The green revolution is on. And by golly if brands like Kraft and their Lunchables packaged kids' meals don't want to convince you that the world will be a better, healthier, greener place if you simply buy what they're sellin'.
Like their Lunchables New Ham + American Cracker Combos (new because now they're "wholesome and nutritious"). Let's take a look:
Neatly packed into a colorful cardboard box is a plastic tray divided into sections containing: six Ritz crackers, six Ritz-sized slices of sickly-looking ham-like luncheon meat and six postage-stamp-sized slices of 2% Pasteurized Prepared American Cheese Product. In additional compartments are a plastic tub of Sugar-free Jell-O, a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy! Cookies, a bottle of spring water containing exactly one child-sized gulp, and a Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Singles packet to add to the water (which maybe was too healthy after all?). All of this is sealed in still more plastic. The idea is that after your kid spends, say, twenty minutes assembling his combos and eating them, the box, the tray, the plastic wrapper, the cookie wrapper, the plastic bottle, the Kool-Aid packet and the Jell-O cup all go into the trash.
Now, here is Kraft's statement -- indeed, an entire Web site -- about "working towards a more sustainable future."
And here is a list of nutritious ingredients found in this particular wholesome product. (I've refrained from listing them here simply because it takes up too much space and I'm trying to get to my point.)
My point is this. Green is the new black, and that is a good thing. A very good thing. Even a handful of years ago, who among us would have predicted the near-mainstream acceptance, at least on some level, of sustainable ideals? Last month I had the chance to attend the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) conference in Boulder, CO, and if you didn't believe that green is the future of business, you did after this conference. In fact, I was genuinely blown away. There is no doubt that some very brilliant minds are doing some fantastic things on behalf of truly trying to change the world. New, green, businesses are sprouting up everywhere, and any company that wants to stay in business is at last embracing some green practices, if for no other reason than to protect its bottom line, or to stay competitive in its claims of commitment to green initiatives and sustainability.
But while Americans are buying into the idea of sustainability in record numbers, there is a simultaneous obsession with the idea of convenience, and with it, disposability. And companies -- like Kraft -- are rushing to fill both orders, at the same time. While there are no doubt new products with organic ingredients, recycled packaging and labels touting more conscious corporate practices appearing on every shelf at the supermarket, these pale in comparison to the overwhelming deluge of decidedly unsustainable and increasingly disposable products.
Everywhere you look now are individual, plastic-encased portions of just about everything: pudding, yogurt, fruit cups, fruit snacks, cereal, oatmeal, chips, cookies, raisins, nuts, candy and drinks of all kinds. Soup, which used to come in a 4-serving can for 99 cents, now comes in a plastic single-serve container for $3.49, as do various rice and pasta dishes. Then there are the cleaning products. Thanks to the success of products like Swiffer, you can now buy plastic or metal poles with replaceable attachments for the floor, the furniture and the toilet. (Price of a gallon of Clorox: $2.79. Price of a Clorox Toilet Wand with disposable heads: $11.69, plus $6.49 for refills. Little mystery as to why these products have sped to market.) You can buy individual cleansing cloths for everything from your face, to your countertops, to your baby, and you can even buy -- I just discovered -- small plastic tubes containing a single use of toilet paper.
Then there is the coffee culture, which arms commuters, shoppers and students, even in the midst of economic decline, with a four-dollar cup of chi or cappuccino -- along with a carrying sleeve, lid, a stir stick or straw, packets for sugar or sweetener, napkins, and often a bag or cardboard tray to carry it all. You might also pick up several bottles of water during the day and toss those out too (or in a best-case scenario, recycle them). Which might explain why in 2008, bottled water sales reached over $11.7 billion, and why, in 2006, the industry spent $162.08 million on advertising.
Our increasingly mobile lifestyles mean that nearly everything we come into contact with throughout the day is disposable. Food eaten on the go trail reams of paper and plastic destined for the garbage can. Then there are the electronic devices that fuel the mobile economy, which become obsolete the minute they hit the market: cell phones, iPhones, blackberries, laptops. Airlines, if they provide food at all, no longer serve meals in reusable trays. Now they sell individual packets of assorted snack foods in disposable plastic bags and boxes with plastic utensils. Even reading materials -- newspapers and magazines consumed in a sitting -- are sold with the goal of temporary diversion, fated for the trashcan.
While the world seems to have embraced certain green ideals, it is still clinging hard to the idea of convenience above all else, and to disposability. Biologist Edward O. Wilson said that if the rest of the world consumed at our levels, with existing levels of technology, we would require the resources of four more planet Earths. In reality, we'd need many more than that if they also disposed the way we do.
So the question is, while we have to laud even the most beastly of companies for taking steps, even baby steps, towards better energy efficiency, healthier ingredients, organic options, and smarter packaging -- when are we going to see them stop feeding us kernels of truth for the whole thing and start revamping their products wholesale for the sustainable future they promise us? And when are we, with our voting dollars, going to start demanding that they do?