Webster, Suw, The Independent (London, England)
GREENHOUSE gases, acid rain, polluted beaches and rivers, streets choked with carbon monoxide - the systematic destruction of our environment makes depressing reading, and often the problem seems too vast for most of us to do anything about it. Some hope is offered to consumers by organisations like Friends of the Earth, who together with Ecotrade produce a mail-order catalogue of environmentally friendly products, including gadgets which supposedly help us to "go green".
We asked Martin Wright, a writer on environmental affairs and the editor of Environment Digest, to assess a variety of these gadgets in terms of their ecological correctness. I acted as the mildly concerned consumer: keen to do my bit, but with an eagle eye for aesthetics and the effort required. For the most part the gadgets were too expensive, too troublesome or too ugly. The good news is that essential items like detergents and light bulbs are now being produced to meet environmental needs, and can save you money as well.
"No more wrinkled half empty tubes!" is the promise of this German gadget designed to roll up toothpaste tubes with a key and stand. Wright was dismissive: "A typical example of manufacturers finding a market for something that we can do perfectly well for ourselves - it isn't hard to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out. They claim they're helping you to be green, but in fact they're consuming energy to make a redundant product." This proved a theme for many of the products we tested. In practice, the Tubipress was redeemed by the fact that it actually works. "It does stiffen the tube nicely," Martin Wright conceded, awarding it one star for "entertainment value". The plastic design put me off; this isn't the sort of thing you see in House & Gardens, so it wouldn't get any shelf space in my bathroom.
Another unaesthetic plastic tool which has to be displayed prominently on your kitchen wall in order to save space in landfill sites by crushing both steel and aluminium cans. Martin Wright was doubtful about the concept. "If people want to help the environment, why are they eating so many things out of cans? Most foods are more wholesome and cheaper bought fresh," he pointed out, agreeing that the can crusher is "very ugly - it looks like a loo brush". We borrowed a tuna can from a neighbour; it turned out to be a steel one that wasn't even dented by the appliance, no matter which way we put it in. As most people are capable of crushing aluminium drinks' cans with their hands, this rather expensive gadget seemed completely useless. "Try opening both ends and jumping on the can instead," suggested Wright. "It's better than kicking the cat and feet come free."
****LOW ENERGY LIGHTS
Globe pounds 13.95, Circolux pounds 19.95
After such a depressing start to our trial, Wright was relieved to be presented with these energy-saving light bulbs, available in many different shapes and working on as little as 20 per cent of the wattage used by regular bulbs. He acknowledges that the cost is high. "It's a leap of faith to invest in these bulbs, but they last much longer and are brighter than ordinary light bulbs and you do save money through reduced household bills in the long run. They are big, though. What's needed now is for manufacturers to take up the challenge of using recycled materials in lamps made to go with them." If you're wary of the initial outlay, he suggests buying the bulbs for the rooms in your home you use most.
This gadget sounds simple and fun, something we couldn't wait to try out in our house - until we read the directions. The handsome red and black steel Log Maker requires you to soak your newspapers in water for one to two days (where - in the bath?), stirring the pulp from time to time with a broom handle (like a witch at her cauldron, my flatmates thought). …