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.


Get out blood stains (and sweat, wine and more)

If you are looking for an eco-friendly and resource-light way to eliminate bloodstains and other protein-based stains, look no further than your trusty bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Last weekend, Little Cheap got a bloody nose at a friend’s house. She brought home with her a shirt splashed with blood stains that had sat overnight. Yikes …

Luckily, hydrogen peroxide came to the rescue. I have seen instructions for making stain removing pastes to get rid of the blood. But I simply dampened the fabric and drizzled some peroxide on the blood. Where there was blood, the peroxide turned into satisfying fizz. I rinsed the shirt (with lovely rusty water coming off the cloth) and threw it in the wash. Good as new!

You can also use peroxide to remove pet stains on hard surfaces and stains on counters. It’s one of the options for removing perspiration stains. And mixed with dish detergent, it apparently takes out wine stains, too.

Thrift stores won’t be affected by lead-testing law

Good news for those, like me, who have been alarmed by news about new lead-testing requirements from the Consumer Product Safety Commission: As of yesterday, federal regulators have decided thrift-store and consignment operators won’t have to test used children’s clothes for lead.

This is a big relief for people like me who like to buy children’s clothing used — and even more so for those who must do so, and of course, most of all, for operators of these establishments.

The law requiring testing passed last August and goes into effect on Feb. 10. Still up in the air as to how it will affect them are smaller retailers, craftspersons, and people who sell or distribute books — including libraries.

The law’s purpose is to eliminate lead and phthalates from children’s products. So far, so good. Many thrift and consignment stores already do not sell plastic toys because of concerns about contaminates in the plastic. But re-use stores were worried — and small craftspeople still are — that the onerous testing fees would drive them out of business immediately.

But who has heard of a child sickened or killed by a T-shirt? Logically, clothing should be less risky than toys for children, simply because it is less likely to be chewed or sucked on, and because children wear each garment only sporadically (4-year-old boys in superhero costumes excepted).

Thankfully, regulators seem to be coming to their senses. It’s all well and good — and important — to protect our children. But eliminating the trade in used items, making clothing affordable to everyone, and keeping all those briefly worn garments out of landfills, would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Do you have any information or opinions about this issue, or scientific backing to share?

Quick tip: Cheapest gift bags ever

The holidays are here, and it is time to wrap those gifts.

So start eating cereal!

And save the empty bags. Wrap your gift in colored tissue paper, insert it in the plastic bag and tie with a bow. You could customize with Sunday funnies, draw on the outside and use any kind of ribbon — maybe a reusable hair band for a child, a headband for an athlete … you get the idea.

Goldfish crackers have a beautiful silver bag (just wash it out and/or wrap up your gift to avoid any leftover grease rubbing off on your present inside).

The possibilities are endless … and oh so frugal.

Super sugary soccer snacks

I had a “triumphant mom” moment a couple of weeks ago. Our soccer team alternates bringing snacks after the game each week. Two weeks ago, the snack included a bottle of Sunny Delight. My daughter asked what it was, and I said “an orange drink.” She took a couple of swigs and handed me the bottle.

“I don’t think I want to drink that,” she said. “It tastes like junk food.”

We looked at the ingredients panel, which was indeed pretty surprising. I anticipated seeing water, orange flavor, and probably some fruit juice (like the common ones, apple and grape, which provide fructose sweetener), along with citric acid to make it taste more like orange. Instead, we found this:

SunnyD® Tangy Original Style

Cellulose gum? Seriously?

It makes Gatorade look super simple — its ingredients are: Water, sucrose syrup, HFCS, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, coloring. And Gatorade has 60 calories per 8 ounces, while Sunny D has 120. Wow!

Our snacks usually include oranges at halftime and some juice and a goody (granola bar, rice krispie treat, etc.) afterward. I have brought homemade muffins or cookies in the past; the drink aspect makes me feel a bit guilty because of the waste, especially considering that every girl has a water bottle with her.

This week, it’s my turn to bring the post-game snacks. Any suggestions?

Back-to-school lunch — with less waste

My daughter went back to school yesterday, and it’s time to start sending her lunch in again. Additionally, she takes a water bottle to school daily. So I was on the hunt for more eco- and health-friendly lunch solutions.

Water bottles

Last year, we replaced her cheap plastic bottles and Nalgene (with BPA) bottles with a SIGG bottle. It still has a plastic lining, but it is a better bottle … if only she can learn to screw the cap on properly so it doesn’t leak all over. I was looking for a second bottle and was very happy to find this one, with no BPA and a virtually leak-proof top. We have her bring her bottle home every day and wash it out, rather than leaving it to absorb and ferment who-knows-what in her cubby.

Mr. Cheap and I have stainless bottles, but their seals are even harder for Little Cheap to manage. We still have some cheap bottles for once-in-a-while/might-get-lost events (especially where we’re not likely to drink anyway … like the one I sent to the pool with her on Tuesday).

Lunch box

For several years, Little Cheap has had a stackable Hello Kitty lunch box that we got at a Japanese market. Mr. Cheap has a stackable stainless “tiffin” lunch box from Chinatown. His is a lot like this one, only not quite so groovy looking.

The problem with that lunch box for Little Cheap is that her Sigg bottle was banged up and dented within 5 minutes of her owning it, so I worry that the steel would be banged out of fit right away. And she often takes along small things — ranch dressing, yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding — that would have to go in smaller containers in her lunch box, and they don’t fit in the “tiffin” box.

Then, at Vitamin Cottage, I found this:

It’s got no lead and it comes with four BPA-free containers (one large, one medium and two small) and a BPA-free drink bottle. (We don’t usually give a separate drink at lunch, especially now that she’s loving chocolate milk, but if we do, it’s much better than the cheap plastic bottles I bought a couple years ago that don’t work.) The small sizes are perfect for that yogurt/pudding serving. It cost a bundle … but on the other hand, we’ll be saving a small fortune by sending lunch with her. Her school lunch prices have risen to $4 this year.

Then, I’ve been looking for a shallow container to fit in the old lunchbox, for small servings, so I don’t need to use plastic bags. Finally yesterday I had a brainstorm and looked in the baby aisle. Voila, small “disposable” bowls (that will see a ton of re-use at our house) that will fit perfectly.

Waste facts & other options

The lunch box is made by Lunchopolis, which includes a bunch of facts on its Web site, including that every school-aged kid produces 67 pounds of waste per year.

The site reminds us to use a cloth napkin and reusable utensil in a lunchbox. We do this already — the oldest napkins go along to lunch, and we have a stash of cheap spoons and forks bought at the thrift store so if one doesn’t come home, our nice set of flatware is unaffected.

The containers in the new box are made of polycarbonate. I’m leery of it, but with new research not finding a major danger (relative to all the environmental dangers we face), we will use it for now — but we will not heat it, put hot foods in it, etc.

For you sandwich-eaters, have you tried the Wrap-N-Mat? It looks like a nice option for taking lunch along without plastic or foil — you just wipe off the inside.

A handy tool

Finally, if you find all this plastic info as confusing as I do, try this handy refrigerator chart. Just keep a pen handy to scratch out and write in the new data as it arrives.

And let us know what you do to keep your lunchtime waste lower.

Why shop resale – getting a $255 buy for $40

click for full size

click for full size

Earlier this week, Little Cheap and I hit up the Savers location that was so good to us about a year ago. At that time, we found some paddock boots that Little Cheap needed for riding classes for $5.99, a great toy (a horse that walks for $2) and some other things too.

No paddock boots this time (darn!), but we did find two Breyer horses, which Little Cheap collects. She was pleased to tell me that the two for $3 and $2 was an amazing savings, because they regularly run from $15 to $50 new.

We stocked up on some clothes for fall (and falls to come). This shopping trip gives a glimpse into how we often shop to save big time. Everything isn’t organic or fair trade. But by buying used, we are keeping the general flow of goods down. And especially for children, it’s easy to find great brands in amazing condition. We buy designer clothes at Target-clearance prices.

Here’s the breakdown of what’s in that photo — and what we saved.

  • Ugly (“but I LIKE it, Mom!”) bandana print shirt – $2.99 – similar to what I’d pay on Target clearance, similar quality. Size L.
  • Ugly (“but I LIKE it, Mom!”) plaid polyester nightgown – $0.99 – the price is right! I think it was picked because it looks a bit Little House on the Prairie-ish. Size M. At least $6 on Target clearance. Savings: $5.
  • Burton kids snowboard jacket in new condition – $6.99. Gussets everywhere, pockets, a clear sleeve for your ski pass (my family and friends just fell off their chairs laughing, imagining our family skiing). Awesome! Size 10. This will be the jacket after this year. It will be great for the outdoor field trips at her experiential learning school when she grows into it. This jacket is similar and retails for $129. Retail savings: At least $90.
  • Gap puffy vest – $5.99. This is good for my kid who doesn’t want to wear a coat. Size S — she will only wear this this year. Compares at at least $39.50 retail. Retail savings: $33.
  • Leopard-print PJs – $3.99. “Those are kind of foofy, mom.” “They’re just PAJAMAS. They are like new and in your size. You’ll wear them.” “OK.” Ah, enjoy it while it lasts. Compare at around $15 retail. Savings: $11.
  • Polo T with horses on it and brown T with flowers on it – $2.99 each. About what I would pay on Target clearance.
  • Gymboree girls velour “Autumn Leaves” dress – $5.99. Size 10. Again for the future. Little Cheap had just announced she would not wear dresses when we saw this one and she said, “Well, maybe that one …” Retails at $32.50. eBay price is at least $14. Retail savings: $26.50.
  • Hanna Andersson girls cropped black pants with ribbon trim – $2.99. Size 120cm (about a size 7/8). Little Cheap loves knit pants and loved these on sight. She’ll wear them a lot this year, I suspect. Retailed for at least $30. Savings: $27.

So, how did we do? Our total savings over retail price was $192.50 not counting the cheap T-shirts I’d only buy on clearance. If you add $7 to each of those for their retail price of $10 or so, we saved more like $215.

That’s an 84 percent savings over the retail value.

Best of all, we’re recycling old stuff … and generally getting nicer stuff than I would buy new, for thrift-store prices.

Other places to find great deals include:

  • Consignment shops. Trade in your outgrown clothes for credit or cash.
  • Thrift stores, especially in nice neighborhoods where the goods are good.
  • Department store sales — I have found some amazing deals at Macy’s clearance (I never buy anything full-price there) — like pajamas for $2 and a gorgeous girls Christmas dress for $7 marked down from $62.
  • eBay.
  • Craigslist and Freecycle.

And did you notice some of those sizes? Little Cheap wears a 7. When I see something great for us, I snap it up. I have a whole bin full of clothes in the laundry room, marked “Not yet grown into.” When the season changes, we open it up, and as Little Cheap said this spring, “It’s like Christmas again!” Sometimes I don’t even remember what’s in there, especially if it’s been a year or two. If you shop that far ahead, do remember to review the bin before you start shopping. It would be such a bummer to buy a new winter coat when you have a $7 snowboard jacket in there already.

Speaking of winter, I’ve got to get my eyes peeled this year. I’m looking for a little something warm and sturdy in a generous size to hold us over for two years, till that one fits …