Greening the Basics Part Two: Five More Switches for Your Life

by - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

This is Part Two of the series where we inspect how we can make the world a better, cleaner place by just switching out some of those things we pick up on a very regular basis. With a diet, a big chunk of cake one time or a big fresh salad one time won't make a hunk of difference. You can't eat one salad and lose oodles of weight if you eat a doughnut everyday. It's our habits that define us most.

Our material consumption works the same way. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled if you buy a washing machine or stroller or dining room table used or made in the USA. That's awesome, but how many times will you actually buy those things? Some of the most important votes we make with our money we probably don't think about, because we do it out of routine! In Part One, we looked at ways to make our paper goods like towels, tissues, etc. make a more positive impact on the world and the waste we make as a family. So here are a few more ideas of little, repeated decisions that can make a huge difference in your world. You can do it!

6. Water Bottles- We all know how terrible water bottles are for the environment, right? Companies take something that is very cheap, wrap it in a very wasteful material, and sell it for way more than it's worth. Oy. So if we all know, why do we still buy them? How can we find options that work better?

To Compare: Nestle "Pure Life" (great name right? Better than "covering the Earth in hot garbage") water is 2.48. I choose Nestle in particular because they seem to be the most evil in a very nasty bunch; they lobbied against water being declared a universal right at the World Water Forum in 2000 (so they could jack up the prices of basic drinking water in countries with limited water supply, among other things), and  continued to source their water from California this summer despite the drought. If you get nothing else from this list, please stop buying Nestle water. These are bad people treating the world and people in it terribly, so supporting (and condoning their behavior) them is not good stewardship. They have a lot of brands, so if you want to steer away from them in general, you can see what to avoid here (I still see 2 things we need to cut off our regular shopping list).

 Ok enough for that rant, back to the list, 2.48 for 12 16 ounce bottles (or about 1 cent an ounce)

So you are paying for two things- the clean water and the water storage, right? So let's break that down: first, a filtered pitcher can filter your water for years, so one purchase covers a much longer span of time (just imagine a pile of 300 plastic bottles next to one little filter, then multiply it by years in your life. Truly, this can make a huge difference!) My pick would be the Soma Water pitcher, which is made with green practices and has a coconut/plant based filter (which you can get on a subscription system- so smart). It costs 40 dollars, and some of its proceeds go to providing clean water in areas that don't have it (so basically the opposite of Nestle).A Brita pitcher is around 35 dollars (they say one filter replaces at least 300 bottles of water and now they have a stainless steel version). A Pur filter and water dispenser is 32 dollars (32 for as many ounces as you can drink). BWT Pitchers (which are absolutely beloved according to their reviews) are only 19 dollars.

So just replacing your bottles with a pitcher (and using it!) can make an immense difference in the waste you produce as a human being. Of course, sometime you might be in a jam and need to buy water while you are out (though most restaurants will give it to you in a glass for free!!), but a good first step is retiring your bulk collection at home. Start saving your plastic bottles when you do get them, and just use them over and over again! If you fill them up and leave them in the fridge, you will still have something conveniently ready to go when you need it. We put an empty used bottle in our bag now when we are going out or travel, so we can just fill it at water fountains.

If you want more permanent, less garbage-like water storage (and you have cut out disposable bottles completely- kudos!), you have plenty of options on that front too. Camelbaks are made in China, so they probably don't top the list, but ours serves as a pillar (and cesspool? It's best not to think about it) of our family. They certainly can stand up to a lot, so you can make one last most of forever. Aladdin makes a recycled and recyclable water bottle. Liberty Bottle makes stainless steel bottles, which have never been my thing, but it might be yours. They are 100% made in America with American-made equipment, so double the local manufacturing power!

All of these run between 10 and 25 bucks, but the most important point is that you get many many uses out of them, instead of just 1. If you use something everyday, it won't take long before that larger cost has way more per use savings (and value) behind it. This is all about making better decisions for the long run, not just about what is easiest at this exact second!

And if you want to go big: Go glass! I started using a Lifefactory water bottle a month or so ago, and I love it. It's made in the USA and Europe (the glass is from France). It also really surprised me. First, it isn't actually that much heavier, which I didn't expect. It also looks beautiful, and it has a pour top instead of a straw, so I can use it to fill baby bottles without making a mess. I also think these Made in the USA glass bottles are lovely and super eco-friendly, though you would need to live in a more graceful, non-babyish household than we do for them to work (I think a safety sleeve is a wiser choice).

7. Grocery and Produce Bags- Yes, plastic bags are already outlawed in some places (good! who needs them?), but if they persist in your neighborhood, it doesn't mean you have to use them. At this point, the argument against them is common knowledge, but people still forget about produce bags and even all that styrofoam and plastic packaging we get our meat in. Everyone comes home with a lot of instant trash! I can't necessarily appeal to your wallet on this one (I mean, those plastic bags are free), but it is also a pretty low impact way to make a positive difference.

To Compare: Ok, plastic bags are free. But they are also horrible for the environment, and if you live in an area like ours, paper bags are 10 cents a pop.

Reusable bags may come at a (pretty low) cost, but they can hold more and they last a long time; we still use the same ones we got seven years ago when we moved in together (plus some, because we forget). My best advice for them is to use another bag to hold them all in the trunk, and to have enough that you can forget to bring them back out once and still have bags. As you might guess, tons of options are out there, so I am just going to make a list so you can poke around and find what you like the best:

Canvas bags: My Pick: This Francho Stone large bag is recycled and zippered, and it looks perfect for an emergency trip to the grocery store (R, 25.50) 100% Canvas Bag, Made in the USA (6 dollars), Trader Joe's Canvas Bag (USA, 14.70), Turtlecreek Cotton Canvas Bag (USA, 16 for 2), ChicoBag Daypack (R, a backpack! 21), T-S Green Earth has 100% Recycled Cotton Totes (R, 5.90).

Recycled Plastic Bags: My pick: EcoBags are made of recycled Cotton with Fair Trade labor (R, FT, 10.10), Clean Conscience Tote Bag (USA, R, 10), I also love this Blue Q Mr Cat bag which gives part of its proceeds to The Nature Conservancy (R, 11.11) Vandor makes recycled bags with Miss Kitty, Star Wars, Cat in the Hat, and so forth (R, 5.75ish), and a wider version with Dr Seuss and florals (R, 6.57), Park Avenue Reusable Bag (USA, R, 6 dollars), Simply Green Solutions 10 pack, recycled plastic (R, 17 dollars for 10), Eco Jeanie Bag (95% R and recyclable, 9.95),

Lastly, you should look around you! I know we have bought bags from places like our church for fundraisers. This might be a great opportunity to support you own community and help the Earth. Double winsies!

And if you want to go big: 1. Let your produce roam free! Ok, not totally free. We put one of our reusable bags open on the top shelf of our cart, and we just throw all of the produce into one bag we already own (because we are just going to wash it all when we get home anyway). If you can't stand that level of disorder, you can also purchase reusable produce bags like these (also made in the US). The rePete produce bags are made of 100% recycled plastic. These mesh ones are also great, though they are made of polyester (and in China), so you haven't totally avoided the plastic. But to use the same 5 bags over and over, you will save the world from so much plastic waste.

8. Trash Bags- This one is mind-boggling once you think about it. Companies makes thousands of pounds of new plastic trash to hold our trash? Why, in goodness name, aren't all trash bags made of recycled plastic? Unlike food containers or basically anything else, they don't even have to be as regulated, because we are just throwing trash in them (no one is eating out of them, or wiping their face with them, or wearing them). They are specifically meant to be taken away, but the thought of how much garbage is made fresh just to hold our garbage makes no sense. All trash bags should be recycled plastic Please join me in sending the message to companies that we can do better.

To Compare: A 40 pack of 13 gallon Glad Kitchen Trash Bags (and we are dealing with lots of sizes here, so I apologize now for that slippage) sells for 8.50 (or about 21 cents a bag). They also advertise themselves as smelling like Febreeze, the Devil's Perfume, so apparently they are run by demons or fools.

I will say, a lot of these bags have very split reviews. VERY split. So do your own research, and I would recommend a smaller purchase before you do the big money-saving bulk purchase. Because if you hate what you buy, and you don't sustain the change, then this has done nothing. This change is so important, but be willing to experiment a little before you commit in a big way.

Hefty Renew also makes recycled plastic trash bag, and honestly, I love this, because you are sending such a direct message to one of the mainstream brands that eco-responsibility is more important to you than awful Febreeze powdery hellscape smell. Their bags are made of 65% recycled plastic, and you can get a 6 pack of 45 count boxes for 48.73 (or 18 cents a bag).

Earthsense makes their 60% recycled trash bags here in the US. They also have pretty solid reviews including "wanted to avoid killing the earth and this fit the bill." Poetry. Six boxes of 90 bags costs 73 dollars (or 16 cents a bag- one of the cheapest!) They also sell larger yard bags.

Pride Green makes their 100% recycled (50% post consumer, 35% industrial) bags here in the US. The 50 count pack costs 14.69 (or 29 cents a bag).

If You Care sells 97% post-consumer recycled trash bags. 12 for 4.93,so not exactly a steal, but worth a try and maybe they will get a bulk option.

Seventh Generation sells 13 gallon trash bags made of 55% recycled plastic (only 16% post-consumer). Their 12 pack of 30 count boxes is 56.89 (or about 16 cents a bag- cheaper!).

Green N Pack sells bags made of a mix of recycled and bio material (not the greatest reviews, so read up and maybe buy a smaller box to start?) for 13 gallon trash cans. The 6 pack of 40 count boxes is 65 dollars (about 27 cents a bag).

Green Legacy makes garbage bags in the US but they only claim the box and the twisty tie are recyclable, and the bag seems to break down more quickly. In general, a little grey on how eco-friendly it actually is, but make your own conclusions! A pack of 60 is 9.93 (or a little less than 17 cents a bag).

Look out for "biodegradable" bags- it sounds good, but the bags really just break up into tiny pieces, which like microbeads and other tiny plastic devils, will be impossible to clean out of water. Not just not good- this stuff is BAD.

And if you want to go big: If you haven't noticed, none of these solutions are great, because they are still pure garbage, adding to the 25 million tons of garbage that will go into landfills and the ocean this year (wow). Time to minimize our garbage- the less garbage you make, the fewer garbage bags you use. If you start splitting out your recyclables and your compostable waste (and buying fewer things that come in ridiculous plastic packaging), you can cut down how many regular garbage bags you need.

And if you compost? Biodegradable Bags! My goal is that we make one bag of garbage garbage (or less) a week, and you can do it too. The other great thing is that they make biodegradable bags to put your compost in, so even your waste container can be feeding the soil in no time! I would imagine you could try these bags for your regular trash (or at least bathroom trash) as well?

Our Pick: We use Bio Bags in our kitchen. They have larger bags (13 gallon- 36 for 17 dollars), but we use the 3 gallon bags and take it out more often (75 for 16 dollars or about 21 cents a bag).

Bag to Nature bags are made in Canada and generally have a reputation for being a little sturdier (though they don't break down as easily). You can buy 60 three gallon bags for 6.26.

  Natur-Bag make a 25 pack of 3 gallon biodegradable bags for 13 dollars (about 50 cents a bag).

9. Zip Loc Bags and Tupperware- Sandwich bags are great. Except that they are horrible if you only use them once before they are into the trash (and we learned in the garbage bag section- we need to cut down this garbage). It's another one of those things in our kitchens that might be as wasteful as it is useful. Even tupperware, that is meant for more than one use, is made out of plastic (much of which isn't BPA-free), and our leftovers deserve better! We have been trying to wash and reuse the zip-loc bags we can, but it hasn't been a totally successful experiment (they don't fare well in the dishwasher). I know they are great for some things, but think about ways you can strategically cut down on using them when other solutions exist? And if you can re-use them, do it! That's the bare minimum.

To Compare: Ziploc sells in about a million sizes as well, so let's just pick a relatively average size and go from there, but again, I apologize that the range makes things less precise. 28 gallon freezer bags cost 4.46 (or 15 cents a bag).

Blue Avocado, a company of three women, sells 2 packs of sandwich bags that are built to be reused again and again. If you only use it twice a week, you can save 100 plastic baggies from the trash. One hundred. In one year. They sell for 8.99, and with one year of use, you could break even on sandwich bag cost and make so much less waste! Win win! I think we are going to try these, so I will let you know how it goes. They also sell gallon bags, small bags, and sets. They have tons of options to poke through.

When you do need bags (for things like meat storage), Natural Value sells resealable plastic bags (30% recycled material), which are packaged in recycled materials and made in the USA. A box of 50 is 8.25 (or about 17 cents a bag) or you can get a pack of 12 for 32.42 (so 5 cents a bag! So cheap!).

For sandwiches and lunches, you can also get reusable pouches. Kids Konserve makes a reusable sandwich cozy made from recyclable materials.

Chico sells a three pack of 78% recycled reusable sandwich bags. Blue Avocado sells washable sandwich bags.

Lastly, when you do buy something that comes in a plastic container (like yogurt), keep the container! It costs you no extra money, and you can keep leftovers in there.

And if you want to go big: No more bags! You can find great storage options that will last way longer if you look at sturdier materials and hard containers. The less the plastic bag makes an appearance, the more good you can do!

I love glass sets for storing food prep and leftovers. Pyrex (oh, how I love Pyrex) sells a 20 piece storage set I am currently lusting after, and which would last you a long time, serving lots of storage purposes.  The set is 40 dollars, so about 4 dollars a container. But think how much longer they last (you can also get smaller sets). Anchor Hocking has a storage set too.

For kids and bring-along snacks, glass could be a little too sturdy. We use stainless steel Kids Konserve tins to bring the Bub's cheerios with us. If I did it again, I would probably buy Re-Play's stackable containers instead, since they are made in the US out of recycled plastic. I also love Aladdin's recycled snack containers (25% post consumer, and recyclable). Stanley eCycle Nesting Food Containers might be a good option to fulfill both purposes!

10. Baking Cups- I love baking cupcakes even now that it is no longer cool. I also love the little cups, because anything in bright colors can win me over. But when you think about it, they really are a waste- used once and tossed out. I bake a lot, and this still isn't a huge purchase for me, but I do think it's a good place for me to rethink how I pick what to buy.

To Compare: Reynold's Baking Cups, the ones I know I have picked up at the store many a time is 36 liners for 1.28 (about 4 cents a liner)

Paper Chef sells no-stick 100% recycled cupcake liners- 2 pack of 60 for 8.25. (about 7 cents a liner). They also have mini and large liners.

Decony's regular paper liners are made in the USA- a set of 500 is about 8.50 (about 2 cents a liner)

If You Care (I hate that name) sells the first set of cupcake liners that are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and grease-proof. You can buy them in bulk- 24 boxes of 60 for 36.25 (or about 3 cents a liner. Cheaper and better for the environment- plus you will basically be set for life). They also come in large and mini.

And if you want to go big: You can reuse silicone liners over and over again in your own house and only bust out the paper liners when you have traveling goodies (or bring the silicon liners with you too, but that's pretty trusting). I couldn't find any liners made in America, so if you know any, please pass that info along! We have these fortune ones which happily enable you to eat more cupcakes- best cupcake liners ever (they are 16.07, but they can have infinite use).

You can get lots of different bright colored silicone sets- this one or this one.

Alright, this is it! Be sure to check out Part One, which I still think is the most important blog I have ever written.  If you can think of other basics in your life that you might want to switch out to DO MORE GOOD with your purchases, let me know, and I will do the research! You can do this!

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