You may love your gold wedding band, but would you buy another knowing that it resulted in 20 tons of mine waste? Would you buy a bottle of water if you knew that eight out of 10 containers end up in a landfill or an incinerator and take 500 years to decompose?
These are some of the lessons of "Eco Trip: The Real Cost of Living," a new series running Tuesdays on the Sundance Channel. It's a compelling, often-disturbing look at how many of America's conveniences come at a price -- to our land, our water and ourselves. Hosted by David de Rothschild, the half-hour programs trace common items such as paper napkins, cellphones and cotton T-shirts from production to disposal.
I couldn't watch the episode on chocolate, but the shows I did preview were laced with facts and driven by interviews with scientists and ecologists -- a welcome relief in this day of "eco-experts" with dubious credentials. De Rothschild is a hunky and gregarious host, though his attempts at humor can feel awkward, given the serious subject matter. The shtick seems ill-timed, for example, when viewers are presented the toxic contents of a Monterey seabird that had died a "slow death" by ingesting plastic trash.
But "Eco Trip" does offer good solutions. We learn that Tiffany, Zales and J.C. Penney participate in a No Dirty Gold campaign. We find out that San Francisco residents manage to recycle 70% of their garbage and that Mayor Gavin Newsom aims to make it a zero-waste city by 2020. We see how the above-ground water tanks for farmed Atlantic salmon eliminate the waste, sea lice and pesticides infecting migrating wild salmon.
By presenting bad news and good, the series reminds consumers that they are part of the problem and the solution. There is still time to make a difference, often by simply making informed choices about what we buy. "Whether people want to believe it or not," Shoshone elder Carrie Dann says on the episode about gold, "the Earth is part of all of us."