Category Archives: Going Green

6 More Ways to Go Green in the New Year

6 More Ways to Go Green in the New Year

Yesterday I wrote about what I see as some of the simpler ways to go green. They still take commitment but don’t really take a lot of extra effort. Today I’m covering some still fairly simple things that do take a bit more effort to go green in the new year.

1. Drive less.

This is a tough one for many families. Schools aren’t always within walking distance. It’s hard to run errands or get to kids’ activities without driving if things aren’t really close to your home. I work at home, so at least I don’t have to drive for work, but many of the other things I do require the use of a car.

Look at what you do. Can riding a bike, walking or taking public transportation replace the use of your car at times? Most transit services have websites that will help you figure out your local bus routes and schedules.

Telecommuting is awesome if you can manage it. This one is not possible for a lot of people, but if you can do telecommute, consider yourself lucky and take advantage! You waste less time on the road and save the money you would have spent on gas.

I’ve gone the one car route when it has been possible too. Being a one car family was difficult at times, but the savings was huge. It doesn’t work where we live now though.

compost

2. Compost.

If you have a backyard, composting can be pretty easy to do. Find a spot in your yard that you don’t mind setting things up, and start composting. Appropriate food scraps, lawn clippings, leaves and even cardboard can do well in backyard compost piles.

Composting can be a bit tougher if you live in an apartment, but there are indoor composting systems that are reported to control the odors. Composting means that food scraps don’t rot in the landfill. They make great natural fertilizer, even if all you ever do is plant an indoor herb garden.

3. Garden.

Anything from a little herb garden on a kitchen counter to a serious backyard garden can be a wonderful idea. It means you can get fresh produce that you know has been grown the way you like it. A good garden can produce great snacks for kids too. It can be one of the fun ways to go green in the new year.

Take the time to learn about natural pest control. For example, ladybugs are pretty easily available at many garden centers at certain times of year and are quite good at controlling certain pests.

And of course, the aforementioned compost means you don’t have to spend money on other fertilizers.

Alternatively or along with this, join a food co-op. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is very popular right now. It’s a wonderful way to get local produce more easily. Local Harvest has some good resources to help you find a CSA in your area.

4. Decrease your energy consumption.

Changing light bulbs to LEDs or CFLs works, although some have concerns about the mercury in the CFL bulbs. But there’s more you can do.

Consider plugging your television, stereo and such into a power strip, so that you can shut them down completely when you turn them off. These can use a significant amount of “ghost power”. But you will want to consider, if you have TiVo or a similar service, finding a way to allow that to have a different power strip so you can leave it on if it is going to be recording while you aren’t watching television.

Also be sure to unplug chargers when not in use. Cell phone chargers are often left plugged in, and they don’t stop using power just because you take your cell phone with you.

Similarly, unplug electric toothbrushes and the like. My electric toothbrush is plugged in about one day a week and holds a good charge that long easily.

use clothesline

5. Install a clothesline.

Putting in a clothesline takes some effort, as does hanging the laundry out on it when the weather is warm enough to dry your clothes quickly. Clothes dryers use a significant amount of energy. But even beyond that, there are few things like clothes dried outdoors. Some people give their towels a quick turn through the dryer at the end so that they don’t feel stiff.

Clotheslines can be problematic with some homeowners associations. I kept things below the fence line when I used one while living in a homeowners association area. Many states protect the right to use clotheslines regardless of what the HOA may say, so check the rules in your area if this is a concern.

I like using a clothesline during the summer. Clothes often dry faster in the sunshine than they do in a dryer. The animal shelter we volunteer at uses a clothesline year round for their laundry. They only use their dryer if they have more than a day of rain keeping the laundry from drying. They save a lot of money that way. Clothes take a long time to dry on cool, cloudy days, but they do get there.

6. Get an energy audit.

Many local power companies offer these for free or at a discount, or you can hire a company to do one for you.

An energy audit tests your home, to see where energy is being wasted and how you can solve the problem. Little things like leaks under a door or through a window can cause significant heat loss in winter, for example. Just be sure you take action on the recommendations.

What ways are you planning to go green in the new year?

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.

16 Simple, Green New Year’s Resolutions

16 Simple, Green New Year's Resolutions

This is a popular time to rethink old habits, so why not rethink some of those habits you have that aren’t so good for the environment? Today I’d like to present a list of reasonably simple things you can do to have less of an impact and live greener.

1. Buy less.

And when you have to buy, try to buy green. This can mean buying local, organic or fair trade when possible. It can also mean checking out resale shops and thrift stores. You might be amazed at the quality of things you can buy that aren’t new.

2. Reuse.

So much of what we buy can be reused. But even if you can’t come up with a use for it, someone else might. When it’s reasonable, remember to list items on Freecycle or give to thrift shops.

We reuse a lot here. Most gift bags used for holidays or birthdays are kept for the next one. They don’t look perfect, but they work.

Some of the burp cloths we used back when my kids were babies are still in use as an alternative to napkins or kleenex. Cloth is so much kinder to the nose when you have a miserable cold that I hate it when I need to use a disposable tissue instead.

3. Recycle.

Yes, the third part of the usual reduce, reuse, recycle routine.

Most areas have made recycling easier. You may or may not have to split your recyclables into separate bins for each type these days. Where I live, all recyclables go into one bin, making it as easy as throwing them in the trash.

Also, try to find reputable places to dispose of old electronics. When it comes time to get rid of that old computer, television or whatever it may be, do not throw it in the trash. Earth 911 has resources for recycling electronics. Sometimes schools and other local organizations will hold electronics recycling events as a fundraiser, giving you the chance to get rid of old electronics and do something good for that organization.

4. Switch to natural and/or nontoxic cleansers.

Method and Seventh Generation are two popular brands that you can often find locally.

You can also make your own cleansers. Baking soda and white vinegar work for an amazing range of cleaning needs.

5. Buy rechargeable batteries.

A good battery recharging system means you will go through fewer batteries and save money in the long run. Figure out how many batteries of each type you will need and get a system that can cope with your needs. Amazon.com and GreenBatteries.com each have a decent selection.

6. Warm your body, not your house when possible.

wear a sweaterRather than turning the thermostat up to 70 degrees F or more, remember what your parents used to say and put on a sweater. Maybe even some socks or slippers if you’ve been running around the house barefoot. You can keep the thermostat at a much lower temperature this way, saving on heating oil or electricity in the process.

If a day is sunny but cold, opening the blinds may help to heat your home. I do this only on the side of the house that gets direct sunlight in winter.

The reverse can be more challenging in summer. Keeping your thermostat to a higher temperature to avoid using the air conditioner is not easy for many people. It’s not too impossible for me since I work at home and don’t often go into air conditioned buildings. It takes just a couple weeks to get used to being warmer, along with figuring out how to block the worst of the heat.

If you don’t mind the look, folded cardboard boxes in windows really do help, as do sheets or blankets covering the windows. Anything that keeps the heat out means you’ll use the air conditioner less.

Don’t forget to check and replace filters regularly!

7. Wash your clothes in cold water.

Most of the time cold water cleans your laundry quite well. A warm wash rarely improves your results in any significant way. Modern washing machines and detergents can do a very good job of cleaning your clothes without heated water in most places.

8. Drink more water.

But don’t buy bottled water. Buy a nice reusable bottle either from a local store or through Amazon.com. I prefer stainless steel bottles for their durability and safety. You’ll save money as you do something good for yourself and the environment.

9. Use less water.

This is not in contradiction to #8. You should drink more water, but people tend to waste a lot of water. Take shorter showers and rethink how much you water your lawn. Deeper waterings are more effective than more frequent watering, for example. But you should also be looking at your overall landscaping and figuring out how to make it more suited to your local climate.

Whatever lawn you do keep, allow to grow taller. If it’s at least 2-1/2 inches tall it will need less watering and be more resistant to weeds.

10. Do full loads.

Don’t run half full washing machines or dishwashers. While the occasional smaller load may be necessary, most of the time you can wait a little and build up a full load.

But by the same token, think about how fast things really get dirty. Kids can be great for wearing an outfit for a half hour, then throwing them in the clothes hamper to be washed. Often, they aren’t really dirty, and could be put away rather than into the laundry.

Similarly, many people find it simple to use a towel more than once for drying off. How often you use a bath towel before washing can be a personal preference, but most say you should wash it after about three uses. Hand towels should be replaced every couple days, depending on how much they get used.

11. Stop using disposable dishes.

disposable dishesThese are easiest when you’re entertaining, but a lot of people use them fairly frequently just because they feel like it. Whenever possible, even when you have company, don’t use disposable dishes or plasticware.

This goes for lunchtime too. Many people bring or buy lunch at school or work. But if you bring leftovers from home in reusable containers you won’t be throwing out so many disposable containers. Reusable lunch bags are easily found locally or on Amazon. You can even avoid plastic in the containers by finding stainless steel or glass containers for your food.

12. Get off junk mail lists.

This one should be an absolute pleasure!

Junk mail is incredibly annoying. Credit card offers can be particularly annoying, as many worry about security risks with them. They’re easy to get rid of, however. You can opt out for five years or permanently through www.optoutprescreen.com. You can further decrease your junk mail by asking the DMA to take your name off mailing lists.

13. Go flexitarian.

That is, eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. Eating less meat can be good for you, and there are many delightful vegetarian recipes you can try. Even if you love your meat, this one should be possible.

Meatless Monday is the traditional day, of course. You can go meatless any day it’s convenient to you. If Monday is the wrong day for any reason, just pick another day.

There are tons of wonderful vegetarian recipes out there. Start searching and find some that include ingredients you know you like.

14. Have the kids help.

The younger kids learn to respect the environment, the more of a habit it can become. Don’t give them all the toys they want, just because they saw them on television. Think about how much they have and how much easier it is to appreciate what you have when there’s less of it.

15. Bring your own bag.

Reusable bags are available in many stores these days. These are a wonderful substitute for the plastic bags that are otherwise often a single use item. Reusable bags are required in California now.

You can buy much nicer reusable bags than what the stores sell if you like. These should last longer, and feel nicer to carry. They’re so useful that my aunt loves to give Envirosax as party favors for adults.

16. Don’t fall for green consumerism.

While buying green products is a good idea, it’s not green if you’re overdoing it. Think about what you really need before you shop. Buying lunch boxes and shopping bags makes sense because you’re going to be using fewer one-use items. Buying an entire new wardrobe of clothing so you can get it all organic or fair trade does not.

I’ll be posting in the next day or so on some of the more challenging things you can do to go greener. Nothing too hard, just things that might take a bit more commitment, without requiring a complete change of lifestyle.

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?

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.