April 18, 2009

Green Confessions

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile, and with Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, this seemed like a good time for a little confession. So here goes...

I'm bad at being green.

There, I've said it. That cat is out of the bag.

Of course I believe in being green, I'm just saying I'm not the best role model for green living. I use way too many paper products, don't always turn off the light when I leave a room, and our clothes dryer is a 1970s relic that could power a small village. But by far my worst environmental sin is the extra-long, extra-hot shower I take every day. When I was a teenager, my father would bang on the bathroom door in exasperation. Now, my husband sometimes ducks his head in with "The Department of Water and Power just called." My favorite Seinfeld episode is when Kramer is taking 25-minute showers, even ordering a pair of khakis from J. Crew, and can't understand how anyone can get everything done in 10 minutes.

But along with this being a year of Buying Nothing New and Decluttering, I want to Go Green.

So this is the first day of my greener lifestyle. See, for me, just THINKING about it and WRITING about it is the first step. I'm not really a "Take the Plunge" kind of person. I think. I plan. I deliberate. THEN I take action. If you catch me at the TAKE ACTION stage, it's probably really going to happen.

For example, I've read some blog posts about switching from paper towels to cotton napkins. They just did it, Nike Style. They stopped buying paper and started using cloth. Boom. Whereas I've been THINKING about doing that for months- using less paper, noticing when I think I need to use a paper towel, asking at the Goodwill whether they had any cotton napkins (they didn't), etc. Back when I quit smoking over 15 years ago, I didn't wake up one morning and quit cold turkey. I spent a decade THINKING about quitting and trying to quit, and then when I actually did quit, I sent away for all kinds of literature with tips and photos of cancerous lungs. That did the trick, and I gave it up for good.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a walking advertisement for environmental irresponsibility. There are some things we're doing pretty well- we're good about recycling and my husband is diligent about disposing of toxic waste like paint at the proper centers, we use cloth bags at the market, we've planted drought tolerant landscaping in the front yard (although the backyard weeds are even more eco-friendly), we drive mid-sized Toyotas which are relatively fuel efficient, and when I take those footprint quizzes we come out below average because we live in a small house, don't have children, and aren't wasteful. Probably the most green thing I've done is to step off the consumer treadmill by joining The Compact.

But I want to do a lot better. So over the next year, I'll be using my baby steps approach to tackle the following:

1. give up paper towels
2. air dry the laundry
3. switch to natural cleansers
4. start composting
5. stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all
6. use and waste less water

I hope you'll join me. Look for a baby steps challenge soon. I'm gearing up for it... One thing I WON'T be doing is giving up my showers. I've been trying to make them shorter, but I'm not going to start showering every other day or taking "bird baths." And you won't see me taking any Marine-style showers, unless it's government ordered. I don't think that's on Obama's agenda.

Ah, confessions are so good for the soul. I feel about 10 pounds lighter. What about you? How green are you? Do you have any green confessions you'd like to make? Or maybe you want to chastise me for my wicked ways. Please share in the Comments section.


Meg said...

Ummm... not buying a lot of crap is pretty damn green. It's one of the greenest things you can do -- though big media and the companies that pay their bills through advertising would have you think that you have to buy a lot of stuff to really be green.

But think of all the resources that goes into producing something! Then there's all the packaging to dispose of as well as the item itself when you're done with it!

Anyhow, we just use towels for napkins. We're not fancy. Some are microfiber ones for use in a shop. You can get a bag full at Big Lots, Sam's, etc.

Also, I've been emailing companies to get us off their mailing lists and it's worked well. There's also Catalog Choice which is free and can help you get started with some common ones.

I air dry my clothes indoors on the hangers. Lazy and I love it :D

Anyhow, don't beat yourself up. No one is perfect. Check out this post: http://www.fakeplasticfish.com/2009/03/do-you-have-eco-confession.html

alotis2words said...

I have to admit I am a complete freak about the junk mail. I am a bit of a minimalist and can't stand having stuff around so the SECOND i get a catalog in the mail or any other sort of unwanted literature, I call the company and request them to put me on their do-not-mail list. It has worked out wonderfully so far, and even though the standard response is, "you may receive one or two more" I haven't yet. It feels great! Good luck!

Tam said...

I'm with you on the green confessions. I buy paper towels AND paper napkins and feel horrible about it. Why? I'm lazy. Even though we air-dry our clothes, buy virtually nothing new and keep our electric bill for our one-bedroom apartment to $27 a month (we live in Miami, no heat needed), I still feel bad and un-green about the paper. I don't take long, hot showers because it's, well, too hot in Miami. Cold showers feel better! :)

One tip for the drying: IKEA has inexpensive, sturdy clothing racks. We use one to air-dry right in our house. My husband is from Italy and that's the way everyone does it there, so he's all for the air-drying.
Keep up the great work with the blog!

Renee said...

LOVE the post. It really is soo hard to change habits, I have been trying for 6 months to CONSISTENTLY take my cloth bags with me when I go to the store.

Anonymous said...

Love your post today! I’ve been making small changes of recent and your post inspires me to do more. Today I bought phosphate-free dishwasher soap and reused produce bags (brought some bags back to the grocery store and used them for produce a second time).

If you decide to switch to "frugal showers," try this 2 liter technique :)


Debbie, Canada said...

I'm with you on the hot shower. Love mine and not ready to give it up yet.

Things I've mastered:
1. I've always used rags. Only use paper towels for greasy food.
2. Rewearing clothes and reusing towels. I was a 'wear it once' girl but since having kids I've changed my perception of what dirty really is.
3. Buy no more household cleaners. Sticking with things like vinegar, baking soda, etc. Still have to convert the hubby :(.

Things I'm working on:
1. Line drying laundry. Laziness is the culprit.
2. Composting. Winter puts a damper on my efforts. Trudging through the snow.....Brrrrrr!
3. Buying things with less packaging. I'm not quite at the 'COMPACT' stage yet, but it could be do-able.
4. Make baked goods from scratch. We don't buy cookies, muffins, etc. Haven't mastered bread completely yet. Working on it though.

Things I still have to tackle:
1. Buy 100% recycled toilet paper and tissues.
2. Collect rain water for watering outside gardens.
3. Reclaim more grass for gardens. Hubby really loves this....NOT :)
4. A bunch of other stuff, that I'm not ready to think about yet.

The still to tackle list should be much longer but I don't want to make this 'book' any longer.

Like your blog though. Usually I'm just a voyeur but the shower bit had me wanting to share. Thanks.

Angela said...

Wow- so many great thoughts and ideas to respond to...

Meg- You're right- not buying crap is very green, because it works at so many stages of the process. I do sometimes beat up on myself a little bit, but I'm getting better at that too...
and thanks for the fake plastic fish link- I love it! she's on the same page as me on the hot showers, and the picture of her mom in the frigid 70 degrees is priceless.

alotis2words- yes, I think I'll make stopping the junk mail the first baby steps challenge- it's really driving me crazy and isn't that hard to stop- just have to take the time.

Tam- I do some of the drying indoors, but then if it's too much I end up feeling irritated- it works against my "no clutter" desires. But my husband is working on a clothesline in the back yard and I'm hoping I'll actually use it.

Renee- Yes, I think I've read that it takes a minimum of three weeks to change a habit, longer if it's one you've had for years. The only way I started remembering the cloth bags was to keep them in the trunk of the car. I also bought several so I can use them for everything- no more plastic bags!

Kate- I think I'll stick my produce bags back in the cloth bag right after I unload the groceries and use them again. That's a great idea. I'll check out the shower link, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet...

I usually wear clothes twice, except t-shirts or workout clothes. And we use our towels for several days as long as they've dried out properly. I like the idea of buying recycled paper towels and tissues- that's my husband's department and I'll have him check on it. As far as rain- we usually don't get enough to collect down here in so cal!

Thank you all for stopping by and leaving your great ideas.

Anonymous said...

Angela not buying new stuff keeps tons of things out of the landfill, so don't be so quick to put your name on the board for misbehaving! I switched to cloth napkins at the beginning of the year, but boyfriend likes his paper towel napkin. I don't buy napkins and paper towels, opting to use the towels as napkins. When we're running low I even tear the paper towels in half to use as napkins.
I think people who write always "consider" things before doing them. It's part of a writer's personality.
That said, CONGRATS on becoming more green- I do hope the color suits you!
Keep up the fantastic work!

Kate Sommers said...

I am terrible with the over use of paper towels and napkins.I bought cloth napkins and extra dish towels to try out the greener method but then I noticed I had these little wash cloth and dish towels drying all over the place and had extra laundry to do.The cloth napkins got stained after the first use.I suggest buying recycled paper goods.(I confess I don't yet but will now!)
I'm also a long shower person and I refuse to give this up.Simple pleasures in life!
Perhaps solar panels may be the answer with this one?
The absolute best green living I found was to eat a high percentage of local grown organic fruits and vegetables in your diet purchased from the farmers market or direct from the farm.If you think about it this saves the environment from using the fuel from shipping,electricity use from manufacturing,storing,plastic and paper waste from packaging, advertising etc.Back before the industrial revolution and before the nuclear family when people lived together and ate off the farm most of their waste was composted.They didn't have individual snack size this and that or all the microwaveable trash.I believe we need to get back to basics in a lot of ways.It would not only be healthier for the planet but for our individual health as well.This blog is making me think more about the way I live.Good topic Angela!

Anonymous said...

Angela, the hot shower thing was a challenge for me too, up until a few years ago.
Where I lived we had a severe water shortage, so " Level 4" water restrictions were placed on every one, and amongst other restrictions, residents were restricted to 4 min showers only.
So they issued everyone with a little 4 minute egg timer with a suction cap to put in the shower to time it!

I don't know how they expected to enforce it though!

I'm looking forward to the baby challenges!

CB said...

I'm not the best with being green. I make an effort, but I haven't made any specific goals.

I do agree with Meg though, stopping the consumer cyle is one of the most environmental things you can do. When you decrease the demand for consumer goods you decrease stresses at the resource, environmental, and disposal points of the chain...so important. Plus, you bring awareness to the non-consumer movement through your site, which is great too.

Blog posts like this kind of push me to the next step of thinking about whether I might do the compact...it's not just for super environmentally concious folks who are already experts in all this jazz. Makes it more approachable...

Angela said...

Katie- Thanks as always for coming by and I'm so glad the blog is making you think about your lifestyle. I wish I could go to the Farmer's Market more, and I'm thinking about joining a CSA. I'm spoiled from the fresh fruit in our own backyard growing up in Vista!

Lala- We also have a water shortage in Southern California, so that's why it's not so cool to take the long showers. That is so interesting though- they were relying on probably 90 percent of people doing the 4 minute shower just by suggestion, on their honor. I like that. I think most people want to do the right thing.

Wildermiss- Yes, I thought for sure it would be only a year that I would do The Compact, but more and more I can imagine it as a lifestyle, as long as there are reasonable exceptions. Glad the post made it seem more approachable to you, because yes- I'm certainly no "green expert."

Angela said...

Tammy- I didn't mean to leave you out! Thanks for coming by, and what is it with your boyfriend and my husband? For some reason he doesn't want to use the cloth napkin for everyday- says it's "too fancy."

Betsy Talbot said...

Angela, we started using cloth napkins a couple of years ago and love them. I bought a huge package of plain white ones (which I don't recommend after our first spaghetti dinner - buy a color), and I throw them in with the towels to wash once a week. I just keep them folded and stacked on top of the microwave and grab 2 every night for dinner.

Regarding showers, have you ever thought of turning the water off for certain parts of your shower? Many showerheads come with a switch to do that. You could turn off the water and soak in the steam as you shave, soap up, or let the conditioner work on your hair.

For the natural cleaners, once you start you won't go back. You have no idea how hard regular products are on your skin, lungs and eyes until you switch to a natural product. I love walking into a just-cleaned bathroom that smells fresh and not "chemical-y."

Good luck on your efforts - I'm looking forward to the updates on composting and air drying, two things I want to try as well.

calimama@compactbydesign said...

I too couldn't cut down my showers. It's like a mental health day with water therapy.

If you go to the Rose Bowls or Ventura flea market (my favorite) check there for cloth napkins.

As for recycled paper products, I recommend the Trader Joe's brand toilet paper. I tried the brand Sprouts sells and it lives up to the stereotype of feeling like paper. TJ's feels like toilet paper. And it comes with cartoons on the packaging. Win win.

WilliamB said...

I do all sorts of green things but ain't no way I'm giving up my hot shower! I'm also not setting the heat below 70F. No matter how many sweaters and socks I wear, I get cold. Summer AC is set to 75-78F.

- When waiting for running tap water to get hot, collect that water in a jug. Use to water plants (I started during a local drought), for the water filter, for cold water for a bath, for cooking, when a dish needs to soak, for warm and cold water laundry.

- Recycle, recycle, recycle. My recyling output is 2-3x larger than my trash.

- Compost, using kitchen waste and shredded personal papers. It's a threefer: protect against identify theft, reuse kitchen waste, have free compost for the yard. I regret I don't have the space to do large-scale composting anymore.

- Buy recycled paper goods. Use those napkins that come with delivery dinner.

- Buy phosphate-free dish soap and laundry detergent.

- Am experimenting with homemade household cleaners. (But usually I pay a service to clean my house so this doesn't work.)

- Use a manual mower (but usually I pay a service to mow my lawn so this doesn't work).

- Ask restaurant not to deliver plastic silverware, disposable chopsticks (those that do come I use for kindling or plant stakes), or napkins.

- When it comes time to buy an appliance, buy efficient. (You're still more efficient using that 1970s appliance that works, than replacing it with a more efficient one.) I finally own a front-loading washing machine.

- Turn off lights. Use efficient bulbs. Unscrew half the bulbs in the over-mirror array in the bathroom. Remove bulbs from the kitchen overhead array, the ones that don't light up work areas. Use task lighting instead of overhead lighting.

- Try to bake several things at once or in succession.

- Boil water in microwave rather than stovetop.

- Use the toasteroven rather than the oven.

- Run washing machine late or early.

I will do all these things, but you'll have to take away my long hot shower from my cold, dead hands.