Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Packing Lunches
I get up every morning and pack my husband's lunches. This year, we decided to try to save on those little plastic bags. I bought some sturdy containers from Rubbermaid. What Icouldn't fit into my husband's small lunch box, I do use those plastic bags - but I went from the sandwich size to the snack size, which is fine for sending cheese, nuts, small chips and cookies. I also asked him to recycle. There's no reason we can't reuse them. I went from using 15-20 small plastic bags a week to 5.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Non-Smokers Unite!

I've been accused of being a militant anti-smoker. It's true, I told my husband when I met him if he didn't stop smoking I wouldn't date him (unfiltered Camels, no less). I jumped right on the anti-smoking wave in the 80's when I stopped allowing friends and family to smoke in my home. Although I was the only person in my family who didn't smoke, as I've grown older my allergies will not tolerate cigarette smoke. I had to quit bowling and not that we did it a lot, but going to bars for a drink unless they have a ventilated separate room for non-smokers. If that isn't enough, I watched my mother's health fail and I mourned as she suffucated last year when she died of MRSA fueled pneumonia. She probably wouldn't have even contracted the deadly virus if her lungs hadn't been weakened by smoking related COPD.
But this post isn't going to be about the health effects of smoking - or even the environmental effects of the collective cancer agents-laced haze drifting into the atmosphere.
No, this is going to be about cigarette butts. They're everywhere. My husband went to the "big city" the other night and parked in a nearby lot and walked about a half block to a restaurant. There they were, in the median, littering the otherwise manicured patch of grass. It isn't just at this particular intersection, walk any street, anywhere (I noticed them all over the sidewalks in Munich this past summer) and you'll see them.
I walk with the dogs (when weather permits) along our remote country road. It's a rareity to see someone that doesn't live here, or isn't a weekender or a visitor. It's so remote, when we heard a siren yesterday morning we were baffled, until we figured out the sound was carrying for 2 miles from the main road.
In the summer, especially, when the weekenders and their families come to the lake, I stop and pick up litter along the road - paper cups, hamburger wrappers - and yes, butts. One day last fall, I even was disgusted to find someone had stopped right in the middle of the road to empty an entire ashtray onto the otherwise pristene landscape.
As we were on our evening walk yesterday on a beautiful 60 degree January day, my husband surveyed the blackened charred remains of past brush fire. "I wonder how that started," he said. Given the proximity to the road, we can only guess it was a careless smoker and a cigarette butt.
Besides being a fire hazard and just plain nasty, cigarette butts are not biodegradeable. The filter hangs around forever.
This is the reason my aunt, who is a smoker, will not allow visitors to her home to throw their butts onto her land. It's also the reason I told the builder's helper to quit doing it while they were building our house - and the reason I will nicely ask the FedEx lady the next time she is here not to do it when she comes to deliver a package.
Please, smokers, even if you can dismiss the health and other environemental concerns, please at least deposit your butts in a proper trash bin. If you're a non-smoker - or a concerned smoker - please help by picking up butts anytime you see them where they're not supposed to be.
If you would like to know more interesting facts on butts, there's actually a website for you to read:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plastic Sacked
Yesterday, Whole Foods Markets announced that it will ban plastic bags from its stores. However, like many things in the green movement, this news isn't as welcome as it might seem. If people simply go from plastic to paper bags, the environmental effect could be worse. Producing paper bags destroys trees and actually uses 4 times more energy to produce than a plastic bag.
One word, people: Cloth.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Paper and Water
Continuing the theme from last week, I counted the number of paper towels I use in a usual day - about 15. Ouch.
Since I've been on my new quest to use regular cloth towels, I've cut that number down to about 4-5. The best part of it is that we've only used two tossable paper bowls - and that's because my husband put leftovers in them when I wasn't looking.
My focus this week will be on saving water and finding alternatives to the cleaning products we've been using.
On the water issue, we've already become accustomed to saving water. When we built our cabin, we put in a 2,000 gallon tank, which at the time, was much more economical than digging a well.
However, that's been hard on the environment for several reasons. First, we had to have that water trucked in, using gas and putting more carbon into the air. Second, we couldn't drink the water, which forced us to buy gallons of plastic jugs, which we finally could recycle when our local trash service instituted a limited program (more on that on another day).
At $125 a truckload, we learned many ways to conserve water (even then, it still only lasted a month).
The tank option was a temporary one and wasn't so bad when we didn't live here full-time. Last month, they finally came out and dug our well and for the past two weeks, we've been running the water they found full-time to clear it up. On the day we received our $8,000 bill for finding water on our property we could use, the water finally cleared.
Now they tell us we have an ample supply that probably won't run dry in during our lifespans.
Still, I know there really isn't an unlimited supply of fresh water on the planet, so the conservation methods we began will continue.

Today's Tips to Conserve Water:

  • When washing hands, turn on and wet them and then turn off the water until you're ready to rinse. Same goes for brushing teeth or washing your face.
  • Do you really need to take a bath everyday? When we had our first exchange daughter 18 years ago, someone said to me, "Oh, I heard Europeans don't bathe everyday." Well, like many other ideas, I think they have something here. Since my choices became bathing everyday or spending another $125 for more water, I found that every other day works most of the time - unless of course, its 100 degrees outside or I've gotten dirty doing something else. On a normal day, sitting at my computer writing all day, cooking dinner and even walking the dogs usually doesn't get me dirty enough to have to take a full scale bath. On the "odd" days, I do wash off with a washcloth to freshen up.
  • I heard a Native American touting water conservation by advising, "If its yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." Flushing the toilet (even if its a newer model like ours), takes about 5-7 gallons of water per flush.
  • Washing clothes. I ensure that we have a full load before doing any. Same with dishes - and rather than running water the whole time I'm rinsing, I use a plastic tub, fill it about a quarter full and rinse them in that - or less. If the dishes I'm washing are clean, there's no reason I can't use the same water to rinse them.

You can find more tips at and take the family water audit to find your own conservation score:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Paper Foods

Does your family have foods that just feel like they should be eaten on paper? We do. Pizza is one of them. We don't eat out as much as we did when we were in the city - mainly because our choices here in a small town are limited, - but we usually do order a couple of pizzas a month - and it just feels as though it should be eaten on a paper plate.
My husband has always been a big user of paper in the kitchen. - especially since I instituted the "I cook, you clean" rule. But it just isn't the use of paper plates and bowls, he's always used paper towels for everything, including drying off dishes. He always told me he didn't like the little fuzzies left by cotton kitchen towels.
When we built our cabin, we brought some extra staples from the house in the city, but most of it was given as gifts. Among these gifts were "no fuzz" dish towels. Sadly, I developed the habit of ripping off a paper towel and using it as well, but today's the day we consciously try to start to break old - and bad - habits in the kitchen.
My aunt has a rule at her house. Paper plates are not allowed and paper towels are rarely used. They do use paper napkins when it is just the two of them, but cloth ones if they have guests.

Today's Tip:

It shouldn't be so hard to break the paper towel and paper plate habit. Today, I'll start counting how many paper towels we use in a day. Tomorrow, I'll try to cut that by half or more. Since we buy paper towels in those huge "economy packs," it should start saving us some cash as well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bagging It
I got such a response last week about bags, I thought I would bring some of the other suggestions regarding reuseable cloth bags to the front page. Bags can also be found at enviro-tote:
Bags made from organic cotton can be found at
Finally, my friend Maril, pointed out on comments that they now make biodegradeable plastic trash bags. Check out: and
Today's Tip:
If just 5 of the families reading this blog would use reuseable cloth bags, assuming you use at least 5 plastic bags per week, it would save 1,300 plastic bags this year alone from the landfill.
Check out Going Green in the Ozarks on Wednesday when I start in the kitchen looking for ways to be more friendly to the environment.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Going green? What does that mean, exactly?

If you’re overwhelmed about using paper or plastic, carbon footprints and what, if anything, switching to low energy light bulbs is doing to help the environment, then hopefully, we can learn a bit together.

In 1988, my husband, who was a diesel mechanic at a landfill for a major metropolitan area, came home telling me stories about how seagulls and other wildlife that came to scavenge at the dump were getting plastic bags wrapped around their legs and caught in their beaks.

When I told my mom the story, we decided our households would do something about it and we purchased several cloth grocery bags.

My husband poo-poo’d the idea. He was so overwhelmed by the sight of millions of tons of trash being dumped each day he didn’t believe 3 people in two households could make a difference.

But we did. Two years ago, I added up the number of plastic bags we saved from the landfill by taking the number of times we visited the store and multiplying that by the # of cloth bags we reused each week.

By my estimation we had saved over 10,000 bags from the landfill. As well, we saved around $600 in rebates we received from the store for reusing bags. Most stores offer .10 for each bag you bring with you.

However, in these past two decades, I really haven’t done much more to make our impact on the environment lighter (with the exception of recycling). Part of it is that I sometimes feel like my husband, what difference is making small changes going to make? And part of it is that I just didn’t feel I have the time to figure it out – overwhelmed and guilty about not doing more.

The time has come, though, for us all to do something. When my husband first took a job at that landfill, it was predicted to take refuse until at least 2025. Now they are doubtful it will make it until the end of the decade – and that’s just one landfill in one metro area. That means more pristine land will have to be taken for our garbage – and I sure don’t want it in my backyard – but we can’t continue to be blind to it and pretending its not in somebody’s backyard.

Now that we live among the beauty of the Ozark Mountains, I feel it even more important to live a more sustainable life – for ourselves and for the earth and future generations.

Every Monday and Wednesday, I will be posting about my latest experience in researching “green” and passing info along that will make it easy for us all to do better by our Mother Earth. I will also interview authors and environmental journalists to tap them for their expertise.
1-2 tips that make it easy each week. A little at a time, we’ll make a difference.
I hope you’ll come along and go green wherever you’re at too.
And if you have a green tip, please share with our readers! You don’t have to sign in to comment.

Today’s Tip:

Using cloth grocery bags is one of the easiest ways to help the environment. Choose strong, sturdy bags that will not rip or tear. Mine are a strong cotton material. I use about 7 bags for a weeks’ worth of groceries. To get accustomed to carrying the bags to the grocery store, leave them in your car. Even after 20 years, I still sometimes forget if they aren’t already in the car. I also now use them when I go shopping at the mall. Believe me, most sackers have no idea what to do with a cloth bag, so watch them as they will try to over-pack them to the point you can’t lift the bags.
Cloth bags can be found at most major grocery stores these days – Wal-Mart even offers some now. You can also find them at
And have fun if you shop at Wal-Mart. Watching them try to put the bags on their little bag wheel is a real hoot!
See, you get to help the environment and be entertained, too!