Wrap-up: Washing bags, hybrid 7-seaters, stockpiling and salad dressing

The Internet has been bursting with economic and environmental news, good and gloomy. Who needs gloom? Not us. Here are some interesting stories to carry you around the Web this week:

Green office ideas & $10 OfficeMax card giveaway

Read on for the chance to win one of two $10 off a $10 purchase at OfficeMax cards!

For the new year, many of us probably established a green resolution at home. Did you take that resolve to work?

Most offices and schools have a long way to go to improve their environmental awareness. The basics might be in place — recycling and using lower-energy lights and heating/cooling options — or they might not.

Individuals can make a difference by using a glass or reusable water bottle instead of disposables, minimizing lunch time waste and choosing responsible transportation options.

Here are a few more ways to help:

Although bright and neon papers are eye-catching, these papers are no longer accepted for recycling by most paper mills. The dyes in bright papers are made with toxic heavy metals (cadmium, arsenic, and others), making these papers much more resource intensive and costly to recycle. The toxic dyes contaminate the environment by leaching into watersources. (Source: University of Colorado)

  • If your school’s kids drink a lot of Capri Sun or Kool-Aid beverages in juice pouches, sign up for the TerraCycle Drink Pouch Brigade. They will upcycle pouches into another product rather than throwing them away.  (It would be best to go reusable … but kudos to them for doing something.)
  • Buy recycled office products where you can. At OfficeMax I recently found some of these products, also from TerraCycle. They also now carry eco-packing material to stuff envelopes (although they did not have paper shipping tape).

Want an OfficeMax card?

Leave a comment stating something you have done or want to do to green your office or school. Be sure to leave an e-mail address with your comment. I’ll randomly choose two winners and contact you to mail you the gift card for $10 off a $10 purchase — cards expire Feb. 21, 2009.

This giveaway ends on Feb. 2.

What green actions do I still do?

About a year ago, I added a feature to my blog (over in the right-hand column) listing what we do to live greener. With a new year underway, I thought it was a great time to revisit this list and see what we’re still doing.

If you’re new here, the links will take you back to some of the relevant posts on each of these topics.

1.    Hang laundry to dry – SORTA – I hung laundry all spring, summer and fall, but this winter, I have fallen back on the dryer. I’ve been too busy to do a load each day, which is the best way to have enough space to hang our laundry. And Mr. Cheap loves that his shirts come out of the dryer unwrinkled, so he doesn’t have to iron them. I hung laundry out the other day in our unseasonably warm weather, and I’ll do it again this spring. Downside: Our electricity bill has increased.

2.    Use wind-powered electricity – YES – We still pay to purchase all wind power from Xcel.

3.    Do not accept plastic bags – YES – Very seldom does a plastic bag enter our house — usually only when Mr. Cheap goes somewhere without bags or means to carry separate items home.

4.    Compost food waste – YES

5.    Choose recycled purchases when possible – YES

6.    Recycle paper, cardboard, metal, plastic – YES – And in fact, we are recycling more types of plastic (including tubs and plastic caps) and materials like Styrofoam through special occasional trips to Ecocycle.

7.    Turn off lights we’re not using – SORTA – I always do this; my family is less consistent.

8.    Turn off water while rinsing/brushing – YES – Little Cheap even does this in public restrooms while sudsing her hands.

9.    Use high-efficiency washing machine – YES

10.    Dishwasher – full loads, water saver, turn off dry cycle – YES

11.    Turn refrigerator temp up to 43F – YES

12.    Buy many items used – YES

13.    Recycle, Freecycle, consign, donate instead of trashing items – YES

14.    Use cloth handkerchiefs – YES – We have tissues for others’ use at our home, and we are buying recycled tissues.

15.    Use cloth napkins – YES

16.    Print on both sides of paper and re-use paper before recycling – YES, and we try to reduce printing as much as possible.

17.    Unplug appliances – SORTA – We added a timer to our coffee maker to turn it off when not in use, and we unplug what we can. The computer goes to deep sleep when not in use, and we turn off the TV, Wii and DVD player at a power strip when not in use.

18.    Bring own water bottle & coffee cups – YES – I have invested in more coffee cups (on clearance! — including a BPA-free one for me) to help make this easier.

19.    Grow our own vegetables – YES – and we purchased most vegetables this year from a CSA.

20.    Drive gently to get better mileage – YES – although I don’t know if it really helps!

21.    Reduce hair dryer use – YES

22.    Use low-flow toilets – YES

23.    Flush less – YES

24.    Choose EnergyStar appliances – YES

25.    Add low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators – YES

26.    Get books/movies at library instead of buying/renting – YES – We are careful about what we buy, especially movies, which we realize we don’t watch repeatedly.

27.    Use evaporative cooler, not A/C – YES

28.    Use programmable thermostat to turn heat down at night (55F)/when gone – YES

29.    Use bio-friendly soap – YES

30.    Clean with baking soda and vinegar – YES

31.    Buy organic and/or local foods – YES – We have cut down on coupon usage primarily because we’re more focused on organic and local.

32.    Eliminated subscriptions (1 newspaper, 12 catalogs, 2 magazines, 4 companies) – YES

33.    Choose “cleaner” energy-using appliances – YES – This means using the electric kettle (if you read that linked post, check out the update here, too) over the gas stove burner because our wind-power electricity is easier on the environment than our natural gas stove.

34.    Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs – YES

35.    Make own foods (less packaging) – YES

36.    Buy bulk products & refill to reduce packaging – YES

37.    Wash and re-use plastic bags we do use – YES

38.    Use cloth toilet “paper” – NO – I’ve given this up — it hardly seemed worth the hassle of washing all those little cloths and dealing with odor. We used about 35 rolls of toilet paper in 2008, and we purchase recycled one-ply paper. By these estimates that comprised about 0.13 trees.

39.    Use reusable menstrual products – YES

40.    Use public transportation when possible – NO – haven’t been doing this much. It will cost my husband more and be more inconvenient to take the bus to work, especially when he lugs his “teacher bags” along, so we haven’t done much with this one. We try to walk where we can.

41.    Combine errands – YES

42.    Electric blankets instead of space heaters – YES

43.    Reuse gift wrap – YES – and made my own reusable bags this year.

Phew! I have about a 90 percent consistency rate.

Do you have a green action you’re really proud of? Something hard to do? Something you want to try? Something you wonder about?

Cleaner cars OK’d by Obama

Good news on the car emissions front. This today from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Less than a week into office, President Obama announced monumental decisions this morning that show America and the world that he will lead our country in a bold new direction to protect the environment and fight global warming.

The President directed his EPA to immediately review the Bush Administration’s denial of the right of California and other states to set global warming pollution standards for new cars. He also directed the Department of Transportation to set higher national fuel efficiency standards.

What will that mean in the real world? If Obama’s EPA, as expected, approves the California program, new cars sold in that state and at least 13 others will have to reduce their global warming pollution by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. And the Department of Transportation will require more efficient new cars to be on the road starting in 2010, and set a course for the average new car to achieve maximum feasible fuel efficiency by 2020.

Simply put, President Obama is not just stepping up to the threat of climate chaos. His call for a fleet of cleaner cars will help reduce our dangerous dependence on oil and push automakers to make the cars that the world wants and needs in the 21st century.

NRDC’s climate attorneys were present at the White House this morning, and you can imagine their elation at this historic breakthrough. Thanks to your support, NRDC led the fight in 2002 for California’s Clean Cars Law — the very first law to cut global warming pollution from automobiles.

And when the Bush Administration and the automakers threw up roadblocks to that law, NRDC and our partners took the legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court — and won. But the Bush EPA persisted in its unlawful obstructionism until the bitter end.

This morning, President Obama took America’s foot off the brake and put cleaner cars into high gear. The automakers should be lining up to thank him. This is just the kind of turbo-charged policy they need to start producing cars that are better for the planet, better for consumers, and better for the economy.

This is especially good considering news that was released on NPR today that global warming is irreversible, for practical purposes — meaning that we should reduce our carbon dioxide emissions NOW to try to have a positive influence for people in, oh, a thousand years.

Free Coffee, Free Samples at Panera Bread in Colorado

This is from Food Bank of the Rockies, for Colorado readers. Help a good cause and enjoy some free goodies.

WHO: You! Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: Share the Warmth

WHERE: All Panera Bread locations in Colorado (as well as many Panera Bread bakery-cafes across the country). For a complete list of Colorado locations, please visit panera-colorado.com and click “Locations.”

WHEN: All Day Wednesday, January 28, 2009 (bakery-café hours vary)

WHY: Enjoy a FREE cup of Panera’s New Brewed Coffee, sample breakfast items such as Panera’s Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches and New Yogurt Granola Parfaits, and support Panera’s Denver-metro Operation Dough Nation Partner, Food Bank of the Rockies. Panera Bread will match customer cash donations on Jan. 28 up to $250 per bakery-café. Panera’s national goal is to raise a quarter of a million dollars in one day for Operation Dough Nation Partners. All funds raised in our community will assist our community.

Eat Right to Change the World

The past few days, all kinds of depressing new information about the environment has come out. Mostly, global warming is here to stay; the ice is melting all over Antarctica; and things are going to get hotter and hotter over the next 100 years, which will seriously impact food supplies, especially in areas where hunger already is a problem.

Sigh.

So it was refreshing to turn on NPR yesterday and hear an interview with Mark Bittman about his book “Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.”

According to Bittman, Americans average 200 lbs. of meat per person, per year. (I believe he’s talking all kinds of meat – beef, pork, chicken, fish.) He pointed out that’s about half a pound a day per person.

If each of us eats 10 meals with meat, he says, and we gave up meat at two of those meals, that would eliminate about a pound of meat a week — and reduce our annual intake by almost one-fourth.

What would that do for the planet?

Well, Bittman said, we slaughter 100 billion animals per year in the United States.

100 BILLION. That’s about three animals per man, woman and child. Some of those animals are little. But some of them are really, really big (like cows).  All those cows produce methane, a gas that is key to greenhouse gas production and global warming. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that cattle produce 28 percent of the global methane emissions from human-related activities.

If we cut our consumption by 20 percent, we could significantly reduce those emissions.

What would it do for you?

Bittman said that he previously ate “typically American.” That means lots of meat — surely at least those 10 meals a week. This is a man, after all, whose “How to Cook Everything” includes diagrams of which cuts of meat come from where.

Now, he says he avoids meat at breakfast and lunch, but might eat meat at dinner.

After just a few months of the new diet, Bittman says, he noticed improvements to his health: “I lost 35 pounds — which is about 15 percent of my body weight — my cholesterol went down 40 points; my blood sugar went from borderline bad to just fine; [and] my knees, which were starting to give out as a result of running at too high a weight, got better.”

On air, he also said he eliminated his sleep apnea, which was probably related to being overweight.

Read the whole interview summary (and listen) here.

Editor’s note: There are also a few recipes at that link. However, on air he said it’s a good idea to cut eggs and dairy — milk, butter — out of your diet as much as you can, for the maximum benefit all around. But the recipes are a breakfast bread pudding (with eggs and butter … and who has 1.5 hours to prepare breakfast?!), and a yogurt-and-egg-laden chocolate pudding. But they’re probably tasty.

15% off at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s today only

Word on the street is that as part of a class action settlement, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s stores are having a “customer appreciation day” today (Jan. 22, 2009) with 15% off all purchases.

Personally, I’m a big fan of buying luxury sheets at these places, and that savings won’t be shabby — but our current sheets are getting that way after years of use.

Of course, if you know you’re only going to be tempted to overspend, steer clear — or hit the thrift store instead.

Membership warehouse deals

If you are thinking about joining a membership warehouse — Costco or Sam’s Club — this is a great time to do it. Both warehouses are offering bonuses if you join now. This just in from Linsey at Wise Bread’s Best Deals:

$40 in Free Products when you Join Costco – Sign up for a membership (costs $50) and get free stuff when you mention promo code 22019 (for Gold Star Membership) or 22025 (for Business Membership). Featured free gifts include: FREE rotisserie chicken, FREE photo processing, FREE Kirkland Signature 2 lb. bag of coffee, and more.

And don’t forget that Sam’s Club is still offering a free $25 gift card with new membership – but today’s the last day!

If you want to receive Best Deals directly, go to the Web site and sign up here.

Natural hair is green

That picture over there? Definitely not natural.

Going natural with your hair is the green choice, for your own health and that of the planet.

As an added bonus, you won’t look like that family.

Thinking about the amount of work and hairspray required to create this image, I walked through our two bathrooms and counted our hair products. The result:

16

Our products include shampoos and conditioners, detangling spray, gels, creams, waxes, mousse and hair spray.

Surely these things aren’t necessary. We aren’t exactly a gang of fashionistas and metrosexuals.

On the other hand, my hair tends to get limp; my husband’s, fuzzy; and my daughter’s, a mass of tangles without superhuman assistance. So we have different products for different people. I have the styling products, but I also have the less fussy shampoo routine.

To green your hair routine and mine, here are some suggestions:

  • Toss what you don’t use. Do a cabinet inventory and throw out old products. It doesn’t matter if your stylist persuaded you to buy a $32 tube of gel two years ago and you can’t bear to “waste” it. If you aren’t using it, toss it. Cosmetics expire, too. And if you don’t have it staring you in the face, you might realize you don’t need it and save money and resources by not using it again.
  • Consider less plastic. I’ve switched to a shampoo bar. Not only does the packaging contain no plastic (paper wrapper), the ingredients are all natural, and it’s lasted for a long time so far. It’s eliminated the itchy scalp I was getting from regular shampoo.  My only caveat: Once I forgot to rinse it immediately, and it started to harden up a bit in my hair, so rinse quickly with this one (no forgetting while you shave your legs).
  • Consider “no poo” – going without shampoo. I guess my ego is too fragile to switch all the way to this method. Maybe on a vacation sometime? But if you are interested, Crunchy Chicken is right there with you — read her comments for an overview of opinions about whether it works.  And Melinda at One Green Generation posted detailed instructions and a picture of her beautiful shampoo-free locks.
  • Research ingredients before you buy. A great place to do this is on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database. Gird your loins first — you might be shocked. Or you might be pleasantly surprised (my mascara, for instance, is OK).
  • Consider alternatives. Fake Plastic Fish has blogged about this natural hair conditioning product (called The Name Is Product). Check the ingredients list before you buy any product.
  • Go short or long. There’s a reason hippies had long hair, which is that long hair can be low maintenance. If it doesn’t get all greasy and require twice-daily washing, and if it really looks nice brushed out or tied up, long hair can be gorgeous and green. (My inner style critic would mention here that past a certain age, most people don’t look the greatest with long hair, however, partly due to textural changes as hair goes gray.) Short hair, on the other hand, can be green too: It takes less water and shampoo to wash, requires less conditioning, and doesn’t necessarily require as much styling as other lengths.
  • Minimize electrics. Of course, any length of hair is greenest if you can let it air dry. When I got my hair cut short a year or so ago, not only did I get lots of compliments, I discovered that it looks OK when it air dries. It looks *better* if I blow dry it, but I’ve gained the option of partly blow-drying it and partly letting it dry — meaning I use the blow-dryer for just a couple of minutes. No flat irons, curling irons or hot rollers need be applied.

I truly believe this is a “different strokes for different folks” issue, and I don’t think we have to sacrifice personal appearance — but do think about what changes you can make or have made to be kinder to your bod and your surroundings, too. You might even save a few bucks in the process.