Sometimes it feels like being eco-friendly is expensive, what with people tooling around in $27,000 Priuses and buying an entire kitchen full of low-energy, high-efficiency appliances in matching colors. As a sustainability geek on a budget, and rent instead of a mortgage, these commonly touted “green choices” can feel a little out of reach.
This doesn’t mean that I have no options outside of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”, though I certainly do my best to live by this ethic (along with “secondhand first”, “I’m sure if I put this into a soup it’ll still taste fine”, and “wait, can’t we get this at Goodwill?”) While I can’t always afford locally-grown organics, I do pick them up when I can. However, there are a few things I always add to the shopping list regardless.
I’m an omnivore, and eggs are one of my favorite sources of protein. They’re inexpensive, tasty, easy to digest, full of all kinds of good nutrients, and–well, rather than bore you by further extolling the virtues of eggs, I’ll just let you assume they’re a regular part of my diet. However, I hate the way that conventional egg-laying hens are kept in battery cages and I don’t wish to support that.
So I buy cage-free eggs, though what that entails varies according to source. If possible, I like to get them directly from the farmer’s market, though they can be more expensive there. The hens that laid these are usually traditional barnyard animals that get to wander the yard at will with plenty of room and good foraging. Large-scale commercial “cage-free” eggs often (though not always) come from chickens that were crowded onto the floor of a barn, not much better than the cages. And while technically the birds are supposed to get outdoor time every day, in the US there’s no minimum amount of time required, so some “cage-free” birds get only a hint of daylight every 24 hours.
The cost for store-bought cage-free eggs is only about a dollar more per dozen; a dozen eggs from the farmer’s market can cost $5 or more depending on the source. The latter is definitely worth it, as the eggs have better taste and color, and I feel better about their origin as well. If your only choice is between conventional and “cage-free-in-a-barn”, though, at least go for the cage-free when you can. If the demand for cage-free goes up and battery cages can be reduced or eliminated entirely, so much the better.
And, of course, if you’re fortunate enough to have a big enough yard, favorable city zoning laws, and enough steady income to pay for feed and veterinary care, there’s always the option of having your own laying hens. Here in Portland we’re limited to three per household and they need to be kept at least twenty feet away from any human residence, but that hasn’t kept them from being a fairly frequent sight in some neighborhoods.
One of the cheapest and most effective cleaning agents can be found in your average kitchen cupboard. Common cooking vinegar is inexpensive, readily available, and is an effective cleaner and disinfectant. Cut it 50/50 with water to stretch it further and keep the acid from damaging household surfaces, put it in a reusable spray bottle, grab some cleaning rags, and you’re ready to go! (If you need additional abrasive power for tougher messes, let the mess soak in a small puddle of vinegar to soften a while, sprinkle a little baking soda before you spritz, or carefully apply some steel wool.)
Vinegar has the additional benefit of having a much more pleasing aroma than your average commercial cleaning product. When I walk down the cleaning products aisle at the store, the smell of the various chemicals is almost overwhelming. Artificial fragrances can’t cover the underlying bleaches, solvents, and other nasties.
Alright, so vinegar isn’t exactly eau de toilette. It’s the scent version of an acquired taste, to be sure, and I admit my bias. But vinegar is an honest smell, and I’ve come to love the scent of apple cider vinegar in the air after a day of scrubbing down counters, sinks and floors. And if you really dislike its smell, or just want something a little different, here’s a quick how-to on adding natural flower fragrances to vinegar.Bonus paragraph: you don’t actually need to buy cleaning rags! I have lots of pieces of worn-out clothing, holey socks, and other bits of fabric that I’ve collected over the years. Once they’ve been used (one set for the kitchen, another for the bathroom, etc.) a couple loads of laundry (cold water, hot dryer, earth-friendly detergent) will render them clean and usable again. While I’ve had to throw a few out now and then when cleaning up something that I can’t run through the wash (like spilled cooking grease), the vast majority come out of the dryer all ready to go again.
Recycled Toilet Paper
Here in Oregon, logging is big business, and clearcuts are all too common sights along our highways and byways. While some of the trees felled are made into lumber and other wood products, a fair amount become paper. In fact, 27,000 trees are flushed down the toilet as paper every single day. Think about it–that’s almost ten million trees every year.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that will slow the demand for new trees while also keeping Americans (and others) from having to switch over to bidets and other water-based alternatives. Companies such as Seventh Generation, Trader Joe’s, and Marcal manufacture toilet paper made of recycled paper pulp (though not recycled toilet paper, thankfully). Different brands vary according to how much of that paper is post-consumer waste, or paper that came through recycling programs rather than just being the leftover scraps from a paper mill. Most brands will include anywhere from 40 to 80 percent post-consumer paper.
Ignore the stereotypes of scratchy, stiff, thin-ply rolls, while you’re at it. Modern recycled TPs are just as soft and effective as the conventional rolls, and aren’t that much more expensive. I usually buy a twelve-pack at Trader Joe’s for about $4.50, and it serves our household as toilet paper, tissue for runny noses, makeup pads, and more.
And it is an effective switch, too. We could save over 420,000 trees if every household in the US replaced just one roll of conventional TP with a roll made from recycled paper. (I suppose I balance out eleven not-so-green households with every purchase I make.)
Understandably, even these small changes may not be accessible to everyone. Some areas, especially in more rural places, may not have a “specialty” item like recycled toilet paper. Some people can’t afford to drop $5 for a dozen eggs, especially if they have a big family and an even bigger grocery bill already. And while vinegar and baking soda are perfectly effective for cleaning, there are plenty of people (to include significant others and other family members, roommates, coworkers, and others) who will never give up their conventional cleaning chemicals no matter how well you word your argument otherwise.
But this article is just a starting point. These are three examples, not mandates. Think about your own current situation. What changes can you make? Are you able to make a few changes for the greener–not just ecologically but also financially? Can you at least cut down on your consumption of various goods, especially those that have a higher toll on the environment?
Do what you can now, and plan for what you may do in the future. Share with others, and encourage each other’s efforts. Every little bit does count.