MARTHA SEZ: ‘The throwaway culture … is no longer cool’

I was doing a little light holiday shopping yesterday when I came up with some unusual gift ideas. Years ago, who could have foreseen that a bucket of simple housecleaning products would someday be a popular Christmas present? That would have gone over like a lead balloon (an idiom people used in the olden days to denote failure to arouse enthusiasm).

Giving a wife or woman friend a broom or even a $1.2 million, 24K gold-plated vacuum cleaner is a definite faux pas. Such a gift is far from romantic and carries the implication that the recipient’s role is basically that of designated cleaner, even if she is a high-falutin one.

Yes, there are 24K gold-plated vacuum cleaners. Only 100 have been manufactured so far, which makes them pretty special, but I think most of us would consider a ring or a necklace or even a tooth a more appropriate use of gold.

We wouldn’t consider including Brillo pads or plastic wrap or cleaning rags as stocking stuffers, practical as these household helpers may be.

Lately though, and maybe more so since the coronavirus pandemic, people have become increasingly conscious of waste and litter. It is fashionable to work to “Save the Planet,” in small, everyday ways. The throwaway culture, with its emphasis on planned obsolescence, is no longer cool. Reusing clothing and household tools and eschewing plastics, while not exactly new ideas, are becoming more popular. And so we come to the little holiday gifts that used to be so mundane but are now so much fun.

A wooden vegetable brush shaped like a fish. An oval vegetable brush made of untreated beech wood with bristles of agave and yucca fiber, “compostable,” as the label reads, “at the end of its life.”

Or what about brightly colored felted scrubby balls, or gaily patterned kitchen cloths, all reusable and biodegradable? One of my favorites is a replacement for plastic wrap, a decorative cotton cloth treated with sweet-smelling beeswax.

On a far higher level (while there are still hold-out who don’t believe that climate change is a problem for our planet), many forms of alternative energy are being explored and implemented around the world.

At Washington State University, Scientists are working to harness the power of the solar wind, hoping to generate 1 billion gigawatts of electricity.

That number means nothing to me, except that I know it’s a lot: 100 billion times more power than planet Earth consumes. The problem so far is figuring out how to use solar wind power on earth.

As if it isn’t bad enough that we humans are polluting and littering our air, land, beaches and water, our clutter has begun to spread to outer space.

More than 9,300 tons of space objects currently orbit Earth; their titanium and aluminum increase ambient light over large parts of the earth by 10 percent, blocking astronomers’ view of distant stars.

You may still remember the Chinese high-altitude spy balloon incident early this year, and how people thought it so strange as to be scarcely credible that the Chinese would use a vehicle as low-tech as a balloon to carry out their secret missions. Yet now, as part of a plan to reduce space junk, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are planning to launch LignoSat, a coffee mug-sized satellite made from magnolia wood, the world’s first wooden satellite, into space.

Scientists tested magnolia, cherry and birch wood, finally deciding on magnolia because it is less likely to break during manufacture. Wood doesn’t burn or rot in the lifeless vacuum of space, but it will incinerate into a fine ash upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, making it a surprisingly useful, biodegradable material for future satellites. Like the little wooden vegetable brush mentioned above, LignoSat is compostable at the end of its life.

After successfully testing their wood samples aboard the International Space Station earlier this year, the scientists believe the test satellite is fit for launch. A wooden satellite!

It sounds like something some crazy inventor would have made on the “Little House on the Prairie.” The television show, not the book. Even so, I have it on good authority that, according to the space agencies, LignoSat is set to launch into Earth’s orbit by summer 2024.

Whether you are contemplating a little wooden vegetable brush with natural agave bristles for the holidays, or maybe a gold bracelet or even a gold-plated vacuum cleaner, have a good week.


(Martha Allen, of Keene Valley, has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)

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