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Easy Ways To Avoid Plastic

Easy ways to avoid plastic

Plastic is everywhere these days. Too often it’s treated as something completely disposable, something made for a single use. While there are good uses of plastic – your car and computer wouldn’t be the same without it, for example, many other uses are just wasteful. It’s a good idea to learn how to avoid plastic in those areas.

Skip The Bottled Water

As much as possible, don’t buy bottled water. Get a good size stainless steel or glass bottle, and refill it instead. I like ones that are insulated so that my drink stays cold all day. It’s an easy way to keep drinking water rather than less healthy alternatives, and it’s much cheaper than buying new bottles of water all the time.

I like stainless steel bottles for my kids’ school lunches. The drink bottles come in a wonderful range of styles. My kids have dented them, but never ruined one. They bring them to school every day, filled with water. It’s much better than bringing a disposable bottle of water everywhere.

Food Containers

There are many wonderful alternatives to plastic food containers now. Some may use a little plastic to provide a good seal, but many use a silicone gasket. You can choose from glass or stainless steel, depending on what you want to spend and how much you trust that they won’t be treated roughly.

A little paint can work to personalize glass or stainless steel containers that are brought to school or work. Kids are great at losing things, so it helps to make it easier to identify your things.

The glass jars you get from many products make great food storage container, and you already have them! They aren’t for long term use as a general rule, but for putting food in the fridge or storing dry goods in the pantry, they’re great. I keep a stash in my pantry of various sizes so I can usually find the one I need.

For those times when you would otherwise use plastic wrap to cover your food, check out beeswax wrap instead. You can wash food off of it with water and maybe some dish soap, and keep reusing it.

Straws

If you don’t eat out a lot, you probably don’t use all that many single use straws. Kids love them, of course, at home or out and about. It’s very easy to cut down on your use of single use straws.

You can bring your own reusable straws when you eat out, for example. The trick can be remembering to keep your straw. If you’re concerned about losing your straws, you can buy paper straws to use instead of plastic. Paper is a much better choice since it breaks down much more easily. Make sure your server knows to not bring you a straw.

Shopping Bags

Plastic shopping bags are very common, although some states are trying to get the problem under control. In California, for example, most stores must have reusable bags to sell to you at $0.10 each, to encourage people to reuse bags. These bags are simply extra heavy plastic bags, so I don’t know how much waste they’re preventing, but it’s a start.

Look into cloth alternatives for shopping bags, or make your own. You can even find reusable produce bags.

Don’t forget to skip the sandwich baggies. You can find reusable versions of these as well.

Buy Bulk

I was so happy to see a grocery store with bulk bins open in my area recently. The nearest one before that was too far to go to very much. I’ve always loved stores with bulk bins. You can minimize the packaging by buying in bulk, and some stores will let you use your own containers. You have to get them weighed first.

Buy Products In Boxes Rather Than Bottles

As much as you can, buy products in boxes rather than ones in plastic bottles. This goes for things such as bar soap and laundry detergent. Even if the boxes have a little plastic around them, it’s far less than what you get when the entire container is plastic.

Use Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are much less wasteful than disposable diapers, although they are a little more work. I used them on my youngest, and it went really well. It takes some extra laundry, but otherwise it isn’t that different. They can also be much cuter than disposable diapers.

Make Your Own Household Cleaners

I make most household cleaners myself. Mostly that means using baking soda and vinegar for a lot of purposes. This allows me to buy them in larger packages. This doesn’t allow me to completely avoid plastic, but the larger packages use less plastic per ounce of product.

Drink Less Juice And Soda

Juice and soda often come in plastic bottles. They aren’t necessary to your health, so the less you drink of them, the better.

If you do buy juice or soda, avoid the single serving sizes if you’re buying for multiple people. You can limit the plastic waste a little that way.

Recycle

When you can’t avoid plastic, recycle as much of it as possible. Plastics are generally downcycled – that is, made into a lower quality plastic – but that’s better than sending them straight to the landfill.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Green Your Halloween with Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Green Your Halloween with Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Halloween is a fun holiday and one that has picked up quite a bit on the consumerism side. It can generate scary amounts of waste. And while it’s really fun seeing all the houses decorated and the kids dressed up in costumes, avoiding waste is still a worthwhile goal. You can green your Halloween if you remember to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce

Just don’t buy so much stuff.

If you have Halloween decorations, use them of course! If you’re bored with yours, see about trading around with other family members or friends. You can make things look different without buying a lot of new things.

When you do buy new decorations, make sure they’re things that should last for years. Quality matters. If something is going to wear out after just one use, what’s the point?

Consider natural decorations. It’s also an excuse to not rake the lawn for a little, if you like. Hay bales, gourds, and pumpkins can be used as decorations beyond just a jack o lantern.

A dried gourd can be reused from year to year. My husband has some he carved up like you would a jack o lantern, and they look amazing. They will last for many years to come.

Think more carefully about how many treats you need for trick or treaters. How much overage do you really need anyhow? If you’re really into it, look into fair trade or organic candy.

You also don’t need to buy special buckets for trick or treating. Pillowcases have worked well in that area for many years. Any reusable shopping bags you have may also work well. They hold more candy too, which the kids will love.

If you’re having a Halloween party, send invitations by Evite, email or text message. Do your best to keep the waste of the party down to by using regular dishes where possible. Markers to label disposable cups will help people keep track of those if they’re necessary.

Reuse

I said it before: reuse the decorations you already have. But if you really need new ones, think about making them. Some construction paper, glue, markers, paint, or other art supplies you may have around the house can combine well to make creative Halloween crafts to decorate your home inside and out.

You can also find Halloween costumes or parts to create your own at thrift stores or your own closets. A homemade costume will stand out far more than one of the many store bought ones. It’s a lot of fun planning costumes. My son has a steampunk costume he improves a little bit each year, for example. By keeping it to accessories he can attach to his clothes, he can use the dress shirt and pants for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas as well.

Another option for costumes is to do a costume swap with friends. Arrange costumes by size and see who can get a new to them costume out of the deal. This can also work for kids’ dress up clothes throughout the year.

If you do buy one from the store, try to be sure that you either send it to the thrift store after or get one good enough that the kids can play dress up in it after Halloween. Why buy a costume to be worn only once?

Recycle

Start with your pumpkin. Roast the seeds and consider saving some if you want to grow your own pumpkin next year. Make sure its remains make it into the compost bin rather than the trash.

Halloween only creates so much recyclable trash, but keep your eyes open for possibilities. If you aren’t going to reuse those costumes, send them off to the thrift store and maybe someone else will.

If you made your own decorations with paper, make sure that any that aren’t in good enough condition to be reused next year hit the recycle bin.

Dead leaves can make for great Halloween decorations, then be composted as well.

What other ideas do you have for a green Halloween?

Turning Your Kids Green

Turning Your Kids Green

One of the great challenges with trying to live a reasonably environmentally conscious life is teaching my children to do the same. Young children have very little sense of the future; for example, my daughter once decided she would be Rapunzel when she grew up. It takes time and patience to turn kids green.

Fortunately, kids also possess a strong desire to please. Things don’t always turn out the way they intend, but children generally do mean well. And this means you can teach them to be more eco friendly.

How To Start Turning Your Kids Green

Start out by talking about why you make the decisions you do in terms of helping the environment. Even a preschooler can begin to learn what gets recycled, thrown in the compost or in the trash. As they get older, these things should become habit.

A garden is a great way for kids to learn to care for plants, as well as a great way to get them interested in eating their vegetables. Start them out with organic techniques so that they really learn them and because it’s much safer for them than using chemicals. Let the kids pick vegetables they would like to grow, as well as your own choices. Carrots and tomatoes are popular choices.

Kids love it when they can pick fruit from the tree as well. If you don’t have a fruit tree in your yard already, find out what your family likes and will grow well in your area. Go to a nursery and find one you would enjoy. Fruit trees are cheaper when they are bare root.

Older kids can help you make more environmentally friendly household cleaning supplies if that’s one of the things you do. Measuring quantities and mixing them together is a bit of math practice and a way to teach them that harsh chemicals aren’t the only way to clean. They may also enjoy finding essential oil scents to make cleaners smell better.

Keep Turning Your Kids Green As They Get Older

As your kids get older, you can teach them more. Teach them about energy conservation. You can make any child old enough to reach the light switch be responsible for keeping extra lights off. As they get older, you can talk about the amount of power the various kinds of light bulbs use and have them help you make a good selection.

Have them help you to conserve water too. They can help you replace plants that need a lot of water with ones more suited to your area, for example. Discuss how to find the balance between an attractive yard, growing food, and appropriate water use in your area.

Show your kids ways to reuse all that wasteful packaging material found in children’s toys and electronics. So much of that doesn’t recycle easily in most areas, but you might be able to use some of it at home. Styrofoam packaging in large pieces combined with golf tees and a pounding implement makes for loads of fun for younger kids. Those dratted wires that hold just about every toy in its box these days can be added to the craft supplies.

Also talk to them about using only what they need. This is a really tough one for kids these days, as they are likely to want all the stuff their friends have. As a parent it’s up to you to help your children control their more acquisitive urges and to enjoy what they have.

Teach Them To Buy Used

Some of the things kids really want may be available at thrift stores. Electronic devices may be available second hand – not as new as others get, but still functional. Teach your kids that they can get just as much enjoyment from second hand items.

When each of my kids has reached an appropriate age for a smartphone, it has been purchased second hand. That’s why my son has an iPhone 4, not something newer. It does the job, allowing him to chat with friends, play games, and once in a very long while make a phone call.

Encourage Them To Help In The Community

Volunteer work is great for children. There will be many things they won’t be allowed to do due to age, but there are small things even very young children can do.

An easy start is picking up trash as you go for a family walk in your neighborhood or at a park. Bring a bag to collect all the trash. It’s a small thing, but it makes a great difference in how the area looks.

As children get older, they may be able to volunteer by visiting the elderly in retirement homes. Check with your local retirement homes to find out what the age and other requirements are.

I volunteer with my kids each week at a local animal shelter. Most don’t allow kids until they’re 12 or even older, but some will allow younger kids. Check with them to find out when your kids will qualify.

We help with laundry, as that’s something safe even for my youngest. If other work needs to be done we help with that as well. We go late in the day, so laundry is often it. When that’s done, we socialize with the cats. It’s fun yet necessary. Sometimes we help with the dogs, but they have more people who come in to socialize the dogs than for the cats.

Read

Books are great for turning kids green. You can find books for all ages about being more eco friendly.

Start with your local library. You don’t need to buy every book your child wants to read on the subject. There are times when you will want to own a particular book on the subject, but much of the time borrowing the book is enough. Librarians can be very helpful in discovering new books to read.

Whether you buy or borrow, Amazon can also be a good resource for finding books you want to consider. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to read with your kids. If you can’t get enough ideas from your local librarian, try book reviews on Amazon.

Children don’t always take naturally to the sacrifices required to live a greener lifestyle, but it’s a great time for them to learn the skills. Have a little fun with it and let your children explore their options as they help you help the planet. Turning your kids green can be a lot of fun even when it’s challenging.

Take Small Steps To Go Green

Take Small Steps To Go Green

Trying to make the switch to a more eco friendly lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Once you realize how much you can do, you realize how much there is to do. It’s a lot. But if you take small steps to go green, it’s a lot easier to reach your goals and change your lifestyle.

One of the big reasons to take small steps to go green is that you probably have a lot of things to use up that aren’t as eco friendly as you might like. At the same time, it’s a waste to just throw these things out. You also need some time to learn about the options you have, and which are the most important to you.

Do Some Research

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when they want to go green is fall for scare talk. There are a lot of things you can be concerned about. There are a lot of things you shouldn’t be concerned about.

Make sure you know what the popular terms really mean. Some are so abused as to be meaningless.

USDA Organic has a specific meaning. Toxin-free does not, at least not from the FDA. In fact, there is a saying about “the dose makes the poison,” which is true. Even water is toxic at high enough doses. Don’t assume that the presence of a particular substance is a problem.

Chemical free is even worse. Everything is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. Air is made of chemicals. Vegetables are made of chemicals. You aren’t going to escape them.

What they mean, of course, is harmful chemicals, which is an entirely different matter. Remember that the dose makes the poison, and learn exactly what it is you’re avoiding before you worry about it.

Then there’s natural. Natural sounds good, but it’s meaningless. Many poisons are natural. It’s a feel-good buzzword that doesn’t really tell you what you need to know.

Pick good sources. A blog like this one can give you some ideas, but unless it backs up statements with solid information from reputable sources, you have no idea if they’re accurate. So many websites do little more than fear mongering, with little science to back up their claims.

Pick Your First Small Steps To Go Green

There are many first steps you can take as you try to live a more eco friendly lifestyle. You can look at cutting waste, for example. Take a look at the things in your life that get used up and thrown out relatively quickly. Things that wear out fairly quickly.

These are the easiest places to make changes. You need to buy replacements often enough anyhow. What better place to go green than by making better choices in purchases you need to make anyhow? Here are some ideas for your first small steps to go green.

Food Storage

One simple place to do this is in food storage, school lunches and so forth. Many choose to do this by doing away with plastic. You will certainly save a lot of money and cut a lot of useless waste by no longer using plastic baggies or other single use containers for food storage of any sort. You will still need containers of some sort.

Many choose glass containers over plastic, due to their concerns over what is in the plastic. When concerns were expressed over whether BPA in plastic alters hormones, many companies replaced it. The problem is that the replacements may have the same issues, and so many found it simplest to switch to glass.

The big disadvantage to glass is that it breaks, but it’s otherwise a wonderful material. It’s recyclable, although some places do not like to accept broken glass.  Not all glass is safe in the microwave, so if you use one, make sure any glass you put in there is safe for it.

Cooking Tools

Cooking tools can be another great place to start. I was so happy when I was able to switch away from the nonstick pots and pans we had been given as wedding gifts. Now I use stainless steel and cast iron as much as possible.

Those nonstick pots and pans wore out fairly quickly, as the coating scratched off over time. My cast iron skillets, on the other hand, are handmedowns from my grandmother. If I take good care of them, I might get to hand them down to someone else many years from now. That’s much more eco friendly than replacing them every several years.

Personal Care

Personal care items can be another good choice, once you are sure what you actually need to be careful about. You should view popular resources such as the Environmental Working Group with caution, because many aren’t as honest about their claims as one might hope.  Use their information if you want, but remember they tend to overstate the problems of many ingredients. The science behind the claims can be iffy.

I have a fondness for a lot of homemade personal care products. Coconut oil has a number of uses, for example. If you don’t like the smell, it can be combined with your favorite essential oils.

Aloe vera has long been another favorite. It’s wonderful for sunburns. It’s easy to grow. If things go well, you won’t have to buy it very often at all, as long as it grows well in your yard. It has a variety of skin care uses. Not every claim is proven, but you can try aloe vera for the uses that interest you. Read up on the safety of taking aloe by mouth before doing so, as it is not always safe to do so.

Cleaning Supplies

It’s amazing how much you can clean around your home with baking soda and vinegar. These two ingredients can replace a number of household cleaning supplies. You can use essential oils to improve the smell of the vinegar, if you like. Use one or both, depending on the job you need to do.

These two together are especially amazing at clearing clogged drains. Pour in the baking soda first, then slowly add vinegar. Let them work together for about five minutes, then pour boiling water down the drain. The best part is that if it doesn’t work and you need a plumber, you haven’t put anything dangerous to the plumber down the drain. They have to take extra precautions to deal with other drain cleaners.

Skip The Drive

Consider things you can do in your life without driving there. What things are a reasonable walking distance? Can you do some errands while riding a bicycle? How good is the public transportation in your area?

Find What Works For You

Not everything you try will work out for you. Some things will just not be for you or your family. Give it time and don’t be afraid to make the occasional mistake.

15 Eco Friendly Fundraisers For Schools

15 Eco Friendly Fundraisers For Schools

School fundraisers aren’t always particularly welcome when you’re trying to be eco friendly. Selling a bunch of wrapping paper, cookie dough and so forth doesn’t always appeal that much. It’s a bunch of money parents, extended family members, friends and coworkers can get tired of spending. Schools willing to step outside that box, however, have some interesting options for eco friendly fundraisers.

1. Electronics Recycling

My kids’ school has done an electronics recycling fundraiser two years in a row now. While I don’t know anything about the quality of the company they go through, I think this is an excellent concept. It keeps electronic waste out of the dump and allows the school to raise money, yet families don’t have to spend any extra money.

The one our school does is a one-day event, where everything is dropped off during the listed time frame, although the school can also allow pre-collection so that some stuff is there already.

There are also programs out there for ongoing fundraising by collecting and recycling electronics, such as through Recycling Fundraiser, Funding Factory, and others.

2. Donation Drive

Goodwill in Southern California has a donation drive program where schools and other nonprofits can earn money for every bin filled. I believe it’s available elsewhere too.

This is a nice way for the school to earn money while families get rid of the junk that accumulates in most homes. And once again, you don’t have to buy anything for your kids’ school to raise some money.

3. Have A Clean Up Drive

Have students ask friends and family to sponsor them at a cleanup day at a local park, beach or another natural area. Encourage people to give either a rate per pound cleaned up by the student or a flat rate they will give the student for participating. This way the school and a natural area in your community both benefit.

 

4. Recycle Aluminum Cans And Other Waste

Schools can earn money by recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles for the money. This one takes a lot of space, however. Just look for local places you can take the goods or see if any places will pick up when there’s enough collected.

For schools with less space, you can also collect just the tabs off aluminum cans. They don’t take much space but can add up to some reasonable money for the school. You can participate in the Great American Can Roundup if there are buyback locations in your area.

If you want to go beyond the usual recycling programs, Terracycle has a Brigade program where various items can be collected, and the money donated to a nonprofit or school that you select. They have 40 programs to choose from. Some have a cost, but others are free, right down to the shipping.

This one takes a fair bit of space, of course, as it takes time to collect enough waste to send in. The programs can fill up for a time as well, and you may have to wait for the right one to open for your school. They offer programs for drink pouches, baby food pouches, printer cartridges, electronics and much more.

5. Walk-a-thons, 5k, etc.

These are a good way to encourage the kids to get active while raising money. Have them get family and friends to sponsor them to raise money for the school.

This can be just about any activity the kids can do – walking, running, dancing, whatever. Keep it simple to keep the costs down.

6. Smencils

Yes, eventually it comes back to buying. Still, I like the Smencils fundraisers. Smencils are scented pencils made from recycled newspapers, and kids go nuts for them. Best of all, pencils are things students absolutely need, not just junk. As pencils go, they’re pricey, but they make a nice treat for the kids. Best of all, at our school it’s usually students running the fundraiser under a teacher’s supervision, selling to other students to fund a field trip, not something to take to work. Smens are also available.

7. Scrip

Scrip has been around for a very long time. Basically, it’s buying gift cards to stores you already shop at through your school, including many grocery stores. The school gets a percentage (varies by store), you get to spend the same amount you would have anyhow while benefiting your school. Shop With Scrip and eScrip are two options.

You can also sign up directly with certain stores, such as Target, to have a percentage of your purchases go to the school of your choice when you use their card.

8. Sign Up With Amazon.com

Schools can join the Amazon.com Associates Program and earn a percentage of sales on purchases made by people who click through their link. The challenge here is getting people to remember to get to Amazon through the school’s link, not through bookmarks or just typing it in. Not everyone approves of this, as some feel that it takes money away from local businesses that would come back to schools through taxes, but many people are going to shop through Amazon anyhow.

9. Shop Through iGive

iGive is a program your school can sign up for, then go through the iGive button or download the app for their online shopping. iGive partners with many online stores, and a percentage goes to the school.

The wonderful part about an online fundraiser is that it’s not limited to local friends and family. Anyone you know who is willing to use your school’s links can participate. Families can share links through email as well as social media such as Facebook.

10. Collect Spare Change

Encourage families to donate their spare change to the school. A jar can be placed in the school office as well as at any businesses willing to help out. As anyone who has collected their own spare change knows, this can add up fast.

A fun way to do this is called Penny Wars. My kids’ school does this every year. Every grade has a bucket in which they collect change. Every penny is a point. Any other coin subtracts points up to its face value, such as -5 points for a nickel. This allows grades to sabotage each other. The kids get very competitive about the whole thing.

The wonderful part about Penny Wars is that it has very little overhead. The school gets all the money, and the buckets can be reused from year to year. The winning grade gets a prize. Our school does a pizza party for them, sponsored by a local pizza place.

11. Box Tops For Education

This program has been around for a long time. Families can collect the box tops off products they purchase anyhow and turn them over to the school, which then gets money for them. The products are not necessarily healthy or eco friendly, but we’re talking about things most families will buy anyhow.

12. Rummage Sale

Have families donate goods they would otherwise send to a charity or sell at their own garage sale, and have a huge rummage sale at your school. Make sure to promote the rummage sale on social media, especially local for sale pages and Craigslist. Make and post signs if they’re allowed in your area.

The hardest part about this idea is getting and storing the goods donated for the rummage sale, and handling disposal afterward. The best thing to do with leftovers is to have arrangements made to donate them. Try to have them picked up very shortly after the sale so the school doesn’t have to deal with storage for long.

A rummage sale requires a lot of volunteers and time. Try to involve both parents and students. It’s a good experience for the students, especially if it’s for something specific to their class.

13. Sell Eco-Friendly Lunch Bags

Help parents quit the disposable habit by selling reusable lunch bags, containers and drink bottles. One Small StepPlanet Wise, ECOlunchbox, and others offer fundraising programs.

14. Fair Trade Chocolate, Coffee, etc.

Chocolate and coffee are fun to sell, although there’s always the risk that you’ll enjoy it too much yourself. There are a variety of companies that offer Fair Trade chocolate, coffee and other goods for fundraisers, such as Dean’s BeansEqual Exchange and Grounds for Change.

15. Non-GMO And Organic Seeds And Bulbs

Help families in your area grow better gardens by selling non-GMO and/or organic seeds. Sow True Seed, High Mowing Seeds, EcoFlower Fundraising, Botanical Interests and the Online GreenHouse offer fundraising programs. Some programs offer seed packets with flowers that are good for attracting bees or butterflies, as well as other types of seeds.