Top 10 Gadgets, Gizmos and Good Ideas from The Whole Green Catalog

I have to admit, I’m smitten with The Whole Green Catalog. It’s a new book loosely based on The Whole Earth Catalog published in the late 60s and early 70s, in which Stewart Brand offered tools for those who believed in “rugged individualism” and the newly dubbed “back-to-the-land movement.”

The Whole Green Catalog explains how to greenify pretty much anything: sports and recreation, appliances, baby stuff, etc. Here are 10 things from the book that I found cool, useful, or entertaining. Some you may have heard of, some not. Hopefully, you’ll learn at least one new eco-tip or about one new product.

10. Poo poo paper. Exotic Paper Company is in the business of selling poop. In the form of paper made from elephant and rhino excrement, that is. Profits from the sales go toward the Millennium Elephant Foundation  (which houses elephants once they’re too old or frail to work), the Elephant Family, and Save the Rhino International.

9. Soy wax crayons. Originally intended to help struggling children improve muscle strength in their hands, Crayon Rocks’ rock-shaped drawing implements have found an eco-following. They come from soy wax, not paraffin wax, and use nontoxic mineral power rather than chemical-based dyes.

8. Throw-away pens. Grass Roots, a Toronto-based company that’s been around since 1994, created what The Whole Green Catalog touts as the first pen made from corn. After these pens run out of ink, they decompose in about a year rather than spending eons in a landfill.

7. Number refresher. I know, this isn’t a cool new product or idea, but I never remember which numbers on the bottom of plastic containers mean recyclable and which don’t. So here’s a refresher. Products with the number 1 are always recyclable. Those with a number 2 or 4 are generally good to go. You cannot recycle products with number 3, 5, or 6; 7 means a mixture of plastics—and usually, not recyclable.

6. Induction-based cooking.
Every time you cook on an electric or gas burner, you lose 25 and 60 percent of heat, respectively. Not so with induction cooktops, apparently. They heat your pan or pot through magnetic energy. Sounds kinda like magic to me.

5. Biodegradable trash bags. We generate a lot of garbage. Why not use veggie-based bags—which biodegrade and are compostable—to chuck it? The Whole Green Catalog lists five options: BioBag, Al-Pack, Fortune Plastics, Heritage Bag, and Bio-Solo. I haven’t yet tried any, but I plan to.

4. Chopped up travel guides. For your shopping pleasure and environmental ease, Lonely Planet now sells individual chapters from its guides. Need accommodation info for Paris? No problem. Buy the pages for just $2 to $4. Even better, have them sent to you as a PDF. 

3. Bamboo bicycles. Bamboosero Bikes, started by Craig Calfee, has workers in developing countries build bikes out of bamboo. Why this material? Its prevalence in many third-world countries means job and self-sustaining business creation. Also, it’s flexible, strong, sustainable, and lasts a long time.

2. Solar-powered holiday lights. Cheesy as it may sound, holiday lights make the season bright. But these little guys actually use a fair bit of energy and don’t last all that long. Now, thanks to Colorado-based Real Goods Solar Inc., you can buy solar-powered strands in red, white and multi-color. The sun’s rays charge the lights and when it gets dark, the strands turn on automatically.

1. Flip top USB rechargeable batteries. These rechargeable batteries from Moixa are really neat: When they run out of power, flip open the top and—ta da!—a USB plug. Hook ’em up to your computer and soon enough, fully charged batteries. (They also replenish in regular nickel-metal hydride chargers.) To boot, the batteries are still recyclable.

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