Friday, April 23, 2010

It isn't east being Green

Today, probably one of the most overused phrases is "Green is the new black." Thanks to big pushes from movies like An Inconvenient Truth and celebrities like Paul McCartney and Leonard Dicaprio, the world is much more environmentally conscious than it was 10 years ago. While there is actually conflicting evidence that Global Warming is real, and that our efforts are making much of a difference, I personally believe that regardless of what the scientific studies say, the global Green movement is helping to change our overall consciousness of what kind of Carbon Footprint we all leave behind and making each of ours smaller does make a huge difference in how the world operates (both ethically and environmentally).

That being said, I'm going to admit right off the bat that today's entry I don't know much about, but Rebekah had the idea to write about realistic ways to be eco friendly. Considering this is something that Nick and I often talk about (he works for a metal recycling company), I figured I would try to do some research and educate us all about this. Being Green costs money, and is often thought of as being a luxurious lifestyle that only the rich can afford. In some cases, this is true (see the latter part of this entry), but there are tons of things that we can do that are both cost conscious and save you money.

For starters here are some common sense things that I have learned through the years (either through school or through friends) that save you money:

*Turn the power off - Leaving anything plugged in that has a light (like a CD player that has a red light when it is in power off mode) uses up power. And leaving a computer on, even when it is on standby uses up almost as much power as a light bulb does. So when you turn off your lights before you leave, powering down your computer, and checking any other appliances is a good idea too. This also goes for unplugging things that charge when they're done charging. Unless your device is "smart" it continues to pump juices into your cell phone, laptop, etc. even after it's done charging (tip: this also burns out your battery faster and you'll need to replace it sooner).
*Don't speed - I admit, I will never follow this one. But driving at a steady low speed (use cruise control if you can) uses up less gas. Also, getting regular oil changes keeps your engine in better condition, which means using less gas.
*Turn the water off - This one has stuck with me since childhood. Do you remember the Sesame Street cartoon from the very early 90s? A little boy brushes his teeth, pulling in water from an outside pond a fish lives in. While the water runs (and he doesn't use it) the fish's habitat becomes smaller and smaller until he has almost no water left. It's a cartoon, but it traumatized me for life! This goes for washing your face, leaving the shower running to heat up when you're not in there, and while you're scrubbing dishes. Speaking of dishes, only run the dishwasher if it's full.
*Invest in window shades. - During the summertime try to keep them down, it'll keep the sunlight out so your home is not as hot and the AC doesn't need to be run as much. I've also found that when I'm not home, if I also close the windows it keeps the hot air out and the apartment is a lot more tolerable when I do get home.
*Keep your bags - Nick is probably rolling his eyes as he reads this (he considers me to be a bag lady), but I keep all of our bags. If you don't want to pay to buy a reusable one from your supermarket, you can always bring back your plastic and paper bags and reuse them and they'll still give you the .05 or .10 credit towards your bill. In college I used to use the bags as garbage bags (I know my grandparents did this for years). And those bags can be recycled. Actually, any bag can be recycled, but it's easier to recycle paper bags (side note: it's also easier to recycle glass than plastic, so think about that when you buy soda or juice).
*Bring your own coffee, lunch, reusable water bottles, and utensils to work - Think about how much money you spend on a cup off coffee or a lunch these days. If you routinely buy both, you're probably spending more than $10 a day on this. Save your Chinese take out Tupperware, and bring lunch instead. Not only do you cut down on the paper goods, but depending on what you make for yourself, you probably save over 50% of your money every day. (Bonus points: Yet another use for your shopping bags.)
*Shop at the farmer's market - Depending on your market, often the price of local produce is much cheaper than going to the grocery store (even Whole Foods) and 9 times out of 10 tastes better too. Because the produce isn't being shipped thousands of miles to your door and there is no middle man, the price is lower. Plus if you have the chance to support a local farmer, it's just good ethical practice to support him over the big guys who do massive amounts of damage to our environment (think unfair wages, child labor, unsafe working environments, pesticides, deforestation, depleting the land of its nutrients, etc.)
*Buy a water filtration system - Sure things like Brita or Pure are expensive at first, but think about all the plastic you waste drinking bottled water. And think about all the money you save in comparison.

Tips from other websites:

From Go Green for Less Green
*Reduce Paper Usage with USB Flash Drives - You don't need to get a big one, just one that you can transfer your files to and from work/school with. Email also works great for this too. You can also reduce paper waste by using your laptop to take notes on in class rather than buying notebooks and loose leaf paper.
*Reduce Waste from Batteries with Hand Crank Products - According to the US Environmental Protection Agency:
“Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.”
Items like hand-powered flashlights can help reduce the number of standard lead batteries sold, thereby reducing the number of improperly disposed lead batteries. Hand-powered flashlights can be found for just under $4.00.

From ParadoxPro
*Green Cooking Tips...Don't microwave plastic, reduce your use of prepackaged foods, and stop using cheap nonstick pans, which leach toxins into your meal as you cook. When choosing between two like items in the grocery store, pick the one with less wasted packaging.
*Take up composting. Pick an out of the way spot in your yard, and use a composter. Throw in coffee grounds, eggshells, spoiled vegetables and other leftovers. Mix with dirt. Once a week or so, turn over with a shovel to provide air. You won't just help the environment, you'll create rich soil for your garden.
*Grow your own foods as much as possible. Create a vegetable garden, and use as few pesticides and chemical fertilizers as possible. Consider using a rain barrel to water your plants, instead of using public water.
*Donate your used items. If they are still usable, don't throw them away. Donate them to Goodwill or another worthy cause, including clothes, shoes, toys, and household items. If you can buy used goods, that's as eco friendly, if not more so than buying a brand new Green friendly product.
*Avoid aerosols, which can't be recycled, and contribute to air pollution. There are many non-aerosol alternatives to any product. Research and use organic cleaning products.
*Watch what you put in your trash can. Batteries, paint cans, and aerosol sprays all can leak toxins that can end up in our water system. Ask your community leaders about a safe disposal site for these items.
*Limit what you buy. Think twice about filling your house up with items you'll only use once or twice. Consider sharing items with a good neighbor, such as garden tools, and go in half on them.

From The Butterfly Blog
*Don't use Scoopable kitty litter - "Not only is it destructive because of the strip-mining for clay, but it is not biodegradable, it is clogging and filling landfills at an alarming rate with its expanding-cement-like-presence, the clay is filled with carcinogenic silica dust, if that wasn't enough...the major clumping agent is sodium bentonite which is poisonous. Between breathing the cancer-dust (us and the cats), licking the poison-dust through grooming (just the cats), and what it is doing to the earth and landfills...there is nothing good about it." Use World's Best Cat Litter or Swheat Scoop instead.

From E Magazine
*Focus on overall spending, not the cost of individual items - "...a former cleaning woman told me she’d done almost all her work with homemade cleaning supplies consisting of vinegar, water, borax, baking soda, olive oil and tea tree oil. Her tales inspired me to pick up Karen Logan’s book Clean House, Clean Planet, which is packed with recipes for cheap, eco-friendly cleaners that can be made in less than one minute if you stock your kitchen properly...
Don’t compare mangoes to mangoes. For many years, grocery shopping was a challenge. We wanted to buy organic, but could we afford it? My moment of epiphany came in the produce aisle soon after we moved to Vermont. I was agonizing over the mangoes-the organic ones cost an extra $2 each, a shocking $3.50 per mango.It’s the transportation, stupid! Why was I even considering buying a mango that had been flown from Haiti to Vermont? I marched over to the organic apples, some of which came from less than 15 miles away, and were not much more expensive than the conventional ones. Now, instead of comparing the cost of organic versus non-organic boxed cereal, I head for the bulk organic oatmeal. No longer do I agonize about the price difference between organic rice and beans and their chemical-laden siblings. Rather, I compare organic bulk grains and beans to take-out burritos...For years, I resisted buying compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Sure, they were better for the environment, but at $15 per bulb (since reduced to approximately $6), I was sure I couldn’t afford them. That is, until I sharpened my pencil and applied some rusty high school math to determine the bulb’s lifecycle cost. These bulbs will last about 10,000 hours, more than six times as long as the traditional, energy-guzzling bulbs that cost 50 cents each. I calculated just how much I’d save on my electric bill during the bulb’s lifetime...more than $58 over the CFL bulb’s life."

Things you can recycle you didn't know you could (or consider):

*Anything that has metal - As I said earlier, Nick works for a metal recycling company. The way that the company breaks down the metal is very intricate, and even if you're afraid to recycle something because it's mixed material (like the blade of a plastic wrap box) you can throw that in. Their machinery pulls apart the scrap and sorts it so that nothing is wasted. Anything big that can't be picked up in the weekly collection you can bring to a metal recycling drop off point (and sometimes they'll pay you a few $$) or to your local dump. If you do a Google search for "metal recycling drop off point" and the name of your county or town, you should be able to find something near by.
*Anything that has a recycling symbol on it (this includes most Styrofoam)
*Cardboard boxes & any paper good - Not just things packages arrive in or newspapers, but pasta boxes, cereal boxes, oatmeal containers, etc. If it is paper it can be recycled. This includes magazines and junk mail (I'd remove your address first), coupons, scrap paper, old school books, and old books (although I'd donate that to the poor or the library before I'd recycle it).

Some things to try that are not budget friendly:

*Buy fair trade - Fair trade, in short, means that the product you are buying was made in a fair and ethical way. The workers were paid fair wages, worked in safe conditions, and more often than not the product is organic. However, because the workers were paid more that means the product costs more. Sometimes there is a huge difference (double the price or more for a candy bar) and sometimes it's small (an extra dollar or two for a pound of coffee).
*Buy organic and free range products - "Organic" and "Free range" are two of the staple phrases in the Greenie's vocabulary. Unfortunately they're not very friendly on the wallet. I went to Whole Foods this week to buy some food for a big dinner I'm making on Saturday night (4 different kinds of veggies, 1 chicken breast, 2 sausages, bacon, 2 kinds of pasta). My bill was $20 more expensive than when I buy the same goods at the regular supermarket. I nearly had a heart attack, but it's the price you pay when you want a chicken that was allowed to run and see sunshine during its lifetime, rather than spend its whole live in a cage being pumped full of chemicals (among other things).
*Install solar paneling or wind turbines in your home - Essentially you are making your house its own little sustainable energy hub. This is an expensive investment at first, but in most cases you generate so much energy over time that eventually your energy bill is $0, and eventually the electric company will pay you money for generating extra power they can use. In a few years the investment pays for itself, but obviously you need to have the money to do that first.
*Go electric or hybrid with your car - Yes, you can buy electric cars, but they are $$$$$$, as are hybrid cards. Although be careful when picking a hybrid car, obviously they're generally always going to be better than buying a regular one, but depending on the kind of car you want to buy (especially SUVs), sometimes there are cars that even as a non-hybrid get better gas mileage. And there are cases when the price difference is so much that you won't save money in the long run by buying the hybrid. You just need to do your research first.
*Convert your diesel engine to run on corn oil - If you're handy or know a mechanic who can do this, you can convert your diesel engine to run on cooking oil (which was what the car originally ran on before oil was discovered to be a cheaper fuel source). Fast food restaurants have to pay people to take the huge vats of oil away, but if you come buy and ask for the oil they'll generally give it to you. Someone I know from college drove cross country this way, and his car still works years later. If you Google, you can find how to instructions.

Other blogs:

Green Mom on a Budget (I've decided to follow this one).
The Compact - This is the group of people who pledged to buy nothing new for a whole year. The blog chronicles their life during and since then.
Green on a Budget
My Tiny Plot - A blog about gardening in a small area.
Urban Veggie GardenA Blog about gardening in an urban area. (I've decided to follow this one too. I really want to have a garden when we go to California.)
Skippy's Vegetable Garden - A blog about gardening in a larger area.

All the websites I looked at unanimously pointed out the most important tip of all, educating future generations. What we do means little if our kids don't follow good practices that we set out for them. Just like forcing them to eat healthy leads them to make healthier choices when they're older, showing them the benefits of living a Green life makes them more likely to follow these rules in adulthood as well. So next time you recycle or turn the light off, or whatever else you can think of around a kid, make it a lesson in saving the world.

*****If any of these ideas interest you and you're not sure where to start, start with the internet. Google the topic and you'll find tons of blogs and informational websites that will help you get started. I found so many good ones, but couldn't fit them all on here otherwise this entry would be 1923801938 pages long.


identity theft said...

I loved your post as i too want to save money an also increase my savings for the future, i appreciate your tips that you have provided here.

Got Nothing? said...

I'm pretty sure you said that you use cloth napkins at home, which is something that I also do. Most people don't realize how many paper towels and napkins they go through in a month. My mom always makes fun of me that my weeknight dinner table looks "fancy."

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