Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't Grab a Kleenex!

While we're still in the midst of cold and flu season, let me pose this question: do you know where your Kleenex comes from? For most of you, I'm guessing the answer is no. Instead of repurposing recycled paper content, giant corporations like Kimberly-Clark, Proctor and Gamble, and Georgia Pacific knowingly and actively participate in the deforestation of some of North America's most ancient forests. Greenpeace has been fighting Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex, Scott, and Cottonelle, among others) since 2004 to adopt a more responsible approach to the manufacture of such disposable products. Kleenex has fought back, reluctant to change their destructive and wasteful ways. So now, nearly five years later, the battle rages on.

This article in today's New York Times reminded me of this fact and got me mad all over again. Think about it; do we really need to cut down trees that have been enhancing the beauty of our planet and providing forest animals shelter for hundreds of years, just so we can wipe our ass with (or blow our snot into) something shiny and new? NO! This nation's trend toward bigger and better, regardless of the cost, has only fueled these companies' desires to create 2-, 3-, or 4-ply, quilted, padded, and even moisturized personal tissue items.

Sure, they're soft. Sure, they're aesthetically pleasing. But the luxury is NOT worth the damage caused to wildlife and to the environment. For all the energy it takes to cut down, process, bleach, heat, and package the sad remnants of a once-majestic tree, those hefty costs are passed on to the consumer while our natural resources are destroyed. I'm no businessperson, but it makes far more sense to me to use recycled paper products, which are far more cost and energy effective, and manufacturers can instead pass savings onto their consumers while maintaining their profit margins!

Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone go back to carrying a handkerchief, because that's... well... gross-- but you can be a smart consumer and vote with your wallet. For example, Trader Joe's sells wonderful (and cheap!) paper products that are 100% recycled, use up to 80% post-consumer content, and are not whitened with any chlorine bleach. The tissue boxes are funny and even fashionable, and cost less than a dollar (and the toilet paper doesn't leave any remnants on your behind)! If you have a terrible cold and are going through multiple boxes of tissues a day and your nose has been rubbed so raw that you just have to get a box of ancient-forest tissue, I suppose I can look the other way for a bit, but for average, everyday use, recycled tissue reigns supreme!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Winter, Be Gone!

Winter in Chicago always seems to become interminable this time of year. We haven't seen the ground in more than a month, and our usually vibrant city is colorless and ugly, made dull by a film of snow and ice, road salt, and "city sludge" that covers every available surface. The unmelted snow is a blank canvas for all the filth and pollution generated in this city; every bit of territory marked by the neighborhood dogs is instantly visible along the deep snow banks, and the discolored snow by the roadside ranges from a weak coffee brown to charcoal black. Have you ever noticed how starkly a freshly washed car stands out against the dull winter landscape? Even then, the color doesn't stay true for long. I washed my car just two days ago, and it is once again the color of grime, with only a hint of red.

Has anyone else wondered what causes snow to turn that color? It's not dirt, people-- the ground has been frozen solid for months. It's a combination of the soot and particulates belched out by countless car and truck exhausts, fragments of rubber from car tires, and even specks of concrete and blacktop that have unintentionally dissipated from the roadways and fallen from the overpasses. This is a direct result of the repeated plowing and salting that city streets endure each winter, which in turn creates potholes, cracks in the infrastructure, and yes, countless blown-out tires. This pollution, some of which is absorbed by flowering plants and trees or washed away by cleansing rains during the warmer months, stares us in the face each winter, soiling even fresh snowfall like dust on the fingertip of a white kid glove.

Despite efforts to "green" the city, during the months that aren't actually green, the pollution has nowhere to hide. Chicago was nicknamed "the Black City" during the Golden age (around the turn of the twentieth century) because of the smoke and soot generated by trains, iron and steel plants, slaughterhouses, and other industries, which covered nearly everything downwind. Pollution management has gotten unquestionably better since then, but despite these improvements, the city still has a long way to go. Although the sources may be different now, the outcome is the same; extensive pollutants in the Windy City.