Putting Our Earth First

Grrrrrr… The other day I watched some guy across the street toss an old (but totally usable) computer chair into the dumpster. He then proceeded to toss a humongous bird-cage and a stack of milk crates into the dumpster as well. While I did maddeningly flick him off through the window, I didn’t confront him about what he was doing with his unwanted “junk”. I am disappointed in myself for not doing anything except observe his stupidity. It blows my mind that people haven’t discovered recycling of items other than glass, paper, plastic and aluminum (although I am sure this neighbor of mine puts everything in the dumpster despite the presence of the huge recycling containers he had easy access to).

Sigh… And you know what else? There is a Goodwill up the street and another place not far away that takes furniture and other items for recycling or reselling. This guy was simply lazy and stupid. It became apparent a few days later that he was moving and probably wanted an easy way to get rid of stuff he no longer needed. It’s frustrating to witness people tossing stuff willy-nilly into the garbage especially because it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a peek at this website for informative, fun animations about stuff and consumerism and how it affects the world around us.

Most of us know that April 22 is Earth Day. Lowering our personal impact on the Earth is not only beneficial, but essential. Here is my top ten list of suggestions for getting started (or expanding what you already do). If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear about them! This is a lengthy post, so feel free skim it if you want. There is a lot of information that might be helpful, but my intent is not to overwhelm with words. I provided lots of links for you too.

1. Adopt a plant-based diet and go vegan! This one is obvious for a lot of my readers, but just in case there are some stragglers it is worth mentioning. Going vegan isn’t just good for the animals and your health, it’s incredibly kind to the environment too.

2. Stop using paper napkins, tissues, and paper towels. Tim and I have lived without all three of these items for several years and don’t miss them one single bit. Use cloth napkins, hankies, and absorbent kitchen towels instead.  And while we are on the subject of paper products, please try to buy 100% recycled, unbleached toilet paper. Why do we need toilet paper to be bleached? I mean honestly!! My butt could care less.

3. Recycle! This is probably the most obvious tip in the world, right? But, my story above proves that may not be the case for some folks. Recycling is easy!!! And while it is true that recycling stuff uses energy, at least items are getting a second (third, fourth, fifth, etc.) life instead of using brand new resources to create brand new stuff.

Vegetarian Times recently printed an article about recycling and provided plenty of resources for readers. Check out the April 2010 (if you don’t subscribe and don’t want to purchase the magazine, try your local library!) issue for links to places where you can recycle eyeglasses, ink cartridges, sneakers, books, bicycles, coats, cell phones and more.

I have made a happy habit out of taking my co-workers’ paper from the office recycling bin if one side is unused. I cut it into squares to use as scrap paper and I also use it to print out recipes I find on blogs!!

Buy used stuff whenever you can. My camera and most of its lenses are used. Some of my clothes are used. Mixing bowls, cookie scoops, dishes, furniture, music, etc. are easy to find used. It’s actually kind of fun to shop at thrift stores! You can also check out the freecycle website for giving and getting stuff for free, locally in your community.

4. Conserve water. Did you know that many people around the world don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water? Tim and I recently watched the film Flow and learned about the distribution of water on our planet. The film is a documentary about “the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel”. It saddens me that people are bathing in dirty water, and drinking that same water too, even when they know they risk getting very ill (what choice do they have if that is their only water source?).

Conversing water can be as simple as waiting to do your laundry until you have a full load, taking shorter showers, and turning the water off when you brush your teeth or wash the dishes. While you are at it, try washing your laundry with cold water instead of hot. You will save more energy and your clothes will be just as clean – I promise!!

5. Reduce the amount of mail you receive. If you are comfortable paying your bills online, this is a great way to lessen the clutter in your mailbox. Usually if you commit to paying online, the paper statements you receive in the mail will stop. If you find yourself getting lots of junk catalogs, check out this free online service. You create an account and search through alphabetical lists of all the companies that send out catalogs to potential consumers and select the ones you no longer wish to receive. The online service contacts the companies for you and you are removed from those mailing lists. ***EDIT: I read about the above website in Vegetarian Times and it appears to be a credible source. Please read the comment from one of the folks who helps run the website.*** You could also try contacting companies directly yourself and asking to be removed from their mailing lists. I have had success with this approach in the past.

6. Shop with cloth/canvas bags. There is simply NO excuse for using plastic bags. Canvas bags are way more comfortable to carry, hold more, last longer, can be tossed in the wash, and are inexpensive. If you sew, make your own!! San Francisco has a plastic bag ban, and Washington DC started a 5-cent per bag tax in January of this year and the number of plastic bags used dropped from 22 million to 3 million in a month!!! Amazing. Every city in the world should adopt a similar strategy. Stop using plastic bags already!!!

While we are on the subject of plastic bags, try reusable produce and bulk food bags too. Filling a shopping cart or basket with gorgeous produce and grains is great, but when they are stashed in icky plastic bags, it’s a pretty miserable sight. Plus, it’s wasteful. Check out these two sites if you want to switch to reusable bags:

QwertyO – I love these bags!!! I use them all the time and I don’t know what I would do without them. People ask me about them at the grocery store all the time. It’s proof that the interest in moving away from plastic bags does in fact exist.

Kootsac – You won’t be disappointed with these gorgeous reusable produce bags. In fact, these bags inspired me to sew my own reusable bags. But, if you aren’t handy with a sewing machine, I recommend Kootsac!

Want to make your own? Check out this site for step-by-step instructions.

7. Use earth-friendly cleaning and personal care products. I stopped buying products with ingredients on the label that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t decipher. I also never buy products from companies that test on animals – ever. NO EXCEPTIONS. I try to purchase products in bulk, make my own, or buy from vegans who sell their wares on Etsy. In past posts I have suggested a great little book called Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs. It is full of recipes for homemade health, beauty, and household products. Want to make your own laundry soap? You should! Want a super awesome vegan lip balm? You should go here (try her handmade soaps and face scrubs too!!!) – this is hands down my most favorite lip balm in the world and a percentage of the proceeds will go to The Animal Place in California. And, if you want to try shampoo bars, go here because I just started using them and my hair is so soft and lovely!!!

8. Drive less. I know for folks who don’t live in the city this may be more difficult. But, riding a bike is a great way to get exercise and lower your impact on the environment. If the area you live in is walker-friendly, why not walk more often when you run errands? Take public transportation. There is a woman who lives in the apartment building next to mine (the same building that housed the dude in the story at the start of my post) and she drives a huge SUV every single day. She makes lots of trips too. The sad part? It’s just her. I’m not a creepy spy or anything, but when I am at my kitchen table, I can see the parking area where her SUV sits. I think she associates a big vehicle with safety.

A great way to drive less is to combine your errands into one trip. Plan ahead whenever possible.

One way Tim and I have managed to drive less is through meal-planning. We sit down and choose a week’s worth of meals. We create a grocery list using only the ingredients required for those meals plus any other necessities or food staples we may need. That way we only have to go to the store once a week. If we have a craving or forgot an item, we ride or walk. This saves on driving, but also food expenses.

9. Shop locally. The best way to do this is by shopping at your farmers’ market, if your community has one (or more). Local produce and food doesn’t have to travel far, and if you buy organic, you are doing an even greater deed for the planet. Your money stays in your local economy and you are supporting folks who work hard to bring you healthy, high-quality food.

You can shop locally for non-food items too. I avoid Wal-Mart, Target, and other big corporation stores because they suck. Sure you pay less at those places, but the quality isn’t always as good and you might be supporting overseas labor.

10. Get outside more. Go hiking, bike-riding, or swimming in a lake. Appreciate the natural world around you. Observe the wildlife. Breathe the fresh air. The more time you spend immersed in nature, the more you will realize why we must protect the Earth. It’s common sense. Just remember to tread lightly – don’t litter, stick to developed trails in delicate areas, don’t make a lot of noise and scare the animals – leave no trace essentially.

11. A bonus tip: STOP SMOKING (if you are a smoker). You are polluting the air for humans and animals. I literally cover my face and cross the street if a smoker is walking in front of me, or near me. Having never smoked myself, this is easier said than done for people who are smokers. But, change isn’t always easy. Do it for your health. Plus, you are supporting evil corporations. And, animals suffer. Testing the affects of cigarettes on hopeless animals is insanely cruel. Don’t be a part of that nastiness.

If you have tips for lowering your impact on the Earth, please let me know!!! I’m always learning and trying to improve. One thing to remember: It isn’t only about you, it’s about making sure the Earth is around for people and animals to enjoy far into the future.

Tips Here, Tips There

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This post is dedicated to tips on food budgeting and reducing our impact on the environment.

Food Budgeting:

I am very, very meticulous about how I spend money and manage my finances. I also love grocery shopping, cooking, and baking (and eating, obviously!). But it can be difficult not to overspend on groceries, especially when you don’t have a plan or a shopping list ahead of time. When Tim and I first moved to Portland, we lived off a very small combined income and I budgeted our groceries to around $40 per week. It wasn’t easy, but we managed. Over the years our cooking abilities have grown and so have our lifestyles (we went vegan together just over three years ago). The cost of food has increased, the economy is a messy rollercoaster of nonsense, and we are both severly underpaid in our careers. Yet, we still manage to eat the most wonderful meals every week without stressing over funds. How? Several years ago Tim came up with the best plan for budgeting our grocery expenses (and I am sure many other people do this as well): We sit down together the same night each week with a stack of cookbooks and choose seven meals to have for dinner over the next week. We write down each recipe and include the cookbook and page number and then clip the list to the refrigerator for reference. Then we build our grocery list around those meals and add to the list any staples we might need like milk, apples, toilet paper, etc. Using this method ensures that we use the numerous cookbooks we have and buy only what we really need at the store. We shop at a few different places so I also code our list so we know what to purchase at each store. That might sound nerdy and overly organized, but it really works. Planning ahead makes a huge difference!!! And, because we aren’t tossing stuff willy-nilly into our cart, we can buy organic produce and special treats. Sometimes we do fall victim to the “that’s not on the list but I want it” situation, and that’s OK – I don’t want to live too strictly!!! But overall this method has worked for us for the last five years, at least.

Reducing Our Impact on the Environment:

There are a million and one ways to reduce our impact on the environment (check out a previous post on the subject here) yet our planet is suffering more and more every day. Here are a handful of my favorite tips (food-related) for treading lightly (I know many of you already do these things, but its still fun to share):

1. Use canvas/cloth/fabric shopping bags instead of plastic. Not only are they roomier than plastic, but they  have nice straps so that you can carry them over your shoulders. They are prettier, last longer (sturdier!!) and can be washed. Most importantly, they don’t end up in landfills or as litter on the street like plastic bags do. If you want more information on how terrible plastic bags are for the environment visit this website (you can purchase reusable bags from the site as well). Or, check out Jessica’s post on how she made her own bags from old t-shirts!!! Crafty, crafty!!!

2. Stop using plastic produce bags at the grocery store. Tim and I made a bunch of our own bulk food and produce bags last year.  You can also buy some pretty nifty bags online if you aren’t a sewer. Here are two of my favorites: Qwerty O and Kootsac. I understand that not all grocery stores will allow customers to use their own produce bags, but I’ve never had any troubles. If you shop at co-ops or other local stores, you could try bringing in clean containers for purchasing liquid bulk items like agave or maple syrup. Lots of places will even let you bring in jars to fill with dry bulk goods. Just make sure to tare the weight of the container first!!!

3. Reuse  packaging. When Tim and I buy packaged cereal, we save the inner sleeve and use it to store raisins or other dried fruits. We will also wrap sammies in them for packable lunches. The cardboard box becomes scratch paper or packing material for mailing gifts. Bread bags become a way to store kale or carrots in the fridge. You get the idea. We try really hard to avoid plastic packaging, but it isn’t always possible. Just do the best you can.

4. Buy foods in bulk. This tip is a combination of the last two tips. If you buy in bulk, you save money and eliminate wasteful packaging. Plus, there is such a great variety of bulk foods – it’s so much fun to cruise down bulk food aisles!!!

5. Save veggie scraps (ends of carrots, tops of onions, leafy celery bits, mushroom stems, etc) in a container in your freezer. When your container is full, you can make veggie broth! I don’t do this enough, but I should!

6. Buy local, seasonal, and organic whenever possible. I know this is a tough one, but it is incredibly rewarding. Shop at farmers markets! Buying locally means less fuel wasted in transfer = less pollution. You are also supporting local farmers which is mighty nice! When you buy what is in season, you get yummy, fresh, happy produce!!!

Those are my favorite tips! What are some of yours?