Last holiday season I urged readers to buy items created and sold by local ashtangis (you can read it again here).
This year I wrote an article for Yoga Chicago about sensible green gifts (ie; not the ones that sound good but turn out to be fairly useless, but ones people will actually love and use). The good news is that most of these items are available everywhere - not just in Chicago - although some have their roots here.
Here it is (or read it here, at the YC website):
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE (GREEN) THINGS
Green has become the new gold, and every day there are more green products flooding the marketplace. But which are the best? Many seem like a good idea at first, but turn out to be either frivolous or difficult to incorporate into daily life. The following items are both innovative and practical.
While I like the natural rubber yoga mats made by Jade and Chicago-based Natural Fitness, I find that Ashtanga practitioners who don't “float” on jump-throughs tend to wear them out rather quickly. On the other hand, I've found that Manduka's Blackmat Pro and ProLite Travel Mat are nearly impossible to destroy--even if they're not made of natural materials. To me, it makes sense to buy a single non-rubber mat that lasts for eons, rather than replacing my mat over and over again. And now, the Manduka comes with a lifetime warranty. For an extra $8.50, Manduka will send you a mat recycling kit, so you can mail it to Recycle Your Mat (go to recycleyourmat.com for the mailing instructions). They also make a rubber Manduka eKO mat, but I haven't tried it yet--since my old Mandukas are still going strong! Visit manduka.com for more.
Yoga mat bags
Malia's recycled yoga mat bags are made from colorful Vietnamese rice bags. But they're not just environmentally friendly; the goods sold by Chicago-based Malia Designs are made by nonprofit organizations that employ disadvantaged people in developing countries, and a percentage of profits go to fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia. Founders Lia Valerio and Maria Forres Opdycke both spent time in Southeast Asia, where they “recognized the need for women to have a secure and safe source of income in order to foster economic development in the region.” The bags are $24 and may be purchased at Majamas in Oak Park, or at maliadesigns.com .
Water and bottles
At a time when bottled water often comes in single-use containers, it makes sense to bottle your own. In fact, the last time I bought bottled water was when I moved six months ago--and I still have some left. I like the inexpensive, easy-to-install Pur faucet-mounted water filter ( purwater.com ), which I usually put into an old pink Sigg water bottle that has survived four trips to India and is still a workhorse ( mysigg.com ). It's made of aluminum and has an enamel lining. But I'm also a big fan of the Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottle I picked up when Mata Amritanandamayi ( Amma) visited Chicago last year. Its curving corners and rounded threads help eliminate areas where bacteria and dirt can hide, plus the bottles are recyclable and come in many shapes and sizes. Visit kleankanteen.com.
Reusable utensils, etc.
I have “saved” countless plastic knives, forks and spoons ever since my dear friend Erin gave me a set of Snow Peak titanium utensils last year. Durable, lightweight and portable, they have traveled around the world with me… until I lost each piece, one by one. The set is about $30, at snowpeak.com. I replaced them with To-Go Ware's just as light--and far cheaper--sustainable bamboo utensils, which include chopsticks. Plus, the utensil holders are made from plastic bags made by an NGO (non-governmental organization) project in India (about $11 for the set, at to-goware.com). [NOTE: To-Go Ware is having a 25 percent off sale through Sunday 12/13; use the code HOLIDAY25]. They also make tiffin stainless steel food carriers as well as the smaller steel containers that I use instead of resealable plastic bags (you can purchase similar containers at Kamdar Plaza, 2646 W. Devon Ave., Chicago). I also carry a bandanna with me at all times; it's great for mopping the brow, cleaning up spills, using as a napkin, wrapping up leftover food and more.
A good bike bag or basket makes it easy to go grocery shopping or run errands without getting into the car. After searching fruitlessly a few years ago for the perfect bike bag I could hook on the rack and carry over the shoulder, I gave up and bought a wonderful Wald folding rear bike basket (about $22.95 at Uptown Bikes, 4653 N. Broadway, 773.728.5212). But a student recently turned me on to Detours' Toocan Utility Pannier ($60), a light, durable and stylish bike bag that has a rubber bottom and clips into the bike rack. It has a wide opening, reflective taillight tabs on both ends and a removable raincover--plus it's easy to clip on and off the rack. Even cooler is the Toocan Juicy, which is covered in recycled fruit juice pouches and is made by Money from Garbage, an initiative of the women-owned B. Luz Cooperative in the Philippines. Detours also sells an equally stylish removable handlebar bag. Find them at detours.us.
City Farm's Green Boxes are ideal for apartment and condo dwellers who don't have access to a yard - plus they're the brainchild of a local ashtangi! The portable 2' x 3' Green Boxes are made of recycled local materials and built by volunteers. Small enough to fit on porches or balconies, they're constructed to grow a maximum amount of vegetables with shallow roots, such as spinach, chard, mustard greens, parsley, cilantro, basil, thyme, bok choy, and bush green beans. Each sustainable box comes with reusable City Farm compost and starter lettuce seed, and costs $75--$50 of which is a tax-deductible contribution to City Farm and its parent organization, The Resource Center, which is a 30-year-old nonprofit environmental education organization (resourcecenterchicago.org ). Get them at City Farm, 1204 N. Clybourn, or at Grand Street Gardens, 2200 W. Grand Ave., or by E-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
But wait, there's more!
I asked readers of my blog to chime in with their favorite things, and they came back with a number of suggestions. One recommended Laptop Lunches' Bento Box, which they use to bring lunch to work; the version 2.0 set costs $24.99 and comes with a hard black outer shell with five food containers, a set of utensils, and a user's guide; visit laptoplunches.com , which also has lots of lunch ideas. The eco-alternative to plastic Baggies is Wrap-n-Mat's sandwich wrap mats ($7.49 and up), which unfold into a handy eating surface. They also make reusable snack pouches; visit wrap-n-mat.com .
Another reader loves the recycled plastic tongue scrapers by Preserve, which are made from Stonyfield Farm yogurt containers and allow you to practice Kriya and Karma yoga at the same time. Preserve also makes recycled plastic toothbrushes, mixing bowls, cutting boards, and more (visit preserveproducts.com).
Someone else recommended buying used and local items rather than new green things, and gave high marks to Scout in Andersonville ( scoutchicago.com ), an upscale “urban antique shop” that repurposes furniture and other items. The same reader found Jadeite glass food storage containers that were the precursors to Tupperware at the Broadway Antique market (6130 N. Broadway St., bamchicago.com), and mismatched Bakelite-handled silverware at the Salvation Army (various locations; see salvationarmyusa.org).