Tag Archives: green shopping

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.

Is Online Shopping an Eco Friendly Choice?

Is Online Shopping an Eco Friendly Choice?

Online shopping is hugely popular. Not only is it often easier than going out the the store, you get an amazing selection and generally good prices. The big question is whether or not it’s the most eco friendly choice.

Online Shopping Disadvantages

There are certainly times when it’s frustrating to look at the packaging your purchases may arrive in. I recently ordered new windshield wipers online – every time I was at a store that sold them, I forgot about them. Remembering to order them online was much easier.

The packaging, however, was absurd. I ordered 3 wipers – two front and one rear. The rear windshield wiper arrived in a nice, narrow box, well sized to it.

The front wipers, however, arrived in a huge box. Now I had ordered some school uniforms for my kids at the same time, so I assumed that all came together, hence the large box. Nope. The box was just a bit longer than the wiper boxes were, 20 inches wide and a foot tall. The cardboard was also double thickness. Absurd to say the least.

Most packages also come with some plastic padding of one sort or another, whether it’s pop bead style or the pillow type. Sometimes one sort or another of styrofoam is used.

There’s an interesting chart on the Stanford Magazine website that gets into energy use for retail versus e-commerce pathways. In most ways, e-commerce does really well, but in packaging and last mile delivery, it uses more energy than retail. But when all the factors are put together, on average e-commerce comes out more efficient. That drive most people take to the store to buy things ruins the energy efficiency of retail.

While not necessarily an eco issue, I loathe doing online returns. Come to think of it, I hate doing them in person too, but sending a package back is generally an inconvenience that I find somewhat more difficult than doing a return when I go back to a store for some other reason as well.

Online Shopping Advantages

So just what are those advantages for online shopping, aside from the personal ones?

Saving gas is a huge part of it. Most people drive to the store, and that’s really inefficient from an environmental standpoint. This is why combining errands is so important. Most people don’t often walk, ride a bike or even take public transportation to go shopping – driving yourself is so much easier, especially if the store is more than a mile or two away or you’re buying groceries or other things that get heavy fast.

The other side of this comes from looking at how deliveries get to your home. Yes, that last mile delivery uses a fair amount of energy. However, delivery trucks are generally far more efficient than individuals driving to the store. Delivery companies plan their routes to be more efficient – that saves them a lot of money on fuel. Companies such as UPS have learned to avoid left turns, for example, when possible, as that has proven to be more efficient.

It’s not all about saving gas, of course. It’s also more efficient having your purchases come from the warehouse than from a store. Stores have to do more to look attractive. Warehouses can be laid out for efficiency.

Product research is one of my favorite advantages. You don’t have to take your best guess – you can see what other people think of a product you’re shopping for. You can find the most eco friendly options for what you need with relative ease. Salespeople can tell you a certain amount in person, but nothing beats the personal experience of many other buyers.

In general, online shopping is very safe so long as your computer is safe. A virus on your computer can compromise its safety – so can falling for a phishing email that tricks you into visiting a copy of a site and sharing your information with the wrong people. But so long as you are careful, keep your computer free of malware and don’t click on phishing emails, you’re pretty safe online.

The one other risk of shopping online is when you go away from the major websites. It can be more difficult to know who to trust when you go away from the big sites such as Amazon and eBay. You should always check an unfamiliar company out before buying from them online. Read their terms of service. Check out online reviews of them – with a grain of salt as online reviews can be faked. Make sure their checkout process is secure.

That said, there are risks to shopping in retail stores too. Just look at the widely publicized hacks of Target, Michaels and Home Depot. There are credit card skimmers that can steal your card information without you knowing it. Your credit card information it at risk whether you use them online or not – be wise about how you use them online and it won’t be any bigger of a deal than using them in person. Most credit card companies will easily reverse unauthorized charges, making them a good choice for online purchases.

10 Popular Green Products

One of the most popular ways to go green is by shopping green. It’s perhaps not always done right, as people buy more than they need, but it’s usually better than ignoring the environmental impact of products altogether.

Some kinds of products are more popular than others, of course. Today I want to take a look at some of the more popular green product types, what I think of them, and share individual examples.

Eco Friendly Electronics

Eco Friendly Electronics

Electronics are a huge part of modern living for most people, so finding more environmentally friendly options is a big deal. Look for Energy Star ratings and EPEAT registration. Be aware that EPEAT registration doesn’t cover all kinds of electronics, but you can look at the information the manufacturer provides to decide what’s green enough for you. Familiar brands such as Dell, HP and Apple have EPEAT-registered products. EPEAT at this time appears to be mostly for computer products.

Apple MacBook Pro
I’m quite fond of my MacBook Pro, and it’s one of Apple’s products on EPEAT, with a Gold certification.  It’s a good laptop, and I love the mobility, as before I had only owned desktop computers. It has made working from my home much easier.

Samsung UN32EH4003 32-Inch LED HDTV
This is a popular example of an Energy Star television. Nice size, well reviewed by users. It sounds like a good replacement for when an older television needs replacing. Not something that happens much in my family, as there’s one TV in the living room and another, rarely used one in the master bedroom

Organic Food

Chia Seeds

Not everyone agrees about the benefits of organic food, but then it depends on the benefit you’re looking for. Many organizations that compare conventional and organic produce focus on nutrition, but may neglect pesticide and other residues. Organic fruits and vegetables may cost more than conventional produce, but you can get some good deals at farmers markets or through a CSA. It should end up being more local that was too. Just check to be sure you’re definitely getting organic produce.

Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have become very popular as a superfood. I find that soaked chia seeds go well in smoothies and yogurt, plus they can be added to other recipes. The antioxidants in chia seeds are said to be more stable than those in flax seeds, and they’re also high in omega-3 acids, protein and fiber.

Cacao Powder or Nibs
Perfect for chocolate lovers, cacao powder and nibs give you a healthier way to add a chocolate flavor to a variety of treats. It doesn’t taste like chocolate on its own, however; it’s rather bitter. The nibs have cocoa butter in them, but the powder doesn’t, so be aware that there is a difference between them. I like the nibs, but not by themselves. They add an amazing chocolate taste to smoothies. On their own, cacao nibs are very much an acquired taste, but a healthy one if you can manage it.

Baby Supplies

There’s no way around it – babies need a LOT of stuff. My favorite way to deal with a lot of it is handmedowns, and those can cover quite a bit of the clothing and toy needs for the first while. Sometimes even years of supplies, depending on how good a system you have going with family or friends. My youngest daughter, for example, very rarely gets new clothes because she has such an absurd amount of handmedowns, and she’s nearly 4 years old.

For babies, safety is absolutely a concern, which is a part of why people like eco friendly items. It’s one way to avoid potentially harmful chemicals.

Cloth Diapers
I got into cloth diapers with my youngest; couldn’t convince my husband that we could make it wish sooner, and ended up wishing we had done cloth diapers all along. Saved a lot of money with them. We used Bum Genius, but there are a lot of good brands out there. Don’t forget the cloth wipes.

Babies spend a lot of time sleeping (sometimes at the wrong times for new parents!), and so you may care quite a bit about what they’re sleeping on. From the mattress to the sheets, think about your eco friendly options, such as whether the materials used will tend to offgas. Look for Certi-PUR-US certification for mattresses.


Kids of all ages want toys. The trouble is how quickly the things pile up over time. Add in how often toys are plastic, and it’s not often you can call children’s toys green.

I’ll readily admit to being imperfect in most areas, but especially with toys. My kids do have some handmedown and used toys, including an old Capsela set they enjoy, and a whole lot of LEGOs, most of which were my husband’s from when he was growing up. One thing I will say for those is that once in a while you can take advantage of things lasting just about forever.

Bamboo Toys
Bamboo is very popular right now for toys. More environmentally friendly than wood according to many, it makes some pretty nice toys. There are some nice looking bamboo toy cars and bamboo games available.

Plan Toys
Plan Toys offers a wonderful range of toys that are meant to be more environmentally friendly. They’re also fun. They have a good range of toys, including some very nice dollhouses. There’s even a little vegetable garden for the dollhouse.

Reusable Replaces Disposable

I have a few reusable items that are very much favorites. It’s nice being able to keep one thing rather than throwing many out. The trick here is to pick good quality – I’ve had reusable items that just didn’t last well enough for the difference in cost.

Reusable Bottles
My absolute favorite. I have a reusable bottle that I use every day for my water. So does my husband. My kids take reusable bottles to school rather than juice boxes or water bottles. We have saved a lot of money this was.

My husband has a large Klean Kanteen he really likes. The one problem is that it doesn’t fit in the car’s cupholders, but it’s otherwise a great bottle.

I much prefer stainless steel reusable bottles to plastics or polycarbonates. I’ve had polycarbonate and plastic bottles break on me, but so far no one has managed to break one of the stainless steel ones. Dent, yes, but not severely enough to matter.

Rechargeable Batteries
Rechargeable batteries can be challenging for some uses, but for others they’re wonderful. We have a nice charger that can take pretty much any size, and a stash of batteries.

If the toy or other item is going to sit a lot without being used, rechargeable batteries may as well be taken out. In my experience, they don’t hold a charge for months on end for items that aren’t being used. It’s very frustrating for kids to try to play with a toy they haven’t noticed in some time, only to find out that they have to wait for the batteries to charge. Pulling the batteries on less-used toys doesn’t make them any more ready to go, but it does mean you can use the batteries for more than one thing, and you might be able to move them from toy to toy as interests demand.

Keeping It Green on Black Thursday/Friday

Some major retailers aren’t satisfied with Black Friday anymore. They’re extending sales so they start Thursday evening. I can’t say the idea pleases me too much, having worked enough retail to know what a pain it is to have time limits on your holiday. But however long the sales go on, one thing you should keep in mind is how you keep your shopping green. Here are some ideas.

1. Participate in Buy Nothing Day

Who says you have to buy anything? You can refuse to participate in the whole Black Thursday/Friday thing and just not go shopping. Easy and more or less stress free. There are even some ideas for those of you who want to get out in the crowds anyhow.

Now, for those who are going to shop…

2. Plan Ahead

You can certainly get some great deals from Black Friday sales. If you’re going to do it, figure out what it is you want to buy, rather than allow yourself to be sucked into buying nearly random stuff because it looked neat and was cheap.

Planning ahead allows you to research your purchases ahead of time. What’s most energy efficient? Are you satisfied with how the products are made and what they’re made of? Are there better alternatives out there?

3. Bring Your Reusable Shopping Bags

They’re such a simple thing, so easy to forget, but also such a good idea to take along. Reusable shopping bags are often more comfortable to carry than plastic, anyhow.

4. Don’t Stress About the Perfect Parking Space

Parking lots can be a nightmare on major shopping days like this. Don’t worry about getting a great parking space. You’ll spend less time idling your engine if you take a more readily available parking space rather than hunting for a close one.

5. Take Public Transportation

On the other hand, you don’t have to drive yourself if there’s good public transportation in your area. Perhaps it isn’t as convenient, but then there’s no struggle to get a good parking space.

6. Check Out the EPA’s Recommendations

The EPA has some good recommendations to keep your shopping more eco friendly, such as buying Energy Star electronics, rechargeable batteries and recycled products.

7. Look For Deals From Eco Friendly Retailers

You hear the most about deals from big box stores such as Walmart and Target, but don’t forget the eco friendly companies out there. Find out which of your favorites have great deals going on. They may not all have deals special to the day, but some will.

8. Consider Gift Certificates, Experiences and Memberships

You don’t have to give a big thing to make a great gift. Think about gift certificates, experiences you can give a person such as rock climbing, seeing a show, etc., and memberships to places they like to go regularly. My mother like to get my kids passes to different places, and while they may not be specifically eco friendly, the experiences are great, and the kids don’t end up with so much toy clutter.

9. Shop Online

Why go anywhere? Handle your shopping from the comfort of your own home. No crowds, less stress, and many deals are available online as well as at the stores in your area.

It’s Time For Back to School! Do You Have Green School Supplies?

It’s that special time of year when families crowd the stores looking for great deals. Not Christmas, but Back to School, one of the big shopping times of the year. So many supplies are needed to get kids and classrooms ready for months of learning. Now how do you keep it a little greener?

Reuse is my favorite way. That’s why I buy stainless steel water bottles for my kids – those things last forever. One thing I’ve learned over time is that the sooner you can switch to a cap that has to be unscrewed for your child to drink, rather than a sport cap or straw model, the better. Sport caps and straws are great, but my kids tend to break them, and not all brands make those easily replaceable. I hate having to buy a whole bottle because one part doesn’t work or is leaking a bit too much.

We also reuse backpacks and lunch bags when possible. Kids are hard on these things, but I can usually get at least two years out of them before they’re in just too poor of shape. Every year I hope to get more than that, but it doesn’t usually work out that way.

Where to Buy Green School Supplies?

The challenge in part is figuring out where to find eco friendly back to school supplies. They aren’t everywhere. If you have a store locally that has them, please, go for it. Support your local economy, it’s a good thing, especially if it’s a smaller store, not a chain. Otherwise, I love shopping online. That stuff that’s just impossible to get locally some places is easily available online much of the time.

The Ultimate Green Store is one possible place. They even have an eco back to school supplies section on their site. Makes it nice and easy to find appropriate supplies, whether you’re looking for backpacks, lunchboxes, drink bottles, crayons, pencils and so forth.

Of course, you do have to balance your back to school budget with the cost of eco friendly items, which can cost more. Still, it’s good to take a look and see which items you can do better on. Some items, such as drink bottles, can save you more in the long run over buying juice boxes throughout the years.

What Do You Need?

In our school district, parents get a list of supplies the teachers want the kids to have on the first day. I really wish it were sooner,  as this limits our flexibility in buying school supplies. We can buy basics such as backpacks and lunchbags early, but some other products are more challenging. Everything is needed so quickly. Still, there are some basic considerations.

1. Only what you need

It’s all too easy to buy much more than you need, especially if you hit a really great school supply sale. Still, be careful about overbuying, and if you do buy more than you need, make sure you keep it on hand for next year. One great thing about school supplies – they don’t spoil. Keep good track of your extras.

2. Look for recycled products

There are a variety of products made from recycled materials these days, from the classic recycled paper products to backpacks made from recycled bottles to pencils made from recycled newspapers and more. And of course Terracycle makes a variety of interesting products.

3. Use refillable products

Lunch bags and backpacks aren’t the only things your child can use throughout the school year. Depending on what the teacher wants kids to have, take a good look at items such as binders and pencils. I’ve heard that some teachers won’t allow younger kids to have mechanical pencils, as younger kids break leads too fast and may play too much with the pencils, but these are good as the kids get older, as you only replace the leads, and you can buy mechanical pencils made from recycled materials.

4. Make packing healthy lunches easier

Plan out your needs for your child’s school lunches. What kinds of containers will you need to send a healthy lunch to school each day? Think about how any plastics used are made and if you’re comfortable with them. Consider stainless steel containers when appropriate. Glass can also work, but there is more risk of breakage.