written by Sara Janssen about a year ago but still very relevant.
It’s so fun to go grocery shopping when you have pretty bags to bring your food home in! My counter was brimming with color today…I just couldn’t help but take a photo. If you’ve never made the switch to cloth grocery bags…you’re missing out. But don’t stop at groceries! Bring them to every store!
My most recent find was cloth produce bags. Instead of using all of those flimsy plastic bags in the produce aisle, you can use these great organic bags.
My favorite places to get bags:
I prefer the bags with long handles. I think they are easier to carry…you can put them over your shoulder, or tie the handles in a knot and carry them like a traditional plastic bag. These bags stretch and can hold an amazing amount of food. They won’t break. Of course, you don’t have to get fancy string bags. Cloth tote bags from the thrift store work perfectly fine too! There are so many bags with company logos, event logos, etc. on them…you can snatch them up at any Goodwill.
Filed under: Lifestyle
You know, I would love to homestead and live off the grid. Might be smarter in the long run, anyway. But, at the same time, I recognize that our family is never going to do this unless forced. really.
But I think we can achieve a good degree of preparedness living in town, as well. Perhaps not to the same degree, but some is better than none, right? Plus, city living enables urban homesteaders to build networks and relationships with other like-minded families that will benefit everyone in the long run.
So what can we do here? I’m trying to figure that out. We’re reading into solar panels, but understand that our home will probably never be able to be completely solar-powered. I can sew, which is a nice perk, and I’m well-versed in reusing fabric (not to mention, my collection of WWII era housewife books has a lot of good tips). We are pretty good at reusing other things, as well. We have tools and skills needed to turn wood into useful items. Said useful items might not be the best-looking things (our finish work is not the best) but they are useable. Drawback = many of our tools are power tools.
Gardening and preserving food is an area we should improve in. We have some garden challenges (acidic soil which has always resulted in incredibly stunted produce – we’re talking green peppers the size of acorns on plants that barely reach 1 foot tall), and we also lost our garden a year or so ago, so we have no garden to speak of at the present time (other than my herb garden). None of us has any idea how to work a gun, which is clearly something we should learn how to do (both for hunting and for self-defense in the event of some sort of unique situation). I’d like to learn how to make soap, though the challenges of doing so with young children running around are what’s kept me from doing so so far.
I’m pretty sure Des Moines won’t allow residents to raise chickens (despite that most of the blogs below discuss raising chickens on the authors’ urban homesteads), and though I’m not sure of the rules about beekeeping, I know I don’t want to do it myself. (PS, the city code can be found here.)
I’ve found a few resources for those looking for more information on self-sufficient city living.
The Self-Sufficient Urbanite Blog (also now featured in the blogroll)
Article on Reality Sandwich that also has a good definition of Urban Homesteading
Mother Earth News, always a good read (though a recent article on solar panels for “everyone” was quite disappointing)
The Urban Homesteader based in Minneapolis
There are two main things that concern me about plastics.
1. Chemical off-gassing from PVC. PVC, or vinyl, is, according to The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, “one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created.” It off-gasses (or evaporates) chemicals into the air, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates. These chemicals “may pose irreversible life-long health threats.” Phthalates are a class of chemicals that can cause reproductive harm, allergies, behavioral problems in children, and diabetes, among other things.
PVC can be identified by its label of the number 3 inside the arrowed triangle commonly found on plastic products. It cannot be recycled.
PVC is also found in a lot of children’s and baby products and little ones can be exposed when they chew on it.
2. Leaching chemicals into food, particularly Bisphenol-A, or BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor and mimics the hormone estrogen. (If you’re going for man-boobs, keep drinking that water out of plastic bottles!) A big problem with BPA is that it doesn’t stay put in the plastics that touch our food. It migrates into our food, and it has an easier time migrating when it’s heated. Here is a good article about the concern with BPA and foods. And here’s another one.
But there are some plastics that don’t worry me as much.
1. I know that some of our old furniture has plastic. The chair I’m sitting on right now is covered with vinyl. Now this has no scientific basis, but the chair is also from the 1960s and has not been recovered. I plan to recover it eventually, but in the meantime, I personally think that most of the off-gassing has already occurred and we’re relatively safe.
2. Plastic toys, especially older ones (like from my childhood) and toys for older kids. At 4, W is no longer chewing on his toys (obviously). I’d prefer if they weren’t all plastic, but I don’t worry as much about it now as I did when he was still slobbering on everything.
3. The little bits of plastic that are found in everything from my refrigerator to the clock radio to our telescope and the keyboard I’m typing on. Two reasons I don’t worry about them. First, they’re not likely to be PVC and I worry less about offgassing from non-PVC plastics. Second, there is absolutely nothing I can do about them.
4. When plastic does more good than harm. Plastic bike helmets, for example. There’s not a really good substitute for this and I’d never ride a bike without one.
Here is a good article about good plastics and bad plastics that explains in a more coherent fashion why some plastics are OK.
A camera crew from a local TV station is coming to my house today to talk about “Plastic Free Living.” I don’t know if that’s what they really plan to do the story on, but I think that truly plastic free living would be truly impossible. Even with unlimited funds. Maybe if you moved to a remote location and lived completely self-sufficiently, and your radio was from the 40s and you found an old telephone and you never needed commercially-prepared medicine and you used a horse for transportation.
January was a banner month for producing waste, but all for a good cause – sorting, cleaning, purging. A lot went to Goodwill, but a lot was tossed, too. And I’m OK with that. We had several things for Freecycle, but Freecycle is annoying me lately, it seems like half the people flake out, and the email list is clogged with “wanted” and “needed” posts, which seems really greedy and against the spirit of the thing.
We made inroads in reducing plastics, mainly by not bringing any new plastics into our house. A few toys, but otherwise, that’s it!
Filed under: Lifestyle
We don’t get the paper, so I’m a few (several) days behind here…
The Janssens, who are travelling the country in a veggie-oil fueled RV, had a feature in the Register this week. Sara has of course contributed content to this blog, and their blog, Live Lightly Tour, appears in our blogroll.
1. Save your waste printer paper and use the other side! (I save all of my waste paper – whether it’s an extra page I didn’t need, or a paper whose contents are no longer needed – and then print “for my eyes only” type documents on the empty sides.) It’s easy and saves you money too!
2. Take your own reusable cloth bags when you go to the grocery store. This cuts down on plastic waste.
3. Buy local, buy organic. Opinions vary as to whether it’s best to buy local or best to buy organic. Obviously, if you can buy local, organic foods, that’s clearly best, but if you have to choose between the two, follow your conscience or do your own research and decide what’s best for your own family. Our family prefers local over organic if we have to choose.
4. Support local businesses, especially those that sell products which are manufactured locally or made from local materials. Buying locally-produced items means you cut down on the amount of energy that is required to get products to you. Our family makes many of our own personal-care items, but when we buy, we buy locally-produced products from Prairieland Herbs located near Woodward.
5. Use reusable cloth diapers on your children, and reusable cloth pads (or menstural cups) on yourself (if you’re a woman). For more information on these options, please visit these pages.
6. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, handkerchiefs instead of tissues, rags or towels instead of paper towels.
Some of you own your own businesses, work from home, or work for micro-businesses. In those scenarios, you can generally go to whatever lengths you want to make your business more green. Want to use only 100% post-consumer recycled paper products? You only need to find a supplier. Want to clean with only all-natural, locally-produced products? Fine. You are not who this article was written for.
This article is aimed at the cubicle-dwellers, the commuters, the people who work in a big company and who have not only a supervisor, but also a manager, a department head, and a division head. You may feel your options for a more natural work environment are limited. Yet, you are not completely without options and resources. Keep reading for some suggestions!
1) Bring a plant to work. My former employer did not allow employees to bring plants for their desks until a few years before I quit (we were allowed a few photographs to be placed in a Company-provided photo frame). But most employers have no problems with workers decorating their workspaces with a plant or two. A plant not only brightens up your area, providing a lift to your mood, but they also help to purify the air and soak up some of the nasties floating around the office.
2) Take your own drinking water in a SIGG or Klean Kanteen bottle. Stay hydrated at work (key to good health), and drink the same purified water you drink at home, without creating the waste associated with disposable water bottles or paper or plastic cups.
3) Bring reusable products to work, rather than using the disposable items provided by your employer. Towels for the bathroom, rags for cleaning or wiping up spills, reusable cups, and cloth napkins are all easily portable and won’t make you feel like too much of a freak.
4) Consider bringing your own paper products, such as notepads, so that you can use recycled versions.
5) Check with your supervisor or the cleaning crew about being allowed to clean your own work space. Do your own dusting, disinfecting, smudge-removing, and spot-cleaning with homemade or commercially-available green cleaning supplies.
6) If you are in a position to influence the details of big meetings, see if you can’t arrange to meet via phone or even video conference call to cut down on the amount of travel involved. Documents can be emailed back and forth as needed, or even posted in a secure area of the company’s network.
7) Don’t make unnecessary copies or printouts. Before you print something for your own use, consider whether you really need a hard copy. Going to a meting? Take your laptop and look at the agenda and take notes electronically, instead of on paper. Organizing a meeting? See if you can’t book a meeting room with a projector, so that nobody needs to print out the agenda.
8) Control your lunch time! Bring your lunch from home in reusable containers. Avoid soft plastic lunch bags (many contain lead). Opt instead for metal boxes or cloth bags. For the food itself, if you want to avoid plastic, To Go Ware has some nice metal lunch containers. Pack yourself a nice, healthy lunch made from locally-produced foods, organic if possible. Instead of driving somewhere for lunch, take a walk outside and snack on your goodies. Good for your health, all around, and better for the planet than driving to a restaurant or even eating at the company cafeteria.
9) Encourage your company to implement greener policies company-wide. Many companies are big into employee involvement these days, and your supervisor and/or manager might be quite open to your establishing an employee advisory committee to reduce the environmental impact of doing business. Such a commitee, organized by you, might even help increase your chances of promotions in the future (it shows you are a self-starter, you care about the company, you can organize and lead a group of people, etc.). And the committee, working with the marketing department, could net your company some good publicity. Whether you choose to start a committee or to go it alone, some ideas for company-wide policies or practices include:
- Using recycled products, such as paper (notepads, copier paper, and printer paper), toilet paper, paper towels, etc.
- Using green cleaning products rather than the industrial chemicals used by most large busineses.
- Setting up or promoting the use of an existing recycling program. Remember, employees will generally only recycle if it is convenient. My former employer made one green recycling bin available per floor, so employees who wished to recycle had to get up from their desks and walk to a central location to use it. As you can guess, 99% of employees chose instead to use the garbage can located conveniently under their desks.
Do you have other tips for making the work day a little greener?
Hey, it’s short notice, but Low Impact Week is June 1-7. Visit the Crunchy Chicken for more information and a list of suggested activities. Low Impact Week is a great opportunity to make a few easy changes to your routine that will help reduce your impact on the planet. You can do anything for only a week, right?
simlu-posted at Wallypoppers.
There was an environmental rally in Des Moines on Saturday. I wasn’t there. But I’m disappointed. I can’t tell if it’s disappointment at the event or, more likely, at the media coverage. “Green Lifestyle” in the media seems to equal carpooling, walking, or riding the bus.
Which is certainly important. Carpooling is impractical for me (even carpooling with one friend at this point usually means at least three carseats and two adults, which means a bigger vehicle is needed, thereby cancelling out any environmental benefits of carpooling), but we do combine errands whenever possible, and cut our driving down as much as we can.
But there is so much more to a green lifestyle than just your chosen mode of transportation!
There’s the choices you make when it comes to what food you eat. How you care for your family’s health. The way you clean your house. The way you build your house. The clothes you wear. The diapers you choose. The activities you participate in. Even your job, or the way you carry your groceries home.
I have an article in the works about easy steps to take towards a greener lifestyle, because I think this is a major stumbling block for many people. They want to do something to live a bit greener, but they can’t afford to buy a new car and riding their bike everywere seems a bit out of reach. So they give up, but carry that helpless, hopeless feeling around with them. That’s not a good thing!
reposted with permission, written by Sara Janssen, former Iowan!
Last year I discovered a delightful, but disturbing, little book…called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (by John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning).
The book goes “behind the scenes” of your “stuff”. Where did it come from? Who made it? What type of working conditions did they have? What components went into making that item? What kind of environmental impact did it have? It’s an eye-opener to see how complicated and wasteful making “stuff” really is. The different items it examines: coffee, newspaper, t-shirt, shoes, bike, car, computer, hamburger, french fries, and cola.
Here are some excerpts from the intro:
“Made in Taiwan”. I’d seen thousands of such stickers in my life without ever giving them a second thought. Taiwan. Taiwan. Not just a word on a sticker. It’s an island. A country. A real place with real people across an ocean from me. Suddenly, the overloaded shelves around me looked different. I was stripped of the illusion that stuff comes from stores and is carted away by garbage trucks: everything on those shelves came from a real place on Earth and will go to some other place when I’m done with it. Everything had a history — a trail of causes and effects–and a future. Everything had a life, of sorts. If you tried very hard, you could put a “Made in __________” sticker on each car wax bottle, speaker component, or old magazine on those shelves.
I started wondering where the things in my life come from. As coffee beans, newspapers, and soda cans make their way toward me, what wakes do they leave behind, rippling outward across the world? And what had to happen for millions of people like me to go about our ordinary business…using lots of stuff?
What happens around the world to support a day in the life of a North American is surprising, dramatic, and even disturbing. Multiplied by the billion members of the world’s consumer societies, it adds up to stresses greater than the world can withstand. The first step toward solving any problem is recognizing it. I’ve started by looking at the things in my life in a new way and learning what I can about their secret lives.
One of the reasons why the Compact is so appealing to me, is that it forces me to find new avenues of acquiring things. I am becoming more creative and more patient as I search for an item that I need. When you buy something used or someone gives you a used item…you are helping to stop the need for NEW resources to be tapped to replace that item you bought from the store.
A great example of this from the book is the chapter on the life of a T-shirt. If I went to the mall to buy a new t-shirt (instead of the thrift store), the following resources would be used (paraphrased from p. 20-25):
- Oil: the polyester in the shirt started as a few tablespoons of petroleum (they go on to talk about all the effects of oil drilling, environmental concerns, etc.)
- Cotton: to get the 2 oz. of cotton needed for the t-shirt, 14 square feet of cropland in Mississippi were harvested. The soil was first fumigated with aldicarb, one of the most toxic pesticides applied in the U.S. The cotton seeds were also dipped in fungicide.
- Dyes: Regulated by the EPA as hazardous substances.
- Sewing: the fabric was shipped to Honduras. Honduran women cut and sewed it into a T-shirt and earned 30 cents an hour. After it was completed, the box of t-shirts went to Baltimore, by train to San Francisco, and by truck to Seattle. It was unpacked on a department store shelf under a 150-watt floodlamp. That’s where I found it. I bought it because I liked the earth-tone color. And I brought it home by car in a bag of low-density polyethylene from Louisiana.
- Laundry: I spilled coffee on myself and had to change…and I threw the other one into the laundry chute. Later I washed it in water heated to 140 degrees by natural gas flames. Boxed powder detergent and chlorine bleach from a high-density polyethylene bottle removed the coffee from the fabric. The coffee, detergent, and bleach washed into Seattle’s sewer system. An electric dryer evaporated the water from my shirt. The greatest environmental impacts associated with my T-shirt arose in my own laundry room: washing and drying the shirt just ONCE demanded 1/10 the energy as manufacturing it in the first place.
What can one person do to make a change in this process? Well, let me tell you. Little things make a big difference. In the case of the t-shirt, you can…
- Buy USED or vintage clothing.
- Wash only full loads of laundry.
- Use warm instead of hot water when you can.
- Wear your clothes more than once before washing.
- Look for organic cotton apparel.
- Encourage others to do the same.
If anything, I hope this has encouraged you to THINK about the secret life of your stuff.