Friday, April 1, 2011

Eco-geeks on a Budget

It should be obvious by now that Mike and I are nouveau hippies.  Yep, we’re tree huggers.  Blame it on being raised in the 90s when the “save the polar bear” campaigns made their way into our schools, the influence of Al Gore and the EPA, or recycling programs cropping up in small towns.
My emphasis on green is also a major component of my job.  Most of my articles cover sustainability – composting, light pollution, synthetic grass, net-zero energy buildings, solar power, greenwashing, green pest control, vegetated walls, and biomimicry.
At home, it’s another story.  Keeping sustainability at the core of your actions is tricky when money is limited.  You all know that anything with words like organic, all natural, or biodegradable equals an automatic markup. 
To be green without overextending our budget, we constantly have to make decisions that reconcile our need to be good to the earth versus what we can actually afford.  Comparison shopping is key, but you also have to decide what your green priorities should be.  What are sustainable items that are non-negotiable in your book?  How much would you pay for a green product?  Are there ways you can be eco-friendly without spending money?
Case in point: I recently tried a conditioner called Organix.  Really had no complaints except that it was $6 for about 10oz.  Last night I found a product by Suave that has some natural ingredients.  While not 100% natural or organic, I got 15oz for $1.28.  As much as I would love to not dump chemicals down the drain to wash my hair, I also can’t justify spending $6 at the moment on a beauty product. 
It all comes down to choices.
Here’s how we live sustainably on our limited income:
·       We have one car and will be getting bikes.  This wasn’t by choice, but turned into an amazing opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.  Admittedly, our one vehicle is a truck (1998), but we don’t have a second car.  Nor will we be getting one anytime soon, so it balances out.  Once we purchase bikes, I will be biking to work every day.  Good for my health, the planet, and our pocketbook.
·       We recycle like crazy.  We have two 3-drawer bins stacked on top of each other for recyclables.  If my lunch includes a plastic container or a can, it’s washed at work and brought home.  At work, we only have a one-sided printer.  I save all of my scratch paper and bring it home for our printer.
·       We use biodegradable trash bags.  It took a while to find them, but they are available in the HyVee health market.  They cost the same as a regular box of plastic bags and are biodegradable and recyclable.  Score.
·       We strive to buy natural foods.  If I wouldn’t add <insert unpronounceable ingredient here> to the pan as I was cooking at home, it shouldn’t be in my food in the first place.  This is actually pretty easy for anything boxed, frozen, or canned.
·       We use CFLs.  But I seriously can’t wait until LEDs are mass available on the residential market. 
·       On trips, we bring a water cooler.  At least the majority of the time.  This helps us avoid unnecessary gas station buys and plastic bottles.
·       We use candles at bedtime.  We often chat or give massages right before bed.  Light two candles and there’s no need to have a lamp on.  Pretty and energy efficient.
·       We have a low-flow shower head.  Works just fine and will last forever.
·       We use cloth shopping bags.  So much stronger than flimsy plastic.  We have about 8; half have been free from my tradeshows J
·       We mostly use all-natural cleaners, particularly for laundry and dishes.  We use brands such a Green Works, Palmolive, Purex, and 7th Generation, which are only a matter of cents higher than conventional cleaners.
·       We live in a 900-sqf condo.  Think about it, the less space you have, the less energy you spend heating/cooling it.  Also, the less junk you accumulate (in theory).  Part of living sustainably is living with just what you need.  We only need a place this size, though an extra closet wouldn’t be turned down.

Right now, I feel like we’ve grabbed all of the low-hanging fruit and need to step up our game.  Organic fruits and meats, which I firmly avow will be part of our diet in the future, are simply too expensive right now.  We’re not in a position to replace the truck with something more fuel-efficient.  Composting, while not impossible, is difficult in a condo setting.
My April goal is to reduce products that come in plastic containers.  While plastic is recyclable, it does not purify in the process.  This downcycling also produces more waste than glass or metal recycling.

The first step was to examine food purchases.  Groceries for the first half of the month didn’t yield many opportunities.  I don’t feel like figuring out how to make yogurt or cottage cheese at home, but at least we buy those in bulk.  Applesauce was the only area for improvement.  Instead of getting the 6 pack of little containers, I opted for the large glass jar.
Cleaners were definitely a better opportunity. While I like Green Works and 7th Generation, they still come in plastic containers.  If they could only make those biodegradable, which is totally possible with corn. 
Anyways, you can make your own natural cleaners with common ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda.  Simply repurpose some of your plastic spray bottles and dilute accordingly.  I will detail our efforts in a later post.
Being green isn’t just about reducing and recycling.  You have to see everything as a resource. 
Question of the Day: How are you green at home?  Have you ever used all-natural cleaners and how’d they work?


  1. I have found that vinegar and baking soda cleaning does a better job than any store bought cleaner

  2. The only thing I dislike about vinegar for cleaning is the smell...otherwise it is great!

    This is a great post! I need to check out your magazine. It sounds like it would be my cup of tea.

  3. @ Anonymous, thanks for the tip!
    @ d'Artagnan, merci! It's funny how we think alike. I had actually read that green cleaning article before you had posted it on your blog and was already thinking about making some changes. Poor Mike always gets a headache when he cleans the bathroom since it doesn't have a window.

    Funny thing, I actually just got FREE green cleaners in the mail yesterday. I'm the products editor for my magazine and I recently worked with Clorax and featured their commercial Green Works line. So they sent me all-natural spray cleaner and compostable cleaning wipes!

  4. PS: found a great article today on easy ways to go green. Definitely going to check if the prices on the recycled toliet paper are true!