Monday, June 25, 2012

20 Ways to Go Green That Make a Difference - COMPLETE!

On September 12, 2011, I penned a list of 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a Difference.  It took me more than half a year, but I am glad to say that I have finished.   I tried to write up tips that would not be huge investments of time or money, and would actually have a positive impact.  I think that I was successful.  Here is the full list, I have bolded the posts that I think are my best.

1) Drive less 
2) Drive at or below speed limit, saves gas and is safer
3) Eat local food, less resources used for transport and supports local farmers
4) Grow your own vegetables, even if its just herbs in your window
5) Bring your own bags to the grocery store, fully reuse paper/plastic bags if you forget
6) Drink from a reusable water bottle
7) Green garbage?
8) Turn off lights when you are not using them
9) Run full loads in the dishwasher/laundry
10) Conserve water in everyday situations
11) Make things yourself
12) Use rechargeable batteries
15) Give green gifts
17) Volunteer
19) Limit food packaging, buy food in bulk
20) Use rags or old clothing over paper towels

My next series will be on affordable ways to go green, I have still not developed the list, but I expect there will be more than 10.  Not everyone can afford to buy a Prius, but we can all find ways to go green!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Replace Paper Towels with Rags

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

Paper towels are extremely expensive.  Several cents per sheet, in fact.  Don't believe me?  Peruse your local Wal-Mart and see the packs of rolls on sale for $20.  They are also extremely not green.  Many people use them for a small stain and toss them right in the garbage.

A much better alternative is to use rags.  The key with them is reusability.  Unlike a paper towel, after you soil a rag, just toss it in the laundry.  If you have a large set of rags, you can run a load just for rags, or even toss them in with your regular laundry.  While this does increase the cost from the ~75 cents you pay for the rag, it will pay off in green dividends and cash dividends if you wash the rag enough times.

Rags do not necessarily have to be purchased, and this is where the real savings both green and otherwise comes in.  You already have a bunch of rags sitting in your closets somewhere, the fiber is just in the form of your old clothing.  Old t-shirts (see above) make great rags, and repurposing your old clothes means you don't need to outlay any money for rags.  Just grab your scissors and an old shirt or set of sheets and cut into rectangles.  Soon you will have a big bucket of rags.  Reach for them in any situation that you would need a paper towel.

Finally, if you must use paper towels, make sure to get maximum utility from them.  Do not use a huge piece of towel for a miniature stain.  Make sure to grab a small piece of towel and use it completely.  If you are mopping something up, make sure to wring out the excess liquids and try to re-use.  If you end up getting a paper towel not that dirty, you can recycle it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Buy Food in Bulk

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

The modern food industry is a topic that fascinates me and is often the subject of posts here.  There are many ways we can make this industry greener and it is very important to consider changes, as this is one of the industries that affects every single person in the world.  We all need to eat, and if we can make green improvements in this industry, the scale will make a big impact.

One of the biggest problems is packaging.  It is very wasteful and in most cases unnecesary.  Preservation of food is one thing, but the excess packaging favored by marketing types to "differentiate" processed foods is completely excess and unnecesary. 

We do not need food wrapped tightly in plastic, then stuffed into a cardboard box. Many of us simply see this as more garbage, and promptly deposit it into the trash barrel.  This could be recycled, which would be better, but what would be best is simply avoiding it at all.  I have mentioned my "deposit theory" and I believe if there were a deposit on cardboard boxes and plastic bags, it would incentivize people to reduce consumption or increase recycling, any excess money would go to recycling programs to sort the actual garbage to find deposits which were not redeemed. This would create more jobs and would improve the environment, a win/win if there ever was one.

One way individuals can go green is by buying their food in bulk.  Not just granola is available, although feel free to buy that in bulk as well.  Beans, rice, nuts, candy, flour, sugar, spices, vegetables, coffee, meat, syrup, honey and many other commodity goods can be purchased with simple bags (that you will re-use) and priced by the pound.  You may want to consider bringing reuseable containers right to the store, to avoid wasting bags.  Another way to buy in bulk is by purchasing a large side of beef direct from a farmer or a fish from a fisherman and wrapping it minimally before putting it directly into your fridge or freezer.  Bring back old egg cartons and fruit boxes to the farmers market and re-fill them.  There are many ways to go green in the food packaging world, so be creative.

A related topic is the packaging of commercial foods.  Although 100 calorie snack packs allow you to keep your portions of crappy processed food in check, they are mainly vehicles that allow food companies and their marketing teams to make a few more percentage points of profit from you.  Avoid pre-sliced food that is then packaged and sold in smaller containers (for a higher price).  When buying deli meats, have them weight your meat and cheese separately, then put into one deli bag.

These changes may seem small, and on an individual scale, they might not make a difference.  However over the course of a year they certainly will.  Every human on the planet needs food and if they bought in bulk, it would cause a huge shift in the food industry and cut down on waste and pollution.  I also bet everyone would have a few more bucks left in their pockets!  Green and cheap, a solid combination.  Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is a great read if you want to re-think the food industry.