Quick—what’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word fireplace? Cozy, right? Yeah. The word itself just makes you want to pull up a chair and settle in wrapped in a nubby blanket with your honey.
That said, you may have also noticed you might actually need that nubby blanket, because in a standard fireplace, the fire creates a cool draft as most of the warmth is sucked out through the chimney. Not to mention the sooty smoke that fills the house while you-know-who gets the fire started. Idyllic? Not so much. So EcoMyths readers want to know: How do you make fireplaces and wood stoves burn warm and clean—and green too?
Fired Up for a Greener Wood-Burning Experience?
Throwing a couple of logs on the fire may seem like the ultimate in green warmth, but the fact that wood is as natural as it gets doesn’t make burning it earth-friendly. That’s because inefficient old fireplaces and woodstoves lose a lot of heat, plus the smoke can make local air unhealthy to breathe. Generally speaking, a modern furnace coupled with smart thermostat use is the most efficient, cleanest way to cozy up your pad.
Does that mean stoking up a romantic fire or otherwise burning wood is a no-go for the earth-lover? Thankfully, not at all. But there are some major opportunities for us to improve efficiency in our use of wood. To learn how—and why to bother—we turned to a trio of experts from some especially wintry climes, including resource use analyst Eric Masanet, PhD, of Northwestern University in Chicago; Tom Burack, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services; and Craig Wright, director of New Hampshire Air Resources Agency.
Paper vs. Plastic Showdown
There’s a new sheriff in town—and plastic shopping bags are taking the heat. With Chicago the latest city to jump on the bandwagon of 160+ other U.S. cities (and potentially the whole of California) in outlawing plastic bags, it’s simple to assume that easy-to-recycle paper bags are the greener choice. But as the dust settles on the paper-plastic showdown, a closer look reveals the paper bag has its holes, too.
The key to understanding the good, bad, and eco-ugly of both options—and therefore making the best decision as a consumer—explains Northwestern University’s Eric Masanet, PhD, is to consider the impact of each part of the product’s life cycle from cradle to grave. “The science shows that moving from plastic to paper is not necessarily ‘greener,'” he says. Instead, it may simply shift the environmental impact from decreasing litter to increasing resource use and greenhouse gas emissions.
To really go green, he suggests committing to reusable bags, even if made from plastic. To understand why, let’s wrangle in the three main categories of impact in answering the once-inescapable checkout question, “Paper or plastic?”
And the winner of best picture in the green film category goes to…wait, what? You haven’t seen any environmental documentaries this year? Now’s your chance. Fresh off a weekend of reveling in eco-inspired cinema at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California, I’ve got your fest-fresh picks right here.
First, I’ll just say it: Depending on the subject, eco-flicks can be a buzz-kill (which is kind of inevitable when you’re talking about things like poaching endangered species, destroying pristine wilderness, and getting scary sick from a host of sketchy contaminants…) Still, many of these films provide ample reason to hope for a better tomorrow, if enough people come together to make a change.
The trick in my book is to know what to expect before you go, so you can mentally prepare for a potentially complex range of feelings. As such, I’ve included a handy “mood clue” in each of the following reviews, as well as One Green Thing you can do to help turn the tide.
Without further ado, here’s a brief guide to the genre’s latest and greatest.