Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Actually IS Easy Being Green (and cheaper, too)

Since starting this blog I've meant to write about easy ways to go green, but I kind of got side-tracked by cloth-diapering. In my defense, I am a fluff addict, so I have diapers on the brain quite a bit.

Anyway, I've compiled a list of simple things that you can change in your life that will not only make you 'greener,' but will also save money (and many will make you healthier as well). Of course there are the usual green tips - turn off the lights when you're not in the room, don't have the TV, stereo, computer etc. all going at once if you're only using one of them, turn the tap off while you're brushing your teeth, but everybody knows about that stuff and does all that regularly (or at least I hope you do!). This is a list of things you may or may not have considered...

1. Wash everything you can in cold water.
About 90% of the energy used to do laundry goes to heating the water, so if you switch to washing with cold water you will save a significant amount of both electricity and money. While hot water does improve the stain-removing qualities of detergent, it's not really necessary (unless you're washing cloth diapers - hot water is required to kill any bacteria/microorganisms present). If you're worried about stains, just pre-treat with something like OxyClean, something you usually have to do even if you regularly wash with hot water. Smells come out just fine on cold. Also, there are many detergents on the market that are 'specially formulated' to work in cold water (usually they have more or special enzymes or surfactants that are designed to work better at lower temperatures), but even regular detergents will work fine on cold. You can dissolve powdered detergent in a cup of warm water before putting it into the machine.

2. Use dryer balls instead of fabric softener.
Fabric softener is one of the most USELESS products you can buy. You don't need it. At all. Most people don't even know how it actually softens your laundry - it coats it with animal fat, generally horse fat. Disgusting, I know. Not only is fabric softener a waste of money, it also attracts dirt so it makes your clothes get dirty faster. And it makes fabrics repel water, so using it on your towels is just ridiculous. Let's not even get into all the extra chemicals you're exposing yourself to (like, for example, the artificial scents in everything from fabric softener, detergent, scent sprays, which are toxic and carcinogenic).

All you need to soften your laundry are a few dryer balls.
Nellie's PVC-free Dryer Balls

Nellie's makes some nice ones - they're PVC free and they have a slot for a naturally scented fragrance stick, but I prefer the ones made of wool. Wool dryer balls can be bought in a number of eco-friendly type boutiques, or you can make your own.

Some felted wool dryer balls that I made.
Dryer balls do a number of things - soften your laundry by bouncing around in the dryer, they reduce static, and they also reduce drying time because they separate your clothes/towels/whatever while they're drying and increase the air circulation around them.

If you want to add something to your wash cycle, use vinegar - 1/4 cup in the fabric softener slot (or in a Downy ball) will do the same thing as fabric softener, plus it helps remove unwanted smells from your clothes (instead of covering them up like fabric softner).

3. Put up a clothesline.
My work costume drying in a very historically accurate way.

Drying clothes outside is a great money saver. If it takes a lot of electricity to heat water for the wash, imagine how much it takes to heat the dryer for an hour (or longer). Of course, Canadian weather (especially winter) puts a damper on how often you can dry your clothes outside, but every little bit helps. Plus it has added benefits - the sun and wind are great at taking any unwanted smells out of your laundry that the vinegar didn't get, and your clothes will dry nice and wrinkle free - no ironing required!

4. Eat REAL food.
By this I mean buy the raw ingredients and prepare your own food (this goes for baby food, too). Not only is this cheaper than buying pre-made packaged food (for every $10 you spend on pre-made packaged food, approximately $9 is for the packaging), it's much much healthier. When you make your own food, you control what goes into it. Sure, you have to deal with whatever was in the soil or feed that your food grew in/ate, but if you choose organic you can cut down on the hormones and pesticides that non-organic food is slathered in. Not to mention the harmful preservatives that are put in everything to increase shelf life and make the food look 'prettier.' And the various rat and insect parts that unavoidably become part of factory-made food.
It also helps if you buy your food from the farmer's market. If you buy local food then you're doing a bunch good things - you're helping to support local farmers and your community, you're buying food that's actually RIPE when picked (and tastes so much better!), and you're not contributing to the pollution caused by shipping food across countries.

5. Make your own jam, pickles etc.

If you're already preparing your own food, it's not too much of a leap to preserve it, too. This has all the benefits listed above, plus it's fun! Even food bought at a farmer's market (which on the surface may seem more expensive than buying at a grocery store) will be cheaper in the end if you use it to make your own jams, preserves, pickles etc. instead of buying these ready made.

6. Clean your home with vinegar and baking soda.
I'm sure everyone has heard that indoor air pollution is often worse than outdoor air pollution. It's a sad fact. We spend a lot of time indoors these days, usually with the windows closed. The way to freshen the air is NOT with smelly sprays but by reducing the amount of harmful chemicals we're exposed to. An easy way to do this is cut out commercial cleaning products (and their toxic ingredients) which are responsible for a good portion of the indoor pollution.
You wanna wash the floor? Pour some vinegar in a bucket of hot water and mop away, although technically you don't even need the vinegar, hot water will wash just fine. The toilets? Sprinkle some baking soda on the sides and then pour in some vinegar. The bathtub? Same as for toilets, and then scrub away. Vinegar also does a stellar job at removing lime scaling.

7. Use cloth instead of paper.
This really should be a no-brainer, especially for paper towels - why spend money on something you're just gonna throw away after using? Why can't we use towels to mop up spills or wash our dishes if we use them to dry our hands? I have a stack of wash clothes that started out life as bath towels. When these towels became worn out, my mom cut out the best parts, serged the edges, and voila! a free source of almost infinitely reusable mopper-uppers and cleaner-uppers. I swiped these clothes when I moved out and they're still going strong, even though they're probably close to 20 years old.
Wash cloths can also be used as tissues. It's not really any grosser than using a paper tissue - after all, washing the cloth will sanitize it (wash on hot if you're really worried, and then you've nothing at all to worry about). And if you want lotion in your tissue, just put lotion on the cloth; simple.
I haven't used paper napkins in years because they're just as much of a waste as paper tissues, if not more. Instead I use dish towels that I cut in half and then hemmed on the cut side. They work a lot better than paper napkins because you don't have to use a million of them if you're eating something messy like chicken wings, and, of course, they can be washed and reused.
Make-up pads and facial pads can also be made of cloth. You can buy some ready made, or you can just use wash cloths.
And don't even get me started on diapers. The average cost of using disposables from birth to potty training is a whopping $2500 FOR EACH CHILD, and that's not even counting disposable wipes and training pants. The average cost of using cloth diapers? $900, and that's INCLUDING the cost to wash them. Plus that's for mid-range cloth diapers - you could easily spend only a third of that, and you'd still be able to use the diapers on multiple children. And don't talk to me about poop grossing you out. No matter what you use, you're gonna get puked, peed and pooped on, that's all part of being a parent. Anyway, you're supposed to dump the poop in the toilet first even if you're using disposables (read the package, it's on every one). And you know all those gross up-the-back explosions that happen with disposables? Yeah, they don't happen in cloth.

So those are some simple green choices, but let's up the ante....

8. Grow your food.
My garden, June 2011.
You don't need a big backyard for this (though it certainly helps). You can grow tomatoes on a balcony, or hanging tomatoes (or strawberries) inside an apartment. Herbs can be grown anywhere. Potatoes can be grown in a bag or barrel. The possibilities are endless. And by growing your own food you control everything, most importantly what goes into the soil (and therefore what eventually makes it into the food you grow) so it's important that you don't use pesticides or herbicides, even on your lawn, because it WILL go into the soil and then find it's way into the food in your garden.

9. Make your own laundry detergent.

From 29 diapers

Natural laundry detergents (i.e. ones that aren't petroleum based) are much safer (and cheaper) to use. Petroleum based cleaners (Tide, Gain etc.) are chock full of toxic chemicals that can cause a myriad of problems. You can buy natural laundry detergent (vegetable based) like Nellie's or Laundry Tarts, but making your own is easy, too. There are a number of different recipes, but basically they contain washing soda, borax or oxyclean, and some kind of soap.

Here's one recipe that I want to try (you would use about 1 tbsp per regular sized load):
2 cups grated Dr. Bronner's castile soap bar (1 bar)
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax   (from 29 Diapers)
Homemade detergent like this costs about $4 per batch, with one batch lasting about a month.

You can also use soap nuts - these are dried seeded berries from an Asian tree, and they are a truly natural way to wash.

You can use them in your laundry, as shampoo, as soap, to wash your dishes... anything you would use conventional soap for.

10. Do your laundry by hand.
Yes, this is more work but it saves a tonne of money. There are a number of ways you can do this. Some people put their laundry in the bathtub and stomp on it like they're making wine. Alternately, you can make yourself a camp-style washer bucket which will make the whole process a lot easier, and run you maybe $20.

Or, you can buy a hand powered washing machine for about triple that price.
Wonder Wash hand crank washer

A lot of people choose to wash even their cloth diapers by hand, and they do actually get really clean, and it doesn't all that much effort - only about 5-10 minutes of agitation (you can leave your laundry to soak for 30 or so minutes prior to or between agitations).

11. Use a menstual cup and/or 'mama pads.'
If you thought disposable diapers were a waste of money, imagine how much money a woman throws in the garbage by using disposable menstrual pads and tampons for 35 or so years!

A Diva Cup can save you a lot of money, and it's so easy to use.

It's a silicone cup that you put in kind of like a tampon and you empty it out periodically. What's great about the cup is that it is reusable, washable, non-reactive (it's made of medical grade silicone) and you don't have to worry about getting Toxic Shock Syndrome if you leave it in for too long (unlike tampons).

If you're like me you need to use pads as back-up (in case of leaks), and cloth menstrual pads are a cheaper alternative to disposable ones.
Aren't they cute? These are from Talulah Bean
Monthly pads from Green Line Diapers - must have!

If you shudder at the thought of washing blood-soaked pads, get over it. What do you do if you leak onto your clothes, do you throw them out? No, I didn't think so.

12. Use cloth instead of toilet paper.
This one will be a really tough sell for a lot of people, but if you cloth diaper your child (and use cloth wipes on them) then this isn't too much of a stretch. Not only will this save you money, it will save millions of trees, if you care about that kind of thing. I've only been using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper for a few months (and I still use paper for the messiest stuff) but I tell you I much prefer it - cloth works so much better than paper. I also have a diaper sprayer (which is really just a re-branded hand-held bidet) so I use that first and then a cloth. I keep a wet bag in the bathroom to toss the used cloths in, and then wash them with the diaper laundry. No, it doesn't smell. No, it isn't gross. Grow up, people.

So that's it, my list of some basic greener choices. If you're wondering, I do 9 or 10 of the things on this list.