Monday, March 01, 2010

"Going Green"

We hear this term all the time lately. For some, it is just the trendy thing to say and do, it seems. For others, it means "environmentalist." Depending on how that term is used, it can have political agendas attached to it. When used in this extreme way, it can include the overpopulation crowd, the ones who think we are ruining the world by reproducing and that we should stop. In truth, we have plenty of land and resources for everyone and then some.

Because of the stigmas attached to it (at least in my mind!), I don't like to refer to myself as an "environmentalist" or one who has "gone green." I don't live my life the way I do because it is popular to do so or because it is on my political agenda. In reading the side of a box of organic crackers recently, I realized that the information on the box was all about "save the earth, make a sustainable future (what does that mean, anyway? Can anyone explain?), help conserve," etc. Nothing really about the fact that eating organic and all-natural foods is better for a person's health. And that is the primary reason I buy all-natural foods!

As a high schooler, I might have identified myself as an "environmentalist." I was known to say, "Hey, recycle that!" when a friend would throw a Coke can in the garbage and to try to make a "recycle bag" at parties so that everyone could throw their cans in it instead of in the trash. I even had a bumper sticker on my car that said, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore." My husband later admitted that he though I might be an enviro-nutjob at first because of that sticker, ha ha!

Now, since then I have heard that it actually takes more energy and resources to recycle aluminum cans than it does to make brand-new ones. Is that really true? Anyone know?

Anyway, my point... Just looking at my lifestyle, a lot of people might consider me to be an environmentalist, I think. In fact, I am probably a much more pure example of somebody who is using resources wisely than the leaders of the political environmentalist groups, like Al Gore (I don't have multiple huge houses, a private jet, or ride around in an SUV!). It is ironic that they preach all these things about using less energy and such, but they don't do it themselves! Are they expecting all the lower classes to take care of it for them while they don't make an effort other than telling other people what to do?

So, in comparing my life with the lives of those who claim to be "environmentalists," I came up with these things and the reasons for why I do them. Yes, I do believe in using resources in a responsible way, not just wasting stuff for no reason, but I also believe that God gave us these resources to use. But in looking at the things I do, nearly all of them are because they are healthier for our family or they save us money.

  • Buying all-natural and organic products. I do this as our budget allows, taking advantage of sales and buying in bulk and freezing some. I don't buy much processed food at all, and the things that could be considered "processed" are usually all-natural still. So, less packaging, more support for organic farmers, less pesticides used... but the most important reason I buy these foods is because they are healthier for my family.
  • Backyard Chickens. We have five chickens in the backyard, and they provide us with all the eggs we need (and then some!). They also are fun for the kids. So, less waste there due to not purchasing egg cartons, the pollution associated with their mass production, plus they keep the grass short in the backyard (their coop is moveable so they are sort of "free-ranging" and eventually get to most parts of the whole yard) and so the lawn won't need to be mowed as often and less pollution there... but we have the hens because the eggs are fresher and healthier. Over a long time, they might be cheaper as well. And they are fun!!
  • Buying local beef. We have a college nearby that raises their own cows and has them processed locally, one at a time. I buy from them whenever possible, and it is about they same price and often cheaper than buying the "Laura's Beef" at the grocery store. Did you know that ground beef from the store is made up from thousands of different cows in each package??? Eeeew! This way, we know exactly where our beef comes from. The cows are partially grass-fed too, so better quality meat. So, we do this for health as well.
  • Shopping at Trader Joe's. This is my favorite store ever because all their products are all-natural and they are all CHEAP! I also do a bit of shopping at the local health food store, and a tiny bit of shopping at Whole Foods when I am near one... but that is much rarer because it costs SO much!
  • Breastfeeding, and volunteering as a breastfeeding support leader. I avoid (and help others avoid) buying formula (think of all the cows, all the farmland, all the packaging, all the advertising materials that go into this!), bottles, artificial nipples, the water and soap used to wash all these things daily, and I use something that is completely free of cost instead - breastfeeding! I do this because I know breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby, it is less healthy to not breastfeed, and because it saves money!
  • Not buying baby food. I don't use it, at all. My babies eat what we eat, once they are ready to start eating solid foods. They don't need purees, rice cereal, juice, and so on. They can handle soft foods, mashed a bit if you'd like, and it is healthier for them because they are eating fresh foods that are closer to their normal, natural state that they will be eating them in when they are older anyway. But think of how many baby food containers one might use if doing baby food daily - a lot!! And they don't just make them in glass jars anymore... many are in plastic. Perhaps people who use baby food do recycle all these containers, but I'd be willing to wager than many of them get tossed in the trash.
  • Vegetable Garden. We have been doing this in the backyard about three years now, and we try to do it organically/naturally. We don't always have good success with it, but we keep trying. Tomatoes do pretty well, and our figs and blueberries are wonderful!
  • Shopping at consignment sales. I rarely buy new clothing for my children. I get their clothes used and pay a fraction of the price. I just got most of my almost 5 yr old's spring and summer wardrobe for about $50 total. My 2 year old wears all the older child's old clothing. This would lead to less production waste associated with making new clothing, and then throwing them away afterward rather than passing them on to other children. The clothes are just as good and much cheaper, and while they might not be the "latest fashions," that is not important to me. Some of the latest fashions are pretty ugly, if you ask me, ha ha!
  • Using less detergent. I only use a half scoop of detergent for a full load of clothing. I'm cheap like that. And the scent is a bit too strong to use a full scoop, anyway. The clothes still get clean. And no fabric softener.
  • Hanging laundry to dry. I only use the dryer for sheets, towels, placemats, rags, diapers, and some of the underwear/socks (in other words, linens and undergarments). Everything else hangs to dry. This extends the life of our clothing, and it saves us money on electricity, which are our reasons for doing it. And it saves electricity in general, but that is not why we do it!
  • Using cloth diapers. This is done because we are cheap. Disposable diapers are expensive, especially name brands! We do use them some, for going out places, but at home, we use cloth. They are also supposedly better for the baby because they don't have chemicals in them, but we use them for the money savings. Disposable diapers take an incredibly long time to biodegrade, and think of how many the average baby uses in two or three years! Another thing: did you know that disposable diaper packages say to dump the waste into the toilet rather than not throwing it away with the diaper? And how many people do we know who actually do this? So all that human waste is going in the garbage as well... eeeeww! With cloth, you have to dump as much as possible in the toilet because you don't want it in your washing machine!
  • Washcloths instead of paper towels. Both for cleaning the sink/counters and cleaning the kids after messy meals! Less paper towels in the garbage, more money saved for us! The money savings is the primary reason here... you can get a pack of four baby washcloths for a dollar.
  • Scooter. My husband bought a scooter to ride to work when it isn't too cold. Those things get great gas mileage. He bought it because it would save us on gas money. But it also happens to be "greener."
  • Smallest minivan on the road. This is what I drive, a Mazda minivan. It is more efficient than many larger minivans. We bought it on eBay. I am serious.
  • Buying used cars. We never buy new cars, or even close-to-new. They are much cheaper after a few years' depreciation, and while maybe this means they are slightly less environmentally-friendly as far as pollution goes, we are "reusing," and therefore there's no waste associated with production.
~Hygiene and Health~
  • Not using birth control. My reasons for doing this are mostly moral ones, but also for my personal health. But the impact of hormonal birth control on the environment is huge... the chemicals are getting into our drinking water (I will spare you the details of how). Again - eeeeewww! And fish in some waterways have even mutated sexually due to high levels of these artificial hormones - scary!
  • Bathing. Bet you might be thinking I will say, "We limit baths to one per week." Ha ha... maybe if I was a bona-fide hippie, but alas, I shower pretty much daily. But the kids - they only get baths every two or three days, especially in the winter, because they just don't get stinky. But we use mostly natural soaps and shampoos on the children, because I have concerns about too much exposure to chemicals... but then these also don't get washed down the drain if we're not using them, so the environment wins yet again. For myself and my husband, though, we just use whatever is cheapest or has been given to us... I'm more careful with the kids than myself, and maybe I shouldn't be, but there you have it. Oh, and the same goes for toothpaste - as natural as I can afford for the kids.

  • Household cleaning. We use vinegar and water to clean most everything. I am out of vinegar now and am using a "green" product that I had a sample of. I do this because I don't want my kids around weird chemicals (they like to help with cleaning!).
  • Turning the thermostat down. We turn it down (or up, depending on the season) before leaving the house for extended periods. We also run it at 68-69 degrees in the winter and 78-79 degrees in the summer. Not super-comfortable some hot days, but it saves lots of money. And electricity/gas.
  • Recycling. We do this because the city has made it very convenient for us. They take it all, sort it all, and we just have to leave it on a bin on the side of the road. They recently stopped taking glass, which is odd... but it is so easy to do, so why not?
  • Limiting purchases of "stuff." I do this because I don't want my kids to think they have to have lots of material things to make them happy. They just need some good-quality toys and not hundreds of things. This is especially true of babies and the amount of baby gear that is marketed to new parents today - babies are not expensive until they get bigger and start eating lots of food! They don't need five different apparatuses to sit in and oodles of toys. I also don't like clutter. If it is not useful or beautiful, it needs to go. I am in the slow process of going through everything right now so we don't have as much, and we will "Freecycle" it, which is when you list it online and strangers come haul it away for you.
  • Not being excessive. We live in a modest home. A house that is too large can make family members become strangers to each other. I grew up with six people in a three bedroom house, and I'm no worse for it. We don't each need to have our own bedroom, our own bathroom, our own TV, brand-new things for everybody, a bunch of separate toys for the girls, etc. We can share. Sharing is good.
  • Homeschooling. This is primarily environmentally-friendly in that in cuts down on resources that are bought by the government (who is known for their non-efficiency and waste). Some school districts use $10,000 for each student per year! No way will I be able to do that myself! So we will be buying used and designing some curriculum ourselves. Oh and there is the extra transportation involved in going to a traditional school... we won't be contributing to that daily. Of course I am not homeschooling to help the environment, and I doubt that is anyone else's main reason either - just thought I'd mention it!
So, there is probably more that I'm not thinking of... but we do these things because they are better for our bodies and because some are financially better for us, not because we are environmentalists. I do think it is ironic to compare this to what a self-proclaimed "environmentalist" would do... I doubt Al Gore hangs most of his clothes to dry and cooks most of his meals from scratch, ya know? Oh well, somebody has to be good for the economy, I guess! ;)


ViolinMama said...

great post, with ideas I can use! Always love your blog!!!

Michelle Bell said...

Regarding the aluminum cans: While it is not always an economic or resource win to recycle other products (such as certain types of plastic or some paper products), aluminum is cheaper to recycle than dig out of the ground & refine. That's because aluminum comes in a non-pure form known as aluminum bouxite that is a bit of an energy hog to refine. There's a couple different ways to refine the product, but they all basically involve high heats and mixing in chemicals to separate the aluminum from unwanted minerals. Some other information about bauxite & the refinement process here:

Sorry to nerd all over your blog. Just thought it deserved a clarification.

Also, I find it really interesting that the ways I learned to take care of a house and a family from my grandmother (depression era woman) and my mother (hippie era woman) are back in vogue now. I grew up ALWAYS hanging laundry out to dry, occasionally washing by hand when the front loading washer was acting up, growing and preserving a good portion of food that we ate, and learning to repair things so we could use them longer.

Erin said...

No problem with the nerdiness, Michelle, I appreciate the comment! So it is more efficient to recycle aluminum, but not some types of paper and plastics? I can feel better about my can-recycling thing as a teenager, then! ;)

I would love to learn to preserve food... if I could grow enough to can in the first place! And my husband is the repair expert around here... he can fix most anything, it seems, so we always get the most out of items before replacing them, especially cars. I think he learned most of that from his dad.

Michelle Bell said...

Erin, I highly recommend the book "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough ( It's an extremely interesting and accessible book regarding recycling and the way we use our resources and how we could do it more efficiently (and cheaper). It's not a "how to" book, so much as a "what if" book, but there's some excellent science about why some recycling makes sense and others don't.

I have found, as I've gotten more into my midwifery and doula practice, it's much easier if I slow down. If I don't, I get antsy when dealing with pregnant women and their babies and that just doesn't work! I've quite enjoyed reading your blog (although I don't think I've ever commented before). I originally found you for the NFP posts, and have really been enjoying watching your family evolve. Thank you for sharing with us!