Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Death of a Dream Cafeteria

An amusing Los Angeles Times opinion article talks about the failed green experiment that was the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria.  (And here's a 2008 New York Times article about the cafeteria when the experiment was underway.)  As the L.A. Times article is primarily interested in proving one political party right and the other wrong, it doesn't fully demonstrate why the attempt to make the cafeteria environmentally friendly failed.  But it does show that there's a lot more work to be done in researching and properly adopting green technology.

Just because we can make plates and flatware biodegradable doesn't mean that doing so is always feasible, cost-effective, or even the most planet-friendly option.  We have to consider the environmental and economic cost of creating, transporting, using, and disposing biodegradable goods.  That's where life cycle analysis comes in.  If a business establishment advertises green products or services, it should display the life cycle analyses of both conventional and green options to demonstrate that, in the end, its green program is truly green.  The mere appearance of going green is not enough; you have to do your homework.

The article also makes me wonder why the House cafeteria doesn't simply use china and silverware rather than disposable stuff.  If the cafeteria used china and silverware, its environmental cost would be in heat, water usage, and sewage production caused by dishwashers and dryers.  This cost, while not negligible, might compare favorably against the cost of incineration.

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