Small crimes against the planet
We may be at a green tipping point – but not everyone’s got the memo yet. Tim Dowling picks 10 products so ungreen they make him seethe while Ed Pilkington offers five American eco-nasties, and we ask you to send in your own shopping horrors.
Air Wick diffuser
Air ‘freshener’ is a stupid idea in the first place, and this one, called ‘Baby after bath’, smells like a box of perfumed nappy sacks. Frankly if you don’t have a baby, it would be weird for you to want your house to smell as if you do. But let’s not worry about the perfume, even though, according to the label, it ‘may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment’. The novel thing about this air freshener is that it plugs into a socket, so you can drain electricity while filling the air with chemicals. One refill (please dispose of ‘according to local regulation’) is said to last 80 days when you have it on 15 hours a day.
Fairtrade one cup coffee filters
The coffee may ‘guarantee farmers in developing countries fair terms’, but the design means that you throw away a plastic filter for every single cup you make, plus two lids per box. If you don’t have a more efficient way to make coffee than this, get one.
Garden furniture wipes
The whole wipes industry is based on the idea that there is a separate disposable cloth for every chore: they make hand wipes, face wipes, tooth wipes, wood wipes, makeup remover wipes, dog wipes, window wipes and houseplant leaf wipes, each impregnated with some mystery compound that makes them particularly suitable for a certain type of wiping. If I seem to have singled out these garden furniture wipes as being exceedingly unnecessary, it’s because I have never wiped my garden furniture with anything. If I thought it worthy of any sort of care, I wouldn’t have put it in the garden.
The Village Press extra virgin olive oil
I’ve no doubt that it complements “the strong flavours of vine ripened tomatoes, rubbed garlic and fresh torn basil”, as it says on the bottle. My only problem with this oil is where it comes from: New Zealand. That’s much too far away, and at £5.99 for half a litre my contribution to its air fare amounts to collusion. In New Zealand a local oil makes perfect sense, but we already have the finest olive oil imaginable available much closer to home. Why bother? I know you could make the same argument for wine, but this is a fresh crime, and there is no material advantage to shipping olive oil halfway round the world that I can see. I suppose one might argue that the reversal of the seasons in the southern hemisphere makes it possible to get freshly pressed oil at the wrong time of year, to which I would say – don’t even start. Is there a more needlessly extravagant way to supply people with olive oil?
Health Aid olive oil capsules
Yes, it seems there is: olive oil supplied in gelatin capsules, as if it were some kind of medicine. This bottle cost me £5.99, the same as the bottle above, and it contains 90 500mg capsules of extra virgin olive oil, on the pretext that “the people of the Mediterranean have a diet rich in olive oil, which may contribute to their all-round health”. Here’s some arithmetic I can do: that’s 45 grams of oil per bottle. At room temperature olive oil has a specific density of 918g/l, which means HealthAid are selling olive oil for more than £122 per litre, while engaging in a manufacturing process that has no meaning.
Marks & Spencer gastro grill chargrilled Aberdeen Angus beefburger
Ready-meal manufacturers operate on the principle that you have nothing in your kitchen apart from an oven. This kit consists of cardboard sleeve, sealed plastic tray, cooked beef burger, bun (separately wrapped), oven chips (separately wrapped), tomato sauce (in separate sachet) and a foil tray to cook everything in. There is more here to throw away than there is to eat, and the use-by date gives you 24 hours before the whole thing goes in the bin unopened.
Plastic lawn mower blades
If you have purchased a cheap electric lawnmower in recent years, then you may already be familiar with this nasty development: steel mower blades have been replaced by disposable plastic ones that barely seem to last 15 minutes. They don’t so much cut the grass as shred it, and only one sort is compatible with your particular mower. The label is made from 100% recycled paper, which makes me want to kill someone.
Fairy power dish brush
This is an electric washing-up brush that whirls around thanks to four AA batteries that have already been slightly worn down by people pushing the button through the Try Me hole. No more moving your arm back and forth! When the head wears out you can order a replacement by dialing a free phone number, but it’s much easier to buy a whole new appliance for six quid.
Wilkinson Sword Xtreme3 razors
The latest in extreme waste: disposable three-bladed razors with extra-chunky disposable handles, eight to a display pack, at a staggering £7.99. Do they really want me to use them, or did they just put them in Boots to piss me off?
Canderel limited edition dispenser
Contains 80 tiny low-calorie sweetener pills that pop out one at a time at the push of a button. Of course, regular Canderel users will likely already have a dispenser that they can just refill, but this slim-line edition is designed by Matthew Williamson. They’re telling you to throw out your old dispenser because this one is more fashionable. Putting artificial sweeteners in your tea just got a whole lot cooler.
Underwood devilled ham
Let’s gloss over the 13g of fat and the 480mg of salt in this bedevilled product. After all, this famous brand of ground ham and special seasonings is, for many grown Americans, the taste of their childhood. Let’s focus instead on the tin. The thing is, it contains only a 64g serving. That’s enough to fill just one sandwich. So every time someone satisfies their lust for a culinary trip down memory lane, they leave behind an awful lot of tin.
Optical wallet light
This product is described as an “amazing credit-card size light and magnifier”. Not to mention: “New!” “As seen on TV” “Fits in wallet!” “Ultra bright light at the push of a button!” “Easy to use!” “Perfect for restaurant menus”. Enough! But then, the reason why the distributor, Telebrands, carries so many inane injunctions to buy this slither of plastic is that there’s so much space to fill on the packaging. The container is almost four times as tall as the card itself, and about 25 times as wide. You certainly don’t need a magnifier to see it.
You can admire the quality of this fresh lettuce. It is 100% organic, the blurb says. (It is not possible to be 75% organic, but we’ll let that go.) More than that, it is living and hydroponic, a posh way of saying grown in water rather than soil. Why that means the lettuce has to be individually housed in a box made of plastic so thick you can drum on it is not immediately clear. Oh, and it comes from Canada. You might assume most people who pay more for organic food do so partly out of concern for the environment. Not so, it seems, in New York.
Bic Luminere candle lighter
This unique three-position wand is flexible enough to light all your candles, even those with hard-to-reach wicks. It’s a breakthrough innovation. At least, so says Bic, which has clearly got bored of making pens and wants something new. What it has come up with is an enormous and ungainly lump of mud-brown plastic. It has a proboscis at the end that you can dangle down inside a candle holder to light the wick. It would be absolutely inspired, were it not for the gas fuel it uses and John Walker’s invention of 1827: the match.
Listerine pocket mist
The one word that this product doesn’t have stamped all over it is halitosis. But there are plenty of euphemisms. “Kill germs for a clean mouth feeling.” “Freshens breath fast!” What it doesn’t explain is why 8ml of fluid are held in a container three times the volume. Correction: it does explain. “Designed to conveniently attach to your keychain for fast and easy use anytime, anywhere!””