Yesterday I finished a book about a woman who made one "green" change in her life every day for a year. I also read a lot of blogs and books about frugality, and about going green, and I find that I really like the way those two things - saving money and saving the planet - overlap and complement each other.
It made me think about all the frugal things we do here at home, and the "green" things we do, and how they fit together. So I'm going to start talking about them here, at least one or two every week ... I've never actually counted them, so who knows where this will go? It won't be a "one-change-a-day" list as such, but a fresh look at what we do now, what we could be doing, and how "frugal" can lead to "green" (and vice versa) even if that wasn't the original intention. Some of these were things we decided to do, some were things that just happened, some were experiments that turned out better than we expected, and some had unanticipated side effects. Maybe I'll even discover some new things I hadn't thought of before.
Let's start with our city's recycling program.
The city provides blue recycling bins free to any household that requests them, and everyone can put out as many filled bins every week as they want to. It's single-stream recycling, which means we don't have to do any sorting - a time-saver! These bins are for cans, glass jars and bottles, types 1, 2, 4, and 5 plastic, milk jugs, any clean paper, flattened clean cardboard, and clean aluminum foil such as washed take-out containers. They don't take plastic bags any more, but the city has set up special bins just for plastic bags at every large grocery store. We can also be fined for putting recyclables in the garbage, which I personally see as a good thing, though some disagree.
This had some side effects for us. Now that recycling doesn't require sorting into different bags and bins, my family are much more cooperative about making sure everything that can be recycled actually goes in the blue bin. And when we noticed how quickly the bin filled up, we began making more of an effort to shop for products with minimal and/or recyclable packaging. There's even a frugal benefit of sorts - frequently we decide to do without something entirely, or wait until we find another way to get what we want, because we object to paying for the excess packaging. For example, instead of paying high prices for spices in little glass jars, we take our own zipper-type plastic bags to the bulk spice aisle and get twice the garlic, parsley, oregano, or whatever for less than one-tenth of the price of those little jars. The time it takes to rinse out a plastic bag for the next trip is minimal while I'm doing dishes, and the benefits to our budget and the environment are enormous.
We've also developed the habit of looking at something we're about to put in the bin, and thinking about what else it could be used for. So now the bulk-purchased spices, seasonings, and baking supplies that we use a lot of are in two-kilo peanut butter jars. The benefits? We're saving money by buying in bulk, we're saving time by not shopping for them so often, we're reducing the load on our city's recycling system, we can see at a glance how much of something we have and what needs replenishing, we have "canisters" that are uniform in size and shape, and the cupboard is much more organized. Now I'm saving them for the camper, not just for spices but also flour, sugar, coffee, pasta/noodles, dry soup mixes, cocoa, coffee creamer - anything we only want two weeks' worth of that needs to stay dry and bug-free. The jars are great freezer containers, too, especially since the contents are visible and so don't usually need labeling - we just date the containers with a black marker.
What else could we use those jars for? (We eat a LOT of peanut butter ...)
I could use them in my sewing room instead of the collection of ratty shoeboxes currently stacked on the shelves ... beads, buttons, zippers, embroidery floss, spools of thread, knitting needles & crochet hooks, scissors and seam rippers ...
He could use them in his workshop for nails, bolts, screws, drill bits ... all the things that are currently either in glass jars of odd sizes (breakable = not good) or in coffee cans, which he could then use for cleaning paintbrushes and other dirty chores ...
How about all our rechargeable batteries, currently rolling around in the bottom of the kitchen drawer? Or all those little packets of condiments that seem to accumulate out of nowhere but are so great for work lunches and picnics?
So how about you? Do you see an empty peanut butter jar as trash? Or as a perfectly good container?