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Don't just go green, go clear

January 11, 2009|By JEFF RUGG / Creators Syndicate

With the beginning of the new year we have the opportunity to begin new things. For instance, we can make resolutions to try to be better people.

Sometimes it takes outside forces to cause people to stop and look at how they are doing things. With a new economic situation, many people will begin this year by taking stock of their situations to see how they can live more affordably. They might also try to be better stewards of the little bit of earth they come in contact with.

One free thing that people can resolve to do is to stop going green and start going clear. You can have everything from a green birth to a green burial these days. Companies of all kinds are trying to make more green money for themselves by selling consumers green products. Be careful when you see the word "green" when buying something these days. You may be spending more for no good reason. Just because a product is green doesn't mean it is any different than a product not labeled as green.

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Does the Monopoly game become green when it replaces the electric company with the wind and solar power company? There is no official definition for the word "green" for most products. It might mean the product is ecologically friendly or sustainable, but what do those words mean?

I heard one of the heads of the auto companies testifying in Congress that his company was trying to become greener. Many other companies are doing the same thing. Not because they want to do better things for the environment, but because it will bring them greener profits.

Actually, the color that people are trying to be when they take care of their part of the world is clear - as in clear air, water and land that are not filled with litter or pollution. Unless you are talking about plants, you are not being green, you are being clear. And until some governmental agency regulates what it means to be green, clear, eco-friendly or sustainable, all of those words will be manipulated by advertisers to try to get you to buy stuff that isn't necessarily any different than the alternatives.

One way we can start being clear this year is to stop using disposable water bottles. It is amazing to watch the American fascination with drinking out of bottles. It starts in infancy and never stops. How did people survive before the invention of overpriced tap water? Just fine, thank you. You really don't need to drink water so often that you have to carry it with you wherever you go. If for some amazing reason you really do want to carry a water bottle around, then get several that can be reused. Save money and "clear" the landfills of plastic water bottles by drinking water from the tap.

The question used to be if you wanted paper or plastic bags at the checkout counter, but recently many people have begun carrying their own bags. Many corporations are trying to be "green" by getting people to advertise for them by carrying a reusable bag with their logo on it, but not all reusable bags are created equal.

Some of these bags are created from recycled plastic, but in the long run, a bag made from a natural biodegradable cloth like cotton or bamboo may be better. In either case, these bags require more energy and water to make than thin plastic or paper bags. Most plastic cloth bags are made in China and need to be shipped to the U.S., using even more fuel.

You have to reuse the bag to make it worthwhile, since the bag is made of more materials than the thin plastic bag, and many people forget them at home. Recent surveys have found that most people who have a reusable bag don't use it - and that is an even bigger waste.

If you really want to save or make some green this year, then go to the real green industry for some help. A well-designed and maintained landscape is a big help in selling a house. It increases the home's value more than the cost of the materials and increases in value each year. Strategically locating trees can help reduce the winter winds and the summer sun for lower utility bills for the house you are not trying to sell.

Another green idea is to plant a vegetable garden. It will be helpful in lowering food bills, but might be more work than desired. An alternative could be adding a few vegetables into the rest of the landscaping for some color and some food at the same time. Adding a few large vegetable containers to the deck or patio can even be done by apartment or condo dwellers.

So, if you want to be green this new year, buy some plants, take them home in a reusable bag, plant them and then go get a drink from the tap.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, Kendall County unit educator, University of Illinois Extension at jrugg@uiuc.edu. Copyright 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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