Saving the planet one sleeve (or Fire) at a time

Jeff at Woodpile | Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois

I’m the guy who walks into Starbucks with a ‘used’ cup sleeve and asks the barista to reuse it.  This is one of my personal ways to help save the planet one ounce of paper at a time. My recycling behavior goes back to my high school and college days where I received a strong chemistry and biology education. In addition to the normal recycling efforts practiced (glass/paper/plastic) we also go above and being with things like saving the plastic bags from the Herald-Whig at home and at the funeral home, and then returning them to the carriers for reuse.

One of my other ways to be ‘green’ seems a bit more unorthodox. My favorite form of relaxation, my hobby if you will, is splitting wood to be burned in my fireplace.

One might ask, “How can burning firewood be ‘green’?” The answer relates to CO2 emissions and whether more CO2 is released upon burning the wood verses just letting a tree rot in the forest. (I’ve known the answer for years, but I went online for some professional confirmation). Mary Huffman, fire ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s North American region and David Ganz, a forest carbon scientist, answered that question in a 2010 article.

Through the process of photosynthesis, CO2 is taken from the air and is one of the building blocks of the wood fiber in the form of carbon.  Whether that carbon and its stored energy is quickly released by combustion (heat and O2 releasing CO2) or the slower process of decay, the same amount of CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. So it is at worst a ‘neutral’ greenhouse gas event.

But, and here is a big ‘but’, if one is using that energy with an efficient fireplace insert to heat one’s home and offset the use of gas or electricity, then one can claim that less CO2 in the form of coal or gas burning would be necessary, making it a net decrease in CO2 production and emissions.

Now that’s a lot of science to justify one’s hobby, but on a crisp, Fall day, to be splitting firewood for an anticipated cold winter evening a few years down the road, is an uplifting experience. Okay, I admit that there is gas burned in the log splitter since my back pains prohibit the use of axes and mauls anymore. And there is gas consumed in the chain saw. But when I see those dead and dying ash trees on my property or a mostly dead stand of ash trees while out driving (ash is plentiful, highly rated as a firewood, and the Emerald Ash Borer is wreaking havoc in this area), I think of how much CO2 could be saved if someone could cut and split that wood for heating as opposed to just letting it fall and rot.

As to recycling a Starbucks sleeve that is clearly marked, “Intended for single use only?” That’s just my way of thinking that over the course of my lifetime, I figure I’ll personally keep a whole lot of garbage bags out of the local landfill!


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