Busting the Green vs. Clean Mentality by Gia Machlin, July 07 2010, 1 Comment

Green Cleaning Products

So I have this dear friend who just won't give up the bottled water habit. I have told her about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, about the fact that it takes 700 years for a plastic bottle to begin to decompose, and yet, when I was visiting with her recently, she and her family went through bottle after plastic bottle of water. Since I was a guest in her house, I felt it was not my place to question her or lecture her for the millionth time. Also, I really hope she does not feel singled out or upset by this post (if she figures out it's her), but I am really disheartened that I have not been able to get her to change her dirty habit. I know she cares deeply about the planet's future, so why the disconnect?

How can this type of behavior be explained? There are surely many elements of the "MIGG" mentality coming into play here - a topic I've written about extensively. A MIGG is term I made up to describe a person who is not changing their wasteful habits because of a combination of feelings of insignificance, helplessness, laziness, and mistrust. Be assured, I am not pointing fingers, because I count my younger self (when I was under 40) in the ranks of the MIGGs. But in this case I think here is another factor contributing to the resistance: the Green vs. Clean mentality.

We were sitting outside in the hot sun, and my friend mentioned she was thirsty. I asked her if she wanted some water and she said she did. I pulled out my reusable stainless steel water bottle filled with ice cold tap water and she looked at it and politely declined. Another friend pulled out a store bought bottled water and she immediately accepted that offer and rushed to quench her thirst. I'm pretty sure she thought my water bottle was not clean - not to mention what she thought of the tap water inside.

I'm wondering how many people have not given up some of their most wasteful habits not because of the small inconveniences involved (like carrying around a reusable bottle), but because they like things nice and new and clean. I know I had to suppress many of my obsessive compulsive tendencies when I began my journey to go green. So I've put together a Green vs. Clean list with some myth busters and some recommendations. Please add your own!

1) Bottled Water vs. Tap Water. Myth: Bottled water is better for you. Fact: Bottled water is less regulated than tap water, and in a 2008 study by the Environmental Working Group, 38 contaminants were found in 10 of the top brands of bottled water. Also, plastic bottles leach harmful chemicals into the water. Finally, if you like things clean, then why add to the huge amount of plastic that exists in our oceans and landfills? That stuff is not going anywhere, and eventually it will show up on your beach and in your backyard. That's pretty gross.

2) The Disinfection Obsession. Myth: Green cleaning products aren't as effective as antibacterials. Fact: Unless you are a surgeon requiring a sterile environment, good old soap and water or even home made concoctions like vinegar and baking soda are just as effective cleaning agents as antibacterials - sans the side effects of toxic chemicals, indoor air pollution, and water pollution. These don't sound so very clean to me.

3) Use and Toss. Myth: Single use products are more hygienic than reusable ones. Actually, you can get a better clean from cloth towel than a paper towel, without the paper waste and mess. Cloth towels are more absorbent and stronger and therefore are more effective at getting the grime out of your kitchen. Use and wash is still better than use and toss, and if your mess is not a wet one, you can even reuse your cloth towel a few times before washing it, making it even more environmentally preferable to paper.

4) Kleenex vs. Handkerchief - I got nothin' here - sorry, you won't catch me blowing my nose over and over in the same hanky. Even I have my limits....but I am open to suggestions!

5) The Hippie Stigma. Myth: People who are passionate about the environment are tree-hugging hippies who don't shave, wear deodorant, or shower regularly. Fact: while I may be known to let my razor stubble get a little visible on my legs in between shavings, I am a far cry from crunchy. Actually, prior to becoming informed about environmental issues, I was your typical over-consuming (Italian/Jewish) American Princess. Still pretty concerned about my looks and my style, but I have changed my waste producing habits to do my part in helping to preserve our earth's natural beauty. (Disclaimer - some of my best friends are crunchy granola tree-hugging hippies - and I love them).

Do you have examples of Green vs. Clean myths that can help us eliminate the "yuck" factor as an excuse for not going green?