A New Crop of Green Sidelines

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What's better than the high margins of sidelines? The high margins and driving sales of green sidelines.

At this spring's Go Green Expo in New York City, three floors of the Hilton New York Hotel were devoted to eco-friendly paraphernalia -- from recycled greeting cards to biodegradable umbrellas to rubber wallets.

A shortlist of expo notables that caught our eye included the Seltzer card line, which the company said is currently carried by more than two-dozen independent bookstores. Christine Onorati of Brooklyn's WORD said, "I love them. The items that sell best here are the boxed cards with skull and crossbones that say 'Much Obliged' and the drum set that says 'You Rock.' Their line is reasonably priced and quite popular here."

The 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper cards have strong impulse-purchase appeal. A birthday card says, "This Calls For Unmitigated Debauchery in Celebration of Your Birthday" and a Thank You note features a box of tissues and the word "Verklempt" [Yiddish for choked emotion]. "Mom-and-pop proprietors" Gay Lam and Brian Gold say they are "pleased to bring you products to smile about -- without compromising the planet in the meantime."

A common theme at the expo was rescuing materials otherwise headed to the landfill and repurposing them. Using discarded billboards and inner tubes, Green Guru creates durable messenger bags, wallets, and more. Unadorned inner tubes used for their "Blow Out" series are salvaged from trucks, tractors, bike shops, and cyclists around the country and "otherwise discarded rubber trash" is turned into "bomber gear." The expandable wallets are sleek, black, and could be used as a tire patch kit in a pinch. Messenger bags, wallets, and various totes sewn from discarded vinyl billboards capitalize on the material's pixilated colors and splashy graphics. Green Guru cleans, processes, and manufactures their products entirely in the U.S.

Repurposed materials are also used for more upmarket handbags and carryalls. Beth Warner of the New York-based Raw Bags weaves rolled-up Chinese newspapers to create a fold-over clutch and a tote with a cutout handhold and snap closure. The overall effect is primarily black and white with occasional rolls of color and shiny with protective laminate. Warner also designs streamlined clutches with bamboo tiles.

Half the battle of forgoing plastic bags seems to be remembering to bring their eco-friendly equivalents. The compact nylon ChicoBags, which come with their own stuff sack, and Envirosax, which fold up and snap closed, can stay in a backpack or trunk without taking up much space. Chico Bags include a carabineer that can be attached to keys. Envirosax bags come in a huge range of retro and modern patterns with stripes, polka dots, and flowers that are a classy step above the typical reusable tote. Their cute kids' series might leave adults covetous.

Eco Africa Social Ventures (EASV) says its mission is "social enterprise that has been creating jobs to empower women in a world where jobs are mostly unobtainable." By partnering with women and teaching them paper-crafting, EASV says it has founded a sustainable business that supports both the women and their environment. Their papermaking processes uses recycled and natural materials. The richly textured paper is then used to make photo albums, bookmarks, journals, and more.

To power greenly, Solio offers a universal solar charger strong enough to charge handheld electronic products at home or on the move, or as they say on their website "anywhere under the sun." Each kit comes with multiple adapters and others are available on their website.

And to keep it all dry, the company Brelli makes a completely biodegradable (once it's in the landfill, it takes five years to harmlessly disintegrate) lovely umbrella with bamboo ribs and a clear canopy. --Karen Schechner