Tag Archives: recycled

Is It Really Greener?

On the way to Colorado for vacation, I stopped in Omaha with the family and stayed at an Element by Westin.  It was not hard to convince me to stay because I wanted to see what the Element was all about and we used Starwood Preferred Guest points for a free night’s stay.  My wife was easy to convince because she prefers to stay in a Westin whenever she travels because of the so-called Heavenly Beds.

Currently numbering 13, the Element sub-brand is positioned as the eco-friendly lodging option.  By itself, this is a unique branding attempt because I can think of no other hotel chain that has taken “eco” as a selling point.  Sure, every hotel puts up little signs about reusing towels or sheets and puts CFLs in the light fixtures but there has never been a ground up concept focused around being less harmful to the environment.

The Element in Omaha is a Silver Certified LEED hotel.  I can argue that a LEED certification can be “gamed” and that it only captures a building’s efficiency at construction as opposed to its ongoing efficiency, but constructing or retrofitting buildings to the standards of LEED is a step in the right direction.

In the room there are nice little touches that remind you that this hotel is trying to do something different.  In the shower, the little disposable bottles have been replaced by dispensers of body wash and shampoo.  In the kitchenette, a single use packet of Seventh Generation dish soap is provided for your use:

This seemed a little odd given the focus on reducing packaging waste.  Why not a reusable pump bottle?  Ceramic cups have replaced the foam or paper cups in most hotel rooms:

I could go into all of the components that Starwood says make an Element the eco-friendly choice—dual flush toilets, recycled or green building materials, low VOC finishes, Energy Star appliances in the kitchenettes, etc.  I think those are all well and good, but the central question remains: Regardless of the efforts made to reduce the footprint, isn’t a hotel still a huge black mark on the environment?

In the end, it is still a hotel and there is only so much that the concept can do to become truly green.

But, the keycard did tell me to get out and ride:


Stuff I Like: Valvoline NextGen motor oil

It may seem odd that a guy trying to green his life would like motor oil, but if you drive a car and it is not driven purely by electrons the time will come when you have to change the oil.  If you are like me and drive about 5,000 miles a year these oil changes come about once a year.  Even at this extremely reduced amount of maintenance I always wondered about what happened to the oil that was drained from my engine.  Where did it go?  What became of it once it reached that destination?  And so on and so forth…

All kinds of places apparently.  In some locations, the oil was filtered to get some of the nasty bits out and burnt in combination with fuel oil to provide heat.  For those of us who live in the Midwest and are accustomed to natural gas providing the heat the entire concept of fuel oil heat is foreign.  The great majority was sent to recyclers who reprocess the oil into a myriad of products.  How much oil you ask?  More than 750 million gallons per year.  That is a lot of oil being used once and then sent on its merry way.

Recently, Valvoline announced NextGen which is a motor oil comprised of 50% recycled content.  Technically, the motor oil should have the same protective properties of its convetional non-recycled bretheren.  The advertising copy basically reads that oil is not “used up” when it is changed at regular intervals, it is the non-oil content of motor oil that is degraded.  Therefore, the oil component of motor oil–about 85% according to Valvoline–can be recycled and reused as a component of motor oil again.  This is not downcycling like so many products that contain recycled content, this is truly recycling a product into its former self with no apparent loss of capability.

If there is no difference in performance why aren’t all motor oils comprised of some recycled content?  Why isn’t everything this way?

Note: Through September 2011, Valvoline is offering a $7 rebate for the regular NextGen and a $10 rebate for the NextGen MaxLife products.  You qualify for the rebate if you get your oil changed at a service center as long as the rebate calls our the NextGen product.  So, for $30–after rebate–my car’s oil was changed and 50% of it was recycled.  I call that progress.

Stuff I Like: Under Armour Catalyst t-shirt

I am huge fan of Patagonia’s Capilene products.  I love that the material is made of recycled materials and is completely recyclable even if I have yet to discard one item.  I own probably a dozen pairs of the boxer shorts, four t-shirts, and one pair of tights.  Over the years the material has changed, but it has consistently ranked as one of my favorite fabrics for exercise or spending any time in hot weather.  However, the last t-shirt that I purchased did not fit like the others.  The fit was not bad, just not right for me.  Also, the options all included a large logo.  I am not a logo guy.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon Under Armour—yes, the company with the annoying “Protect this house” ads during sporting events—making clothes out of recycled materials.  The UA Green collection includes all varieties of the common Under Armour gear like t-shirts, polos, tights, etc.  Apparently the product takes plastic bottles and turns them into polyester fabric.

Granted, this is nothing revolutionary.  Patagonia has been making its Synchilla fleece out of recycled material for decades and many other products that are made from recycled material as well.  However, a company like Under Armour is massive.  One product line may sell as much as the entire Patagonia catalog in a year.  If a company of that size decides to make a product out of recycled material it moves from quirky sideshow into mainstream.

Unlike most specialty outdoor oriented brands, I can go into several local sporting goods stores and find Under Armour products.  Over lunch before the July 4th weekend I was able to walk in to a store and purchase a white Catalyst loose fit t-shirt for about $32 including local sales tax.  The last Capilene t-shirt that I purchased cost $39 before tax or shipping.  The fit was more like the common cotton undershirts I wear to work than an athletic or slim fit.  Not too tight and not too loose.

The performance on a weekend where the temperatures were in the high-80s to mid-90s with oppressive humidity was excellent.  The material’s feel is very similar to Capilene silkweight and the wicking capability was superb.

I still love my Patagonia products, but Under Armour may have earned a permanent place in my wardrobe.  Especially considering that I need polo shirts for my business casual workplace…

Passing the home test…

Some changes in my house need only pass my personal test.  No one else in my house drinks beer, so I am the only arbiter of what is acceptable.  And so on.

However, any change that impacts the other people in the house must pass their test.  In my zeal to assuage my eco-guilt I had not considered this hurdle to green nirvana.  Nonetheless, I soldiered on and stealthily replaced the final roll of traditional, forest destroying toilet paper with a roll of the 100% recycled option.

My three-year old daughter did not notice a difference or she did not care enough to complain.  If her primary needs of blueberries, waffles, and whales are met she is somewhat impervious to change.

My wife was a completely different story.  This was not a running out of the bathroom in anguish moment.  Rather, as I was cooking dinner, I was asked, in a tone that implied a simple answer was desired, what kind of toilet paper I had bought at the store.  I explained, in a tone that implied I understood but there was more to the story, that I had purchased recycled toilet paper for the following reasons…

  1. Recycled toilet paper closes to loop on our efforts to recycle at home.  If no one buys products with recycled content then our efforts at home are wasted.
  2. Recycled toilet paper replaces virgin paper pulp sourced from clear cut boreal forests.  This is an irreplaceable eco-system that should not be destroyed for the sake of our rear ends
  3. Toilet paper, recycled or otherwise, is the ultimate disposable product and, therefore, should be sourced to have the minimum amount of impact.

Her facial expression and her tone did not change in the face of such outstanding rhetoric.  Find another option, I was told.

Dejected, I trundled off to the linen closet following dinner to assess the situation.  One brand had failed the home test, but there was yet another brand to try.  Again I stealthily replaced the roll of toilet paper and hoped for the best.

My green misadenture started with toilet paper…

Okay, that is not entirely accurate.  My green misadventure began years earlier.  Through fits and starts I had tried to make myself as green as possible in a given set of circumstances.  It was the reusable bag, turn the thermostat down in winter, shorter shower sort of green.

Along the way I found myself having gone from living in a small house with my wife to a much larger house with my wife, daughter, and soon-to-arrive second child.  There was no conscious compromise, just an erosion of eco-identity.

It hit me while I read an article about the clear-cutting of boreal forest in Canada for use in toilet paper.  Here was something that I abhorred, yet I was supporting directly.  I was responsible for destroying virgin forests in order to wipe my rear end.  Every time I wiped with pillowy soft, two ply, quilted toilet paper did Ed Begley Jr. cry?  Was the next step using baby sea pelts for the same purpose with the same lack of shame?  If I was unwilling or incapable of making a small change to my buying habits could I lay any claim to being “green?”

In typical American fashion, there was only one answer: shopping!  With no green hipster approved outlet of environmentally conscious goods available within a reasonable radius I ventured into my local supermarket and big box retailers in search of a toilet paper that utilized recycled content and non-recycled fiber sourced from sustainable sources.  It does not do a lot of good to reduce one’s destruction of irreplaceable landscapes by 25% if an option exists to excise the destruction completely.

In typical American fashion, the big box stores were useless.  Sure, Wal-Mart gets a lot of publicity for hyping green products and reducing the carbon footprint of its logistical operations or being the largest retailer of organic groceries, but its aisles are primarily filled with products that most shoppers in the 1950s would have little trouble recognizing.  Maybe I do not live in an area deemed worthy of such products.  Nontraditional toilet paper was not in stock.  Target was a similar wash out.

The grocery store–Hy-Vee–was a savior.  As I have come to learn, a full-service grocery store with empowered management and a customer focus can be a life saver.  Why?  This type of store is not a slave to a computer program thousands of miles away that stocks products based solely on an algorithm produced by using scanner data.  In short, they will take risks in stocking products to differentiate themselves from the cookie cutter experience of Wal-Mart, Target, etc.

At Hy-Vee, in a corner of the store made out to look like a mini-Whole Foods emblazoned the Health Market–were two options for boreal forest free toilet paper.  It was like being granted permission to cross the velvet rope of eco-friendliness.  Clear cutting be damned!

How to choose?  Why choose?  Buy them both.  In one arm, a package of Seventh Generation 100% recycled toilet paper (they call it bathroom tissue, but I digress).  In the other, a package of Marcal Small Steps 100% recycled toilet paper (likewise, bathroom tissue).  Clinging to my eight rolls of plastic wrapped liberation I headed home to reality.