Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | October 1, 2009

How do you go green? Little by little.

This week, as I was freecycling (you offer or take items for free in local communities – helping unwanted stuff avoid the landfill), I noticed my family and I are trying to live greener in a lot of little ways.  Everyone is hearing about the big ways:

  • Buy energy efficient appliances to replace old ones that are on the way out.  (When we bought our house 10 years ago, we got a front load washer.  It’s still running.  In the meantime, we’ve saved a lot of electricity, gallons of water, and our clothes last longer.)
  • Install double paned windows and save energy.  (It was a major house improvement for us, necessitated by leaks and the mosquitoes that snuck in, but it has been great for us.  The house is cooler in summer and warmer in winter.)

But I thought that people aren’t talking about the little ways as much.  And that needs to change.  I thought I should share some ways we are incorporating “Reduce, reuse, recycle” into out life.

  • Conserve energy. We’re not perfect, by a long shot.  We still drive our vehicles – not electric hybrids by the way – but we are trying to do errands in planned trips and not for little reasons.  We bundle up more in winter rather than automatically turning on the heat.  We turn off lights and radios when we aren’t in the room.  We are using surge protectors to reduce energy vampires (like the computer or stereo).
  • Fabric napkins– our guests think that it’s a luxury, but we think it’s ordinary to have a meal with real fabric napkins. We throw the dirtied ones into the laundry.  I only buy paper napkins for camping (we burn with our firewood) and parties that include teenagers (we compost them in the green waste pickup).  I have some napkins that are over 10 years old.   I’ve tossed some old ones into the lunch bags, not worried if they make it home again.  Most end up in the rag bag for  garage use after they aren’t nice enough for inside.
  • Fabric kitchen towels – we have dozens of dishtowels.  We use them instead of paper towels for most spills and such.  They get washed with the laundry.   Once past house use, they retire for rag use with the old napkins.
  • Recycled paper goods – okay, let’s be honest.  Most “recycled content” paper goods only have between 5 to 15 % recycled paper in them, but it’s a step in the right direction.  Even if I buy the products occasionally I am adding to the demand for them.  This year I am trying to buy more recycled content toilet paper because I found out that toilet paper is the product that is most likely to use virgin paper fiber.  Luckily, I’m finding a couple local family owned stores that carry some brands that are reasonably priced.
  • Organically grow some veggies, fruit, and herbs. They taste better, cost less, are healthier for us.  They also remove carbon from the air and if perennial, sequester carbon in the woody tissue.  They help create habitat for beneficial creatures (and greedy ones).  We share surplus with friends and neighbors and family.  What I grow, I’m not buying- reducing the carbon costs of production and transport.
  • Thrift store shopping and donating – This reduces energy spent producing new items and transporting to and disposing in landfills. Think about all the perfectly good clothes that get donated to your local thrift store.  I’ve picked up jeans, shirts, household linens (fabric napkins and tableclothes), dresses, sweaters…designer duds, even!  It takes practice to check for good quality, unstained, etc., but it is worth it.  Bonuses: things tend to be preshrunk (sometimes the reason it got donated), occasionally you find new stuff, and it saves a lot of money!
  • Recycle what you can and check all packaging for recyclable materials. Our junk mail (we signed up for opting out of direct mail to reduce the amount we receive and shred personal info), newspapers, and paper, metal and selective plastic packaging nearly fills the bin each week.  (Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the yogurt we like changed their packaging to something that isn’t recyclable.  So, I’m buying plain yogurt in large amounts and adulterating it with homemade flavorings or honey to accommodate the recycling philosophy.) Our garbage can isn’t usually full.  And we take the plastic bags to the bag recycling box at the grocery store.
  • Compost There are various ways to compost: bin, worm, and municipal all work.  If you have a backyard and room, try composting in a bin.  Search the internet for how-to instructions and plans.  Here’s an example:  Put your kitchen waste, leaves, lawn and yard trimmings, etc. in and let the magic little microbes and friendly critters work.  If your space is limited, try worm composting.  This takes the space of a rubber tote.  Really.  It will be just fine in the corner of the garage or shed.  (This is a good place to see how to create a cheap and easy worm bin: ) You can compost your kitchen waste and newspapers together and end up with lovely conditioner for your potted plants.  Bonus: separating the worms from the compost is highly entertaining and educational for kids.  If you have municipal green pickup, use it.  Put your yard wastes and green kitchen waste in.  (Some municipal composting lets you put those pizza boxes and biodegradable takeaway cartons in.  Check it out.)  And if you use disposable plates, get the ones that are compostable!
  • Choose reusable materials. Admit it, you’ve seen plastic water bottles and plastic bags littering the road somewhere near where you live, work or play.  Help end this litter problem by using a reusable water container  and grocery sacks.  You’ll save money by refilling your own container, save fuel (yours and transport and manufacturing), and reduce the amount of plastic in circulation.  That fabric sack for groceries curtails the chaotic multiplication of plastic (or paper) bags in the corner of your pantry, the sight of a bag at the top of a tree or swirling in the garbage current at sea, or the gullet of a marine animal (plastic bags are often found in the digestive tracks of sea mammals, birds and fish).
  • Buy in bulkIf you eat yogurt every day, try a large container vs. 5 little ones.   Do you go through cereal or pasta  quickly in your house?  Buy the large size and save money and packaging!  You can also buy produce loose vs. bagged. (Come on…Bananas really don’t need a bag.)
  • Reduce.  Do you really NEED that thing?  Will it save me time or energy?   I’m constantly catching myself on this idea of  “reduce”.   And I also let my family know what I’d really like (casually or on Xmas wishlists when they ask) so that they can get me something that I want and can use instead of acquiring knicknacks.  And loan things between friends so that we don’t each have one.  Do we all need a pasta maker? Nope, in fact, I’ll lend you mine.  (This argument hasn’t quite worked w/ice cream makers, though…)

This current “green movement” isn’t new…but it is a new incarnation, hopefully a more successful one than the one in the 1970s when I first learned about ecology.  I’m finding that for the last 25 years I’ve been incorporating those ideas into my lifestyle using little steps.

I would ask that if you haven’t thought about this stuff because the problem seems too big, think about it again.  But in little bites.  Try it – just start with one little step.  Add another little step a while later.  It’s easier than you think and the little steps add up.




  1. Some really great ideas…and I saw stuff I already do that made me feel good. I totaly admit that I am not as green as can be…I think most of it is laziness.

    When I grow up I want to be just like you.

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