Hey Mr. Green Advice on cans, car batteries, and fresh catches by Bob Schildgen
Hey Mr. Green,
I am the lone tree hugger in my office, where I collect recyclables and then drop them off at a local redemption center. My coworkers tell me that most recycling is for show, and many organizations just toss what they pick up. Please tell me this isn't true!
—Annie in Tucson, Arizona
The persistence of this urban legend suggests that some people consume an excess of intoxicants from the containers they claim aren't worth recycling. Each year, U.S. factories melt down approximately 666,000 tons of aluminum from 45 billion recycled cans. They want 'em so bad they even import 5 billion cans—not to chalk up environmental points but to save big bucks: Recycled aluminum requires only one-seventh as much energy to process as virgin material. In addition, about 420,000 tons of plastic bottles, 2.4 million tons of glass containers, and more than 50 million tons of wastepaper are collected and made into new products.
The real problem is that too few people are as conscientious as you, Annie. The percentage of bottles and cans turned in by consumers has dropped over the past decade, as big beverage companies have squelched proposed deposit laws that would require them to take back their containers. The 11 states with such statutes recycle four out of five bottles, compared to just one out of five nationwide. To learn more, visit container-recycling.org.
Hey Mr. Green,
My husband and I want to buy a hybrid car, but will disposing of the batteries cause environmental problems later?
—Marilyn in Louisiana
A hybrid is still your best choice if you're among the millions of folks doomed to compulsory car ownership by clueless local governments that don't support efficient mass transit and by a Congress bought off by oil, auto, and roadbuilding tycoons. Hybrid cars use nickel metal hydride batteries, which are less hazardous than the common lead-acid type. Toyota already has a recycling program for the batteries in its Prius hybrids, but since company testing shows the power packs can last for 180,000 miles, the recyclers may be twiddling their thumbs for a while.
Hey Mr. Green,
If certain salmon species are endangered, why can I still buy salmon at the grocery store? How do I know which ones are OK to eat?
—B.J. in Birmingham, Alabama
Since April, grocery stores must label fresh seafood as wild-caught or farm-raised. Unfortunately, this regulation doesn't cover canned salmon (though much of it is wild) or other processed favorites like cooked shrimp meat or frozen fish sticks.
Wild-caught salmon from Alaska are as trouble-free as they are tasty. The fisheries are well managed, the spawning streams are in good shape, and the fishing techniques don't wreck marine habitat. Wild salmon from California, Oregon, and Washington are generally all right, though sometimes endangered species get caught along with abundant ones. However, Atlantic salmon are a no-no, since most are farmed and the few remaining wild ones are endangered. Farmed salmon are likely to be chock-full of antibiotics, and raising them damages habitat and spreads disease to wild fish.
Anxious about abalone? Worried about wreckfish? Go to seafoodwatch.org and download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's handy pocket guide to sustainable sustenance from the sea.
Read more advice from Mr. Green, including his Web-only mailbag, and submit your own environmental questions at sierraclub.org/mrgreen.
Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.