Green Washed

By far the strangest phenomenon I’ve encountered while living in the big city is the unholy wedding of environmentalism and consumerism.

Last year a law was passed requiring businesses to charge their customers at least five cents for every plastic shopping bag. In response to this law, more and more businesses are selling reusable plastic and cloth bags so that people who don’t want to pay the fee or accumulate more plastic bags have another option while shopping.

Some of the bags are black and plain, others are covered with bright colours and whimsical animal, plant or geometric patterns. Grocery stores often sell incredibly sturdy reusable bags that have the store’s name printed on the side of them. There is one style of bag that has various phrases printed on the side of it. For example, it may say this is a green bag or this is not a plastic bag.

Snide phrases like these irk me.

The Irks

  • I’ve never heard of any these bags (or the companies that make and/or sell them) extolling the idea of buying and consuming less as a permanent lifestyle change.
  • Unnecessary purchases are not made one whit more necessary by the type of bag in which one carries them home.
  • Sermonizing does nothing to endear other people to one’s cause.
  • Ethically speaking, it seems so strange for one to purposefully draw attention to his or her own virtue. It is far better, IMO, to let your actions speak for themselves.

Other Examples

This is only one example of the melding of environmentalism and consumerism. Back when Drew and I still had cable our local news channel would occassionally feature stories in which the host talked about various ways of living a more green life.

In many cases, this involved buying new stuff that had been grown or produced in more eco-friendly ways: appliances, homes, cars, clothing, toys, shoes. Anything that could be repackaged as earth-friendly was repackaged as such and much of it was far more expensive than what one would typically pay for such a thing.

Are organic, locally grown/made, fair-trade products better? In many cases yes. At other times I’m less sure. I do feel a twinge of guilt when I buy something that was probably picked, sewn or assembled by someone working for abysmally small wages in dangerous conditions.

Sometimes there are no alternatives, though, or the conscious-friendly option isn’t even in the same solar system as my budget. This is what I do instead:

  • Use it up.
  • Wear it out.
  • Give away what I no longer need.
  • Gratefully accept what others pass along to me.
  • Only purchase the absolute necessities.

For certain items I’ll also consider buying used although the North American bedbug epidemic makes me wary about bringing home anything in which they could hitch a ride. A set of dishes, cookware or cutlery would be acceptable things to pick up at a secondhand store or garage sale; an upholstered couch, on the other hand,  is something I’d insist upon buying new. 😉

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0 Responses to Green Washed

  1. Hi Lydia, thanks for giving me some important things to ponder. Madison Avenue will latch onto anything that will make a buck, and it’s so important to think about your purchases no matter where you make them.

    So your comment on Chris Gillebeau’s blog about finding joy. I wholeheartedly agree!

    • I definitely agree, Laurie.

      And thank you. I almost didn’t post that comment because I thought it might be too abstract for the conversation. 🙂

      As an aside, I can see the name of your blog but when I click on the link it takes me to the homepage of WordPress. I understand if it’s a private blog but if the link is simply broken I’d be very curious to know the actual link. You can tell so much about someone from the topics they discuss on their blog(s)! 🙂

  2. Totally agree, and nice post.

    Plastic happens to be a bugbear of mine, I intend to blog it one of these days. People think that by not using a plastic bag they’ve done their bit. Actually, not buying products with plastic in them, particularly excess plastic packaging should go along with this. eg I try to buy things in glass or cans rather than plastic.

    I am seeing some producers here changing their packaging, which is encouraging 🙂

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

  3. Wow, another really great post. This one hits home for me. I have very few friends or family members who take ‘living green’ seriously. They see it as futile, that what one persons does has very little effect, so they don’t do anything. So, I tend to get on a bandwagon and draw attention to the virtues of recycling, using resusable shopping bags, living frugally, etc. Because of this, I’m sure some of them would say I am ‘irk-some’!! It’s TRUE that sermonizing does nothing to change people’s views. I finally learned that after a while.

    As for producers changing their packaging, one thing I ‘ve noticed is that many bottled water companies have gone to thinner plastics and smaller lids. These small changes can make a big impact. Of course, I’d prefer there were not bottled water, but at least it’s a move in the right direction!

    I sometimes purchase bulk items at my grocer…rice,cousous,beans,spices, etc. and they either go in a plastic bag or container. I know of people who take their own glass container to put their bulk items into. They have them weighed and marked before they shop, thus saving the use of the plastic. I havn’t carried it that far yet but I would like to.

    • I’ve been making a conscious effort to avoid bottled water. I haven’t noticed any changes yet but will keep an eye out the next time I need to buy it.

      I’d never thought about bringing my own container for bulk items. I don’t actually purchase anything in bulk mostly because most stores in my neighbourhood don’t sell stuff that way. It’s a great idea, though! Let me know how it works out for you.