March Monthly Budget Round-Up

>> Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Last month I asked if these monthly budget round-ups have become redundant. Well, I decided to keep posting them simply because, as Downdoggin in MN pointed out in the comments of the last round-up, they do make me accountable.

So far this year, we've been high on groceries every month. I've been stocking up on a few things, so I'm hoping it will average out over the year. For example, I bought a 5-gallon bucket of Charlie's Soap, which will takes us three years to get through.

We were also high this month on transportation miles; my youngest had surgery two weeks ago, so we had to make several trips to the doctor and hospital. Unfortunately, I haven't switched to a closer pediatrician since we moved into our house last summer.

Here are the numbers:

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount) [year average]

  • Groceries: $711 ($650) [713.51]
  • Transportation: $149 ($150) [148.92]
  • Energy: $162 ($150) [155.31]
  • Utilities: $46 ($50) [44.9]
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $383 ($400) [362.59]
  • Clothes: $0 (no set budget) [24.21]
  • TOTAL: $1,451 ($1,400) [$1425.46]

The Numbers:
  • Trash: 4 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 recycling bin with plastic, metal, and glass; 2 paper grocery sacks of paper
  • Miles Driven: 951
  • Average daily electricity use: 34 kWh
  • Average daily water use: 122 gallons

Best of...

Next Month I'll Be...

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Challengicious Monday: Change Your Bulbs

>> Monday, March 29, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your first energy-related challenge:

Change Your Bulbs


To complete this challenge, you can

BABY STEPS
  • Switch to CFLs. This is the baby step of all going green baby steps. Have you changed your lightbulbs yet? (You know they save you money, right?)
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Use motion-sensor lights. Rather than leaving a light on all night outside or in the bathroom, try switching to a light that only turns on when it detects motion.
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Use LEDs. This is the most energy-efficient long-lasting type of lighting; install an LED once and you won't have to replace it for decades. Unfortunately, affordability hasn't caught up with LED technology, and good affordable LEDs will not screw into a standard lightbulb fixture. But while you wait for LED technology to improve, try using LEDs in your recessed lighting and switch to LED Christmas lights.
We have all of our lightbulbs except for the recessed lighting in the kitchen switched over to CFLs. If we owned this house, I'd consider installing LEDs into the recessed lighting, but sadly, we're still renters.

For more information on lighting, check out I Need...Lighting (Beyond CFLs)

Will You Take the Challenge?
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Energize

>> Sunday, March 28, 2010

We've wrapped up the Trim Your Waste Line series of challenges here at The Conscious Shopper, and hopefully you have to take out the trash a little less often. For the next eight weeks, I'll focus on ways to help you:

Energize


We'll be cutting back on our energy use with the following weekly challenges:
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, improving the energy use of our houses is one of the top three things we can do for planetary health. Although switching to renewable energy is important, I prefer to focus on energy efficiency for so many reasons:

1. Energy efficiency saves money.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A home energy retrofit can shave as much as 30% off of your energy bill. What could be more appealing than that!

2. Energy efficiency is affordable.

So you can't afford solar panels...So what! You can afford to add caulking around your windows. You can afford to slay your vampires. You can afford to switch to CFLs. And now with all of those tax credits from the government, you may even be able to afford to upgrade your windows, add insulation, and get a more efficient HVAC system.

3. Energy efficiency increases the value of your home.

Eco-friendly homes are the hot new thing in the real estate market, and they are only going to get hotter.

4. Energy efficiency does not require new technology.

Holding off on solar panels until they get the technology just right? In the meantime, weatherize your home. These are things we've known how to do for a long time, and we just need to do them.

5. Energy efficiency provides jobs.

Any sustainable energy solution is going to provide new jobs, but think about all the existing buildings and homes in the U.S. that need to be upgraded. Think about all those opportunities for work for home builders who are really in need of jobs right now. And as I mentioned above, this type of work does not require new technology.

6. Energy efficiency equates to less overall energy use.

Apply that statement to whatever energy-related issue hits your hot button: dependence on foreign oil, clean coal, nuclear power, offshore drilling, solar power, wind power, whatever. Using less energy does not make those issues go away, but it reduces the need for some of the less-than-ideal options that are being tossed around and makes the smarter solutions seem more feasible.

7. Energy efficiency fits any circumstance.

It doesn't matter if your lot is shady, windless, or tiny, and it doesn't matter if you own a house or rent an apartment. You may not be able to do everything, but everyone can do something toward making their home more energy efficient.

So let's get to it and see if we can energize in 2010. Come back tomorrow for the first energy challenge.


**ENERGIZE CHECKLIST** Keep track of your eco-changes by printing this checklist on recycled paper OR be extra green by saving your own editable digital copy.

____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Glass Dharma Straws Review and Giveaway

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010

Are you working on reducing your plastic waste? Here's one easy solution.

Glass Dharma Review


Glass Dharma sent me three straws to review: a Beautiful Bend 9" straw, a fatter Simple Elegance straw, and a Decorative Dots sipper. I like the Beautiful Bend straw best for it's versatility, but the fatter Simple Elegance straw is perfect for drinking shakes, and the Decorative Dots straw is just plain beautiful. This is such a cheesy, girly thing to say, but my favorite thing about these straws is how they make even a simple daily act like drinking a glass of ice water seem elegant.

I also like that having a reusable straw means I don't have to use disposable plastic straws when I'm out and about. Plus, a glass straw is certainly an attention-getter, making it a very simple way to spread the green message without being pushy. As I recounted on my post at the Green Phone Booth the other day, I used my Glass Dharma straw at a restaurant this weekend and the servers were abuzz about it. It's a very small act, but it's just one more way for me to show that I'm committed to avoiding a disposable lifestyle.

Glass Dharma carries numerous sizes and styles of straws plus carrying cases and cleaning brushes.

Packaging
  • My straws arrived in a small box with three cardboard boxes inside. Inside each box was a straw (and I think the shorter one contained a piece of cotton.) To all of those companies that insist on overpackaging their products to protect it during shipping, I say - Look at Glass Dharma! The straws were shipped via USPS, which is my preferred mail carrier because it comes to my house everyday anyway.
Materials
  • Glass Dharma straws are made of borosilicate glass "because it is the strongest commercially available glass on the market." Unlike plastic, these straws will not leach harmful materials into your food, and they save thousands of disposable straws from the landfill. Plus, they are dishwasher and microwave safe.
Manufacturing
  • All Glass Dharma products are made in the United States.
Quality
  • One of my fears with these straws was that they would easily break - I'm a clumsy person...But one day after I'd run the straw through the dishwasher (proof alone of its durability), I left the straw on the counter where my two-year-old discovered it and dropped it on the hardwood floor. No breakage, chips, or scratches! I wouldn't recommend dropping your straw often or on purpose, but if you do happen to break your straw, Glass Dharma provides a "Lifetime Guarantee Against Breakage" - they'll repair or replace any broken straw.
Affordability
  • Glass Dharma straws range in price from $6 to $8. For a better value, order one of their packages containing several straws and a cleaning brush.
Availability
Need
  • When I decided to start reviewing products at The Conscious Shopper, I promised that one of the criteria I would consider is "need." Unlike the other products I've reviewed so far, I don't consider having your own straw a need, but it's definitely a nice to have. This is an item that you should add to your "things I wouldn't mind having list" and splurge on when you need a gift for someone special or just want to add a little touch of beauty to your life.
For more information and to purchase your own Glass Dharma straws, visit their website.

Glass Dharma Giveaway


Glass Dharma is generously offering a $25 gift certificate to their shop to one lucky reader of The Conscious Shopper. To enter:
  • Leave a comment on this post stating one step you've taken to reduce your plastic waste (or one step you plan on taking.)
  • You can earn up to two extra entries by sharing this post on Facebook or tweeting it on Twitter and then leaving a comment for each thing that you do. This is completely based on the honor system, and remember that each comment is a separate entry.
You have until next Thursday, April 1st, to enter. I'll randomly select a winner and announce the results next Friday.

The winner of the $25 gift certificate to Glass Dharma is Kim and Ken Carlile, who wrote:
I've made my husband start bringing his sandwich baggie from lunch home with him to reuse.
Congratulations, and I'll be in touch with you soon about how to redeem your gift certificate!

And remember for those of you who didn't win, you can purchase your own Glass Dharma straws by visiting their website.
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!
  • Disclosure: Glass Dharma sent me three straws to be able to write this review but did not compensate me in any other way. Most of the information in this review comes from their website, but the opinions are entirely my own

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Short Note

>> Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm kind of swamped right now in the middle of a very busy week, but I just wanted to point out the new icon for Diane MacEachern's website Big Green Purse over on the far right of this page. Diane featured me in her "One in a Million" Campaign a few weeks ago, and since I know that several of you newer readers found me through her blog, I wanted to return the love. Diane is the author of the bestselling book Big Green Purse, which encourages women to use their spending power to effect change in the marketplace. Check her out!

Okay, now I have to go finish reading Margaret Atwood's new book, Year of the Flood, for my book club. I always seem to procrastinate on book club books until the last minute and then have to pull a late nighter to get them finished. Am I the only one who does that?

I'll be back in a couple days with a Glass Dharma straws review and giveaway!

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Take Out With Out Forgetfulness and Shyness

I'm over at the Green Phone Booth again today with some ideas for making to-go kits:

Inspired by the TakeOutWithOut campaign, I've been working on eating out without producing waste. Thus far, there have been two factors holding me back from being a waste-free eating Marathon Runner:

Factor #1: My post-kids memory.

Isn't it a scientifically proven fact that once a woman has kids, she loses half of her brain cells? I can remember to take my grocery bags to the store because I go every week, and it has become a habit. I can't remember to take my own napkin and utensils to a restaurant because I go so infrequently and most of the time spontaneously.

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____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Waste Free Lunch Ideas

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm over at the Green Phone Booth today with some ideas for packing lunches:

A couple months ago, I asked all of you for help in a few categories that I wanted my family to work on this year, and one of those categories was packing waste-free lunches. We had the "waste free" part down, repurposing various food containers we already had around the house; our problem was the lunch part...What to pack?

I'm happy to say that thanks to all of your suggestions, we've been branching away from our usual (cheese sandwiches with a carrot or celery and a piece of fruit). And both for my sanity and in case anyone else is looking for lunch ideas, I thought I'd gather everyone's suggestions into a nice organized list.

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____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Challengicious Monday: Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

>> Monday, March 22, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your final trash-related challenge:

Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

In probably the most unappetizing picture I've ever taken, I present to you: My Son's Lunch. The cheetah bag came from Subway. The plastic containers hold a quesadilla, carrot sticks with ranch dip (in a repurposed tiny jelly jar from a holiday gift basket), and applesauce. The green container once held playdough but now has goldfish crackers.


To complete this challenge, you can...

BABY STEPS
  • Pack waste-free snacks. Gradually inch your way toward waste free meals by starting with your snacks. Forget individually packaged snacks and disposable baggies; gather all of your reusable food containers and pack them yourself. My favorite method involves some old playdough containers: I'll buy a big box of goldfish crackers, pour the crackers into the containers at the beginning of the week, and put them in a basket for easy access for my kids.
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Pack a waste-free lunch. Once you've got your snacks down, you're ready to move on to a bigger meal. Any collection of mismatched food containers will work (from your cupboards, restaurant take-out, or thrift stores), or you can commit to a nice reusable lunchbox like the PlanetBox I reviewed two weeks ago. For more options, check out ReusableBags.com and Life Without Plastic.
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Eat out without waste. Are you already a pro at packing waste-free meals? Graduate to the next level by eating out without producing waste. Bring your own straws, utensils, cloth napkins, water bottles, and even to-go containers. Check out the TakeOutWithOut campaign for more ideas, and stay-tuned later this week for the chance to win a gift certificate to Glass Dharma reusable glass straws.
I'm at Jogging Stride right now and working up the courage to be a Marathon Runner. The problem is that we don't eat out very often, so I have to remember to bring my take out containers.

Over at The Green Phone Booth this week, I'll be posting some ideas for waste-free lunches and to-go kits, so stay tuned!

This is also the last of our trash challenges, so I'll be keeping track of my trash again and posting more pictures on the "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook. Who wants to dig in their trash with me?

Will you take the challenge?
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Great Snack Experiment: Kale Chips

>> Thursday, March 18, 2010

I serendipitously stumbled on several recipes for kale chips recently in a way that made me feel like the universe was trying to nudge me into making them. Now I feel like I owe the universe an apology for waiting so long. As strange as they sound, these are surprisingly good and so easy.

Kale is one of the greens my kids eat without complaint (along with spinach), but even if you usually have to force feed greens to your kids, you should still give these a try. They're kind of in the same vein as popcorn - vegetable-based so relatively healthy, but also covered in fat and salt so not really healthy, making them a good snack.

Kale Chips


MAKES: about 4 servings (though you could easily eat them all by yourself in one sitting)
COST: $.81 per serving*

1 bunch of kale
1 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
sea salt to taste
  • Preheat your oven. Every recipe I've seen for kale chips lists a different oven temperature - somewhere between 350 and 450. I baked mine at 375 (not so coincidentally, the same temp I bake bread at).
  • Cut curly kale leaves off of the tough stems. Discard the stems.
  • Wash kale and dry thoroughly - either by patting with a towel or spinning in a salad spinner. It's very important to get the kale dry, or you'll end up with steamed kale instead of baked kale chips.
  • Toss kale with oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Spread the kale evenly onto a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, stir, bake 5 minutes more, etc. until kale is crispy but not burnt. I baked mine for 20 minutes, and I think they're just slightly overdone.
*Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area and that I use organic ingredients whenever possible. Your costs may vary.


This post stems from my experiment in February to stop buying store-bought crackers and make my own snacks from scratch. For other snack ideas, check out the following:
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Announcing the Winner of the PlanetBox Giveaway

The winner of the PlanetBox giveaway is ME!, who wrote:

I am an elementary teacher and just today I have been creating ways for each grade level at our school to work on saving Earth! I want my class work on school lunches...how to bring reuseable containers and to work on not wasting food. Wouldn't it be great to have one of these lunch boxes as a giveaway!!!!! And I too came here from Big Green Purse!
I think it's pretty cool that the prize for this giveaway will be used in another giveaway. Hopefully it will help spread the word even more about this great lunchbox.

ME! - Please email your address to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll get that shipped right out to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered. If you didn't win, you can purchase your own stainless steel lunchbox by visiting PlanetBox.

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There's More Than One Path to Green

>> Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm over at the Green Phone Booth today talking about "femivores"...

I hate the label femivore, but overall I found the article very interesting. It definitely describes me.

My first job after college was with a private investigation firm. On paper, it sounds like a cool job, but in reality, it was long commutes, long workdays stuck in an uncomfortable office chair staring at a computer, lots of overtime without overtime pay. Two and a half years later, we moved to Maryland, and my very generous employer offered to let me keep my job working part time from home. Two years after that, they changed their minds, and I found myself in my new (and current) career as a full time stay at home mom.

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How to Recycle Everything

>> Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I say "recycle everything" a little bit tongue in cheek because obviously, it's not possible to recycle everything. The goal is simply to switch your mindset from "throw away" to "reduce, repair, and reuse" and when all else fails...recycle.

Step One: Check with your local waste collection to find out how to participate in your local recycling program.

Step Two:
Start a composting bin if your city doesn't have compost collection. Composting is short term for recycling food waste.

Step Three:
Find out what other waste collection services your area has. For example, my city has a yard waste drop-off site (and yard waste collection at certain times of the year) and multi-material drop-off sites that take scrap metal, e-waste, tires, and appliances.

Step Four:
Look for ways to recycle everything else. Here are some that I've learned about:

#5 plastics

  • With their Gimme 5 program, Preserve has partnered with Organic Valley and Stoneyfield Farms to collect #5 plastics, which are not collected by most city recycling programs. Gimme 5 bins are set up at select Whole Foods stores, or you can mail your #5 plastics to Preserve. Also collected through this program: Preserve toothbrushes, other Preserve products, and Brita pitcher filters.
Air bag shipping material
  • If made by Ameri-pak, you can mail the air bags back to them to be recycled. They also accept bubble wrap and polyethylene foam.
Athletic shoes
  • Nike has a Reuse-A-Shoe program where they collect old athletic shoes and turn the soles into surface material for playgrounds and basketball courts. You can find a drop off location by visiting their site, or mail your shoes directly to a Nike Recycling Center. They can be any athletic shoes, not just Nikes.
Baby products
  • If your old baby products are unusable or have expired (yes, car seats have expiration dates!), ship them to Baby Gear, which will disassemble them and make sure all parts are recycled properly.
Bottle caps
  • Most recycling centers do not accept the caps, and if a cap is left on the bottle, they throw the whole bottle out. But now Aveda has started collecting bottle caps! They accept any rigid cap made from polypropylene plastic (if you can bend it with your bare hands, it's not the right kind), and they recycle the caps into Aveda packaging. Just take the caps into an Aveda store.
Brita pitcher filters
  • These are accepted in Preserve's Gimme 5 program. See #5 plastics above.
CDs, DVDs, diskettes, video tapes, cords, cables, hard drives, etc.
  • For a small fee, Greendisk will send you a box to collect your computer related waste.
Cell phones, PDAs, and pagers
  • CollectiveGood collects cell phones, PDAs, and pagers. Devices that are still in working condition are put back into reuse; devices that are broken are taken apart, the usable parts are collected, and everything else is recycled in an environmentally responsible manner. They also recently launched a program to collect used electronics. You can trade in your old computers, printers, and gaming consoles for money, or donate the value to the charity of your choice.
Clothing
  • Even threadbare clothing can be donated to Goodwill, which turns them into rags or recycles the fibers into other materials.
Computers and small electronics
  • You can find a list of computer and small electronics recyclers at e-Stewards.org.
Drink pouches
  • TerraCycle collects drink pouches, cookie wrappers, energy bar wrappers, and yogurt cups and turns them into bags, backpacks, and planters. The catch is that you have to find someone or someplace that is collecting them.
Eyeglasses
  • The Lions Club and the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation have partnered to collect used eyeglasses, which they clean, repair, and distribute to needy people. You can find a Lions recycling center here.
Glue bottles and sticks
Hangers
  • Donate them to a dry cleaner or thrift store.
Home improvement goods
Ink cartridges
  • Most office supply stores will recycle your old ink cartridges, and many give you a discount on your next purchase if you bring back the old one.
Jeans
Packing peanuts
  • Shipping stores such as The UPS Store will usually take back packing peanuts and reuse them.
Plastic bags
  • Return them to the grocery store - preferably the grocery store where you got them because different stores use different types of plastic to make their bags.
Polystyrene packaging materials
School supplies
  • ILoveSchools.com matches teachers with donors of equipment, supplies, and materials. Examples include computer equipment/software, TVs, VCRs, musical instruments, school supplies, sports equipment, and toys.
Wine and champagne corks (not plastic stoppers)
  • Mail them to Yemm & Hart, which will turn them into tiles.
Anything else I should add to the list?

____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

Read more...

Challengicious Monday: Recycle Everything

>> Monday, March 15, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next trash-related challenge:

Recycle Everything


To complete this challenge, you can...

BABY STEPS
  • Participate in your local recycling program. Check with your local waste collection to find out how to participate, and remember to find out what can and cannot be recycled in your area.
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Buy recycled products. Complete the loop by looking for products with recycled content whenever possible.
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Recycle everything. Before you throw anything in the trash, ask yourself, "Could this be recycled? How?" Besides your city's recycling collection, many cities have additional recycling stations that collect yard waste, scrap metal, electronics, and appliances. Plus, numerous companies and organizations throughout the country have set up additional recycling programs. Tomorrow, I'll provide you a list of some of the programs I know about.
As is the case with many of these challenges, I'm somewhere between Jogging Stride and Marathon Runner. I have good intentions to recycle beyond my city's collection, but too often, those good intentions end up being a pile of clutter that never goes away. (The floor of my closet is currently covered in electronics that I need to recycle. It's a walk in closet, but you can't actually walk into it right now. Luckily, I married the right man, who puts up with my crap with very little complaint.)

For more information on recycling, check out:

Will you take the challenge?
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

Read more...

An Interview with Fake Plastic Fish

>> Sunday, March 14, 2010

Since we've been talking about reducing our trash for the past couple months, I wanted to introduce you to one of my eco-heroes, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, who has been writing about reducing her plastic use since 2007.

Plastic is ubiquitous in our modern lives. Is it actually possible to live a life without plastic? Probably not - but we can definitely reduce how much plastic enters our lives and how much gets thrown away. After two and a half years of reducing, collecting, and examining her plastic use, Beth produced only 3.7 pounds of plastic waste in all of 2009 (roughly 4% of the U.S. per capita average).

Some of Beth's attempts to live life with less plastic may seem extreme. For example, she buys meat from the butcher to make her own cat food. I say, "Impressive!" Some may say, "Too extreme for me!" But even Beth doesn't expect everyone to go as far as she does. By attempting to weed out as much plastic as possible from her own life, Beth simply hopes to bring attention to the issue and show people what could be possible. Maybe you'll never make your own cat food, but after reading about Beth, you'll decide to do something that's possible for you - like using a reusable glass, mug, or bottle instead of buying bottled water.

Beth kindly agreed to answer some questions and provide some tips to help us use less plastic (and reduce our trash production). Enjoy!



Q: Can you give me some background info about why you're trying to limit the amount of plastic in your life?

A: The impetus happened two and a half years ago when I first saw a photo of a dead albatross chick on Midway Island, thousands of miles from civilization, whose carcass was completely full of plastic pieces. Plastic that I used in my daily life. From that moment on, I knew I had to change. I had no choice. Then, after learning more and more about plastic -- that most of plastic recycling is actually downcycling, that all plastics contain chemical additives that can leach and that manufacturers are not required to reveal those chemicals to us, that plastic is made from a non-renewable resource, etc. -- it became even more important to limit my exposure to plastics. Mostly I focus on single use plastics. But I also avoid buying new durable plastic items, opting for second hand whenever possible or finding a way to do without.


Q: I get a lot of funny (and sometimes antagonistic) reactions from people about my green lifestyle, and I'm nowhere near as far along as you. How do your friends and family react to your plastic-free lifestyle?

A: I don't know if I'm further along in all things green. I'm definitely further along in plastic reduction. But there are so many issues to consider. I could do much better in energy and water conservation. One thing that helps is that I live in a walkable, bikeable area with great public transit. We also have awesome sources of bulk foods where you can bring your own containers and bags. We all have different challenges and must do the best we can starting where we are.

My family and friends are actually very supportive. Some of my friends have made great green changes in their live. One of my friends bought a reusable water bottle and carries it everywhere. And she switched to reusable cloth maxi pads. Now, she's starting writing letters to companies about their waste! On the other hand, my co-workers think I'm weird and have no desire to change. Whatever. Sometimes I get frustrated, but mostly I just work on changing myself and being an example and letting people make their own decisions.


Q: Along the same lines, several people commented on my blog recently that sometimes sales clerks are not very nice when they try to use cloth bags. You go far beyond cloth bags to bringing your own straws, napkins, and to-go containers. What kinds of reactions do you get to that, and what advice would you give to people who are nervous about rocking the boat?

A:
I get nervous about rocking the boat too! But I try to just feel the nervousness and do it anyway. And I remind myself that getting a weird look is not going to kill me. Recently, I wrote a post on that very subject.

Some store clerks are supportive. The staff at Berkeley Whole Foods, for example, don't bat an eye when we come in with our containers and bags. They will weigh the containers at the customer service desk so the cashier can deduct the weight as we check out. We even bring a big pot to the butcher counter to buy ground turkey for our homemade cat food.

Other shops don't allow customers to bring their own, citing questionable health regulations. I just void places like those. Luckily here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of places to choose from. If one shop won't do it, there's another one that will. My favorite Chinese restaurant has no problem putting take out food in our stainless steel tiffins. The trouble is, we always have to remind them not to put the tiffin in a plastic bag!


Q: At the Conscious Shopper, I divide a lot of my going green tips into Baby Steps (easy), Jogging Stride steps (medium), and Marathon Runner steps (hardest). Can you give us your favorite Baby Step, Jogging Stride, and Marathon Runner tips for reducing plastic?

A: First of all, what's easy for me might be hard for someone else and vice versa, so this list is based on my personal experience. Everyone's mileage may vary.

Baby Steps: Bring your own reusable grocery bags and reusable water bottle or travel mug wherever you go. I carry several ChicoBags in my purse and backpack at all times so I am never without a reusable bag in a pinch. The hardest part is remembering to empty them and put them back each time I get home. I try to do it immediately.

Jogging Strides:

  • Carry your own utensils, glass or stainless steel straw, stainless steel container like LunchBots or To-Go Ware. There is a new campaign called Take Out Without started by my friend Lisa Borden to encourage people to bring their own reusables for take out and leftovers and to encourage restaurants to get involved promoting the program.
  • Request no plastic packaging when placing orders online.
  • Wash your hair with a shampoo bar (like Burt's Bees rosemary mint shampoo bar or J.R. Liggett)
  • Switch from liquid soap to bar soap
  • Buy from bulk bins as much as possible bringing your own bags and containers
Marathon Runner:
  • Stop eating convenience foods: energy bars, frozen foods, snack foods. They all come wrapped in plastic unless you can buy them from a bulk bin.
  • Buy all durable plastic items -- like electronics, appliances, etc. -- second hand instead of buying new plastic. It can be challenging to find these things.
  • Try as hard as possible to get stuff repaired when it breaks rather than discarding and buying new.
  • Send back unwanted plastic packaging to companies with a letter explaining why
  • Start a campaign like Take Back the Filter to get a company to take responsibility for its non-recyclable waste
  • Start a blog to encourage others to take these steps too!
I have a whole long list of suggestions on my website, Fake Plastic Fish.


Q: What books, movies, and websites would you recommend to someone who wants to learn more about reducing their plastic waste?

A: Web Sites:
Movies:

I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Fake Plastic Fish. Isn't she inspiring?
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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PlanetBox Review and Giveaway

>> Thursday, March 11, 2010

There are still a couple more weeks until the waste-free lunch challenge, but here's your chance to get a head start with a fabulous new lunchbox.

PLANETBOX REVIEW

When First Son started kindergarten this year, I thought about getting him his very own lunchbox as a "congratulations on being a big kid" gift, and of all the eco-friendly lunchboxes I discovered in my search for the perfect lunchbox, the PlanetBox was the one I drooled over the most. We ended up getting him a school sweatshirt instead of a lunchbox, so when the PlanetBox arrived in my mail for this review, it was the first time I'd seen it in person. And it only made me want it more!


Here are the things I love about this lunchbox:
  • It's made of stainless steel - not plastic.
  • It's all one piece - not a bunch of containers and lids that your child has to keep track of.
  • The food compartments are designed cafeteria-tray style, which is what we use at home. First Son has issues with food touching.
  • It's long-lasting and recyclable at the end of it's life.
  • It's dishwasher safe.
The PlanetBox also comes with cute magnets so your child can customize his lunchbox or freshen it up when he grows tired of the old ones. For more variety with your child's lunches, you can purchase the Big and Little Dippers - small containers to hold sauces, dips, and yogurt. And you can choose between a red, green, or purple lead-free carrying case with an inside pouch to hold a cold pack and an outside pouch to hold a beverage.

Packaging
  • The PlanetBox arrived at my door via USPS in a cardboard box with paper packaging. USPS is my preferred carrier because they come to my door anyway (and my postman comes on foot!), unlike other carriers that have to make a special trip.
Materials
  • The PlanetBox lunchbox is made of high quality stainless steel, which is safe for food and completely recyclable. The magnets are made out of a synthetic rubber (not PVC). The carry bags are made of recycled plastic and contain no "lead, vinyl/PVC, Phthalates, Bisphenol-A(BPA) or other harmful or toxic substances."
Manufacturing
  • Planet Box has this to say about their manufacturing:
Our stainless steel lunch boxes are made in Taiwan, and our magnets and bags are made in China. When we started our company, we did an extensive search domestically in the USA for suppliers who could manufacture our product. We were unable to locate manufacturing partners within the USA who could meet our needs. The one domestic manufacturer that we found who was willing to partner with us would have charged us a rate that meant we would have to sell the PlanetBox for $300 a piece! We share many of our customer’s concerns about working conditions abroad, and we work to make sure that the suppliers we choose to partner with provide ethical treatment to their employees and the environment.
(Simple Shoes says the same type of thing about why they manufacture their shoes overseas. I think it's really unfortunate, but I also don't want to pay $300 for a child's lunchbox! It's a tough, tough situation.)

Quality
  • Stainless steel is a long-lasting, durable material, and the lunchbox seems well-constructed. Each stainless steel lunchbox carries a five-year warranty covering defects in material or workmanship, and the carry bags have a one-year warranty.
Affordability
  • Unfortunately, the PlanetBox is not only the best eco-friendly lunchbox I've seen, it's also the most expensive ($35 for the lunchbox, $50 for the lunchbox and dippers, $60 for the whole package). However, the PlanetBox should last your child many, many years, and when you compare the cost of this lunchbox to the cost of purchasing disposable baggies and lunchbags, or the cost of purchasing a new vinyl lunchbag every year, you'll still come out far ahead.
Availability
Visit PlanetBox for more information and to purchase your own stainless steel lunchbox!

GIVEAWAY


PlanetBox is generously offering one of their lunchboxes for one reader of The Conscious Shopper. (Note that this giveaway is only for a lunchbox - dippers and carrying case are not included.) Because PlanetBox is a very small company, they told me I could have my choice between a lunchbox to keep or a lunchbox to give away. You lucky readers, you...Here's how you can win a PlanetBox for your favorite child:
  • Leave a comment on this post stating your favorite waste-free lunch idea.
  • You can earn up to two extra entries by sharing this post on Facebook or tweeting it on Twitter and then leaving a comment for each thing that you do. This is completely based on the honor system, and remember that each comment is a separate entry.
You have until next Wednesday, March 17th to enter. I'll randomly select a winner and announce the results next Thursday. Good luck!

The winner of the PlanetBox giveaway is ME!, who wrote:
I am an elementary teacher and just today I have been creating ways for each grade level at our school to work on saving Earth! I want my class work on school lunches...how to bring reuseable containers and to work on not wasting food. Wouldn't it be great to have one of these lunch boxes as a giveaway!!!!! And I too came here from Big Green Purse!
I think it's pretty cool that the prize for this giveaway will be used in another giveaway. Hopefully it will help spread the word even more about this great lunchbox.

Thanks to everyone who entered. If you didn't win, you can purchase your own stainless steel lunchbox by visiting PlanetBox.

UPDATE: In response to a couple comments, I wrote:
Maren has a very good question. It's a bit heavier than a typical lunchbox, but it's definitely not heavy. Their website says, "It weighs 19 oz – less than most Harry Potter books!" :) I think it could be heavy for a preschooler but it would be fine for a kid in elementary school or older.

My other big concern for a kid's lunchbox was whether or not my child could open it without adult help. I like the Goodbyn (www.goodbyn.com), but I read some reviews saying it's difficult for a young kid to open. The PlanetBox is very easy to open with a little latch.
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!
  • Disclosure: PlanetBox did not compensate me in any way for this review. Most of the information in this review comes from their website, but the opinions are entirely my own.
  • Images courtesy of PlanetBox

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So You're Making Your Own Compost...Now What?

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today with some tips for using compost:


Find the statement that best describes you for some tips on how to use your black gold:

I have a large plot of land set aside for gardening...


  • Mix four to six inches of compost into your soil before planting.
  • Add a one to two inch layer of compost around fruits and vegetables as a mulch.
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____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Book Review and Giveaway: Conscious Kids

>> Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today with a review of Conscious Kids:

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a review of Jessica Purdy's new book, Conscious Kids, at Progressive Pioneer. I have to admit that the main reason I was drawn to the book was the title. After blogging as The Conscious Shopper for almost a year and a half, I feel an irrational ownership of the word conscious, so when I see someone else use it - especially in the title of their book - my first thought is, "Are they doing justice to my word?"

I'm happy to report that Jessica's use of conscious was just right. She begins the book by defining a "conscious kid" as one who is aware, compassionate, kind, generous, and proactive. From there, she has tons of ideas for fostering those traits in your kids, from holiday and birthday celebrations to community and environmental involvement.

Read more...

____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Challengicious Monday: Start Composting

>> Monday, March 8, 2010

Mondays are challengicious at The Conscious Shopper. Here's your next trash-related challenge:

Start Composting


To complete this challenge, you can...

BABY STEPS
JOGGING STRIDE
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Install a composting toilet. I almost didn't include composting toilets as an option because they are definitely in the so-extreme-not-many-people-are-going-to-do-it category, but my husband said I should throw it out there just to spread awareness. If you want my opinion on the subject...I think the homemade bucket toilets are naaaasty, but I think this kind of composting toilet is a very cool idea if the price would come down. Anyone use a composting toilet and want to weigh in?

We started a worm bin last September and struggled with it over the winter, finally deciding to let it sit until it warms up outside and then we'll start again. I can't seem to get the right food to worm ratio to prevent leaking. Several times this winter, I should have brought the worms indoors to protect them from the cold, but because of the leaky mess, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Also, we definitely do not have enough worms for all of our composting needs. I'm debating now whether to get more than one bin going or to start a regular compost pile. Any tips?

For more information about composting, check out:

Will you take the challenge?
____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays.

Like what you see? Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook! You can also find me over at The Green Phone Booth.

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Great Snack Experiment: Non-Animal Crackers and Granola Bars

>> Sunday, March 7, 2010

Aldi has the best animal crackers in the whole world. Normally, I don't snack during the day, but sometimes I can't help myself with Aldi's animal crackers. So in my attempt to make all of our food from scratch last month, one of the first recipes I went looking for was an animal cracker recipe.

I was inspired by this recipe for Animal Cracker Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. In a dream world, I would also own those animal cookie cutters from Williams and Sonoma, but in reality, I am both too cheap and too lazy to bother shaping the crackers into animal shapes. So we call them Non-Animal Crackers. Of all the cracker recipes I tried this month, these are the only ones my kids have requested that I make again. That should give you a pretty good indication of their tastiness.

Non-Animal Crackers


MAKES: 2 dozen cookies
COST: $2.99 with coconut oil ($2.25 with butter)*

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup walnuts (ground in a food processor or chopped very fine)
1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut (also ground in a food processor or chopped very fine)
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, softened (butter can be substituted, but will affect the taste)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • In a medium bowl, cream together the coconut oil, sugar, and salt. Beat in the egg.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the flour, walnuts, and coconut.
  • Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture.
  • Knead the dough a couple times until it forms a ball.
  • Divide the ball in half, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • The original recipe suggests lining your baking sheets with parchment paper. Since I don't have parchment paper, I just greased my pans, and I didn't have a problem with sticking. But if you have parchment paper, you might as well use it.
  • Roll each ball of dough out until it is 1/8 inch thick. Cut into cracker shapes (or animal shapes if you're adventurous) and place on baking sheets.
  • Bake 7 or 8 minutes until lightly browned at the edges.

I packed the non-animal crackers in Third Son's lunch for church (our congregation meets at a strange time). His nursery leader snuck a bite, and then emailed me for the recipe. In exchange, she sent me the following recipe for granola bars, which have been a huge hit around here:

Granola Bars


MAKES: 2 dozen
COST: $4.50 before adding extra goodies*

3 1/2 cups folled oats
1 cup Rice Krispies (or other cereal, or just more oats)
1 cup wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup extra goodies of your choice (raisins, dried apples, chocolate chips, etc.)
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 X 13 inch dish.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except chocolate chips. Then stir in the chocolate chips, if using.
  • Firmly press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes, then cut into bars. Let bars cool completely before removing from the pan.
*Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area and that I use organic ingredients whenever possible. Your costs may vary.


This post stems from my experiment in February to stop buying store-bought crackers and make my own snacks from scratch. For other snack ideas, check out Parmesan Crackers and Pretzels and Bagels and Breadsticks Oh My!

____________________

You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!

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Introducing The Sustainable Triangle

>> Saturday, March 6, 2010

I've finally got my new big project up and running!




The Sustainable Triangle is a collaborative website by several Triangle area residents. We write about a variety of sustainability topics including the following:

  • transportation
  • water issues
  • supporting local agriculture
  • supporting local restaurants and shops
  • energy efficient building
  • gardening (backyard and community)
  • healthy and seasonal cooking
  • enjoying nature
  • environmental organizations
  • recycling
  • raising eco-friendly kids

Our goal is to create a central place on the web where people in the Triangle can find information about going green and getting involved in making the Triangle a more eco-friendly place to live.

I need your help to make the Sustainable Triangle the great resource I know it can become!
  • Let your friends and family in the Triangle area know about this new website about going green and living sustainably.
  • If you have a blog and live in the Triangle, post about it on your blog.
  • Send out a message to your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Contact me if you know about a sustainability-related event in the Triangle area.
  • Contact me if you're interested in writing at The Sustainable Triangle.
  • Let me know if you have suggestions for ways to improve the site.
I'm really excited about The Sustainable Triangle and hope you'll take a few minutes to check it out!

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February Monthly Budget Round-Up

>> Thursday, March 4, 2010


I have a blogging addiction. I'll admit it.

In my head, there are hundreds of possible blog posts, but I have a limited amount of time to write them (and difficulty justifying the amount of time I spend online). And after last week's burnout, it's pretty clear to me that I need to put some limits on my blogging.

When I first started this blog, it was a challenge to myself to see if I could go green and still stay in our budget, so I started posting our monthly budget to keep myself honest and because I thought it would be useful to others to see how much we spend on things. Now a year later, I've proved to myself that I could go green without going broke, and it seems redundant to keep posting these numbers.

So here's my question to all of you readers. Is this information still useful? What if I did budget round-ups every other month or quarterly?

Thoughts? Input?

On to this month's numbers:

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $684.44 ($650)
  • Transportation: $132.17 ($150)
  • Energy: $149.83 ($150)
  • Utilities: $46.17 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $362.72 ($400)
  • Clothes: $45.74 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,421.07 ($1,400)

The Numbers:
  • Trash: 3 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 recycling bin with plastic, metal, and glass; 2 paper grocery sacks of paper
  • Miles Driven: 745
  • Average daily electricity use: 33 kWh
  • Average daily water use: 122 gallons

Best of...

Next Month I'll Be...

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I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.

>> Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today with a tribute to Dr. Seuss.


Yesterday was Dr. Seuss' birthday, and what kind of environmentalist would I be if I didn't mention his classic book, The Lorax? In the words of the great Dr. Seuss:

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space...
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.

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Photo by connor395

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Copyright

© 2008-2010 The Conscious Shopper

You're welcome to link to any posts at The Conscious Shopper, but please do not use images or content from this site without my permission. Contact me at consciousshopperblog@gmail.com.

Disclosure

I do not accept money for writing reviews, but I do accept products for review and to giveaway. When posting a review, I fully disclose any free samples received from the company. I include information provided by the company in my reviews, but all opinions about the product are my own and I will not provide a good review for any product or company just because they sent me some free samples.

Disclaimer

The ideas on this blog are my opinion and are provided for informational purposes and entertainment only. I am not a financial advisor or medical professional. Please do not misconstrue the information on this blog as advice.

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