Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Household Thrift & Supporting Your Local Economy

(picture courtesy Library of Congress)

Written for Local Magazine
Supporting our Local Economy and Families is Sustainable and GREEN 

Dear Judith:

What is Sustainability? I’m starting to see a lot of this word but don’t really understand the concept. Those “green” products cost a mint. Being green isn’t cheap and though I want to do my part, I’m not sure what is the best way to about it. What does it mean to me and how can I help my local economy without breaking my checkbook? 

Wanna B. Greener

Dear Ms. Greener:
Here’s the definition of Sustainability from Merriam Webster:
a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged 
b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

There’s buzz over ‘carbon footprint’ and CO2 emissions. I personally have a hard time justifying buying carbon offsets. I really don’t know where they are going and what actually happens with my dollar. So I choose to apply that dollar in the way I can control. The way I see it, the earth doesn’t care how much money I spend. But my impact on the environment can certainly be smaller, and I am always looking for ways to keep it as small as possible. A year ago, I started a personal ‘sustainability experiment’ and have learned a LOT. Now I don’t have a master’s degree in financial economics (yet) but I am a thinker. I figure if I support my local businesses, it benefits the state and my county and town, providing jobs in this area. That’s only good for all of us who live here, right? I’m a mom first, so sometimes I make my choices on location, sometimes on price, but always with an eye toward the health aspect and the bigger picture. If everyone did this –ideally- we’d have a more sustainable way of life, and that’s what you’re asking about, right? Sustainable forestry is where the rate of the tree growth is equal to the rate of harvest. That means that it will be sustainable into the future. Our farming can be like that. Our natural resources should be like that I wish our energy consumption were like that. And we can strive for that in our homes. So how do we make the right moral, local, and ecological choices when it comes to our daily consumption of everything? We’re talking about consumption of products, food, energy, fuel, and water. In theory, if we use less in our homes, we should be spending less and saving more, right? So in a few dozen little ways, I can minimize my drain on the system by not spending my hard-earned paycheck on products that are either energy hogs or waste-generating items, support local businesses wherever possible, and always think toward LESS WASTE..

CONSIDER DISTANCE FROM MANUFACTURE I consider anything that comes from far away to be an energy drain. This is because it had to travel further to get to me. If I can buy the same item made here in the USA, the Midwest, Ohio, or even best: within 10 miles, I’m going to choose it over something made overseas. For instance, I can buy my choice of 10 brands of peanut butter. But did you know Krema is made in Columbus? Krema’s tax dollars go toward funding my children’s school (indirectly). So, I’m going to buy Krema instead of an Organic FreeTrade Certified competitor who advertises they buy green energy to power their production facilities. Here’s how I see it. The trip in the truck from Columbus to the suburbs is a lot shorter than the uber-healthy product with a philosophy that traveled across the country. As a special bonus in this particular case, it’s also an all-natural product without sweeteners, emulsifiers, or anything other than peanuts and salt. Cool! It costs a buck more. But am I more willing to pay that buck for a healthier product than buying a buck’s worth of carbon offsets? You betcha. That buck comes back to our local economy through a small business that’s been in operation since 1898!

CONSERVE WATER Whenever possible, I conserve water. It’s just too darned expensive and there’s only so much of it. When the kids are done with dinner, they dump their undrunk water into the dog’s bowl. The dog doesn’t care and she gets to crunch up the ice cubes. The next day when you go to change the dog’s water, instead of dumping it, use it to water your houseplants. After cooking pasta, save that gallon and a half of slimy water and use it on your flowers out front. They love it, actually. Wash big items like stockpots and serving bowls by hand instead of loading the dishwasher and running it for 4-5 items. Get a front-loading washer if you’re in the market for a new one. They use 1/3 the water of a traditional washer and since they lack a central agitator, they don’t beat up your clothes as much. If they’re old enough, shower the kids instead of drawing a bathtub full of water. Institute the rule that during the night, if someone has to use the bathroom, the old “if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down” is in effect. Sounds a bit icky, but your house will be quieter at night and you save a dozen gallons a week. Each flush is circa 3 gallons. You get the idea. These all add up to a lot. In one quarter, we knocked $25 off our water bill using these things above for just one month. That’s $300 per year.

CONSERVE ELECTRICITY You know all the tips. Use them. Unplug stuff that isn’t being used, like the toaster and the blender. Turn out lights. As an aside, here’s one of those personal judgment-calls I am talking about; I do not buy those CFCs unless they’re going in really hard to reach areas, meaning they’ll last for a decade. This is because they are full of mercury, and they’re dangerous to clean up if you happen to break one. No producer has adequately explained how they get this mercury out of landfills for used bulbs. And, I sure don’t want mercury in my house because let’s face it, kids break light bulbs just being kids. So, I don’t buy them. I don’t care how efficient they are. Soon LED bulbs will be affordable and I’ll buy them instead.

CONSERVE FUEL I do most of my driving around town. I now make a concerted effort to have an ‘errands day’ and two shopping days per week. Other days, if I need something, unless it’s an emergency, it has to wait. I’ve cut my fuel purchases by 50% just doing this. I amazed myself with those results.

WASTE LESS OVERALL I have a recycling center set up in my garage, with labeled bins. When they fill up, I take them to a dropoff facility. Any fruit or vegetable trimmings go into my compost pile out back. (no meat, egg, or dairy, please!) Since I started these two practices, my trash volume has decreased by a whopping 50%. Now THAT is a lot less into the landfill. Buy things that don’t have a ton of packaging around them. Avoid items that are packaged in nonrecyclable materials. Plenty of cereals come in bags now. Cleaning products often have spray bottles and larger refill bottles that you can purchase, simply refill that spray bottle you already have. Water and vinegar is a great combination that has been a great old cleaner for generations. It’s super cheap and you can mix it yourself, no need to buy a separate cleaner product when just wiping down your counters every night. Good old bleach-water mix is even better at killing germs than any antibacterial spray. Look online for more ideas, there are thousands.

SAY NO TO CHEMICALS ON OUR SKIN This is a big one. One of the most un-sustainable practices is our common use of chemicals. They don’t really get ‘cleaned’ out of the environment. They just accumulate and pollute. So opt for the laundry soap that doesn’t have perfumes. Ditch the plastic-pump of handsoap. It’s extra money for dyes, perfumes, and odd chemical compounds (read the label, it’s not just soap in there) and replace with a good old bar of soap. It lasts 5x as long and costs half. For the money you save, you can buy the most expensive natural goats-milk or olive-oil stuff out there and still come out ahead. And there’s no plastic bottle packaging wrapped around it. Take a look at Dr.Bronner’s liquid castile soap instead of body washes. It’s all natural, far more concentrated, so a bottle goes a long way, and it works great. Regular body washes are full of the same stuff as the pump hand soap. Read the labels. Yes, they’re full of perfumes, chemicals, SLS, and more.

BUY FROM LOCAL FARMERS Support our local farmers. You can probably buy from them directly. If you live near a farmer, just ask if you can buy directly. Buy at the farmers markets. There are plenty. We live on the edge of a rural area, and that’s an advantage we have over a big metropolitan area, take advantage of it. The closest one to Pickerington is the one on Tuesday afternoons in Reynoldsburg, it’s new this year. Check their website for info.

INVESTING IN OUR FAMILIES Our families need to be stronger and more sustainable. Instead of letting the DVD player babysit the kids or giving yet another toy or video game, we should give our children something far more priceless: our time and attention and love. “Game Night” is free after the purchase of the game and it’s more precious than anything else, because kids grow up waaaay too fast. Our kids like game night more than anything else we offer. Better than going out to a movie. We laugh, tease, compete, learn, and share. It’s fantastic. We started with matching colored dominoes when the kids were too young for anything else. Save your money because life isn’t about Stuff. Kids don’t want money, they want love, attention, and time. And they learn priorities when they look back to their childhood and think of the best times. It wasn’t when mom and dad brought home stainless appliances and granite countertops or a luxury car. It was that game of Blockus or Monopoly... and the cycle continues. 

In our lives and choices, we should strive to support systems that allow our sum impact on the earth to be as small as possible. Think about where your food comes from, where your products were made, how they are packaged, and what’s in them. When in doubt, think about what your grandparents would have done- they were truly a ‘green’ generation, but not through consumption of special enviro-products! They were ‘green’ because they were thrifty. They knew how to fix stuff instead of throwing it away. They bought a single long-lived, solid item instead of 200 cheap disposable copies of it. They lived their lives in a much simpler way and made it a priority to spend time with the family. 

We can learn a lot from them. 

No comments: