Lynn Scarlett

Recent Work

A Consumer’s Guide to Environmental Myths

June 2, 1997

In recent years, numerous groups, including federal agencies, have offered advice on how Americans can be "good environmentalists." Through broadcast and print media, consumers, legislators and even children are told what products and what actions are environmentally "good" and "bad." Although frequently well-intentioned, the advice is all too often based on little more than the simple-minded application of such core beliefs as "recycling is good," "disposables are bad," "packaging is bad," "plastics are bad," etc. In many cases, the advice-givers focus on only one environmental concern (such as the volume of solid waste) while ignoring all others (such as air pollution, water pollution, energy use and the use of other scarce resources). From the perspective of the total environment, the advice is often wrong. Consumers who try to follow simple rules when they shop may end up harming the environment more than if they simply ignored the environmental consequences of their behavior. Listed here are 10 myths consumers are led to believe—followed by facts.