How’s Your Green IQ?

By Rickie Harvey
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Even if you follow environmental issues, it is sometimes difficult to know fact from fiction. The true-false statements here are intended to test your knowledge of all things “green.” We would also love to hear from you if you have ideas for future Ecophiles columns or topics you’d like to have us cover. Just send us an e-mail at


True or false: The average individual in the United States uses at least 500 plastic bags per year.

True. As a country, we use more than 500 billion plastic bags annually. Making the bags requires 12 million barrels of oil. Only about 2 percent of all plastic bags are recycled; the rest take between 500 and 1,000 years to break down in our landfills.


True or false: If the tires on my car are not fully inflated, my car uses more gasoline when I drive.

True. The rolling resistance of your car’s tires is increased if your tires are not fully inflated, and this causes you to use more gas. The Department of Energy estimates that Americans waste about 3.56 million gallons of gas a day due to driving on tires that are not properly inflated; this comes at a cost of about $14.2 million every day in wasted gas for U.S. consumers.


True or false: When I turn off my TV or put my computer to sleep, it is no longer using any electricity.

False. Most televisions, telephone and laptop chargers, DVD players and other electronics, and any items whose cords have “bricks” (boxes) on them, are still using energy even when they are turned to “off” unless you unplug them. Large televisions can draw as much power when they are turned off (but not unplugged) as a refrigerator, for example, so you can save a great deal on your monthly utility bill if you unplug such items or purchase “smart power strips,” which turn them fully off automatically.


True or false: It is OK to put plastic bags into my big blue recycling bin.

False. Unfortunately, as wonderful as “single-stream” recycling for West Roxbury is, it cannot accommodate plastic bags, which should be taken to the grocery store for recycling. Plastic bags get caught in the recycling equipment and should not be placed into your blue bin. To watch a video of how single-stream recycling works at the Charlestown center, visit


True or false: The cooling effect of a young tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

True. According to, trees provide energy-saving shade when strategically planted and can cut your need for air-conditioning dramatically. Trees positioned to shade roofs, west-facing walls, windows and pavement greatly reduce heat buildup. Trees’ transpiration (evaporative effect) works as a natural air conditioner to cool the surrounding air.


True or false: Commercial car washes use more water than if I clean my vehicle myself.

False. An automated car wash uses up to 80 percent less water than driveway washing, and nearly all of the water is recycled.


True or false: Washing laundry in cold water might save energy (and money), but it doesn’t get my clothing clean.

False. Today’s detergents are designed to get clothes just as clean in cold water as in warm or hot, so except for extremely stained items, you don’t need hot water to ensure clean clothing. Since up to 75 percent of the cost of washing clothes comes from heating the water, you will save significantly by washing with cold.


True or false: From an energy-use point of view, eating one meal of meat is the equivalent of driving around in an SUV for an hour while leaving all the lights on at home.

True. Another way to put this is that if a big meat eater switches to an all-plant diet, it would be like replacing a gas-guzzling SUV with a Toyota Camry. The energy needed to raise cattle and produce and package the meat and get it into our stores takes a substantial toll on our environment.


So how’d you do?

6–8 correct: deep forest green

4–6 correct: kelly green

2–4 correct: pale apple green

0–2 correct: not quite on the green spectrum yet