20101221 recycled tote bag
This Nordstrom tote bag ($21.95) is made from recycled water bottles--better than stuffing them into a landfill. A reusable bag means you don't have to choose between paper or plastic anymore. But, if you're like us, you might want to stop and consider whether or not you actually need yet another (non-public radio) tote. - 

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: This holiday, stores are full of bright new gadgets. And soft sweaters. And shiny jewelry. And then there are some gifts you'll perhaps be looking for for your eco-minded friends.

Marketplace's Adrienne Hill now, from the Sustainability desk, and how to spot "green" from "green washing" when you're buying your presents.


Adriene Hill: I'm here at the Century City mall in Los Angeles with Jessica Lass from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Jessica Lass: Hi there.

Hill: Hi, and we're here at this mall, where they are encouraging us to buy our way to happy holidays. The question is can we do that and stay green, what do you think?

Lass: I think there are possibilities out there, but definitely buyer beware on a few items.

Hill: Let's go see what we find.

We spot a lot of clothes made in China. A lot of plastic toys. Not a lot that would count as green.

Hill: The rhinestone Hello Kitty do you think?

Lass: Probably not.

Some companies try to help out eco-minded shoppers by slapping "green" labels on products. At the Origins counter, they're selling plastic water bottles and are promising to plant a tree, but Lass wonders where are they planting those trees? Is the plastic safe for drinking out of? Will it last?

Actual green shopping requires a whole lot of questions and skepticism of environmental claims -- some of them don't mean what you think they do, and are rarely enforced.

Scott McDougal: It's important when you see language that appears to be loose.

Scott McDougal heads Terra Choice, a group that released a report called the "Sins of Green Washing."

McDougal: To see if the manufacturer, the marketer, or the store is providing a good explanation of exactly what they actually mean.

The word "eco," McDougal points out, describes our ecology, which includes things like oil and petroleum.

McDougal: Natural is a good example. There are plenty of things that are natural that aren't necessarily good for us; I mean arsenic and lead and cyanide and mercury are all natural.

The important thing, he says, is to dig into the green claims. Don't dismiss them, seek them out, but try to understand them better.

Back at the mall, Jessica Lass comes up with another way to give green that doesn't require as much investigation.

Lass: You can take a friend out for dinner and spend a few hours catching up, reminiscing about the year or really just sharing your time with them.

Sounds a little nicer than fighting crowds at the mall.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill