1. Biodegradable Bags
What do they cost? $5 – $20
What’s wrong with them? Unless you know these bags are ending up in a compost bin, they’re not doing the planet or your wallet any good. There’s a good chance they’ll end up in a landfill where they will fail to decompose due to the anaerobic state of compacted trash.
Buy this instead: Reusable bags made of cotton or with high recycled plastic content are a great choice ($10 – $20). Also, remember to reuse the many plastic bags that may package your food ($0).
2. Conventional Granola Bars
What do they cost? $4 – $6 for a box of 18 to 24 bars.
What’s wrong with them? Conventional wisdom says that granola bars are a quick and healthy way to start your day, but most of them are filled with sugar, carbohydrates, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with little of the beneficial protein and fiber they like to tout on their labels. Some have artificial flavors and preservatives. Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (owned by General Mills), for example, contain soy protein, soy flour, canola oil, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar syrup, and soy lecithin, all of which are highly likely to contain GMOs.
Buy this instead: Certified organic energy bars with high protein and low sugar content. Foods bearing the certified organic label cannot contain GMOs. A handful of organic nuts makes a healthy snack, as well.
3. "Green" or "Ethical" Bottled Water
What does it cost? $1.75 – $4.50
What’s wrong with it? Bottled water sends approximately two million tons of plastic to landfills each year. Even if all the plastic was recycled, it still represents a huge carbon footprint, especially when you consider how far much of this water must be trucked before it reaches its destination. Plus, plastic downcycles, meaning that you can recycle it once or twice, and then it becomes an unusable mess — which ends up as waste in landfills or the ocean.
Buy this instead: Tap water ($0). If you’re concerned about your local water quality, consider buying a water filter ($30 and up).
4. Cell Phone Radiation Screen
What does it cost? $17 – $30
What’s wrong with it? Manufacturers of these screens claim they mitigate the harmful effects of cell phone radiation, but their effectiveness is highly suspect and not at all regulated.
Buy this instead: Use a plug-in headset ($5 – $30), or put your cell on speaker phone and hold it at least two inches away from your body ($0) to minimize radiation exposure. Even a Bluetooth headset will help.
5. Recyclable Plastic Products
What do they cost? $3 – $20
What’s wrong with them? “Recyclable” plastic sounds green, but this phrase is a classic example of greenwashing. Just because plastic is recyclable doesn’t mean there will be facilities available for you to recycle it in your state. It also does not mean that the item contains any recycled content. In addition, as noted in #3, plastic downcycles, rather than recycles, into waste that invariably ends up in landfills or the ocean.
Buy this instead: Replace plastics with reusable glass or metal containers such as a stainless steel water bottle ($12 – $40).
6. Greenwashed Cleaning Products
What does they cost? 22 oz. for $5
What’s wrong with them? Many of these greenwashed products claim to be “nontoxic”—a term that is unregulated on product labels and is basically meaningless—yet include toxins in their ingredient list.
Buy this instead: Truly green cleaners certified by Green America’s Green Business Network®. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps m (16 oz. for $10.50), for example, are not only certified Fair Trade and organic but are also nontoxic. Their concentrated formula means that once you dilute their soaps, you’ll be getting the same amount of cleaning for a comparable amount of money. Another option is to make your own cleaning products.
7. Ethanol Fuel
What does it cost? New cars that can run on E85 are of comparable cost to new gasoline-powered vehicles.
What’s wrong it? Ethanol, which is mainly produced from corn in the United States, takes a vast amount of fossil fuels to grow and should not be considered green. In addition, the mostly genetically modified corn that the fuel is made from contributes to problems with GM cross-contamination and Monsanto’s hold on American seeds.
Buy this instead: Biodiesel made from waste products such as used cooking oil is a more environmentally friendly alternative. Kits for converting used cooking oil into biodiesel run from $1,000 to $2,000.