage bin and, I would assume, that garbages is composted.

Jul. 08 2008 01:37 PM
chestinee from ny ny


I found full spectrum fluorescents online - and even full spectrum with titanium dioxide which clean the air, too! (but need a good part of ehm to be bare)

for the ones I can cover, I hear nice comments on the light - and they are just under simple (but nicer) japanese paper shades that are made of warmer toned paper

People are saying careful of fluorescents because they contain mercury - so if they break, it's a problem, and recycling is an absolute must.

on the other hand a friend with tropical birds bought them (full spectrum) - they need it if there isn't enough direct sunlight - anyway she noticed that she has more energy and is in a better mood after work

Jul. 08 2008 01:37 PM

when i heard the question the first three things that lept to mind were intertia, values, and resources.

1. change takes effort.

2. wehther folks are willing to expend the effort depends on whether they value the prostpective results more than other things like conveninece, comformity (making the new behavior mainstreem gets rid of the conflict between change and conformity.), ir capital required to buy a more efficient car or redesign the plaxtic bags out of a self-checkout system.

3. there's a difference between being willing and being able. for instance low to moderated income working folks affected by high fuel prices might love to buy more efffcient vehilcles but may lack the resources to make the adjustment. (which suggests that perhaps programs for helping people cope with high fuel prices might best be aimed at helping them make the change rather than subsidizing continued high consumption.)

Jul. 08 2008 01:35 PM
Rich B from Westfield, NJ

The "bag tax" in Ireland was crafted as a "green response" to rural environmental degradation. Seeing all those shopping bags litering the "Green Fields" was too much. Of course, the .10 euro charge for every bag had the same effect as bottle deposits here in the States, with people bringing their "recycled" bags with them to the grocery for the shopping.

Tax it, and we will change!


Rich B

Jul. 08 2008 01:34 PM
tom from NYC

Let's recycle on WNYC: Don't let TO THE POINT go to waste. Warren Olney has a great show today, but we can't hear it! Bring back To The Point. Please.

Jul. 08 2008 01:34 PM
Pearl from New York, NY

Laura, you should be able to find compact fluorescent bulbs in both "warm" and "cool" shades (they might be labeled as "daylight" and "natural"); I have both in my apartment in different locations. They might not be perfect, but the light you get should be a great deal closer to what you're looking for. Good luck!

Jul. 08 2008 01:33 PM
Brandon from Flatbush

I live in a small studio apartment in a 60-unit building . Each night I place my garbage in a small plastic bag and drop it down the chute. If these bags were banned, I would need to purchase platic garbage bags, (which come in packaging) and dispose of waste less often which would invite pests. Aren't there biodegradable plastics avaialable with which to manufacture these bags?

Jul. 08 2008 01:33 PM
judy from NYC

But we have to put our garbage out in plastic bags so if all the stores stop giving them out we will have to BUY them. Oh No!

Jul. 08 2008 01:32 PM
Harry from NYC

Shocking Laura,
My Grandmother walked to the farmers market every Saturday for over 40 years with her own bags. Maybe he'll find an "under-utilized" bag at home and "re-purpose" it!

Jul. 08 2008 01:31 PM
Raconteuse from Manhattan

I'm from Brazil, where most recycling isn't mandated, but pretty much occurs anyway, as the poor rifle through the more fortunate class's daily refuse.

About 15 yrs. ago, I met a fellow compatriot who had just landed in the US after having spent 2 yrs in Germany. She was bewildered and frustrated at the inability to recycle everything she had back in Europe. Even more revealing was the fact that she admitted to initially feeling angry and resenting having been forced to recycle by the Germans. She even mentioned having been admonished by her neighbors. I reminded her of how she would feel once she returned to Brazil, where everything would be tossed in the trash.

I really believe people have to be encouraged (with financial inducements) or basically forced to change when they won't cooperate. Their mindset change will follow.

Jul. 08 2008 01:31 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Fact: IT takes far less energy to make a plastic bag, deliver a plastic bag to the store and to recycle a plastic bag then it does paper bags. Plastic bags are considerably lighter then paper and takes up less shipping volume. Plus the raw materials to make a paper bag use a lot more fuel then to make a plastic bag. IF you’re going to outlaw plastic bags then you have to outlaw paper bags….

Jul. 08 2008 01:30 PM
Joanna from NYC

Regarding new trends: How many business' including restaurants and stores,have you been in that are accessible to individuals with disabilities even though it's been the law for more than 10 years? Are your new studios completely accessible?

Jul. 08 2008 01:26 PM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

We can endlessly discuss hybrid cars, carrying your own reusable shopping bags, changing from incandescent to fluorescent etc…, but the fact of life is that every human on this planet basically needs food, clothing and shelter. After considering how the basic 3 necessities of life impact our environment, start adding extras such as transportation and entertainment. Now multiply all of it by each human and projected population growth and consider that having more than 1 or 2 children is the two steps back to the one step forward of “green living “. Remember that here in the USA where we much more mobile and entertainment gadget crazy than anywhere else in the world, we utilize 65%+ of the world’s resources yet only make up roughly 5% of the global population. This is a family planning issue if I ever saw one.

Jul. 08 2008 12:41 PM
Laura from Nyack NY

Another comment, if I can... I would gladly switch to compact flourescent bulbs, or something else that is more energy friendly, but the CF bulbs I get have a different color than the incandescents, they seem to give off a harsher, colder, bluer light, it changes my perceptions of the colors in the room (and the decor), and it just makes everything look alot less warm. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Jul. 08 2008 12:10 PM
Laura from Nyack NY

I found myself in the supermarket the other day... I pulled out my reusable bags as I put my items on the counter. The man behind me commented "more and more people are using those these days." I replied about preferring them to plastic that seems wasteful. He commented that he was thinking of using them, to which I pointed out that they were for sale, 3 feet in front of him. He said "Maybe next time." I was shocked and didn't know what to say.

Jul. 08 2008 12:03 PM

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