This year we decided to do something a little different for our holiday gifts. It’s a time of the year that for us has traditionally been about renewal of the spirit. So, we thought it was entirely appropriate in 2009 to concentrate on gifts that focus on renewal of our planet. Still looking for that perfect gift for that special friend or family member? Here are a few of our ideas for a “teachable moment” this holiday season.
DVD: National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change the World
In 2006, the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” premiered to great fanfare worldwide as a cautionary tale of the potential effects of global warming on our future. Although it should be applauded for its attempt to bring Al Gore’s message to a larger audience, at times it seemed as though it was more about Al Gore than about the science behind the message. With the 2008 film “Six Degrees could change the World”, the filmmakers at National Geographic have created what we feel is a much more compelling picture of what might happen to our planet as the global temperatures increase, one degree at a time. Visually powerful imagery is supported by credible interviews with scientists with a minimum of political propaganda. It will be an enlightening experience for skeptics and believers alike.
Why should we care? It’s our planet, and this is an easy way to learn more about the potential effects of climate change without the propaganda. The “big picture” this movie portrays is as much about our future as it is about our children’s.
Available through www.amazon.com for $12.92 plus tax & shipping
A guilt – free water bottle… it’s biodegradable
Should we feel good about ourselves because we have ditched the disposable water bottle for a refillable “sports” bottle? Not all of these bottles are good for the environment, or our body. We decided to do a little research on the pros and cons of all kinds of supposedly “green” water bottles on the market, including metal, glass and reusable plastic products (refilling disposable water bottles is definitely not recommended as a good choice) and found that there is no one perfect product. But in the end, we like this 16.9 oz. corn resin water bottle. It claims to be the only reusable drinking bottle that is made in the U.S.A., and when disposed of it is supposed to biodegrade in just 80 days in commercial compost systems. We also like that it comes with its own carbon based water filter to remove chlorine and organic contaminants from regular municipal tap water.
Why should we care? In California, 18 million gallons of bottled water were shipped in from Fiji in 2006, producing about 2,500 tons of global warming pollution.? And while the bottles come from far away, most of them end up close to home — in a landfill. Most bottled water comes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottles we use get recycled. In 2005, 2 million tons of plastic water bottles ended up clogging landfills instead of getting recycled.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Available through www.greenstore.com for $8.95 plus tax & shipping
Laptop computer as a battery charger
Travel with the usual complement of gadgets requiring AA batteries has now become less stressful as recharging those batteries is as convenient as the USB port on a laptop computer. Manufactured by the award-winning British company Moixa, this is a great idea for the road warrior who wants to avoid carrying extra batteries on every trip.
Why should we care? Americans purchase nearly three billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cell phones, watches, laptop computers and portable power tools. Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when disposed of improperly. Over its useful life, each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single use batteries.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Available through www.usbcell.com for about $16.00 plus tax & shipping
Maybe the coolest charger ever?
I’ll admit it – I really want this stylishly designed six-ounce solar charger to work – it’s such a good idea. Equipped with an internal battery and tips for connection to various electronic devices, this can replace all those confusing rechargers littering our countertops. But the real treat comes from opening up this fan-shaped product and letting the sun become our power source. Finally, it’s manufactured by Solio, a environmentally responsible company who donates a portion of their profits to social responsible causes.
Why should we care? The sun’s energy is so powerful that in just 1 hour the amount of energy that falls on the earth equals the amount used by the world’s population in a whole year. Now consider fossil fuels. Formed by utilizing solar energy that has been stored in plants that grew millions of years ago this fuel process takes a long time, and will eventually run out. But as long as the sun burns, we will have the cleaner and more portable option of photo-voltaic energy.
Available through www.solio.com for $79.95 plus tax & shipping
Replace that toxic flash drive with an eco-friendly one
One of a growing number of environmentally friendly portable USB drives now on the market, we like this Houston model with a swivel top so we will never lose the cap. Also available in bamboo, these drives contain no lead, mercury, cadmium or other toxics, and will decompose more easily than their traditional counterparts. Even the packaging is environmentally friendly.
Why should we care? With the ever-growing demand for portable memory to accompany our laptop computers, it’s time to think about where all these electronic products ultimately end up – our local landfill. In this case, it’s about making a choice to be more thoughtful about our environment without spending more money.
Available through www.greenhome.com for $28.00 plus tax & shipping
It’s indispensable in more ways than one
It’s not the flashiest of holiday gifts, but we can be sure that everyone will eventually use it. There is a growing list of manufacturers who produce a product that is 100% made from recycled material; we like that Seventh Generation is available locally, is processed chlorine free, and that 80% of its recycled material is post-consumer (meaning that the waste would otherwise have ended up in a landfill or an incinerator).
Why should we care? Forests are being needlessly destroyed to make toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels and other disposable paper products. If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Check local grocery stores for availability
A simple recycled paper notebook
The good news is that we are seeing more and more products in the marketplace that use recycled paper, and this is good news for landfills and forests alike. This simple “eco- notebook” from ReWrite makes a positive statement with its 100% post consumer recycled paper and soy based inks.
Why should we care? On a national level, when paper is thrown away, 20% is sent to an incinerator and 80% goes to a landfill; once in the landfill, parts of the paper begin to decompose and release methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential 25 times higher than CO2.
Environmental Defense Fund
Available through www.greenhome.com for $56.00/box of 20 plus tax & shipping
Paper or plastic? Neither with this tote bag
Whether it’s used as our grocery – shopping substitute for disposable bags or to carry our wine, this attractive tote bag gets an enthusiastic thumbs up. Manufactured by Acme Bags of recycled cotton in accordance with fair labor/fair trade practices, 1% of sales of every bag go to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.
Why should we care? Every second, 400 light and aerodynamic plastic bags are distributed in the State of California. That’s 14 billion bags per year! Plastic bags are a principal component of the litter that clogs our urban creeks, streams and bays. And plastic bags are a major component of the plastic litter that becomes marine debris. In the North Pacific Gyre there is already 46 times more plastic particles than plankton!
Californians Against Waste
Available through www.reusablebags.com for $9.95 plus tax & shipping
Wrapping can be wasteful too
‘Tis the season to avoid styrofoam packing peanuts, and this 100% post consumer paper packaging from Caremail serves as an environmentally friendly alternative. Made from recycled shredded cardboard, this product will make us feel a little better about ourselves if we run out of that packing stuffing we have been storing all year long.
Why should we care? Packaging has come to symbolize the issue of waste. It represents roughly one-third of municipal waste in the United States, and only slightly less in Mexico. Perhaps most important of all, packaging feels wasteful: used once and then promptly discarded, it seems like only an ephemeral presence in our lives as it rushes from factory to landfill.
Frank Ackerman, Tufts University
Available through www.amazon.com for $6.39 plus tax & shipping
Trilogy Pack Stacker v2
Even when we use recycled wrapping for our gifts, it can still add up to a lot of stuffing for our recycle bin the day after. When we couldn’t find anything we liked on line to minimize the packing for our holiday “eco – bag”, the creative minds in our office came up with a handmade solution comprised of recycled cardboard, reducing the amount (and cost) of packing 75% from what we otherwise would have needed.
Why should we care? See above.
Available only through your imagination
And finally, it’s all about the science
If we could read only one book on climate change and how to survive the next 100 years, this should be it. Lester Brown has clearly laid out each of the many challenges our planet faces now and in the near future. He backs up his cautionary statement with enough documentation to satisfy any reader who has the desire to probe more deeply into this subject. But this book does much more than simply outline the problems before us. It identifies a wide – ranging series of solutions, hence the title “Plan B”.
Available through www.earth-policy.org for $14.00 plus shipping and tax, or even better, as a free download.
Even if the holiday shopping list has already been filled, we think these are still good ideas to celebrate the coming new year. After all, the message here is simple: If everyone of us does just a little to reduce everyday waste, whether it is in water bottles or grocery bags, it adds up to nothing less than global improvement. No politics, just simple math.
James Theimer is the principal architect and founder of the Redding-based firm Trilogy Architecture.