Earth Day sustaina-ganza!

Here it is Earth Day, kicking off what this year might be called "Earth Weekend," which happens to coincide with Easter Weekend. We'll skip any tips on how to do Easter in a green way, though, and keep the tone more ecumenical for the planet.

With the caveat that the most sustainable approach is always to reduce your buying of new stuff, here, on the premise that you're going to buy some stuff anyway, are some options that can replace some of the less earth-friendly choices out there.

e2psustainaganza
Top to bottom: Valvoline's NextGen partially recycled motor oil; Pura Stainless Steel water bottle; lunch tote from BlueAvocado; recyclable men's sandal from Okabashi.

For instance, if you're repsonsible for a car, you're probably going to need motor oil. Valvoline wants you to know (to the point of sending out unsolicited samples of not just oil but a huge plastic emergency gas can) that it now offers motor oil that is 50% recycled and the company's web site has a mail-in offer where you can try it for free. Calling it "NextGen," Valvoline says the oil is "better for the environment and great for your engine." We'll take them at their word for that: If nothing else, Valvoline was the only auto-product company that seems to have a done a big Earth-Day-related PR blitz, so they have that in their corner.

Meanwhile, it's no newsflash that disposable plastic water bottles are one of the most earth-hostile things you can buy; the alternative, of course, is not to go without water but to bring your own along. Recently different companies have vied to fill this gap with eco-bottles. We tried out one from Pura. Here's the comapny's description: "Pura Stainless Steel bottles are crafted from the highest quality - food service grade, electro-polished stainless steel making them resistant to corrosion and staining. They are 100% BPA-free, do not leach harmful chemicals like plastic bottles, nor do they require funky chemical linings like aluminum bottles. All bottle lids even feature a stainless steel plug. ...The new Kiki line has baby bottles that can grow with baby and turns into a sippy cup. Even the baby bottles nipples are plastic free."

Earth to Philly took one of the adult-size bottles (.8-liter) on excursions running and biking, where it performed admirably and proved more durable than a lot of the alternatives, but we weren't sure how to test the baby bottle that was also sent. We wound up giving it to some new parents and will report back on whether the plastic-free nipple was a major selling point.

So, Pura might provide your solution for carrying water, but there's lots of other things you'll need to carry. While reusable bags are the latest "hot topic" for greenwashing, it's not as if this technology is going away. For one thing, there are the sturdy multipurpose bags  that many use for carrying notebooks, lunch, etc. - stuff too big for a purse but not briefcase-type items. BlueAvocado is working this angle with eco-friendly tote bags in various sizes that are carbon-footprint verified by BeGreenNow, the carbon offset division of Green Mountain Energy. The lunch tote BlueAvocado sent is handy with multiple pockets of different sizes to keep different kinds of items snug, and insulated ("PVC-free insulation," mind you) so you can bring hot or cold foods that will fight off the return to room temperature for a good 3 hours.

As a bonus, the site also addresses the main issue with reusable bags - remembering to bring them with you! Check out these top five tips and maybe you can get your total bag recall up near 100%, as I also hope to do someday.

Target also sent out a reusable shopping bag, red of course, which doesn't have all the cool features of the BlueAvocado ones (though it's eminently collapsbile - the whole shopping bag can be balled up to fit in your pocket) but is still a handy thing to have as you head to the grocery or department store. And in that vein, it's worth mentioning that Target, formerly just a department store, seems to be moving more and more to that hybrid model, bringing in more and more fresh produce and plant-based frozen food options so you can shop green with your red bag.

Finally, we should remember that Earth Day is a time not just for acquiring merchandise but for appreciating the simple joys of nature itself, for wandering through the out-of-doors in a state of reverence. And if you're going to do that, you'll need shoes. That's where Okabashi footwear comes in. It's 100% recyclable and made of "up to 25% recycled materials." We urge our customers around the world to send us their well-worn shoes so that we can regrind them and make them new again."

Okabashi proudly calls its factory "virtually waste free" due to its "Lean Manufacturing Culture" and that its efficiencies in recycling old shoes into new means that "this year alone we were able to reintroduce and reuse over 100,000 lbs of scrap shoes.  That is 10 tractor trailers full of scrap that would have otherwise be sent to a landfill."

The company sent a couple of flip-flops that I have ascertained through brief but rigorous testing are comfortable enough and functional enough when wearing around the house, but still haven't had the chance yet to test them in a summery environment like the beach or a stroll down the Wissahickon. You can bet that's in the cards, though. All in the name of science!

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