Everything old is cool again

Clotheslines, canteens and other products from days gone by are back because they’re eco friendly

By Jennifer Acosta Scott

There are some trends that we hope never return to vogue. Like harvest gold appliances.  Fingerless gloves. Shows about dancing cops. But renewed interest in chemical-free and carbon-neutral products has brought some blasts from the past out from the mothballs. The only difference is that they’re much cooler this time around. Check out Plenty’s list of the best reinvented relics.

Reel Mowers. Don’t bother with a gas can; these lawn mowers are propelled by the original power source – your muscles. Turning blades attached to a handle clip your grass while you walk behind. These decidedly low-tech mowers have been around for centuries, and they’re still used today by people who like them for their zero-energy requirement, quiet operation, and superior cutting ability. And lazier landscapers will be glad to know that the only maintenance required is an occasional spritz of WD-40. “They are, mechanically, very simple machines, so there isn’t much that can go wrong with them,” says Lars Hundley, president of Cleanairgardening.com, an eco-friendly lawn-supply store. Reel mowers work best on lawns that are half an acre or less and are mostly made of turf grass – weedy, rocky lawns will be too difficult to cut manually. Models start at just $100, so it won’t cost a lot of green to take care of your greens.

Canteens. They began as a survival item for thirsty foot soldiers. But the wastefulness of throwaway plastic bottles has brought canteens from the battlefield to the neighborhood soccer field. Today’s sleek models come in a rainbow of colors, patterns and shapes, with carriers available to sling ‘em over your shoulder or clip them to your belt. Trendiest of all: lightweight metal bottles that are free of bisphenol-A, a chemical commonly found in plastic containers. Try the aluminum Sigg bottles, which allow you to customize the lid color and type, or the stainless-steel Kleen Kanteens, which come with a 1-year warranty. Prefer plastic? CamelBak’s BPA-free Better Bottle has a flip top and convenient carry handle.

Cloth diapers. Maybe Grandma had the right idea after all. A far cry from the bleached-white diapers of yore, today’s cloth diapers are well-fitting, breathable, and easier on baby’s skin. Most fasten with Velcro or snaps, eliminating the need for tricky (and sharp) safety pins. Plus, you can rest easy knowing they won’t end up in landfills. There’s a dizzying array of cloth nappies on today’s market, but beginners should check out bumGenius’ “all-in-one” model – it eliminates the need for fussy diaper covers and inserts. Another option: gDiapers, a cloth-disposable hybrid that uses flushable and compostable liners inside colorful, washable pants.

Lunchboxes. Brown bags are so 1998. And these days, we’ve got more to choose from than the rusty, dented character lunchboxes that we carried in first grade. No-nonsense types will appreciate the grownup briefcase-style boxes, while on-the-go eaters can buy backpack totes. (Talk about wearing your lunch!) But the hottest noontime trend of all is the bento box, an Asian-inspired lunch system that arranges lidded compartments inside a hard-sided container. Bento boxes make it easier to tote healthy noshes like brown rice and sliced veggies, plus there’s no hassling with disposables like plastic bags and foil wrap. If you really want to impress your colleagues in the break room, check out Zojirushi’s Mr. Bento, an insulated stainless-steel lunch jar that houses four stacking microwavable bowls. Its carry bag has a pocket for your flatware.

Clotheslines. Drying your duds outside isn’t anything new, but it’s falling back into favor as launderers seek to reduce their carbon footprints – and cut their electric bills. Almost 6 percent of the average household’s energy usage goes to running the clothes dryer, so laying it on the line can yield significant benefits. It’s also a great way to relive your childhood. “Everyone’s got a story about being with their mother or grandmother at the clothesline when they were young,” says Alexander Lee, the founder of Project Laundry List, a group devoted to reviving the use of the clothesline. “There’s just something meditative and Zen about it.” No yard? No worries. Indoor drying racks and retractable clotheslines are great for renters and condo dwellers. If you have a backyard but don’t feel like installing t-posts for a traditional line, check out retractable umbrella dryers, which can be folded and stored when not in use.

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