Thursday, March 19, 2009

Meanie Greenie

I was reading a sticker that's placed on every paper towel dispenser here at work and a whole train of thought hurtled through my little brain...

I read in an article that South Koreans recycles 85% of their recyclables, compared to less than 10% here in the U.S. In that sense, Koreans are definitely eco-friendly.

But Koreans aren't really green; they don’t do the whole “organic food” thing and they don’t really worry about using products that are “green.” I have never seen a Korean cosmetics company advertise their new organic line. Koreans don’t care if their shampoo has sodium lauryl sulfate in it. We clean with heavy-duty cleansers that contain heavy-duty chemicals. Korean women use tons of products that have tons of incomprehensible compounds in them.

My mother is most definitely one of those Korean women. She doesn’t worry about zapping Tupperware in the microwave, she doesn’t care about the particles that her non-stick wok might be leaking into the food, she thinks it’s funny that I only use organic shampoo (skincare is a whole different thing- I am not ready to give up hard-working chemicals that make my skin what it is).

My parents are great about being eco-friendly, though. My mother composts, she grows a lot of her own vegetables, she doesn’t waste anything. My dad … he takes the trash and recycling out.

They aren’t green, though. Not in the way that crunchy, granola-y people are (I think they used to be called hippies but are now just … green). The parental unit doesn’t care about pesticides on their fruit- once it’s washed, who cares? They don’t try to refrain from buying things in plastic containers- they’re going to recycle the plastic, who cares? They don’t take their own bags to the grocery store- they’re going to re-use and the recycle the bags, who cares?

I am leaning more and more towards becoming a greenie, with my love of organic fruit and vegetables and my growing distaste for plastics and Styrofoam. I’m becoming a mean greenie, though, which I think a lot of green people are: they are like born-again Christians, loudly evangelizing that their way is THE way, not letting anyone get a word in edge-wise. And like born-again Christians are for all the quiet Christians out there, mean greenies give the rest of the greenies a bad name.

I wasn’t always a greenie, mean or otherwise. I didn’t used to read the packaging on my hair products; I smelled them and if they smelled delicious, I bought them. (Herbal Essences was purchased solely for its smell, and I have to say that I quite miss the fake scent of tropical paradise.)

I used to buy bottles and bottles of water. I recycled those bottles once they were empty, but I certainly did not think about the footprint that my plastic usage might have. I was in the stage that my parents are in now- sure, I’m using plastics, but I’m recycling them, so who cares? I now have a Kleen Kanteen and a ceramic mug at work, rather than bottles and paper cups. I assume my parents will get to where I am now in about six months to a year, since that’s how much lag there is between my changes and theirs.

A lot of my change in viewpoint came about because of the very industry that I work in. VFX, for all its flaws, definitely promotes being green. Sony, the entire corporate entity, uses recycled paper towels and makes sure to provide their employees with recycling bins and coolers of water, rather than bottles of them.

I actually didn’t used to recycle very often because of the sheer inconvenience of it. Rhythm + Hues, where I worked before, changed me in that respect. I started recycling while I worked there, and the habit became ingrained. I actually worked with someone that would yell at me if there was an aluminum can in my wastebasket, regardless of whether or not I had thrown it in. I guess the reason I really started recycling was because I didn’t want to hear the hollering and I certainly didn’t want to be criticized (lemming behavior at its very best!). VFX people are passionate about their likes and dislikes, and saving the earth is high up on the list of likes (thankfully).

The entire city of Cerritos, where I live, recently (last year) gave all their residents new trash cans. THREE new trash cans: a black one for trash, a green one for compost, and a blue one for recyclables. It has made it much easier for my parents to recycle. (It helps that I live with them and torment them when they don’t recycle.) With just that small change, our trash has decreased to the point that we only leave the trash can out for collection once every two weeks, sometimes once every three weeks.

I don’t know how much of a difference my few changes will make in the long run, but I do know that I feel a little bit better about myself. And I feel like if people as set in their ways as my parents can change … why can’t everyone else?


ate March 20, 2009 at 7:05 AM  

i felt guilt after reading this article. I admit I'm not even thinking green.

Though my favorite color is green...

Recycling here is more out of economy and not motivated by environment.

My company's plastic bags make convenient trash can liners. So my company made their plastic bags 75% biodegradable.

I wonder though what happens to the 25%...

Still, I will keep in mind what you have said and will start off with organic shampoo.

What brand are you using? (hehehe)

jeanny March 20, 2009 at 9:42 AM  

Hey, stick with what works for you!

I like Giovanni's 50:50 and Tea Tree Triple Treat lines(

Also like Alba- shampoo, conditioner, and enzyme scrub (

I think Avalon Organics is a bit expensive, but still good. I have their Meyer Lemon shampoo and conditioner (

Hope you find something you like!

ate March 21, 2009 at 8:20 AM  

interesting choices...thanks =)

Amanda March 22, 2009 at 7:01 AM  

Of course Koreans recycle more. If you don't, you get fined. At least, that's how it was at all three of the places I lived. It's the same in Germany, as far as I know. It's the way it SHOULD be in America.

Right before I left Korea there started being eco-friendly advertising on products. Not sure how accurate the labels were, or exactly HOW they were advertising them. Didn't bother to learn the Korean for it.

jeanny March 23, 2009 at 1:22 PM  

Amanda, I never understood how the fining worked. How do they know it's you and not someone else that isn't recycling??

I think just the threat of a fine might work in the U.S. ... it should be tried out, in any case!

Amanda March 24, 2009 at 4:11 AM  

Well, in two of the three apartments I lived in there was a security ajosshi near the trash area who'd come out and yell at you if you weren't doing it right.

In two of the three places I lived in they had cameras.

One of my friends was nearly fined because he didn't understand the charged-per-waste-in-a-bag system or the recycling system. He didn't have to pay the fine only because he was white and so obviously confused. But he also shaped up quickly.

I know of another teacher who was fined ($300). She somehow got her school to pay for half of it because they'd never explained how it worked to her.

jeanny March 24, 2009 at 5:32 PM  

$300! That's crazy!

I bet if they started doing that here in the states, people would shape up QUICK.

It's nice that it's such a community effort, people keeping each other in check. Although security cameras seem a touch excessive.

Amanda March 26, 2009 at 4:41 PM  

"Community effort?" Is that what we call Big Brother? Ha ha ha! Of course I was always watched 'cause I was The White Girl.

Seriously though, I DO think America needs to shape up re: recycling.

jeanny March 26, 2009 at 6:18 PM  

"Community," "Big Brother," what's the difference??

I think we'll get there ... people seem more and more aware of the recycling problem, and I see more recycling bins in public areas next the waste bins. Painfully slow, but better to have a little progress than none at all!