Adding Energy to a Green Process Isn’t Helping

Recently, I saw a sponsored product while scrolling through social media. The headline grabbed my attention: “FoodCycler provides indoor composting solutions. This technology has revolutionized composting; offering indoor odorless solutions for your home or garden.” Needless to say, I was interested in all of these promises. As avid readers of the blog know, we keep a bin of worms to carry out this same process, but maybe this was something new and even better.

The FoodCycler is essentially a macerating dehydrator. It heats up and churns 2–3 lb of food scraps into flaky bits in about three hours. During that time, it burns a kilowatt of energy, which in Wisconsin, would emit 1.4 lb CO2. What really surprised me was that one of the recommended uses of the composted food waste was that it “can be added directly to your compost bin!” I had to read that twice: use an energy-intensive food composter only to put the finished product in my c-o-m-p-o-s-t bin? The product’s literature goes on to say that, “the by-product . . . will not stink up your trash can if added to your weekly garbage.”

I do not mean to pick on the FoodCycler individually. It brought into focus something I have noticed in many “green” products and really the industrial production system in general: it’s just adding energy (usually from fossil-fuel sources) to already existing natural systems.

  • Industrial agriculture, for example, is really just a whole bunch of machines that regulate the planting, breakdown, and reproduction of plants. The individual machines are just glorified handtools: a combine harvester takes the place of scythes, rakes, threshing flails, and winnow baskets.
  • In the lumber yard, I’ve begun to see “composite” boards, which are in fact plastic.
  • Hand driers in restrooms are supposed to save on paper towels, which they do, but at the expense of electrically induced emissions, just to air-dry one’s hands faster.
  • Vehicles (electric or otherwise) speed up our natural ability to travel by emitting greenhouse gasses (directly or indirectly) and embodying a lot of energy in their production.

I would take some more time to flesh out this idea and find more examples, but my yard needs to be scythed, so I’ll have to leave it here. It’s the summer. Get outside and enjoy some life in the slow lane — better yet, just get off the road.

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