Today is the beginning of my Green Living series, and I’m excited! So many people want to “green up” a little, but are not sure where to get started. The best approach is to start small in an area that interests you, such as switching to cloth shopping bags or reducing waste in your home, then moving up to larger areas, like making your own chemical free cleaning or personal care products. Choose just one or two things at a time and after a week or two, when the changes become second nature, add something new.
Let’s start with reducing waste. Most of us don’t realize just how much we consume and, therefore, waste. These days, nearly everything we buy comes in disposable packaging and items sold together are often wrapped separately, creating even more waste. A few months ago, my husband purchased a bulk pack of toilet paper at Costco and I was horrified to see that every single roll was individually wrapped in paper. It was completely wasteful and unnecessary, not to mention really annoying to have to unwrap every roll before using it, and I flat-out refused to ever buy it again. I would rather pay a few cents extra for less wasteful packaging. We also no longer use paper towels (except once a year on our annual camping trip, which always leaves me conflicted). Instead, I purchased several lightweight “flour sack” tea towels for $.49 each at IKEA for big spills, and for smaller messes we just use the dishcloth which is changed daily. I honestly don’t miss paper towels at all – in fact, I sometimes find myself wondering what we even used them for, because I honestly can’t remember!
A major source of waste in many households is from disposable water bottles which in our home are streng verboten. Instead, we use a water filtration system and reusable, non-toxic water bottles. Not only does it save money, but it eliminates the horrifying results of millions of bottles in lakes, streams, oceans and landfills. This is an easy place to begin, with immediate, tangible results. Money saved, a cleaner conscience and better tasting water! Water filters and filtration systems are available in a wide variety of styles with a price point to fit every budget. Research to find the best fit for your family.
A big area of waste reduction for us has been our garbage, which is separated into four areas: Compost, Recycle, Trash and Recirculate. Rather than throwing away food that is no longer edible, we compost it and cycle it into our garden to help grow more food. Though we do try not to have any unused or inedible food, this step is a great solution for the little we do have. We recycle everything that can be, and honestly, our recycling bin is much fuller than our trash can. The reduction in our trash since we began this journey is staggering. A box of trash bags lasts us for ages. I think we’ve bought maybe two boxes in the last year and a half, and we’ll be upgrading to reusable trash bags soon. We try to reuse everything as long as we possibly can and, when we no longer have use for something, we recirculate it by selling or passing it on to someone who does.
The food industry is a particular culprit of waste. I use the term “food” lightly here, because most of what the American public now consumes can only be termed food by the loosest standards. In fact, it is actually referred to in the industry as “foodstuffs.” Generally, the more packaged something is, the worse it is for you. Eating a diet of whole, real foods has significantly reduced waste in our home. Whole, fresh fruits and vegetables are rarely pre-packaged, and with our reusable mesh produce bags, create zero waste (other than the SKU sticker, which you can avoid by shopping at farm stands and farmers’ markets). Whole grains, nuts and seeds are also minimally packaged and are easy to buy in bulk, reducing waste even further.
Another area of waste reduction is personal care products. Take a look in the medicine cabinet, bathroom cupboard and linen closet of most homes and you’ll find a wasteland of half-used shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath oil, facial cream and hair gel containers that will probably sit for a year or more before finally being thrown out. We have become a society of consumers and have a hard time resisting all those brightly colored, highly scented bottles, jars and tubes that promise us wonderful results for just a few dollars. So we load up, only to find out they’re not so great after all. And there they sit, taking up space in our homes and eventually clogging our landfills. One of the greatest areas of waste reduction (not to mention money savings!) for our family has been in eliminating these products altogether. If you’re new to greener living, don’t feel pressured to try this right away; think of it as something to consider in the future.
For now, begin with taking one positive step toward eliminating waste. For example, purchase some reusable shopping bags at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. At Whole Foods, if your bag wears out or gets damaged, they replace it with a new one for free, so your $.99 investment goes a long, long way (TJs may also do this, just check before buying). There are also sturdier canvas bags available practically everywhere these days, or you can be industrious and make your own. If you already do this or it just doesn’t seem like enough, evaluate your home and determine your greatest source of waste. Is it paper products? Food packaging? An endless sea of bottles and jars? Then take steps toward reducing it, or eliminating it altogether. Ask yourself a few key questions:
- Do I really need it? If so,
- Is it healthful? If not,
- Can it be replaced with something better for me/less wasteful? Or,
- Could I make it myself or eliminate it completely?
Once you’ve cleared the clutter and reduced your waste, you’ll be ready to move on to more “hard core” green steps, which we’ll talk about in a future post. So get going! Don’t forget to come back and comment on what you’re doing to reduce waste. Also, leave your favorite green tips for other readers – let us know what your family does to live a healthier, less wasteful life.