In this present frame of mind, I took a look at a catalog that came in the mail. I get lots of catalogs because I buy stuff from them from time to time. Most of them get recycled via the blue bin. Some of them get recycled into art projects. I’m not going to win any environmental prizes, but I do try to approximate my way to greatness and to think about the consequences of various choices I make on the environment.
So I was curious when I got a catalog called ecolivingstyle. It’s printed on recycled paper made from 79% post consumer waste. They offer bamboo sheets, tree-slice tables, and a “love nest” made of recycled brass wire and two glass eggs. The “look” is very architectural and spare with a focus on texture rather than color. The sets look like houses for people who are anal-retentive and childless and have no stuff that isn’t photogenic.
I felt really uncomfortable flipping through the catalog. Sure, recycled glass pears to put on your console table are better for the environment than non-recycled glass pears, but does it make environmental sense to buy glass pears at all? How about buying glass pears at the local flea market, where you can get extra bang for your environmental buck by entertaining yourself for hours picking through discarded decorating elements to find just the thing? Or displaying the organic, locally grown, free-range pears (yeah, I know: pears don’t range, but I felt like typing it anyway) from the farmer’s market before eating them?
Then I got REALLY mad. Here is the text for “teak lotus panels.”
“Using recycled rough-hewn teak planks from old dwellings and community buildings, hill tribe craftsmen in Thailand devote endless hours to hand-carve, sand, and wax this intricate lotus flower motif. To Thais, the lotus symbolizes prosperity and fertility. Our panels are crafted from reclaimed teak so prized that Thai families make them the centerpiece of a room. Each panel is cut into 12” sections that fit together for ease of shipping and mounting, and comes with recessed hanging hardware. These exquisitely detailed carvings help pay for new community buildings for each village. Each piece is truly unique; variations in wood color and carving will occur.”
Now let me just say that at $725, the large 5’ by 5’ panel seems like a steal if it takes endless hours of work. In fact, it seems like stealing from underprivileged people. I don’t particularly care if these carvings help pay for new community buildings because I suspect, based on the wording above, that they help pay for it the way they help pay for food for the families of those workers. It’s not some charitable act to buy one of these. The money is not donated to workers or villages. It’s exploitative sucking of resources from poor people to deck our halls in a way that we can pretend to feel warm and fuzzy about. And don’t get me started about the ecological impact of shipping even reclaimed teak ALL THE WAY FROM THAILAND!