Column: Being a smart consumer keeps earth ‘green’

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 6, 2002

With recycling and the environment playing a larger role in today’s society, we are seeing more companies try to project themselves as &uot;green.&uot; &uot;Green&uot; in environmental terms means you are leaving a smaller footprint on the environment, such as using natural lighting instead of energy powered, use of shade to help displace air conditioning, or maybe building into the earth to reduce energy use by the heating and cooling systems. A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal claims that many people don’t buy green products because they fear the products won’t work as well. It was also determined that shoppers will pay for convenience far more readily than for ideology.

Examples of these trends of thinking are seen right here in Freeborn County. As new homes are built, all trees and shrubs are clear cut, then replaced with smaller new plants that do not have the deep roots to hold water or provide shade. When the lawns dry out in late summer valuable water is pumped from underground to keep the lawn green. How often have we made the choice to purchase beverages in plastic containers for convenience instead of aluminum or returnable glass? The plastic containers are cheaper to make (from crude oil) and beverage companies sometimes charge more for less product.

Years ago, Philips Electronics billed an eco-friendly, energy-saving fluorescent bulb as &uot;Earth Light.&uot; Recently they repackaged the very same bulb, and ditched the environmental angle, emphasizing they were convenient, seven-year life bulbs. Sales have grown 12 percent since changing the ad.

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Bottled water containers, disposable mops and heavy-duty plastic plates (items that nearly always end up in landfills) are top sellers. The recycling rate for plastic beverage bottles are about a third of what they were in 1995 and the single-serve use bottles have more than doubled to 18 billion. This trend in purchasing has caused concern in the recycling industry.

If we are to make an impact through our home and businesses, we must pay attention to the claims being made when we make purchases. If we were buying a car, a TV or new computer, we would pay attention to the accessories and features we want, to insure we got our money’s worth. But when we spend our dollars on small items on a weekly basis, we are not as apt to look quite as close. Some people spend more on food and clothing each year than what a computer, a car or TV might cost, and don’t get a good value because they were small purchases. Are be buying junk and will have to pay the garbage man to haul it away? Is it recyclable? Is there excess packaging costing you additional money for this purchase? The &uot;chasing arrows&uot; recycling logo is put on the bottom of foam coffee cups (number 6), but the consumer can’t readily recycle them anywhere in the United States. Pay attention &045;

we are often being deceived in order to make a sale.

What kind of &uot;green&uot; footprint are we leaving on the earth? Have we reduced the use of harsh chemicals in our yard to safer, equally effective &uot;natural&uot; pesticide and herbicide control? Have we switched to energy efficient appliances, landscaping that reduces runoff, or recently checked the Recycling Instruction Sheet for new items that can be recycled? They can be obtained at most all post offices throughout the county, banks and some stores, or by calling the Environmental Services Department at (507) 377-5186.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County’s solid waste officer and head of the environmental services department.