January 31, 2008

DN Article - Being Green in a Sea of Red

One cannot purchase an organic, 100 percent cotton, dye-free, non-chlorine bleach bath towel in the city of Lincoln. Go figure. Being green in a sea of red is not so easy.

A search for "organic" on the Bed Bath & Beyond Web site yields 239 products. Not one of them is carried by the Lincoln store.

The Target Web site finds 484 matches for "organic" - not including 6,559 books - and some of them are carried at the Lincoln stores, including organic cotton sheets in a variety of colors.

Yet, the eco-friendly bath towel remains elusive.

I know, many people right this very moment are thinking only a tree-hugging, tofu-eating, sandal-wearing nut job would care that much about her bath towel. Although I plead guilty to all other charges (though I don't particularly like tofu, and this time of year I trade my sandals for boots), I actually don't particularly care about my bath towel. As long as it is soft, warm and absorbent, I give it about as much attention as I give one of the Olsen twin's latest meltdown.

I do care about the massive amounts of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides being added to our soil, air and water. I care about toxic dyes, which rub off on my skin, and chlorine bleach, which kills just about everything it touches.

I care about petrochemicals, whose manufacture releases particularly nasty greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide) and which are used to create synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon. I care about cancer, which is likely caused by several of the chemicals in acrylic fabrics.

So for the past few weeks I have been searching, in vain, for a local source of the fabled organic towel, as well as sheets, pillows, blankets, mattress pad and curtains. I have been collecting organic and "recycled" clothing, all-natural shampoo and toothpaste, recycled notebooks and printer paper, eco-friendly shoes and bags, responsible electronics and energy efficient appliances.

I am happy to say the fruits of these labors, with which I had a lot of help, are on display in the Nebraska Union this week as a "Green Dorm Room" sponsored by Emerging Green Builders (EGB). In an effort to "Focus the Nation" on climate change, EGB took a look at the lifestyle of a typical college student and tried to determine how we could make it "greener."

The Green Dorm Room will be on display all week in the glass office near the Cafina Café. Open house hours will be 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every day. Brochures and posters explain each product and strategy for living sustainably.

Finding green products is actually extremely easy with the advent of the Internet. If you want a cell phone made from the latest bioplastics (plant-based, not oil-based), folding recycling bags or bamboo bookshelves, you can find it - and the prices are good and getting better!

Of course, I couldn't do anything the easy way. I had to go one step further and incorporate the "shop local" ethos into my green quest. I wanted to promote the local economy and cut down on vehicle miles and shipping costs.

And while the organic bath towel remains as hard to find as the snipe, I did manage a significant haul.

Eighty-five dollars at Target - the only major retailer with any significant amount of green products - brought me organic cotton sheets, a bamboo/cotton pillow, a CD box and magazine files of recycled cardboard and aluminum, storage boxes and crates of bamboo and all natural canvas and bamboo hangers.

Footloose & Fancy, 1219 P Street, donated shoes by Patagonia and Teva, two companies known for their outstanding commitment to the environment.

Open Harvest, a grocery co-op on 16th & South streets, donated every toiletry, cleaning product and paper product a gal or guy could need. (Also, a great shout-out to them for their fantastic cooperation.)

The Black Market, 1033 O Street, donated "recycled" clothing and Nest Furniture & Mattress, at 1825 O Street, loaned us "recycled" furniture. Buying items second-hand prevents resource depletion and can often be cheaper and much more fun.

Straw Sticks & Bricks, 720 O Street, gave us a floor rug and a staple-less stapler - they exist - while we got recycled sketchbooks from Dick Blick Art Materials, 1300 Q Street, and a great sustainable library on loan from the University Bookstore.

The UNL Computer Shop even loaned us a MacBook to demonstrate how Apple has the best electronics recycling program of all the major computer retailers.

So come to the Green Dorm Room this week and take advantage of all the legwork the members of Emerging Green Builders has done. When it comes time to "green" your home, you'll know exactly where to find what you need.

Next time you check out at a major department store, though, and the clerk asks you if you found everything OK, think of me and answer, "No. You didn't have any organic bath towels." But nicely please - it's not the clerk's fault.

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