My friends have always regarded me as an earthy girl, but until recently, I was lackadaisical about recycling and other green practices. I was one of the cynics who assumed the recycling trucks delivered cans and newspapers to the same dump as the garbage trucks.
Then, I woke up.
In a span of a couple of months, my first child was born, I saw the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and I got hooked on the HGTV show, Living With Ed. These three events delivered a triple dose of reality. I realized that the life my husband and I worked so hard to attain was at risk.
I did a drastic turnaround and wanted to go green ASAP. But I ran into a problem with money, as I didn’t have a lot in our tight budget to devote to green living. Yes, I now consider myself environmentally aware. But I’m still—oh, what’s the word I’m looking for—cheap.
This conflict is not uncommon.
A study at the University of Leeds in England found even so-called green consumers are tempted by products that are less earth friendly but have a sweeter price tag. “The team found we are still tempted by bargains, with price most commonly traded off against a product’s environmental performance,” according to the research findings.
So I came up with a plan to go green in baby steps, replacing my incandescent light bulbs as they burn out and making other changes I can afford. Every month, I adopt a few practices that save money, such as taking five-minute showers. And I adopt a few practices that are revenue-neutral, such as making sure I recycle everything our city accepts. Then, I budget up to $200 dollars aimed at getting us closer to a truly green lifestyle.
Here is my green-living calendar for the first half of 2007:
• Save money: cut up old t-shirts to use in place of paper towels. Wash most clothes in cold water. Hang some clothes to dry. Eliminate single-serving cookies and chips to reduce packaging.
• Revenue neutral: gather up old tote bags to use for groceries
• Spend money: indoor clothesline ($5); clothespins ($15); clothes rack for hanging laundry ($15); book about making cleaning products ($12); switch to organic dairy products and produce (~$10 more a week)
• Save money: donate most “dry clean only” clothes to charity
• Revenue neutral: cancel catalogs such as Pottery Barn and Red Envelope
• Spend money: cloth diapers bought used off Craig’s List ($100); glass baby bottles ($25); essential oils for homemade cleaning products ($20); switch to fair trade coffee (~$3 more a week)
• Save money: inflate tires for better gas mileage. Dust refrigerator coils to improve efficiency. Dry hair with towel instead of hair dryer. Unplug appliances when not in use.
• Revenue neutral: remove name from junk mail lists
• Spend money: cloth diapers bought used off Craig’s List ($60); glass baby bottles ($25); compact fluorescent light bulbs ($24); earth-friendly dishwashing liquid, dishwasher soap, and laundry detergent ($15)
• Save money: stop using printer unless absolutely necessary, and always print double-sided. Switch to recycled paper. Staple used day calendar pages together for instant reporter’s notebook.
• Revenue neutral: hold “free sale” to clean out clutter without sending unwanted items to landfill. Join Freecycle network.
• Spend money: compost tumbler ($200)
• Save money: live without air conditioning when possible. Switch from paper towels and paper napkins to cloth napkins.
• Revenue neutral: make tote bags out of unused placemats and scrap fabric
• Spend money: compost starter kit ($20); ice cream in plastic tubs that can be reused for compost waste ($10); sturdy clothesline for outdoors ($30)
• Save money: get free energy audit from electric company
• Revenue neutral: donate old cell phones, computers, and other electronics
• Spend money: compact fluorescent light bulbs ($24); solar power chargers for cell phone, iPod etc. ($40)
I have spent more than $500 on green living practices already, and I plan to continue investing in the project. I’ve saved a little to offset those expenses, and as time goes on, I will save even more. For example, we plan to use the energy audit to make changes that will cut our electric and gas bills. And I can sell my diapers on Craig’s List as my baby outgrows them. Over time, we’ll come out ahead.
I saved money in ways that are hard to measure. I shop less, because I don’t want to waste gas or bring a lot of packaging waste into my home. Nor do I want to feed the consumer culture any more than I have to. For example, after buying three packages of thank-you notes for baby gifts, I decided to make my own out of supplies I had around the house.
This project has taught me how easy and fun going green can be. I love the challenge of thinking every day, “What more can we do?” Taking small steps toward a more earth-friendly lifestyle has helped me prioritize and think about what’s most important: my child, my husband, my family, my friends, my dogs, my writing, and my other creative endeavors like knitting.
Funny thing … money isn’t on the list.