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Recycled Retail

Ingenuity, Competitive Pricing and Availability Are Turning Products Made From Used Materials Into More Practical Buys


Earth Day tip: Buy recycled.

As virtuous as it feels to sort metal, paper, plastic and glass into recycling bins, that's only half the circle. Round it out by buying products made from recycled materials.

Not only will you help the Earth (for example, it takes 95% less energy to make recycled aluminum than to make new aluminum from bauxite ore), you may be pleasantly surprised at the range of merchandise available.

"There are more recycled products all the time, and they are more practical and competitive in price," says Marc Merson, president of Eco Expo, which sponsors the National Marketplace for the Environment.

The eighth annual show, May 6-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, will feature a record selection of recycled building materials, gardening products, apparel and recreational equipment.

"Anybody thinking of creating a play area can get a whole playground set made out of recycled plastic with a flooring base made from recycled tires, which is safe for falls," says Merson.

It's not just rugged outdoor items that are showing up in the recycled goods category. Judith Arango of the Arango Design Foundation in Miami organizes an annual design exhibition aimed at public education. Last year she focused on good design from recycled and reused materials and says she uncovered a revolution.

"I was surprised both at the beauty and the many aspects of recycled design," she says. "We found many, many things that were imaginative--as small as an elegant thermostat made from almond shells and as large as beautiful chairs."

Her catalog for the 200-object exhibit, which is now touring in Europe, is available for $22 from Arango Inc., 7519 Dadeland Mall, Miami, FL 33156.

"Our whole idea is to show things in industrial production that are widely available," she says. "We want people to know there are beautiful, practical, everyday objects."

And she predicts even bigger changes as young designers, who are increasingly conscious of the environment, come into their own. Her exhibit includes an Eco-Work Station from Studio Eg in San Francisco. Owners Erez Steinberg and Gia Giasullo bill themselves as "committed to ecologically smart design" and have won national acclaim for their graceful cranberry, gold and green workstations made from newspapers, tires and wheat chaff.

"When we started, it was tough, but now we find clients attracted by the green part," says Steinberg.

"Buying recycled" is the new theme at the powerful Environmental Defense Fund, where the staff works on innovative solutions to ecological problems. "There are lots of recycled choices today," says senior scientist Richard Denison, who offers these shopping tips:

* There are four categories that are safe bets to be recycled goods: aluminum beverage cans, glass bottles and jars, "tin" cans, which are actually steel, and molded pulp containers such as egg cartons.

* Elsewhere, read the labels. Many categories--toilet paper, paper towels, pencils, carpets, cereal boxes and more--have big variations in eco-worthiness. Check for the amount of recycled content, looking for the product or package with the highest percentage of "post-consumer" material (material that has already been used and recycled).

Don't be misled by phrases such as "eco-safe," "earth safe" or "environmentally friendly," Denison says.

* Give the manufacturer feedback. Most labels have toll-free numbers, Denison notes.

"If the manufacturer is using recycled content, call and commend them. If they aren't, call and ask why. This kind of feedback can have a big impact."

* If you really want to spread the word on buying recycled, make a presentation to a civic, church or community group. The Environmental Defense Fund provides the material.

For $25, you receive a complete Buy Recycled Coffee Hour Kit, with a 25-minute video program starring Joanne Woodward, 50 copies of the "Buy Recycled Everyday Shopping Guide" and 50 copies of the current EDF Letter. For more information: (800) 684-3322.

The countdown to Earth Day in Life & Style:

Tuesday: The Center for a New American Dream says we can live more fulfilling lives while using fewer material resources.

Wednesday: What you can do. A personal action list not just for recycling, but to prevent waste in the first place.

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