Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I can't afford eco-chic

Funny how things go in cycles. In the spring of 2005, right after we started blogging, I posted about a newspaper article, describing young wealthy parents spending lots to buy things like natural-materials alphabet blocks. I reposted it two years later.

Now the same kinds of stories are coming up again (of course, Earth Day is tomorrow), but with an extra edge of political correctness and eco-guilt, and a bit of slightly incongruous recession fever thrown in. A popular Canadian magazine recently ran a story about a family's attempt to buy nothing for a month, which was certainly a worthwhile idea; but the details of it made me a bit frustrated. Near the beginning of the challenge, the mother of the family was so into the no-spending idea that she refused to get needed school supplies for the children, preferring to mooch them from friends (somehow that was okay); but by the end of the month she had decided on a loophole: buying things used, including at consignment shops, doesn't count as "spending," since it's kind of recycling.


Not that we don't do a fair amount of that kind of "recycling" ourselves--I guess keeping a massive 1970's TV out of the landfill counts as a good deed for Earth Day, right? But things get so complicated--you know that sooner or later somebody's going to outlaw you even having older electronics, or selling them to somebody else, because of all the bad stuff that's in them. And that magazine article wasn't meant to be about what you buy or where you buy it anyway, it was supposed to be about making the best use of what you have without buying something else.

So now I'm catching up on last weekend's Toronto papers, and The Star is running a series on "Living Plastic Free." Again, both the pettiness and the stretch-the-rules-ness of these projects are baffling.

"I talk to my [4-year-old] about getting rid of his plastic toys. He looks up at me thoughtfully, his plastic soother bobbing up and down in his mouth.


Running errands, she buys the boy a cookie wrapped in plastic (before she thinks about it), and then he wants a drink.

"I didn't want to buy water in a plastic bottle and now he's thirsty. I ask the cashier for water in a foam cup, and when she obliges, I gratefully add 50 cents to her tip jar. But have I actually achieved anything here?"
But this is where she loses me completely:
"Machine-washable produce bags sell for $6 for small ones, $8 for large. Stainless-steel lunch tins are $25 each....The bill comes to $105 with taxes....[I also buy] stainless-steel [water] bottles with plastic tops, for $22 each."
Look, kids used to take their lunch to school in tin pails, with their food wrapped in cloth napkins. Non-plastic containers and washable sandwich wraps are really nothing new. But that's what people had handy then. They didn't go out and spend the hundred-years-ago equivalent of $25 for a lunch bucket. And that's what bugs me about all this.

Not that people shouldn't do whatever they like with whatever money they have, including spending it on eco-chic lunch tins. It's their business.

But if my version of living responsibly is continuing to use my almost-twenty-year-old plastic containers and almost everything else that we were given as wedding gifts (even the Crockpot still works); or replenishing the supply at yard sales; or even, yes, I ADMIT IT, buying Ziploc bags, which I do wash and re-use as many times as I can--

then give me the same freedom to do that.


At Home on the Rock... said...

Great post....agree 110%!

Risa said...

I totally agree! The way eco-chic has become just one more must-have consumer item...ugh! Where is the reduce part of the equation: making do with what you've got?

And get rid of ALL plastic toys? Come on people, Lego afternoons have saved many a parents' sanity! :-)