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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Shopping for Eco-Gifts

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood roams the aisles at Eco-Expo, the national environmental products fair, in search of green holiday gifts from a wide array of environmentally responsible merchants.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Another year's gone by, and once again most of us are taking the time to celebrate in our own ways, as the sun dips to its lowest point in the sky for those north of the equator. And whether it's honoring the birth of Jesus, the Festival of Lights, the more secular spirit of Santa Claus, or the solstice itself, it's a time for giving. But the buying and giving of millions of new items can add to the strain on the earth's environment and resources. So, many people these days are looking for gifts that are a bit more eco-friendly. I recently went window-shopping at what may be the world's largest gathering of environmentally-focused merchants, the Eco Expo, when it visited Boston. I found a profusion of renewable, recycled, and reused goods beckoning to my wallet.

CURWOOD: So, what do you have here?
VOICE #1: We have tagua nut jewelry. Tagua nut is a substitute for ivory, it's popularly known as vegetable ivory, and the good news is, it grows on a palm tree in the rainforest, so local people in the Amazon have incentives to save the tree because it's producing income for them. And the good news for elephants is it's a substitute for ivory, so we get to save some elephants at the same time. And they're brought in by our company, Amazonia: Discoveries from the Rainforest.
CURWOOD: Now, if you were going to give some holiday gifts, what would you pick?
VOICE #1: Well, I would pick for a ladyfriend, the heart fetish necklace, because it's a great way to tell her, "I'm nuts about you."
CURWOOD: (laughter) Thank you very much. Looks like you have a big pillow here.
VOICE #2: Hi, we have our Harvester line of comforters and pillows. This is Ogalala down, which is a blend of milkweed floss and white goose down. Milkweed floss, right - it's the white seed here that we blend with the down and that makes the comforters hypoallergenic and also more comfortable in that they breathe better.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #2: This is good for the environment because milkweed floss is a low-impact agricultural crop. It protects the soil because it's a perennial plant that doesn't have to be replanted every year; it's got deep roots that protect the soil. And in manufacturing, we use all the plant in the product - the floss in our Ogalala down, the seed we make oil for, and the meal that's left over from the seed is a good animal feed and the biomass is used then in paper making.
CURWOOD: Is it cheaper than goose down?
VOICE #2: Yes, it is. Our price of our products is about 15% below comparable goose down products.
CURWOOD: Let's see here, that feels pretty comfortable. So what would you recommend as a gift out of your products for the holiday season?
VOICE #2: A gift? Well, I would recommend a comforter and a pillow set.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you. Hi, so what do you have here?
VOICE #3: We are the Concord Spice and Grain Cotton Collection. We're a retail shop, and we carry organic cotton clothing and green cotton clothing for men, women, and children.
CURWOOD: Green cotton?
VOICE #3: Green cotton - there's a difference between green cotton and organic cotton. Green cotton is conventionally-grown cotton, but once it's harvested it's not treated with formaldehyde or bleaches; whereas, organically grown cotton is organically grown, it's not treated with pesticides, herbicides, and then it's not treated with formaldehyde or bleaches once it's harvested.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for consumers?
VOICE #3: Well, for two reasons. If you are a person who has environmental sensitivities, i.e., you're oftentimes allergic to wools or cotton fibers you will find that these clothes are not irritating to your skin. Also for people who are concerned about a sustainable future, these clothes are concerned about a sustainable environment.
CURWOOD: Now at the holiday season, if I wanted to come to your shop and get a gift, what would you recommend?
VOICE #3: Well, there's a variety of items. If you were just looking for a quick introduction to organic clothing, you can get organic socks, organic underwear - there are great little teddy bears and rag dolls made from organic cotton for kids and also a full line of clothing, so if you wanted a whole outfit for someone you could do that.
CURWOOD: Is organic cotton more expensive than other cottons?
VOICE #3: It tends to be. We carry two different lines. We have a line called "Wearable Integrity" - they're a little bit more fashion-forward, little bit more expensive. We also carry a line called "Eco Sport." They're a little bit more comparable to regular cotton clothing, so a t-shirt can be 16 dollars, which is fairly reasonable.
CURWOOD: Thank you very much...So, can I ask what you have here?
VOICE #4: Well, we're two companies. This is Transistor Sister, and it's all jewelry made out of circuits and fuses, diodes; and these are Technotes, these are notebooks made out of circuit boards that are reutilized, and we have notebooks, clipboards, agendas, memo books.
CURWOOD: What do these go for?
VOICE #4: Anywhere from 10 to 35 dollars.
CURWOOD: Now, why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #4: Well, normally these boards would end up in the landfill, and we take from 7 to 12 tons a year that would normally go into landfills and reutilize them.
CURWOOD: OK, thank you. Hi there. What do we have here?
VOICE #5: We have accessories that are made from recycled materials. We have bags that are made from inner tube rubber, hub caps; belts that are made from seat belt buckles and bottle caps.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #5: Because we are using post-consumer waste. Period.
CURWOOD: Can you show me your favorite item here?
VOICE #5: On our belts - Our favorite item is a bottlecap belt, and it has a seat belt buckle, inner tube strap, with bottle caps, and it stretches when you wear it so you can just wrap it right around your jeans. And it buckles. That is one of our favorite pieces in the belts. In the bags, this is called the hubcap purse, and it's two hubcaps encircled in license plates with a seat belt buckle as a closure - open it up, and it's lined with denim, or an American flag, or whatever materials we can find to recycle. And then you close it. And it's got a seat belt strap as a shoulder strap.
CURWOOD: And the company's called -
VOICE #5: Recycled Revolution.
CURWOOD: How much is the belt?
VOICE #5: The belt retails at from 40 to 45, depending on how much they mark up.
CURWOOD: OK, thank you very much.


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