Monday, August 25, 2008

Itty Bitty Green Steps

As far as greening goes, I’m a little late to the game when it comes to my friends, but admittedly, I have some pretty green friends. But since I must be ahead of some people, I thought I’d share with you our very small and manageable changes made so far.
My approach to greening up our house is the same as my approach to our diet. Years ago when the mid-twenties metabolism slow-down hit, I realized that I couldn’t continue to eat anything and everything I wanted if I wanted to look good and live past 40. So I started extremely slowly and just changed one thing at a time and picked a new thing every few months. Five years later, I’m still making extremely slow changes to slowly become more aware of what I eat and make changes that I can handle and even enjoy.
You can’t force life changes. If something is going to stick, you not only have to want to do it but it has to be slow enough to become a part of your thinking and your routine. So I haven’t read any books on greening yet because I know I would be overwhelmed with information and possibilities. I’m starting with the basic steps to give us a foundation before we move forward into more complicated matters.
I do feel lucky though because both B & I grew up with parents who loved nature and taught us to preserve the Earth far before it became vogue to do so. That was a wonderful gift that they gave us and it makes the whole process much more intuitive.

Baby Steps:
Reusable Grocery Bags – As I’ve mentioned before we got our bags from 1 Bag at a Time. I think my brother said it best when he said that he loved the bags so much, he would use them even if it weren’t green. The bags are huge, extremely sturdy, so much easier to carry (and therefore don’t hurt my back), and eliminate that horrible part of your closet with the hundreds of plastic bags. I really can’t say enough wonderful things about this switch. The key is to keep them in your car, otherwise the whole system fails. We bought 10 of them and even with the fullest cart we’ve ever had (top and bottom), I think we’ve used 8 at the most because of how much they hold. I’ve bought them for people for presents and will continue to do so because they’re just so great. If you’re going to do one thing, do this.
No Paper TowelsI told you before what happened when we went to Nasvhville and saw that neither Feather Nester nor Ouiser used paper towels. At the time it was so revolutionary, and when we finally did it (accidentally), we didn’t even notice!! It was perfect timing because we simultaneously ran out and then B’s mom gave me an amazing gift basket for my bridal shower filled with tons of hand towels. The key is the hand towels!
Since we had run out and suddenly had all of these wonderful kitchen towels, I figured we could just give it a go and see what it was like without them. This is my system – I use one hand towel a day for all things paper towel related and after dinner I use the towel to clean the counters and the stove, then I toss it in the laundry. Believe it or not, I’ve actually had a much cleaner kitchen since implementing this system because I know that that’s the final towel step.
The only flaw we found with no paper towels was when we were washing chicken or fish and needed to pat it dry (if you did that with the towel you couldn’t keep using it since it had touched raw meat), and when we cooked bacon and wanted to drain some of the grease off. To solve this I just took a t-shirt and cut it into four squares that I keep in a drawer – these are for the raw meat or grease.
At first B didn’t want to go without paper towels, but then he was the one who pointed out to me (with his engineering mind) that the waste involved was far greater that just the paper towels once you thought about the entire lengthy and wasteful manufacturing process, the gas, the packaging, the pollution, etc, etc.
Stop Washing Off the Dishes! – It occurred to me one day as I was loading the dishwasher that I was rinsing off every single dish before I put it in there. How dumb! While I realize that some dish washers require this step, ours doesn’t and it was a huge waste of water. It’s like that old joke about how you clean up your house before the maid comes over.
This step was one of those that came out of trying to be more aware. I think before you have any desire to settle in to a greener lifestyle to have to really pay attention to your current lifestyle and realize where the places are that you can cut back. I first realized this when I backpacked around Europe in the spring of 2002. Never before did I have ANY idea how wasteful we were until I saw country after country of people who were living in a more thoughtful and conservative manner without even talking about it or thinking about it. It was such an eye opener.
Sweet Nothings had a similar moment recently. She was telling me that it occurred to her one day how much water is wasted in the morning when you let the water run to warm up the shower. So the small change that she and her husband made was to capture some of the water in a bucket and use it to water the garden. I couldn’t do that because of my back, but I thought it was a good example of something that came out of looking around and seeing what you could do.
Less Zip Loc Bags – This one is still a work in progress since I haven’t purchased Pyrex containers, but I try to limit our usage and wash them whenever possible
Avoid Plastic When Possible – This is another example of a small change that doesn’t have to alter your life at all. For instance, I was recently in Bed, Bath, and Beyond looking for things to organize our closets with and I chose to buy items made from cloth or wood instead of plastic. In addition to reducing our plastic consumption, the other products look a lot nicer.
Composting – I read last week in Time Magazine that food compost makes up a full 30% of our waste. As a result of this, some cities have implemented composting pick up the same way that they pick up your recycling. It’s a great idea because it saves the land fills, the citizens are paying less for garbage pick-up since there are less bags, and the city is able to make money off of the final product. Win – Win!
This one we haven’t actually implemented yet because we’re in the process of moving, but it just kills me to throw away so much food waste into a plastic bag where it can’t break down for years, when I could just put it into a composter in our back yard! Working at the museum allowed me to get into a long conversation with a Master Composter (yes, there really is such a thing) and learn how simple and easy it is. Also, there are so many other things that can be composted and actually increase the quality, such as tissues and newspapers. And unlike the common misconception, if done properly (no meat, no oil, etc.) it does not smell and does not attract animals.
Tire Pressure – This one is a new one that we were talking about and haven’t implemented yet, but since we frequently take weekend road trips, we are going to start checking the tire pressure (something we’ve never done once!) to make sure we’re getting the most out of our golden gas.
Front Loaders – Again, this is something we haven’t done yet, but we’ll need a washer and dryer once we move, so we’re saving up for them.
More Diligent Recycling – This was another small step. I realized that I was great at recycling if I was standing in the kitchen, but not so good if I was standing elsewhere. But most bathroom products (shampoos, medicine bottles, etc.) are recyclable, so I’ve started paying attention and walking them into the kitchen.

I think that’s about all for now. Nothing too revolutionary, but nothing that has felt annoying or uncomfortable either. And like I mentioned, I think the biggest change for me has been the internal awareness of how much we’re consuming and/or how much we’re throwing away. Overall it has lead to an intense desire to have less “stuff.” Luckily it’s the perfect time to be getting rid of stuff since the big garage sale is in two weeks!
If you’ve made very small and simple steps that I haven’t mentioned, please let me know – we’ll turn this into a Monday Poll. But like I said, it’s a long, slow process, so don’t give me anything too advanced yet J Looking forward to your ideas!!


die Frau said...

- I only use the rain barrel contents to water the garden

- I'm trying to move to cloth napkins, and I try to keep one in my purse. I also keep either a fork or a set of chopsticks in the purse to avoid plastic silverware. (there's a bamboo silverware kit you can buy for this purpose, too--let me know if you're interested)

-On Ouiser's suggestion, I bought a Box of Rags from Lowe's and wash them. You can use those for chicken and fish, too, although it sounds like you've got it covered. DH still isn't on the no-paper-towel bandwagon...yet.

-I barely use the dryer anymore.

-I try to bike or walk where I can, although our rainy summer has deterred me more than it should.

You're doing awesome! It's all about baby steps.

billy said...


Can I have your permission to repost this on climate change 101, minus the links to your friends and some editing (taking out names, etc.). I think this is very representative of what we need to be doing.

well done. you are going to become the next martha!

Anonymous said...

The main thing I've done is give up my car. When it a dumb girl ran a redlight & crashed into it (we were both fine, thank goodness), I just didn't get another one. I take the bus & T to work & share the boyfriend's car. (Also, Yum has been very generous when the need for a vehicle arises). And I joined Zipcar. I'm lucky to have access to those options & it's been an adjustment, but it's working out right now.
I carry a bag in my purse so I always have my own when I stop at the store. It did get me some funny looks when I used it back home, but my mom wants one now, too.
Any ideas for convincing the boyfriend to get on board with the "no paper towels?" He is also VERY skeptical... -Jess

feather nester said...

It's so funny that it's all the men resisting the no-paper-towels. I wonder why that is... The Husband resisted, too, which is why we still have some "emergency paper towels," but I'd say we use them less than once per month. Out of sight, out of mind, I think.

Another one you could consider: "If it's yellow, let it mellow..." I do that in our house, though the Husband doesn't. I think he thinks it's kind of gross, and it is, but only if you think about it. But it really does save a lot of water! And I don't do it when we have guests. :)

Giants Fan said...

I found out that you can put your shredded documents in the compose,I can't remember the name of the book. It was on the oprah show with julie roberts and it was her friend who wrote the book about becoming green.I think that is the best way to go is baby steps.I just heard how much fuel would be saved if every family ate one meal a week from all local produce, from the book Animal,vegetable and miricle by barbara Kingsolver. I didn't realize I was being so green in regards to paper towels, my roll can last a whole year. :)Love M

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