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Eco products on the rise

Posted on July 17, 2000

Consumers can help with planet-friendly purchases

By Seth Hurwitz,

According to a just-released 2000 World Population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau, spaceship Earth is expected to add 3 billion passengers by the year 2050, for a grand total of 9 billion. Two hundred years ago, Earth’s population was 1 billion.

The implications of this rapid population expansion are dramatic — some say catastrophic. But there are ways for everyone to make a positive difference for themselves as well as the future of the planet. One of the most important, and easiest, is to be a smart and responsible consumer.

Recycled and reused materials

Due to increased public awareness and curbside recycling programs, people have been doing their part in the first step of the process. But recycling only works when consumers purchase recycled products. Don’t forget the paper, plastic, metal, and glass is being made into thousands of products — from pedestrian to profound. The more we buy, the more companies will use recycled materials in their products — which saves trees, energy and resources, and creates less pollution.

With more people and more products than ever before our landfills are overflowing. Americans generate about 200 million tons of trash every day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled. What happens to the other three-quarters? It’s either burned or buried, both of which can lead to contamination of the environment. And, the U.S. is running out of options as other parts of this shrinking planet refuse to take our trash.

“There are two types of products made in our industry, one is a reused product and one is a recycled product. In a recycled product, the actual material has to go through a different form and come out as a different form,” explained Mary Jarrett, a consultant for various governments and private corporations with regard to manufacturing and using recycled materials, and founder and CEO of Amazing Recycled Products. “A used product is when the material doesn’t really change form, although it may change from the way it initially looked.”

Both reused and recycled products can be high quality and low impact, saving resources and reducing the amount of material being dumped into landfills.


Hemp, a decidedly un-wacky and useful weed has been fighting an uphill battle since it was outlawed in the U.S. in 1937, when it was painted with the same controlled-substance brush as marijuana. But this is an unfortunate error in thinking, according to proponents of hemp products, and even some U.S. business giants are beginning to see the benefits of hemp.

“For example, Ford is using hemp as a replacement for fiberglass, allowing for a lighter car and a lighter weight part that is recyclable, with less embedded energy costs in it,” said John Roulac, author of Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of America’s Most Maligned Plant, executive director of Hemptech, a non-profit organization that promotes the legalization of industrial hemp, and founder of Nutiva, a company that produces organic snack bars and other foods containing the hempseed and its oil.

According to Roulac and others, hemp can be used to create almost anything. In addition to apparel, hemp fiber can be made into accessories (back packs, bags, wallets, watchbands), cosmetics (shampoos, oils, lotions), foods (beer, bread, burgers), paper, and even bricks. And none of it will space you out.

“Attempting to smoke hemp would result only in a headache,” said Anna Elmore, co-founder of Goddess Gear, a company that designs and produces a line of elegant casual wear for women with ecologically sound materials, including hemp.

Hemp is the world’s strongest (and longest) natural fiber, and cultivation of it uses significantly less water than cotton. In a year, one acre of hemp (3 harvests) produces as much pulp for paper as four acres of 20-year-old forest. Hemp paper will last hundreds of years — 25 times longer than paper made from trees, and can be recycled more times than paper made from trees because of its longer fibers. It also requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than tree-based paper.

“The economic, ecological, and ethical benefits of hemp will be well known and practiced in the United States within the next ten years,” said Candi Penn, executive secretary of the Hemp Industries Association, a trade group of more than 300 hemp businesses.

Penn said that in the next few years the hemp industry will be deregulated and come under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organic production of hemp fiber and hemp seed will be the norm. The paper and building materials sector will be thriving and fuels derived from industrial hemp will be commonplace.

“Hemp textiles, foods, and body care products will be sold everywhere,” she said.

Organic cotton

Rising from the ground along with hemp is organic cotton. Buying organic cotton prevents pollution before it happens. According to data supplied by the Sustainable Cotton Project, in 1995 U.S. farmers applied nearly one-third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for every pound of cotton harvested. This accounted for 25 percent of all the pesticides used in the U.S. that year. Producing organic cotton, however, erases this statistic.

“No pesticides, herbicides or harmful chemicals are used. The water table remains intact and the people doing the actual farming are not exposed to the dangerous chemicals used by traditional farming methods,” said Shari Shifrin, co-owner of Planet Ink, Inc., a company that makes organic cotton t-shirts printed with a patented botanical ink formula. Shifrin is also the inventor of the Planet Ink formula, which is ecologically safe and made from naturally occurring ingredients.

In addition to the ecological damage caused by traditionally produced cotton, proponents of organic cotton point to residual chemicals in cotton garments as a health risk that could be, and should be, avoided.

Supporting wider use of organic cotton also can reduce the amount of chemicals sneaking into the food supply. There is some concern that cotton pesticides enter the food chain through cottonseed oil and the feed given to meat and dairy cows. But in addition to the ecological and health advantages, there are other powerful reasons to buy organic.

“Organic cotton feels soooooooooo much nicer, smells fresher (like fresh hay) and wears better, last longer because the fibers have not undergone so much handling and processing,” said Shifrin.

Buying goods made from recycled or reused materials, hemp or organic cotton fibers doesn’t mean limiting your selection. And buying eco-friendly products doesn’t have to cost more. While organic cotton is still more expensive than traditional cotton (Shifrin said the difference is 30 to 40 percent), as the demand for organics increases the swelling volume should drive down prices.

Which is great news for consumers and the Earth.

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