Using Economic Offsetting to Afford Green Products

Thrifty Green Thursday is the perfect place to consider a whole new version of sustainability that involves both your wallet and your green values.  If cost wasn’t an issue, many Americans would love to eat organic food and use expensive eco-friendly cleaning products.

Since our economy is struggling and prices are soaring, it sometimes feels as though green products will only reach those that can afford them. That’s where economic offsetting can come in very handy. 

Here’s how it works: make frugal choices to reduce your household costs and then apply that extra money to spendier eco-friendly items.  For example, using hand-me-downs for baby can provide hundreds of dollars for organic strawberries and eco-friendly detergent.  (Hint: Rebecca discovered that eco-friendly detergent is actually cheaper than mainstream brands!)  Switching from prepared green cleaning products to homemade versions can possibly even offset the cost of a high quality wooden toy—especially when you find that toy used at a consignment shop.

What about the family who’s already shopping at thrift stores, growing their own food, and using hand-me-downs?  Or the single parent who is working three jobs to make ends meet?  There may not be a way to offset very tight budgets, but if you’re interested in extreme savings, you might want to check out Amy Dacyzyn’s Tightwad Gazette.  After reading it, you may be motivated to go for home haircuts, recycled oatmeal muffins, and other creative solutions. 

Keep visiting us on Thrifty Green Thursday.   You’ll get plenty of tips for offsetting the cost of those eco-friendly items—and you’ll get them from people who have tried it themselves. 

In our comments section, you’ll find links to other bloggers’ Thrifty Green Thursday submissions.  Go here for more information on how to join the Thrifty Green Thursday blog carnival.  And don’t worry–we’re planning on getting a better system (such as Mr. Linky) for this blog carnival very soon!

Greening Your Family Reunion

Every year, over forty members of my extended family–ages negative one month to 94 years–meet up at Lake Tahoe for a week of swimming, kayaking, hiking, and eating.  Little Audrey had a wonderful time splashing in the lake and digging in the sand with her cousins, and everyone enjoyed catching up over mounds of appetizers, cold drinks, and gigantic home-cooked dinners and breakfasts.  

One of the problems with cooking for such a large crowd is all the clean-up afterwards, and my green sensibilities were shocked upon witnessing bag after bag of bottles, cups, and paper plates pile up after each group dinner and breakfast.  That got me thinking: How could we “green” our family reunion?

Our reunion wasn’t a complete environmental disaster–we practiced many eco-conscious activities.  First, we crammed ourselves in large houses outfitted with kitchens.  Unlike hotels, we didn’t have housekeeping service, so we reused towels and sheets for the week.  We were also able to prepare all of our meals in the houses.  Best of all, most of my family members live close to Tahoe, so we saved on some carbon emissions traveling to our destination.  (I personally cannot take credit for this, as we drove each way from Portland.)

So how could our family reunion go even greener next year?  Here are some ideas:

Cut down on disposable products.  We used as many real dishes as we could, but we supplemented with paper plates and plastic cups.  With so many people and so few real plates, I am not sure paper products could be avoided entirely, but we could stand to cut down.   This year, we got lazy about labeling our disposable cups.  I myself am guilty of using more than one disposable cup a day because I kept losing track.  I hope no one took a picture of me committing this extremely non-green act!  Next year, I am going to vow to use just ONE cup all week.  And I’ll bring a pen for labeling.

Use recycled paper products.  In the future, we could make an effort to phase out any bleached paper plates made from virgin forests or colorful plastic plates and start using recycled paper products.  A quick trip to a main-stream grocery store revealed that Chinet’s plates are “made from recycled materials.”  Other plates were not labeled.  Here are some plates made with sugarcane fibers–they’re biodegradable!

Recycle.  I was surprised that there was no recycling program set up at our gathering place–this was northern California, after all.  About halfway through our reunion, we started sorting our bottles and cans from the rest of the trash so my dad could take them home to be recycled.  Next year, I will set up a recycling system right from the start.  My sister suggested bringing some cardboard boxes, labeling them, and setting them next to the trash bags from day one.  I am also going to write the rental company and ask why they do not provide recycling.

Surely I am overlooking many other excellent ways to conserve resources while entertaining large groups.  Please post a comment to help me green next year’s reunion!  I’m already looking forward to stuffing myself on food served on recycled paper plates and quenching my thirst with Pims punch sipped from my well-labeled cup.  

Enter the Cloth Diaper Bravery Contest to Win a Bumkins Dirty Duds Bag!

When I first used cloth diapers with my tiny infant, I would switch to disposables every time we went to the grocery store or even on a walk down the street.  For some reason I couldn’t imagine handling a cloth diaper change in a public bathroom.

Then my yoga instructor told our class a story about using cloth diapers on a cross-continental flight with her young son and during her three-week family jaunt through Italy.  All of a sudden, going to the grocery store in cloth didn’t seem all that challenging. 

Since then, I’ve managed to do several cloth diaper changes on the grass at the park, in our car trunk, and on various living room floors. My most challenging cloth diaper adventure actually happened in a restroom when I was driving my six-month-old home from a trip to visit relatives.

Desperate for a spot to change him, I stopped at a fast food restaurant bathroom and once there—found that there was no diaper changing station.  So, I changed his cloth diapers in his car seat (and believe me, the contents were challenging!), and managed to get him back in clean, dry diapers without a hitch.  As I strode out of that A & W bathroom with my happy baby in my arms and the dirty diaper in my wet bag, I felt a new sense of cloth diaper confidence. 

Have you had any adventures with your baby in cloth?  Where did you go and how did you handle it?  Have you had any harrowing diaper changes that increased your confidence in cloth diapers on the go?  Do you hope that a dirty duds bag will help you make the switch from disposables to cloth?  Are you pregnant and wanting to find tools that will make cloth diapering easier for you?  Our winning entry will become a guest post on The Green Baby Guide and will win the author a brand new Bumkins Dirty Duds bag to further inspire cloth diaper confidence!  It’s a wet bag with an adorable print that easily stores dirty diapers when you’re out and about.  

To enter, just post a comment about your dirty diaper experience (or your hopes about having a heroic diaper change) by August 17th.  We’ll notify you by email you if your comment is the winner and send you your own Dirty Duds bag.  Thanks for sharing your cloth diaper victories with us! 

Line Drying Trouble-shooting

Yesterday, Joy wrote  about saving money and reducing carbon emissions by line drying clothes.  I lived without a dryer for three years, which forced me to hang all my clothes on a big indoor rack, over the radiator, or out on the balcony.  Later, I lived in an apartment with coin-operated dryers, but I was so used to line-drying that I continued doing it.  Then, after about five solid years of dryer abstinence,  I started using the dryer again.  I felt guilty about it, but it was just so much easier, especially in during those nine rainy months of the year.

So why do people give up on line-drying?  Here are some of the biggest line-drying problems you may encounter–and how to solve them.

1. Problem: Your homeowners’ association or neighborhood association does not allow clotheslines.

Solution:  This could be an issue to raise at a meeting.  With more people striving to go green, the “unsightliness” of laundry lines may seem less important than the hole in the ozone layer.  Alternately, you could dry your clothes on a rack indoors.

2. Problem: Bugs get in your laundry.

Solution: Keep your clotheslines away from trees and bushes.  I admit that one reason I stopped drying clothes outside was because of the earwigs that climbed into my clothes and hung on for dear life.  They would not shake out, and that disgusted me!  I even tried setting my rack on a table, but they still managed to get in my clothes.  If anyone has a solution to this problem, please post a comment. 

3. Problem: It’s so humid, cold, or damp that your laundry never dries.

Solution: Unfortunately, drying your clothes indoors in the winter means that you are using more heat from your furnace to dry your clothes.  Still, doing this uses less energy than your dryer.  The average household does a load of laundry every day, so it’s not practical to leave one load hanging all over the house for a several days.   One idea is to let clothes air dry for a day, then toss them in the dryer to finish the job.  You’ll find they need a fraction of the normal time in the dryer once they’ve had a head start on the clothesline. 

4. Problem: Your laundry emerges stiff as a board from the clothesline.

Solution: A vinegar rinse can help soften line-dried clothes, as can some brisk shaking before hanging on the line.  In Europe, where almost everyone line-dries, they seem to iron all of their clothes.  Most Americans, on the other hand, are used to relying on the dryer to smooth out the wrinkles.  Ironing uses far less energy than the dryer–though obviously it also takes more time.  Again, you can throw the clothes in the dryer just before they dry.  Or add a wet towel to a load of air-dried clothes.  After just about five minutes, they will soften up. 

5. Problem: There is nowhere to hang your laundry.

Solution: Look into some of the clothes-drying racks that make a good use of space.  This one lowers from the ceiling, and this one retracts against the wall when you’re done using it.

6. Problem: It takes too much time to hang the laundry and then wait for it to dry.

Solution: Back when I was a line-drying purist, I scoffed at this excuse.  I have to admit, though, that there’s some merit to it.  It takes me over fifteen minutes to hang a load of laundry.  If you do a load of laundry a day (which I don’t), that would add 105 minutes to your laundry time each week.  In the summer, I’ve found that laundry dries just as fast on the line as it does in the dryer.  In the winter, it can take over a week to dry on the line (see #3), which may not work for some people.   Joy is a much fast clothes-hanger than I am, taking just seven minutes to hang a load.  And remember it’s not all or nothing–even hanging one load out to dry each week will make a difference! 

For someone who is trying to promote line-drying, I sound very negative!  Whenever I am grumbling about line-drying  my clothes, I just remember how much energy and money I’m saving.  That’s motivation enough for me!   Despite my laundry woes, I  also love line-drying for all the reasons Joy enumerated in yesterday’s post.  Please, everyone, post your line-drying tips and suggestions so I no longer have any reason to resort to my electricity-guzzling dryer!

Using a Drying Rack to Fight Global Warming

Do you own a solar powered dryer? If not, they’re available for under twenty bucks and can save loads of emissions in their lifetime. Yes, I am talking about the humble drying rack.

Whether you live in an urban apartment or sprawling acreage, anyone can handle erecting a drying rack and letting nature do the rest. You won’t need dozens of clothespins to hang each sock, baby t-shirt, or undergarment.  Just flop the clothing on the rack in the morning and take it off later in the day.

In the summer I bask in the glory of sun dried clothing.  I hang the sheets, towels and adult clothing on the line while my toddler helps (somewhat sloppily) by arranging dishtowels and diaper covers on our drying rack.  

Although it air drying isn’t glamorous, it is revolutionary.  

What are the environmental benefits?  A clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy users in your household.  Depending on its efficiency, it can eat up as much energy as your oven and more than your water heater, burning up to 5000 watts of electricity each hour.  Refrigerators technically use more, since they’re on all the time, but per hour, dryers are the largest consumers.  Dryers also waste energy twice, since they suck in air from your home (which has been cooled in summer and heated in winter) and then blow it out of the house.

What are the cost benefits?   Besides lowering your utility bill, you’ll reduce expenses on clothing.  My sister, a mother of five children who is constantly battling with laundry, will only air dry her children’s garments.  Since line drying doesn’t set stains the way a heated dryer does, she prevents soiled clothing from being permanently ruined in the dryer.  If the stain doesn’t come out, she just tosses it back in the wash.  Air drying also prevents shrinking and limits wear.

How can I take it a step further?  If you’d like to air dry all your laundry and set up a clothesline,  check out Laundry List–a site dedicated to helping people move away from dependency of dryers.  Even hanging just a few loads a week can make a huge difference in your energy bill and your carbon emissions. 

Thanks for joining Thrifty Green Thursday!  Come back tomorrow for Rebecca’s line-drying trouble-shooting tips. 

National Breastfeeding Week–and Another Bumkins Giveaway!

We’re right in the middle of National Breastfeeding Week, and Bumkins is celebrating by giving away some cloth diapers!  We don’t usually advertise other people’s giveaways, but in this case, we’re making an exception.  It’s our chance to support two time-tested green ideas at once: breast feeding and cloth diapering.  Here are the details:

Bumkins is sponsoring a giveaway in honor of World Breast Feeding Week (August 1st-7th). In celebration of this wonderful cause, we will be giving away an All-in-One Cloth Diaper Bundle 3 pack, retail valued at $72.95, to one lucky winner. To enter all contestants have to do is sign up for an informative, educational cloth diapering newsletter.

Thanks to everyone who entered our giveaway for those delightful Bumkins pull-up pants.  The winners are Jillian and Frugal Babe.  Congratulations!

Tightwad Tips for Raising Baby from Frugal Zealot, Amy Dacyczyn

Last week we reviewed Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette, the ultimate guide to creative frugality.  We could ooze on for hours about her innovative outlook on reusing and reducing, but instead we’ll give you some concrete examples of how she made budget friendly, eco-friendly choices with her twin babies. 

Since Dacyczyn thought her fourth child would be her last, she had given away all of her baby things, only to find out that she was having a surprise set of twins.  She spent less than $100 on their first year of life by employing some zany acts of simplicity.  These are just some of the items she skipped with her babies:

Baby Shampoo: She just used regular shampoo and was careful not to get it in baby’s eyes.

Bottles: Since she wasn’t working outside the home, she nursed the babies until they were one year old and then taught them to drink from a cup.

Changing table: Dacyczyn used a towel on top of a dresser with changing items stored in a shoe box.

Disposables: Even when traveling, Dacyczyn used cloth diapers.  She invested $65 of baby’s first year budget on diapering supplies because she knew it would pay off in the long run.

Crib: Dacyczyn writes that people can get creative with dresser drawers or use a playpen as a crib. (I know this might upset some readers, but it is an interesting idea, although neither Rebecca and I nestled our infants in our bureaus.)

Shoes: Until baby is toddling, these are totally unnecessary.

Despite our enthusiasm for The Tightwad Gazette’s baby tips, we’d be hesitant to endorse Dacyczyn’s stance on diaper pins and plastic pants—she states that they’re the best option for cloth diapering families. The book is over ten years old now, and there are so many more Velcro options on the market than in the mid-nineties.  We’ve been able to find many gently used Velcro diapers for bargain prices.  Cloth diaper tightwaddery is now updated for the new decade! 

Although we also wrote a post about what baby doesn’t need, Dacyczyn shows that reducing and reusing can be taken much further than most of us realize.   Some find her extreme, but we at Green Baby Guide harbor great respect for the sense of fun and pragmatism she brings to living a simpler life.

Bumkin’s Review–and Giveaway!

Recently we’ve had the opportunity to try some Bumkin’s products, including the pull-on nighttime training pants.  The great thing is that Bumkin’s products are all PVC-, phthalate-, BPA-, and vinyl-free. Before we ever received samples Joy used hand-me-down Bumkins bibs and loved them.  She later bought a Bumkin’s Dirty Duds bag and reviewed it here.  We’re pleased to report that they’ve fixed the issue with the bag’s drawstring closure.

Bumkin’s waterproof baby items come in several bright prints that kids will adore.  My daughter begged to wear the pull-on training pants to bed.  She’s potty training now but is never totally dry when she wakes up, so these worked well for her.  The only complaint I had is that they are just HUGE.  We had the medium size, which is the smallest size available for these pants.  They’re supposed to fit toddlers from 20-30 pounds.  Audrey weighs 23 pounds and was swimming in them.  Roscoe got a large and it’s gigantic for his 30-pound frame.   Bumkin’s website advertises “generous sizing,” but I think they went a little overboard.

Now for the giveaway! We have two pairs of these large pull-on pants to give away for some lucky parent.  According to the Bumkin’s website, the pants boast the following features:

  • Made of Bumkins’ proprietary waterproof fabric
  • Soft elastic at the waist and leg openings
  • Perfect to cover fitted cloth diapers or over disposables as a swim diaper
  • PVC, Phthalate & Vinyl Free.
  • Made in the USA

We have a size large with pink and brown stripes (size large should fit a 30-40 pound child) and a size XL with blue and brown stripes (for a 35+ pound child).  Just post a comment below indicating which one you’d like before Tuesday and you’ll automatically be entered to win.