Monday, October 15, 2007
Blog Action Day 2007
Today is Blog Action Day - a day for bloggers to help get people thinking and talking about the environment. These days the environment is on everyone's mind as things like global warming become reality and not just a future worry. If you're not already convinced that you personally need to take steps to try to minimize your impact on the environment, I will leave the convincing to other, more eloquent writers (thousands of which you should be hearing from today). But if you like me have come to the realization that you must make an effort, however small, to minimize your impact on the environment, then let me toss out a few ideas. The basic goal is to use less. Most of these aren't terribly original, but it's a start...
You've heard it before - eat local. Eating local reduces the resources required to transport your food. My produce purchases got a little more local this year... I used to make regular trips to the farmers market at Dupont Circle which took me about an hour each way by car and subway. I expect I'll still make occasional visits, but I've now started frequenting a nearby (3 miles from my house) farmers market and have signed up with one of the three farmers there for her CSA next year. I obviously do much better with this in the growing season than in the winter, but I'm trying at least to be conscious of where my food originates and choosing the closer location when possible. I weigh in other factors, including cost and whether or not it's organic, so I don't always go with the most local product, but at least it now figures into my purchasing decisions (which was not the case a year ago).
Use a pressure cooker. Fond as I've become of Indian cooking, I guess it was inevitable that I would purchase a pressure cooker. The vegetarian cuisines of India make good use of beans and lentils in whole and split form (dal) and a pressure cooker makes preparing them so much easier. So what's the benefit for the environment? Pressure cooking reduces the cooking time (and therefore the energy required) by half to two thirds. I think many people my age regard pressure cookers with a little trepidation - my mother used hers (a gift from my dad) once or twice to make my dad happy, but feared it for its reputation of being prone to violent explosions of hot liquid. You can put those fears aside if you buy a modern pressure cooker - there are so many safety devices incorporated into the design these days that you'd have to work pretty hard to get the thing to explode.
Don't pay for water in your food. No, I'm not talking about bottled water (but if you're buying bottled water, you really should reconsider), I'm talking about water in processed products. I remember talking with Nupur about coconut milk - she was using some in that marvelous pasta dish she'd whipped up and I brought up the subject of "lite" coconut milk. She dismissed the product saying that it was just watered down coconut milk and she wasn't going to pay for water. The more I think about that statement, the more I see the wisdom in it. When there's water added to a product in manufacturing, you end up paying to transport that water and maybe even for extra packaging to contain the water. For example, If you eat lots of beans, you can save a small fortune cooking dried beans (with your new pressure cooker! ) rather than buying canned beans. By purchasing a pound of dried beans you're purchasing a product that weighs (and costs) less than one can of beans and getting something that provides over three times the quantity of cooked beans.
Don't pay for water in your cleaning products. Go with powdered or concentrated products when possible to reduce packaging and transportation costs. For reasons completely unrelated to environmental concerns (I thought I was having trouble with the liquid one, but it turned out to be something I was doing wrong), I recently started using powdered dishwasher detergent. It works just as well, costs less and weighs less - win-win! I haven't reverted back to powdered laundry detergent yet since I still have a little stockpile of liquid detergent to work through, but I'm not sure if the benefits there would be the same. I'll have to compare weight and recommended amount to use per load to figure out if would be worthwhile to switch. For years I've been using a floor cleaner (Sh-Clean) and general household cleaner (called Red Juice - it's similar to Product 409) put out by the Clean Team. I'm not a very good customer though - I'm still working through my original purchase! Red Juice is concentrated 10 to 1 and Sh-Clean is concentrated 20 to 1, so each makes many bottles of product once diluted.
Limit use of disposable products. You don't know how automatic it had become for me to stick leftovers into a sandwich bag or package my lunch (on those rare occasions that I packed one) using umpty-ump little bags. Now I try very hard not to use them at all. For lunch I use plastic containers (glass with a plastic snap-on lid if it will be reheated in the microwave), at home I use plastic or glass storage containers or bowls with plates set on top. In addition to purchased containers, I've accumulated quite a collection of yogurt containers (another great idea from Nupur - they're the perfect size for storing dals and beans) and glass jars (nice for spices and spice mixes). I also try to limit my use of paper towels - I use cloth rags and sponges for cleaning. I stick a half-size towel in packed lunches as a napkin and still use paper towels for food-related things (like putting into a container with leafy vegetables and herbs to absorb excess moisture). I haven't started using cloth napkins... but I'm thinking about it! I recently realized that one of my most wasteful purchases (in so many ways) - was my near daily trip to Starbucks for lunch. The sandwich or salad comes packed in a plastic container, then there's the big paper cup, napkins, etc. I've started bringing my lunch to work at least twice a week, but was stumped on what to do about the coffee cup problem because I'm just not ready to give up my daily cuppa! I mentioned this to Bob and he said "don't they sell commuter cups?" Of course - brilliant! (Why didn't I think of that?)
Use reusable shopping bags. I'm good about this at the grocery store and farmers market, but need to think about this for other shopping trips as well. I also keep a few clean (reused) plastic bags in each shopping bag for holding small or wet produce items.
Take short showers. I got this idea from Kelli. It's perfect for me in so many ways - I was queen of the 20-minute shower. I'd stay in until the hot water ran out or I was late for work - whichever came first! Kelly suggested using a timer and aiming for a 5-minute shower. I think I've only finished in under five once, but six minutes is definitely doable! I still have an occasional set-back here and it's going to be even harder when cold weather arrives, but even if I only do it every other time, it's a huge water and energy savings.
Cut back on book purchases. Books are my most frequent impulse purchase. I really don't buy much in the way of clothing or household items, but books? Amazon is way too convenient. I've been doing some research on-line for my post-Mondays with Maida project and have found Google Books to be an invaluable tool. If you get lucky, all or part of the book you're interested in will be available on-line as a preview. If not, there are links to Amazon and other booksellers, but first try searching for it in your library. Click the link the says Find this book in a library, provide your zip-code, and you'll get a list of links to nearby libraries with the book thanks to Worldcat. I've yet to make use of my library's inter-library loan, but very often the book I want is available right in my local library. If it's not, then I check to see if a used copy of the book is available through Amazon. You can get some amazing deals buying used books, though you're always going to pay at least $3.99 for shipping and handling. When choosing which copy of the book to buy, consider the location of the dealer in addition to quality and price. Shortening the distance the book has to travel is good for the environment, yes, but it also will get the book to you more quickly :) One other interesting option for books is BookMooch - a book-swapping site. This may not be the most desirable option for the environment, but if you choose not to participate in swaps outside your country and reuse mailing materials, maybe it's not so bad!
Grow my own. Aside from my blueberry bush, my garden has lain fallow for a couple of years now. One of my goals for next year is to revive my herb garden. It's not really feasible for me to grow anything else, since our community is overrun with deer, but herbs (and, oddly, blueberries) are apparently not to their liking. Herbs are perfect for home gardening in so many ways. Unusual varieties are easily grown from seed; being conveniently located just outside allows you to pick as little or as much as you need; and they are mostly happy without much watering.
Reduce food waste. I struggle with this one and though I have it as a goal for next year, I worry that having the CSA may actually aggravate the problem. I think the answer will involve making better use of my freezer, sharing food more often, and cooking more creatively.
Compost. I once had a compost pile and another goal for next year is to resuscitate the compost pile. I'm not cooking meat at home any more, so nearly all my food scraps should be compostable.
Well enough about me - what are your ideas? I'm very interested in any other suggestions you may have. Feel free to mention them in comments below or if the spirit moves you, write your own Blog Action Day post - there's still time!