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Archive for the ‘Using Less’ Category

No Impact Week was several weeks ago. But it’s still leaving an impact in my life. We’ve declared Tuesdays and Thursdays as “dark days” because we had so much fun during No Impact Week, we wanted to continue it, just not permanently. I would love to say we don’t use any electricity on those days, but the reality is that I’m not going to pull the plug on our fridge two days a week. So here are the rules for our dark days:

  • No electric lights
  • No TV
  • Computer for work only while Husband is at work, and no charging the laptop: I can only coast on battery. No computer use at all after Husband comes home from work.
  • We have a hand-crank flashlight and hand-crank radio we can use, and a solar charger that can charge a phone or ipod.
  • Energy use IS allowed for heating/cooking food, refrigerator, heat (we keep it as low as it goes, no turning it up) hot water heater, and charging phones (but only if the solar charger couldn’t charge).

It is actually really fun to have candlelit evenings twice a week, and it’s nice to have definite, built-in time during the week to connect with Husband. So many times, we end up engrossed in our own computers or activities in separate rooms while we’re home together.

Funny enough, most of the light switches are still taped from no impact week as a reminder not to use them. We’ve been getting by using only small lamps in various rooms and not the large overhead lights with multiple bulbs and opening the curtains to let in the daylight.

I’m still making weekly trips to the weekend produce market, which, in addition to keeping our place stocked with fresh fruits and veggies, saves us a ton of money too, and we’re able to get more fresh produce for our money than at the grocery store. Double win!

And we’ve turned the TV on to watch only a handful of shows since No Impact Week ended, and only on one night per week. I’m actually considering canceling the cable TV altogether. Any of the few shows we watch can be watched online, and NPR radio is a better source for news than the sensationalized ratings-driven crap on TV anyway….

So there you have it. No Impact Week transformed into Sustained Decreased Impact. Yeah, that doesn’t have nearly as cool of a ring to it…

Anyone else thinking of (or already) trying out a weekly dark day?

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We’re in control of lots of ways to cut down on paper usage, but one thing we really don’t have control over is the junk mail we receive. I’ve gathered up a few sites that will help cut down on that unwanted paper. And while it likely won’t completely eliminate it, anything is better than nothing. And it’s just plain nicer to not get so much trash in the mail.

Yellow Pages Opt Out

This one is relatively new, and I just heard about it recently. Before now, you didn’t have a choice whether to receive your local yellow pages delivered on your doorstep. Now, there’s a way to opt out of getting it. It’s as simple as a free signup with your name, address, and email, and you can select which yellow pages you’d like to not get. We usually get 3 separate ones on our doorstep, and I was able to opt out of all of them. Here’s the link: http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/homepage

National Do Not Mail Registry

This one has been around a while longer, and was started in response to the success of the National Do Not Call Registry. It is as quick and easy as it sounds. Just fill out the form on the page here and you’re registered!

DMA Choice

DMA Choice has a very thorough list for removing all kinds of unsolicited mail. This one will take a little longer to fill out (maybe 10 minutes), as there is a separate section for opting out of pre-approved credit card offers, catalogs, magazines, and other kinds of mail offers. But if you hate junk mail as much as I do, it’s worth it. Click here to get started.

Catalog Choice

Catalog Choice will remove your name from receiving catalogs. You simply create a free account, input the catalogs you’ve received, and they will contact the company on your behalf to discontinue the catalogs. This sounds like an added step, but I can honestly say I have several catalogs where I tore off the back page with the phone number and saved it. I always had the best intentions of calling them to have my name removed but never got around to it. This just eliminates the phone call and the waiting on hold to talk to someone. Also, if you make a $20 donation, they contact the third-party sellers who buy and sell names to other companies and have your name removed from those places, so you don’t get the stuff in the first place, let alone have to specifically discontinue the stuff you do get. Pretty cool huh? Here’s the link: http://www.catalogchoice.org/

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For anyone anxious about making the switch to my homemade shampoo recipe, I have some personal information to add. I’ve always thought I had really oily hair. I mean really oily. I definitely needed to wash it every day, sometimes more often in the summer.

When I switched to the baking soda mix, I was really hoping I wouldn’t need to wash my hair quite so often. Or at the very least, it wouldn’t be so greasy all the time. I noticed a difference right away: my hair wasn’t nearly as oily anymore. Something about the baking soda really helped. I still needed to wash it every day, but I’ve noticed lately that my body has adjusted the amount of oils it produces. It seems to no longer be on overkill, trying to overproduce oil to compensate for it all getting washed out all the time. I think that’s what happens with overwashing. Our bodies try to overcompensate with excess oil. It took some time for my body to adjust, and now, I definitely would no longer ever consider my hair oily. After using my homemade mix for about six months, I don’t need to wash my hair every day anymore. I’m down to every other day, and it still doesn’t look greasy. I may even be able to wash it less than that. It looks better than it ever did, and I’m saving money, not washing nasty chemicals down the drain, and using a lot less water.

Anyone else have an experience like this?

Oh, and one more thing…this mixture works really well to clear out your ears when they get clogged with wax. Good to know if you have overactive allergies like I do.

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This is a continuation from part one, which can be found here.

As I was gearing up to write a posting on handmade cloth pads, I realized I was basically going to restate just about verbatim everything I learned on this topic from my sister. Even some of the first cloth pads I had were made by her and not me. So why not appeal to the expert herself? That’s what I did. Please welcome my first guest blogger and domestic engineer extraordinaire, my sister!

Dear Path to Green Readers:

Karyn has asked me to be a guest on her blog for this entry. She keeps telling me that I am her reference on this topic, so why not write the post for her? 🙂  I’m her sister Loree.  A few years ago, in the midst of cloth diapering my little ones, I decided to see if it was practical for me to switch to cloth for my monthly needs. I was exposed to the idea of cloth menstrual pads through a conversation with one of my husband’s aunts. We chatted about how she began her journey to cloth, and I got some basic ideas of how to begin. Being pregnant at the time, I didn’t have an immediate need for switching to cloth for myself. I did, however, research this topic online to come up with what I wanted to do when my cycle presented itself again. I found that there are some really great cloth pads to buy, but all of them were out of my budget. So, I had to turn to my ever-trusty sewing machine and fabric stash for the answers. Armed with my new knowledge, I formed my plan, spent a few evenings sewing, and had a nearly free set of washable pads at the end.

Here is what I did.

When sewing a pad, the first thing to consider is how to keep your clothing dry. In my opinion, there are two good options for a water-proof barrier: PUL (polyurethane laminated fabric) or fleece. PUL is commonly used as a cover for cloth diapers and can withstand repeated washing at high temperatures.  This stuff holds up really well. I had diaper covers made of this that lasted through 3 kids with not too much wear. The down side is that this fabric does not breathe well. My favorite choice is fleece. It allows for air to circulate around my body, but provides plenty of protection for my clothing. On the other hand, it is substantially bulkier than the PUL. Fleece is readily available at local fabric stores. PUL is available at various online locations.

The next thing to think about is what will absorb that excess liquid. This is where one can get creative and thrifty. Think about things you have on hand: old bath towels, flannel from shirts, sheets, or baby blankets, hemp fabric, organic cotton fabric…anything that would be a good absorbent fabric for a cloth diaper will be a good absorbent fabric for this purpose, too. I decided to purchase a few microfiber dishtowels for this layer. They hold quite a bit for their thin size, and they were a good quality for their inexpensive price. I used only one layer of it because it is by nature very thirsty. Thinner fabrics, like flannel, will require more layers to work effectively. A heavier flow will require more absorbency. Use your judgment and make something that meets your needs.

The last layer is the one that will sit against your skin. Depending on the choice of absorbent fabric, this layer might not be necessary. Fabrics like flannel, hemp, and cotton might not need a top layer. I wanted something that was cheap, but really comfortable, to cover the bumpiness of the microfiber toweling. What fits that description better than one of my old t-shirts? Tie-dyed in fact! For me, a broken-in jersey knit works beautifully, and even looks pretty. Other women prefer a fabric that pulls the wetness away from the skin, like microfleece. Microfleece is a very thin version of fleece that lets liquids through to the absorbent layer but stays nearly dry to the touch. A good thing about microfleece is that it resists staining.

As to the shape of the pad, there are a few ways to approach it. I spent a little time googling cloth menstrual pad patterns and came up with lots of free results. My method was to trace a disposable pad that fit my body well. Then I created a cardboard template that I could trace onto the various fabrics I used. Another shape I like is the circle pad. Instructions and ideas are at this site. The only thing I would add is that one single layer of fleece does just as good as the PUL encased in other fabrics.

For those who prefer tampons, here is an interesting idea from the Fern and Faerie website. These are instructions to knit/crochet your own OB-like tampon. It costs less than a dollar for the pdf download. Fern and Faerie also has patterns for cloth pads for sale, as well as free cloth diaper patterns.

Hope this post helps you on your own path to green.

And now for some pictures:

Fleece-backed minipads, made by Loree.

These ones have a fleece layer on the bottom, microfiber inner layers and jersey knit on top. They’re top-stitched together with the basic zigzag stitch. I’ve had these for ages, so they look a little frayed around the edges. I just use a little safety pin in the front to hold it in place.

Heavier Flow Pads, made by Karyn

This one is my own version of the circle pad. I started with the circle, but cut the fleece down after putting the snaps on, because it seemed too bulky. The inserts are double layered microfiber topped with a fun color of jersey knit (In hindsight, I would have triple-layered). The inserts don’t slide around at all when they’re in the fleece casing, so no safety pin needed.

So the last thought….how to wash them? Here’s what I do (or did..now I use my divacup). When you switch pads, toss the old one in the sink an immediately rinse as much as you can out of it with water and maybe some basic handsoap. Then, I toss it in a small bucket with some vinegar in it that I keep by the toilet. This will collect all of my pads for the week, and they can soak so they don’t smell bad. If you’re really concerned about stains, my homemade shampoo actually works really well at reducing stains. When it comes time for laundry day, I put them in a zippered mesh bag so they would all stay together in the washer/dryer. They will stain a little, but they still work just fine!

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I wrote a posting earlier about ditching disposable paper products, with a promise to dedicate an entire posting to this topic in the future. Here we go…

Whenever anyone talks about reducing landfill trash, there’s one area that I think doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Probably because people don’t like to talk about it. But the fact is, this kind of trash accounts for a lot of landfill space. And it needs to be addressed. I realize this is a topic that can make people squeamish. But this is a fact of life that half of our world’s population personally deals with, so lets all be grown-ups and talk about eco-conscious ways of dealing with this common fact of life.

Divacup image, from Wikipedia

This discussion is the first half of a two-part series, and today, the topic is the menstrual cup. What is a menstrual cup, you might ask? It’s a reusable silicone or rubber cup inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual flow.

What’s so great about it?

The first thing that’s cool about it is the reuse factor. You buy one once and can use it for up to 10 years. That cuts down on a lot of trash. Unlike tampons, it does not absorb flow, does not leave fibers behind, and does not absorb other moisturizing and necessary secretions that help keep the vagina healthy. It also carrys a much-reduced risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (like almost non-existent). Additionally, it has a higher hold capacity than tampons, so you only need to empty it about every 12 hours, depending on your flow. Also, it does not give off any odors. Menstrual blood only begins to have an odor when it comes in contact with the air. Since it’s all contained in the cup, there’s no smell. When inserted properly, a menstrual cup should not leak at all, should not be painful, and you should not be able to feel it at all when it’s in. You can get one for about $20-40, and that saves a lot of money too, even if you don’t end up using it for 10 years.

Any downsides?

As great as they sound, there are some cons to note as well. Instead of rewriting all of the same stuff, I highly recommend checking out this great blog post addressing reasons why women might reject a menstrual cup and how to get used to the thought of using it.

Some women do find they can be difficult to insert or remove, and every woman is shaped differently, so it’s hard to give advice as to what exactly might be reasons for leakage, insertion/removal troubles, or other problems. Also, there’s about a 3-6 cycle learning curve. It does take time to get used to using it and to master techniques of insertion and removal.

Ok, I’m willing to give it a try: What now?

There’s lots of different brands to consider, and you’ll need to choose carefully to find the right one for you. Things such as vaginal length, width, flow level, and cup shape are all important things to consider. Here’s a great site to help you with all the details.

On a personal note, I have had my cup for about 3 months now. When I decided to try it, I didn’t know anything about the different brands available. I just got the only one I had heard of at the time: divacup. I was lucky that I happened to arbitrarily pick one that works pretty well for me. Honestly, when I first tried it, I wanted to chop it up into little pieces and send it down the garbage disposal. I hated it. I couldn’t get it in, but when I got it in, I couldn’t get it out. It hurt, it leaked, and if it wasn’t leaking I still needed to check on it all the time, to make sure it wasn’t leaking.

But over time, I gradually figured out all the things I had been doing wrong. I learned more about the many different ways you can fold it to insert (the directions that came with my cup only gave one way, and not the best one, at that). Here is a great site that shows how to do all the different folds and what they look like. Once I tried a different fold, it went in just fine. I learned I have a tipped uterus, so I have to put my cup in almost sideways (that made it stop leaking). I learned that because of this, I should have picked a cup without such a long stem. I also learned you can cut the stem down if its too long. Or you can just turn your cup inside out to eliminate the stem altogether.

As far as cleanliness, I had been using either pads or tampons all my life, and even though the cup seems initially more gross, I’ve found that I actually come in contact with fluids LESS now than I did before. Tampons always leaked for me, which always meant messy removal, and needing a pad paired with a tampon, which doubled my trash. When I went to just pads, they shift, are messy, peel up, rub funny, and leak at night. Now, it all stays in the cup, and I just dump it into the toilet twice a day. No mess, no leaks, no smell, no icky trash, and no extra monthly costs. I still wear a small cloth reusable pad (more on this in part 2), just in case of a few stray drips, but more often than not it will stay clean and dry. I’m still not quite sure if I’m technically getting my cup put in right, but even if it leaks a few drops, it still works way better than anything else I’ve ever used, so I’m sticking with it.

I hope I’ve given enough information and that it is helpful for you to consider. At the end of the day, you should decide what works for you. I’m just adding another option that I think deserves some attention.

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One of the best ways I’ve found to save money (and our planet!) is to stop buying things that have no other purpose than to be thrown away. When I really think about it, it makes me angry that a company would market something and make me feel like I need to buy it just to trash it after a few minutes of use. I decided not to play that game anymore. And not only do I have more money in my pocket, I feel better about not making so much trash. Granted, some paper products can be composted, but we have limited compost space in our tiny “yard” behind our house, and have to be really careful about filling it up faster than the stuff can break down.

Anyway, here are some tips if you’re interested in cutting back on your paper trash.

Keep an eye on all the disposable stuff you throw away. For any one-time-use item, there’s always a reusable option. Paper towels, tissues, sponges, swiffer pads, diapers, wipes, feminine products, toilet paper, the list keeps going. What do you spend money on that you just throw away?

You probably noticed in my list here, that with every item further on the list the “grossness factor” seems to go up. I know you’re thinking it: I don’t want to re-use THAT! Don’t think about it. Start with something you CAN do, like using rags instead of paper towels. When you tackle that, you’ll be ready for the next one.

I’m onto reusing things I never thought I’d be able to transition to, and it’s really not a big deal. Just keep focusing on the money you’ll save and the good you’ll do for our planet. Think of it this way: I estimated saving about $200 a year by using rags instead of tissues. If someone just walked up to you in the street and gave you $200 you wouldn’t say “Thanks, but I’d like to send this to Proctor & Gamble, because they need it more than I do” would you? No way! But that’s what we do every time we buy something just to throw it away.

Ok, now onto suggestions for actually making the switch:

I don’t have kids, so I can’t comment on cloth diapers or reusable wipes, but I do have some suggestions for replacing other kinds of paper products.

Doing laundry: I’ve been doing a separate load of rags/reusables (with the water level set appropriately to a lower setting), just to keep this stuff separate from my clothes and such. It works out pretty well. I also have a few of those mesh zippered bags to keep some stuff separate. Like I’ll put all my toilet paper squares in a bag so they’ll all stay together. It also helps to use specific types of fabrics or colors for each purpose. Not that I don’t trust my washer, but I don’t want to clean my counter or wipe my nose with one of my toilet paper rags. Each kind of rag in my house is a different kind of fabric, so I know quickly which is which.

All-purpose rags. Just about anything goes for replacing paper towels. I use old t-shirt scraps because I have so many of them, but you could use just about anything. Old clothing with holes in it, old wash cloths, cut up towels, get creative. What kinds of fabric items do you have but not use anymore?

Glass cleaning rags. Certain kinds of fabric leaves lint on glass and mirrors, but old sweatshirt pieces work really well for this. I keep a separate pile in the rag bin just for these types of rags.

Tissues. As one who gets lots of colds, has allergies, and in general almost always has a runny nose from something, I’ve found rags are actually gentler on my skin than tissues. And I certainly don’t miss having to buy the expensive lotion-infused paper ones anymore! Flannel (or any other soft fabric) works nicely for this purpose (think old worn out pajama pants…).I cut up a few old pillows to use the stuffing for a sewing project and ended up saving the outer fabric for these types of rags. They’re also white, so they don’t look so odd when I pull one out of my purse or coat pocket. Speaking of traveling with these, I also don’t miss the little paper “flakes” that would end up all over the inside of my purse, or the mess that would end up in the washer or dryer when disposable tissues accidentally went through. At home, I just fold them up and keep them in the same old tissue box I used to use. It works out really well!

Sponges. Ok, not a paper product, but these things are still unnecessary. A few years ago, my sister crocheted me (I know, everyone in my family crochets but me!) a set of reusable sponges from yarn. They work really well for doing dishes, and when they start to smell bad (or even before that), just toss them in the wash and they’re good as new again! Mine look really old and faded, but they’ve been really effective. I imagine you could use strips of fabric rags instead of yarn to crochet with and that would work just as well.

Dryer Sheets: Again, not a paper product, but there’s still a reusable option. Check out my posting on laundry for the specifics.

Swiffer pads. I actually don’t have my swiffer anymore, but when I did, I quickly got tired of constantly replacing the disposable pads. A few rags and some clothes pins or rubber bands will do the trick just fine!

Toilet paper. I just switched to using these this past week, so I’m still in “prototype mode.” But after using pieces of nice, soft, thick microfiber, using paper sounds totally barbaric now. I don’t want to totally get rid of all my toilet paper, as I’d still like to have some as an option when we have guests, but I found quickly that if it’s on the spindle, I’ll use it out of habit. So I found a way to hang a basket of rags where the roll used to be and moved the extra paper roll to the back of the toilet. I also placed a small bucket right under the basket for the used pieces. When it comes time for laundry day, here comes the need for that mesh zippered bag I was talking about earlier. Put the bag over the bucket, turn it upside down and dump all the rags into the bag. Zip it closed and toss it in the washer. No touching necessary! Please excuse the ugliness of my prototype contraption in this picture…..I wanted to make sure it works before worrying about having it match my bathroom.

Feminine products. You knew this one was coming, ladies. That’s a lot of trash every month, and too much for me to ignore on here. I got a pattern from my sister for making reusable pads (which I really like), and recently started using a divacup. For this one though, I’ve got enough to say for a separate posting, which gives you some time to get started on these other things first, before having to worry about tackling this one ;). In the mean time, check out divacup’s website if you’re interested in more info, and be relieved in knowing that I switched to reusables three months ago, and I didn’t die from being grossed out. In some ways, its actually LESS gross. More on this later.

What ways have you found to reduce paper product use?

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As I look back on the week, the image of raw, blistered hands from wringing out wet laundry is fresh in my mind. I’ve worked hard this week, and yes, that’s an accurate description of my hands. I’ve saved every bit of trash for the week. I’ve trimmed our consumption way down, to just the necessities. I’ve drafted posts by candlelight in a notebook of recycled paper, made dinner by candlelight (not recommended), and haven’t flipped a light switch in 4 days. I’ve been entertained by a hand-crank radio (sadly, by the winding almost as much the listening). I’ve made commitments to be more present and involved in my community. Aside from the cut on my finger from chopping veggies in the dark and the laundry blisters, I feel great. I’m empowered. I have hope. And I know I’m not alone. There are lots of registered participants from this past week who likely feel as I do. In reflecting on this week, I’ve made changes large and small, temporary for the week and some that will remain permanent. And I’m ready to keep going. And that’s good because there’s much work to be done. Here’s to making every week no-impact week.

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