Monthly Archives: February 2014

6 Times Recycling Isn’t the Answer

6 Times Recycling Isn't the Answer

You’re probably familiar with the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra. It’s an easy reminder of ways to avoid waste. The problem comes in when too many people rely on the last part – recycle – and pay too little attention to the first two. There are a number of reasons why recycling isn’t necessarily the right answer when you’re trying to cut back on waste.

1. You don’t need to recycle what you haven’t bought in the first place.

Reduce is first on the list for a very good reason. You aren’t causing as much waste if you just buy less in the first place. In this case, waste include the recycling of excess products and their packaging.

2. Keep using what you’ve got.

Sending something out for recycling just because you want a new version isn’t environmentally friendly. Cell phones are a strong example of this. According to Scientific American, Americans replace their cell phones on average every 22 months.  That’s ridiculous. Yes, phone and network features have been changing steadily over the past several years, but how much improvement do you really need?

There are times when it makes some sense to replace something you own and still works with a new version, but it doesn’t happen that often. Older refrigerators and freezers may be inefficient enough to be worth replacing even before they break down, for example, and sometimes cities offer haul away programs for them, and may even pay you a little for them. These programs help ensure that such items are properly recycled.

Shopping bags can be reused, for example, even if they aren’t the ones you buy for that purpose. Gift bags and boxes can be used over and over again, so long as they’re in decent condition.

You can also buy things specifically to replace things you might otherwise recycle after only a use or two. Cloth napkins, cloth diapers, stainless steel drinking bottles, rechargeable batteries and so on can replace things you’d otherwise throw out.

3. Repurpose/reuse it.

Some of the things you might otherwise recycle can be repurposed or reused. I keep a supply of empty glass jars around because they’re just so handy for other things. I can’t keep all of them, so a number still go out for recycling over time, but it’s really nice to have a variety of them on hand for when I need one.

I also save a lot of kind of random stuff for my kids to reuse. My oldest daughter in particular – she’s in a club called Destination Imagination, and reusing items is a great way to stay in budget on each year’s challenge. I can’t tell her what to use or how to use it – that’s against the rules – but I can make it available.

Old clothes can be made into new things. This can be especially nice to do with clothes you’re sentimental about. Some people make old sports jerseys into quilts, for example. For less sentimental things, such as that pair of jeans that has worn out, you can consider making a shopping bag or other practical item, depending on how strong the material is.

Be safe about reuse. Some items aren’t particularly safe for reuse and really are better off being recycled. Containers that have held hazardous materials aren’t your best choice for reuse, as a general rule. Similarly, don’t put anything dangerous into a container that makes it look safe or appealing.

4. Sell it.

So you don’t want to reuse it yourself. So what? Is it something someone else would enjoy reusing? You can sell individual items through eBay, Craigslist or any buy-sell-trade boards for your community you may find on Facebook. You get some money, the buyer gets a product for cheaper than they’d get it new. No recycling required.

You can also have a garage sale if you’ve accumulated a lot of stuff and have the patience to put a price on it and hold the sale. You can make some decent money for your effort this way, depending on what you have.

5. Give it away.

If it’s not worth selling, can you just give it away? Or would you prefer to see how much it helps someone else without money as a consideration?

My sisters and I do this with kids’ clothes, handing them down to each other so that much of what the younger kids wear have been through a few other kids already. The clothes could be worth selling, certainly, but we help each other out by handing clothes down freely.

Freecycle is a great site to use when you just want to give something away. Join your local board and post what you have available.

There are also charities such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, as well as smaller organizations, that can make use of things you’d like to give away. The advantage to these is that you can get a tax deduction based on the fair market value of the items you donate.

6. Buy used.

When you can, be a part of the reuse cycle by buying used items yourself. Children’s clothes are often a wonderful place to start, but you can often find other good quality items for your home and family at thrift stores, consignment shops,or from companies that make new products from used items. The longer an item can be usefully kept out of the recycling stream, the better it often is for the environment.

Make no mistake, recycling – as in breaking down the old material to make something new – is extremely important. It shouldn’t be your first thought, however. Do your best to reduce your purchases and waste, and to reuse or repurpose things when you can. Then look at recycling.

How to Find Eco Friendly Birthday Party Favors

How to Find Eco Friendly Birthday Party Favors

My kids love having birthday parties with their friends, and they especially love picking out party favors. Personally, I’m royally tired of the standard plastic favors that only last a day or two before breaking that kids get at most parties they attend. I think my kids have received most of them at one party or another, and the favors are usually junk.

Now, the easiest solution to all this is to simply skip the whole party favor thing. It’s the most eco friendly solution too. But if you or your kids aren’t ready to give up on the concept of party favors, you can at least try to make them more eco friendly. It’s possible, and you can even keep the costs down.

Homemade Treats

If you’re the kind who likes to make treats, these can be wonderful party favors… just be sure you know about any allergies or sensitivities to take into consideration. Popcorn is often popular with kids, although there are GMO considerations. You can make homemade cookies, brownies, chocolates, candies, whatever you like to make.

Flower/Seed Pots

This can be a party activity and favor all in one. Have the kids paint or otherwise decorate their pots early on in the party, so that any paint or glue has time to dry. Later on, have the kids plant seeds or small plants you have ready for them. Make sure parents know in advance that the kids might get messy!

Homemade Play Dough

Homemade play dough is easy to make and lots of fun for the kids. Have a little fun with it and add some glitter – kids love sparkling play dough. Here’s a basic recipe:

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tbs cream of tartar (optional but helpful)
1-1/2 cups hot water
3 tbs cooking oil
Food coloring
Glitter (optional but pretty)

Combine all dry ingredients. Separate into one container per color, then add oil (estimate amount per color) and food coloring as desired. Add hot water slowly, and mix by hand until the consistency is right. Add a little more flour or salt if the dough gets too wet. Put into sealed containers for each child.

Decorate T-shirts

Decorating t-shirts can be a lot of fun, but potentially messy, so make sure parents get advance warning. You can use t-shirt paints, Sharpie markers, tie dye kits or anything else you like that works on shirts. My kids like to draw on shirts with Sharpie marker with sections of the shirt pulled tight over a container, then drop rubbing alcohol over the design to make it spread. This is best as an outdoor activity, as the alcohol really stinks!

To make it more eco friendly, look for organic cotton t-shirts and other eco friendly supplies.


For younger kids, crayons are a nice treat. You can give them brand new ones or melt old, broken crayons into molds for a more interesting look.


Pick an eco-friendly craft that is age appropriate for the kids. You may even be able to find ideas to go with any party theme you’ve chosen. Give the kids the supplies early on and let them go at it. Make sure you have a place for everything to dry after that is visible enough that you won’t forget to have the kids take their projects home.

Homemade Bath Bombs/Salts

This can be a fun activity for older kids or teens. Get the supplies to make some bath bombs or salts. Salts are usually easier because you don’t have to worry about how long they need to dry out.

Rocks, Fossils, Coins

This is a favorite of my kids. I go to and find tumbled rocks, foreign coins, fossils, etc. for party favors. It’s great if you have a treasure hunt theme. The quick way to give these to the kids is to fill containers with treasure and sandbox sand, then have each kid sift out their treasure. This is best for younger kids who might get upset over unequal distributions or who might not have the patience for an actual treasure hunt.

For older kids, consider an actual treasure hunt. Hide the treasure, and give them clues to find it. Make sure you find a way to limit how much treasure each one gets, or hide the treasure in a different location for each, and warn the kids not to take treasure that doesn’t come from one of their clues. You can also mark each one with a color or logo so that everyone knows which treasure is theirs. You don’t want the fastest kid to get an excessive share of the prizes.

Favors From Eco Friendly Sites

Check out some of the websites that offer eco friendly party supplies and favors.

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.

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

Should You Install Rain Barrels In Your Yard?

I’ll admit that this is something I haven’t done myself. We rent, and rain barrels just aren’t the kind of modification I’d try on a rental. But for the someday when we own, I keep looking at what it will take to install a rain barrel, especially with California’s rather desperate drought situation just now. A rain barrel can be a good way to collect rainwater and decrease your water bill, although probably not by much. Rainwater running off your roof can be collected for later use. But is it the right choice for you? Here are some factors to consider.

Laws and Regulations

The laws and regulations on rainwater collection vary quite a bit from state to state, and may change based on the part of the state you live in. Check with your state’s water resource agency before you start any rain barrel project to ensure that you can comply with the rules for your area.

How Much Do You Need It?

Given the size limitations of most rain barrels, it’s probably not going to make a big difference in your water bill. That doesn’t make rain barrels a bad idea, however. Most can hold anywhere from 20 to 150 gallons of water, depending on the size you choose, so if you really want to make a dent in your water bill, it will take more barrels. There are larger sizes available, but the costs and space required may or may not be worth it, depending on your situation.

When Will You Need to Disconnect It?

There will be times when it will make sense to disconnect your rain barrels. If you’re in a place where you get enough rain during fall, winter or spring that you don’t need to capture the rain, odds are you won’t want your rain barrels out at those times, even when they handle the overflow well. Make sure it’s not too hard to switch back to a regular roof gutter drain at such times.

Also, if it tends to freeze in your area, ice can damage your rain barrels. It’s best to put them away before cold weather starts.

Keep the Water Covered

Do not allow your rain barrel to become a breeding ground for mosquitos. It should be well covered, with a screen where the water goes in to keep insects and debris out. This will also help keep unwelcome critters such as mice or rats from using it as a water source.

Do Not Drink From Your Rain Barrel

Odds are very, very good, that the water from your rain barrel isn’t safe to drink. Rain water is lovely stuff, but what your barrel catches came down along your roof, through the roof gutters, and into the barrels. That means it has taken along any dirt, moss and so forth from your roof into the barrel, which itself is probably not all that clean. Keeping some of the debris out as mentioned above is good for your barrels, but it’s not enough to make it safe to drink.

Choose Which Plants to Water

You may or may not want to use rain barrel water to water edible plants. It really depends on the contaminants that get into your system. You can test the water to decide if it’s safe for your food garden, but when in doubt, let the decorative plants or lawn have it.

For More Information

If you want to learn more about installing rain barrels safely, here are some good resources: