Monday, April 21, 2008

tootin' my own horn! (for the sake of the earth)

so i'm not usually one to blab about how 'green' i am, but in honor of earth day tomorrow, i've decided to take a personal inventory of the choices i make daily that affect the future of our planet and the quality of our lives. i'm not usually an earth day celebrator since i try to treat every day as though it were earth day, and not just once a year. but i figured this was a good excuse. i've always walked a bit on the green side, but i really took a turn about a year and a half ago when i was influenced by raffi - yes, the children's musician - after reading his autobiography, life of a children's troubadour. this is, by the way, a fantastic book and i highly recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed his music, or even remotely cares about children's or environmental advocacy. i don't want anyone to see this as any sort of snobbish, 'i am greener than you' kind of thing, but rather as a challenge to myself to see what else i can do, and maybe as a suggestion of some easy ideas that the reader might be able to use. i want more ideas too, so feel free to share and hopefully we can collectively do even more to live a little more 'with' the earth instead of destroying it. so here goes...

* DIAPERING. when at home, i use cloth diapers. they are unbleached cotton fitted diapers that i use w/ waterproof covers. a lot of skeptics say that this is no better since you use so much water and electricity, plus chemicals to wash them, but i use as little water as i can get away with, only one cycle is hot, i hang them to dry when time is not an issue (ie, i've run out of diapers!), and i use naturally derived, non-toxic, biodegradable detergent, baking soda, and vinegar to wash them (not all at the same time). besides, disposables don't break down in landfills... i think i've taken up my fair share of landfill space. when out, micah does use disposables, but i'm still doing the EC thing, so in general, he doesn't use very many. layla still uses diapers when she sleeps, but i get the Seventh Generation ones that are chlorine free. i'll switch micah to these when i finally use up the super-mondo costco pack of huggies i've been working on for like 3 months. i'm looking into getting a few all-in-ones for layla to sleep in instead of using the disposables. i also have taken to using those little cheesy baby washrags that i have like a million of instead of wet wipes. i keep a basket of them in the bathroom and get one wet when i need it, then just toss it in the bucket with the dirty diapers and wash them together. how easy is that?
* LAUNDRY. as mentioned above, i use non-toxic laundry detergent. i've recently given up dryer sheets. i almost never use bleach. chlorine bleach is a very evil substance - not good for human health or planet health. i say almost never, since i do have one vice - the bleach pen. if i can figure out a comparably easy and effective way to get stains out of whites, i'll give it up. i'm looking forward to summer and getting a clothesline up so i can hang out my laundry. i positively LOVE hanging clothes to dry.
* CLEANING. i've been slowly phasing out all of my old toxic cleaners in favor of safe ones. i've started using baking soda for a lot of cleaning (sinks, toilets, and tubs), and for most everything else i use simple green or a seventh generation spray cleaner. i mop my hard floors with an easy recipe i found of vinegar, a few squirts of baby shampoo and warm water. i just dump it in my mop bucket and that's that. it works great and smells good too. i have one vice in this area too and that's paper towels. i'm sponge-phobic to some degree since most people use their sponges way too long and let them get stinky and full of nasty bacteria by not rinsing them and leaving them in the bottom of the sink. i do have a sponge i use in the kitchen but i'm super OCD about making sure it's rinsed and allowed to dry out of the sink. i'm thinking of switching to rags since they're infinitely reusable (unlike sponges) and i could wash them as often as my OCD sees fit. but at least for the time being, i try to buy the recycled, unbleached paper towels.
* DISHES. i use non-toxic dish soap and dishwasher detergent, but here's another vice of mine... i've tried using the unheated drying cycle to save energy, but i can't stand it when the dishes are still all wet. it works okay if i can run the dishwasher in the evening and then leave it open all night, but it never seems to work out that way. i'm usually starting it before i go to bed and then i would have to leave it open all day to get them dry. this doesn't work for several reasons; if i don't unload the dishwasher first thing in the morning, i'm behind all day and dishes pile up in the sink and on the counter making for a gross mess, an unusable sink, and a depressed rachel because having a decently clean kitchen is one of the things that helps me maintain my sanity. also, i have a toddler in the house and she frequently likes to pull sharp knives out of the dishwasher if the door is open. not good. finally, our kitchen was designed by someone on crack and you can't open any of the drawers when the dishwasher is open and i'm too short to reach the dishes in the cupboard when the door is hanging out in the middle of the floor. so until i get better at scheduling my dishwashing, i keep using the heated dry cycle. bummer.
* GARBAGE. this is one that i feel really strongly about, and i actually feel like yelling at people when i see them throwing out stuff that can be recycled. i just don't get why people don't do it when it's so stinkin' easy. i probably take it further than most though. i have a box in the kitchen for the recycling that gets reused, so no waste there. just dump it in the can outside and bring the box back in. i haven't been able to go totally bagless for the garbage (because it grosses me out), and i won't buy the biodegradable plastic bags made out of corn or whatever (because i refuse to spend money on something that has no other purpose than to contain garbage and then be thrown away with it), so my compromise is this; i occasionally will get paper grocery bags and use them in the can under the sink in the kitchen. however, i learned that paper bags won't just break down in landfills and the goal of this whole thing is to not create more garbage in order to contain the garbage i already have. so i empty the garbage out of the bag into the can outside and then either reuse the bag if it's not nasty or falling apart, or if it is, i put it in the yard waste bin so it gets composted. yes, you can do that. i can reuse the bag quite a few times since we compost our food scraps which really keeps your garbage from getting too nasty and stinky. we dump these in the yard waste bin as well. we used to put them in our compost here, but then i discovered that i had my very own templeton and stopped that, so now i just compost non-food items like leaves and grass. i'm thinking about starting up a worm bin to take care of the kitchen scraps.
* GROCERY SHOPPING. i usually bring my own reusable bags, unless i'm in need of a garbage bag and then i take paper. i never get plastic since they create a lot of solid waste and are petroleum based (and we use enough of that already). i keep bags in my car and a couple of small, fold-up ones in my purse so when i'm going to a store of any kind (like target), i have my own bag and don't have to take one of theirs. i try to buy organic varieties of what i can because i don't want to ingest a bunch of toxic, cancer-causing, gene-mutating pesticides, and i want to support farmers who don't pollute while growing their crops. i also try to buy as few individually wrapped products as possible. example, i quit buying string cheese because cutting pieces off the block isn't that hard and it doesn't come wrapped in a whole bunch of non-recyclable plastic. now that it's spring, i'd like to visit my local farmer's market more often. buying locally is great.
* OUTDOORS. we use an old fashioned push mower to cut the grass. no gas or electricity, just plain old sweat. it's a good workout, but it's really not that much harder than using a traditional mower. i pull weeds by hand or pour vinegar on them to kill them. did you know that? vinegar has all sorts of amazing talents. i started a garden last year and will this year as well. it's fun to grow your own stuff and nice to know that you haven't put anything dangerous on it.
* PERSONAL CARE. i try to buy as many natural products as possible; shampoo, soap, lotion, etc. i tried the tom's of maine natural toothpaste, but dave didn't like it. i've been told that the cinnamint flavor is really yummy, so i might try again with that. i also haven't been able to find a natural deodorant that really works. any input here? i used the crystal for a while and it worked for a while, but then didn't really work anymore. i'm that way with any deodorant though, i have to switch frequently. i also buy the toilet paper that is whitened w/out bleach. as far as soap is concerned, i recently learned that many botanical essential oils are antibacterial, such as lavender and tea tree, so you can kill germs without bad chemicals. (fyi, vinegar kills germs too! that's why it's good in the diaper laundry and the mop bucket.)
* MISC. AROUND THE HOUSE. houseplants. i keep adding more plants when i can. they're great little toxin eaters, especially the spider plant which loves formaldehyde. lightbulbs. i've switched many of my bulbs to the fluorescent ones. i'd like to switch out all of them, but it seems a little wasteful to replace bulbs that still work, so i'll just switch them out as they burn out.
* COMMUTING. well, i don't really do anything here, but dave takes the bus to work, so i'll toot his horn on this one. i'm still driving the gas-guzzling soccer mom mobile all over town. when are they going to come out with a hybrid minivan??? not that i can afford it, but one can dream. i'm trying to remember not to idle. it's better to turn it off and restart.
*COFFEE. it may seem silly to give this it's own category, but coffee is a VERY important part of my life. at home, i use organic, free-trade coffee beans for my morning brew, and i compost my grounds and filters. when out, i love to go to tully's (sorry amy and auntie re) as often as possible because they are doing good things for the environment, including making compostable cups. i try to remember to bring my own cup, but i need to get better about it.

i think that pretty much does it. i have a "green to do list" that i am adding things to all the time. i am trying to phase out wrapping paper and disposable ribbons as much as possible in favor of bags which i hope people will reuse. eventually, i'd like to use festive cloth to wrap gifts in and tie them up with real ribbons. i'd also like to have all cloth napkins. i'd love to have ones for every season or holiday.
so share your ideas with me. what are you doing? what's on your "green to do list" that should be on mine?


  1. Woman, you put me to shame! I think my greenest attribute is that my dog gets the table scraps. It's funny cause in Europe I was very green, but they make it super easy there. I'll have to try the vinegar thing, the lady who cleans the office uses it. And you had a couple questions. First, the pictures, if you do a google image search, find the one you want, click on it, then when it takes you to the page its on, click view full size image at the top of the page. Then, right click on the image, click save as, and save is to your pictures. Voila! And my hands have gotten bigger over the years, hard to do that anymore.

  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Rachel! I'm going to have to add yours to the daily blog-crawl I do in the mornings. ;)

    And I agree.... you totally put us to shame with your green habits. We're thinking about using flushable gDiapers with our new arrival this summer... supposedly not much more expensive than disposables and much friendlier to the earth. (And if they're just wet, they're compostable!)



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