“Green” Buying

According to that wise philosopher Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green.”

Kermit didn’t know the half of it. The difficulties of being a green frog are nothing compared to the challenges of being a “green” human being.

You may or may not recycle. You may or may not use energy-efficient light bulbs or buy organic produce. You may or may not believe global warming to be a problem. But I would be willing to bet Al Gore’s electric bill that you would agree with the statement, “We need to use our planet’s resources wisely.”

One way to do that is through “green” buying. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as you might think.

The other day I got a catalog in the mail—printed, of course, on recycled paper. This company advocates “less wasteful consumption.” They sell all sorts of conservation-minded stuff like solar panels, battery chargers, energy-efficient light bulbs, and composting commodes. I’m sure a lot of their products are quite useful and genuinely “green.”

Then there are the more dubious things. Like the clothes and household stuff made from organic cotton and bamboo. True, the flannel bathrobe made from organic cotton costs $89, plus shipping, as opposed to the $19 you might spend for a flannel bathrobe at Wal-Mart. But you can feel so much more virtuous when you wrap up in the organic one. Never mind that both the garments are imported from China, traveling halfway around the world via ships and trains and trucks that use lots of good old-fashioned fossil fuels.

Or you can order fire-starters to use in your energy-saving wood stove. These are made from recycled church candles. You can be green and ecumenical at the same time, since the starters are 30% Lutheran, 30% Catholic, and 40% other denominations. Of course, you could eliminate the cost of hauling candle stubs back and forth if you just stopped in at a local church and asked them to save their used candles for you.

Then there are the decorative composting containers, designed to fit under your sink or sit with eco-pride on your kitchen counter and hold up to a week’s worth of scraps. They range in price from $17 to $42, plus shipping. A recycled ice cream bucket or yogurt container would serve the purpose just as well—but where’s the green glamour in that?

Green buying can even extend into the afterlife. You can return the remains of your beloved pet to the earth in an eco-friendly manner with a bamboo pet coffin. Not just any bamboo, either. No, these are made from “fair-trade-certified bamboo”—a variety, by the way, that pandas do not eat. They are hand-woven in a small family-run factory in—guess where? China.

If you chose a less ostentatious but no less eco-friendly way to return your pet’s remains to the earth, you could just bury it in the back yard in a cardboard box. With the $350, plus shipping, you would save by not buying the bamboo pet casket, you could donate a lot of food to your local animal shelter.

My favorite item in the whole catalog, however, is the “Ellie Pooh” brand paper. You can get a narrow notebook, perfect for your to-do lists, for only $9, plus $6 shipping. The same price gets you a cube of 100 4-inch-square sheets in a cute little cardboard box.

That seems expensive, you think? Ah, but this isn’t ordinary paper. This is made—without bleach or acid—from 25% recycled paper and 75% elephant dung. Organic, of course, and no doubt gathered by hand. When you think of the labor involved just in collecting the raw materials, not to mention the processing, the prices seem quite reasonable for such a unique end product.

Too bad the “Ellie Pooh” company doesn’t make stationery, but maybe people were reluctant to lick the envelopes. Of course, you could just make your to-do lists on the back of recycled junk mail envelopes, but then you’d miss out on the self-satisfaction of having helped the elephants of Sri Lanka.

If you think it’s important to use the Earth’s resources well, you could certainly order products like this from catalogs like this. Or you might try a different approach—not as eco-trendy, perhaps, but at least as eco-friendly. It’s simple—stop and think before you buy. Don’t assume that buzzwords like “organic” or “green” or “recycled” automatically add up to wise purchasing.

Think before you spend. Otherwise the only “green” in your purchases might be the color of the money that gets recycled out of your pocket and into someone else’s.

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