Green is the word, and not just for hippies, environmentalists and painters anymore. Everywhere you turn there’s talk of global warming, organic food, hybrid cars, and recycling-- but what does that all mean? Even with all this talk of “green” surrounding me, I found it hard for a long time to get myself into more environmentally friendly habits. There are so many choices, expenses, and things to learn involved that we may not feel equipped to make changes in our every day lives. Let’s be honest- despite a government incentive many of us are not jumping to trade our cars in for hybrids just yet. While that may be the case, there are plenty of ways we can each pitch in on a daily basis to help “green” our world.
To be effective, being green has to become a part of every day life, much like a diet. Through trial and error, I’ve managed to become a bit more habitually “green” in my every day cooking, cleaning, and shopping, without making any sacrifices. A “born-again-recycler,” here are my favorite everyday green items/stores/tips that I think make being green practical. I hope they will help you see that being green can be fun and even save some money!
The cleaning power of the “chick”
There are so many “organic” or “natural” cleaners out there, but which ones can we trust? I swear by an oldie but a goodie- Bon Ami, the powder I hated scrubbing bathtubs with as a kid. It seems to have gone out of style for a while, but Bon Ami is nothing new- as a matter of fact it’s celebrating it’s 120th this year. Good old back to the basics, and with a slogan like “Bon Ami Hates Dirt, Loves the earth” how can you not love it? Maybe it’s just because I am my mother’s daughter, but I swear that this powder in a convenient cardboard tube can wash away just about anything, and won’t leave toxins along the way. With no chlorine, dye, phosphorous, or fragrance it’s safe for kids, pets, and, let’s not forget ourselves. Many people will tell you to use vinegar, which although it does work like a charm, will leave a bit of a… stench. Bon Ami vanishes with the wipe of a sponge, as do stains. Whether you’re cleaning pots & pans, tiles, sinks, or floors, I haven’t found much that this cleaner can’t tackle. Retailing at under $1 a can, it’s even a real green bargain!
Bamboo, bamboo, and more bamboo!
I have found bamboo to be great in just about any form. As a tee shirt or pants it may be even softer than pima cotton, and its super durable. It absorbs moisture, and also dries quickly. Bamboo clothing come in all styles- from simple to trendy, you don’t have to look far to find bamboo fabric. Whether knitting or crocheting is your thing, the silk like texture of bamboo also makes for a sleek sweater, and you can even find a wide variety of colors of bamboo yarn at most craft stores.
As flooring, bamboo also looks chic and costs less than many other hardwood options. It is as durable as maple, which is common, yet it costs less, and gives a fresh look. Better yet, bamboo is low maintenance and doesn’t even need to be polished like your traditional hardwood. I’m not lucky enough yet to have the opportunity to install any kind of hardwood, but I will say that my bamboo cutting board is also quite stylish, and doubles as a gorgeous cheese platter! These cutting board platters also make for great wedding presents because of their versatility and variety of price points. Less expensive boards may show a different wood grain pattern than their more expensive counterparts, but most brides will not note the difference!
The underlying beauty of bamboo is that as it increases in popularity, it just seems to pop up everywhere -- literally and figuratively. Consider it a weed if you will- low maintenance and fast growing. However, unlike your typical weed it is extremely versatile ready to use for a multitude of things. And as long as it grows, manufacturers will continue to find new ways to use it! Check out your local discount store or even supermarket and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by what new bamboo products are available.
A fork can make a difference
I used to always take plastic silverware when I got take-out. Of course I had forks at home, but there’s something about the ease of take-out that makes you want to go for the plastic- it’s easy. You know what else is really easy? Washing a fork! That’s what I taught myself. Yes, it’s not quite as easy as going for the garbage, but one swipe of a soapy sponge and some hot water and it’s as good as new.
Travel mugs are in the same vein- and actually tend to be better, stronger, and less susceptible to hand temperature issues than the traditional disposable hot-cup. Many coffee places now even make special ice coffee cups, a plastic imitation of the original cup that will look and play the part quite nicely. It may take a little more thought, but most of us tend to be in tune with our internal coffee clocks, and make it our business to have the cup on hand.
Beyond coffee cups, you can find a great container for just about anything. Take your water in an aluminum or a BPA free polycarbonate bottle, or put your 3 pm snack in a small reusable container. My best friend admits that it may be a bit extreme, but she even brings her own Tupperware to restaurants when she anticipates leftovers (which is always). Know that you won’t finish a meal? Give it a try! It seems like a no brainer, but it’s amazing what a difference a little extra attention can make.
Tote and re-tote
The real no brainer- reusable shopping bags. Most of us probably use upwards of 400 plastic bags a year, which is a lot of waste! It should seem obvious to use these handy totes when they sell them at just about every store, and yet I will admit that I am always the 1st to forget them at home. Developing a system to get the bags in eyesight is helpful. Leave them on the front door, where you leave your shoes and coats, or in the back seat of the car. Have a few of them? Leave them in different places so that you always have one on hand. Throw it in the cart when you get the store, and when you load your items on the counter, the bag will be there waiting for you at the bottom. Grab those cloth tote bags, or ask for no bag when you just have a few items. Every time you remember this simple step you save a bag!
Pick your garbage
According to the EPA, recycling rates have risen over 25% in the last 20 years. We’re all trying to get on the right track, but there’s still a lot of garbage filling landfills every day. We may have the intention of recycling, but most of us let a lot slip into the trash. Be conscious about throwing things away. Ask yourself some questions - is it recyclable? Keep a brown paper bag or recycling bin next to your trash and think before you dump. In my kitchen I go right for trash, left for recycling instinctively. Once it’s a habit you don’t have to think about it, and if we all do our part those recycling rates will definitely rise. Whether we are home or at work, we need to be conscious of what gets trashed!
Out with the old
Every few weeks, or more realistically months, I clean out my place. I don’t mean the usual dusting and vacuuming-- I go through my wardrobe, closets that haven’t been touched in a few years, or piles that have built behind my coffee table. Basic clutter. I gather stuff into a pile, and when my pile starts to topple I drive it over to Goodwill. In just a few minutes I’ve cleaned my closets, helped someone less fortunate, and even gotten a nice tax write-off!
My mom taught me to turn off lights when I leave a room, but there’s more to it! Let’s take it one step further- unplug appliances when you are not using them. When I print something, I make sure to turn off the printer and unplug it as often as possible. Why waste the energy to have the printer sit unused all day? The energy saved by this may be small, but add it up with your cell phone charger, hair dryer, camera battery charger, toaster, lamps, computer charger, TV, microwave… You get the idea- that’s a lot of wattage! Not that I’m unplugging my microwave after every use, but when I make a conscious effort it’s pretty easy to find multiple energy saving options a day.
These thoughts may seem pretty basic, but that’s the idea! As human beings, our habits- good or bad- can make a considerable difference in our day to day. Train yourself to be a little more habitually green- instinctively recycle, save power and water, and use more organic products, and our world will become a healthier place for all of us. If you already follow these simple tips, consider this a challenge to find even more clever ways to help out our world. Happy greening!