I thought I would start sharing some of the ways I’ve been trying to make my home both greener and more earth friendly in an attempt to bring everything in my life into better alignment with nature and my worldview. It seems that every time I turn around I’m reading about yet another way the environment is getting trashed and while I may be at a total and complete loss as to what I can do to effect change globally, I do have complete control over my home, so that’s where I’ve started.
I won’t lie. It took us a while to get into the swing of things and recycle all the time and even recognize all of the things we throw away that we can recycle. There were times when it seemed overwhelming before we got organized, and there was a lot of trial and error with certain aspects of it, but it’s worth it to leave the planet a little better off, so please, don’t get frustrated. Just do the best you can. Every little thing helps.
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
We try to use less, and when we absolutely can’t, we recycle. This includes bringing home water bottles and things like that from restaurants where we know they won’t be recycled. We have children, and one thing you will find when you have kids is that the cups they tend to give them in restaurants are generally plastic. We’ve started bringing them home to reuse them or if they are flimsy just toss them into the recycling. It’s actually fantastically difficult to reduce the amount of plastic we consume as a family, but we’ve also started recycling all of our plastic bags to our local grocery stores. They will frequently take the plastic from everyday items too, like the wrapping on toilet paper for example.
Cardboard and Newspaper
This one isn’t difficult. We simply break down the cardboard from just about everything we use and recycle it, along with our newspapers, at the curb. I know this doesn’t exist everywhere, and if we lived in the country we would investigate composting our newspaper.
Glass and Metal
We recycle all of our glass and metal at the curb too, but we’ve also taken them to local recycling facilities as well. The jury is still out on which is better to do. I’m thinking it’s actually better to take them to the facility ourselves, but that’s based more on my type A worry wart personality than anything substantial.
Batteries and Light Bulbs
Our local hardware stores all take these items to recycle.
If you have a Best Buy in your area they will take most electronics. There are electronics recycling spots in most cities as well. Most service providers will take old cell phones and sometimes even pay you.
Buying Recycled and Compostable
My kids love straws. I hate straws because they are plastic and will end up in a land fill. There were many months of whining at my house because I refused to get straws until I realized that there are compostable straws. I found two different kinds, cardboard ones, which I didn’t really like, and bioplastic that is made of plant fibers and completely degrades. I like those ones better. I would buy glass ones, accept I totally don’t trust my kids with glass, and honestly I don’t even trust myself not to break them in the sink.
I also try to keep an eye out and buy products that are made from other recycled products. For example, energizer now has batters that are made from a certain percentage of recycled batteries, and so on.
Finally, we don’t get rid of anything until it truly doesn’t work anymore, and we’ve started only buying thrift store purchases where we can. It saves money and it stops items from ending up in a landfill before all of their use is gone. We haven’t bought brand new clothes for our children probably ever, though they’re small enough that the second hand clothes we have found or been given are usually still in great shape because kids grow out of stuff so fast. With the money we’ve been saving we’ve been able to spend more time with our family than we might have otherwise.
2. Cleaning Products
Spray Cleanser or Mixture for Mopping
We use one cup of vinegar and a few drops of lavender oil per large spray bottle (I found mine at Target) and then I fill the rest up with water. (A note on lavender oil: It has many aromatherapy and anti-bacterial properties, the best of which is promoting peace and calm, in my opinion. You can use other oils in your cleansing solution though. Many people like to use Rose Otto—which is expensive, but you don’t need much and a tiny bottle lasts forever. If you decide to try different oils—lemon and other citrus are also nice as well as safe—I suggest checking on the toxicity of said oils with a good website or oils book beforehand. Certain oils, like sage for example, smell nice, but are toxic in large quantities, and that includes skin contact. And others, such as Rosemary oil, can trigger contractions in pregnant women.) We use these to clean counters, cabinets, spills on the floor, tables, the bathroom, mirrors and windows…pretty much you name it, this mixture cleans it, and well. We even use it on our hardwood floors. Vinegar will kill bacteria and germs. If someone has the flu and I’m really worried about the germs floating around I will buy a cheap bottle of Vodka and use that to disinfect the bathroom. It’s safer than bleach and it kills just as many germs. (Plus, you can have a martini when you’re done, if you can stomach the disgusting cheap vodka that is.)
I’ve experimented making my own dish soap more than once, and I do like using some watered down Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, but it doesn’t make a very thick soap and it doesn’t lather much, which my husband hates, even though it does clean even if it isn’t lathering. I will also use that occasionally to clean the floors and what not if I’ve got something particularly stubborn stuck on there. The only reason I don’t normally use it on the entire floor is because if you use too much of the Castile soap, which I have a tendency to do simply because it doesn’t lather like regular soap, it will leave a film on hardwood floors which you then have to mop off with clean water if you want streak free floors. (I usually don’t bother if this happens, instead I just avoid it the next time because who has the time to mop their floors twice? Or inclination, as far as that goes.) So, since my husband doesn’t like it we have ended up using the Seventh Generation dish soap, which is biodegradable.
I’ve tried many things over the years from soap nuts to mixing up my own soap, and most of these things were fine, but I never seem to find the time to mix up my own laundry detergent these days, so I’ve been using a local store brand that is biodegradable and not super expensive. We also use Seventh Generation when we can find it on sale, but it’s kind of expensive otherwise.
¼ cup of Vinegar with a drop or two of lavender oil or other oil will make your clothes soft and smell lovely, though if you have particularly delicate fabrics I would give this a miss because over time the vinegar will be just as hard on fabrics as regular fabric softer. Sometimes we also use Seventh Generation fabric softener. The vinegar will do a good job of killing any strange odors on your clothing or in pet bedding as well.
Cleaning in the Bathroom
Across the board toilet cleansers are so harmful to the environment that we’ve stopped using them. We actually just use dish soap in the toilet bowl and every other week I dump in a good amount of vinegar and give it a scrub. There are no stains or weird smells in our bowl after years of doing this.
Baking soda is your friend. If I have stubborn stains on counters, in the sink, or a soap ring in the bath tub I use baking soda. You can get 50 pound bags of it to use for cleaning for about 12-15 bucks at most Farm stores. You can also add it to stubborn stain and smell laundry, use it unclog sinks with vinegar, and lots of other clever things I haven’t thought of. It’s also less harsh on the environment than most other chemicals that can be used for similar jobs, and safer for your health.
Shampoo, Conditioner, and Body Wash
I’d say one of the biggest switches we’ve made, other than looking for biodegradable products, is switching to chemical free products. Part of this is because I have a sensitivity to parabens and SLS that leaves me itching and makes my scalp flake, but also, chemicals just aren’t that great for you. Unfortunately, this can also be the most expensive area to make the natural switch. I’ve had a nightmare of a time finding shampoos that are okay, not that I like mind you, but are okay. All of the Alafia products seem fine. We’ve been using Kiss My Face shave cream and body wash. I experimented with using watered down Castile soap for my hair, but it destroyed it after a few weeks. Of course, everyone’s hair is different and some people have a perfectly good result from that. Vinegar can be used as a natural conditioner, they recommend Apple Cider Vinegar. I also didn’t have great results with that however. The main thing I look for is environmentally friendly and chemical free with toiletries.
There are a lot of natural ones out there, and my husband likes to use clay powder. I’ve been using Tom’s of Main even though it has SLS in it because it doesn’t have fluoride, which can be bad for your health if you’re sensitive to it. I’m also allergic to Aloe, which many natural toothpastes have, so most people would likely have an easier time than I have finding one they like and can use.
4. How much do I need this?
I’ve been asking myself this before I bring any item into my home lately to reduce waste through frivolous purchases and also to reduce clutter. Many times the answer is—not at all. I’m a sucker for shiny baubles though, so I try to find as many of them as I can at yard sales and discounted. If I’m going to buy things I don’t need to decorate it might as well be cheap or reusing something else.
5. Saving bath water and water in General
Since I have kids I end up cleaning up about 700 spills and messes per day. Instead of filling a bucket of water with fresh water I’ve been reusing the kids’ bath water when I can. It isn’t always possible to leave the water in the tub, but whenever I can I do. We don’t have a dishwasher, so I try to make sure to fill both sides of the sink to wash dishes rather than letting the water run to rinse dishes. When the “rinse” water gets too soapy I switch to that side and use it to wash dishes, then refill the other side with fresh water. I’m pretty sure I save water that way. We also don’t let the water run while we brush our teeth, a bad habit I’ve had to ween myself away from.
Having good curtains is surprisingly a huge saver for heating and cooling your home. Energy saver curtains will keep out the sun and heat during the summer and keep in the heat during the winter. We do open our curtains for light, but if it ever gets unbearable in either direction, hot or cold, we close them.
7. Shop Produce at Farmers’ Markets
My family has to be thrifty and we’ve combined thrifty with not wasting food by shopping mainly the seconds bins or baskets at our local Farmers’ Markets for produce. The produce is the type that usually needs to be eaten in a day or two, but is fine for now. One benefit is that the fruit is always ripe when you do this, and you’re always eating in season. I’m always sad when fall rolls around and the seconds baskets are gone because we can buy an entire week’s worth of produce for less than ten dollars this way, so long as we’re not picky about a bump or bruise on our apples. I hate wasting food, so this has been a great way to force myself to keep inventory of what’s in the fridge.
I hope that someone out there will find some of these tips useful. Most of the switches we made actualy saved us money rather than costing us more, which is what a lot of people think when they hear “Green Living”. Green living doesn’t have to be expensive at all. I hope you all have a great day!
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