Like last year, English teacher Conrado Simon from Instituto de Educación Secundaria (IES) Gran Capitán in Madrid contacted IYNF to collaborate on a task for his students for Earth Day (22nd April). The high school students should write an article about: Misconceptions and Corrections about Our Eco Habits.

Although a bit late for Earth Day due to the COVID Pandemic we are able to publish it on 5th June, World Environment Day.

Unlike last year, the students combined forces to write one long article together that looks at different misconceptions and lets oneself rethink one’s Eco Habits.

IYNF wants to thank Conrado Simon and his students for making this possible. Enjoy!


 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Are We Doing it Right?
Misconceptions and Corrections about Our Eco Habits

 

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. When it comes to helping the
environment, correct information really is key. Throughout the years, people have been
trying to combat, or at least minimize, the negative effects of climate change and
pollution.

However, some of these things may not be working or may not be reaching its full
potential. Here, students from a public high school in Madrid share some research and
personal reflections to list some of these habits and misconceptions:

 

Notes from the authors:

Some examples will definitely be different depending on one’s location. It doesn’t
mean, however, that it is entirely false or inaccurate. Moreover, these should serve as
warnings or guides. It’s not that we should stop, but rather we should correct our ways
to be certain we are contributing positively or we’re making the most of our efforts.

Just because we are pointing out some common misconceptions or incorrect habits
does not mean we want to tell everyone our efforts to save the environment are
useless. Every little action counts. What we’re saying is that with a bit more, we can
make sure we’re doing our best, not just doing something for the sake of it. These are
not necessarily hypocrisies, but more of a lack of conviction or follow-through by us.

While we may mean well with our actions, some of the things we do – which these
young minds point out – may not be helping our cause, such as these:

 

1. We keep using disposable bags and collecting reusable ones

“A common mistake is to think that using paper bags instead of plastic ones is
the best option. It’s true that plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade, but when
you turn wood into paper, you produce a lot of carbon emissions, so you’re not really
helping.”

—Lucía de la Iglesia, 4°ESO student

“When we go to supermarkets or shops to buy something, we think that a paper bag is
a better option than a plastic one, but the reality is that both bags have pros and cons.
Plastic bags can take 500 years or more to degrade, but paper production requires
more energy and emits more greenhouse gases to produce.”

— Tiffany Gutierrez, 2°ESO student

Even so-called biodegradable plastic bags do not break down quickly even after years.
Cotton tote bags may not be the greenest option for reusable bags either.
“In 2018, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency published a study about the
impacts of different shopping bags. It shows that cotton tote bags require high
environmental costs of production, so it might not be very good in all its aspects.”

 —Elias Alavedra, 2°ESO student

“A 2011 study found that a paper bag had to be reused at least four times to bring its
environmental impact down to that of a high-density polyethylene plastic bag.
Recycling or composting the paper bags only had a small impact on the overall carbon
footprint. Also, other people consider cotton bags as a fine substitute for plastic bags –
and they are, if you reuse them consistently for at least 11.5 years.”

—Teresa Garvía, 1°Bachillerato student

“From my own experience, I can say that it’s very common to go to the supermarket
and buy the recyclable plastic bags they offer instead of the normal ones. However, it
doesn’t matter which bag you buy; you are still buying. We have been told many times
to bring our own shopping bags for the market and keep using it until it breaks. Doing
this, we help the environment because we don’t use plastic and we recycle our own
bags.”

— Alejandro Lopez, 1°Bachillerato student

It’s not only when going to the supermarket, but to different stores as well. Many
households have a stash of plastic and paper bags somewhere that are just waiting to
be used, but we barely use these, if at all.

 

2. We keep shopping online, for everything

Online shopping has been a great convenience to everyone. However, there is no
denying that some people use it too much, even for the little things.

“In many cases, buying online instead of going to the market is not always the best and
most eco-friendly option. When you buy something online, it comes in several layers of
plastic and cardboard packaging. Some deliveries go through planes, trains, vans, and
then motorcycles, which contribute to a lot of emissions. I used to buy online, but when
I read about how harmful it was for the environment, I tried to minimize it.”

— Alejandro Lopez, 1°Bachillerato student

Online shopping has its conveniences for us consumers, and we know sellers have the
best intentions, but sometimes we overlook things that are negatively impacting the
environment.

 

3. We keep buying things we don’t need or use often

Many people buy more eco-friendly products to reduce their plastic usage. This is
good in most cases. However, many of us just end up collecting and stashing things,
not really replacing or getting rid of them.

“First of all, if we want to reduce waste products, why are we throwing away products
that we already have and still have a lot of uses? For example, reusable straws are
great and all, but first, wouldn’t it be better to use those we already have? And, if we
don’t use straws, why are we buying them? Because we probably saw it in an
advertisement, and you think it would be very eco-friendly?”

— Helena Florin, 1°Bachillerato student

And it’s not just straws. Many homes have drawers and kitchen cabinets full of knick-
knacks we are likely not to use again.

 

4. We are only eco-friendly only when it’s convenient

“It’s okay if you need a straw, especially the metal or reusable ones, or if you really
need them to drink. You’re just using it. But, if you know that you’re going to a party
and you’re gonna have a few drinks, will you remember to take it or will you want to?
The answer is most likely no.

Don’t be an eco-friendly person only at home or on Instagram. It’s important to make
an impact to the market, the ‘supply and demand’ for many products. If we reduce the
consumption of unnecessary products, market demand would go down, and hopefully,
their production and its environmental impact.”

— Helena Florin, 1Bachillerato student

To borrow from the popular quote, “It’s just one straw — said 7.8 billion people”. It’s
not just straws, but all things we buy unnecessarily.

 

5. We fall for everything “eco-friendly”

“Another frequent problem is greenwashing, which is when a company tries to mislead
people by saying that their products are good for the environment or “eco-friendly”, but
actually aren’t. Many businesses do this to make their products more appealing and to
make more money. The problem of this is that people buy the products thinking that

they are helping the Earth but these products are not really organic, sustainable, or
eco-friendly. Be more aware of the products you buy.”

—B.T., 1°Bachillerato student

This can include small products like bottled water and “biodegradable” plastic, to
things like clean diesel and fuel-efficient cars, and more.

“When we go to the supermarket, we see many products labeled as eco-friendly,
natural, organic, flushable, biodegradable, or with some other buzzwords. Many of
these are misleading.

For example, many baby wipes (sometimes known as makeup remover or wet wipes)
are marketed as “flushable”. These often contain synthetic fibers, including plastics,
that can obstruct our waterways and affect wildlife. Why not switch to reusable cloth
wipes instead?”

—Sofía Pacheco, 1°Bachillerato student

“Choosing a product labelled as “biodegradable” seems like a no-brainer to save the
planet, but that’s not always true. A lot of products are described as “washable” but
many of those products cannot be “crumbled or dispersed” safely. This will negatively
affect the municipal sewer infrastructure and, consequently, the environment.”

—Lucía Garcia Lopez, 4ESO student

“Biodegradable tableware: many restaurants and businesses boast of biodegradable
crockery, but are these claims 100% accurate? Many companies tag their products as
compostable because they can be compostable under special industrial conditions.
Not all tableware are entirely sustainable.”

—Mario Naranjo, 4°ESO student

“Private hire vehicle companies like Uber have become widely used, especially for
convenient transportation. But the emissions of these vehicles are a concern. The
biggest emissions are so-called “deadhead” kilometers, which is when an Uber driver
wanders without passengers. That trip represents half the distance covered by mobility
services.”

—Lucía Garcia Lopez, 4°ESO student

So yes, you may have “negated” emissions when you shared a ride with someone, but
it might also have gotten cancelled out by the cars roaming around looking for
passengers.

 

6. We recycle things because why not

“Recycling is very important, but doing it wrong could be worse than not recycling at
all. For example, when you recycle a plastic bottle, you should remove the cap and put
it in the corresponding container depending on their material.

Used disposable coffee cups often aren’t recyclable at all because of a thin plastic film
that covers it. Too much contamination in recycling bins or in collection piles often
results into the whole heap ending in landfills.

In these cases, it is better to throw waste in the trash bin rather than to recycle it ‘just
in case’”.

—Ana Inés Rodríguez, 4°ESO student

“Be aware when recycling food containers, especially the used, dirty ones that still
have food residue. Those few drops of milk at the bottom of the jug can make it much
more difficult to recycle. You need to clean out food scraps from these recyclables
before you throw them out. It’s something I know but forget to do a lot of times.”

— Alicia Dueñas, 4°ESO student

7. We forget about the little things

Many of us want a clean environment, but we cannot get ourselves to stop littering and
adapt eco-friendly lifestyle habits. In Spain, for example, it is normal to enter a bar and
see napkins and other trash everywhere. This custom is normal and even ensures the
bar is an authentic Spanish one, as described in many travel guides and blogs.

This is usually not a problem inside the bar because there is always someone who
cleans up all these rubbish. But it becomes a problem when this habit also happens
outside.

You see people throw away cigarette butts, used napkins, candy wrappers, pamphlets,
papers, food wrappers, and more. Yes, there are barrenderos (street sweepers) who will
clean those up, but that misses the point.

In school, it’s a common sight to see students throwing around papers, pencils, pens,
chalk, pencil cases, and almost anything else they can get their hands on. It’s also
common for them to write things on their desks, the walls, and some other surfaces
that end up making it dirty.

If we want a cleaner environment, we should start cleaning up our acts (literally),
especially when these small things can add up to bigger problems.

 

8. We forget to reduce and reuse, because we’re recycling

“Only a small part of recycled trash is reused… We are not saying that you don’t have
to recycle because it barely changes anything — We are saying that we need to
recycle,
but also, to understand that is not the best solution for the problem.”

—Dayana Roman, 1°Bachillerato student

Latest available figures (2017) show that in Spain, a little over 50% of collected waste
end up in landfills. About 36% is recycled, with about 12% being incinerated.

We buy a lot of things because we can, because they were on sale, because it’s trendy,
because everyone has one, or because we needed it for that one thing. Many times,
this means we end up throwing out a lot of things as well.
Practicality and minimalism may not be lifestyles we can all fully embrace, but we
certainly can apply it to certain parts of our lives, especially in our shopping habits.

 

Resources:
www.sprep.org/attachments/Publications/FactSheet/plasticbags.pdf
www.nytimes.com/2019/03/29/climate/plastic-paper-shopping-bags.html
www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/do-biodegradable-plastic-bags-actually-biodegrade-180972074/
www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-73-4.pdf
www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/carbon-emissions-online-shopping-solutions/
www.forbes.com/sites/davekeating/2019/11/20/uber-adding-to-air-pollution-in-europereport/
www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/04/how-uber-and-lyft-could-do-better-by-the-planet/558866/
www.spainenglish.com/2019/06/06/bell-packaging-unique-recycling-initiatives/
www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/Educacion_Ambiental/ContenidosBasicos/Descriptivos/
Separacionresiduos2017/Guia_de_separacion_de_residuos.pdf
https://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/Educacion_Ambiental/ContenidosBasicos/Descriptivos/
Separacionresiduos2017/Guia_de_separacion_de_residuos.pdf
www.eea.europa.eu/publications/managing-municipal-solid-waste/spain-municipal-waste-management
www.ine.es/jaxi/Datos.htm?path=/t26/e068/p04/serie/&file=01002a.px#!tabs-tabla


 

Want to read more? Check out last years articles:

 http://www.iynf.org/2019/04/students-writing-letters-to-iynf/