Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day Ten - A Cup o' Joe to Go

Using My Own Coffee Mug at Coffee Shops

Yeah, ok, some of these tips save a LOT and some save a little. This is one of the latter ones. But hey, it's relatively easy to do and it's another way to satisfy my caffiene addiction.

Pretty much any coffee shops and most gas stations are happy to let you use your own travel mug at their establishment. Why wouldn't they be? It saves them $0.03 a cup. In fact, if you happen to favor one particular coffee shop (or chain) check to see if they have a refill-a-mug type program, as it could save you money too. Sometimes they have “buy the travel mug and get the coffee free” or “coffee and travel mug special” or “travel mug refill” specials.

It's easy to do. Just keep a clean travel mug in your car at all times. That way, whenever the urge hits, you're prepared.


I hit the coffee shop, on average, once a week. By simply bringing my own cup, I reduce my disposable cup usage 100%, saving 52 paper (or sometimes styrofoam - YIKES!) cups each year. I already own a couple of travel mugs, so there's no initial investment for me.


Super-Duper easy, as long as you always leave a fresh mug in the car.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Day Nine - You Are What You Eat

Buying Locally Grown Produce

It amazes me the things I'm learning about as I continue my little "quest". For example, ever heard of the 100 Mile Diet? When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically travelled at least 1,500 miles—call it "the SUV diet." On the first day of spring, 2005, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon chose to confront this unsettling statistic with a simple experiment. For one year, they would buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Well, they have a TON (ok 13, reasons) for buying locally, the most compelling one (and the most relevant to this blog) is the fact that a study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country. That's a lot of oil and gas.

Also, according to, ""We are spending far more energy to get food to the table than the energy we get from eating the food. A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives," Halweil says.

If those reasons don't convince you, just head out to your local farm stand or market and smell a fresh, ripe tomato. The ones in Kroger don't smell like that, baby. That's good eatin. Tonight we had locally grown corn, zucchini and summer squash, all done on the grill with a side of ribs. It tasted like summer should.

So for now, I'm going to try to buy as much local produce as possible. It's delicious and better for the environment. I know exactly where it comes from (we've been to the farm), how it's grown and when it's picked. So yes, we might miss the Granny Smiths during the summer months, but it will be worth the wait when October rolls around and we head to New York to pick a bushel of Honeycrisp at Bieling's Orchard.


I found the prices to be about the same as what I was paying in the grocery store. However, I won't be spending extra money on out-of-season and far-shipped fruits, so I'm guessing I'll save a couple sheckles. I'll also be saving an undetermined amount of fuel by not purchasing out-of-state (or out-of-country) foods.


Our local farm is only 5 miles away, so it's pretty easy for me. If I had to travel to the downtown Farmer's Market (which is only open Thursday - Sunday) it would be much more difficult, but still worth a try!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day Eight - Turning Up (or Down) The Heat


We all know that installing a programmable thermostat will cut your energy bills by lots. At least that's what we've been told over and over and over and over. Of course, we installed ours when we bought the house. Couldn't believe they lived in the dark ages and used a non-programmable thermostat. Heathens. We're so much better than that.

Well, nine months later I still didn't know how to use it. I had programmed it once initially when we bought it, but I never seem happy with the temperature and use the "override" button way too much. This "holds" the temperature at whatever I select until someone comes and either "overrides" that number or switches it back to "auto". Didn't seem very programmable to me, but hey, it wasn't the most expensive thermostat anyhow.

Turns out that if I would just stop hitting "HOLD" after changing the temperature, it would automatically switch back to "auto" mode when it came to one of the pre-programmed times. Duh. So I played with it for a while, reset my temperatures to reflect our schedule (no sense heating/cooling when we're generally out of the house) and most importantly, relayed the new "don't hit HOLD" information to my husband. Now we both know how to use it.


According to, "Typical savings are about one-percent per degree set-back for each eight hour period. So a five degree set-back from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM would reduce your fuel costs five-percent. " I'd say, all in all, that would approximate our new use. Since we're currently in A/C season, that would come right off my electric bill, roughly 30kWh per month. Of course, with gas prices, the savings would be much more dramatic in winter.


Rooting around trying to find the booklet for the furnace took about a half an hour. I finally gave up and went online to look it up on the product website. Once I learned how to program it was easy, though. And, it'll be even easier to use now that I know. So today's call-to-action is: if you have a programmable thermostat, learn how to use it, if you don't have one yet, get one. They're much easier to install than they are to program!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day Seven - Getting An Education


You know, up until now I actually considered myself a relatively educated recycler. I always rinsed my bottles and cans out, separated my paper from the other stuff, and always broke down my corrugated boxes. What I didn't do was actually check my county's website to see what is recyclable. I know it seems like a big step to skip, but hey, I'm from New York, I've been recycling for years now, I thought I knew the gig. Huh. Dummy.

Did you know that the items that can be recycled vary from state to state, depending on legislation and (more importantly) whether or not there is a market for the items? For instance, in New York, it was ok to recycle the pizza boxes your P'zone came in, but not in Virginia. Also, some states allow different types of plastics to be recycled. The good news is, most municipalities have websites that lay all this information out for you. Here's what I learned (that I didn't already know) about MY county's program:

  • I can recycle #1 and #2 plastics (look on the bottom of the container for the recycle symbol, you'll see a number inside that tells you what type of plastic it is), but NOT #3 - #7. I did not know this. I was trying to recycle a lot of plastic in there that I shouldn't have and was actually tossing out items that were recyclable.

  • I can recycle cereal boxes, granola bar boxes, 12-pack boxes, etc. Never knew that. I always thought it was just currogated cardboard. Hmm, I guess I should check the rules every ten years or so, to see if things have changed.

  • I could toss everything into one big bin, I don't have to separate it all. Of course, the anal OCD psycho in me actually LIKES to separate everything, so I don't think I'll change this.

The funny thing is, I thought I was doing everything right. So before your next collection day rolls around, do a quick google search for your county's (or city's or parish's) recycle or waste management site. You might be surprised at what you learn.


I'm going to estimate that my new knowlege will easily DOUBLE the amount of items I recycle. That should cut my garbage load by about 1/3. Not bad considering our family averages one large kitchen (13 gallon) trash bag per day. That lessens our trash load by 121 big bags per year! Wow. What an impact!!


Easy as sitting on my butt reading a webpage. The follow through won't be hard either, once I rearrange my trash/recycle cupboard to accomodate that shift from garbage to recycling. As I said, I've always been an avid recycler, I was just doing it wrong. Now that I know the right way to do it, I don't think keeping it up will be an issue. Now if I can just remember to check the site again in a few years to make sure nothing new happened....

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day Six - A Bright Idea

SHUTTING OFF THE LIGHTS (when not in use)

OK, I thought I was doing the right thing by purchasing the ultra energy efficient CFL lightbulbs, then I started reading some more and got all freaked out about the mercury and plastic they contain. Plus the fact that they come in giant plastic packages that require a pick axe to open is a bit off-putting. So then I thought I'd switch back to regular lightbulbs, but then I'm wasting energy and contributing additional CO2 to the atmosphere. After doing more research, though, I found that I STILL HAVE NO CLUE WHICH IS BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. So I'm just going to shut the lights off.

Don't think I'm typing here in the dark, because I'm not. I have on the lights I need to see. What I don't have on are the front porch light, the entry light, the upstairs hall light, the light in the corner that's wwaaaaaayyyyyy over there and the light in the bathroom that we usually forget about. Sadly, that's the number of lights that are usually on in my house for at LEAST eight hours each day, when they really don't need to be. Starting today, they will be shut off when not in use. As will any other lights or appliances that normally just hang out on standby, waiting for someone to need them (the printer, the cable box, DVD player, etc.).


Let's forget about the other ancillary appliances and just talk about the lights for now. Two of these lights use two bulbs and the other three use one. That's a total seven light bulbs, each burning at 60 watts, unnecessarily, for a minimum of eight hours per day. Assuming they still have the old lightbulbs in them that's 3.36 kWh per day, 1,226.4 kWh per year. That's a CO2 savings of over 1500 lbs per year. Nice. I get the added bonus of saving money on my electric bill, which runs roughly $0.061 per kWh, making an annual savings of $74.81 for lights I'm not even using. Looks like there'll be a little something extra in my Christmas bonus this year :-)


Not too difficult for me to do, but I feel like I'm constantly nagging everyone else in the house. There will definitely be an adjustment period for this one. Ethan even asked me "Mommy, why we don't have all the lights on?", like it's totally unnatural to turn them off occasionally. Sad, eh?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day Five - Unsubscribe Me


I like reading the Sunday paper. I clip my coupons, read the comics to my son (his favorite is Snoopy) check out "Ask Marilyn" in Parade and peruse the real estate section to see how the housing market is doing. I'm also a big fan of "Dear Abby" and "Miss Manners" and the guy that writes local horticulture articles. I've been a Sunday-paper-reader since I was a kid and I don't think that's going to change. But here's what is:

I also recieve the "Weekend Special" which means I get the Friday and Saturday papers. From this, the only thing I read (when I have time) is "Dear Abby" and "Miss Manners". Usually I don't even have time for that, and the paper gets removed from it's non-biodegradable, plastic bag and tossed directly into the recycle pile. "But Erin, then why did you sign up for the Weekend Special?" you ask... because it was FREE. That's right - absolutely free. They called about two months ago and said, "Hey, we'll up your subscription to three days and you don't even have to pay for it! It's totally FREE for the next six months". WOWEE! FREE NEWS! How could I turn that down?!?!

I did a little research into how newspapers are made and you'll be very unsurprised to learn that they are made from recycled newspapers and trees. No big news there. But when I dug just a big deeper I learned a little more.

For instance, did you know that you can't recycle a piece of paper indefinitely? Waste paper can only be recycled about five to ten times before it degrades to an unusable state. We cannot go on recycling the same piece of paper forever, because the fibres break down and cannot form a strong enough “web” to make paper. Therefore, new pulp (trees) must be added to the batch every time.
Besides, it's much better to REDUCE my consumption than to RECYCLE the paper. (Those three R's are in that order for a reason, you know!). After all, it does take ENERGY to recycle the paper and since Plus, I don't want those plastic bags the paper is wrapped in either because those DON'T get recycled (at least not where I live).

Well, I gave them a call today and asked them to stop sending it. They were awesome about -- no guilt involved, no strings attached, just "ok, we'll do that". This simply could not have been easier. Let's see what I saved:


That's two papers per week, or 104 papers per year. It takes, on average, one tree to make 754 newspapers (you can see where I get these numbers from here). I just saved 1/7th (13.79%) of a tree! Plus I saved 104 plastic bags, the ink used on the paper & trees, the energy and water used to produce them, etc. -- you see where I'm going here. Just imagine if only half the American population stopped buying two weekday papers each week. That would be 21,428,571 trees saved each year.


The phone call took about 4 minutes and it's all over with. I also asked them to place me on their "Do Not Call With More Offers Like This One" list, but we'll see if that happens.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Day Four - Prewashed (And Worn) Denim


OK, a little background here might be in order. I have two children - Ethan (3 1/2) and Daphne (2) - who are CONTSANTLY GROWING. It seems like I buy them new clothes every week only to see them worn and washed a few times before they're too tight or too short. So last week, when I came down from working (more background, I sew part-time and work upstairs while my sitter (Nicole) watches the kids downstairs) I found that Ethan, my son, had changed his shorts while I was working. This isn't unusual, as Nicole is always finding fun things to do that involve getting soaking wet. What was unusual is that they were totally unzipped and unbuttoned because they were WAY TOO TIGHT. How they fit him fine last week and virtually cut off major arteries this week, well it's a mystery to me.

Anyhow, I determined that he needed to replace three pair of shorts and Daphne needed a new swimsuit. Normally, I would skip happily into Target or Old Navy and buy some imported cotton shorts and a Dora The Explorer swimsuit for these purchases. Not today. Today I used my new mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" and headed off for the local kids' consignment shop KidtoKid.

Can I just say they had AWESOME STUFF THERE! I was able to get four pair of shorts, a SPIDERMAN short set (he thinks he is Spiderman), a SPIDERMAN cooking apron, a pair of swimtrunks, and two new swimsuits for $32. This would definitely have cost over $50 at either Target or Old Navy. In addition to the cost savings, I also got a free pair of SPIDERMAN sunglasses for spending over $30, a "frequent shopper punch card" which gets me $10 worth of goodies after 10 visits AND I was entered in a monthly drawing for $25 of free stuff. Unbelievable! I also feel good about shopping locally and supporting the "mom and pop" store.

Of course, I've always been a fan of pre-worn clothing for the kids. I have a friend with a daughter who is 5 and she gives me TONS of hand-me-downs. I've also participated in several toy and clothing exchanges. Also, I always pass on any clothes or toys that the kids don't use anymore. The question is: will I be able to bite the bullet and hit Goodwill when it comes time for me to do personal shopping? I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, here's the stats:


I was very surprised to learn that only 10% of the clothing produced in the world is reused. 90% gets tossed. Amazing, since I don't think I've ever tossed any clothing away (whatever isn't good enough to give away, sell at a garage sale or donate to goodwill becomes a cleaning cloth, sock puppet or dog toy in my house).

Here are some more interesting numbers from an article on "The reuse of 1 ton of polyester garments only uses 1.8% of the energy required for manufacture of these goods from virgin materials and the reuse of 1 ton of cotton clothing only uses 2.6% of the energy required to manufacture those from virgin materials". I didn't purchase a ton of clothing, but regardless the amount, I saved over 95% in energy! HOLY CRAP!

In addition, I saved about $20 in "personal green". More, really, if you count all the other SPIDERMAN items that would have been thrown in the cart at Target! Sweeeeeet.

For more interesting facts, check out a New York Times synopsis of a study done at Cambridge University called "Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom".


Super easy. No different than shopping in Target or Old Navy. Easier, in fact, since the store was small and the kids could free-range while I shopped. I'll be making an appointment this week to bring down a lot of my kids' used items to be resold too. To find a local consignment shop near you, go to and search for "consignment shop" in your area.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day Three - Picking Up the Pace (and Trash)


This one was totally unplanned, but sometimes that's where the best ideas come from. I've been reading a lot about how trash impacts wild animals and really messes up their habitats. We live in a suburban development situated on a large reservoir with lots of "common areas" that are park-like. There are lots of ducks, geese, turtles and fish that hang out in these areas and it was most likely their home long before our house was built.

So today the kids and I went to the park for playgroup -- a club where about a dozen or so moms and their kids get together once a week to play. While we were playing, I couldn't help notice the litter there - not so much that you would be grossed out - just the average amount you usually see at any American park. There were two plastic bottles, a sweettarts wrapper, an empty chip bag, some plastic of some sort, hershey kiss wrappers and cigarette butts. As the kids were feeding the ducks their goldfish and raisins, I couldn't help but think what nasty creatures they must think we are, to leave all this trash on the ground -- especially when there is a trash receptacle right there.

Now, in the past I would have admonished my children for touching any of this garbage -- "It's yucky! Don't touch it!" but today I didn't. Today, in fact, I went around and picked up all this trash and told each of my children to go FIND a piece of trash to pick up and put in the garbage can. They looked at me like I was a martian! I was a little embarrassed to be playing janitor right there in front of the other moms, but no one seemed to notice, or if they did, they were kind enough not to laugh at me!


None for me, personally, but I think the ducks appreciated it.


It was a little embarrassing, but it certainly wasn't back-breaking labor. I think from now on, I'll take a bag with me (reusable, of course) when we go on walks to pick up what others either dropped or were rude enough to leave behind. If nothing else, it will make our corner of the world a little nicer to live in.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day Two - E-Banking


Welcome to Day Two of my quest! Today's contribution to a greener me is e-banking. Fortunately, I have been doing a lot of my banking online for years, but now I'm upping the ante. In addition to PAYING my bills online, I am now going to be RECIEVING my bills online (at least the ones that are set up to handle this). I found that out of the 18 regular monthly bills we recieve, seven of them will e-bill. Oddly enough, two of those will e-bill me, but will also continue to mail me a bill (WHY?!?!?! Wouldn't they like to save some postage?!?!). I also changed my banking preferences so that I no longer recieve monthly statements for my three bank accounts.

You may think this is a little thing, but for someone with an accounting background, this was a pretty big blow for me. I ADORE keeping my little banker boxes of filed and alphabetized bills and statements. The geek in me is really crying over this one. It's also a pretty big leap of faith -- putting all my trust in the computers, that nothing will get missed, no statement misplaced, no marks on my credit.


Well, let's see here.... 7 monthly invoices plus 3 monthly statements, averaging four 8x11 sheets each, plus an envelope (usually the kind with a PLASTIC window and you know how I feel about PLASTIC). Thats 40 sheets of paper and 10 envelopes per month. In one year, that's a savings of 480 sheets of paper and 120 envelopes. Basically, one ream of paper and one box of envelopes... Not huge, but SOMETHING!


OK, so it makes me a little anxious, but really this took all of 10 minutes of my time. I did it all sitting on my butt right here. If you haven't checked out e-banking, talk to your local bank. Almost every bank and credit union offers it, most of it for free. In fact, it's usually cheaper to e-bank, because you don't pay postage on payments and don't have to buy checks!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day One - Out of the Bag

Alrighty folks, my first step to a greener life is....... (drumroll, please)


I hopped online yesterday and found pretty detailed instructions for making my own bags. Then I realized that, even though I'm a seamstress, I'm just too swamped with work orders to make them, so I bought them online. (Again, I'm just your average suburbanite slob here, making small changes with minimal effort. Afterall, isn't that how the majority of Americans feel? I'm not saying it's right, I'm just tellin' it like it is. Please don't send me angry-grams about how I'm wasting resources on the gas to deliver the product, afterall, resources would also have been wasted on having the fabric delivered) Anyhow, I got six of 'em for $24.99. I'm sure if I searched around I could have found a better price, but I don't have tons of time to comparison shop these days.

To convince you of the evils of plastic bags and get you to start using cloth bags, here's a nice little article title No Bag, Thanks!


So, let's do some math (did I mention I'm a bean-counting geek?). I grocery shop once per week and generally spend about $175 for my family of 4. This leaves me with an average of 12 plastic bags. Add to that the weekly trek to Walgreens or Target and whatnot and we'll round it up to an average of 15 bags per week. I shouldn't have to us ANY from now on. That's a savings of 780 bags per year!!! WOO HOO!


This is a relatively easy change to make. Even easier for me, since I wussed out and bought the cloth bags, rather than make them. The toughest part will be remembering to bring them to the store. Luckily, my nearly 4-year-old LOVES to be in charge of remembering things so I have enlisted his help! Let me know how this change works for you!

Going Green - The first steps

Well, first off, my name is Erin and I'm a long time blog-reader, first time poster. I'm creating this blog to share my "green" adventure with the you and hope that you join me in my quest to reduce, reuse and recycle. I just read Plastic Ocean and an article on The Most Polluted River and they have really made me think about the awful things I am doing to the planet. Believe me, I considered myself rather earth-friendly -- I generally have more recyclables out in my bin than my neighbors, I freecycle my stuff and take donations to the Habitat ReStore, but it's just not enough.

So..... I've started doing some research about plastics, consumer waste, biodegradable products, et al and now my head is swimming. Everything I touch, use, buy, toss makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing (environmentally, of course). Since I can't wrap my brain around all of this at once, I've decided that every day I will make a change in my life that will have a positive impact on the environment. (If you have any tips, send 'em my way!). I'll post about each change (hopefully daily, but I have two kids, ages 2 and 3 1/2 so somedays NOTHING gets done!).

Am I taking the wimpy way out, just doing one thing a day? Well, I'm certainly not taking the giant leap like No Impact Man or EnviroWoman. These people have replaced Batman and Elastigirl as my new heroes. But I think that by doing one thing a day, I'll educate myself and my family and I'll teach my kids a little something about caring for the environment. If we all just reduce our impact a little bit each day, together we can make a big difference.

I hope you'll join me in my daily quest for a greener life here in the suburbs. I don't think I'll be able to grow all my own food or avoid plastics entirely, but maybe... uhoh, one of the kids is up... gotta go...