Eco-Friendly?

I’m looking at a magazine put out by the Virginia Department of Agriculture. The photo on the cover is of wholesome beautiful food, but the lead story is titled “Big Win: China Imports Virginia Poultry.”

I wonder if the places that produce the food Virginians are eating are generating headlines like “Big Win: Virginia Imports (fill in the blank–California, Mexico, Costa Rica, etc.) Vegetables.”

But leaving that aside (y’all have heard it plenty of times already) I was struck by another little article about a Virginia agricultural export–wood pellets.  To my surprise I learned that Virginia exports over $35 million worth of wood pellets to Europe every year and that wood pellet exports have doubled in the last two years.

It seems that in France, Germany and Italy the wood pellets are used for home heating and in the U.K. they’re used for electricity generation.  I wonder if the folks who put in pellet-burning stoves, in part because of a desire to generate heat with a renewable resource, are aware of how far those pellets are traveling to get there.

Reminds me of something I learned recently about recycled paper.  Like many people these days we’re careful to recycle our paper. But apparently the recycling manufacturing is done primarily in China.  When the ships arrive from China loaded with the trinkets they sell us, we fill the empty cargo containers with our trash, which they recycle and sell back to us as “recycled paper.”  That doesn’t sound sustainable to me, or as eco-friendly as we probably imagine recycling paper to be.

Just some random thoughts about the crazy world we live in.

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27 comments on “Eco-Friendly?

  1. Sue says:

    The best kind of “eco-living” is not buying the stuff to begin with. Though we definately live in a time that forces us to purchase a lot of things instead of making our own, there is SO MUCH stuff out there we DO NOT need (I can think of hundreds of trinkets, gadgets and doo-dads we all fall for at the stores).
    The funniest thing I ever saw someone buy was a “Bag O’ Rags”. Isn’t that what old t-shirts, etc are for????

    Liked by 2 people

    • shoreacres says:

      Actually, those bags of rags are pretty important to me. I need rags in my work on a daily basis, but they have to be white (so use of things like acetone doesn’t bleed color onto fiberglass or wood) they have to be 100% cotton for absorbency, and they have to be lint-free. Many of the bags of rags, or at least the good ones, have been pre-washed multiple times so that painters, varnishers, artists and such can use them confidently.

      I use any old tees I have around the house, but I can’t use them for work.

      Like

    • Bill says:

      Amen. We recycle and repurpose everything we can. But the best practice is to reduce the need to recycle by reducing the amount of soon-to-be-trash stuff we buy.

      Like

  2. Jeff says:

    Not sustainable, but profitable.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      It makes sense to put something in the containers, rather than float them back across the ocean empty. But I”m not sure that paper that has been transported to the other side of the world and then marketed as “eco-friendly,” has really earned that claim. People are paying extra for it because they’re trying to do the right thing.

      Like

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Just goes to show; whatever great idea comes up, somebody will find a way to screw it up… ):
    But remember the “three REs”: REduce and REuse, (before you) REcycle? ; )

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Definitely. We’re very careful with paper around here. We’re not quite to the level of the zero-impact man, but we generate very little trash. We recycle and repurpose everything we can, but as you say, the best practice is to avoid buying future trash in the first place.

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  4. The pellet boiler— grrrrrrrrrr. When I learned this truth, after we put in a pellet boiler (to replace oil) and are assured money back through a “renewable heat incentive” I vowed to involve myself with Biofuel Watch. A sensible strategy would see equal incentive towards the development of a local pellet industry. It’s really hard for me to get my head around certain technical factors, but the destruction of virgin forests for pellets in horrendous, let alone burning them for “renewable” electricity generation. It’s a pulse-raising issue. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I remember briefly looking into pellet burners years ago, but with all the wood we have on our place (we heat entirely using only dead fall trees), it didn’t make sense. Until yesterday I had no idea that Virginia wood pellets are being shipped to Europe to burn in home stoves.

      Like

  5. Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

    Ayuh. Sigh. What goes around sometimes travels a very long distance.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Just think of how far a Virginia-raised chicken has to travel to get to China. Would seem a lot more sensible for them to just raise their own chickens. But with the American consumer now wanting nothing but breasts (boneless and skinless, of course), it has become economically sensible (provided you don’t take a long view) to haul the rest of the chicken to a port, load in a ship and float it across two oceans.

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      • Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

        It only makes sense in a very weird way, as you indicated. The day is coming, I think, when it won’t make any sense at all, and we will go back to importing things we truly can’t produce on our own—spices, tea, coffee, and, best of all, chocolate. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. ain't for city gals says:

    I bet that chicken that China is importing is on a boat back to USA to fulfill all the chicken nuggets needs for the fast food restaurants! In my heart I kind of really dislike recycling because it somehow gives us an excuse to buy in the first place.

    Like

    • That is almost certainly a fact. I read a government bulletin recently here in BC that attested to just that – it talked about how the grower’s marketing board carefully managed members production to balance between the domestic market and what was destined for processing in China.

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    • Bill says:

      I don’t think it’s a coincidence that China lifted its ban on Virginia chicken at approximately the same time the US government approved importing American-raised but Chinese-processed chicken. How’s that for crazy? We send chicken to the other side of the planet so a Chinese factory can turn it into “chicken nuggets” and send it back to the U.S. Imagine how ridiculous that wouldn’t sounded to our ancestors. I expect it will sound equally ridiculous to our descendants.

      Like

  7. Bob Braxton says:

    Thank you for keeping us apprised of … this certainly has become something else. or at least we are more aware.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      This magazine put on by VDACS makes multiple references to the popularity of the local food movement, while trumpeting the “big win” that is about as far from the local food movement has imaginable.

      Like

  8. daphnegould says:

    Around here we have single stream recycling which gets more people to recycle. But the truth about that one is that only about 75% of what goes in gets recycled. Glass is especially bad. I forget the numbers for it but it is close to only 50% getting recycled in single stream. Recycling is not all it is cracked up to be.

    As to shipping things to China, I’ve been told that the huge container ships are really efficient. And that here in Boston it is more energy efficient to buy Australian wine than from California or Europe which are both much closer. European wines come from container ships but the transport to the ships is really inefficient while the Australian ones very efficient. I wish I could find the research for that to see if it was really true. But it is true that distance isn’t everything in the calculation.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Cherie went along on a school-group field trip to a glass recycling facility and that’s one of the things she discovered. A lot of us are going to the trouble of trying to do the right thing with trash, only to have much of it end up in a landfill anyway.

      It makes sense to keep the cargo containers filled. If an empty ship is heading back to China anyway, I suppose there’s no harm in loading it up with our trash (we’re sending them an enormous amount of scrap metal as well). But I can’t believe it could be more efficient for China to import chickens from the U.S. than to just raise the chickens there.

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  9. Joanna says:

    There are indeed so many trade offs to sustainability. What that word even means is up for debate. The rural Latvian lifestyle was heralded recently as a very sustainable way to live, partly because people do not often have much money and they grow a lot of their own produce, but is it really sustainable? If they feel they have to leave to make a reasonable living, then it is not. Also another example is that a sustainable business, not only has to have a sustainable product but a sustainable customer base, otherwise it is not going to last.

    Here in Latvia a lot of wood pellets are made, but then again over 50% of land is forested, so it is feasible to produce something like wood pellets for energy. Another example of a seemingly eco-friendly idea is the biogas unit. Built for using up agricultural waste, but around here maize is grown on ever increasing land to fuel the biogas, which then goes into producing electricity. So far it has been grown on the same fields for the last three years – that to my mind is not sustainable. Latvia does, or at least did until recently, have a lot of abandoned land or not well utilised and so theoretically a biogas unit should have been a good option, maybe utilising the hay from permanent pastures. That would then have provided a continual habitat for many grassland species. Instead they grow maize which has to be re-planted every year and provides wild boar with an ideal habitat. 😦

    Like

    • Bill says:

      To grown corn (maize) on an industrial scale requires a lot of fertilizer. To grow corn-on-corn, without rotation, requires even more. Nitrate fertilizers are petroleum based. To use synthetic nitrate fertilizers to grow corn that is in turn used to make biofuel (we do it here in the U.S. too) cannot make sense in the long term.

      Like

      • Joanna says:

        Indeed not Bill. Growing hay with animals in rotation might yield less in terms of biofuel but ultimately would be more sustainable I think.

        Like

  10. EllaDee says:

    Crazy thoughts and been said before but we need to keep thinking them and saying them. A few weeks ago a conversation came up around work we’ve done on our house, and we were asked if installing solar panels was next because it’s being advertised as the renewable energy solution to fossil fuel consumption in Australia… But as has been said before advertising isn’t about education it’s about selling & profit. When I suggest our aim is to use energy more efficiently and less, they lose interest. And when I ask the questions about where solar panels comes from and where they will go when they stop working people’s eyes glaze over.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Exactly. It’s a complex deeply interconnected web. I’m convinced that the most sustainable and benevolent economy is one that is community-based. Using locally available energy sources efficiently and with sustainability in mind, seems the wisest path to me.

      Like

  11. Like others here, I knew nothing about wood pellets. Wikipedia says that “Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction.” Live and learn.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I had to look it up too. I found it hard to believe that Virginia produced enough wood pellets to be able to export $35 million worth of them.

      Like

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