Against my self-imposed rule to keep my opinions off the site and to stick to the deals, I thought I might toe the line a little bit with some suggestions regarding the latest climate change policies. My stance on the change doesn’t really matter – these ideas are offered up as a way for everyone to be a little kinder to the planet while potentially keeping a little extra money in your pocket. No, this probably will not change the world…but the cumulative effect of many people making wiser decisions could be substantial.
Much of this article is inspired by a favorite blogger of mine, Mr. Money Mustache (that link will take you to a fun guest post but I encourage you to stick around the site and learn something new. I have so much more to read and learn from that one site alone!)
Here are some thoughts on saving the environment (and maybe some money) with simple substitutions and a smidgen of effort. I have no idea what impact this small level of effort might have, but if you take less garbage out next week…well, that has to count for something.
I would love to hear your ideas – this is one of my newest favorite topics and I am looking for ways to cut back on my carbon footprint and landfill usage.
- Use dish towels instead of paper towels. Why do we wipe a 2 sqft section of counter top with a paper towel and throw it away? That piece of paper towel is used for about 15 seconds and thrown out. It struck me that this is incredibly wasteful and clogging up our landfills with barely-used paper. I have a 12 pack of dish towels that I paid maybe $3 for at Sears on sale one day; as of today, I’ll use those to wipe down the counter (especially when it’s just water!) and leave them to dry on the oven door handle for another use. When I accumulate a little stash of dirties, I’ll throw them in the wash on a hot, short cycle (maybe warm if it turns out they don’t need the hot?) with liquid softener and leave them on a laundry rack to dry.
- Use fabric napkins instead of disposables. Honestly, I barely use a napkin at meal time, save for barbecue…usually I just scrunch it up and throw it away. I think this will work even better on messy meals – I have at least three dozen fabric napkins from our wedding, so those will be used once or twice and washed as necessary with the dish towels. Done. The blog link above suggests different colors/buttons/embroidery so each family member can identify their napkin. Reasonable, I think. You’re forgiven if you absolutely must use disposables when you’re hosting, but how much nicer are those fabric napkins? I’ll teach you how to get these for next to nothing in whatever color you like in a future post.
- Pack your lunch and drinks in reusable containers. The #1 thing I learned in Europe is that Americans go through an unreasonable amount of food related trash: to-go containers, coffee cups, plastic silverware, plastic cups and bottles, aluminum cans. Oh. My. Goodness. Europeans like to sit and enjoy a meal with real dishes, cups, and silverware – not the consumables we are so accustomed to. Since the restaurant industry is unlikely to change its style (I don’t know if it’s a convenience/consumer driven preference or financial) the least we can do is cut back on our own consumption. This isn’t rocket science – if you’re not interested in carting silverware and plates back and forth to your office every day, leave a set and wash it daily. Most offices have a break room. Same goes for your beverages – enough with the plastic bottles! Fill a large canteen from your home filter and bring it in daily or keep a water filter at your desk. This extends to plastic bottles and cans – leave a 2 liter at work or fill a reusable lidded cup each day. Don’t come whining to me about how much time it takes while moaning and groaning about climate change. This is our own fault. You can thank me later when you realize the $20/week or more you’ve been spending to eat out for lunch was hurting your health and your wallet right along with the environment. I have never done this, but I might just leave an extra set of reusable containers in my car for nights out. I certainly doubt any restaurant would mind me packing my leftovers in my own container.
- Garden, even if just for spices. I have a little army of mason jar herb and spice plants doing their thing on our windowsill. Some days they look pretty pathetic, but I can tell you…that is the best basil and I don’t have to go to the grocery store to get it. I paid $3 per plant and maybe $0.50 per mason jar. They pay for themselves over and over and over again, and you can cut out all the middlemen and resources to get herbs and spices at the store. My vegetable garden is starting to produce for the year – I’ll be canning this season if everything goes as planned!
- Use the dishwasher. It’s more efficient than hand washing. Accept it!! Oh, and stop rinsing those dishes before you put them in the machine that is literally designed to wash them – study after study has proven that you don’t need to do that. (If you’re worried about smells, you may not be scraping enough off before you throw them in there. Alternatively, it may be an issue with the drain or filter. Ours is only bad after many days since there are only two of us.) Beyond that, try to use real plates when you have guests. Just think about the massive bag of garage you won’t be sending to the landfill.
The Laundry Room
- Use shorter, colder cycles. It is, of course, more expensive both on energy and water usage to run longer, hotter cycles. Our machine has a nice “soil level” button that cuts down the cycle time. For the vast majority of my laundry, I can run it on the second level (out of 5). I also think my clothes launder better on a colder cycle, so only the towels go in on the hot cycle.
- Line dry your clothes. Um, is it summer or am I imagining things? You have “outdoors” for your dryer. You’re not allowed to use humidity as an excuse; we’re in Florida, but I get at least one or two days a week with clear, sunny skies and manageable humidity. I’ve got a couple drying racks (I love the tripod styles) that are easy to bring in and out and allow for great air flow. I only use the dryer to tumble for a couple minutes – 5 or 10, tops – and then everything else is hanging to dry. Even in the winter, you likely have one warmer room or sunny spot; run the wash in the morning (if your machine has a “delay” setting like ours, you can set it to run at 5AM so it’s ready to come out as soon as the sun is up) and hang your clothes to dry all day. They’ll dry, seriously. Jeans and heavy items should be rotated and fluffed occasionally to make sure no wet spots and musty odors develop.
- Stop using it. I can not understand the appeal in “going for a drive” and I own a car that was built for the leisure of “going for a drive.” Consolidate your errands and postpone those that aren’t critical until you’re in a given area for another reason. Mr. Money Mustache takes this to a whole new level by biking around town and becoming a single car household. I have reduced my weekly mileage by at least 20% in the last few months and loath side trips that cost me time, money, and energy efficiency.
- Drive defensively. Your car is incredibly inefficient when you slam on the brakes and accelerator. Chill out. It’s better for the planet.
All Your Stuff
- Buy used. I don’t want to buy new stuff that cost resources and energy to build.
- I’m typing to you from a refurbished monitor. Know what? It’s as good as new. I might have been able to do even better by buying locally, but this was one of those ‘too good to refuse’ deals.
- I picked up a nightstand for $5 at a yard sale, sanded it, gave it a good cleaning, and slapped a coat of fresh paint on it…done. Nobody’s going to feature me in Better Homes and Gardens, but for ~$10 I have a wood nightstand that is doing an excellent job holding a night lamp and cell phone charger.
- Over the summer, I reupholstered a $5, 70-year-old leather wing chair with some wacky Tommy Bahama fabric. I’d have paid $300 for a new chair; mine ended up around $60 and it is exactly what I wanted, even if I’ve only done a just-below-average job on the project.
- I’m in the market for a composter to further cut back on our landfill usage. I’m holding out for a used one, locally or via Amazon.
- Fix things. It’s not our fault; we’re surrounded by powerful marketing. We’re so quick to upgrade our stuff. This weekend, I decided to fix a broken zipper for the grand total cost of $1.50, thereby making a brand new dress wearable (I only paid $7 due to the broken zipper but it has been in the closet for a year) and avoiding the purchase of another brand new dress. I like the dress even more now that I’ve fixed it myself, even if I did a very mediocre job.
- Use the library. I enjoy the weight of a book and the break from a screen, but you won’t catch me spending $20 when I can almost always find what I want at the library or from a friend.
I can’t tell you how to solve the world’s problems with major pollutant producers, but I hope these ideas help you think about what you, in your own little world, can do to help our bigger world. Turning off lights, managing with higher or lower temperature settings, taking shorter showers/shutting off the faucet when brushing teeth, and borrowing items are all simple things that we all can do. Try it – you might be surprised!
What ideas do you have?
Please share! I am always excited to learn new ways to cut back on waste. Thank you!!