Friday, August 31, 2007

Day Sixty-Two - The Backyard Barbecue

Throwing an Eco-Friendly Labor Day Party

The end of summer is upon us and the weekend is here. Time for one last party before the kids head back to school and the leaves start to change color. Nothing says Labor Day quite like a backyard bash with friends and family. Here are some helpful tips to make your Labor Day Party a little more fun and a little less damaging to the environment.

  1. Don't Serve Beef - This is one of the biggest wastes of water and resources (more info here) you'll find at a BBQ. Opt out of traditional hamburgers and offer turkey, tofu or veggie burgers instead. Better yet, try grilling up some yummy turkey legs, BBQ chicken breasts or spiced shrimp.

  2. Use Real Dishes - Assuming you have grown-ups at your party who are capable of carrying around a real plate, then use them! If you can't bear the thought of washing all those dishes, as least try using corn-ware instead of plastic-ware (compostable, biodegradable, corn-based products .. check out this store for a big selection). I've sampled plates, cups and straws and they all work great!

  3. Buy Food in Bulk - This should be fresh in your mind anyhow, since I just posted about it yesterday. If ever there was a time to head over to Costco and get the 40 pound bag of tortilla chips, this is it!

  4. Buy Local Foods - Be sure to hit your farmers market before the bash to get the freshest local foods you can. Not only will they taste great, but they'll have put far fewer pollutants in the air compared to their cross-continental competition.

  5. Get a Keg - No sense wasting resources by buying lots of bottles and cans, when you can get a couple of refillable kegs (one regular, one light). No bags full of bottles to recycle, no worry about people throwing them in the trash, just two empty kegs to return and you're done. Bonus - you get to see which college buddies can still do keg-stands!

  6. Take Care of the Trash - Make it easy for guests to know where to put food scraps, corn-ware, recyclables and real trash by having separate trash cans set out for each. Be sure to label them all. This will make it much easier for you to compost and recycle later!

Most importantly, be safe. Don't let your guests drink and drive -- we need to keep all our ecologically-minded friends alive to help us fight the good fight. I hope you all have a great holiday weekend! I'll be taking some "posting time off" again to enjoy the weekend with my family. Have a very safe and happy Labor Day! See you all Tuesday!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Day Sixty-One - Size Really Does Matter

Buying in Bulk

Did you know that packaging makes up 30% of municipal solid waste? I believe it too, because I've been separating and recycling EVERYTHING that is locally recyclable, giving up disposable diapers and keeping my food scraps separate. All this effort has brought me down from one trash bag a day to one bag a week -- and it is virtually all packaging. Potato chip bags, yogurt containers, and those impossible-to-open plastic packages that house everything from scissors to mascara.

In an effort to reduce all this waste, I am going to try to buy as many food and grocery item in bulk as I can. Here's how:

Although I love my local Kroger store, they are sorely lacking the bulk bins. However, our Ukrops does sport these bins and I will be frequenting them more often. They have a nice assortment of snack items for the kids. Did you know you can take in your own containers to put those bulk products into? Grab some of those large, sturdy Ziplocks (I know, normally I don't like Ziplocks, but they're very light-weight, can be easily carried into the store and you can write on them to identify the product and use them over and over each week) and load up, baby!

I'm also going to look into getting a Costco membership. Word on the street is that they have TONS of jumbo-sized packages of all sorts of grocery items. I haven't been to a bulk store in years, but I'm actually excited to head on down and check it out. The down side is that I'm betting that they won't stock a lot of my new favorites like recycled toilet paper and eco-friendly laundry detergent.

Of course, just using common sense in the grocery store goes a long way too. If I'm picking up a bottle of ketchup and there's a choice between a 16 oz bottle and a 32 oz bottle. Duh. I'll take the bigger one, it uses much less energy and resources to make one larger bottle than it does to make two smaller bottles. And I'll never be buying those little sample bottles of anything again -- no matter how cute they are!


I'm hoping that by adopting my new "bigger is better" attitude, I'll be able to reduce my packaging trash by at least 10%. That means I'll save one 13-gallon trashbag every ten weeks, or about 5 trash bags a year. If 25% of Americans joined me in this, we could save over 378 MILLION trash bags each year!

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

This one will be a little more difficult because I'll probably have to do some shopping at Costco and Ukrops, in addition to Kroger. Three separate stores, but if I combine it all into one trip, it should only take an extra 45 minutes or so each week. Time well spent, my friends.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day Sixty - Packing Nuts - Part II

How to Deal with a Packing Nut

Please see the disclaimer from yesterday's post. Note: I am STILL ranting!

To help avoid dealing with Packing Nuts, I think the best defense is a good offense. When shopping online, you will almost always be presented with a field box labeled "comments or special shipping instructions" on one of the checkout pages. Don't be shy, let them know before they ship your product what you expect of them. If you don't want them to use any plastic packaging -- say so. If you don't feel that your paperback book needs cushioning -- tell them. Odds are they will honor your request.

If, however, they choose to ignore you, remember that you can always return the product - with an explanation, of course. Other options include sending them an email, giving them a call or sending them a strongly-worded letter. Those can be really fun (and therapeutic) to write! Also, marketing analysts estimate that every letter received represents about 1,000 consumers. It's no wonder then that most companies collect this feedback and use that information to make changes to their products or services.

Don't forget to help other eco-conscious consumers know what they're in for by leaving packaging information in the customer review section (when available). If you asked the company to use minimal packaging and they ignored your request, make sure you put that info in the review. Maybe it's too late for your package, but it may influence other buyers, which, in turn, will get the company to take notice.

Sometimes, not matter how you try to avoid it, you're going to get packages from Packing Nuts. What's a girl/guy to do with all those non-biodegradable packing peanuts, plastic bags and enormous boxes? Well, you don't have to throw them in the trash, that's for sure. The simplest sollution is to re-use them yourself. If you e-Bay occasionally, ship Christmas Gifts to Grandma, or are planning on moving anytime soon, you may be able to put them to good use.

Another option would be to let someone else reuse your packing materials. There are a lot of individuals and companies who will gladly take these supplies off your hands! Put a post on craigslist or freecycle for "free moving boxes" or "free packing supplies". If you prefer to dump-and-run, check your local Mailboxes, etc., UPS Store, Postnet or eBay store. Most of them will be happy to take your clean packing materials and put them to good use.

Your last option is to recycle. If you can't find anyone willing to take that big cardboard box, at least curb it for recycling. Unfortunately, packing peanuts are not generally accepted at municipal recycling centers, however, if you really can't find anyone else willing to take them, you can send them via snail mail to and they will put them to use.

Just remember that you are the customer and, theoretically, you can request that they limit packing materials be used. Don't be afraid to speak up, and, when necessary, take your business to another company -- one with a greater eco-conscience.

Thank you all for enduring my two day rant on the inefficiencies of modern packing & shipping. I think I've gotten it all out of my system and should be back to normal tomorrow.

Day Fifty-Nine - Packing Nuts - Part I

Minimize Packing Materials When Sending Packages

Note to Readers: Occasionally I get a little irked by the actions of others and I really just need to rant. You will be still find some helpful information but mostly I'll be bashing the offensive person or company.

As a costumer who sews garb for the Very Merry Seamstress, and as an e-Bay seller extraordinaire, I send out a lot of packages. I do my best to be a responsible shipper. I strive to reduce the amount of packaging I use, to reuse materials whenever possible and to package in recyclable materials.

Other individuals and companies, however, seem to take over-packaging to the extreme and become, what I like to call "Packing Nuts". I received a package today from one such nut.

Remember when I talked about wanting to get some dryer balls? Well, since I already fell hard off the Compacting wagon this past month, I decided to order some balls from Amazon. My Nellie's Dryer Balls arrived today, shipped to me from Snow's Home and Garden. Here's what I bought (description & picture straight from

Nellie's™ Dryerballs are designed to reduce drying time and soften fabrics naturally without using chemical fabric softeners. As Nellie's™ Dryerballs tumble around in the dryer they lift and separate fabrics allowing air to flow more efficiently thus reducing drying time up to 25%. Saves time and money! The unique design of the Dryerballs nodules relaxes the fibers during the drying cycle. Clothes feel softer and towels are more absorbent. We stand behind all of our products 100%. Nellie's™ Dryerballs come with a two year buy back guarantee.

OK, so if I'm reading this right, the idea here is that these plastic balls, which are the consistency of a dog chew toy, will get tossed into my dryer and slam around in there up against my laundry and the stainless steel dryer walls. They will perform this function once a day, every day, for two whole years without sustaining any damage, or I will get my money back.

And yet, when I received my tough-as-nails balls today, here is what I found. The package itself had been tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and taped shut. Perhaps this was to prevent water damage, because, you know, dryers are NEVER DAMP! That waterproof wad was then placed in a very strong corrugated cardboard box that was twice the size of the original package. To fill these damaging voids of potentially damaging, um... AIR, they filled every nook and cranny with those damn Styrofoam packing peanuts! ARRRRRGGGG!!!

Please, please, please if you ship items anywhere, follow some rules to ensure your packages are eco-friendly. Here's how I apply the three R's to shipping:

  • Reduce - If you don't need to put items in a plastic bag first, then don't. If you don't need to include notes, invoices, paper, etc., then don't. And if you don't need to cushion the product with fillers, then don't!
  • Reuse - Who cares if the box was used before? Cover up or rip off the old label and slap a new one on. It's a box for God's sake, once you're over the age of 3 you're supposed to be more interested in the actual contents.
  • Recycle - Make sure you use recyclable materials. If you must wrap an item in plastic, use either biodegradable bags or #2 plastic bags. If you use packing peanuts (or work for a company that does), use the new corn-based biodegradable packing peanuts.

Again, I already try my best to be a responsible shipper, so this post doesn't really net me any savings. However, if you alter the way you ship things based on the information in the post, let me know so I can take the credit :-)

All joking aside, if you work for a company that ships products, take the time to do some research for your shipping manager and help him or her find ways to reduce the environmental impact of their shipping activities. This is a chance for you to make a really big difference. This means you, Shanny! :-)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day Fifty-Eight - A$$wipe

Replacing My Charmin with Recycled Toilet Paper

OK, before you all think I'm disgusting, you need to know that "recycled toilet paper" is simply made from post-consumer content (like office paper and such) and is NOT made from reused toilet paper, as the name suggests. That would be gross.
I chose to go with Seventh Generation brand tp, as I've purchased some of their products in the past and have been happy with the results. However, if you want to do your own research, you can get the straight poop on tp and other paper products by reading this article published by the National Resources Defense Council.

Here are some factoids that I got straight from my new tp's packaging and Lord knows they wouldn't be biased.

If every household in the US replaced just one 4-pack of 400 sheet virgin fiber tp with 100% recycled tp, we could save:

  • 1,450,000 trees
  • 3.7 million cubic feet of landfill space
  • 523 million gallons of water
  • 89,000 pounds of chlorinated pollution.

My new, fancy-ass (pun intended) tp is made from 100% recycled paper with 80% post-consumer materials. It is whitened without the use of chlorine bleach. It is free of dyes, inks and fragrances. It is safe for septic systems and ideal for low-flow toilets. Even the plastic packaging is made from #2 HDPE recyclable plastic (ok, why the hell don't they just wrap it in paper like the way tp used to be sold?). All in all, it is a very environmentally-friendly product.

Unfortunately, it has the texture of a #12 grit sanding block. Just kidding, actually, it's not all that bad. It's definitely not as soft as my old Charmin, but is better than the crunchy stuff they put in the bathrooms in public schools and state parks. It's usable and after all folks, let's remember what I'm using it for. It's not to snuggle up with at night or caress across my face, it's to remove $h!t from my a$s. My fingers may notice a difference, but I doubt my butt will.


I'm not sure exactly how many forests I'm saving, but I like that I'm going from 0% recycled content to 100% and going from chlorine bleached to a non-chlorine whitening process -- these are HUGE improvements. I also like the fact that I can recycle the packaging, although for all I know I could recycle the Charmin plastic too but, unfortunately, it doesn't have a plastic code or number on it, so I don't know for sure.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

The comparison information in the aforementioned article makes selecting a product simple. You could even demo a couple different brands to find the one you like the best. Yup, this switch was as easy as falling off a log, or, in this case, pinching one off.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Day Fifty-Seven - Rx For A Healthier Planet

Convincing a Pharmacy to Let Me Re-use My Prescription Bottles

This is an idea I actually got from one of Envirowoman's posts. For those of you who don't know about Envirowoman, she is trying to make it through an entire year without purchasing anything that is made of plastic or packaged in plastic. Try doing that, friends. I can't imagine what a headache she must get every time she goes grocery shopping, but she is definitely one of my idols.

Anyhow, the problem with most prescriptions is that, for some reason or another, the pharmaceutical industry does not utilize the universally recyclable #1 or #2 plastics for its prescription bottles. Instead, they opt for #3, #5 or #6 plastics. For example, my synthroid 'scrip comes in a #5 bottle - very sturdy and reusable, but not recyclable where I (or most other Americans) live.

So I called my local Walgreens to ask if they could refill my existing prescription bottles and was answered with a flat, unequivocal "no". Not good.

However, it seems like every week when I went grocery shopping, Kroger would spit out a coupon good for $20.00 off my grocery bill if I transferred over a prescription. Sounds like they're hard up for pharmacy customers! So today while I was there, I stopped by to talk to the pharmacist.

She told me that as long as I didn't "phone in" the prescription and I made it clear when I dropped it off that I wanted to reuse the existing bottle, they could absolutely help me out. Hooray! And just like the coffee filter incident, persistence has once again paid off!


I have one monthly scrip, as do my husband and daughter. Also, with two little ones about to head into preschool, we'll be filling our share of antibiotic, earache and pink-eye scrips -- all of which will be put into non-recyclable bottles. I'm betting our annual savings will total somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 bottles. The super-great news is that, because these bottles are so sturdy, we should be able to reuse them for years to come.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

The "doing" part won't be hard, it's the "remembering" part that will most likely trip me up occasionally. Finding someone to let me be green took a little while, but if you're willing to shop around, you'll find someone who either shares your views or knows the value of making a customer happy. :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day Fifty-Six - Showing My Pearly Whites

Brushing My Teeth with Less Water Waste

We all know what a precious resource our fresh water supply is and how we should do everything we can to minimize waste, right? After all, we've been told since the 70's to shut the water off when we're brushing our teeth -- and with good reason. The average bathroom faucet has a flow rate of 3 - 5 gallons per minute. If you're a good kid, and brush for two minutes you could be wasting upwards of 10 gallons of water just to clean your teeth. But none of us are that wasteful, right?

I know I'm not. I've never been a faucet-runner. But, me and my OCD personality got stuck on this teeth-brushing issue so I decided to see if I could improve on the suggested "turn the water off while you brush" mantra. It seems like I waste a lot of water just cleaning off the brush and rinsing my mouth.

So one morning this week I put a bowl in my sink to catch the water as I went about my bi-daily brush. I turned the faucet on to wet the brush then shut it off while I scrub-a-dub-dubbed. Turn the tap on again to rinse the bristles and stick my head under the faucet for a couple of gulps to swish and spit. When I measured the output, I found that I used 40 ounces (about .3125 gallons) to clean with. Better than ten gallons, but definitely could be improved upon.

Since I'm trying to lessen any and all aspects of my eco-footprint, I figured this would be an easy way to shrink my water use. That night I took a small cup of water (about 2 ounces) in with me for the brushing to see what I could come up with. Here's my new routine:

  1. Dunk brush head in water cup to moisten.
  2. Apply toothpaste and brush.
  3. Rinse mouth with half the water in the cup.
  4. Use the rest of the water to swish the brush head around in to remove the toothpaste residue.
  5. Dump any remaining water.

Easy peasy. A very, very small change, but a change nonetheless. Starts my day off right by knowing I've found a new way to save 76 ounces a day. It's also a good reminder of how every action, no matter how seeminly inconsequential, an impact on our world. Even if I just used the cup for rinsing, rather than sticking my head under the faucet, I estimate I would save at least 40 ounces a day.


Two hundred twenty eight gallons every year. Not bad at all.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

Again, this is another chore that is so ingrained, so habitual, that it's difficult to not automatically turn on the faucet and brush the old way. Once I get used to the new way of brushing, it will be just as easy as before. And I'm sure this change would be ADA approved. :-)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Day Fifty-Five - "To Hell With Personal Hygeine" Day

Skipping One Shower Each Week

Before you all go "eeeewwwwww", just remember, you don't have to smell my blog, you only read it.

I don't know when I became so obsessed with personal cleanliness. I wasn't always like this and, in fact, I remember when I would revel in my disheveled weekend appearance. The way my hair feels a bit thicker, more "moldable"... The dew-like softness of my skin... that unmistakable day-old-deodorant smell. I feel like I have become that favorite old grey sweatshirt I acquired so long ago that I don't even remember where I got it.

Perhaps my obsession with personal cleanliness began when I lost control of "whole-house" cleanliness. With two kids, a dog and a "home improvement" husband, I have long since lost the battle with dust, dirt, grime and dog fur. At least, for the most part, I can control how clean I am. But cleanliness does come at a price. For me, that price is approximately 25 gallons of water each day.

Therefore, I now declare Sundays "To Hell With Personal Hygiene Day".

We don't usually do much on Sundays anyhow (except for grocery shopping) so this is the day I'd be least likely to offend others. However, if we do have plans that day, I will allow the "THWPHD" to be postponed to Monday of the same week.


At 25 gallons per shower, skipping just one shower per week will net me a savings of 1,300 gallons per year. I'm betting that hubby will like this particular conservation effort and will eagerly join the "Stink Force", so I think we can safely plan on doubling that figure to 2,600 gallons for the household.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Easy for me, only slightly more difficult for those around me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day Fifty-Four - Join The Party

Convincing Others To Conserve

You may recall a while back I posted about my attempt to switch from bleached, paper coffee filters to my homemade natural muslin filters. You may also recall that I failed miserably in my attempt, having been caught trying to pull one past Mr. Coffee. But, my friends, persistence pays off. In less than one month, I managed to convince him to see things my way. I made him several batches of coffee using a reusable coffee basket and he agreed that he couldn't taste any difference.

See, sometimes you have to go the extra mile to help others see the light. I'm not saying you should try to push your green ideas on all your friends, acquaintances and co-workers, but it's perfectly acceptable to annoy beloved family members until they crack.

So now I can continue with my 100% success rate and post my savings.


We make one pot of coffee every weekday morning, two pots of coffee on weekend mornings, and every now and then we'll have a pot of decaf at night. That's about 40 filters a month, or nearly 500 per year. But more importantly, is the fact that I WON.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

A hard-won battle for sure, but it just goes to show you that with determination and a good attitude you can browbeat anyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day Fifty-Three - Idle Chatter

Turn Off the Car When Idling

Here we go again, another post on reducing gas consumption. Sorry to all you folks who use public transportation, but as you know, I don't have that option where I live so I do what I can to conserve gas.

The gas mileage on my minivan averages between 19-25 miles per gallon, depending on how I drive, road conditions, traffic congestion, tire inflation, and many other factors. During an average run around town, the mileage can vary greatly. At no time, though, is it lower than when I am just idling. Sitting there, with the engine running and wheels stopped, my gas mileage drops to zero. zilch. nada.

Now before you start switching off the ignition at every stop sign and traffic light, let me make a safety note here. DO NOT SHUT OFF YOUR ENGINE WHILE IN TRAFFIC! I'm talking about the time spent in the McDonald's drive-thru, at the bank teller window, in line at the drive-up pharmacy or even just "warming up" on a cold winter morning. I don't know about you, but I bet I average about 30 minutes per week, just sitting in the car, going nowhere, with the engine running.


According to an article on, where they tested gas-saving tips, you can save you up to 19% by avoiding excessive idling. Another article published by Hamilton County Environmental Services gave me the math for the following calculations: The cost of idling my minivan for those 30 minutes is equal to 0.078 gallons of gasoline, or a little over 1.75 pounds CO2. In one year of idling, that equates to over four gallons of gas, or 91 pounds of CO2.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

The only reason I didn't give this one a "1 out of 5" is because, after 20 years of idling, I know it's going to be difficult to remember to shut the car off. Like all habits though, it can be changed and I'll be well on my way to saving another 100 or so pounds of CO2 each year. :-) And as Martha Stewart used to say, "That's a very good thing".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day Fifty-Two - A Load of Crap

Switching from Disposable Diapers to Something More Eco-Friendly

OK, I obviously have a BIG confession to make. My son and daughter both use bleached, non-biodegradable, plastic-laden Pampers. Why have I put off this monumental change for fifty-two days? The reason is two-fold: 1. I buy their diapers online and buy several cases at a time, so I'm still working on the batch I bought in early June. 2. Yuck.

But the stats (and even the common sense) show that disposables are bad. Duh. Here's some poo-facts:

  • Five million tons of untreated waste and a total of 2 billion tons of urine, feces, plastic and paper are added to landfills annually.
  • It takes80,000 pounds of plastic and over 200,000 trees a year to manufacture the disposable diapers for American babies.
  • The untreated waste placed in landfills by dirty disposable diapers poses a threat to our ground water.
In my heart of hearts, I have known that I would have to address this issue sooner or later. I guess I was hoping I could get Daphne potty-trained and that Ethan would suddenly stop having nightly accidents before I became consumed by the guilt. But, every night as I sit down to blog, the nagging feeling comes back and I just know that I need to make a change. So today I took some time to look into alternatives to the eco-nightmare disposables I currently use.

I was VERY surprised to find that there are a number of more eco-friendly options available out there. It's no longer simply cloth vs. disposable anymore. Here's what I found:
  • Disposables with a Conscience - These are disposable diapers that are chlorine-free, latex-free, fragrance-free, TBT-free and are manufactured in the US to minimize transport.
  • Flushable Diapers - These have washable liners and exteriors, and use flushable (or compostable) liners.
  • Pull Up Style Training Pants - Organically grown cotton terry and knits, with a waterproof layer.
  • Pre-Folded Velcro Cloth Diapers - A vast improvement on the old "fold and pin", these are available in cotton, organic cotton or bamboo and utilize snap-in liners or polyester covers.

I tell you, things have come a long way since the days of a rectangular piece of cloth and plastic rubber pants! I was VERY encouraged to find that I had so many choices available. After checking them all out and weighing the pros and cons, I think I'm going to give the gdiapers a try for Daphne and get Ethan some of the bedwetter pants. I'll also push a little harder on the potty training and stop letting Ethan take a cup of water to bed!


Ethan uses one pull-up each night and Daphne goes through about six diapers a day, for a grand total of seven diapers a day, roughly fifty per week, two-thousand six hundred disposables per year.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

I'm nervous about leaks and having to wash more than just wet diapers. However, I am encouraged by the testimonials I have read on the products and hope that it will be easier than I expect. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day Fifty-One - The Runaround

Combine Errands and Map Them Out to Save Gas

You may have noticed that I do a lot of posts that relate to saving gas. That's because now that we've switched to wind energy, I'm pretty sure the minivan is the biggest polluter in the household. Fortunately for me, there are a lot of things I can do to improve my gas mileage or, better yet, reduce the miles I drive.

Did you know that your car uses more gas when the engine is cold than when it is warm? According to the Department of Energy, several short trips all begun with a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a single, longer trip that covers the same distance. So I am going to create two "Errand Days" per week when I can get it all done. They will probably be long days, but I'll save lots of miles (and wear and tear) on the van.

As you know, I've got two little ones at home, ages two and four. I'm a WAHM (work-at-home-mom) who manages the household and, therefore, runs all the errands. And believe me, there are a lot of them! There's also kid activities like tumble and dance class, playgroups, preschool and the occasional birthday party. Adding to the stress is that we're still kind of "new" here and I don't always know the quickest route from point A to point B.

Enter my friend, mapquest. When I have errands to run that really take me around town I can hop online and plan out my trip. A tad OCD-ish? You bet. That's why I like it! Anyhow, you can input your starting and ending destination, but then it lets you add other stops to you route. Don't forget to add your home address back in again, so you'll get your total miles, including the trip home from your last errand. Once you've got all your stops keyed in, take a look at the map and see if re-arranging them a bit reduces the miles traveled.


You'll be surprised at how shaving off a couple miles here or there and not doubling-back can really add up. I tried it last week when I had errands to run on the other side of town and by just switching the location of a chain store I hit (after all, they're all the same), I saved 6 miles. May not seem like a lot, but multiply that by two errand runs per week and that's 625 miles per year. That's about 25 gallons of gasoline saved, or 475 pounds of CO2.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

Yeah, it doesn't sound it, but this one is a little difficult because it takes some planning, and that means you can't just wake up and head out the door. However, I've found that it's pretty mindless work that can be done on the laptop at night, while drinking a beer and watching tv. And what red-blooded, lazy American doesn't like to do that?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day Fifty - Gone Campin'

Getting Back to Nature the Eco-Friendly Way

Well the laundry's going (in the new energy-efficient front-loader), the dog has reservations at "Uncle Ray's", and the mini-van is being loaded up with tent, sleeping bags, camp stove and marshmallows. Sounds like we're going CAMPIN'! Woo hoo!

Yes, the lazy suburbanite is taking yet another "mini-vacation" and is heading out to the woods of Southern Pennsylvania for a weekend of natural beauty, quality time with family and s'mores. This is the first summer that I have been camping since I was a kid and I am LOVING IT! Whenever we head out, we try our best to be good campers and follow some basic rules for treading lightly.

1. Camp where you will have minimal impact. This means don't go setting up a campsite in a brand new, pristine area. Use a pre-existing campsite whenever possible. Personally, we have really enjoyed making use of National and State Park camping sites.

2. Bring two trash bags - one for real trash and one for recyclables. No need to stop recycling just because you're on vacation.

3. Use that trash bag to keep your site clean. In fact, go the extra mile and leave your site cleaner than when you found it.

4. Don't bathe without a tub! Don't use any soap in streams, creeks or lakes. The fish don't like the bubbles. Besides, if you're in an area that remote, odds are there's no one around to complain about how skanky you are anyhow.

5. Does a bear shit in the woods? You betcha, but he doesn't leave a toilet paper trail and you shouldn't either. Remember rule #3 and pack up ALL your trash -- especially TP! Also, if you're doing #2, be sure to dig your hole 8" deep and bury it.

6. Only build campfires in designated rings.

7. Use only dead, downed wood for campfires, don't go breaking live branches off trees. That's just mean.

8. Never burn plastic in campfires. It releases nasty toxins and makes the marshmallows taste funny.

9. Be sure your campfire is 100% extinguished before going to bed or leaving your campsite. Forest fires are no joke.

10. If you go hiking, stick to the trails. Do not go trampling over local flora in an attempt to find a shortcut. You'll kill native plants, get lost and end up with poison ivy.

Hope you all get a chance this summer to get back to nature, whether it's a day trip to the ocean, a weekend camping trip in the woods or an afternoon hike at your local park. It's nice to get out there and be reminded about all the beauty in nature. Remember to "take only pictures and leave only footprints". Have a great weekend everyone, I'll be back online Monday!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day Forty-Nine - Where's the Beef?

Reducing the Amount of Beef we Eat

I grew up in upstate New York where we raised our own pigs, had chickens and grew and canned all our own vegetables. In the fall, Mom would take us girls school shopping while Dad and my Uncle would butcher a couple of pigs to give us pork for the winter. Friends of mine had mini-farms too, raising such various animals as emus, bunnies, guinea hens and yes, beef cattle. In fact, it was not unusual for families to buy "half a heifer" to stock their freezers with fresh, local beef.

Now if that were the way we got our beef today, I probably wouldn't have such a problem with it. However, things have changed and we are in Suburbia-land now and I don't really have access to any cows here(or half-cows, for that matter). Our beef most likely comes from a factory farm in God-knows-where, and is injected with all sorts of antibiotics and hormones. If that's not enough to turn you off, go ahead and read this article, published by, or this one, published by the University of Pennsylvania. They are one of many pieces I've read about how our food choices can have giant detrimental effects on the environment. Let me share some of what I've learned with you:

  • Ten people could be fed with the grain that you would feed a cow that would be turned into food for one person
  • Each pound of steak from feedlot-raised steers that you eat comes at the cost of 5 pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about twenty-five pounds of eroded topsoil
  • Over 30% of North American land is devoted to grazing
  • Over 50% of America's cropland is dedicated to growing feed for livestock
  • The livestock industry consumes over half of the water used in the US
  • Livestock produces 130 times the amount of waste that people do
  • Every second of every day, one football field of tropical rain forest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers
  • Cattle produce almost one fifth of global methane emissions
In the past few generations, we Americans have become a country of beef-eaters. This, no doubt, is due in large part to the fact that most of us don't raise our own food anymore. If we had to invest all the grain, space, time and energy required to raise a calf to maturity, we damn well wouldn't take that precious commodity, grind it up and brown it in a skillet with Cheesy Macaroni Hamburger Helper every night. It's insane to do that. What a huge, inefficient waste of resources.

Now don't get me wrong here, folks. Burbanmom LOVES to splurge on a nice, juicy porterhouse now and again. Hey, I'm a carnivore from way back. But the thing is -- and this is a hard concept for us Americans to grasp -- we need to eat beef in moderation. It may not cost a lot of money, but it does have a huge, detrimental impact on our environment. So let's lay off the burgers, folks and give the steaks a rest. If and when you do buy beef, make sure it's from a sustainable source (preferably local) and NOT from a factory farm.

My family started laying off the red meats four years ago, when my husband was diagnosed with high cholesterol, but lately we've been eating more and more of it. Today is the day we stop. I now declare our household nearly beef-free. I have two steaks in the freezer that I'll need to use up (no sense wasting them) and I think I'll allow for one beef dish every other month.


Let's see here, at four ounces per serving, that's three pounds of beef we'll be eating each year. Compare that to our previous consumption level of one beef serving each per week and that's a savings of 26 pounds of beef per year. According to the stats I found, we're saving 130 pounds of grain, 65,000 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of 26 gallons of gasoline, and 650 pounds of eroded topsoil. Damn, folks, that's about six times more water than I'm saving with the new washer!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

As I mentioned, we've sworn off beef before and it wasn't that difficult to do. There are a number of easy substitutions including turkey, chicken, tofu, beans, veggies and TVP. Play around with them or search for recipes online. I promise you, no one will know you dropped the real beef from your chili -- although that has it's own methane issues, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day Forty-Eight - Give Us Dirty Laundry

Replacing My Dead Washing Machine with an Energy Efficient Front Loader

OK, let me preface the post by saying, I know that purchasing a brand new appliance isn't exactly in line with my Compacting post, but with two toddlers, a husband and a 95+ heat wave this week, waiting while I find a used washer just isn't gonna happen. I am, of course, Freecycling the old machine.

My washer died this week. It was Sunday and I was running a load when I heard an awful noise, like the machine had just leapt in front of a semi on the highway. I shrugged it off, convincing myself it was just a really, really unbalanced load, but had to face the facts when I went to move the wash over to the dryer, only to find a pile of soaking wet towels and Scooby-Doo pajamas. Handyman hubby did make an attempt to fix the machine, but to no avail. Since it was a $300 machine and the repairs would most likely be in the $200 range, we decided to bite the bullet and get a new machine.

We trundled on over to Home Depot to check out what was available. I got a quick lesson in the differences between the old top-loaders and the new high-efficiency front-loaders. Compared to my old machine, the new one has a slightly greater capacity, uses an average of only 167 kWh per year and, here's the biggy, consumes only 12 gallons of water per cycle, vs. 40 gallons per cycle. So, not only can I wash more clothes in one load, I am using less electricity and sixty percent less water. Also, because the spin cycle reaches 1100 rpms, the clothes will be essentially wrung out before being tossed in the dryer, thereby shortening the drying time required (some say by up to 50%). One more "good thing" is that, because there is no middle agitator, the machine is actually easier on the clothes, extending their useful life.

The down side? Big chunk out of the ol' wallet. It cost us $899 for all this green-ness, compared to about $399 for the old styles. So, will I get that $500 back in energy savings? According to, I should save approximately $110 per year in energy costs. So as long as the new machine lasts over 5 years, I'll be ahead of the game.


I'm calculating that due to the larger capacity, I'll only have to do five loads per week, compared to seven. Based on the other information given above, that means that in one year I should save 11,440 gallons of water. Add to that the energy saving of roughly 1,100 KwH per year. That's a pretty good savings!

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

It wasn't difficult to get the new machine, just inconvenient that the old one broke! Again, it was a bit painful on the wallet, but fortunately, we have an HD card so we did at least get six months with no interest. Of course, HD didn't have any of the machine we wanted in stock, so now I have to wait until Friday for delivery. Not good, since I've already had to resort to the underpants-that-have-lost-their-elastic and Ethan's only got one clean pair of pj's left. :-(

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Day Forty-Seven - Start Your Engines!

Stop Driving Like I'm in the Monte Carlo Rally

I'm definitely a "Type A" Personality and nowhere does this shine through more than when I'm behind the wheel. I never realized just how aggressive I was though, until last week when my four year old hollered from the backseat "that light's not gonna get any greener, buddy!" followed immediately by "why you not say that this time, Mommy?". Ahhhh, like little sponges, aren't they?

Well, besides the fact that I am almost always carrying really precious cargo with me, driving like an a$$hole also wastes a ton of gas and increases overall wear and tear on my vehicle, thereby decreasing its life expectancy. And so, in the name of the planet, I hereby vow to be a less aggressive, road-raging driver. Here's how:

  1. I will not drive over the speed limit on the highways - For each 5 mph I drive over 60, I lose about 10% in gas mileage.
  2. I will not stomp on the gas like a stock car driver shooting off the starting line - This will save about 3% in gas mileage.
  3. I will not tailgate and then slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the guy in front of me, just to ensure "no budgers" get in - This will save another 3% in gas mileage.


All told, if I drop the NASCAR attitude in lieu of a more Zen approach to driving, I should save about 16% in my gas mileage. Combine this with my properly inflated tires, and, in theory, I should be saving 19% in gas mileage. What confuses me, though, is if I take ALL of the tips I see on the web, it looks like at some point I'll actually be PRODUCING gas, and I don't think that's right. I guess you can't believe everything you read anymore ;-) But I digress. Regardless of the actual percentage, I know that driving like a normal person will save gas and any savings is better than none.

Difficulty Level: 4 out of 5

What can I say? Old habits die hard, my friends. This is one change that is going to take a lot of willpower, meditation and excessive curse words whispered softly enough that the kids can't hear them. Fortunately for me, using the horn does not increase my gas consumption, so I'm still allowed to point out other drivers' mistakes to them. That is how they will learn.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Day Forty-Six - Facing Another Issue

Dropping Disposable Cotton Balls From My Daily Routine

I, like most American women, use cotton balls on a daily basis. Twice a day I squirt a little salicylic acid astringent on a white puffy cotton ball and then wipe down my face with it. Unfortunately, vanity and a nasty case of rosacea keep me from ditching my whole facial routine. However, I have found a substitute for the disposable cotton ball.

While on my recent shopping binge (you know, when I fell off the Compacting wagon) at Target, If found a package of 12 reusable facial buff sponges. According to the care instructions, I can simply rinse thoroughly with warm water and let air dry. Surprisingly, these little suckers weren't manufactured in China either, which is a little added bonus.

The down side to these thing is that they have the texture of your basic Brillo Pad and, when combined with the astringent, leave me feeling like I have poured gasoline on my face and then lit it on fire. I may end up Freecycling them in search for something a little less "buffy". But, I will definitely not be going back to my disposable cotton friends.


Savings are minimal, for sure, but with this small change I am finally to the point where I am ceasing to create daily trash waste in our bathroom. To calculate the numbers, I'm saving 2 cotton balls per day, or 712 balls per year, plus the 7 plastic bags they would be packaged in. I'm also saving the energy to produce the cotton, bleach it, process it and transport it.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Easy, but not very comfortable. Again, if I run across a similar product that isn't quite so.... abrasive, I'll definitely hop on it. In the meantime, I'm just gonna grin and bear it. I'd love to know if you have a solution.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Day Forty-Five - Don't Give Me Any Static

Changing My Fabric Softener

I am a HUGE Downy Fan. I love the April Fresh smell it gives my clothes, the way it softens my towels and keeps my socks from sticking to the walls of the dryer. I really debated making the switch to a "green" softener, especially when I read the benign ingredients list on the bottle: "Contains biodegradable softening agents (cationic)". Awww, biodegradable, how could that be bad?

Well, somehow I managed to find the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on Downy Liquid and found out what some of the agents are... Imagine my surprise when the list contained Ethanol and Hydrochloric Acid. Those don't sound benign to me at all, but then again, I really don't know what they are. So I just checked out Ethanol and Hydrochloric Acid on Wikipedia. Unfortunately, I never took chemistry in high school, so I didn't really get much from reading it.

So now I've been scouring the web for half an hour looking for proof that Downy is polluting our fresh water supply and poisoning our fish, but you know what? I haven't found it yet. HOWEVER, I have found that these biodegradable fabric softening agents will infuse our clothing with additional chemicals that are toxic, flammable and, known to be irritating to skin and lungs. They are also most likely derived from petroleum and may have been tested on animals. So I guess those should be arguments enough to switch.

I chose to go with Seventh Generation's liquid fabric softener, although there are a number of "green" laundry products available. What I really wanted to get was one of those dryer balls that have all the big bumps on them, but Kroger apparently doesn't carry them. But I digress.

My new ingredient list reads: Natural fabric softener base (derived from soy or canola), whole and natural plant essences (a blend of eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint and pine essential oils), preservative (less than 0.05%), Water.

OK, I admit, I don't know what the "preservative" is, but I'm hoping the company isn't trying to BS me into buying something that has harmful chemicals. (yes, I did read Consumer Reports last month, but I liked SG's response so they have been forgiven).

Anyhow, I made the switch to something gentler than I was using before. Again, I'll be keeping any eye open for my dryer balls, which I'm sure will make a nice thump-thump-thump-thump noise in the dryer. Rumor has it they even shorten the amount of time it takes for your clothes to dry by fluffing as you tumble. Until I find them locally, though, I'll be sticking with my all-natural fabric softener.


Unsure at this point. At least the kids won't be more flammable than normal. That's good, right?

Difficulty Level 2 out of 5

OK, is it just Kroger or do all the supermarkets hide the "natural cleaning products" over in the tree-hugger, dried granola area of the store? I HATE that! It would be MUCH easier to not only FIND but COMPARE the products if they were with all the other cleaning products! I tell you, I think stores would sell more "natural" items if they shelved them where they should "naturally" be found! GRRRRRR.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day Forty-Four - The Compact

Don't Buy Anything New For A Year (or a Month ;-)

I don't know if you've heard of The Compact, but it's a group of people who have pledged not to buy any new consumer goods for an entire year. It started in San Fransisco when a small group of friends made an informal vow not to buy anything new in 2006, as a way to break from the consumerism of America. Since that time, The Compact has grown dramatically and includes "Compacters" from all over the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and even as far as Australia and Hong Kong.

The credo of The Compact is based on the Mayflower Compact and is as follows:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact; 2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er); 3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

I gave compacting a try in July and was amazed at 1. how simple it was and 2. how much money I saved! I didn't buy one new thing for a whole month (just groceries, and some used clothing and used books). I did not step foot in a single Target or Walmart store. And I didn't shop online either. I was tempted at first, but I think shopping is like an addiction. Once you take a break from it, you actually crave it less. So as the month went on, it actually got easier.

Think about all the junk you accumulate (brand, spanking new, but junk, nonetheless) every time you step foot in Target. Things you don't need, or could easily pick up used at a garage sale or thrift store. Now think about all the energy and resources that go into making that product, packaging it and delivering it to you. Now imagine if you stopped buying all that crap for just one year. You would produce a LOT less packaging garbage, you'd have more space in your house and more cash in your wallet. It's a win-win-win situation!


It's hard to say what I would have bought if I'd been going about my normal shopping routine, so calculating a trash and/or energy savings is difficult. So instead, I'll just give you the monthly percentage difference between January - June expenditures and the July expenditures (yes, I track it all, yes, I'm a geek, but you knew that, didn't you?) - 30%. That's right folks -- THIRTY PERCENT. That's the difference between living simply and buying a bunch of new crap that we probably don't even need. Frightening.

Difficulty Level: 4 out of 5

This is really hard at first, but like any bad habit, it gets easier to change the longer you work at it. I don't think I could go a whole year, but I think I'll definitely try again. I fell off the wagon last week when we got Daphne her "big girl bed" and I went nuts redecorating her room with girly flowery stuff. The interesting thing is that, before I'd heard of compacting, I would have taken pictures of her "new room" and bragged to the whole family about it. Now, with my new attitude, I'm actually embarrassed about the money I spent and even more so about the resources I devoured. Funny how changing my ways for just a month has changed my outlook forever.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Day Forty-Three - Lend A Hand

Participating in Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup

In 1986, a staff member of The Ocean Conservancy was appalled by the amount of trash she found littering the shores of South Padre Island, Texas. She took responsible action by organizing a beach cleanup. In three hours, 2,800 Texans picked up 124 tons of trash from 122 miles of coastline. With that, Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup was born.

Since that time, the annual coastal cleanup has grown by leaps and bounds. Since that first cleanup in 1986, thousands of volunteers from around the globe have cleared over 100 million pounds of trash from 170,000 miles of shorelines, rivers, lakes, and wetlands!

The cool part is, you don't even need to live near the ocean to participate. From the list, it looks like every state in the US participates, as well as several other countries. To learn how to join in, check out the Coastal Cleanup Site. You can get information on where the cleanups are happening near you and when. Most cleanups are be held on September 15th, but you can find ones ranging anytime from September 1 - October 31.


I'm betting my two little helpers and I can easily pick up three paper grocery bags worth of trash. But again, it's that small effort multiplied by all the other people around the world who show up to help that netted the Ocean Conservancy over 7.7 MILLION POUNDS OF TRASH in 2004. Not bad for a day's work.

Difficulty Level 3 out of 5

I know, I know anytime you have to do something "organized" it takes more time and effort. Now you have to work around someone else's schedule and that's not always easy. But imagine how exciting it is to be part of something so wonderful! Of course, schedules are schedules and it's certainly understandable if the cleanup near you falls on the same date and time as Old Aunt Mabel's 80th birthday celebration. If you can't make it to your local OC cleanup, write down a day on your calander when you can help out -- and stick to that pledge. Get in the spirit, by going to your own local watering hole, river or ocean sometime during the month of September and doing your own cleanup.

Supplemental Post - Extreme Green

Links to More Extreme Green Blogs Added

Well, my very informal poll tells me that most of you want me to continue with my fashion of describing the daily, albeit small, changes I am making to become a "greener" me. However, if you're yearning for some hard-core enviro-action, check out the new Extreme Green blog links I added. They're over in the left hand column, listed down below my archives and stuff. They're a good reminder that, if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Day Forty-Two - Teach Your Children Well

Teaching The Kids About The Environment

I'm not sure how America, in the short timespan of one or two generations, got so disconnected with the environment. I do, however, think that this disconnection from nature plays a large role in how people treat the earth. If you don't see the planet as that which sustains us, providing air, food and water -- everything we need to live -- why would you care about it's health? If you fail to see the interconnectivity between all living species, why would you be concerned about their disappearance? I'm starting to feel that perhaps too much focus is spent on acheiving academic and financial success, rather than on good stewardship.

To help tip the scales, I've decided to start involving my kids in all the aspects of my green goals. The fun stuff, the boring stuff, the interesting things and the yucky parts. These are some of the things I've done recently:

  • Take my kids camping - get them back to nature and let them discover the wonder of fireflies, bats and s'mores
  • Take my kids to animal sanctuaries - show them various species and explain why we need to protect their habitats
  • Have them help with recyclables - explain what is recyclable, why we should recycle and what happens to our recyclables (I even bribed the recycle truck guy with a cold soda so he'd let Ethan see the inside of the truck -- nothing excites a young boy more than a big truck that squishes stuff)
  • Take my kids on nature walks - we go on the trails and look for pinecones, different leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Have my kids plant stuff - we've planted lots of flowers this year and they're learning that plants need dirt, nutrients, water and sunshine to grow
  • Pick up Trash - The kids and I do this one everytime we hit the playground or park
  • Trip to the Berry Farm - We went and picked our own berries and the kids got to learn about how food is grown

In addition to these "fun" things, I also do the mundane things like holler "shut off the tv when you leave the room!", "turn the water off, you're wasting it!" and "for goodness sake, you don't need to use the whole roll!". All valuable lessons that I learned from my parents and am now handing down to my little ones ;-)

Upcoming events I plan on doing with the kids include:

  • A trip to the local composting site
  • A trip to the recycling place
  • A county sponsored program for 2 year-olds called "Goose or Duck?"
  • A county sponsored program for 4 year-olds called "Who Lives Underground?"
  • Grow our own vegetables
  • Start our own worm bin

I'd love to hear about stuff you do with your kids to help them learn about how to "tread lightly".


This one isn't so much about measuring savings as it is spending time with the kids you love and showing them the wonder and beauty of the world around them -- and how to take care of it. Hopefully my passion about the environment will rub off on them and they will be better caretakers because of it.

Difficulty Level: 0 out of 5

Are you kidding? This is child's play!

Supplemental Post - Why Am I Here?

Why I Sometimes Give very small tips for a VERY BIG PROBLEM

I received a comment yesterday from one of my loyal readers (yes, I have them. In fact, if I believe my free stats counter, I have twelve of them. So There.) that questioned why some of my tips are, well, downright puny. I hope he doesn't mind me copying the comment, but here's a portion of it:

I love what you are doing with this blog, believe me, but this post is tantamount to procrastinating the really big, really polluting, planet heating things like cars and air conditioning. Check out how air tight houses with A/C are crammed with high concentrations of the pollutants not filtered out of the environmental air. ATM slips!?! 30 sheets of paper…Cheryl Crowe said use one pane of tp!

At first I was hurt, then angry, then in denial, then realized he was right. BUT, there is a reason for this (other than I am a self-proclaimed lazy suburbanite mom). In fact, there are two reasons:

  1. When I started this blog, it was a way for me to make myself accountable. The idea was that I would post each day a change that I had made that lessened my environmental impact. If others happened to glean something from it, that would be an added bonus. So, I haven't talked about cars or A/C or planes or coal mining because I haven't done anything about those things... yet. To me, personally, it defeats the purpose of this exercise if I give tips on things I haven't experienced. Plus I would feel like a big, fat hypocrite if I told everyone to stop driving SUV's while I tool around town in my minivan.
  2. Somethings I just can't afford to do right now or physically am unable to do. I would LOVE to post about composting, line drying clothing and taking public transportation, but right now I can't afford a worm bin, am physically unable to drive a clothesline pole in the ground and don't have access to PT where I live. So until I get some extra spending cash or hope that Santa gets my letter, I don't feel like I can post about them.

However, I am nothing, if not flexible. So I leave it up to you, dear readers. Should I abandon my initial purpose of self-realization for the greater good of mankind? Or , would you prefer to hear about how I am doing on this quest, even if that means crappy tips for you? Either way is fine with me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave me your comments :-)

PS... If you're lucky enough to meet Cheryl Crowe, I'd think twice before shaking her hand...yucky.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Day Forty-One - Just Say "No"

Don't Take ATM Receipts

I promise not to take another ATM receipt. Ever. Why would I need to, now that I do all of my banking online and obsessively check my balance daily? ATM receipts are one of the top sources of litter on the planet. According to Market Watch, if everyone in the United States would select the no-receipt option at the ATM, it would save a roll of paper more than two billion feet long, or enough to circle the equator 15 times.

As long as I'm skipping ATM receipts, I might as well skip the gas ones too. And any other place where I have an option. After all, if I do take a receipt, odds are it will sit in the bottom of my purse until it is stuffed to the point of overflowing, at which point I will empty all the receipts into the recycle bin and hope identity thieves don't rummage through my junk, find my account number and steal my $20. I don't need that kind of stress!


I go to the ATM, on average, 1.5 times per week. My bank gives out those large 3" x 5" receipts for the legally blind, so that's like getting a 22.5 square inch piece of paper each week, or approximately 30 letter sized sheets per year.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

To quote Nancy Regan's simplified drug campaign "Just Say No". Except this time, there's no peer pressure and you're not listening to Jerry Garcia in the back of a van.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Day Forty - Check It Out

Using A Library Card Instead of Buying New Books

It has been years (you know I mean a LOT of years if it's italicized AND underlined) since I've had a library card. I used to go a lot when I was a teenager and, of course, in college. Something happened, though, when I left the world of academia and joined the working forces. I forgot about the joy of the Dewey Decimal System and the feel of those protective plastic book covers. Last week, I rediscovered all the library system has to offer.

I packed the kids up and announced we would be hitting the library and getting a library card. My 4 year old son, Ethan, assumed that would be akin to a credit card, so he was happy to go. Daphne, 2 years old, however, is teething so she isn't really "happy" to do anything. I was feeling brave though, and hungry for something to read so we headed out.

I was pleased to find that my local library (about 2 miles down the road) has a very nice children's area, complete with legos, puppets, those abacus-looking toys, DVDs and, of course, books. We spent a good 45 minutes or so checking it all out and playing. Unfortunately, Daphne doesn't yet have a volume-control so I spent a lot of time uselessly "shushing" her. But other than that, it was great. The kids each got a library card and so did I. We also came home with five books to enjoy for the next two weeks.

But how does going to the library help the environment? Well, let me tell you. I checked our budget and it appears that we spend, on average, $75 per month on books and magazines, which I'm guesstimating to be four books and eight magazines per month. What's really bad is that we haven't even been shopping at the used book stores -- nearly all of the purchases are for brand new books and magazines. OK, so it's not like we're spending it on jet fuel or Styrofoam, but still, it's not the most eco-friendly way to read.

I don't think we'll give up new reading material cold turkey -- we'll still buy certain magazines and the occasional new book (hey, the library doesn't carry everything) but we'll definitely check the library out before we head for B&N. They make it so easy now. Our county has all of it's library "stock" online and searchable. You can even reserve a book online and request it be transferred to the library closest to your home! Neat stuff.


I'm going to estimate that we will save two book purchases and four magazine purchases per month. Basically, cutting our current new book/magazine consumption in half. Good for the environment, good for the wallet!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

I had a lot of fun with this activity and I got to introduce my kids to a whole new experience. We can't wait to go back!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Day Thirty-Nine - Everyone Deserves A Second Chance

Stop Throwing Good Things Out After only One Use

This idea is very similar to my Reuse Ziploc Baggies except that it encompasses perfectly good items that you and I would otherwise throw away. I figure that even if I only reuse an item once, I am actually doubling its normal life use and, in most cases, I am avoiding the purchase of a new item to meet my need.

Here are some of the items I'm either reusing or repurposing:

  • Plastic Bread Bags - These are great for packing picnic lunches in, storing homemade baked goods, rolling out pie dough on.
  • Cereal Bags (the ones inside the boxes) - these are great "gloves" for when it's time to poop scoop behind the dog. Practically guaranteed not to poke a hole through!
  • Toilet Paper Rolls - Lint holders, craft projects for the kids
  • Oatmeal & Other Round Containers - Art Supply organizers, cookie storage, change holders, craft projects for the kids.
  • Non-Recyclable Plastic Containers - Assuming they were used for food storage and NOT chemicals, I give them to the kids to use as bath toys or use them for organizing the their small toys (think Legos).
  • Used Toothbrushes - Cleaning scrubbers (need a little more elbow grease now that I don't have scrubbing chemical bubbles and Clorox)

Do you have any items you repurpose in an interesting way? I'd love to hear your suggestions!


Again, by repurposing these items at least once before they are tossed, I am doubling the useful lifespan of each one. Also, I am avoiding the purchase of an alternate item to suit my need. Why anyone would actually pay money for doggie-poop bags is beyond me, and yet, they exist! Let's stop the madness, folks!

Difficulty Level 2 out of 5

It takes a while to get into the habit of really looking at each item instead of mindlessly tossing it in the trash. And, to make it worse for me, I have very little imagination. What I usually end up doing is putting something that I feel has "potential" in the virtually empty cupboard in the downstairs bath. Then, when I'm looking for something for a particular need, I check there to see if any of my used stuff will work. I'm surprised how many times I come up with a match!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Day Thirty-Eight - All Tired Out

Keeping My Tires Properly Inflated

According to the US Department of Energy, keeping your tires properly inflated can save you up to 3% in gas mileage. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Plus, properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.

I also read a very interesting article written by the Environmental Defense, that said that transportation accounts for 25% of all the energy consumed in North America. The article also stated that 80% of vehicles' tires are underinflated and that if we all just fixed that, we could save more than two million gallons of gas each day!

If you're like me and you don’t know the correct tire pressure for your vehicle, there's several places you can check to find out. Try looking in your owner's manual, on the door of your glove compartment, on the driver’s side door pillar or even on the tires themselves (although that last one gives you the MAXIMUM pressure you should use). At least one of the places should tell you. I checked my vehicle for the proper psi and found it should be at 35 psi, which, according to hubby, is pretty standard for regular passenger vehicles.

Hubby also gave me instruction on how to check my psi and inflate my tires at the local Mobil Station. I wouldn't want to miss anything in translating for you, so if you need instructions, click here to read them at Suffice it to say, that it's not that hard to do, but if for whatever reason you're not up to the task, just swing into a full-service station and ask them to do it for you.


For me personally, assuming I'm consistently underinflated, I'd be looking at approximately 3/4 of a gallon per week, or about 39 gallons per year. And, since every gallon of gas saved translates to 20 pounds of CO2 kept out of the air, that means I would be saving 780 pounds of CO2. Cool.

Difficulty Level - 2 or 3 out of 5

I'm definitely glad I had help the first time and I'm sure I'll end up hissing and spewing air all over until I get the hang of it, but all in all, a pretty simple thing to do. After all, it's not rocket science, just car science.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Day Thirty-Seven - Zip-a-dee-doo-da

Reusing Ziplock Baggies

I'm trying to reduce the plastic waste I create by as much as possible and this is my latest little attempt. I bought a big box of Ziplock Gallon Sized Freezer Bags before my eco-change and I still have more than half the box left. Actually, I still have nearly all the bags, they're just in various states of new and re-use.

My Dad used to occasionallly rinse out ziplocks for use and at the time I thought he had a little too much free time on his hands, but now that I think about, it just makes sense. I, however, have an irrational OCD-like fear of food cross-contamination and would have worried that bagels would have ended up in bags previously used to store onions or something (which, of course, would cause the world to tilt too far on its axis and plunge the earth into a death-spiral towards the sun). Solution? One Sharpie Marker.

That's right. I now have a drawer full of Ziplocks, all neatly labeled with various food categories such as "Breads", "Summer Vegetables", "Lettuce", "Onions / Garlic", "Leftover Meats". It's like having a complete storage system in the space of, well, a Ziplock.

Another nice thing about this, is it has created a new job for my previously disenfranchised paper towel holder. When a Ziplock gets food particles on the inside, I turn it inside-out, give it a little bath and hang it on the re-employed towel holder. Ta Da!

So far, in the span of a month, I've only had one baggie that had to get thrown out -- somehow I had managed to slice a hole in it. I should have repurposed it for dog-poop duty or something, but I felt that, due to its lengthy service, it deserved better than that.


I used to go through a box of baggies (25 Ziplocks) every two weeks or so. If I am a little more careful and keep sharp knives away from the Zips, I should be able to go at least six months -- EASY. That's a savings of 275 Ziplock baggies in six months or 550 in a year. That's a HUGE Savings! See, even "disposable" products don't always have to be tossed after just one use!

Difficulty Level - 1 out of 5

If you have strange food-touching-different-food neurosis like me, you'll DEFINITELY want to label your baggies. If you're more of a free spirit, you don't even need to do that.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Day Thirty-Six - A Corny Idea

Switch from Plastic Straws to Biodegradable Corn-Based Straws

OK, have I mentioned that I have two kids? Yeah, I do, if you don't believe me, come on over and babysit sometime. Anyhow, if you have kids, you use straws. Lots and lots of straws. You all know about my anti-plastic rants, so I won't even get into how harmful plastic is to the environment. Instead, I will just enlighten you about a whole new option for chocolate milk to mouth delivery.

Corn. Yup. Corn based plastics. 100% biodegradable. How can that be you ask? I have no friggin clue I say. But it's true. I bought a case of them. I also bought biodegradable coffee cups, two different sizes of biodegradable trash bags, and a sampler pack of biodegradable cutlery, napkins, plates and cold cups, just to see how they hold up. You know what? They all worked great! I never would have known they were biodegradable!

Unfortunately, you can't find this stuff in your average grocery store. But you can find it online quite easily by doing a Google (or Blackle?) search. It costs a little more than what you find at the grocery store but I feel it's worth it. Plus I'm a huge believer in voting with my dollar. That's what really brings about change -- profitability. If companies feel it's profitable to make biodegradable products, guess what, we'll be overrun with them.

So go ahead and splurge on things like phosphate-free laundry detergent, plant-based cleaning products and biodegradable picnic forks. You'll be doing a good thing while shopping and that's always fun.


I used to go through a 100-pack of plastic straws every two weeks or so. That's 2,600 plastic straws a year that I'm trading in for an earth-friendly, biodegradable, plant-based product.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Easy peasy. clickety click click. Shipped to my home in a cardboard box, protected by corn-based biodegradable packing peanuts that dissolve in water (yes, I tested them!).

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Day Thirty-Five - Old Mother Hubbard

Cleaning Out the Pantry to Avoid Waste

Maybe it's because I have two little ones here who can be fickle-eaters at best, but somedays it seems like we toss out more food than we eat. Being brought up in a "you should always clean your plate" atmosphere, this of course makes me insane. However, I don't want to be responsible for my children's future eating disorders (although I'm sure I'll be blamed for lots of other issues) so I generally bite my tongue and toss the half-eaten sandwiches, the single-bite granola bars and the dog-hair covered bananas down the drain.

Even though I'm their mom, I really have no control over what my kids will or will not eat. I present them with somewhat healthy choices and hope for the best. They will waste what they waste and that's how kids are. What I do have control over is what I waste.

Every day I paw through the food in my pantry, pushing the unwanted items out of my way to get to the stuff I really want. Day after day, I look at mixes I will never bake, fruit-filled Jell-O the kids won't eat and items I bought by mistake. Don't laugh -- you shop with two maniac toddlers who take turns tossing pretty boxes into the cart when you're not looking and see how many items you purchase by mistake.

The bottom line is, I have come to the grips with the fact that -- I will never, ever use this food. And yet, here I let it stay, week after week, month after month, continually deteriorating, while people right here in my area may be going hungry. Today I start a new policy -- to clean out my cupboards every three months and donate what I'm not using to the local food bank.

How is this green, you ask? If I don't donate it, it will eventually go bad and that would have meant that all the energy going into its creation and distribution will have all been for naught. By giving this food to people who will use it, I will avoid having wasted that energy. As a perk, someone who is hungry tonight may not be as hungry tomorrow.


I cleaned out my cupboards and got a paper grocery bag about 75% full. I know I just cleaned my cupboards sometime in April or May, so if I can do this every three months, that will be three full grocery bags per year. Hard to quantify the actual energy savings, but it was definitely something more than nothing. And that is what matters.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Cleaning the cupboards was pretty easy. I did it while the kids watched an episode of Tom & Jerry (bad mom, I know). Also, I'm lucky, in that our local food bank has several convenient drop-off locations around town. If you don't know where your local food bank is, check online. If your town doesn't have one, you can always Freecycle food pretty easily.