Look out your window to the world—your computer monitor, that is—and it’s green as far as the eye can see. Green businesses touting green living, green learning, and now—green loving. And to a point, they’re on the right track—it is important that each of us know about the effects our lifestyles have on the earth, and make decisions about what and how we can change.
Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of information out there that makes little practical sense to the general public; even worse, there are companies that deliberately mislead people into thinking that they’re doing the earth a favor, when, in fact, their products are actually more potentially problematic than the traditional version. And the sad part? Very few of us have the time and resources to figure out what each company means by Green (™ Corporate America, patent pending), so we have to decide whether or not we should take their word for it. Fortunately, we can learn a bit more about what constitutes eco-friendliness and know what signs to look for which indicate that a company is mindful of reducing its impact on the planet.
The concept of green living encompasses far more than simply using products that are labeled ‘ecologically friendly’—it comes down to looking at the ways each product affects the earth and our lives, and making the best possible choices in order to limit the negative impact our rampant consumption has on the planet. In its simplest form, smart ecological choices come down to three concepts: reduce, reuse and recycle. Let’s review, shall we?
• By reducing our consumption of non-consumable items, we limit not only our natural resource depletion, but also the amount of waste that has to be thrown into landfills. Lowering our use of material goods also affects a wider range of issues: if we use locally-made products, then the amount of fuel used to transport them is lessened; and lighter packaging makes items weigh less overall, which again saves on energy used for shipping. For example: a company can claim to be as green as they wish, but if they ship a five-item purchase from the same customer in five different boxes, then they are wasting not only the packaging for four extra shipments, but also the additional space in the shipping container (truck or plane) that could have been used to carry more products at a lower overall cost.
• By reusing items, we can control how quickly our goods become waste products, and lower both the need to produce more times as well as the need to dispose of more of them. Purchasing rechargeable batteries, for instance, allows you to reuse batteries over and over after recharging them, which means that you throw away hundreds fewer batteries over the course of the life of your rechargeables. Not only are you reducing the pollution that happens when batteries are disposed of improperly (which is most of the time), but you’re saving yourself a lot of money in the long run. Another great example is in purchasing a sex toy which will last longer—silicone or metal, for instance, so that rather than replacing your favorite anal plug every year or so, you can take care of one that will last you for a decade or two. The long-term effect is tremendous—think of it as saving ten rubber butt plugs from the landfill (or, well, don’t think of butt plugs in a landfill, never to be loved again…it seems a bit too Velveteen Rabbit).
• Ah, here’s the biggie. Everyone says, “recycle!” But what does that really mean? Make sure that once you’ve gotten as much use out of something as you can, you end up sending it along to somewhere that can break it down into a reusable form. The catch is, not everything can be easily recycled. Many types of plastic (for example, the ones that constitute tubes for lotions) are not recyclable, and some areas are more limited in what recycling capabilities they have access to. For those, you can think more creatively: an empty lube bottle may be a perfect travel-size bottle for shampoo or sun-block (just take the label off, especially if you’re sending it to kindergarten for your kids to use during play time).
Something advertised as a “green” product shouldn’t be considered as such just because of what it’s made from; the background of the item is as important as the item itself. For instance—a silicone toy that is made overseas has a much higher carbon footprint than a silicone toy made in the U.S. (in other words, it requires more use of fuel for shipping, and may be made in a factory that uses less clean sources of energy). A bottle of eco-friendly lube might have only natural ingredients in it, but the bottle may come in a plastic box which creates unnecessary waste.
Additionally, the realities of manufacturing in the 21st century make total green production and distribution almost impossible, especially in an economy where people are not willing or able to pay too more money in order to support more ethical businesses. Most manufacturers, as well as shop owners and online merchants, make a series of choices that they hope will make a difference for not only the world, but also keep them in business and able to turn a profit. They have to make tradeoffs. For instance, they may choose to use a local supplier for ingredients in order to ensure higher quality and ecologically friendly sourcing, but they have to order special packaging from overseas in order to protect the quality of the oils. Another company may be able to use local suppliers for their component parts, but find that they have no alternative but to ship them to a distributor in order to fulfill the demand for their product in a global marketplace (thus requiring shipping each product at least twice in order to get it into a customer’s hands).
The sad fact is that a lot of companies are now using the concept of eco-goodness to sell items that, let’s just say, fall a bit short of the desired goals. There are very few green certifications in the U.S., and unfortunately most of them are expensive to obtain, and thus out of the reach of companies that are following ecologically sound business guidelines. In order to be a green consumer, we have to take responsibility to think about each product that we purchase, rather than simply accepting that it “must be good if the label says green.”
When it comes to your sex toys, here are a few factors that can help you decide how green you can go:
• Locally-made is generally better than imported; the cost in pollution and fossil fuel usage from shipping is exponentially higher than transportation from a few states (or even across half the continent) away.
• Items made with renewable resources are generally better than those made from chemicals—a wood dildo causes less overall harm to the environment than an item that has to be manufactured from chemicals, especially petroleum products.
• Items that are fully recyclable or biodegradable are better than those that cannot easily be biodegraded; again, a wood dildo is better than a polyvinylchloride (PVC) sex toy
• Items in recycled and/or recyclable packaging are better than those in packaging that cannot be reused or recycled; for instance, a toy that arrives in a paperboard box is better than one that arrives in a non-recyclable plastic container.
• Items that are non-porous and easily cleaned are better than items that are porous, as they will last longer and will need fewer replacements over the years.
• Items that have internal rechargeable batteries are better than those that require the use of disposables (though you can use rechargeable batteries and create considerably less toxic waste than disposables will create over the lifetime of your toy).
• Items that are made by companies who have a commitment to treading softly on the earth are better than companies who do not offset their pollution or that do not have a corporate culture of conservation; for instance, look for companies that have statements about their own corporate values, that purchase carbon offsets and use all recycled material, that plant trees or perform other acts of environmental stewardship.
Many people have found that buying for ecological benefits also has a pleasant side effect—these choices are usually better for our bodies in the long run. It’s hard to find a non-toxic toy that is bad for the environment; the possible exception to that, silicone, is at least inert, even though it doesn’t break down, and therefore is still a better choice for both body and earth. It’s also easy to find lubricants that are made from all-natural materials (with no propylene glycol or petroleum byproducts) that are positively healthy for your body. Even massage candles and oils are easily found that have a positive effect on both our skin and our planet.
The arguments to skip using eco-sex toys and accessories just don’t hold water anymore. Cheaper doesn’t count when you’ll end up replacing your $20 dildo eight times in ten years (which is easily the lifespan of a well-made silicone toy). Likewise, who wants to use a cheaply-made vibrator that will break down after only a few months of use, when a quality toy will keep going, and going, and going? The true economy of ecology is just that—pay less now, and more later, or pay a little more now and know that you’ve invested, both in your own future and that of the planet.