Monday, May 14, 2012

Shopping with a Conscience Leads Me Astray

I love the practice of voting with your dollar. It's exactly what you're doing every time you purchase anything: You're saying that you want this, not the millions of other things you could be spending your money on. You're letting the world (or the business) know this has value. 

The first time I heard the phrase "vote with your dollar," I felt like a piece of the puzzle snapped into place. In more ways than my political vote or the causes I support, I can impact society, throwing my weight behind the practices I want to see continued. Dollar by dollar, I can tell corporations and businesses, the government, and my friends and family exactly what I believe is important and what I won't tolerate or support.

My purchases have been elevated to a statement of my beliefs.

I call it shopping with a conscience, or shopping consciously. I boycott certain large corporations because I don't support their business practices, even though they boast cheaper prices. There are other businesses that I support for the very things they stand for, for what they do in the community, and for how or where or by whom their products are made—often despite the steeper prices.

By voting with my dollar, I can support causes. I can buy from organizations that support women. I can buy organic. I can buy items that benefit cancer research. I can buy items that biodegrade and come from recycled product.

I have the economic luxury to spend a little more for what I believe in. I know that if enough people who think like me do the same, we can make a change in our local and global markets. It's supply and demand, with my own personal agenda.

Which is exactly why I justified spending $80 (more with shipping) for a 100 percent organic cotton shower curtain made in America.

I felt very self-righteous hanging it in my windowless apartment bathroom. I savored the hush of the water being absorbed into the cotton's tight weave—much more pleasant than the cacophony of water pelting a plastic curtain. I delighted in the lack of toxic smells, and a steamy shower no longer made me consider the carcinogens I was inhaling from the hot plastic.

For two weeks, I loved my shower curtain with a single-minded joy I don't often associate with material items. I'd made a statement, supported American workers, and was reaping the benefits with every blissful shower.

Then it started to go pink with mold.

The problems is, as with every apartment I've lived in, the bathroom has no windows. It is tucked into the middle of my apartment, backed up against the adjoining apartment's bathroom. There is a single fan, which sucks air out, and it is as loud as it is ineffectual. Couple this lack of airflow with a conservation of heat to save on electricity, and now I had a curtain that was never drying out. 

Thus, through November, December, and all the way through spring, I washed the shower curtain weekly, if not more often. I used a floor fan propped into the bathroom to blow dry the curtain. I  timed my showers with optimum drying time in mind.

Once again I was fearing what, exactly, I was breathing in when the steam from the shower heated the curtain. All that mold made airborne didn't seem any better than the plastic particles being heated. The mold wasn't washing away, either. The tight weave of the curtain seemed to defy bleach and laundry soap. Plus, did the excess water I used offset the benefit of purchasing organic, biodegradable cotton in the first place?

Two weeks ago, I called it quits. I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and purchased a made-in-China polyester shower curtain. It is ultra-lightweight. It dries in hours, even when the house is cool. It hasn't molded. It cost $16, and I had a 20 percent off coupon.

I am irritated that the less planet-friendly option, made in China, in who knows what working conditions is a better product, but I am more deeply troubled by the fact that all it took for me to cave on my morals and principles was a mold-resistant shower curtain.

I'd like to console myself with the statement that life is about compromises, and about picking one's battles. In the grand scheme of purchases, is my shower curtain such a big deal? Probably not. Not as much as, say, the car I purchase, or hopefully, the food I eat. So, to assuage my guilt, I think I'll go eat some organic blueberries and have a little local dessert wine.


Cody said...

Don’t think your efforts have gone unnoticed. The world around you is better because you think about your purchases and the lifecycle of their existence. And that is sexy…

Rebecca Chastain said...

Now if only I had extreme media influence and could sway the minds of millions! Mwahahah!

Um, I mean, thanks for noticing.