Archive for the ‘waste not’ Category

Why I Avoid Plastics

As you know, I have been more and more avoiding plastics. This started with food containers and is slowly spreading to more areas of my life. Along with plastics, all single-use disposables are becoming less attractive.

Why?

With regards to food and drink, it’s chemicals. They leach into what we eat and drink, and they affect us profoundly. BPA is a hormone disruptor: it was originally manufactured as synthetic estrogen, and then someone realized they could use it to make flexible plastic. I don’t take The Pill because I don’t want to mess with my hormones. And so I don’t eat or drink out of plastic. And I wouldn’t give my boy The Pill, so I don’t feed him out of plastic, either. (It turns out that many “BPA-free” products have higher estrogen-like properties than their BPA-filled counterparts, so “BPA-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.”)

Beyond the dangers posed to my body, plastics do inordinate damage to the earth.

Everyone knows that plastics don’t biodegrade. This turns out to be partially incorrect. They do break down — fairly rapidly — in the ocean. In the ocean, where they release toxic chemicals and break down into small pieces. The fish absorb the chemicals, eat the pieces, and then we eat the fish. For a more detailed write-up of the decomposition of plastic in the ocean, click here.

(Bioplastics — plastics made from plants and other organic materials — once produced are chemically the same as petroleum-based plastic and do not break down. Also, containers that are part petroleum and part bioplastic are not recyclable. For a good read on bioplastics, click here.)

For plastics that don’t end up in the ocean, they fill landfills, litter our streets and parks. They kill wildlife.

We tend to forget about the other end of things, which causes just as much damage. Production. Oil needs to be extracted, processed, and shipped. The petroleum is added to whatever else is in the thing and turned into the thing in a factory. The results are shipped from the factory to wherever you obtain it. That’s a lot of effort.

This was going around Facebook (source) and summed it up well:

I started following My Plastic-Free Life and love it. Just as with many other things in my life, the more I read, the more it seeps into my consciousness, which makes it easier for me to make small changes. Small changes accumulate over time.

The Big Man and I ordered out the other night. In our order — dinner for two, no appetizers or desserts — there were 15 pieces of plastic, mostly single-use. (I count the bag as not single-use, but that was the only piece.) Multiply that by the number of dinners that night by the number of restaurants in that chain … And that’s just one restaurant.

This part of me continues to be slowly changing. I haven’t bought a stainless steel drinking straw yet, but I have stopped using straws when we eat out, and I have started declining a lid when I order a tea at a coffee shop (to be drunk in-house).

What are your thoughts on plastic?

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How Many Paychecks?

The Big Man was looking at our mortgage statement and happened to mention how much interest we’ve paid in 2011. Taking an idea from a few finance blogs I read, I did a quick calculation: how many paychecks did we spend this year on mortgage interest? The answer? Roughly seven. And that’s just the interest — doesn’t count principle.

Ugh.

The exercise in its entirety is usually to calculate how many days’ work it takes to pay for each expense that you have. Some recommend separating interest out from principle in any payments where that applies as well (which I definitely recommend!).

Then the question becomes — it is worth it?

From that perspective, you can start shifting your spending (and saving!) to things that are worth it.

For us… we have only two debts: my student loan and the mortgage. If I had been wiser at either point in time, these would be less of an issue, but I wasn’t, so they are. The interest rates on both are close, though the mortgage is a bit higher. But in this case, we definitely fall into the “debt snowball” mindset: pay off the smallest debt first. So The Big Man and I made a plan last night to try to hack away at the student loan. I don’t know how to calculate how soon we’ll have it paid off with these extra payments, since it’s amortized, but regardless, it will be in less than ten years, which is what the payment schedule says.

For those of you playing at home, I went to teaching part-time a year and a half ago to open Second Chance FitCenter. Since about half-way through my pregnancy, there hasn’t been much action at the FitCenter, though I’m working on picking that up in the coming weeks. A couple of months ago, we added a baby which, contrary to what we were warned, hasn’t been terribly expensive so far … except for insurance. That’s taken another 1/3 out of my already paltry paycheck.

It would be easy to say, “We can’t afford to try to pay this off.”

But we can. We’re not trying to pay off the whole thing right now. We’re not even doubling payments. But we came up with an amount that, short of a financial emergency, we should be able to afford every month. And sooner rather than later, the student loan payment will be gone.

And then we’ll tackle the mortgage.

For now, we’ve been rounding the mortgage payment up to the nearest hundred, so we toss a few extra bucks at the principal every month.

In the mean time, we’re saving money as well, in hopes that we’ll have enough saved for a new car (outside of the emergency fund or the summer expenses fund) before one of ours — probably mine — dies.

This doesn’t leave much room for, well, anything. (Our weekly cash has room for a little fun money if we spend it right.) But if we can get rid of the student loan AND not need a car loan, it will be worth it. And I think we can do both.

How many paychecks do you spend on interest? Or on anything? Does this exercise make you rethink where you’re spending your money?

Time

How often do we lament how little time we have, or how quickly time passes?

Yet at the same time, how often do we find ourselves “just killing time”?

Stop killing time (just for the sake of passing it) or stop complaining that it goes by so quickly.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many people agree that our mindset on garbage needs to change.

Many mindful people do their part by recycling: paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastics — whatever their municipality will accept.

Many mindful people use reusable shopping bags instead of collecting tons of plastic bags.  Some who do use plastic shopping bags repurpose them for use in small trash cans.

Many mindful people use re-usable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.

These are the three most common “eco-friendly” actions that I’ve seen in general daily life.

These few actions include all three components of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mindset.

Unfortunately, except for economic reasons, most people practice a “recycle, reuse, reduce” lifestyle.

Reduce

The first R is reduce because the best thing you can do for the environment (and ultimately, for your pocketbook) is to reduce consumption, especially of one-use, disposable items. In addition to the space they take up once they’ve been discarded, they all take an enormous amount of energy and natural resources to create, from harvesting materials to creating the object to packaging the object (go back to the beginning of the cycle for all of the packaging!) to transporting the object.

Sure, if you buy a water bottle, that cycle is perpetuated for production of that bottle, but it is still much less than the alternative.  Using myself as an example, I bought a few Klean Kanteens three or four years ago. Let’s say three. I have no idea how much I paid for them, so I looked up current prices for the three bottles I have:

  • I have two of these (one with a loop cap and one with a sport cap, though the design is different from what they have now): $17.95 each
  • I have one of these: $25.95
  • Total: $61.85

I pack lunch for 186 school days. I take the big bottle (40 oz.) and one of the small ones (27 oz.), so that’s 67 oz. per day. Most bottled water comes in 16-oz. bottles, so rounding down, that’s four bottles of water per day. Four bottles times 186 days equals 744 bottles per year that I didn’t buy or throw away just from using reusable bottles. And that hasn’t even counted in all of the other times that I use them. And that’s only for one year.

A 24-pack of 16-oz. store-brand water bottles is on sale at a local grocery store this week for $2.77.  If I stocked up enough to use for the year, I’d spend $85.87.

So in one year, I’d save the earth from the production, transportation, and disposal of more than 744 plastic water bottles, as well as saving at least $24.02. The second year, since there would be no cost for water bottles, it’s all savings.

Similar exercises could be done with a myriad of products. Disposables are the most obvious choices (plates, silverware, napkins, paper towels, tissues, diapers, etc.). Other items to consider reducing the purchase of include clothing/shoes, accessories, and electronics. Also consider how your grocery items are purchased. Snack-sized or 100-calorie packs both use much more packaging and are more expensive per ounce than their more bulk-packaged counterparts. With reusable containers, it is easy to open a package of chips, cookies, etc., and divide it out into servings.

Reuse

The second-best way to conserve resources and money is to buy reusable items. Hard plastic, glass, and aluminum bottles and storage containers work well in the kitchen. One step further: buy foods in packages that will be reusable — most notably, jars.

Buying items second-hand not only saves money but also gives another life to items otherwise headed for a landfill. While there are a few items I don’t feel comfortable buying second-hand (underwear, bathing suit, furniture with pillows/cushions for examples), I have gotten many great deals on buying items second-hand, from books to clothes to a dining room set to a defibrillator for my training center. And, just like new items, there are brick-and-mortar stores as well as online stores where you can shop.

Selling or giving away instead of trashing (or recycling) is another way to help keep good objects in circulation and out of a dumpster. I have come to love Freecycle, where I have given away things I was pretty sure no one would want (and they did want!) and received things that other people were happy to get out of their house.

Having a compost bin/pile enables people to reuse peels, cores, and other parts of many foods instead of tossing them in the garbage.

Note: if you’re going to reuse plastic bottles, don’t reuse the ones that you buy water in. They’re not made for reuse and break down faster than those marketed for reuse. Of course, I prefer reusable bottles that aren’t plastic at all (and if you’re going with aluminum, make sure they’re not lined), but I understand that not everyone is concerned about such matters.

Recycle

The last of the three Rs is recycle. If you already have it and need to get rid of it but can’t sell it and can’t give it away, recycle it. There are recycling programs for all sorts of materials beyond your basic paper, plastic, aluminum. I’ve seen websites for a variety of electronics, running shoes, pens, books. I’m sure there is much more out there that I haven’t stumbled upon.

Make sure that any products you’re using at home that can be recycled actually get in a recycling bin.

What’s your take? Does any of this concern you, either environmentally or financially?

Water Conservation

Nichol and I swapped today. Her regular Wednesday post will be here tomorrow.

I am more and more aware of water as a resource. For the most part, I try to use less than I used to. (At some point, that’ll bottom out.)*

I have read things about rain barrels, and they sound great! But I live in the desert. (I also don’t understand how standing water in a barrel doesn’t breed mosquitoes.)

I have a few plants in the back yard (though I’ve managed to kill two out of eight so far, and a third is not looking good), which has increased need for water.

Beyond water conservation, I am looking to spend as little as possible on our water bill.

Here are a few things we’ve done to reduce water usage:

Run water less.

If I’m washing the dinner dishes, I’ll wash them all without water running, then rinse them all at once. (Some of them need to be rinsed before washing, some don’t.) Unless I have a large amount of dishes to wash, I don’t even fill the sink with soapy water.

We’re not leave-the-water-on-while-brushing-teeth-or-shaving kinds of people, but if we were, that is a habit that would have gotten kicked by now.

Collect water that runs while waiting for hot.

Our kitchen sink is about 25 feet from the hot water heater, but it takes an enormously long time for the water in the sink to get hot. Instead of just running the water, we catch it in old juice bottles. (The Big Man was drinking a lot of grape juice for a while, and we saved four or five plastic jugs from that time.) I have been using this water on the plants.

This exercise was really eye-opening for me in just how much water we’d been wasting by letting the water run while waiting for it to get hot.

We have a bucket that we keep in the shower and let the water run into the bucket while we’re waiting for it to warm up. When the bucket is half or three-quarters full, The Big Man dumps it into the toilet tank on a flush, so the water runs only very briefly to refill the toilet.

Flush less.

I am drinking over 100 ounces of water every day. I am 5.5 months pregnant. There is no shortage of nearly-clear pee ’round here. I’ve taken to flushing every two or three uses, assuming liquid-only. (I do try to remember to flush if there is company coming over.)

Collect the water from the air conditioner.

It is humid here now. Well, humid relative to here. Our air conditioner is on the roof (this is pretty normal in this area). In the back yard, there is a little pipe that sticks out of the back of the porch roof where air conditioner condensation drips. We put a bucket under it, and I use that also to water the plants (or to rinse dog pee off the porch). The bucket takes less than 24 hours to fill. Between the bucket and a couple of bottles of water from the sink, I haven’t needed to run the hose for the plants since we turned on the A/C instead of the swamp cooler.

Shower at the gym.

There are two benefits to showering at the gym: I automatically take a shorter shower (who wants a leisurely shower in a group shower?) and it doesn’t show up on our water bill.

Do you think about how much water you use? What are some water-saving tips you’ve found?

*Yes, we have a back yard pool which is not at all water-use friendly. In my defense, we bought a house with a pool before I was aware of such things, remodeled the pool before I was aware of such things, and are not willing to spend the money to have it taken out. And we use it, so it’s my main source of water guilt.

100-Calorie Snack Packs

100-calorie snack packs are extremely popular right now. In case you haven’t seen them, they’re junk food (cookies, crackers, etc.) in one-100-calorie-portion-sized bags. You buy them in packages of multiple bags. While this might be convenient and work for you really well, there are many drawbacks.

You are paying three times as much for packaging. For the convenient pre-portioning, you pay a fee. For example, a standard, 15.9-ounce package of Oreo Cakesters costs $3.49 at Safeway ($0.22/ounce). The Mini Oreo Cakesters in 100-calorie packs (5 packs per container), 4.2 ounces costs $2.79 ($0.66/ounce). Literally three times the price.

You are (often) getting a different product. I chose the Oreo Cakesters for the above example because it was the closest to exact replicas as I could find in the 100-calorie packs. The price difference on other products was similar, but the products were less similar. For example, Chips Ahoy cookies in the 100-calorie pack are “crisps.”

You create substantially more waste. You have the outer packaging of the complete product, and the individual bags for the 100-calorie packs inside. That is a lot more resources going in, and a lot more trash coming out.

They’re all junk food. Are you looking just to eat 100 calories? You can’t find a snack pack of 100 calories’-worth of carrots or broccoli — they’re all cookies, crackers, etc. Nuts are the only healthy foods I’ve seen in calorie-portioned sizes.

Perhaps not the portion you want. Often, if you’re looking to snack, you’re going to take the quantity that you want. If that happens to be equal to one (or two) individual packs, then it works out well. What if the portion you want equals one-and-a-half packs? Are you going to leave half a pack for later? I suspect that if you have that much control over your food intake that you’re not buying 100-calorie packs…

So what should you do instead?

We’ll assume for sake of argument that you’re looking to consume junk food and that the “eat healthy food” recommendation does not apply here (though that would, of course, be my first recommendation).

Buy the snacks you want and portion them out yourself. Use small, reusable containers. If they’re sturdy, your cookies, chips, crackers won’t get crushed in a bag. (While we do wash and reuse bags, I find rigid containers easier to clean and psychologically more difficult to throw away.) As soon as you get home from shopping, open the package and divide out the contents into the smaller containers. You can portion them out how you want. Maybe you want to be in the habit of not eating more than two cookies. Maybe you’re counting calories and can afford 150 per day in snacks. Maybe different people in your house get different portions. You have a lot of flexibility, and it really doesn’t take much time or effort to do this yourself.

This also allows you to make snack packs of whatever you want — you’re not limited to what the manufacturers have decided should be put in tiny bags. It also allows you to mix-and-match within containers if you want.

It will save you money. It will save waste (if you use reusable containers). It will give you flexibility. And you only take a minor hit to efficiency. Not a bad trade-off.

Are You Proactive Or Reactive?

I was reading this article on barefoot running, and this paragraph jumped out at me:

Runners who suffer repeated running-related injuries and can’t overcome them through rehabilitation may want to consider switching to barefoot running, Warden said. For recreational runners who are happy running in shoes and don’t suffer repeated injuries, there is no need to switch, he added.

No, those folks should wait until they sustain repeated injuries and then do something about it. (Most running injuries are able to be solved with a different training schedule, different shoes, and/or a foam roll.)

This is a very pervasive mindset, though, in many areas of life: wait until it breaks, then try to fix it.

Most people who I know at least do preventative maintenance on their cars, though I have known of a handful who just wait for it to break down…

What if we took a proactive approach to more things?

  • Exercise and eat well before we get fat.
  • Recognize that we got fat through our own actions (“Well, my parents were fat” is an excuse, not a reason) and exercise and eat well before we get sick.
  • Budget to live on less than we earn and save money before a financial crisis hits.
  • Don’t give in to our children’s every whim before they get bratty.
  • Take care of small household fixes before they become major household repairs.
  • Test chemicals in foods and household products before we mass produce them. (The majority of chemicals in items we purchase are completely untested. We are the guinea pigs…)
  • Spend more time on our priorities before a near-death experience rearranges them. Or before the experience isn’t near-death…

Of course, not everything can be staved off, but if you look honestly, how much stress could you avoid if you were more proactive? How much of that would also save you money?

Here are a few small examples of things we do here to be proactive:

• In the bathroom, there is a rag (much like a dishrag) hanging on a towel rack. Each time The Big Man or I finish using the sink, we take the rag and wipe out the sink. The gain is that it takes longer before the sink needs to be washed. (No, this does not save a huge amount of stress or money, but it’s nice to scour the sink less frequently!)

• We plan meals for the week and do all of the food shopping with a list on the weekend. This allows us several benefits:

  1. There’s no “what are we having for dinner?”
  2. We have the perishables we need without extra (unless a recipe calls for half an onion or something like that). Less wasted food = less wasted money.
  3. We plan for leftovers or quick meals on nights that are crunched for time, so we’re still eating at home.
  4. We hit the grocery store only once a week with a list: fewer (no?) impulse buys, less gas used.

• We save money throughout the school year so we have money to live on during the summer (when neither of us are paid).

• We have a fair amount of money saved for large, unexpected expenses.

• I use the foam roller before I exercise, and I take a fair amount of time to stretch when I’m done. This helps immeasurably against injury.

There are many areas where we can still improve, but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and happy that we continue to make progress.

Do you believe that it pays to be proactive? What do you do to be proactive? What areas still need a boost?

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