Last year I changed my life in small but impactful ways. I got rid of my cell phone, deleted my personal facebook, started composting and grew my first tomato plant. As cliche as it is to make resolutions, there is something exciting about a new year, new prospects and new possibilities. I've enjoyed the freedom from constant communication, relished the extra time that used to be drained away on facebook and watched in fascination as my compost turned food scraps into rich dirt. 2012 was a great year. 2013 is going to be even better.
Top Five Ways to Go Green(er) in 2013
and save money while you're at it.
Somehow our culture has fixated on the "recycle" part of the old adage. We skip the first two steps and then expect to make up for it by simply doing the third. The reality is, recycling isn't enough. This list is an homage to the most important concept of the triage. Reduce. If we reduce the amount of waste we create, we reduce the amount of waste we have to find creative ways of recycling. And the more I learn about recycling, the more I tend towards reducing and reusing as better.
"What's so bad about recycling?"
Recycling makes us feel better. When we put a plastic bottle into a bin with a recycling logo, we get a sense of accomplishment, like we've done something for the earth. While "recycling is a wonderful thing to do if we’re comparing it to throwing stuff away, it has become a reward for consumption,” says Michael Maniates, a professor of environmental science at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. (NY TIMES)
Recycling is at the end of the trilogy for a reason. Yet for some reason it often ends up front and center. That sense of accomplishment we feel when we recycle is misleading. We don't think about where those items go, how they are processed and what they end up as. Major companies also use our preoccupation with recycling to market a plethora of new "green" products made from "recycled material" fueling our need to consume and contributing to our rampant "overconsumption":
"American consumers assuage any guilt they might feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week." (Forbes)
Out of site, out of mind. I was forced to Reduce this year not out of some altruistic need to deprive myself to make a point. I simply could not afford to live the way I had been living. Going green is often a by-product of having a lower income. In order to live beyond your means, you have to have the capitol to do so.
This list is always a work in progress. Some things are easy, some are hard. Some work for a while and then life changes and they are no longer possible. Its important to me to be flexible and to be constantly changing and learning. I hope you find something in this list that resonates with you, and as always leave me a comment and let me know what needs to be added. Stay tuned in 2013 for more blog posts and tutorials about items on this list.
Top Five Ways to Go Green(er) in 2013
and save money while you're at it.
#1 Start a Compost
If you are a long time follower of this blog, you know this is something I've already done. The reason its number one on this list is because it has been the most rewarding change I've made in my life. Not only do you reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill, you get a free usable substance out of it. If you're a new gardener, chances are you have to make a trip to the hardware store to buy a few bags of dirt or compost. Especially if you live in an apartment! Eliminate that start up cost by literally making your own dirt. Pros of composting:
- Reduce the amount of garbage going to the landfill
- Reduce your dependence on waste management services
- Reduce the amount of methane in the landfill
- Save money on potting soil
Stay tuned in 2013 for a DIY tutorial on making your own vermicompost from items you already have at home.
#2 Only buy what you can eat
Each year, Americans waste 33 million tons of food. We live in a strange middle area where the habits of our depression era ancestors still linger, but the convenience and throwaway culture introduced by the baby boomers collide. We'll buy something in bulk to get a better deal and to satisfy our survivalist nature, and then throw half of it away because it goes bad before we can eat it. According to the Mayo Clinic: "American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for an average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually."
The reality is that the bigger item is not always a better deal. Always make sure to check how many ounces are in the item on sale. Then compare it to a smaller item. Its not always a better price. Grocery stores and retail chains market items to us based on detailed research. And they know we are attracted to sale items, regardless of whether or not its a better deal. Don't rely on your sales flyer to decide your weekly menu, if you want to save money while also going green make sure to
- factor in longevity of certain foods and pay attention to expiration dates
- buy ingredients that can be used in multiple recipes
- consider whether or not the food is something you can put in your compost
- immediately freeze what you're not going to eat that week
Its been a few months since I began trying to only buy what I know I can eat. I hate throwing food away, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I use up something I had thought would end up in the trash. If we let our eating habits and budget dictate our food buying- rather than the sales flyer, we can not only save money, but we can eliminate the amount of food we waste.
10 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste- The Daily Green
Smart Shopping Tips to Reduce Food Waste
Read My Initial Post on Eating What I Buy
#3 Make Your Own Non Toxic Cleaning Products
I recently decided to unclog a drain using vinegar and baking soda. It worked so well I decided to find out what else I could use it for. Turns out, you can use it for just about every cleaning need you have. And it turns out, vinegar is just as effective all by itself. The baking soda isn't a necessary addition. I now clean everything with either vinegar or a combination of vinegar and baking soda: bathrooms, kitchens, tabletops etc. Its dirt cheap, effective and I can feel confident that I'm not sending out a million chemicals with names I cannot pronounce into the ecosystem. This is something I feel fine about buying in bulk. I not only keep it in the house for cleaning, but baking and cooking as well. There is no need to buy a specific cleaner for each stain and spill in your house, and theres no need to endure that chemical headache you get while cleaning. The benefits of making your own cleaning products are:
- Reduce the amount of toxic substances in your home
- Reduce the amount of packaging waste your household creates
- Reduce the chance of kids and pets getting into dangerous cleaners, or coming into contact with your food
- Save money on cleaning supplies
Non Toxic Home Cleaning Solutions
Cleaning Products by Little House in the Suburbs
#4 Make Your Own Face Wash
I've suffered from acne my whole life. I always shied away from making home remedies because I thought they were only for people with clear skin. I didn't want to try something and make the problem worse. Acne "medications" like washes and creams focus on "cleansing" your skin, or "correcting" oily or dry skin. The basic idea is that your skin is dirty and it needs help. Your skin is an amazing organ. When we over-cleanse, we're robbing our skin of its natural oils, causing it to work harder and over-produce oil to make up for what we wash off every morning. I've come to realize I am over-washing and needlessly exposing my skin to various "helpful" chemicals. I am in the process of finding my perfect recipe (right now experimenting with olive oil only and plan to add castor oil). Please read more about The Oil Cleansing Method and give it a try. It won't leave your face feeling greasy, and I've already experienced major skin improvements. I will be blogging extensively about this in the new year! Benefits of at home skin care are:
- Reduce the amount of chemicals (fragrances, alcohols etc.) that come into contact with your skin
- Reduce the amount of container waste in your home
- Possibly save money. This depends on what you are spending on facial cleansers currently. I know I have saved money!
#5 Turn it off
Are you ever overwhelmed by the constant interruptions of social media? Does it feel like you're always playing catch-up with phone calls, emails, reading lists etc? I'm not naive enough to think that we can completely cut these aspects of life out of our everyday routines, but I like to feel like I control them, rather than the other way around. Designate a time of day where everything in the house is turned off. Maybe its right when you get home from work, maybe its in the evening after dinner, or maybe its 15 minutes in the morning when you're enjoying your breakfast. Unplug the phone, turn off your computer and simply have a moment of uninterrupted time. As you get more comfortable with it, do it for longer periods of time and reap the benefits
- Reduce your dependence on our 24 hour media cycle
- Spend "real" time with your thoughts and other people
- Minimize distractions that keep you from real tasks
- Find appliances you can live without and things that don't need to be plugged in that often
- Save money and energy
I will be blogging extensively about each topic addressed in this list in the coming year. What types of things are you interested in seeing on this blog? Are there any resolutions you've made that you'd like to share? Please let me know in the comments section.
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