2008.04.23 Did you help to save the Earth yesterday?

Written by David Green.


You did know yesterday was Earth Day, didn’t you? No, it’s not just for hippies anymore. Anyone is allowed to participate, even the President, who recently acknowledged the possibility of global warming. And, no, he didn’t announce plans to invade the Sun in retaliation. But, like many special days, it is interesting watching some of those trying to capitalize on the occasion.

Like Wal-Mart, for instance. The corporate giant has been running a series of television advertisements highlighting the effect that Wal-Mart shoppers could have on the world, such as the amount of energy saved if all 200 million Wal-Mart customers changed just one light bulb to one of those energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs.

They’re conveniently leaving out the part about how 8 or 10,000 hours from now we’ll be faced with replacing 200 million hard to dispose of light bulbs. Maybe we’d all be better off if those 200 million shoppers simply attempted to buy products manufactured closer to home at a locally-owned merchant. Think of the energy that might save.

But it’s not just the sales tactics that concern me, but some of the products themselves that are puzzling. Like, for instance, the 2X concentrated liquid laundry detergents that seem to have taken over the product category in the past few months.

It’s getting hard, if not downright impossible, to find the old-style non-concentrated formula still on store shelves, except where a few marked-down closeout remainders have yet to be purchased. That’s a good thing, really, as one brand, Tide, claims that the new formula uses, on average, 35% less water and 43% less plastic packaging than the old style.

That has to also amount to less energy to move the lighter and smaller products to the stores. So here’s my question: Why did it take so long for someone to come up with the idea? Oh, and a follow up question...with huge savings in water, plastic, packaging and transportation costs, why does the new product cost more? 

Another line of products, EarthShell plates and bowls, are advertised as being made from “renewable ingredients” such as potatoes and corn. Isn’t it neat how they keep coming up with new ways to use corn other than for food? Pretty soon, they’re have to post the price of an ear of corn on a sign outside the supermarket, just like a gallon of gas.

And then there’s my favorite “earth-friendly” product, Terra Cycle All Purpose Plant Food. It doesn’t get much more natural. The product is described as liquified worm poop (can I say “poop” in a family newspaper?). And then there’s the package....

Terra Cycle is packed in used 20 ounce pop bottles. Not bottles recycled into new packaging, but actual used bottles with a new label slapped over the old one and a spray top screwed into the opening in place of the old cap. I’m not sure if they wash the bottles first, but why bother if you’re going to fill them with defecation?

And has everyone forgotten the old warnings not to store harmful liquids in empty pop bottles? I’m not sure if Terra Cycle is deadly if ingested, but I feel sorry for the first child who thinks it’s Pepsi in a spray bottle.

Joking aside, don’t forget that there are lots of legitimate products on the market designed to save energy, water and other precious resources. And leave it to Oprah Winfrey to remind us to pass our old clothing on to the less fortunate. Or, in her case, to sell it.

According to a New York Times article, Winfrey is now marketing her discarded clothing in a gift shop/boutique across the street from her television studios. Items available included Prada shoes for $250, about half the price of new. Each item comes with a tag from Harpo, Inc., certifying that it came from Winfrey’s closet.

One woman who bought a blouse was said to be “thrilled that her purchase showed slight underarm stains, proof positive that Winfrey’s underarms had been there.” Oprah DNA, it just doesn’t get any more natural than that, does it?

If you’re not famous, it’s still acceptable to donate suitable used clothing to Goodwill. And it’s certainly a good idea to use earth friendly products when possible. But again, let me update a childhood warning: Never, never, never drink from a pop bottle with a spray top. Chances are, it’s not Dr Pepper.

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