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The Most Absurd (and Expensive) Eco-Gadgets

These products drive home a question: can we consume ourselves to sustainability?

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As of 2007, the green economy accounted for an estimated $371 to $516 billion and 1.8 million to 2.4 million jobs in the U.S. With so much money at stake, businesses are eager to grab their piece of the pie. Some products, like reusable water bottles or travel mugs, are simple and affordable enough that most Americans can use them to reduce their waste from disposable cups and bottles if they choose. Other products, like solar panels, are unquestionably green but can be pricey to buy and out of the question if you’re a renter.

Unfortunately, the green craze has also given rise to greenwashing: marketing products as “green” when in fact they aren’t. Like T-shirts made from non-organic cotton (a very pesticide-intensive crop) with “green” slogans on them. Or beauty products labeled “natural” that are  nothing of the sort. And then there’s a category of eco-gadgets that represent the convergence of greenwashing and high prices, for those with big bank accounts, wonderful intentions, and little knowledge of ecology and environmentalism.

Do you want to compost without having an unsightly mess of rotting food scraps and yard waste sitting around? For a mere $249, you can buy an electric compost machine. This little gadget promises a two-gallon capacity and “no trash odors, just a mild earthy aroma.” In fact, that can be said of all compost, whether it’s made in an open pile, a worm bin, or one of the numerous non-electric compost containers sold on the market.

But other methods of composting and compost containers don’t require electric power and won’t ever break and end up in a landfill. Perhaps someone buying the little electric composter lives in a small, urban apartment with no space outside to do any other type of composting, but if that’s the case, one must also wonder what they would do with the resulting compost the machine makes.

For those who truly want to compost everything, there is the BioToi Nature Bio-Toilet, a composting toilet that sells for $52.49 at LetsGoGreen.biz. Truly, composting toilets can be a great idea, separating human waste from the larger waste stream and recapturing the nutrients to return them to the soil (perhaps for ornamental plants instead of, say, lettuce).

But this particular model is designed for outdoor use, like on a campout. It comes with disposable, compostable waste bags, sold separately for $11.76 for a package of 24 bags. Perhaps these are necessary for, say, U.N. troops in Haiti who don’t want to spread cholera, but are they the most ecofriendly option for your average campout? REI sells a little stainless steel trowel to help campers do their business outdoors by digging a hole and burying their waste. Surely, this is a more sustainable and affordable option.

Another fancy “eco” option is the Laundry Alternative Large Spin Dryer, which goes for $168.48. It may be effective and energy efficient for a dryer, but a clothesline is a more energy efficient alternative. And, like the electric composter, it will one day break or wear out and go to a landfill. Apartment dwellers or Seattle residents who cannot dry their clothes outdoors might find using a dryer is necessary, but Americans might be surprised if they saw British families hanging their clothes to dry indoors in famously rainy London.

For the gardener, there’s the Electric grow mat for $53.50. The site claims that room temperature is not enough to germinate most seeds, so gardeners ought to use the grow mat to provide extra heat. This claim is misleading. Many seeds germinate well in temperatures colder than room temperature, and very few seeds cannot germinate at room temperature, and the benefits in germination from raising them temperature slightly are minimal. For gardeners lacking a greenhouse who wish to germinate heat-loving seeds indoors, placing them in front of a sunny window does the trick quite well.

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