I Need...Paper

>> Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm just looking for regular old paper this time. The kind that works great as printer paper but can also be used for drawing, doodling, painting or any other children's craft that you can think of.

The fact is that we use a lot of paper in our house. If you were snooping through my trash, you'd think I was running a business based on the amount of paper that goes into our recycling. But in reality, I just have two extremely talented budding artists (says the proud momma), and every evening I sneak into their playroom, gather up all the used pieces of paper, and make them disappear in the recycling bin.

Since we use a lot of paper, this is one area where my family can make a reasonably sized impact.

If you missed my post about why you should be more conscious about your paper purchases, you can review my Paper Primer here.


  • Print on both sides of the paper. Utilize your printer settings and print on both sides whenever you're printing a multiple page document.
  • Use the back sides of used paper for notes, lists, and drawings. If I forget to print on both sides, I pass the paper on to my kids, who are happy to fill up the back sides with their masterpieces.
  • Don't print it out. Do you really need a hard copy? Will a digital copy do?
  • Buy recycled paper. The higher the post consumer content the better, and make sure it's bleached without chlorine.
  • Buy FSC-certified paper. Check out this guide by the Forest Stewardship Council to find FSC-certified paper producers.
  • Or buy both!
  • Go tree-free. Choose paper products from alternative sources such as hemp and bamboo. Both hemp and bamboo are fast-growing plants that can be used to make paper products. Look online for tree-free paper sources. I even found one online store selling banana paper, coffee paper, and mango paper.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
You can get a case of 5000 sheets of paper (100% post consumer content, FSC-certified) from Staples for $51.99.

Where I'm At: I've been buying 100% recycled paper, but haven't given much thought to the FSC certification. That's something I'll be looking for from now on.


Grocery Shopping Week 6: Harris Teeter

>> Monday, October 27, 2008

Distance from my apartment: 4.6 miles (10 minutes)

Harris Teeter is a regional supermarket with stores in eight Southern states. If you don't live in one of those states, think of the nicest supermarket in your area, and you'll be able to picture Harris Teeter. Their stores are organized and clean with a huge produce section and deli. And let me tell you, the produce there is soooo beautiful. This is the type of store that will make you want to eat your veggies.

Harris Teeter has a broad selection of organic and natural grocery items, ranging from organic bananas (not wrapped in plastic!) to local milk. Unlike Kroger, their organics are interspersed throughout the store, but they helpfully provide signs on all the shelves with organic items, and they even point out the local items. I was surprised to see a large amount of local produce, so if you don't live near a farmer's market but do live near a Harris Teeter, that might be an option for you.

My total bill at Harris Teeter was roughly the same as at Whole Foods, something I wasn't expecting. I've heard from many people around here that if you're big into coupon clipping, Harris Teeter is the place to shop (I personally have never been very good at the whole coupon thing) because they double and sometimes triple coupons. Also, Harris Teeter is more kid-friendly than Whole Foods. They have the big shopping carts shaped like race cars, and their aisles are easy to maneuver down (unlike at Whole Foods where my kids are not allowed to take their hands off the cart for fear they will knock something over).

As usual, no fair trade chocolate chips.

Here's my total bill:

organic tempeh
cheese (4 cups)
organic juice (2 cans)
organic butter
local milk
organic applesauce
organic baby food
organic baby cereal
organic yogurt
organic avocado
organic carrots
organic bananas

Total = $59.19


Thank You, Dear Stranger

>> Friday, October 24, 2008

This post is my submission for this month's Green Moms Blog Carnival. The subject is gratitude/favorite green things. Even if my submission is not chosen, you should check out the musings of all the great Green Moms on November 3 at Best of Mother Earth.

Gratitude is a frequent subject of conversation between me and my two older boys. The conversation is generally one-sided and goes a little like this:

"A thank you would be nice." OR "A little less complaining, a little more gratitude." OR "Gee, I'm so glad I did this for you since you are showering me with thank-you's."

First Son is just catching on to sarcasm, and it's way above Second Son's head, so dear hubby and I decided maybe we ought to have some more specific, less sarcastic lessons on gratitude. In the past two months, we have had five family night lessons on the subject of gratitude. I haven't noticed an increase in the number of thank-you's, but they can tell you this:

First Son: "Gratitude is saying thank you and showing love."

Second Son: "You show gratitude by being kind to people."

The point we've been trying to get across to the boys is that gratitude is meaningless without action. It does no good at all to feel grateful for someone if you don't tell them, or even better, show them.

Last week, my husband needed a ride to work really early in the morning, and the only way I could get my sleepy boys to put on shoes and head out to the car was to promise them some donuts. You'd think they'd be grateful for the treat, but as typical three- and four-year-olds, they spent the morning fighting and complaining, and by the time we were settled at a table in Dunkin Donuts, I was pretty frazzled. It was 8:00 in the morning, and the day was not looking good.

And then a nice gentleman at the next table started teasing my boys and making them laugh. He showed us pictures of his twin grandkids and told us some jokes. In short, he brightened the morning.

I am truly grateful for a man that I will never see again.

I'm sure you can think of similar times in your life when you've been grateful for the kindness of a stranger. How do you show gratitude to someone who was only in your life for a moment? How about passing on the kindness? Share a smile with the next person you see. Open a door for someone who needs a hand. Say thank you to the cashier, the bank teller, even the workers at the DMV. Show your gratitude for a stranger by being kind to another stranger.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the holiday of Thanksgiving were accompanied by a season of kind-giving?

In the spirit of showing gratitude for strangers, I would like to tell you about three of my favorite green things, which are not really things at all. They are organizations filled with people I've never met but for whom I feel grateful because they are people who are making a difference.

New American Dream

  • Mission Statement: Help Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.
  • Why I love it: The New American Dream embodies just about everything I believe in. I like what they stand for so much that I actually applied for a job with them two years ago when I lost my job and was panicking about becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom. I didn't get the job, but I like them anyway. If they were a political party, I would vote for their candidates.
  • How I'm Showing My Gratitude: I'm spreading the word about their "Break the Bottled Water Habit" campaign.
Co-Op America
  • Mission Statement: Harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
  • Why I love it: Co-Op America focuses on economic action to end injustices, and I obviously believe where you spend your money makes a difference or I wouldn't be blogging about being a Conscious Shopper. Also, although I am concerned about the environment, what really sends me on a rant is social injustice. (It seems like our society would have progressed enough by now that we wouldn't be treating each other unfairly.) So I'm grateful that Co-Op America has the two-sided mission of social justice and environmental sustainability.
  • How I'm Showing My Gratitude: I'm participating in their Fair Trade Trick or Treat, and I'm hoping to attend their Green Festival in Washington, DC.
Sierra Club
  • Mission Statement: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
  • Why I love it: What's not to love about an organization that encourages people to get outdoors?
  • How I'm Showing My Gratitude: I plan to get involved in my local chapter.
Time Magazine had a special edition a few months ago called "The Case for National Service." I'm not sure if I agree that service should be required, but wouldn't it be great if we all embraced the concept of volunteerism? Maybe this holiday season, we could show a little gratitude by being kind to those around us - even strangers - and by giving back to our communities. Let's all have a little less complaining and a little more gratitude.


Break Your Bottled Water Habit

>> Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Break the Bottled Water Habit

While ranting to my mom yesterday about my personal peeve with the overpackaging of otherwise good products, I mentioned that I had written a letter to Seventh Generation asking why their paper towels are wrapped in plastic while their toilet paper is wrapped in paper. My mom replied, "I don't even know where to find Seventh Generation paper towels."

I thought my mom hit on a major point. Many, many Americans are in the same boat as my parents, who live in a small town in Kentucky. They want to be more environmentally conscious, but the only place to shop is Walmart (which I've already noted is lacking in the "green" department) and their town doesn't even collect recycling.

Luckily, there are still things they can do, and here's one from the super awesome folks at New American Dream:

Break the Bottled Water Habit, Win a Prize and Cut Your Carbon

When you want pure, healthy drinking water, you should reach for bottled water, right? Surprisingly, on neither a personal nor a global level are you making a healthy choice.

For each gallon of water bottled, two gallons are wasted; producing the plastic wastes the energy equivalent of a quarter-bottle’s worth of oil. And what’s in the bottle could just be tap water.

New American Dream and Corporate Accountability International is asking you to think about where the water in that bottle came from, where the plastic is going, and take the Break the Bottled Water Habit pledge(water.newdream.org) and drink to a healthy ecosystem.

During October, make a conscious choice to slake your thirst without drying up our planet’s resources. In addition to benefiting the environment, participants will have a chance to win a free condo for a week at a ski resort in Idaho. Visit the website (water.newdream.org) now to get started.

I can already hear the protests:

"But my tap water isn't clean!"

The truth is, at least 40 percent of bottled water is tap water anyway, and most tap water meets the EPA's standards for water quality. But if you're still concerned about the cleanliness of your tap water, you can always buy a filter.

"But bottled water is more convenient!"

Buy a reusable water bottle. Get a nice stainless steel model, or go the No Impact Man route: recycle a glass jar. Seriously, if my four-year-old and three-year-old can learn to carry a water bottle with them when they leave the house, you can do it too.

"I already reuse my water bottle. And then I recycle it."

Kudos on the reusing and recycling. The problem here is that the plastic used to make water bottles (PET) is not meant for multiple use and can lead to nasty stuff like bacteria and chemical-leaching.

"But bottled water tastes better!"

Okay, if you really like the taste of plastic, you've got me there, but at least consider that tap water costs on average .2 cents per gallon. That's 750-2700 times cheaper than bottled water.

Be a Conscious Shopper, and break your bottled water habit!


I Need...Paper Towels and Napkins

>> Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Okay, I realize I'm a little slow going on my paper changes, but slow and steady wins the race, right?

Today's subject is paper towels. If you missed my post about why you should be more conscious about your paper purchases, you can review my Paper Primer here.

And here are some facts from the ever humble Seventh Generation about recycled paper towels:

If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of 120 sheet virgin fiber paper towels with 100% recycled ones, we could save:
  • 1 million trees
  • 2.6 million cubic feet of landfill space (equal to over 3,800 full garbage trucks)
  • 367 million gallons of water (a year's supply for 2,800 families of four)
  • and avoid 38,000 tons of pollution.

Now let's start making some changes:

  • Use smaller paper towels. Try the select-a-size type of paper towels, and use a smaller size when you can. Using smaller equals using less.
  • Follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, reach for cloth first. Use a towel to wipe up spills, use a washcloth to clean up messes, use rags to clean, use cloth napkins. Give these Skoy cloths a try. The other 20% of the time...
  • Use recycled paper towels. Look for a brand with at least 80% post-consumer recycled content and one that was whitened without chlorine bleach. You can find "opinionated and unscientific reviews" of paper towels by Grist here.
  • Use cloth 100% of the time. Stop buying paper towels. If you don't buy them, you'll find ways not to need them.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
The cheapest brand of recycled paper towels I've seen are Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 8 pack for $7.99 (about $1.00 each). If you don't have a Whole Foods nearby you can get 30 rolls of Seventh Generation Natural paper towels through Amazon's Subscribe & Save program for $46.74 ($1.56 per roll). 30 rolls is a lot of paper towels though. Maybe you can work out a deal with your neighbor and split the pack.

Where I'm At: I'm in a 50/50 phase right now, but working toward 80/20. My biggest hang-up is using paper towels for cleaning. I tried using rags and didn't like it, but I know I've just got to get over it. Maybe I just need more rags.


Grocery Shopping Week 5: Kroger

>> Friday, October 17, 2008

Kroger scores:
Co-op America's Responsible Shopper: F for ethics and governance, F for health and safety, D for greenwashing

Distance from my apartment: 3.1 miles (8 minutes)

I was surprised to find that Kroger has an extensive organics selection. Not just produce, but dairy, eggs, canned foods, juice, cleaning supplies...pretty much anything you could want. You could do all of your grocery shopping in the organics section and bypass the rest of the store, except that the organics section seemed to contain most of the popular name brand organic and all natural products (Stoneyfield Farms, Annie's, Eden's, Earth's Best, Seventh Generation, etc.) while the regular aisles contained some cheaper store brand organics. No fair trade items in sight, and the bananas were once again wrapped in plastic (but I did buy them this time).

I'm learning through this experiment that there's not a clear cut answer to the question, Where's the best place to grocery shop? If we're strictly talking budget, Kroger seems to be the way to go. On the other hand, I admire Whole Foods as a company and would feel more comfortable giving them my money. Food Lion is closest to my house so I could cut down on car emissions by riding a bike or walking. Capital City Grocery has the advantage of being locally-owned, sustaining my local economy. Which is most important? I think it all comes down to personal opinion. It's impossible to do everything, so what's most important to you?

This week's spending:

organic tofu
organic cheese (3 cups)
juice (2)
organic butter
organic milk
organic applesauce
organic baby food (7 jars)
organic baby cereal (2 boxes)
organic pita chips
cereal (2 boxes)
organic yogurt
organic avocado
organic carrots
organic bananas

Total = $54.68


Book Review: Garbage Land

>> Thursday, October 16, 2008

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash
Elizabeth Royte

Garbage? Seriously?

The subject of this book makes it sound like it's going to be boring. The author decides to dig through her trash every week, meticulously weighing and organizing each and every item she throws out. Then she follows her trash after it has left her home, visiting the landfill, several recycling plants, and even the sewage treatment plant. Sounds really, really boring...

Unfortunately, it's not boring at all, so you have absolutely no excuse not to read this book. In fact, this book was so eye-opening that I would love to give a chapter by chapter synopsis, quoting all of the most interesting passages. But then you wouldn't read this book, and you really need to read this book.

I expected to be totally disgusted with the waste management in this country, and in some cases I was (we are our absolutely dealing with sewage in the wrong way!), but I was surprised to find some good points about our waste management system as well. Modern landfills have their problems, but they are not as bad as I thought, and the solutions are not always as good as I expected them to be. Recycling has its own issues, specifically that there isn't a huge market in the U.S. for recycled goods, so a lot of the products we try to recycle end up being shipped to developing nations that have fewer environmental protection laws. This is a big problem when there are toxic substances involved, such as when recycling technology like cell phones and computers.

Creating a market for recycled products would be one step to solving the problem, and a pretty easy step that most consumers can have a hand in. (Remember that recycled toilet paper I was talking about last week?) The harder step, and the one Royte thinks is most important and would have the greatest impact, would be to buy less. For every product we buy, there is a huge amount of manufacturing waste that we never think about. According to one statistic she cites, "for every 100 pounds of product that's made, 3200 pounds of waste are generated."

The biggest eye-opener that I took from this book was an awareness of how little an effect my trash has on the overall big picture. Royte cites a statistic from the EPA stating that municipal waste makes up only 2% of the total waste in this country. The other 98% of waste comes from industries! Here I am recycling my butt off while industries are making minimal effort to reduce their waste. They contaminate our water, fill our products with toxic chemicals, make crappy products that don't last, encourage us to buy disposables, and then expect us to clean up after them.

That just doesn't make sense.

Plus, every time Royte mentioned a developing technology or innovation that seemed like a good solution to some problem with waste management, she would follow it up by saying something like, "This idea cannot compete with the old way because of huge government subsidies to the XYZ industry" or "The lobbyists for the XYZ industry have fought against this action."

It's like they have no conscience.

I imagine them sitting around in a big board meeting:

Board: "We have decided to build our new factories overseas where we can pollute as much as we want to, hire children to work in unsafe conditions, and make them work long hours for almost no pay. This will save us mucho dinero."

Loner Bob: "Um, I don't think that sounds very ethical."

Board: "Bob, this is not ethics. This is business."

Loner Bob: "But-"

Board: "Bob, you liked that big fat bonus you got last year, didn't you?"

Loner Bob: "Yes..."

Board: "Then keep your mouth shut. This is the way things are done."

I feel frustrated and angry, and I also feel like there's not much I can do about it.


Monthly Round-up

>> Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's time to see how I've been doing on the budget front.

You may be saying to yourself, "But it's the middle of the month." Well, I can explain...In my house the fiscal month starts on the 15th because that's when my husband gets paid and the bills start rolling in.

I haven't been able to find a way to put a graph of my spending on this blog yet, but I did join a site called Wesabe, which will file my purchases into different categories. Phew! I was dreading doing it all by hand.

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $583 ($500)
    • My grocery total wasn't as bad as I was expecting, considering that I've been doing a lot of shopping around at different grocery stores this month. I haven't made any big changes in this area yet though, so I'm interested to see how much this number will be changing in the future.
  • Transportation: $184.86 ($300)
    • Woohoo! We did outstanding on our transportation budget this month! This is an area where the move to Raleigh definitely lightened our bill. Although my husband worked from home in Silver Spring, MD, we had to drive pretty far to get anywhere we wanted to go, and the traffic there was terrible. In Raleigh, my husband is walking or biking to work, and everything I need is within 5 miles from our apartment.
  • Electricity: $99.59 ($150)
    • The weather in Raleigh this month has been pretty mild, so we've had the air conditioning off most of the month. We'll see how this number changes as we head into winter. I am not a cold-loving person...
  • Water/Sewer: $19.45 ($50)
    • Another area where Raleigh is beating Silver Spring. I can't figure out why my water bill is so low. We are the same number of people washing the same amount of clothes and dishes. We even had an Energy Star dishwasher in our old house! The only guess I have is that we're in an apartment now - before we lived in a townhouse.
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $394.37 ($300)
    • We're overbudget. :( But it was a good splurge! My husband's parents came to visit, and we took them out to this super yummy restaurant in Raleigh that serves NC barbecue tofu. It's amazing!
  • Clothes: $51.91 (no set budget)
    • Half of this was spent at Goodwill, and the other half was spent on a dress I had to have for a wedding. My husband also bought a suit for the wedding, but that hasn't shown up on the bank statement yet, so you'll see it next month.
  • TOTAL: $1,333.18 ($1,300)

Changes I Made This Month:
  1. Buy recycled toilet paper.
  2. Hmmm...Guess I didn't make many permanent changes this month, but I have been buying a lot more organic products during my Grocery Store Experiment.
Goals for Next Month
  1. Wrap up the Grocery Store Experiment and choose where I'll be doing my weekly shopping. I have four more places to check out: Kroger, Harmony Farms (another local grocery store), Harris Teeter (a regional grocery store), and the farmer's market shops.
  2. Keep changing paper habits.


Grocery Shopping Week 4: Capital City Grocery

>> Friday, October 10, 2008

Update: Capital City Grocery closed on 11/22/2008

Capital City Grocery Scores:

Neither the Better World Shopper nor Co-op America's Responsible Shopper rate this store, but since it is locally owned, I'm sure it would receive an A from both groups.

Distance from my apartment: 4.6 miles (12 minutes)

I recently stumbled across a website called the Eat Well Guide, which helps you locate local grocery stores, farmers markets, and CSAs that sell organic produce and local dairy and meat. This led me to Capital City Grocery, which is a locally owned grocery store located inside the Raleigh beltline.

If you're not from Raleigh, this week's shopping trip isn't going to mean much to you, so I recommend looking up your own area on the Eat Well Guide and checking out a similar grocery store in your area.

I really, really, really wanted to like Capital City Grocery. They are locally owned, which is a plus, and they are conceivably within bike-riding distance from my apartment, if I ever get my bike trailer. Sadly, I left the store disappointed. If you scroll to the bottom of this post and check out my grocery total, you'll see why.

It's no wonder that small, locally-owned grocery stores go out of business when Walmart moves in! Frankly, I don't know anyone who can afford these prices. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I didn't buy all the items on this list. About halfway through the store, I recognized that there was no way I could afford to shop here, and I started writing down prices instead of actually buying them.)

If you're from the Raleigh area and think you can afford to shop at Capital City Grocery, I highly recommend it. They have amazing customer service. A super nice lady rang me up and another super nice lady bagged my groceries (in my cloth bags without rolling her eyes or "helpfully" putting my produce in plastic bags) and then the first nice lady saw me struggling in the parking lot with three kids and two bags of groceries and came out of the store to help me. Awesome! And did I mention that they're locally owned?

I really, really, really wish I could shop at Capital City Grocery...

My grocery list:

Veggie "turkey" slices (couldn't find tofu0
organic cheddar cheese (four 8 oz. packages)
organic frozen juice (2)
organic butter
organic milk
organic baby food (7 jars)
organic baby cereal (2 boxes)
cereal (2 boxes)
organic yogurt

Total: $87.60


I Need...Toilet Paper

>> Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'm changing my paper habits by starting at the bottom...my own bottom that is! (Ha, ha, you know a post about toilet paper has to start with a bad joke).

If you missed my post about why you should be more conscious about your paper purchases, you can review my Paper Primer here.

Or here are some other statistics about toilet paper brought to you by Seventh Generation (who is never shy about advertising how their products are better for the planet):

If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of 500 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with 100% recycled ones, we could save:
  • 423,900 trees
  • 1.0 million cubic feet of landfill space, equal to 1600 full garbage trucks
  • 153 million gallons of water, a year's supply for 1,200 families of four
So now that you know why you should change, here are some steps you can take to be a Conscious Shopper:


  • Use less of the toilet paper you're already using. According to Charmin, the average person uses 8.6 sheets of toilet paper per trip to the bathroom. Could you get by with 7? 5? 3? If you're using virgin toilet paper (which is very strong and absorbent) and especially if you've only gone #1, it really doesn't take that many sheets of toilet paper to get a good wipe.
  • Pick a brand with a conscience. Better World Shopper gives Cottonelle a B- and Charmin a C+. Quilted Northern and Angel Soft get an F. Climate Counts gives Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Cottenelle, a score of 58 on their 100 point scale, and Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Charmin, a score of 69 (that's actually a pretty good score).
  • Buy recycled toilet paper. There are several brands to choose from: Seventh Generation, Marcal, and Green Forest, to name a few. I went with the Seventh Generation brand because I found out from Fake Plastic Fish's site that you can get your toilet paper delivered as part of Amazon's Subscribe and Save program for the reasonable price of $40.79 for a pack of 48 rolls of 500 sheets each ($0.0017 per sheet). Cottonelle from Amazon is $0.0024 per sheet. The Seventh Generation toilet paper is also individually wrapped in recycled/recyclable paper rather than plastic wrap, and it comes in a great big box with no plastic packaging in site. The toilet paper itself, to be honest, reminds me of the cheap toilet paper you see in public restrooms, but it's doing it's job and that's all that matters.

  • Use cloth wipes. I tried this out as part of Crunchy Chicken's Cloth Wipes Challenge. Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Since we're already using cloth diapers, I just moved the cloth baby wipes into the kids' bathroom to make them more accessible. I have two potty trained boys who only wipe for #2, and I actually found that the cloth wipes work much better than the moistened flushable wipes I was buying (as long as they remember to put the wipes in the diaper pail and not the toilet). I like the softness factor of the cloth wipes (as opposed to the rough recycled toilet paper), and washing the wipes was no big deal since we're already washing cloth diapers.
Where I'm At

Despite the roughness factor, I like the Seventh Generation recycled toilet paper, and the price is right. I'm also keeping the cloth wipes in the kids' bathroom for now, but once Third Son is out of diapers, I doubt I'll keep up the cloth wipes. Sorry, Crunchy Chicken, but I just can't bring myself to wash my pee-stained wipes with my regular laundry!


A Paper Primer

>> Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Here's something you may not know: "The pulp and paper industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any other industry in the world," according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

I had no idea. Paper seems like such a benign product! It's used for so many good things: making children's artwork, cleaning up messes, wiping our noses and butts...It's a natural, sustainable product, and unlike many other manmade things, paper biodegrades.

So what's so bad about it? In Garbage Land, author Elizabeth Royte explains:

"Virgin papermaking...depletes forests and their biodiversity, it uses more water than any other industrial process in the nation (more than double the amount of recycled papermaking), and it dumps billions of gallons of water contaminated with chlorinated dioxin and a host of other hazardous and conventional pollutants into rivers, lakes, and harbors....Each year, paper factories send 420 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrogen oxides, and other heat trapping gases up through their smokestacks (and emissions are expected to double by 2020). Along with the gases come 38,617 pounds of lead and 2,277 pounds of mercury and mercury compounds."
And according to the NRDC, "Most of the world's paper supply comes from timber logged in regions with ecologically valuable, biologically divers habitat."

I've been wanting to "green" my paper products for awhile now, so here's my checklist for good paper:
  1. Recycled. There are two types of recycled content: post-consumer and pre-consumer. Post-consumer content refers to the paper collected from household and office recycling. In other words, the consumer has already used it once. Pre-consumer content refers to the extra paper scraps produced in the paper manufacturing process. The higher the post-consumer content, the better.
  2. FSC certified. This means that the trees used to make the paper come from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and indicates that a forest is sustainably managed.
  3. Processed Chlorine Free. This means that the paper was produced without chlorine. Chlorine bleaching produces dioxins, which are a toxic substance. (But don't think this means your paper is going to be grey. Most recycled paper is still whitened using other chemicals.)
Other thoughts to consider:
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle...in that order. I used to have the attitude that I didn't have to think about how much paper my family was using because we were recycling it all anyway. Sorry folks, that's the wrong attitude, and I've since seen the error of my ways.
  • Paper can only be recycled four to nine times. After that, the fibers become too short to be used again.
  • Recycled paper products are generally more expensive than their virgin paper counterparts. (This is in part due to government subsidies for the timber industry.) If you don't think you can afford to switch to all recycled paper products, I personally think it's most important to use recycled toilet paper, facial tissues, and paper towels because those products cannot be recycled. But that's just my opinion.
  • When you buy recycled products, it lets the paper industry know that you value those products, recycled paper products will become more readily available, and generally that means they will be cheaper.
The National Resources Defense Council provides an extensive shoppers' guide for paper products, and The Green Guide has created a "Smart Shoppers Card" that you can print out (on recycled paper!) and take with you when you go shopping.


Please help! (and No Impact Man's needle approach to planetary damage)

>> Sunday, October 5, 2008

I read a blog post recently from No Impact Man's archives about a theory he calls the "needle exchange approach to planetary damage." He took the idea from an approach to treating drug addicts, explaining that "the idea was, that if you can't get addicts to stop using drugs, then at least you might be able to prevent transmission of the virus by providing new needles, educating them on 'safe use,' or getting them to take their drugs orally instead of by injection."

No Impact Man applies that theory to environmentalism, concluding that "the message of 'just say no' to consumption simply isn't going to reach all consumers, or for that matter, producers. On the other hand, we may be able to convince them to take approaches that do less harm....Perhaps, by introducing consumers and producers to the idea of reduced harm, we will get them to thinking in such a way that will eventually get them to thinking about reduced resource use. Perhaps we will help them to move from recycling to reusing to reducing."

This approach reminds me of Dr. Leo Marvin's "Baby Steps" theory in the classic movie "What About Bob?" As Dr. Marvin explains it to Bob, "it means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself. One day at a time, one tiny step at a time - doable, accomplishable goals."

Embracing both of these theories, I've decided that as I look for solutions to my own over-consumption and wastefulness, I'll provide a few different levels of options ranging from "baby steps" to more extreme choices, just in case you're at a different level than me. So whether you're just starting to make changes in your life, you're ready to take some big changes, or you're somewhere in the middle like me, hopefully you'll find something to help you on this blog.

Look for my experiment with cloth toilet paper on Wednesday, but today I'm looking for advice....Before we moved to Raleigh, my husband worked from home, which made lunch very easy. Now that he's working in an office, he wants me to buy him those frozen microwavable Lean Cuisine meals. I've been doing that for two months now, and I'm going crazy with guilt. All that packaging! Not to mention that I'm going broke.

My husband says he's willing to change, but he has certain criteria:

1. healthy
2. portable (he prefers to take a week's worth of meals to work on Monday, and he walks to work)
3. he prefers hot meals

I would add:

1. cheap
2. no wasteful packaging (or at least recyclable)

Anyone have any suggestions of lunches for my husband?


Grocery Shopping Week 3: Food Lion

>> Friday, October 3, 2008

Food Lion Scores
Better World Shopper: D+

Distance from my apartment: 1.3 miles (4 minutes)

Food Lion has the advantage of being my corner grocery store. Since it's only a mile from my apartment, in theory I could walk there (if I was willing to risk my life walking on the highway that leads there). If I ever get a bike trailer (someday soon, I hope!), I could take the long route and bike to the grocery store. And since the farmer's market is just down the road, I could do all my grocery shopping in one morning. Plus, when I announced that we were shopping at Food Lion today, First Son exclaimed, "Hurray! My favorite grocery store!" They have the shopping carts that are shaped like race cars...

Unfortunately, Food Lion is tied with Walmart for the fewest natural, fair trade, and organic items. In the produce section, I found organic bananas, but I didn't buy them because they were wrapped in plastic and the overpackaging of organic foods has become a sore spot with me. Why, oh why, do they do that??? They also had organic baby food and hormone-free milk, and that was it. They didn't even have Stonyfield Farm yogurt, which you can generally find at any grocery store.

The question I'm asking now is what's more important: buying everything natural and organic, or cutting down on emissions by biking to the grocery store?

Here are the usual suspects:

cheddar cheese (4 cup bag)
frozen apple juice (2)
organic baby food (7 jars)
organic baby cereal (2 boxes)
tortillas (family pack)
cereal (2 boxes)

Total: $47.54


Speaking of Not Disclosing Ingredients...

>> Thursday, October 2, 2008

I mentioned in my last post that one of the reasons I make my own cleaners is that it bothers me that commercial cleaners don't disclose their ingredients. Let me explain more about why I think that's important.

I'm assuming that none of you are purposely ingesting your household cleaners, but they still get into our bodies in other ways: inhaling them, touching them, drinking them in our water. It's even worse with our hair and body products (which also don't disclose ingredients). We purposely rub shampoo into our scalps, lotion onto our skin, deodorant onto our underarms, etc. And most people never give a second thought to what they're putting on their bodies.

I tend to be pretty cynical when it comes to harmful chemicals. Let's face it. Everything is harmful. Everything causes cancer. There's not really much you can do about it in our modern society. You're going to be poisoned in some way.

What bothers me, though, is that the companies making these products have no accountability for the things they're making. They have no need to feel accountable because the government has basically given them a free pass on this.

Our government has a sort of "innocent until proven guilty" attitude when it comes to chemicals. In 1976, they created the Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires a company to submit a new chemical notification to the EPA before putting the chemical into a commercial product. The EPA then reviews the notification, but little (if any) testing is done to determine if the chemical is safe, and the company does not have to prove the chemical is safe before getting approval. Then the company is allowed to use the chemical in commercial products until it is proven dangerous. So first the EPA has to suspect the chemical is dangerous, and then it has to prove its suspicions are true before the chemical will be taken off the market. Also, the 62,000 chemicals that were already in use before the act was passed were automatically assumed to be safe, without any additional testing.

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying things here. I don't work for the EPA and definitely don't have firsthand experience in this area. Most of my knowledge about this subject comes from the Enironmental Working Group, which is certainly a biased organization. Maybe I'm falling prey to conspiracy theories. So let me get back to my first point about disclosing ingredients.

If a chemical is even suspected to be dangerous, we as the consumers have a right to know if it's in our shampoo or our soap or our toilet cleaner so we can make our own educated decisions about the products we use. Maybe we'll choose not to believe the hype about parabens or sodium laureth sulfate, but we have the right to make that choice for ourselves.

I'm a big believer in voting with your dollar, and that's why I think it's important to support companies that list their ingredients on their packaging. The really cool thing about doing that is that after awhile you start to get familiar with the ingredients and what they do, and then you can make choices about the type of shampoo you use based on what ingredients will work best on your hair, for example.

If you're looking for a more organized way to voice your complaints with the current system, the aforementioned Environmental Working Group has teamed up with Seventh Generation to campaign for chemical policy reform through the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. You can sign the declaration here.

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