Tag Archives: reuse

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.

10 Obnoxious Disposable Products You Don’t Need

10 Obnoxious Disposable Products You Don't Need

Using disposable products for cleaning around the home has become commonplace. It’s as though the fear of germs not only extends to using antibacterials in just about all soaps, but to using all cleaning materials just once to ensure that the germs don’t stick around at all. But frankly, a lot of these disposable products are obnoxious and wasteful.

I’ve written before about ways to avoid plastic, but there are many more disposable products you should consider whether or not you need to continue using them.

Paper Towels

Paper towels have been used in the kitchen for a while now. It’s hard for many people to picture their kitchen without them – they’re probably one of the most popular disposable products around. But you really and truly can live without them.

Get a few more kitchen towels. Microfiber ones work great for cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. If you aren’t concerned with appearances, you can also tear up old bathroom towels for cleaning rags.

Paper towels are easy. I’ll give them that. But so are kitchen towels once you get used to reaching for them rather than paper. Toss them in the laundry when they get dirty and they’ll be ready for use again the next time you do laundry.

Paper Napkins

Sure, it’s easy to toss some paper napkins on the table so that the kids have some way to handle the inevitable mess. Know what? They do that pretty darn well with cloth napkins too. And cloth napkins can handle bigger messes.

I don’t know about your kids, but with mine that can be a huge plus. They’d use a huge wad of paper napkins to clean a mess that one cloth napkin or hand towel could handle.

Facial Tissues

You can go through a ton of facial tissues such as Kleenex when you’re sick. On those days you may not care much about disposable products or waste, but there are better options out there.

A good handkerchief is a great option. They’re much easier on your nose than facial tissue in my experience. We have some old burp cloths that are super soft and work well when someone has a cold.

Swiffer

Whatever happened to a plain old broom? Are a broom and dustpan really that hard to use?

And when it comes to mopping, I love my steam mop. No cleaning chemicals required, and the microfiber pads are washable and reusable. It’s so easy my kids do the mopping for me. Until I made it a regular chore they’d even argue over whose turn it was to mop.

If you own a Swiffer already, just stop using the disposable cloths you have to buy for it and attach a washcloth or microfiber cloth to it for your cleaning routine. It will do the job well enough and you can just toss them in the laundry when you’re done. No need to replace it just because you’re trying to be more eco friendly. You can spray your floor with vinegar rather than use their cleaning liquid.

Disposable Diapers

Okay, I’ll grant that in some situations you’re going to need to use disposable diapers unless you’re the most determined cloth diaper parent around. Lots of people who use cloth diapers don’t like to deal with them for travel, where carrying them around and washing them is a bit more effort.

And I’ll grant that most daycares won’t deal with cloth diapers either. So I understand that some people do indeed need disposable diapers.

But if you can fit them into your lifestyle, cloth diapers are so much nicer to use than disposables. Just an extra load of laundry washed with a little extra care. In return, you get reduced odds of diaper rash and improved odds that your child will potty train at a younger age. Plus all the money saved.

To make this more energy efficient, line dry the diapers when possible. The sun will help bleach out many of the stains, which is an added bonus.

Don’t forget the cloth wipes. You’ll be washing the diapers anyhow!

Plastic Grocery Bags

This is one of the most challenging items in my experience. It’s not always easy to remember to grab your reusable bags when you’re heading out to the store. Plus you’re using something you had to buy, while plastic grocery bags are currently free.

Have you ever noticed how fast the damn things add up in your kitchen? It’s ridiculous.

While many grocery stores have recycle bins for plastic grocery bags, the simple truth about any plastic is that it’s not all that recyclable at this time. Plus rather few plastic grocery bags actually get recycled.

In California and some other places now, stores don’t give free plastic grocery bags anymore. You have to bring your own or pay for a reusable one. It’s amazing how fast the habit to bring your bag improves when you have to buy a bag if you don’t bring one. It only costs a dime, but most don’t want to have to pay that for every bag they use.

You can buy some very nice reusable shopping bags that will be much better than the reusable plastic ones the store will sell so cheaply. They often hold more, which is both good and bad. You don’t have to carry so many bags, but sometimes they get too heavy for comfort.

Plastic Water Bottles

Plastic water bottles are everywhere these days! When you consider what you’re paying for bottled water, it’s pretty absurd in comparison to what tap water costs.

Stainless steel water bottles are so much nicer. I’ve used mine for years. I prefer the insulated models so that I don’t need to worry about condensation. It also means I can leave it in the car and come back to a drink that is still cold. They come out cheaper than plastic water bottles over time.

They’re also great for kids in their school lunches. I’ve tried so many drink bottles for my kids, and the stainless steel ones are the only ones that survive. Kids tend to throw lunch boxes and drink bottles around when they’re done with them for the school day. I’ll see dents in their drink bottles, but no breaks.

Disposable Dishes

Paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic silverware are incredibly useful when you have company over, but also incredibly wasteful.

You have alternatives. You can borrow dishes from family for special events where you need more dishes, or you can get inexpensive reusable dishes. If you absolutely must use plastic cups, have a Sharpie pen out so people can mark their cups. This way they don’t have to get a new cup when they aren’t certain which is theirs.

Dryer Sheets

I have to admit, I have never understood dryer sheets. I’ve never even used them. It has never seemed to me that they would make a significant difference in my laundry.

If you need to use something, try wool dryer balls or simply put a drop or two of an essential oil on a cloth and throw it into your dryer. The effect should be much the same.

Single Serve Coffee Pods

I am not a coffee drinker, so it’s easy for me to look down on single serve coffee pods, although I do understand the convenience. It can be nice making just a single cup of coffee in the morning when that’s all you really want. The waste from the pods, however, is awful.

If you love your Keurig or whatever brand you have, check out reusable coffee pods as an alternative. That way you can keep using your machines, have your convenient single serve coffee and reduce waste at the same time.

There are plenty more disposable products that people use that they don’t really need. While you don’t need to make all these changes to be more eco friendly, it may not hurt to make a few changes. Which disposable products drive you nuts?

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?

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.

9 Ways to Reduce Waste Around the House

9 Ways to Reduce Waste Around the House

Inside your home is the place where you usually have the most control over the waste you and your family generates. After all, you and your family do the shopping for most of what goes in there throughout the years. If you want to cut down on the waste you’re generating, home is the place to do it. Here are 9 tips to help you reduce waste around your home.

1. Buy less.

So obvious, yet so difficult at times. The less stuff you buy, the less waste you’ll generate.

2.Buy used.

Not everything has to be bought new. There are so many things you can quite reasonably buy used, and that means less waste. Not only does it mean that fewer resources are consumed to make new products, used products often have far less packaging, depending on the source. Certainly items from thrift stores have very little packaging on the whole, however refurbished items may be packaged more or less like new ones. Still, refurbished items are less wasteful than new.

And of course, don’t forget handmedowns. This has saved me a ton of money in children’s clothes, as my sisters and I pass clothing down from child to child to child.

3. Go reusable.

There are so many things you can buy in reusable forms rather than disposable. Grocery bags. Water bottles. Batteries. Any time you need to buy something disposable, think about whether the reusable version might do as well or better.

4. Buy bulk.

When reasonable, buy things in bulk rather than in smaller packages. Some grocery stores have bulk bins, which can make it very easy to buy certain types of food in larger quantities.

Other items can be bought in bulk too. If your family tends to go through something regularly, take a look at how you can buy and store larger quantities. That way you won’t have to go out to buy them as often.

5. Cut down on food waste.

Pay attention to the foods you have on hand, and use up as much as possible before it spoils. In many families, leftovers are a major source of food waste, but there are ways to limit it. You can freeze leftovers into quick meals, for example, so that they last longer and may even be portable for those who work outside the home to bring to work for lunch.

6. Get off mailing lists.

Odds are good that you get a lot of mail you simply are not interested in. You can cut back on this by opting out of many mailing lists. The Direct Marketing Association provides this service for a fee. You can contact companies about catalogs you receive but do not want and get off their lists. You can also contact the credit reporting bureaus and request through each of them that you want off their mailing lists.

It takes some time for your name to get off all the lists. They aren’t updated every month, but over the course of a few months, the junk mail should decrease.

7. Compost.

Composting not only helps you decrease your waste, but gives you something beneficial for your garden. Outdoor compost bins or piles are the traditional ways to go, but there are ways you can compost indoors too.

8. Donate or sell old items.

Many things that you’re done using are still perfectly good for someone else. We recently replaced our old couch, for example, and after getting no interest in anyone buying it, we donated it to charity. Charities can be pretty picky about what they’ll accept, as they mostly want to be able to sell what they pick up from you.

Garage sales are another great way to go. You can sell off old clothes, toys or whatever else you have around the house you want to get rid of, and make a little money while doing so.

9. Recycle.

There may be a lot of things you can recycle, paper, plastic, glass bottles, aluminum cans, etc., depending on the programs available in your area. The recycling company in our area, for example, accepts all numbered plastics, but in other areas only plastics numbered 1 or 2 will be accepted. Plastic shopping bags can be recycled at many grocery stores, for those times you didn’t have a reusable bag on hand.

Old appliances can often be recycled too. Check for programs in your area.