Ideas for Going Green

June 14, 2008

It seems there is more and more information out there on how to "go green." Don't get me wrong, this is a very good thing. I'm so glad it is on every one's minds. However, do you feel the way I do? That it can all be a tad overwhelming? Don't know where to start or what will make a big enough difference? With that in mind, I've put together a list of things our family is trying to do to help the environment. I am no expert on this subject.....I am just a mom that cares about the health of my family, the state of the environment, yet still wants to enjoy life and be realistic about how much time I have. These are things we have found to be low-ish effort and high-ish impact. I'm sure you have great ideas of your own, and I would love to hear them. In no particular order:

1. Just say no to bottled water. Don't worry, we don't drink that gross San Diego tap water. We use our reverse osmosis system to refill various bottles/sippy cups/etc. For the kids, my favorites are by SIGG and the Foogo by Thermos (neither are made out of dangerous plastic). I read somewhere that 95% of water bottles do not get reused. Just think about all the plastic bottles you've thrown away over the years -- they are all in a landfill somewhere! Lots of sophisticated restaurants (such as Chez Panisse) don't even serve bottled water anymore. Anything that's good enough for Alice Waters is good enough for me.

2. Learn to love xeriscape. Watering landscape is a huge unnecessary. We all love beautiful, lush gardens and lawns, but let's face it, they are an indulgence, not something we must have in our world (especially in Southern California, where almost all of our water is brought from thousands of miles away-- and which is rapidly being depleted). We were lucky enough to have the chance to completely redo the landscaping at our house this last year and we decided to put in almost all drought-resistant, low maintenance landscaping. I know this is not every one's aesthetic, but it is very practical and fits into our climate perfectly. At a minimum, try to get rid of that lawn, or at least make it smaller. Check out this site for more ideas on how to reduce the amount of water you use.

3. Change the way you do laundry. First off, get yourself an EnergyStar washer if you haven't already. There are rebates and tax credits available to you when you do. Next, do laundry at off-peak times and only wash full loads. This part is harder: do as much laundry on the cold cycle (it takes tons of energy to heat that water) and try to air-dry as much as possible. The dryer, again, is a luxury, not an absolute necessary.

4. Buy local. Most of us have either read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food or are at least familiar with his ideas. The most important fact he shares, I believe, is that most of the food we eat travels more than 1500 miles to get to our table (not to mention, most of that food is generated by huge corporate farms and factories that generally do not use environmentally-responsible practices). Just think about all the energy that is expended to accomplish that. We have more small farms in San Diego than any other county in the country, so shopping at farmer's markets is a no-brainer to me. Pick up an issue of Edible San Diego for more information and inspiration to support our local farmers. I still love to buy some imported foods, but I try to balance those purchases with local ones, and I try to make those purchases only when it really matters (i.e. I don't need peaches from Chile in the middle of winter, but I do love my French cheeses).

5. Buy organic whenever possible. This is obvious. But sometimes buying organic isn't practical because of cost or availability. That is when I keep this list in mind.

6. Change your cleaning products to chemical-free types. This was hard for me. I can be a germaphobe, so I like the idea of killing all that bacteria with super strong cleaning supplies. But after reading extensively on this subject, I realized exposing my family to the chemicals in most cleaners is way worse than not getting that final .002% of bacteria killed. Besides, the natural cleaning products work much better than I thought they would. I buy almost the whole line from Method -- they are very effective, not expensive and you can get them at Target.

6. Think twice about mail-order. This is something I need to work on. It is hard with two kids to get to the store sometimes, so I end up buying a lot of stuff online. But I always cringe when I see how much packaging is involved in getting that toilet paper delivered to my front door. I also have a problem with all of the energy that is used to get that particular package delivered personally to me. I have never read about the environmental impact of buying mail-order versus going down to the store, but I imagine mail-order would lose big every time.

7. "Reduce, reuse, recycle." This has been a catchy slogan out there for some time, but I have only recently really started thinking about it. First, reduce. I try to ask myself if I really need something. If I can skip the purchase altogether, I am helping curb production and transportation of that item. Second, reuse those things you buy. You have to be creative to do this really well. One small thing we do is try to use all those plastic containers that food comes in. The little hummus containers from Trader Joe's? I put C-man's goldfish crackers in those for his morning snack. The tall yogurt containers? I use those if I'm taking soup to a friend. I don't even buy those (super convenient, but again, unnecessary) disposable Ziploc containers anymore. Another thing we started reusing are paper grocery bags. We use those to line our trash cans and now don't even have to buy plastic trash bags! And third, recycle. Use that recycle bin, people. There is simply no excuse to put a newspaper or a soda can in the trash.

8. Get your family on the "Do Not Mail" List. I still need to do this. The process is somewhat confusing and time-consuming, but once you are through it, you will be junk mail-free. Just think about all the waste involved in mail-order catalogs and other mailers. There should be a law against abusing the postal system like that. Until then, I want to get our name and address off these mailing lists.

9. Lastly, start a compost pile. This is a great way to significantly reduce the amount of trash you need hauled away AND to feed that vegetable garden. Here is info on how to get started on composting.


  1. Great ideas, Jora!

  2. I really need to get a water bottle - we switched to Brita at home (we don't have a filtered tap) but I still take bottles with me to work and to the gym. I did get that nifty knife/fork/spoon set, which I love. I also wish we could get a new washer/dryer (coming someday) do all my laundry in cold water and I can't WAIT until we get our landscaping changed over - my goal is for the whole front to be xeriscape or edible!

  3. Thanks for the awesome organics list Jora! I just printed and will take to the store with me.

  4. I agree with all of your ideas! The only one I'm not participating in is the xeriscaping. Our yard is well-established and ultra-green for Vegas. I couldn't bear parting with it. That said, we do hope to remove the grass and replace it one of these days. :)


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