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Houseware trends: Green, caffeine, living clean

Manufacturers show off their latest and greatest wares for 2008 including pillows made of soy-based oil,  rugs made from bamboo and reduced-chemical cookware.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pillows made of soy-based oil. Rugs made from bamboo. Reduced-chemical cookware.

At the International Home and Housewares Show here this week, it was hard to find products that weren't calling themselves eco-friendly.

"Probably the biggest trend I'm seeing is the whole green or environmental movement," said Lisa Casey Weiss, lifestyle consultant for the International Housewares Association. "A lot of companies are focused on doing whatever they can to make their products more environmentally friendly."

The green movement's prevalence at the industry's largest trade show signals that eco-friendly products may someday become not just one option for consumers, but the only option. And that goes for packaging, too — on Thursday, IKEA said it would soon ban plastic bags from its stores.

While Casey Weiss acknowledged that so-called "green washing" — putting the eco-friendly label on not-so-friendly products —does happen, she said for the most part "people are trying to do what's better."

Going greenOne exhibitor who has replaced his entire product line with an eco-friendly counterpart is Tony Tracy, chairman and CEO of Perf Go Green, Inc.

Responding to increasing concerns about the environmental dangers of plastic bags, Tracy said he's the first to manufacture garbage bags, kitty litter liners and lawn and leaf bags that are 100 percent biodegradable.

"The problem we have with landfills is the (plastic) bags don't break down for thousands of years," he said. "Our bags can break down in 12 to 24 months, totally disappear.

"It's the best thing we can do for the planet," he said.

Kim Baker, president of Gouda Inc., had the same concerns about plastic bags in mind when she created the GreenShopper line of re-usable shopping bags.

The GreenShoppers come in several shapes, sizes and materials including washable nylon, post-consumer plastics, organic cotton and bamboo. They each fold down into pocket-sized squares for storage.

"There's a huge demand," Baker said. "Even the people in the shops are saying, 'You don't want a plastic bag, do you?' ... It's sort of embarrassing."

Plastic bags have gone for 5 cents apiece at IKEA since last year in an effort that reduced plastic bag use by more than 92 percent, with proceeds going to charity. Starting in September, the retailer will ban the bags entirely; a reusable blue bag will be available instead for 59 cents.

At the Housewares show's "Going Green" pavilion, highlighted products included Obus Ortho-Pedic Pillows made of soy-based polyol, a material the company says produces less emissions during manufacturing; Bamboo Shag Rugs made by Anji Mountain Bamboo Rug Co.; and Cuisinart's GreenGourmet Cookware, which claims to use more energy efficient manufacturing techniques.

CaffeineIf you think you're going broke from a daily latte, wait for the $2,300 coffee maker.

High-end coffee makers had a strong presence at the 2008 trade show, with several companies rolling out premium models in kitchen-friendly colors or stainless steel.

Among them was Italian manufacturer Gaggia, debuting its Platinum line of coffee and espresso machines with suggested retail prices topping $2,000. The machines do nearly everything, from pulling in the desired amount of water to grinding and compacting the beans.

"People nowadays want to be able to have touch-button technology," said Tracy Schafer, national account executive for Gaggia. "They don't want to have to learn how to make that latte or cappuccino, they just want it to happen for them."

On the other end of the technology spectrum were the Wisdom Wands coffee and tea makers —glass products novel for their simplicity. The Java Wand is a mini French press with a glass straw that brews coffee and tea "instantly, portably in the cup," said inventor Nancy Raimondo, adding that the Tea Wand does the same for loose tea.

"Let's face it, how many times can you afford to spend 3 or 4 dollars every time you want a cup of coffee?" Raimondo said. "With this, just ask for hot water and you have the ability to make a fresh cup no matter where you are."

Even the coffee and tea makers bragged of environmental consciousness, noting that their devices use less water and energy and use few to no filters. Still, many of today's popular coffee pods encase single-serve portions in plastic.

Clean livingCasey Weiss of the Housewares association said she also noted an increase in products that make it easier to cook healthily, including apple and potato slicers, juicers and a mandoline to cut vegetables.

While she said products geared toward convenience still dominate, more companies are catering to consumers looking to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their menus.

Zyliss drew a crowd this year with its battery-operated Multi-peeler Electric Peeler that can effortlessly grate a medium-sized carrot in seconds.

Hamilton Beach offered a dual-wave blender that allows consumers to make two different flavors of smoothies, for instance, and take both on the go.

"The whole multi-function (phenomenon) is a part of making it easier for consumers to lead a healthier lifestyle," Casey Weis said. "We're more aware of healthy eating."