It is hard, sometimes, to know the best thing to do, though. For instance,
Knitwitmama commented that she uses cloth napkins - does the washing of those
napkins (detergent, use of electricity, etc) cause as much problem as using
paper? I am not saying that it does, but how are we to know for sure. I wish
there was a "living green bible" to guide us.
Linda, thanks for your comment, and I had to post on this topic.
I have also sought out information on how to soften my step on our mother planet. It can seem a very large task indeed to any one of us. But it does not need to be a large task, which was really my point. So let's talk about cloth napkins for just a moment, and then I will make some book recommendations for you to read further. Your Living Green Bible if you will.
The point is that we have to each of us spend a moment making decisions.
You mentioned knitwitmama is using cloth napkins and you wondered if the washing of them was not just as wasteful as the production of the paper napkins.
So paper napkins are made from some kind of wood pulp, possibly recycled, maybe not. They are used once and then usually thrown into the Trash bin, as opposed to the recycle bin. One can expect that they are bleached at some point in the process of manufacture, with something heinous, like dioxin or the like.
So then let's talk about cloth napkins. The material can vary, and if I was going to move to cloth, I would probably choose linen or hemp cloth for the task. Most readily available cloth napkins though are cotton or a cotton/poly blend. So ding for cotton, unless it's organic. Cotton, particularly mainstream white cotton is very hard on the environment. So cotton karma is not so good, but I think that this could still offset the single use paper napkin karma with the positive reuse karma. I know that our family still uses paper, and the sheer volume of paper is horrendous. (my stumbling block is not the switch but my dear loving husband)
As for washing, well if you use cloth napkins, does the washing not present problems? It depends. If the washer is bleaching the napkins in very hot water and washing them alone, yes, the washing definitely would create some bad napkin karma. But if they are being presoaked with an enzymatic cleaner in warm water from your solar water heater or outside on a sunny day, probably not. I am also a firm believer in a gentle, environmentally friendly laundry detergent and a little borax for laundry, even though I have not researched the impact. There are other questions as well. What kind of washing machine, is it Energy Star compliant, does it use less water, are the napkins taking a communal bath or bathing alone?
That brings us to the drying of our napkins. There is not a dryer in the land that is Energy Star compliant, because the authority has deemed dryers to be just plain bad, as well as the habiuts of the people that use them. (They know that most dryer users will set the dryer on a high setting and not pull the clothes out when they are dry.) So here we go, if you put the napkins in the dryer by themselves on a really hot setting, and do not stop the cycle when the napkins are dry, but allow them to tumble well past their time.....you guessed it, bad Napkin drying karma. But if you hang them out to dry in the sun, Yay for you. Many napkin karma points for the sun dried napkin owner.
So Linda, the answer is that every choice that we make is made up of little choices along the way that we make with the information that we have. If we get more information, then we make changes and adjust. But even a little choice that takes us in the right direction is a good choice, because environmentalism is a series of small choices or moments. Not one big choice.
And the WORST thing that we can all do is NOTHING. Just like they tell you in First Aid: "If you don't know what to do, try something, because there is a good chance that it will be the right thing and save a life."
And quite frankly, the planet needs first aid.
As for the Living Green Bibles, take a look at World Changing: A User's Guide for the 21st Century. It is an overall excellent compendium of perspectives on changing the world, and examines some aspects of environmentalism that most of us have not thought of. There are some areas and statements that I disagree with, but I will still recommend the book for the overview of the problem and solutions in play or under research.
For actions that you can take NOW, I also recommend It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth Friendly Living. This book is fabulous because most of it is basically a checklist of small and big changes to make in your life and can allow you to check in on how you are doing later.
I have also heard great things about Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability but have not had the opportunity to read it yet. If you go with it, let me know how it is.
So knit on and enjoy.