Green IS the New Black

Hey guys, bed-ridden Allie here going a bit out of her mind. 🙂 I miss blogging, so I decided to write about something I have gotten more passionate about over the years – finding ways to be green and frugal while still maintaining style and fun in life.

Yes, it really is possible to marry the two. One does not have to grow out her armpit hair and cover B.O. with patchouli to be eco-friendly and wallet-friendly. In fact, many green efforts can be quite beautiful.

1. Crunchy Clean. This stuff is AWESOME. It is a laundry detergent sold on Etsy and Hyena Cart. You need very little (1-2 tablespoons per large load) and it smells utterly divine. There are so many fragrances to choose from – I had Baby Bee and it smelled like baby clothes but was nice for adult garments too. Got a… rosemary and bergamot that I didn’t like because it was too masculine but now have Crisp & Candied for the holiday season and it is delish. The line also has a special detergent for cloth diapers that cleans without soap buildup (causes cloth diapers to repel moisture). The cost ends up being like 35 cents per load – far cheaper than any decent detergent at the grocery store. Also it is shipped with little packaging – less waste (the seller even will give you 50 cents off your next order if you return the bag from the previous order). I currently keep it in the plastic bag, but once the laundry room is finished will go to Goodwill to get some old glass candy jars to store the product nicely.

2. Dryer Balls. Fabric softener makes fabric less absorbent and sometimes irritates the skin (and are extra bottles and shipping costs). Dryer sheets are just extra waste. What to do to prevent static cling but be eco friendly? Dryer balls.

Dryer balls can come in various forms – nubby rubber, vented plastic, tightly wound wool yarn, etc. When they go in the dryer with your clothes, they help fabrics move, prevent static ling and creasing. Once can also use tennis balls but they make quite a racket (har har, I said RACKET). Dryer balls are a gentler version.

Another option is if your washer offers a rinse cycle – a tiny bit of vinegar will prevent most static cling and keep your fabrics nice and soft!

3. Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap. One bottle can wash your body, your hands, your husband’s hair, your sink, your tub, your baby’s bum, your makeup brushes, your dog, and more. It’s a soap made from essential oils so it doesn’t strip and isn’t full of scary chemicals.

My husband likes the peppermint for his body, I prefer the citrus or almond scents for me. I use the peppermint with baking soda to clean the bathroom, the unfragranced to wash Ruckus. 10% Dr. Bronner’s and 90% water mixed in a foaming hand soap container will replace your Softsoap, Method or Dial. One drop will remove all oils and product from the most expensive of makeup brushes. My husband uses this stuff to wash his hair (he’s low maintenance) and it cleans it without drying it out. You need very very little to get the job done.

I personally love being able to take the bottle of body wash, squeeze some on the tub, sprinkle down some baking soda, push around a sponge, rinse and immediately be able to take a bath. No worries that I am soaking in weird chemicals or tub filth. I also like that if I wash Ruckus, I don’t worry that he will wash himself and end up lapping up leftover soap.

4. Make Your Own Stock. How awesome does your house smell on Thanksgiving? Well you can have that great smell on a more regular basis while getting rid of random vegetable scraps, turkey and chicken carcasses and leftovers AND fill your freezer with lovely homemade stock (which will make food taste great AND make your freezer work less hard to keep everything else cold).

Get some heavy-duty freezer bags. It’s worth it to splurge on the good ones because you can reuse these bags a couple times. Put the date on the front with a sharpie, grease pencil, etc. Then as you cook, fill these bags with scraps. Cut up celery? Dump the soggy pieces, the rough edges, the base into the bag. Same with carrots, the leftover pieces of an onion, the ends of peppers. Those mushrooms that are no longer firm but not yet icky? Don’t toss them, put them in the freezer bag. Also add the leftover baby carrots that got rubbery or white, stems from fresh herbs, fresh spinach that started to wilt, edges of tomatoes that weren’t pretty enough for the salad and most any produce that would otherwise be tossed. Before you toss anything in the bag, be sure it’s clean, and it’s cut up into at least 1” chunks (makes it easier when you get around to actually making the stock).

When you have filled two gallon bags, you’re pretty much ready to start making stock (you may only need one bag if you are making a meat-based stock).

For vegetarian stock:
1. In a heavy stock pot, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and heat.
2. Sauté the harder veggies (carrots, celery, onions, peppers), garlic and any herbs. If you don’t have all this stuff collected in your bags, you may wish to add a couple cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, some fresh thyme and parsley for base flavor.
3. When everything is soft, add a couple quarts of water and a teaspoon of salt. Then add any soft vegetables (spinach leaves, tomatoes).
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer at least 30 minutes (I sometimes let it go almost an hour)
5. Strain through cheesecloth and discard vegetables.

I then store it in Ziploc freezer bags, writing on the front the date and how many cups are in each bag. I usually store 2-3 cups per bag because that is how much I use in a recipe. And yes, those Ziploc baggies get washed and reused for the next go-round.

Before I became a vegetarian, I would make chicken stock every time I had roasted a chicken for a meal. Nothing better to fully get your money’s worth from a bird!

Ingredients:
• 2 1/2 pounds bony chicken pieces (usually worked to just have the chicken carcass that still had some meat and stuff still on it)
• 2 celery ribs with leaves, cut into chunks, 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks, 2 medium onions, quartered (again easily collected in the freezer with previous recipes)
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 8 whole peppercorns
• 2 quarts cold water

Directions:
1. Place all ingredients in a large stock pot.
2. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat.
3. Skim foam.
4. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.
5. Strain broth.
6. Refrigerate overnight so you can skim the fat from the surface.
7. Store in freezer bags just like the veggie stock.

5. Make Your Own Dish Rags. What do you do with old tee shirts? Do you donate them to Goodwill? Throw them in the trash? Lots of time really ratty clothing that is donated is tossed in the trash. Keep stuff from the landfill and reduce your use of paper towels by making those old tees into dish and cleaning rags.

I cut off the side seams, the hem, and right across the sleeves so I end up with two squares/triangles. Then depending on if it is my husband’s XXL tee or my fitted female tee, I may cut it smaller. I usually end up with a couple of pieces a bit larger than the size of a standard paper towel. I don’t serge or hem the edges and never have trouble with fraying. I fold them up and stick them in a pail under the sink, in a drawer, a few in the linen closet upstairs. Then when I need to dust, clean up a spill, wash the dog bowl I grab one. I know some people who keep them always moist in a cleaning solution, but that seems messy and gross to me.

These rags are super handy. They are soft enough to work on delicate surfaces, they pick up dust really well, hold onto cleansers and suds nicely, help polish silver, are awesome at getting rid of the icky dust that accumulates on mini blinds and fan blades, and they can be tossed in the wash and dry super fast (I usually don’t put them in the dryer, just hang them over the dishtowel rack or a shower curtain rod and they are dry soon after). I even use them as napkins when we have messy and casual food like pizza or subs. The only thing I find they suck at is cleaning glass – even after several washes they are prone to dropping lint.

This really can be done with many other garments, but I find tees to be those that are the easiest to cut up, the fastest to go bad in the wardrobe, and the least likely to be resalable at the local thrift store and the sturdiest after many washes.

6. Bring Your Own Bag to Stores. Yes, we all know we are supposed to bring bags to the grocery store. But what about Target? Sephora? Bed, Bath and Beyond?

Nine times out of ten, I find that whatever I buy can usually fit in my purse. A lot of times things that are too big for my purse are really no easier carried with a bag (hello toilet paper, six pack of beer, small electronic already in a box). For all other times, I carry a bag IN my bag.

One year for Christmas I got one of these nylon totes that scrunches up into its own little carrying bag so it’s as small as a compact umbrella. I hardly ever used this bag except for travel – always nice to have an extra carry-on if vacation shopping got out of hand. Well now I tuck it in my purse and whip it out at any store. It’s not really a good size for groceries, but it’s perfect when purchasing one sweater, a few cosmetics, new light switch covers at Home Depot, etc. I bet already in your home you have some little tote that can fold up to almost nothing and fit in your purse!

Another great idea is to make a few produce bags. Hopefully by now you are carrying your own bags to the grocery store, but you are probably still bagging up your produce in those flimsy plastic bags that usually go straight into the trash. You don’t need to be crafty to make up some bags out of mesh, tulle, etc. to use for your apples and oranges. The bags don’t even need a drawstring – if you place them correctly in the cart and in your bag for the way home, your veggies and fruit will be protected just fine. Really, just need to sew three sides like a pillowcase – you can even have one side a print and the other a mesh (just enough for the cashier to see what you are buying).

I also found Reuseable Produce Bags at Amazon.

And really, stop and think about it. If you are purchasing just two grapefruit, no bag is needed at all. You will wash your produce when you get home, after having people manhandle it in the store, a trip on the conveyor belt and then in your bag heading home is not going to cause any worse of contamination. Most times we don’t use a produce bag at all – we save the reusable ones for things like grapes, tomatoes, leafy greens and other things that can get bruised or fall apart if not properly bagged.

7. Frequent your Local Farmers Market. For the most gorgeous produce, the most savory coffee, the freshest eggs and meats, the prettiest flowers, the coolest crafts and the tastiest breads don’t head to your local Whole Foods – find your nearby farmers market! Farmers markets are no longer just tomatoes and corn – they have such an amazing variety of everything imaginable. Heirloom versions of produce you only see on the Food Network, rare varieties of unexpected fruit, super yum bakery goods, mine even has coffee and ice cream!

Everything is very fresh, nothing is covered in wax, and you are buying that which is in season and grown on the vine. Many celebs this day are doing diets where they only eat what is grown locally and in season – this isn’t to be pretentious. It has been shown that the body is healthier and happier when eating what is correct for your specific region and season. This is also good because you are cutting down on fuel costs to refrigerate and transport food across the country (or countries), and packing materials.

Don’t forget to bring your chic shopping bag with you!

8. Carry Your Own Cup. Every coffee shop these days seems to give you some sort of deal for bringing your own cup – then why the heck don’t you do it? Even if they don’t, your own insulated travel mug is going to keep that java warm and lovely far longer than the paper one from the retailer.

I carry a Camelbak sippy water bottle with me everywhere – it’s water tight, holds 32 ounces, is a pretty teal color and keeps my pregnant self hydrated without spending dough and filling landfills with buying bottled water. At the beginning of the day I fill it with ice and a bit of water – it melts through the day giving me cold water when I need it. I carry it in a part of my bag where condensation is not a problem.

At work, I have my own coffee mug and choose to save dough by using the Starbucks-brand coffee that they have for the kitchen machines. Nothing lovelier than walking through the wintry streets of DC with a steaming cup of coffee from my favorite coffee place, but I can save several bucks (and lots of waste) by waiting until I get to work.

9. Bring Your Lunch. So easy to head to the nearby Au Bon Pain or Burger King for a quick lunch… but it’s not always the most healthy and not always the cheapest option. On top of it, you’re always ending up with tons of paper products going into the trash – from receipt to sandwich wrapper to salt packet to extra napkins.

When you bring your own lunch, you know you won’t find some stranger’s hair in your soup, you won’t have hidden oils and fats, you have more portion control, and it’s better for the planet. Bag lunches don’t have to be bologna sandwiches in paper bags – one can get quite elegant or fun with lunch preparation.

I have seen blogs just about bento lunches, vegan bag lunches, and elegant Mediterranean meals. I know I have the most joy from my lunch when I vary up what I bring. A microwavable container of minestrone soup, a piece of sourdough bread, a slice of cheese, a small square of dark chocolate, a couple olives. Leftovers seem so much nicer when in nice containers and with a cloth napkin. At my job, we have all sorts of fab condiments in the communal kitchen and fridge – from wasabi mayonnaise to pickled ginger to balsamic vinegar. If your office doesn’t do this – ask if your fellow brown-baggers if they would be interested. Saves money, saves waste, makes brown bagging better!

10. Think Before You… do most anything! When you go out to eat, how many napkins do you grab? After reading your paper (or drink your beverage or remove your meal from cardboard), do you put it in a recycling bin or the regular trash? Do you really need to buy cases of bottled water, or would your lifestyle work with a water filtration pitcher or sink attachment? Why throw all those socks and small items in the dryer – hang them over the shower curtain rod and they will be dry by next morning. Unplug those cell and iPod chargers when not in use. Buy in bulk when it makes sense (I have elegant stainless canisters for bulk-purchased brown rice, oatmeal, polenta, flour and beans). Turn down the thermostat just one degree – you won't feel it but your utility bill will. Give your hair a vacation – one day a week let it air dry instead of hitting it with the tools. Visit your local thrift store before Target – amazing the things you can find there (hello Williams Sonoma stainless measuring cups, Crate & Barrel plates, quirky pint glasses from local pubs, etc.). Do a fashion swap day with friends – everyone bring that which they no longer wear and shop from one another's wardrobes. Hit up eBay before you hit up the mall. Amazing what you can do that is so easy, but makes so much sense!

There are so so SO many other ideas – I would love to hear what some of you guys do! 🙂

Go green with organic plant oils from Melvita

11 Comments

  1. December 22, 2008 / 5:39 pm

    This is a great post! I love all of the suggestions and highly recommend the making of one’s own stock. It really beats the price and flavor of commercially made stuff.

    I wanted to try Dr. Bronner’s but I heard that the oils in it can stain materials. Has anyone had a problem with this?

    Also, Allie, how do you wash your veggies? I use water now, but know that isn’t enough. I also want to avoid relying on the expensive, special “veggie washes” I see in the stores…

  2. December 21, 2008 / 9:27 pm

    Great post, Allie! I, too, use Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and baking soda to clean the bathroom, except I combine the two to make a paste that is the consistency of frosting. Then I put some on with a damp sponge and spread it around. If the tub is especially grimy, I add a bit of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda to the mixture. That really steps up the cleaning power without being abrasive.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Tisha
    December 19, 2008 / 10:35 pm

    What a great and informative read. I have been trying to go green and I love tip #6 about bringing bags to the store. It has never crossed my mind to take bags to the mall. It makes so much sense but I just never thought about it. Thanks.

  4. Anonymous
    December 19, 2008 / 12:22 pm

    Allie,
    Another great use for old T-shirts is breast pads for the nursing mom. The breasts are tender at first, and the t-shirt fabric is sooo soft and nice compared to the scratchy disposable paper pads you get at the store. Just toss them in the wash and reuse!

  5. Madeleine
    December 19, 2008 / 10:29 am

    Phew! I am so glad to read that I am part of a growing army that takes their own mugs to get coffee and bags when out shopping. Your tips about the cleaning products sound awesome- I hope that I can get them in the UK.. Don’t have any tips that you haven’t already covered, except the power of walking. I always carry my heels in my bag until I get to work and try and walk as much of the journey into work as possible- good for the environment and for keeping the weight off!The other tip is to spend wisely when buying clothing: a friend says ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ and I say, if you feel fabulous, buy it, if you don’t, leave it in the shop. I guess it’s obvious, but how many of us have a wardrobe that is full of items that we bought and really don’t feel that great in? My NY resolution is to be absolutely ruthless about not buying anything that doesn’t make me feel great!
    Allie, I wish you a safe, joyful delivery and a wonderful Christmas and NY- I am sure that I am not the only one who can’t wait to see the pics!

  6. December 19, 2008 / 3:46 am

    I will try Dr Bronner’s. I am looking for things that won’t be harsh on my skin. We are planning on a baby soon, too, and I want natural things.

  7. December 18, 2008 / 11:56 am

    Ali, re:reusable bags, here in Ireland everybody brings their own bags to the supermarket as a plastic bag costs 22c. This levy was brought in a few years ago to try and cut down on the use of plastic bags, and it has really worked.
    Clothes shops etc give paper bags, and butchers/fishmongers etc are exempt from the levy. You automatically get your meat/fish in a plastic bag.

  8. Anonymous
    December 17, 2008 / 11:39 pm

    Hi Allie,
    I have always loved your blog and have used so many of your tips and can relate to many of the things you write. Thank you!
    I was pregnant last year and started using Dr.Bronner’s castile soap to avoid some chemicals and love it since it is so versatile as you have mentioned. I have used it to shampoo my hair but overtime it tends to get my hair more oily and sticky so I alternate it with my regular shampoo. I also started using vinegar and baking soda for cleaning my kitchen and bathroon as part of going green and cutting down on chemicals. Arrival of a baby makes us do good things 🙂

    About your pregnancy clothes, I would suggest you hang on to a few that wouldn’t look like they were bought during pregnancy. I am glad I did since for 3 or 4 months I couldn’t fit into my pre-pregnancy pants thanks to the lower belly that still hasn’t gone back to it’s normal size- sigh! The empire waist tops and dresses came in handy. I also loved my ON ponte maternity pants post maternity – I agree with you it is the best.

    Keep up your awesome blog. I wish you a safe and easy delivery and a great holiday season.
    In

  9. kh
    December 17, 2008 / 10:23 pm

    Cloth diapers are a great way to go easy on the environment. One disposable diaper takes 500 years to biodegrade. Even Seven Generation diapers. If you want (or need) to use disposables the two brands to use are Nature Care (available on Amazon and diapers.com) or gDiapers. Both biodegrade quickly.

  10. Anonymous
    December 17, 2008 / 8:26 pm

    http://www.reusablebags.com has a fabulous assortment of reusable shopping bags, water bottles, lunch bags, etc. I love this site! An extra bonus: your purchases count! They donate 1% of sales to environmental organizations. And if you need a last minute gift for the holidays there is still time to place an order and have it arrive in time. Place your order & choose UPS 2nd Day Air for only $9.95. No minimum purchase required! (offer ends Saturday Dec 20th at noon)

  11. a brown-eyed grrl
    December 17, 2008 / 2:54 pm

    I shop for everything possible at the farmer’s market…even soap and coffee.

    Also, check out Juice Organics for an eco-friendly beauty line. It’s sold at drugstore.com and Ulta, made by the ladies who make the much more expensive Juice Beauty. I like their tinted sunblock because I can’t use chemical screens, and most titanium and zinc sunblocks make you pasty white.

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