Tuesday, January 6, 2009

the real environmentalists

Back in May, 2007 in my economic green post, I explained that I believe that being green must be economic, otherwise motivation of the masses is lost. Over the past few months I have slowly become aware of something that is going on right now, that I believe falls into this category.

As many readers know I religiously shop at warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale. The thing with Costco is that their products are addictive. Over the years we have begun to buy more and more household goods from Costco. What makes their products addictive is that they are such high quality for such a fair price. Once you start buying the product, you are basically hooked because you won't compromise by buying an inferior product for, heaven forbid, a higher price. Two such examples in our home are Kirkland White Kitchen Garbage Bags with Drawstring and Kirkland Liquid Gel Dish washing Detergent.

Being addicted to using these two products, and considering how many times our kitchen garbage fills up and the number of times our dishes need washing, you can imagine how many times I handle these products. Combined I probably handle the products thousands of times per year, so subconsciously I've become quite used to the physical feel of the garbage bags and the plastic jugs. I really like these white garbage bags with a red drawstring. They never break, are a good size, and tie up nicely. The dish washing detergent works really well and is much less expensive than anything I've seen anywhere else.

In recent months something has happened. First it was the kitchen bags. As I pulled the bag from it's fresh roll in the bathroom closet it felt different in my hands. The bag was noticeably thinner. Was it just my imagination? They still worked great. A few weeks later I pulled two new huge jugs of dish washing detergent off the shelf at the Ancaster, Ontario Costco and instantly I noticed it; the pressure I exerted on the jug caused my fingers to push the plastic in further than normal. The jug was much thinner than it previously was.

It is reasonable to assume that the time a product design change decision is made at a consumer products company's boardroom table until the product gets to the consumer is likely about 6 months to 1 year. It is a lengthy process to design, test, manufacture, and market a new product. These two products are both made up in part with petro chemicals. The bags contain resin and the jugs other petro chemical-based polymers. They are both nasty items that will take years to decompose in landfills. The price of many commodities including oil really took off roughly around February, 2007. The innovative minds at these consumer product companies were likely called to force in the name of cutting costs and saving margins. "Make it thinner" demands the Clorox Co. (CLX) executive! They're all environmentalists, aren't they?

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