Myth-Busting in the Journey to Save Our Planet

Many people are gaining awareness of the realities of climate change, and looking to do their part. But when our contributor investigated how to save the planet, she found that a lot of her pre-conceived notions were full of hot air.

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ANNABELLE GURWITCH: Okay, I get it already. The U.N. has issued its confirmation. Al Gore has been canonized Earth's patron saint, and even our president has now toured a biofuel plant in Brazil. It's reached the tipping point.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Actress and DAY TO DAY contributor Annabelle Gurwitch has decided it's time to do her part for the planet.

GURWITCH: Many people are stepping up to the plant - the recycled paper plate, that is - and I want to go greener, too. So I am following the lead of other folks who are adopting what's being called a no-impact lifestyle, starting with the smallest gesture: that old paper-or-plastic conundrum.

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GURWITCH: I ran my ideas past my friend Constance Hornig. I like to call Constance the garbage lady, but she's really the garbage attorney. Her clients range from the massive Los Angeles County to teeny, tiny municipalities. Constance is extremely well-versed in the impact of detritus on carbon emissions and other environmental scourges. Certainly she would be paper, not plastic. Paper: natural. Plastic: plastic.

Ms. CONSTANCE HORNIG (Environmental Attorney): Polyethylene is a natural material.

GURWITCH: I'm an idiot.

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GURWITCH: Constance actually says that making plastic bags uses less resources than making paper bags.

Ms. HORNIG: Logging and milling and pulping...

GURWITCH: Not only that, but the paper recycling process requires chemicals that are actually dangerous to the environment.

Ms. HORNIG: If you like sulfuric acid.

GURWITCH: And it gets worse.

Ms. HORNIG: Our paper goes down to the ports on trucks and gets on ships and sails across the sea to China. You know who the world's wealthiest self-made lady is, Annabelle? It's not J.K. Rawlings, and it's not Oprah.

GURWITCH: And God, it's not me.

Ms. HORNIG: It's Ms. Jang Lin(ph) in China. She's recycling our paper.

GURWITCH: So China is not only making all the junk I buy for my kid, they're re-pulping the packaging it came in. Okay, plastic. Now I'm sure Constance will agree that it's a good thing to start using those new compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Ms. HORNIG: They're going to be highly toxic.

GURWITCH: Oh, no. Constance says that these new light bulbs will have to be disposed of properly at a hazardous waste facility, just like batteries. Okay, I have a confession. I've been throwing my batteries away in the garbage. I've even thrown away smoke detectors, cell phones. Am I alone? Constance, do you think most Americans can be trusted to dispose of them properly?

Ms. HORNIG: No. We're going to throw them out.

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GURWITCH: Constance and many other experts who've studied this problem say the only real solution is to curtail our need to consume, consume, consume. You see, I think that's the hardest part of this equation. We are so conditioned to being able to buy our way out of situations that this may be the hardest part about going green. Still, there must be one thing that I can do that has no downside.

Ms. HORNIG: To me, it would be do dishes like my grandma.

GURWITCH: So that's what my future looks like: the past, with my dishes soaking in a pot of water and my plastic bags drying on the laundry line.

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CHADWICK: Actress and filmmaker Annabelle Gurwitch. Her documentary "Fired!" premiers tomorrow night on Showtime.

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