Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day Thirty-Four - Clean as An Irish Spring

Learning to Shower Like a Man

OK, so as much as I bust on my husband about being the anti-enviro, he is greener than me in some respects. Let's take the daily shower for example.

To get fresh as a daisy, I use: one plastic bottle of shampoo, one plastic bottle of conditioner, one plastic shower "poof", one plastic bottle of body wash, one plastic bottle of face wash, one steel can of girly-style shaving cream and one plastic, disposable razor. Also include the occasional bottle of Nair hair removal or plastic bottle of bubble bath and you've got nearly a shopping bag's worth of #2 plastics, plus a whole lot of chemicals I can't even pronounce.

My husband's shower regimen includes: soap.

Yup, that's it. One bar of Irish Spring wrapped in a 100% recyclable cardboard box. See folks, that's why he gets to win one now and again.

So to help me clean up my act, so to speak, I'm going to stop showering forever. Just kidding. I am, however, going to get out of my morning comfort zone to make some small changes to help the environment.

For starters, I'm ditching the conditioner. I have short hair so I don't need the de-tangling and it's not the dead of winter so I don't need the static control either. Boom. One less plastic bottle.

Secondly, I'm turning in my "poof" and bodywash in favor of Dove Bars. I'm also trading in my plastic bottle of face wash for a bar of Neutrogena. There's two less bottles and one less poof.

Thirdly, I'm gonna put my razor to the test. I'm not ready to go all European, but am going to push my razor to the limit and see how many shaves I can really get out of it. I don't use the disposable kind where you throw out the whole thing -- just the razor part -- but I'm going to try to use the head for a whole month before switching out. I'll let you know if I end up hacking my knees to bits.

Lastly, no more Nair or Bubble Baths. The former stinks to high heaven and burns my delicate Scotch-Irish mayonnaise-skin and the latter tends to leave a wierd ring around the tub that the magic scrub-fairy never seems to clean.

I'm hoping these small changes will have a positive impact on the earth, with minimal impact on my personal hygiene. I'm sure hubby will let me know ;-)


Let's assume I used conditioner, body wash, face wash and "poofs" at about the same rate of one each every two months. I used to go through razor heads at a rate of one per week, but will now switch out once per month. I also went through one bottle each of Nair and bubble bath per year. That's a savings of 20 plastic bottles, 36 razor heads and six "poofs". That's quite a bit of downcyclable and landfillable waste. That's the sweet smell of eco-friendly success, folks!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Hmmmm, let's see, less stuff to buy, less stuff to store, less stuff to use. Sounds like another win/win situation for this lazy suburbanite.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Day Thirty-Three - You Win Some, You Lose Some

Giving in on Reusable Coffee Filters

As most of you know, I'm married to a great guy, who is not always 100% enthused about the strange changes I'm making here around the house. He has been a great sport, occasionally applauding my efforts, but in general, just going with the flow and trying not to ask too many questions ;-) What can I say? He loves me and my green-ness.

But not at 5:00 am with bad coffee. You see, I was all prepared to run out of our sparkly-white, bleached, disposable coffee filters and replace them with my homemade, natural muslin filters. I figured I'd better do a "test run" though before D-Day to make sure it worked correctly. I usually make the coffee anyhow, so I figured if it didn't work, I could just destroy the evidence before he saw the mess and find another alternative.

I got up EXTRA early to tiptoe down to the coffee pot. I opened the top of the machine and slipped in my lovingly hand-sewn muslin filter, piled in some great-smelling, coffee-house roasted grounds, added the water and waited. And Waited. I got nervous. Maybe the fabric was too thick and the water wouldn't penetrate it. Maybe the side of the filter would cave in and I'd end up with crunchy coffee. Maybe I need to see someone about the nervous episodes -- after all, it's only coffee.

Lo and behold, it worked! I was so excited! I didn't say anything to hubby and, sure enough, he drank down half the pot. And this is where I messed up. I took the last cup and didn't make more. When he went to make a fresh brew, he saw my little handiwork and asked curiously "what the hell is this?". I explained to him my desire to save the planet by foregoing such luxuries as disposable coffee filters. He explained to me the importance of being able to make a pot of coffee without doing laundry first. We argued. He won.

We will now be switching to unbleached, biodegradeable coffee filters instead. Life is all about compromises, you know. Especially when you're married to a coffee-aholic. Besides, a smart woman knows to pick her battles and I'm holding out for a home compost station.


None. Yet. I'm down, but I'm not out! Besides, I'm at least going to switch to unbleached filters and that's a step in the right direction. If YOU are feeling brave and want to try my stylish homemade, reusable coffee filters, drop me a note and I'll send you a couple. I'd love to know how they work out in the long run and how well they hold up. I only know how to make the basket style ones, though, so if you need cone ones, let me know so I can pick up a sample disposable one to model it after.

Difficulty Level - 2 out of 5

Making the filters was easy. Making the switch, as you can see, wasn't.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day Thirty-Two - Charge It

Switching from Alkaline to Rechargeable Batteries

You would not BELIEVE the number of batteries we go through in this house. It's downright embarrassing. Remote controls, flashlights, wall clocks, walkie-talkies and a whole boatload of toys, toys and more toys. We go through the economy packs of AA's the way Lindsay Lohan goes through tequila. Neither is a pretty sight.

I started saving our dead batteries just 29 days ago and have accumulated 12 AA's and two 9 volts. At that rate, we would burn through (and toss out) over 175 batteries each year. Yuck. To make matters worse, I always used to just toss those puppies right in the trash (these should be taken to your hazardous waste collection site because the acid could leak out into a landfill and possibly leach into the surrounding soil and/or water supply).

Today I made my first purchase of rechargeable NiMH batteries (4 for $9.99) along with a little recharger to, well, charge them ($9.99). Supposedly, this $20 investment will give me the life-use of 2,000 alkaline batteries (500 charges each), which generally cost 4 for $2.95. This makes the cost per use more like $0.004995 (less than half a penny) per rechargeable vs. $0.74 per alkaline. Of course, this does not factor in the cost of the energy required to recharge each battery, but I'd guarantee I'm still coming out ahead. But this isn't about cost savings here, although can I just say "Wow!", this is about saving the planet.

I know, four little batteries will never run all my gadgets and gizmos, but here's my plan of attack. Since I cannot afford to go out and purchase 50+ rechargeable batteries right now, I will purchase them as I do disposables, buying a package every time something runs out of them. At the same time, I will stop purchasing gizmos and gadgets that require batteries. Eventually, the kids will either outgrow or destroy the majority of the toys and by simply refusing to buy more energy-sucking toys, I will reduce my need for battery consumption. Simple? Yes. Will it work? No clue. Have to wait and see.


I am saving 175 alkaline batteries per year from the landfills or, hopefully, from the hazardous waste collection site. If only 2,500 other people like me switched, we could save nearly half a million batteries from being tossed out this year! That's huge and a very, very attainable goal. So, if all 25 of my loyal readers convince ten friends to make the switch, and those ten friends tell 10 friends, we're there, baby!

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Another easy one -- just changing my buying habits. As old alkalines die out, replace them with rechargeables. The monetary savings will be offset by the initial investment in just a matter of a few charges, so it's not breaking the bank. And, again, in the long range, the rechargeables will net major savings over alkaline.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Day Thirty-One - Psssst, Want Some Weed?

Stop Using Weed Killers on the Lawn

HaHaHa! Got your attention with that title, didn't I? The old' bait and switch.

Weed killers, not suprisingly, are full of all sorts of nasty chemicals. Chemicals that are designed to, well, kill stuff. Now get ready for the really shocking news - these chemicals are bad for the environment. Too sarcastic? Sorry, it's been one of those days.... Anyhow, back to the post.

I know, I know, a lot of you don't care if you're growing Kentucky blue, a nice fescue, or a clover patch, just so long as it's green. I know, because that's how I felt when I lived in the country with 5 acres to mow. In fact, I was generally happier if it didn't grow, as it cut down on the work. Now that I'm a true-blue suburbanite, though, I take my quarter acre of greenery pretty seriously, as do all my neighbors. No longer content to grow a mishmosh of crabgrass, plantain and poison ivy, I have resorted to "lethal measures" in an attempt to keep up with Lars, Bob and -- the envy of all neighbors' lawns -- Earl aka the YardMan.

Well consider me out of the race folks. That's right, I give. I have reached my breaking point and I can't go any further. I am simply not willing to pollute our soil and water supply, for the sake of Gillette Stadium quality turf. I do, however, have some tips on how to keep the weeds at bay, the natural way and I'll share them with you now.

  1. Stop mowing your lawn. - Not entirely, but give it some time to "seed". If you wait long enough between mowings, you'll see little sprouty things that are grass seeds. Let's these puppies do their thing, or at least sprout seeds before you mow. More grass = less space for weeds.
  2. Seed. Seed. Seed. - Same science involved in number one, but this requires more participation on your part. Head over to Lowe's and pick up a big bag of seed. Seed any bare areas or spots that are weedy.
  3. Pluck 'em. - Remember the days of "weed pulling". They're back baby. Cuz if your lawn is small enough to care about the weeds, it's small enough to weed by hand. If you do this, though, put all the pulled weeds in a bag and relocate them to the compost pile or toss them in the woods. If you pull them and lay them on the lawn, guess what they'll do? That's right, they'll take root and grow more!

All of these suggestions will help. although in the end, you may just need to get over your vanity and take pride in a new kind of "Green Lawn". Maybe you'll start a new trend on your block. I'll let you know if I do.


Previously, I had the "lawn people" come once a month to treat the lawn. I have since switched from ChemLawn (the name kind of says it all, don't you think?) to Natural Lawn of America they use all natural products and minimal weed killers. If you ask them, they will skip use of ALL weed killers on your lawn. Good folks. Of course, every garage has at least one spray bottle of Round-Up or other toxic potion for killing weeds and ours is no exception. This week I will be taking it to the hazardous waste disposal unit in our county. And I vow to never buy it again. Even if I am about to be eaten alive by an out-of-control dandelion monster.

Difficulty Level - 1 out of 5

Like so many of my posts, this task isn't so much about DOING something good as it is about NOT DOING something bad. Day after day, we habitually pollute our environment, without a second thought as to how it affects our water supply, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the children we produce. However, if you do take just a moment to think before you act -- to look at how your actions, purchases, activities affect the environment -- you'll find it's usually pretty easy to do the right thing.

Keep on keepin on, friends.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Day Thirty - Objects in the Rearview Mirror

Looking Back to See Review We've Accomplished

Yup, like all lazy Americans, I like to take a look back every so often, to see what I've done and give myself a nice pat on the back for making small changes in an attempt to NOT destroy the planet that gives us life.

All sarcasm aside, by making these small, daily changes, I've made a huge dent in my waste and, more imporantly, a huge change in my attitude! This 30-day mark is a great time to take a look back as well as update you on how I'm doing with these changes.

Day One - No more plastic grocery bags

This one is going well, although when I first started, I forgot them. A Lot. I also forgot them on small trips to the drugstore, farmers market, etc. so I put one in my purse to carry around wherever I go. I found out I WAY overpaid for these! And, of course, four weeks after I bought 6 for $24.99 + shipping, our grocery store started selling them for $0.99 each! Grr. I did have a couple instances where people would place my groceries in their plastic bag first and then put it in my cloth bag, but I just asked them to take them out and did an internal eye-roll.

Day Two - No more paper invoices

I thought this would weird me out but I LOVE IT!!! I don't have a huge ugly pile of unpaid invoices on my desk anymore and as soon as they come in, I schedule them for payment. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!!

Day Three - Picking Up Trash in Public Places

Uh, not fun, but I don't get as embarrassed anymore. My sister, Shannon, also turned me on to geocaching, which launched a really cool program called Cache In Trash Out which makes my litter-picking up fashionable!

Day Four - Purchasing Used Clothing

This is going slow, but well. I haven't purchased ANY new clothes since that post and have visited the kids' consignment shop and Goodwill. I picked up a couple used tank tops and have re-outfitted Ethan's shorts supply. Daphne got a new swimsuit and some nearly new tanks as well!

Day Five - Unsubscribe Me

It took a couple weeks but they finally stopped sending me the Friday & Saturday editions. Two weeks ago they called and asked if I would like to start receiving the Friday & Saturday papers FREE again. Hmmmmm. Then last week, we never got our Sunday paper. I have no clue what is going on down there but hope I get my coupons this week. If not, I'm just going to cancel the whole thing and get my news online.

Day Six - Shutting Off the Lights

This took a while to get used to, but now even my hubby and kids remember to shut off the lights when they leave the room! I was super-bummed, though, when I got my last electric bill to see that I actually consumed MORE energy last month, but am hoping it's the timing of the bills and meter readings.

Day Seven - Learning What Can and Cannot Be Recycled

One of the easiest things to do is having one of the HUGEST impacts! I am down to only ONE AND A HALF TRASH BAGS PER WEEK!!!! Again, I've even got hubby taking the plastic bag out of the cereal box to recycle the box itself.

Day Eight - Learning How to Program the Thermostat

Easy. Done. Don't think about it anymore.

Day Nine - Buying Locally Grown Produce

AWESOME! Our dinners now taste like they used to when I was a kid and my Dad used to have a big garden with corn, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, etc. We are eating yummy strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, watermelon and peaches for fruit. All great stuff! The only thing I cheat on is apples. My son LOVES apples -- and the kid doesn't eat much else, so I figure I kind of have to get him something he'll eat. I'll be sure to stock up on local apples this fall, though.

Day Ten - Using My Own Coffee Mug at Coffee Shops

Cool. Found most places give you a discount ($0.10 or so) per cup each time you refill. Sweet. Unfortunately, I'm not doing very well at REMEMBERING my cup though, so I've actually been skipping the cup o' joe a lot instead. Oh well... saving money is good too.

Day Eleven - Turning Off the Sprinklers

I swear you wouldn't even know I did this!!! My lawn is just as green as all of my neighbors, who use their sprinklers a couple times per week. The super-duper-extra bonus is that now our grass doesn't grow as fast, so we only have to mow it every other week!

Day Twelve - Putting an End to Junk Mail

This is the hardest frickin' thing I've ever tried to do in my life! It's up there with quitting smoking and giving birth for God's sake. I did, however, run across a couple organizations out there who claim to be able to do all this for you. If you're interested, check out 41pounds.org or Stop The Junkmail.

Day Thirteen - Went on Vacation

Yeah, that was nice. :-)

Day Fourteen - No More Hot Water Wash Cycles or Bleach

OK, when I said "I won't have to sort laundry anymore" in my righteous, smug and ignorant manner, why didn't someone correct me??!! Come on folks, this isn't a spectator sport here, help me out! I have turned several of my son's white shirts pink and my hubby's sport socks are looking a tad feminine as well. Here's my big tip: YOU STILL NEED TO SEPARATE YOUR DARKS FROM YOUR LIGHTS!!! Other than that, though, it's going well :-)

Day Fifteen - Switching from Chemical Cleaners to Natural Ones

Uh, yeah. Ummmm. Well, I haven't actually cleaned anything, per se, since that post... anyone feel like coming to visit? ;-) What can I say, two kids, an eco-blog and working from home can keep a girl busy.

Day Sixteen - Swapping Paper Napkins for Real Ones

I like it, makes me feel all upper-crusty. Hubby hates it. I think the problem is I only have one set of really LARGE napkins. They're the fancy kind you use at holidays. I keep saying I'll make some smaller, daily use ones, maybe with Scooby-Doo fabric or NE Patriots, something he and the kids will like, but again, pretty busy here. Maybe after faire and Halloween sewing seasons are over...

Day Seventeen - Using Freecycle

As I said, I've been freecyclin' for a couple years now, so I'm an old pro. Love it, still love it, still use it. I think I'll start posting really odd items, like bottle caps and such, just to see if there are any of those "garbage artists" in our area.

Day Eighteen - Educating Myself About Plastics

Again, a HUGE part of what I'm doing here is learning. Unfortunately, a lot of times it gives me an upset stomach, panic attacks, or makes me want to find a religion. (yeah, please don't try to convert me folks. Religion is like a rhinoceros -- I don't have one of my own and I don't want to be trampled by yours). Nonetheless, educating ourselves is paramount if we are to stop the destruction of the planet.

Day Nineteen - The Gifted Child

I got so much feedback on this! People LOVE the idea. I'd love for all of you to take a minute and come up with a really cool "experience gift" and email me with it. I'll put them all together in one post that we can all refer to when we need an idea!

Day Twenty - Talk to Your Friends and Neighbors About Recycling

This story about my friend Leah inspired me to try to create a community compost here in Richmond. I met with a local nursery who has a compost field and they were going to give it a try, until they checked their permits and found out that they're not allowed to take post-consumer waste :-(. But, the important thing is to keep on talking about -- you'll find a lot of other people out there want to do their part too!

Day Twenty-One - Changing My Energy Supplier

Easy. Done. Don't think about it anymore. I got my "welcome" letter and found out it will take up to 45 days for the change to take affect, but still, we're on the right path.

Day Twenty-Two - Finding a Second Use for Lint

Yeah, I thought I'd be able to test my "Lint Log" last weekend, but you know what? It takes a hell of a lot of lint to fill a toilet paper tube! I'm still filling my first one -- man that stuff compacts down! I'll let you know when I actually get a chance to try it out...

Day Twenty-Three - Stop Using Paper Towels

We've adapted pretty quickly to this one. Nothing terribly exciting to announce. I think my husband is getting used to "running out" of disposables now. He's stopped asking questions anyhow.

Day Twenty-Four - No More Bottled Water

Hi. My name's Erin. It's been eight days since my last bottled water. . Don't miss it. Love my carry-it-with-you, take-it-home-and-wash-it then use-it-again bottle. Makes me look sporty :-) Like I might break into a jog at any moment.

Day Twenty-Five - Write Letters to Your Congressmen

OK, the queen of laziness has not yet written her second letter, but I did see a guy with a striking resemblance to John Edwards yesterday and I said "hi". Does that count? Seriously, though, I think I'll make my letter-writing a Sunday chore. Something to do when the baby is napping and Ethan is "resting" with a movie. I did, however, get a nice form letter back from Governor Kaine, urging me to contact my state representatives and ask them to introduce some legislation. Sounds like I've got Sunday's letters all lined up.

Day Twenty-Six - Making Smart Choices About Packaging

This is another one that gives me that queasy feeling. Going to the grocery store now feels like negotiating a mine field. Hopefully this will get easier, but this first week has been challenging.

Day Twenty-Seven - Turn Down the Water Heater

Hubby hasn't noticed -- yet. Which surprises me, because even I noticed it. And I don't notice anything.

Day Twenty-Eight - Plant a Tree

Remember when I talked about trying to start a community compost? Come on, it was like five or six paragraphs ago! Grab some coffee and try to stay awake, we're almost done here. Anyhow, the guy at the nursery felt really bad that they couldn't help me, so he gave me a free bag of compost! I spread some around our little Maple Tree and he looks very happy! I haven't planted anything since the post, but, again, I'm waiting till fall when it's better for the tree.

Day Twenty-Nine - Ditching the McDonald's Toys

The kids kept whining "where's my toy" and I did what any good mom would do. I lied. I told them they were all out of toys. Fortunately for me, the kids apparently didn't notice all the other children in McDonald's were playing with small Transformers and Hello Kitty Fashion Accessories. They must take after me....

The bottom line is I have GREATLY reduced the amount of junk I buy, GREATLY reduced my landfill waste, and reduced my energy consumption. I am reusing anything I can and have increased my recycling efforts. All in all, not bad for a month's worth of work. I plan on continuing this blog as long as I still have ideas to introduce to you all (yes, all 20 or so of you!).

I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who is participating in this "greening". I love to get your emails and see the all the interesting ideas that get bounced around in the comments sections! Keep them coming!!! :-)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day Twenty-Nine - You Want Fries With That?

Getting out of McDonalds Sans The Cheap, Plastic Toy

OK, all you folks without little ones begging for McNuggets can skip this one. This is for all the moms of toddlers out there who will only eat the "chicken" at the Golden Arches and insist it come in a cool box with fries and a drink. Unfortunately, that also means getting the obnoxious soon-to-break, piece-of-crap, made-in-China plastic toy that comes with it. I abhor these toys. After all, do I really need a miniature green ogre who burps incessantly? Don't I already have two kids? Isn't that enough burping?

Sorry, got distracted there for a minute. Oh yeah, they're also bad for the environment. More plastic crap that will be played with for an hour and then either break or be tossed. Of course, it doesn't help that they're also all packaged in non-recyclable plastic as well.

I've been experimenting with different phraseology in an attempt to avoid the toys. My first attempt failed terribly and went something like this:

ME: Yeah, can I get two McNugget Happy Meals with fries and chocolate milks and NO TOYS!
THEM: OK, that's two nugget meals with fries and chocolate milk and boy toys?
ME: No, not "boy toys", "no toys"
THEM: Oh, OK you want the "under three toys"
ME: No, I don't want ANY toys.
THEM: Um, ok, pull ahead.

I pulled ahead to find my happy meals waiting for me, complete with fries, chocolate milks and toys. I took the food and handed the toys back to the cashier, telling her I didn't want the toys. She looked confused at first, but recovered quickly and said she'd go get me some "under three toys" (these, BTW, are toys without small parts, for kids "under 3" years old -- they're even crappier than their regular toys). I stopped her half way there by shouting "I DON'T WANT ANY TOYS!". She looked at me like I had three heads and with a furrowed brow said "Well, what DO you want?" When she went in search of the manager to deal with the crazy customer, I took off.

But, if first you don't succeed, try try again. You see, the problem is, Americans can't imagine, cannot even FATHOM the idea of not taking something that's FREE. Ah ha! Now I know how to solve the problem. The following week, I tried this:

ME: Yeah, can I get two McNugget Happy Meals with fries and chocolate milks and instead of toys, can I substitute some cookies?
THEM: OK, that's two nugget meals with fries and chocolate milk and cookies?
ME: Yup, that's it!
THEM: OK, please pull ahead

Yippee! No frustration for me, no three-headed monster of a customer for them! Bonus? They usually pack cookies in bags of three, so I got a cookie too! WOOHOO! America ROCKS!


My sanity and two crappy-ass plastic toys imported all the way from China and their non-biodegradable, used for a moment, then tossed in the trash plastic wrapper.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

Not as hard as stopping junk mail -- which I'm starting to think is an impossible dream -- but not as easy as say, performing and appendectomy on yourself with a melon baller and some duct tape.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Day Twenty-Eight - O Tannenbaum!

Plant a Tree

Ooooh, this is a fun one! I love planting stuff and now I have a great excuse to blow my paltry paycheck at the local nursery :-)

For any of you who failed science class (or passed with a solid C-, like I did), you should know that trees do amazing stuff. Here's the basics, all dumbed-down for us, courtesy of Borealforest.org

The quality of our environment - the air, soil and water - depends on the roles trees play. Trees help create rain as they expel moisture into the atmosphere: their roots draw it from the soil and their leaves return it to the air. Trees clean the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide through the leaves and then giving off oxygen we need to breathe. If trees didn't breathe, neither could we. Roots help hold soil in place to prevent erosion which not only saves soil, but also keeps our waterways cleaner. You may have observed that water is usually cleaner when there is an abundance of trees. Trees provide shade in the summer to help cool our homes. In the winter, they block wind to help warm our homes.

Simply put, they breathe in our nasty carbon dioxide and exhale the oxygen we need to survive. Very good stuff. According to the USDA Forest Service, a single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs. per year. If every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion pounds annually. This is almost 5% of the amount that human activity pumps into the atmosphere each year.

The average American generates 20 tons of carbon dioxide every year. To offset this CO2, each and every American would need to be growing 833 trees. Fortunately for us, there are many protected forests in the US that help out. However, they're occasionally wiped out by wildfires, floods and politicians. So please help them out by planting one of your own.

Of course, if you live in an apartment or don't have the space for a tree, you can still have one planted. Buy a tree for a friend or relative for their next birthday and help them plant it in their yard. If you don't know people with space for trees, there are a lot of great organizations that will plant a tree in a forest for you. Some of my favorites are The National Arbor Day Foundation, American Forests, and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. Check them out, they're pretty cool!


We planted a nice Japanese Maple out front. Picked it up at the local nursery this spring and planted it when we planted all our other stuff. Of course, we didn't know that FALL is actually the best time to plant a tree, but, hey, it's still alive.... and growing... and breathing. I counted the trees on our property today and we have 17 trees - including our little maple. Those trees are doing a great job removing 816 pounds of CO2 each year, but I think I want to do better. I'll be purchasing another tree this fall to plant out back.

Difficulty Level - 3 out of 5

You need the physical strength to wield a shovel (or a husband, friend or neighbor). Other than that, it's simple. If you need help deciding what kind of tree, talk to your local nursery folks. They can help you pick out a tree that will do well in your soil and the conditions of the location. They'll also tell you how deep to plant it, how much to water it, etc.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day Twenty-Seven - We're in Hot Water

Turn Down (or Off) The Water Heater

Today's tip comes from my Dad, a self-proclaimed cheapskate who was "green" long before it was fashionable and probably taught me more about the environment than anything I could ever learn online.

Our water heater is generally set on "scald" due to the fact that my husband absolutely abhors anything less than third-degree generating hot showers. Today I snuck it down to second-degree level, let's see if he notices.

Most water heaters heat the water anywhere between 110 - 140 degrees. The optimal temperature for disinfecting and cleaning is 120 degrees. The extra heat does nothing for you except increase your risk of scald and corrode your pipes more quickly. So if you're cranked up to high, pull it back a bit. For each 10 degree Fahrenheit reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs each month.

My water heater doesn't have actual temperatures listed on the knob, just HOT, WARM and (I never even noticed this one before -- VACATION). You can bet I'll be using that setting the next time we leave for a long weekend! I moved my from HOT to somewhere between HOT and WARM and I'm hoping that's about a 15-20 degree difference.

Anyhow, my Dad's Big Tip is this: When he lived alone, he used to keep his electric water heater turned off the majority of the time. When he woke up in the morning, he would turn his water heater on and let it warm up (took him about 20 minutes, but I don't know how big his tank was). Once it was hot, he would go ahead and shave, shower, wash dishes, do whatever he needed hot water for and then shut it back off. He wouldn't use hot water again the rest of the day. That's a HUGE savings of about 95% in hot water energy costs!

While I personally wouldn't want to trot out to the garage each day to turn my hot water heater on and off, it would be easy enough to put it on a timer. I would probably set it to turn on about an hour before we woke up and then have it turn off a couple hours before bedtime, when I know I wouldn't need it. That's not exactly a 95% savings, but assuming it's off for eight hours, that would be a 30% reduction in energy costs.

Of course, the whole timer idea is blown for me since 1. my hot water heater is gas-powered and 2. the hot water heater is also the heat source for our house. But if your hot water heater is electric, give the timer thing a try and let me know how it works for you. Dad claims his electric bills were never over $20 a month.


For me, it should result in roughly a 4% reduction in monthly energy savings. That would be about 24kWh per month. At my new cost of roughly $0.10 per kWh, that also nets me $2.40 a month in another kind of "green". Keep it coming, baby!

Difficulty Level - 1 out of 5

Pretty easy to adjust the thermostat. Would be more difficult if I put it on a timer, but even that would only be a 2 for me, since my hot water heater is easy to access. Your difficulty level might be higher if your hw heater is in a hard-to-reach or spider-infested spot.

Thanks for the tip, Dad! If anyone else has any green ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Day Twenty-Six - Nice Package

Make Smart Choices About Packaging

Have you noticed how much packaging goes into our products these days? Everything seems hermedically sealed, tied to a cardboard backdrop with plastic-coated wire, wrapped in hard plastic, or placed in a box with a plastic window. If you order online, it is then put into a box with styrofoam packing peanuts or those damn blow-up plastic arm-floaty-looking things before it's shipped. Grrr. Where does all this go? Do you recycle every bit of it? Odds are you can't and even if you could, most people don't.

Well it's time for me to start thinking about all that packaging and make smart consumer decisions. I'm going to go back to my REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE mantra and add another item to the list: DOWNCYCLE - Recycle inorganic materials in single-use applications (like recycled paper into tissue paper; recycled plastic shampoo bottles into park benches).

So the next time I go shopping I'm going to examine the products I buy and try to, in this order, look for products with packaging that I can: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle or Downcycle. Need examples? Me too.

  • REDUCE - I'm thinking produce here. Do I really need to put my apples into a plastic bag just for the ride home where I'll take them out and put them in the fruit bowl? NO! Let those babies free range in the grocery cart! If you're afraid all your yummy produce will get squashed, then grab one of those carry-baskets they have (the ones you use when you're only getting a couple items) and put all your produce in there. Of course, this may be a bad example, if you're already following my previous post about buying local food :-)
  • REUSE - Who doesn't love the bulk bins at the grocery store!?!?!?! Chocolate covered pretzels, are you kidding me?!?!? Trail mix? Peanuts? Yummy! All great stuff! Hard to let it free range though, cuz most of it tends to fall through the holes in your cart. No one says you can't bring your own containers or paper bags, though. Even if you have to use their plastic bags, just so long as you keep reusing the same ones! In fact, you can use a Sharpie Marker to label each one with the name and "code" of the store to make your shopping trip easier and quicker! Another great example of Reuse is milk containers. I recently switched to buying milk in the old glass containers because they are returned, sanitized and reused again, without even having to be melt down or anything.
  • RECYCLE - Think ketchup here. or peanut butter. or jelly. These items are generally available in plastic or glass containers. The plastic ones are usually types 1 or 2, so, yes, they can most likely go in your recycle bin. HOWEVER, they are more likely going to be DOWNCYCLED into carpet, whereas the glass container can be turned into a brand new glass container with little or no virgin material added. That's much more effective and efficient and it is true recycling. So, when given an option like this, go for glass.
  • DOWNCYCLE - OK, I'll admit, I'm no EnviroWoman, I'm your average American slob. I just can't seem to avoid plastic. I need shampoo. I need toothpaste. I need facewash and razors and applejuice and cremora and deodarant and, well, you get the idea. Here's where shopping gets tricky. First - know what your local recycling place will take. Then make your purchases based on that information. For example, my local recycling plant will take #1 & #2, but nothing else. So, if I have the choice between two products, one packaged in #2 plastic and one packaged in #5 plastic, I'm going to choose the #2.

Of course, if there's something that you LOVE that doesn't fit into any of these categories, contact the manufacuturer! They all have a number on the side of their packages for questions and comments -- use it! Tell the manufacturer you would like to keep purchasing their product, but their lack of environmentally-friendly packaging is really turning you off. I think I remember from marketing class that every comment/letter recieved by a company usually represents some crazy number of people (like 1,000) so they really do pay attention to what you say.


This is another one that is hard to quantify. I guess I'll need to keep an eye on the amount of trash I generate to see if it is reduced even further. I'm sure it will be. My goal is to eventually be down to only one 13 gallon trash bag per week and I know paying attention to packaging will help.

Difficulty Level - 3 out of 5

Not as hard as stopping junk mail (I'm thinking of reassigning that one a difficulty level 6 out of 5) but not easy either, especially when you have two little ones fighting in the cart while you're looking at the bottom of containers for plastic codes. If you can shop alone and plan on spending extra time at the store that would help a lot. Also, once I switch to a different product, I won't have to research that item again. So this won't have an ongoing difficulty level of 3 -- it'll drop to a 1 or 2 once all my household stuff is set.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Day Twenty-Five - Let's Talk Politics

Write Letters to Your Representatives About Important Environmental Issues

This one requires a bit of research and a little passion to make it happen. But, supposedly, if I am to believe SchoolHouse Rock, this is how laws are enacted. You get a good idea and write to your senator,congressman, governor, county supervisor, et al. They take that idea and introduce it as legislation. If it's a good idea, it becomes a law. (I don't remember little "Bill sittin' on Capitol Hill" with a bunch of highly paid lobbyists, though, so I could be wayyyyy off.)

My first obstacle on this items was: (please don't laugh) I had no friggin clue who my representatives were. Yes folks, I really am your average American! Don't get me wrong, I know my governor, my congressman and a senator, but that's about it. Fortunately for me, the world wide web o' wonder saved my ass again. If you're as ignorant as I am, check out http://www.vote-smart.org/. It lets you type in your zip code (if you don't know your 9 digit zip, grab one of those nasty pieces of junk mail you get -- they sure know your zip!) and get a list of your current officials from congressional, gubernatorial and state-wide positions. It provides you with links to their information, email and stats on how they have voted on major issues (scroll down that page to find the Environmental Heading). Another great site (which also gives you your local reps) is http://www.congress.org/. Again, just type in your address & zip and it will supply you with the names and emails of all your reps, right down to your local district supervisors.

If you see something you like (or don't like like) click on their email link and send them a note telling them how you feel. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just the facts. Be sure to let them know that you vote (you do vote, right?!?!), that you live within their district, that you know their record and finally that you agree / don't agree with their voting record. If there is any current legislation pending, let them know how you would want them to vote on it. As the mayor in A Nightmare Before Christmas says "I'm only an elected official, I can't make decisions on my own!!!"

I was feeling all bottle-bill-ish after my last post, so I whipped off this email to my governor:

Dear Governor Kaine,

I am writing to you as a registered voter from Chesterfield
County. I understand that you have stated you would support a Bottle Bill if it
were brought before you. I moved here from NY two years ago where we did
have a bottle law and I can definitely see the difference it makes in roadside
litter. I would love to see a bottle deposit on sodas AND non-carbonated drinks
as well. I think it would only enhance the already natural beauty of the
Commonwealth. Thank you for your time and attention in this


Erin Coe

Not exactly Shakespeare, but it lets him know that at least one voter out there wants a bottle bill too, and that's the point of writing. If he, or any other elected official, wants to keep his "job" he needs to keep his voters happy. It's pretty simple. So make it a goal to write one letter a week about something to one of your reps. It only takes a couple minutes to do and you'll be participating in democracy while saving the planet. Ahhhh, feels good, doesn't it?


Unknown. Perhaps immeasurable.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Easy peasy, once you know who your reps are. If you really want to make it even easier, simply write a generic email and save it in a word doc so you can just copy and paste it to all your reps. Pick a new topic each week and let 'er rip. SOMEBODY must read them, right?

Note to Readers: Taking my lazy butt on vacation again! Getting back to nature by going camping this weekend with the family and eating s'mores. Will return on Monday!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Day Twenty-Four - I Gotta Problem With The Bottle

No More Bottled Water

Let's forget the fact that bottled water is most likely not any safer or cleaner than your tap water. Let's forget the fact that bottled water companies are depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate. Let's forget the fact that those bottles of water are generally shipped and trucked all over God's green earth to arrive at your doorstep. Let's forget all of that and just concentrate on the waste produced by those plastic bottles.

Did you know that the average American consumes over nineteen gallons of bottled water per year? That also equates to over 28 BILLION single-serve bottles of water per year. Don't ask me how, but 80% of the bottles end up as litter, go into a landfill or are incinerated each year. A scant 20% are recycled - and even those lucky few don't get to become new bottles. They are most likely turned into carpet or fleece or something else that will not be recycled. In effect, they aren't so much "recycled" as they are "downcycled".

I don't personally drink much bottled water - maybe 2 liters a month - I'll pick up an occasional liter at a gas station if I'm driving about and thirsty. But that's about it. However, I used to drink a lot of bottled water when I had a well. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would love to drink their tap water but aren't sure how safe it is, or aren't happy with the taste. Here's some tips to help you avoid those single serve bottles and still get the clean, good tasting water you want:

  1. Get Tested - If you're truly concerned about the safety of your water, spend the $15 or so and get it tested. Start by contacting your state certification officer to get the name of a lab that can perform the test for you.

  2. Get a Filter - If you discover your water has contaminants, or even if it's safe but unsavory, you might be able to fix the problem by installing a water treatment product of some sort. Check out this page at the NSF which helps you select a home treatment water device.

  3. Go for The Gold - If you absolutely can't stand your tap water, go all the way and get a water cooler for use. You'll waste less water because you'll only dispense out what you need. Also, most of these water delivery companies actually sanitize and refill the water coolers (if you're unsure, you should ask!)


If the average American could just cut their consumption of single-serve water bottles in half, we would save 11 BILLION plastic bottles from ending up in the landfills - or worse.

Difficulty - 1 out of 5

Easy for me, but understandably more difficult for others. Let me know how you do.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day Twenty-Three - The Quicker Picker Upper

Stop Using Paper Towels

Note: Sorry for the apparent lack of posting. Blogspot's highly trained spam-prevention robots locked my apparently spam-ridden blog for two days while they personally reviewed it for content. If I were paranoid (and I am, btw) I'd think "the man" was trying to bring me down. ;-) Oh well, we're now "cleared" and back to posting! Thanks for checking back!

Can you tell that I am slowly but surely running out of disposable items here and are simply not replacing them? Yeah, sometimes it actually is easy going green. Last week I ran out of paper napkins and we've been using the cloth ones since then. My husband complained a little at first, but he seems to be over it already. Today I pulled the last paper towel off the dowel and I won't be buying any more.

I already have a drawer chock full of towels, washcloths and sponges in my kitchen -- why do I even need paper towels? I have no idea --- probably just because everyone else does. I'm a follower, you know. But not today, today I boldly go where no suburbanite has gone before -- paper towel-less.

I've found the best substitute for the paper towels to not be towels at all, but baby washcloths. They're smaller than regular waschloths and much thinner too, but they're still quite absorbant. This means they get the job done, without creating a whole extra load of laundry at the end of the day. If you don't already have a bunch of these, you can probably find them at garage sales or thrift stores. But if you have to buy new, try Walmart or BabiesRUs. They sell them in packs of 10 or 25 and that should be plenty.


I used to buy a roll of Bounty about every 2 weeks. Now I won't be buying any. Zilch. Nada. That's a savings of 26 paper towel rolls per year (Roughly $50 in cold hard cash plus all the trees I'm saving!)

Difficulty Level - 1 out of 5

Another super-duper easy one. Simply do nothing. The rest will work itself out. I promise you will not sit around wallowing in a puddle of your own, umm, puddles. You'll find something to wipe the mess up with. Hey... maybe that's another use for lint!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Day Twenty-Two - The Lint Trap

Finding a Second Use for Lint

Yeah, that's right. I'm following up yesterday's BIG IMPACT tip with "things you can do with lint". What can I say, sometimes you thinks big, sometimes you thinks small. The important thing is to keep on thinkin'.

I have a trash can in my laundry area that accumulates a surprising large amount of lint. The only reason I notice it is because lint is usually the only item in that trash can. You just don't generate a lot of trash in the laundry room. Anyhow, it's been bugging me because if I could just find a use for that lint, I wouldn't even need a trash can in there. Well I hopped on the ol' information highway today and lo and behold, there are quite a few uses for it! Do a google search and you'll be amazed. And possibly a little wierded out.

Anyhow, the use I've decided to try first is "Lint Makes Good Kindling". Apparently, what you're supposed to do is take an empty toilet paper tube and keep stuffing it with your dryer lint. I guess you can pack quite a bit of lint in there. Once it's 80% full or so, fold over both ends of the tube to keep it in there. **The only caveat being that you want to make sure you're not saving lint that comes off plastick-y items (like waterproof mattress pads) as they might give off nasty fumes.

The next time you need to build a fire, use it, instead of small twigs or paper, for kindling. Supposedly it lights right up, even when it's wet, and will burn long enough to get the fire going. We go camping a lot so I thought this would be a fun one to try. They'll definitely be easy to store and take with us.

There were a lot of other ideas out there for your lint. Put it outside for birds to use in nest building, Use it to stuff dolls, toys, pillows, etc. Use it as a packing material for shipping breakable stuff. Use it to make paper mache or clay. Compost it. Stuff it in an old sock to make a draft stopper (or dog toy). The list literally goes on and on. What can you do with your lint?


I average one load of laundry per day. That creates one handful of lint (no idea how to better quantify that). That means I produce 365 handfuls of lint per year. Even compacted, that's still gotta fill a trash bag. So, big pat on the back for saving one more bag of trash. Woo hoo! Every bag counts!

Difficulty Level 1 out of 5

This one's been fun. I look forward to letting you know how it works too. Do you have any kooky uses (or re-uses) of odd household items? If so, post them here so we can all see!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Day Twenty-One - A Long-Winded Post

Changing My Energy Supplier

This is one of those changes that is super-easy to do and can have a really big impact. I like these ones and I hope you do too. To learn more about where our energy comes from and the different types of energy available, check out this article by Environmental Defense. If you're too lazy to read the whole thing, I'll hit some hightlights below for you ;-)

Conventional electricity sources include coal, nuclear, oil, natural gas, and large hydropower facilities. These sources supply about 99% of the electricity used in the United States today. Many of these sources of energy would not be economically competitive if we were to pay their full costs, including damage to the environment and human health, security risks, and long- term storage costs. These costs are borne by society, but are not reflected in our energy bills. They are paid for in other ways: higher health insurance premiums and defense expenditures, and long-term depletion of resources. Incorporating these external costs into the price of energy to give consumers accurate information on the true costs of energy is one of the most important challenges in creating a sustainable energy future.

My personal supplier of electricity is Dominion Power. I did some research and found that their energy source is mainly coal and nuclear. In fact, Dominion is spreading across the US, and is planning three new coal-fired power plants, one in Virginia, one in Ohio, and a mega-plant in an undisclosed location. And here I am supporting them just by turning on my lights and air conditioning. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Or is there?

Did you know that you due to energy de-regulation you can pick where your energy comes from? Yes, it's true! The US Department of Energy has a very user-friendly website that lest you click on your state to find companies that offer "green power" in your state. The results will include utility green pricing programs, retail green power products offered in competitive electricity markets, and renewable energy certificate (REC) products.

When I clicked through I was shown that PEPCO Energy Services offers two different types of green power - landfill gas or new wind. I've always been a big fan of windmills (call me the Anti-Don Quixote) so clickety-click-click and now my energy comes from a beautiful windfarm on the Chesapeake. Neat, huh? No more coal-burning and nuking for me!


Ahh, my favorite, geek part of the blog. Considering my energy use over the past twelve months was, on average, 1,002 kWh per month.

The electricity generated per ton of coal is 0.4 x 6,150 kWh or 2,460 kWh/ton. (Yes, I love "How Stuff Works"!) To find out how many tons of coal were burned for our light bulb we divide 1,00 kWh by 2,460 kWh/ton. That equals 0.4073 tons. Multiplying by 2,000 pounds per ton we get 814 pounds of coal. That is a pretty big pile of coal, but let's look at what else was produced to provide that electricity.

Sulfur Dioxide - Main cause of acid rain - 5 pounds
Nitrogen Oxides - Causes smog and acid rain - 5.1 pounds
Carbon Dioxide - Greenhouse gas suspected of causing global warming - 1852 pounds

Difficulty Level - 1 out of 5

Again, the research took more time than the signing up, at least the PEPCO form I used was quick. I won't see any change in my delivery system or billing, just a small change in price ($0.10 kWh vs. $0.69 kWh) about $31 per month. I'm assuming, though that my new habits of turning things off will compensate for this increase. Even if it doesn't, that's a really small price to pay for clean air.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Day Twenty - Talk the Talk

Talk to Your Friends & Neighbors About Recycling

I get so many notes and emails from all you guys out there and I appreciate every single one. It reminds me that there are other people out there who are trying to make a difference in their own ways and gives me more great ideas for improvements! It's this sharing of ideas that helps us all learn about how we can do our best to leave a clean, habitable planet for our children's children.

So, hopefully my great friend, Leah, won't mind when I use her story as a great example of how talking with your friends and neighbors can make a BIG difference! This is an email I recieved from her after my post about recycling:

I was shocked that Alabama did not recycle when I came here! I was so used to doing it and later saw a stack of newspapers in my neighbor’s garage. I asked them if they were recycling and they were, but they had to drive their recycled papers to the plant in my town. Once I found out that there was one and that they offer recycling as an option, I was all over it! I taught my step kids how to do it and we began significantly cutting down on our garbage. We save money, because we are only allowed on full trash can per week, but we don’t even have that much.
Then I saw somebody with a blue bin and thought, “I remember those!" And was
very excited to find out that if you ask, the recycling plant would give you one free of cost! AND... I later talked to the plant and found out that if I could get at least ten neighbors to recycle, then they would come by our homes once a week to do a pick up. I went door to door and gave my neighbors the pamphlet and Sign Up sheet and found out that most all of my neighbors were interested. Those that were not interested do not have garages to keep the bins in covered. The homeowners association also now provides each new homeowner with the written information and the option to Sign up for a bin. I feel like I have helped a little bit in the way of recycling.

One idea that helps with recycling is saving your soda cans in a separate bag. At home and at work. Alabama does not offer a deposit or refund like NY. I used to take all my cans and bring them to my church who gets a small amount of money for them. Most recently I have just been taking them to my neighborhood pool. They have just started using the money made by the cans to save for new outdoor furniture for the pool area, which we are in need of. I have gotten my co-workers to recycle all their soda cans for this purpose, whereas before they just threw them in the trash. I set up a box in our office and I take the cans ever week or two, throw them in my trunk and then drop them off at the pool a couple of times a month. Everybody wins becuase the homeowners association is making funds for the pool and all of my co-workers are now recycling all of our cans instead of just throwing them away. I assume most people who live in a development have a home owner’s
association that may be interested in making extra money and this is just a thought of how to go about it. The secretary of the home owners association is taking the responsibility of turning the cans in for a little bit of money, but her whole motto is “you got to start somewhere!” which is good attitude.

A great attitude indeed! Kudos to Leah for taking the initiative, talking to her neighbors and GETTING THINGS DONE! You're the rock star of the day!


Sounds like at a minimum, Leah got ten neighbors to start recycling! Assuming they all cut their trash consumption in half (very conservative), she has probably saved 390 gallons of trash per week! That's 20,280 gallons of trash a year! Just by talking to her neighbors and discovering they wanted to recycle too. That doesn't even count her efforts at recycling the soda cans. You go, girl!

Difficulty Level: 3 out 5

I haven't done it, so I'm not sure, but I would guess it depends more on your personality and how close you are with your neighbors. But if you live in an area that doesn't currently provide curbside recycling, call your municipality's waste management division and find out how many neighbors you would need to sign up to get it. Then go meet your neighbors and get them on board. It'll give you a good excuse to meet them :-)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day Nineteen - The Gifted Child

Rethinking the Gifts I Give

Note to Readers: OK, sorry yesterday's post was such a downer. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with all the plastic and trash issues. I know this blog is supposed to be little daily tips, but sometimes reviewing the facts helps keep me motivated. Afterall , that's what prompted me to start this in the first place. I'm sure I'll post more on plastics, but today we'll get back to the tips. Thanks for letting me vent! Now back to our regularly scheduled program....

My son is four year olds and has recently started attending birthday parties for his friends. Before I "went green" I would usually head over to Target to pick up a Transformer, Child Golf Set, Webshooter or some other overpriced plastic toy, usually manufactured in China and shipped to the US. I then take it home and wrap it up in expensive, character-covered, one-time use paper and slap a plastic bow on top. Well all that is about to change.

Welcome to the era of "The Experience Gift" <ooooooohhhhhh>. That's right. No more crap that will be played with for a month and then lost, broken or not considered fun enough to play with anymore. From now on, these kids are getting an experience.

So for our upcoming party for Nicholas, I sat down and gave it some thought. Hmmmm, what would a 4 year old boy, totally into Spiderman, lasers and video games like? Tickets to the zoo? Nope. Time at the Batting Cages? Yes, but if he got hurt, I'd feel bad. Maybe an evening of pizza & tokens at Chuck E. Cheese? Absolutely! But I like his mom too much to do that to her. Then it hit me: Movies!

Nicholas had recently gone to the movies to see Spiderman 3 and his mom told me how he loved it and sat through the whole thing. I checked, and there are a couple little kid movies coming out in August that he might like. Also, our local theatre offers $1.00 kid movies during weekday mornings with $1.00 popcorns and sodas too. So I picked up $20 worth of "movie bucks" and grabbed a Movie Schedule there. Now for the presentation....

There's nothing a kid hates more than just getting a card with some paper in it for a gift. The concept of a "gift certificate" is kind of lost on them. So I went to Blockbuster and grabbed one of those big tubs of ready-to-nuke popcorn that look like movie theatre tubs (although if I was thinking, I would have asked for one at the theatre, bet if I explained what I was doing, they would have given it to me). Then, while I was grocery shopping, I found the big boxes of candy that you usually get at the theatre for -- get this -- $1.00 each! I then arranged the candy, tickets, schedule and birthday card in the bucket and voila! a cute little gift! All for $25, which is what I would have spent on a Spiderman toy, wrapping paper and card at Target.

The gift went over quite well and Nicholas even shared some of his candy with the other kids at the party. Hopefully he, his mom and his older brother will all enjoy the experience I gave him. I know I enjoyed putting it together -- much more so than I would have enjoyed wrapping up some plastic toy. So the next time you're gift-giving, see if you can give that someone special a "to-do" present, rather than a traditional gift.


The paper involved in all the movie bucks, schedule, and card are all recyclable. As are the cardboard boxes the candy all came in. The only thing I'm not sure about is the popcorn tub (although at our house, a cool tub like that is quickly converted into a magician's hat or container for Ethan's "collections"). The only bad thing in there was the plastic covering over the popcorn. Again, if I had it to do all over, I would have gotten just a regular popcorn tub at the movie theatre, which would have meant NO PLASTIC AT ALL.

Compare this nearly 100% recycable present with the average kid birthday gift: non-recyclable plastic, made in China and then packaged in more non-recyclable plastic (to be immediately tossed), shipped halfway across the world and wrapped in paper which, most likely, will not get recycled. That's a pretty good savings, my friend.

Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

It took a little more thought, but it was also lots of fun. If you need help with ideas, just do a google search for "gift experiences" to get the ideas flowing. For kids you can try the zoo, movies, local bounce places or playrooms, Blockbuster rentals, go-karts, mini-golf, ice skating, local events are safe ideas. For grown ups, maybe cooking lessons, restaurants, movies, skydiving, local attraction tickets (botanical gardens, historic stuff), spa time, etc. If you're buying for the whole family at Christmas, why not take all the money you'd blow on "stuff" and spend it on a cruise or visit to Disney or something? Whatever you do, just try to think outside the box (or plastic packaging). You'll have fun coming up with ideas and they'll have fun with the experience!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Day Eighteen - The Great Plastic Controversy - Part I

Educating Myself About Plastics

It continues to amaze me how much I am learning about green living. One of the most fascinating areas is plastic. I never thought much about plastic before -- nothing bad, that is. In fact, I loved Ziplock Bags, Dollar Store Toys and Saran Wrap. However, the more I read, the more concerned I become about its devastating effect on our planet.

Let's just start with the fact that plastic is forever. What I used to consider the freedom of disposability, I now view as a long term commitment. Because, you know what? That $15 "Webslinger" I got at Walmart will outlive me, my kids and my grandchilren. It will not biodegrade, it cannot be recycled, and it can't be burned. The best I can hope for is that it does find it's way to a secure landfill where its petroleum-based plastic toxins will not eventually leak out.

According to Ocean Champions, every bit of plastic ever made still exists. That is a scary thought, when you think about it. Plastic is not biodegradable but it is photodegradable. That is, sunlight breaks plastic down to very tiny pieces, leaving its molecular structure intact. Those pieces of plastic, big or small, eventually find their way to the ocean and begin a journey through every conceivable corner of our ocean’s ecosystems.

Pollution from plastic debris is now wreaking havoc on our oceans. Because plastic pieces break down to so many sizes and exist in such a variety of colors, many marine animals mistake them for food and die with bellies full of bottle caps, lighters and other inedible scraps. If you're up for it, you can see video of an albatross necropsy here. Beware though, it is not for the faint of heart. Over 300 pieces of plastic were found in the poor animal.

Plastics in the ocean also leach deadly chemicals - into the water and the bodies of marine animals. The chemicals that give plastic its flexible, durable properties can affect creatures coming into contact with them in horrible ways.

According to the Monterey County Weekly, virtually every kind of petroleum-based plastic leaches chemicals into the substances it encounters. Some of the chemicals added to make plastic products more flexible, durable and flame-retardant are suspected endocrine disrupters and hormone mimickers that can affect the development of creatures exposed to them. For example, recent research has linked bisphenol-A exposure with early breast development and menstruation in girls, feminine characteristics in boys, and decreased fertility in both sexes.

Manufacturers make 60 billion tons of plastic every year, the majority of it for products that will be used once and thrown away.

One obvious solution is more recycling, but that’s tricky. Americans currently recycle less than 5% of their plastic waste, largely because only products coded #1 and #2— milk jugs, soda and water bottles— melt at low temperatures. However, even these can’t be re-used as food containers because chemicals and residues stay in the plastic and the quality degrades, so they’re destined to become less intimate products like furniture, carpet and fleece clothing. Higher codes, including polypropylene stuff like bottle caps, need high temperatures to melt. The toxic emissions they release make them virtually unrecyclable.

I know I'm throwing a lot of information out there, without telling you what I'm going to do about it. Well, the first step is education. Now I know how damaging plastics are to our environment, and I can make better informed decisions.

You can bet I won't be buying anymore Ziplock baggies or Saran Wrap. I'm going to purchase either used toys (recycling them :-) or toys made from natural, biodegradable materials. When given the choice between a plastic soda bottle or aluminum can, I'll choose the 100% recyclable can and I'll buy it in a cardboard-enclosed box, rather than a six-pack held together by plastic. And I will continue my work picking up litter left by jerks and the ignorant.


If I save just one bird or whale or fish, I'll be happy.

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

Disposability has become the American lifestyle. This is going to be a difficult task, to give up ALL disposable plastic products and refrain from purchasing non-recyclable plastics. But I've already changed my DISPOSABLE ATTITUDE and that's half the battle.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Day Seventeen - One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

Using Freecycle to Keep Stuff Out of Landfills

I hope you all know about Freecycle! If not, you're about to learn. Freecycle is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer and membership is totally free. The Freecycle Network was started in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds and now boasts over 4,000 communities with 3,540,995 members.

Here's how it works. Say you've got an old chair or mirror or 1,000 feet of aluminum foil that you're about to throw away. Instead, you log on to your local freecycle group and post an OFFER. Next thing you know, you've got a dozen emails from people who would LOVE to take you chair, mirror or foil. You can also post WANTED items, if there's something you're looking to pick up.

Anyhow, last year I threw roughly 100 pounds of fabric scraps in the trash (I sew part time). Thanks to Freecycle, I now have three "regulars" who take these scraps. One uses the larger scraps to sew quilts for charity, another uses them to teach a homeschool class on quilting and the third is just starting her own business making handmade hairbows for little girls. I'm happy to know that instead of contributing to landfills, I'm helping people.

It's amazing too, what types of things get posted and that there always seems to be someone who's willing to take what you've got. From crafters to scrap metal recyclers, there's always a taker for what you've got to give. So check them out and join today.

Savings: At least 100 pounds of fabric, a worn out playset, lots of baby toys, the list goes on and on. I'd say I've freereycled about 500 pounds of "stuff" this year. Not all of it necessarily would have been destined for the landfill, but I'd say, conservatively 200 pounds would have been. That's a pretty nice savings. If only 10 other people did that, it would save A TON (literally) of trash each year.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Once you find your local Freecycle group, you just post, arrange for pickup and be done with it. You can also find an occassional nugget for yourself - totally guilt free because it's FREE and it's RECYCLING! Let me know how it works out for you :-)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day Sixteen - Ms. Manners Would Approve

Swapping paper napkins for real ones

I ran out of paper napkins today and I'm not going to buy anymore. I have a perfectly good set of 12 linen napkins that only get used on Thanksgiving and they have just been promoted to "Daily Use" status. I'm sure they'll enjoy being brought out of the closet, so to speak.

Sure, it seems a little fancy to be using the cloth napkins on burger & chips night, but what the hey. Besides, I can make really cool looking stand-up crowns and swans out of them. Try that with paper ones!

Our family of four typically uses about 40 napkins per week. These are the standard buy em at your grocery store, jumbo pack of 500 napkins, bleached nice and white with chlorine and wrapped in a non-recyclable plastic. I buy a pack about every three months. I couldn't find any stats showing just how many trees were required to make them, or what the carbon emissions calculation was for their production and delivery, or how much space they take up in the average landfill. All I know is I am avoiding ALL OF THAT nonsense by using my real, already-have-em-so-why-not-use-em napkins.


So now my family is saving 2,080 napkins per year :-). Just think, if half of America did that, we could save over 156,520,000,000 (yes folks, that's 156 TRILLION) napkins. Now that's GOTTA have some sort of impact!

Difficulty Level 1 out of 5

I already had the napkins so this is super easy. When dinner (or lunch) is over, I inspect for nastiness, set aside the ones that can withstand some more use and toss into the washer the ones that managed to get chocolate milk spilled all over them. They don't really add any significant volume to my laundry, as I generally have a full load every day and adding 3 -5 napkins in there doesn't really make a dent.

If you don't already have cloth napkins, you can usually find them super-cheap at garage sales or thrift shops, so don't think this will end up costing much upfront either. So join me in some fine dining... even if it is just PB&J.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Day Fifteen - A Lean, Green Cleaning Machine

Switching from chemical-filled cleaners to natural cleaners

Let me start by saying my house is FAR from the cleanest place on the block. The floors are covered with sticky lollipop residue and my dining room chairs look like they're wearing fuzzy slippers from all the dog fur that is glued to their feet. The toilets are constantly in need of scrubbing (did I mention I have a four-year-old son with bad aim?) and the mold growing in our shower has given the stall an art-deco, faux leopardskin, polka-dot kind of feel. I've dusted the house seven or eight times since we moved in and have somehow not yet gotten around to mopping the floors upstairs. Nonetheless, I sport a substantial collection of chemically-engineered cleaning products that promise to keep my home shiny and fresh.

Reading the labels on these containers would require a degree not only in chemistry but linguistics as well. I'm not sure exactly what dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride is, but I'm pretty sure it isn't something that is found naturally occuring outside a laboratory. Plus, you've got to be somewhat concerned with any container that has WARNING written all over it and SAFE STORAGE AND DISPOSAL INSTRUCTIONS. Yikes.

According to worldwatch.org, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers in 2000, accounting for 206,636 calls. Of these, nearly two-thirds involved children under six, who can swallow or spill cleaners stored or left open inside the home.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside the typical home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air just outside—and in extreme cases 100 times more contaminated—largely because of household cleaners and pesticides.

And, in a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of contaminants in U.S. stream water, 69 percent of streams sampled contained persistent detergent metabolites, and 66 percent contained disinfectants.

Well, I've found a better way (and so have a lot of other people out there). I'm sure old timers will laugh when I talk about these revolutionary new cleaning products that include the likes of: white vinegar, borax, baking soda, lemon juice, soap and tea tree oil. Here are a few of the great new "recipes" I found online and am anxious to try out....


Simply pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl, and add enough liquid detergent to make a texture like frosting. Scoop the mixture onto a sponge, and wash the surface. This is the perfect recipe for cleaning the bathtub because it rinses easily and doesn’t leave grit.


1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups waterspray bottle

Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand.

1/2 tsp. washing soda
a dab of liquid soap
2 cups hot tap water

Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until the washing soda has dissolved. Apply and wipe off with a sponge or rag.

1/2 teaspoon oil, such as olive (or jojoba, a liquid wax)
1/4 cup vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Mix the ingredients in a glass jar. Dab a soft rag into the solution and wipe onto wood surfaces. Cover the glass jar and store indefinitely.


2 teaspoons tea tree oil
2 cups water

Combine in a spray bottle, shake to blend, and spray on problem areas. Do not rinse. Note that the smell of tea tree oil is very strong, but it will dissipate in a few days.

I don't know if my house will be cleaner or not, afterall, I didn't find a recipe for a solution that will rub, scrub or squegee itself off. But if YOU find one, drop me a line!


OK, here's the real embarrassing part. I'm wracking my brain trying to remember the last time I actually purchased a cleaning product. I *think* it was in October of 2006. So.... I guess, for me personally, it's not going to be a HUGE impact. But maybe for someone who keeps a cleaner home it would be. I sould say then, that I'm reducing my household chemical output by a whopping 12 ounces. Doesn't sound like much, does it? But what if just 10% of Americans (the ones who clean as infrequently as I do) did the same? Then we'd be looking at a savings of 22,585,496 POUNDS of chemicals. Care to join me now?

Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

I'm going to have to hunt around my grocery store to find out where they keep the borax and vinegar (who buys vinegar unless it's Easter anyhow?). Then I'll just replace my cleaning caddy items as they get used up. Not too hard, not too easy. I'll probably test out the recipes and when I find one I like, I'll tape it to my caddy for easy reference. The hard part will be actually cleaning the house.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Day Fourteen - Shades of Grey

No More Hot Water Wash Cycles (And no Bleach, either)

Mom always taught me to wash my colored clothes in cold water, but to wash my whites in hot water. Why? I don't know, but that's the way she did it, so that's the way I do it. I guess maybe it was to disinfect the undies (am I really that germy?) or maybe to ensure sparkly-white underthingies. Who knows? All I know is, it's time to find out what would happen if I didn't anymore.

Will I suffer the fate of ending up in an emergency room with dingy underpants? If so, should I consider switching doctors if/when that is their biggest concern there?!?! Who knows? But this daring suburbanite is willing to find out.

Normally, it takes me a week to work up a small load of whites in our house (mainly a couple pair of my undies, some bras and our washcloths) which I then wash in hot water with bleach. Instead, I'll be tossing all those bright whites in with my other garments and washing it all in cold water -- no bleach. It's like a double-bonus. Let's see what that saves....


Doing a load of hot cycle washing uses 3.966 kWh, compared to 0.264 kWh for a cold wash cycle. By nixing the weekly "hot whites" load, I can save over 3.7 kWh per week, or 192 KWh a year! That also equates to about $16 annual savings on my electric bill. WOOHOO! I love being Green!

Difficulity Level: 0 out of 5

If I could give this one a negative difficulty level rating, I would. This means the end of sorting laundry into whites / non-whites (which seems so discriminatory anyhow), it means the end of having to buy bleach, it means no more having to switch that little knob (and remembering to switch it back). It just makes life easier. And I think I'll just start phasing the whites out of my wardrobe anyhow. Afterall, I have two messy toddlers and a black dog at home, why on EARTH would I wear white?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Day Thirteen - Takin a Break

The Lazy Suburbanite Goes on Vacation

Well, I am your typical American so after twelve days of hard work here, I feel I deserve a break. A nice long one, in fact -- six days.

We're going on a little vacation to see family and friends up north and I won't be able to post while I'm gone :-( Thanks so much, though, to all of you who email me with your stories and tips. I really do appreciate them and will be posting all of them as I get to them. Please keep them coming!

And just an FYI, in the short time I started this little adventure, I have magically cut my trash output by nearly 50%! Isn't that crazy? It's mostly due to educating myself about what we can /cannot recycle in my county and being diligent about sorting my stuff.

Happy Independence Day Everyone!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Day Twelve - Junkin' the Mail

Putting an End to Junk Mail

OK, this one is NOT for the faint of heart. Although I've been wanting to do this for a long time, it is so friggin' difficult that I've kept putting it off. I got a call from my sister today wanting to know how, so for Shannon, here we go...

Each year, junk mail causes the destruction of about 80 million trees, wastes 28 billion gallons of water, and costs about $450,000,000 of your money to cart its promos, pleas and promises to and from incinerators, garbage dumps and recycling centers. That equates to about 34 pounds of junk mail for every man, woman and child in the U.S. It's like stuffing a whole tree into our mail boxes every year. Each of us will spend an average of eight months of our lives dealing with junk mail.

I have been saving up my junk mail for the past week, just to see how much I get and the grand total is: Two Pounds. Two pounds of ads, flyers, credit card offers, and other crap that I don't even care enough about to open. That means I our household receives 100 pounds of junk mail each year. Yikes, I have offspring whose combined total doesn't equal that. Well use any or all of the options below and you'll definitely see a reduction in the amount of Junk in your Box.

Go to Junk Mail's Birthplace

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the largest list broker in the US, sells your name and address to those wanting to target you for their product. The most effective way for you to shrink the amount of junk mail is to contact the DMA and tell them you want to get off their list. On a postcard or letter, put the date, your name and address, and sign it. (Include all variations of your name.) Tell them to remove your name from their mailing lists. Repeat the process for the smaller list brokers too. Here's all the information on them:

Direct Marketing Association
Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

R.L. Polk & Company
Name Deletions, List Compilation
Monroe Blvd
Taylor, MI 48180

Val-Pak Coupons
Label Order Department
8605 Largo Lakes Drive
Largo, FL

Abacus, a Division of DoubleClick, Inc.
11101 West 120th Ave.
Broomfield, CO 80021

Database America
Compilation Department
100 Paragon Dr.
Montvale, NJ 07645-0419

ADVO, Inc.*
One Univac Lane
Windsor, CT 06095

Start saving the labels of all the variations of the names and addresses which come to your mail box. Every variation, no matter how small (or comical), is another name on a list which gets sold to literally thousands of businesses. Cut and paste actual mailing labels onto a sheet, make five copies, add your signature beside each name variation on each sheet, and send them off to each of the five addresses above. Indicate the following: "Please remove my name and address from your mailing lists and do not rent, sell or trade my name or address." To save time go to http://www.newdream.org/ where the letters have already been written - all you need to do is enter your name and address. It takes 3-6 months to see a mail reduction using this method.

Know the Magic Words

Avoid getting on even more mailing lists by taking care whenever you submit your name and address to anyone. If you're filling out a form such as a warranty, subscription, raffle, customer info card, credit card application, membership for an organization, etc. add the phrase, "please do not rent, sell, or trade my name or address" next to the other information you provide. Repeat these same magic words every time you're giving a company or organization your name and address over the phone, such as when ordering a catalog, a magazine, or making a purchase. The sales rep *should* then flag your name in their computer.

1-800 No Thanks

As soon as you receive a publication in the mail you don't want, call the 1-800 number located somewhere on the piece and ask to be removed from the mailing list (they will need information from the label on the catalog). Businesses and organizations are glad to hear from you if you're not interested in receiving their advertising -- it reduces their costs. Remember too that if you actually buy something from a mail order catalog, it increases the likelihood your name will be shared with other similar businesses, because you've just proven yourself an interested customer. So when you order, don't forget those magic words: "Please don't rent, sell, or trade my name and address."

If you cannot find a phone number, return the label portion of the mailing to their address with a note requesting removal of your name and address.

End Credit Card Solicitations

If you've ever filled out a product warranty card, purchased a new home or auto, supplied your credit information to a lending institution, or simply carried a credit card, you can be sure your name and address is being circulated among an array of credit card companies hungry for your business. Don't despair -- there is help. To eliminate credit card promotional mailings, call 1 888 567 8688 (that's 1 888 5OPT OUT). To ensure permanent removal of your name, ask for the special form available for this purpose. This is very effective.

For your personal credit cards, ask the company to place you on their "in house" list that is not sold or traded to other companies.

Return to Sender

If you've had it with companies sending you junk in the mail that you don't want, there is an option. If the mail has any of the following markings on it, the mail will be returnable to the sender, postage due:

return service requested
forwarding service requested
address service requested
change service requested

Mail sent to "Resident", "Current Resident", or "Current Occupant" can be refused if it contains one of the above endorsements, or is sent First Class. First Class Mail is returned free of charge. The only time this won't work is on mailings sent via Third Class Mail. If you write "return to sender" on these, the post office will just toss it and the marketer will not get the message.

When Push Comes to Shove

The most powerful legal tool consumers have when it comes to fighting this unwanted junk is a little known document called Form 1500. This form was originally intended to block unwanted pornographic mail, but in 1970 the Supreme Court extended its purpose. The form can now be used to stop any unwanted mail.

By filling out the form and attaching the specific piece of junk mail you want stopped, a company becomes criminally liable if it continues to send you mail or to sell your personal data to others. You can get a copy of Form 1500 by visiting your post office or by calling the U.S. Postal Service.


I'm hoping to see a 75% reduction in junk mail by year's end. That would save roughly 76 pounds of paper each year. It should also save me time sorting the mail!


Yes, folks, this is not for the faint of heart. You want a clean mailbox, you gotta work for it baby! This one is a b%$@# to do because it's very frustrating knowing that it will take so long to get removed from the lists and you'll have to call so many companies. But, I think in the end it will be worth it.

Now who know how to stop Spam?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Day Eleven - The Grass is Always Greener

Turning off the Sprinklers

Yup, I'm a suburbanite through and through. I have an irrigation in my lawn and I turn it on faithfully every spring, in hopes of having the most enviable, lush green lawn on the block. I never succeed because I have weeds and I get lazy about mowing, but I keep the sprinklers on because they do at least keep it all looking green. Well not anymore my friends.

The system I have is attached to a scheduling computer which can be programmed to turn on and off on any day(s) of the week, for as long as I want. Normallly, I have it set up to water every other day for 20 minutes each morning. According to my most recent water bill, it would appear that that watering accounts for approximately 7 CCF per month. That's nearly double my normal use in non-watering seasons.

I have turned off the automatic watering system. Instead of letting it run every other day (regardless of whether or not we get rain), I'm only going to turn it on when the lawn starts turning brown. And even then, I'll get the most bang for my buck by turning it on when the kids can play in it.

You're right, if I were TRULY environmental, I'd shut it off, regardless of how barren my yard looks. But as I stated from the get-go, I'm going to make small changes that I think ANY American would feel just fine doing. So join me in lowering the standards for lawn care in Suburbia, USA!


I figure I'll only need to use 2 CCF per month to keep the tumbleweeds at bay. That means a monthly savings of 5 CCF! Considering I activate the sprinklers in March and deactivate in September, in one year, I'd save 45 CCF! That's 4,500 Cubic Feet of Water (not to mention about $100 :-)


Easy enough to turn the control panel to "off". Now I'll just need to keep any eye on the dryness. The bonus to all this is that it should result in my having to mow less too!