Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green

Truffala Trees from Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Happy Earth Day! If you've spent any time online today, you're sure to notice all of the Earth Day related promotions. Yes, you can get a free cup of coffee or tea today at Starbucks if you bring in a reusable mug.

These sales (25% off Tarte Cosmetics w/ code EARTHDAY2011, 20% off all organic bedding at West Elm, $5 off all green products from while encouraging purchase of green products, still encourage ACCUMULATION OF STUFF.

Wouldn't the greenest way to celebrate Earth Day be a day of not buying anything. I know, that would be a nightmare for our economy. I'm just sayin'. And I'm not judging. Not at all.

I feel like an evil environmental home wrecker given that we use disposable diapers. They NEVER decompose. Ever. We have our reasons for why we use them. We share a washer and dryer with our neighbors and can't guarantee that the "bad" detergent wouldn't get into cloth diapers. We also pay for the laundry at $1.00 a load and would be spending way more to do cloth diapers. So we use disposable.

I keep thinking about my grandma who reused paper towels. She would use a paper towel and then dry it out on the counter. And use it again. She did this not because the Earth wanted her to, but because it saved money. We still buy paper towels. Why? I don't know. No reason. Because. Habit. We have these reusable rags that work wonderfully for drying dishes, counter tops, hands, picking up spills, etc. Why not just use these?

I googled "Reuse paper towels" and came across a very interesting blog post about a movement against paper towels and the environmental implications about the proposed solution-- Are Reusable "Paper" Towels the Next Eco-Conundrum? 

In the war against paper towels, Inhabitat has teamed up with PeopleTowels to create an alternative reusable hand towel. The idea is that we would carry our own hand towel around with us through life so we'd never have to reach for a paper towel in a public bathroom or anywhere else. Isn't that what hand dryers are for? But I digress. These PeopleTowels would be, essentially like hankies. Or reusable bags.

Now, this blog post actually evaluates the benefits of we humans carrying around our own personal hand towels. And makes a really valid point:

"As I was reading about the campaign, I couldn’t help but wonder if these reusable towels will just be another reusable bag. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reusable bags, in fact I have them in every color. While they have positive environmental impacts, their numbers are becoming a problem. People are drawn to trends and, even more so, reusable trends.  Such high demand for reusable bags led to an increase in the import of these products. According to United States International Trade Commission, over three billion reusable bags have been imported into the United States since 1999, mainly from China, and chances are a number of underlying environmental attributes in the import and distribution process of these bags have not been accounted for."

It's not easy to get around this is it? I mean, we try to be "good." To treat each other and the Earth well. We use our reusable bags and Sigg bottles. We don't buy bottled water anymore. But now companies are making and importing reusable bags and bottles thus increasing the carbon footprint, and therfore undermining our motivation for buying these things in the first place.

So how much actually makes a difference? 

Okay, this is beginning to get a little depressing. Let's lighten the mood. As this post emphasizes... the important thing is to REDUCE first.... and then REUSE.

We can do that, right? I mean, Bob and I have been reducing for the last two years. Let's be honest, monetary motivation is the best. I mean, we were forced to reduce. And in the process we saw the many benefits. They go beyond the wallet. Way beyond!

As new parents we have every opportunity to go off the deep end in terms of accumulation. BUT... 98% of Malcolm's clothes come from hand-me-downs or thrift stores/ resale shops. I highly recommend always checking your thrift store, resale shop, Freecycle or Craigslist before buying anything for a baby new. There are scores to be had. And isn't this a wonderful way to be green?

I believe so, yes. And there are so many people out there that feel that way. There are people out there really making a difference for the earth.

Bob and I met a remarkable 88-year-old woman at the dog park in Friday Harbor who won San Juan Islands' Citizen of the Year in 2009 for getting Styrofoam banned from the islands. Her name is Doris Estabrooks. She really struck a chord with us because at 88 she made a difference. She is one of those people fighting for the earth and is a wonderful example and role model. Thank you, Doris!

As for me... what do I promise for Earth Day? I promise to stop using paper towels in my home. From this moment forward. And maybe I'll start carrying around my own personal hand towel. I carry around a spit cloth for Malcolm. So, why not?

And lastly, I will keep distinguishing between WANT & NEED in an effort to continue to REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE.

What about you?

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I hope you take some time to appreciate the earth today. Even if it's to just notice the smell of the rain and enjoy the pitter pat of the raindrops on the roof (yep, it's raining in Chicago.)


Nate said...

A thoughtful and thought-provoking post. What a staggering statistic, three BILLION reusable bags in the US? That's TEN bags for every ONE person in the country! And based on my last trip to Dominick's, it doesn't seem like they're being used. At all. By anyone. Okay, maybe I saw a few people with them, but still. I wonder if plastic bag sales have dipped since 1999. My guess is not much. And every time you go to Whole Foods or any other trendy store they have new reusable bags with new cool graphics, and they're only like $.50 or something and so why not get it, right? Arrg! So frustrating.

What has to occur to really make change happen is increased education. Every high school in America should have a mandatory class that teaches responsible consumerism. Because we all know that using plastic bags is bad for the environment, but buying and accumulating reusable bags does NOT make you a better, more responsible consumer. This mindset and false sense of "do-gooderism" has to change, and this knowledge needs to be taught to our young consumers, NOW. Just my humble Earth Day opinion/rant! Thanks for the insightful post, Steph! -Nate

Unknown said...

What a wonderful article and contribution to Earth Day, Steph! You make a very interesting point about paper towel use. No matter how much we think we are reducing there is always more we can do. I enjoy watching Malcom grow up through FB pictures. He is adorable! Marsha Livingstone

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, I recently read Rubbish: The archeaology of Garbage by the folks at University of Arizona who intensively study landfills and they said that although people fixate on disposable diapers, and they disposable diapers are barely measurable in what fills our landfills -construction and building debris is number one, followed by vast quantities of paper, followed by tires. Way, way way way way down the list is anything like diapers.


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