Dreaming Of A Green Christmas

December 08, 1990|By Jean Thompson

It isn't easy being "green," but for shoppers seeking gifts that go easy on the environment, 1990 may be a banner holiday season.

April's Earth Week festivities touched off a tidal wave of demand for Earth-friendly household devices and gadgets. As as result, more are available than ever before, mostly through mail-order firms. But many devices that make recycling easier are finding their way into Maryland groceries, upscale gadget shops, museum stores and hardware outlets. Can crushers and sorting bins are all the rage.

Perhaps the best news is that inventors and merchandisers are realizing that urban dwellers want recycling products to look sophisticated, says John Schaeffer, owner of Real Goods Trading Co., a leading catalog of energy-saving devices. They're a separate market from those families who rough it without electricity to demonstrate their convictions. Searching for gadgets that are useful and chic is still a bit like being lost in a forest, but as demand rises, more gradually become available.

"It's a slow process," agrees Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation, another ecology-specialty catalog. "Earth Day catapulted public awareness to an extraordinary level, but unfortunately products don't follow that quickly." Many manufacturers are holding back, waiting to make sure this isn't just another fad, he says.

This isn't the time to get discouraged. This gift-giving season, Mr. Hollender says, consider many of the commonly overlooked products already on the market that serve the environment as well as your family.

*Rechargeable battery kits. Fine stocking stuffers, they cut the use of disposables, which leach harmful chemicals in landfill.

*Tire gauges. Motoring on properly inflated tires prolongs the tires' life, keeping them out of waste mountains a little longer. Engine efficiency improves, too.

*Bicycles. Yes, they are green gifts. "There's probably no other single item that does more for preserving the environment than one that reduces the amount of driving we do," Mr. Hollender says.

To this list, John Javna adds coffee mugs. They're reasonably priced, and they cut wasteful use of paper, plastic or polystyrene cups. Mr. Javna, author of the "The Recycler's Handbook" and "50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth," says recyclers should take heart. "There aren't many contraptions right now; that makes you a pioneer," he says. "At the moment, recycling is harder than it will be in the future." (For more of his gift suggestions, see the EarthWorks column on page xxxxx.)

Heather Stanley, who helps manage gift shops at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, says some items help the environment indirectly. "A stuffed dolphin toy might seem souvenirish to some people, but it can also serve as a reminder not to drop a can in the water at the beach," she says. The Aquarium's gift shops carry children's books, bumper stickers and recycled-paper greeting cards emphasizing conservation. "I think the '90s will be the decade of the environment, and it'll be more than one day or one week, it'll be observed every day."

Here are more gift ideas from area stores and specialty catalogs:

FOR THE HOME:

*Bag recyclers. Finally, a tidy way to store pesky plastic grocery bags. These cylindrical hard-plastic dispensers are mounted on a door or wall. Stuff in crumpled bags at the top; pull one as needed from the bottom. Source: Hold Everything store at Tyson's Corner or its catalog (415) 421-4242. Price: $8.50.

*Recycling cabinets and bins. Seen recently in mail-order catalogs: a $140 waist-high white cabinet with a tilting bin door, compartments for each recyclable, shelf for newspaper and work space on top. See catalogs including Seventh Generation, (800) 456-1177; Roberta Fortune's Almanac, (800) 331-2300; Price: from $25 to $200. Do-it-yourselfers can improve on cupboards for sale at unfinished furniture shops, priced from $100 to $150. Paint or varnish helps them adapt to any decor. For apartments and small spaces, the sleek recyclables can available at Williams-Sonoma ($99) has two bucket-style inserts with handles for easy removal. A simple system could be a set of beautiful stacking baskets. The Nature Co. has a bin system with a tubular plastic frame selling for $70.

*Can crushers. Lift the handle of this wall-mounted gadget; put analuminum can in; lower the arm. Squashed! Made of heavy-gauge steel, wood or plastic. In addition to saving space at home, you'll be helping the Baltimore County curbside recycling program. "If cans were crushed, they'd take up less room in the truck, and that means we can carry more and make less trips to the processor," says Charles Weiss, director of sanitation. Sources: Hechinger; Hold Everything store at Tyson's Corner or its catalog (415) 421-4242. Other catalogs including upscale Hammacher Schlemmer (800) 543-3366. Price: about $20.

*Reusable lunch bags: Brown baggers are switching to washables. Sources: The Nature Co. store; department and dime stores. Price: $10 to $20.

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