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Reducing Your Carbon Footprint without Reducing the Size of Your Wallet

By Cindy Murphy

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CindyMurphyBlog.jpgMy friend, Jenn, grows vegetables in the Tucson area of Arizona. With temperatures frequently reaching into the 100s and long periods without rain, saving water is imperative. She’s collecting water in rain barrels during the monsoon season to help keep her tomatoes growing and has plans this year to install a gray water system. “Gray water” is waste water from a home (except water from toilets). A gray water system recycles shower, sink, and laundry water for other purposes, typically for irrigation.

Arizona offers a state tax incentive of 25 percent of the cost up to $1000 for residents installing gray water systems. The state’s gray water plan is considered the model, and many states have adopted similar plans. Skepticism is still a hold-out for many others though – gray water has been considered “waste water” for so long that it’s difficult to break old habits and outmoded ideas. Check out Grey Water Central for more information about gray water.

I learned about Jenn’s plans when I asked her what she does to save money and help the environment at the same time. These days it seems cultivating environmentally friendly habits and saving money are on nearly everyone’s minds. The steps you take to save the planet can help you save money too; by making smarter choices, you can reduce your environmental impact without reducing your bank account. Her gray water system will be a big initial expense for Jenn, but she’ll recoup her investment over time. It’s not always the things with large price tags though, such as gray water systems, energy efficient appliances or “green” houses that translate into adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Just a few small changes can produce major results.

There are a couple simple things I’ve done for years to save money and energy. I turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse and leave the door open to let the dishes air-dry. I recently read that eliminating the use of a dishwasher’s heated-dry cycle reduces energy use by up to 50 percent per wash.

I also avoid washing laundry in hot water – the warm wash/cold rinse and even the cold wash/cold rinse cycles on a washing machine work fine with all temperature detergents. Up to 95 percent of the energy used by washing machine goes toward heating the water. The electrical cost (excluding the cost of water) to run a machine at the hot/warm setting is 58 cents per load, or an average of $226 per year. In comparison, the cost per load at the cold/cold setting is 3 cents, for an average of $11 per year. Washing your clothes in hot water for a year uses more energy than leaving the refrigerator door open 24 hours a day for an entire year!

Reading these statistics about how much money I was saving and how much I reduced my energy consumption from just these two simple things made me wonder what other things people I know do to save money and be eco-friendly. I not only posed the question to Jenn, but asked the same of other friends.      

Paul reserves one day a week as his “No Car Day.” This requires some advance planning – there’s no just hopping in the car and going. He runs errands and combines shopping trips on the days he drives. He checks in advance to see if his friends and neighbors are going in the same direction, asking if he can catch a ride with them. By limiting the use of his car, he’s not only saving gas money and wear on his vehicle, but he’s reducing his contribution to carbon emissions – each gallon of gas a vehicle consumes emits 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

Many of GRIT’s bloggers wrote they start their plants from seeds – LoriBrent and LeAnnaPaul, and Debbie – how’d you like to receive pots and seed trays free? Here’s an insider tip from the nursery for people who start their plants from seed: Annual bedding plant season is almost here, and now is the best time to get containers to grow your seedlings in – at no cost.

Our nursery customers are encouraged to return pots after they’ve planted their perennials, shrubs, and trees, and we reuse them. The ones that are damaged and can’t be reused are sent to be recycled. It’s amazing though, the amount of plastic a nursery generates that ends up in the dumpster – it’s all those trays and smaller pots that annuals come in that aren’t recyclable. Check with your local nursery – if it’s a full service nursery, often hundreds of flats of bedding plants will be planted in landscape customers’ gardens. Most of the trays and pots these plants come in are not reusable to the nursery, and are made of too flimsy of a plastic to be accepted by recycling companies. Most nurseries will gladly give them away rather than throw them in a dumpster and pay to have them hauled away.

Recycled pots and trays at the nursery

(It should be noted that reused pots should be bathed in a bleach water solution to prevent the spread of plant disease.)   

Luanne starts her seeds in butter and yoghurt containers she’s saved during the year. She not only recycles, but she Freecycles too. The Freecycle Network™ is a global nonprofit movement based on the principle that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Instead of putting good, reusable items out for the trash, list them on your town or county’s Freecycle bulletin board (in our county’s case it’s a Yahoo Group). People can give and get items free that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Check out the Freecycle website to find a group near you.

Luanne gathers friends together in spring for a plant swap party. Guests bring divisions of their perennials, a dish to pass, and spend the afternoon exchanging plants and visiting. She says, “For just a little work, you can have a good visit with friends, snacks and come home with new plants for your own garden.”

It’s at gatherings of friends that Quetta chooses to serve on real plates and use silverware instead of disposable paper, plastic, or Styrofoam. At larger events such as block-parties, family reunions, or work parties where it’s typical for disposable dinnerware to be used, she suggests including in the invitation a paragraph such as the following:

In an effort to try and do our part to be green, we will not be providing disposable plates and plastic ware. Please help do your part too and bring your own non-disposable dinnerware.

She says you’d be surprised at how much others will pitch in if they know you’re trying to make a difference. Eliminating the use of disposable dinnerware reduces the amount of trash you’re producing, and the cost of buying it. It’s an item of convenience, not a necessity.

Quetta is concerned about the contaminants in her tap water; in addition she says it just tastes nasty. But she’s also concerned about the number of plastic water bottles ending up in landfills so buying bottled water is not an option she considers. Her solution is to reuse the glass jugs that her favorite organic apple juice comes in by taking them to her grocery store and refilling them at a reverse osmosis water station. It costs only 29 cents per gallon. Instead of grabbing a plastic water bottle on the way out the door when she’s on the go, she fills lidded stainless steel cups from these jugs.

Reverse osmosis water station

Most of the large grocery chains have these types of water stations; I checked with my small local grocery – they have one too, and charge 39 cents per gallon to refill containers. Even at the slightly higher price than the large chain stores offer, it’s more economical to refill at the station than to purchase bottled water.

She buys her eggs from a local woman who offers a free dozen eggs to anyone that brings her five empty cartons. GRIT blogger, Becky Sell, wrote in “Could We Possibly Blog More About Chickens?!” that Foxwood Family Farm accepts used egg cartons. Many egg cartons are made from Styrofoam – a substance that some studies found lasts for 500 years; others state it takes 900 years for Styrofoam to decompose; and a Penn State University study says it never decomposes. Farmers offering to accept egg cartons in exchange for a promotional free dozen eggs benefits everyone involved – it generates customer loyalty and community support for the farmer; less Styrofoam makes it to the landfills daily; and who wouldn’t want to go a bit out of their way for farm-fresh eggs?

* * * * *

Gathering ideas from my friends for this blog was a learning experience that will end up, I’m sure, being much more habit-changing for me than reading articles in a magazine or on a website written by someone with whom I don’t have a personal connection. Clipped articles often get lost a sea paperwork cluttering desks, and websites saved with the best of intentions to return later don’t always get clicked on again.

Conversation, though, is an exchange of ideas, sparks thought, and encourages brainstorming among friends. It’s a sharing of experiences, and an opportunity to give and get encouragement to try new ideas. We’ve all heard at least once someone say, “one person isn’t going to make a difference.” Quetta doesn’t buy into that philosophy, saying, “Maybe not for this one particular moment in time. But multiply that one thing over the course of a year and then you start to realize how much one person does matter ... and that it all starts with just one person getting one other person to make a couple of changes.”

I started gathering information for this blog two weeks ago by asking the simple question, “What do you do to save money, and be eco-friendly?” I ended up with a lot more suggestions than I have space here to list. If you’ve read this, don’t keep it to yourself. Ask your friends and co-workers the same question. The responses you get and give in return may encourage you and someone else to make a few very simple changes that can benefit everyone in the long run.

Happy Earth Day! Celebrate today; live it everyday!

cindy murphy
5/8/2009 5:53:54 PM

Hey, Dave - I see your work is starting to get to you. Yep, it sounds like you're well on your way to becoming a plant addict....let's hope you've been cured of your planticidal tendencies. Yep, tuberous begonias (also called Non-stop begonias), do just that - bloom nonstop up until the first frost. I've always got to have at least a hanging basket of them. They're not quite as durable as the stoic fiberous begonias; they sometimes tend to get top-heavy, and the not-so-sturdy stems break. Oh, and another to try for sure is Diamond Frost Euphorbia. I'd rename this plant 'Indestructable Elegance'....which is probably why I don't have a job naming plants. It just doesn't sound as catchy as 'Diamond Frost' now, does it? I'm probably gonna run out of room here; I always do. But I'll start in on the fertilizers and see how far I get. Most annuals are heavy feeders. Think of it this way - they're life is so short, they must pack as much energy into it as they can. There are many types of fertilizers out there, but they pretty much can be broken down into two basic groups: quick-release and slow-release. Miracle Gro and other foliage sprays are quick-release; they must be applied more often for the best results. Miracle Gro, for example, should be applied once a week. Slow-release is usually a one-time application for an annual's growing season. This is what I prefer, (read into this "Cindy's a lazy gardener"; you'd be right). One of the best slow-releases out there for bedding plants is Osmocote. Mix it into the soil before you plant, or gently work it into your already potted plants. Good stuff; great results, and wonderful for vegies too, (though I prefer an organic for those). Have I run out of room yet?

nebraska dave
5/7/2009 5:08:34 PM

Cindy, Hey I moving right along. I have 13 containers up and running with Impatiens, Begonia, Marigold, and Dusty Miller. Oh, yeah, and one container of Gladiolas. I got my first glimpse of tuberous Begonia. Oh, my gosh, they just look tough. They look like they could be the bullies the garden. My first Begonias look like wimps compared to the tuberous ones. I gotta get me some of them there tuberous Begonias. Here’s a question for you oh wise nursery woman guru. How often would one have to feed flowers mentioned above and with what? Some say once a week and others say twice a month. Some say spray it on with water and others say mix it in the soil. Back on the farm we just scooped it out of the barn and spread it on the field then plowed it under in the Spring. I guess things are a little different with this flower stuff. I think I’m going to get some Coleus. As I recall it’s kind of like a Dusty Miller and adds contrast to the displays. One thing nice about containers is that I can rearrange them to suit me. We here are pretty much out of the threat of frost. It has staid in the upper 40s at night and usually gets into the 70s every day now. People are starting to plant tomatoes and peppers in the earth gardens. And keeping with the recycling theme of the blog almost all the pots I have used are from past years that have been cleaned up and reused. I didn’t realize how plants I had euthanized over the years. Complements are already starting to come in from neighbors. I couldn't have done it without a little help from my blog friends. The crowning glory of the whole display so far is the complementary patio pot that Kaw Valley, the company I work for, gave to me for being a driver this year. It has some white thing that drapes over the front and some red thing that drapes over the back with deep blue petunia, and a geranium and spike in the middle.

5/5/2009 8:11:02 PM

Yippee! Yippee! Look at me! I can log back in again, na na na na na! Now if I can just remember where I save my comments for this entry....waaaay back on Earth Day...hmmm... :)

cindy murphy
5/3/2009 4:33:06 PM

....and, and, and - hanging baskets. (I did it again; got too long winded and my comment got cut off.) Rather than try to rewrite what I've just forgotten I wrote two minutes ago, I'll just say - It'll be a busy week in the flower delivery business. Take care, Dave.

cindy murphy
5/3/2009 4:29:38 PM

Congrats, Dave, on getting your drip watering system going. I'm sure it won't be any time at all before your work pays off, and your poor man's patio is bursting forth with color. My husband, Keith, didn't know a daffodil from a dandelion; he thought any flower that had a ray of petals surrounding a yellow center was a daisy. After years of having gardening, (not of the vegetable variety), thrust upon him, he's becoming pretty adept at knowing the names of plants now....although he still calls my clematis "climbitis" like it's got some kind of climbing disease. The fothergilla is "the bunny tail bush", because that's what the fluffy flowers look like when it blooms. Don't despair about your neighbors wondering what Neighbor Dave is up to potting begonias. It's good to keep them guessing every once in awhile. And besides - a ton of the customers at the nursery are men. They pick out the plants while their wives tag behind looking bored. "What next a garden shed? (Rolling eyes up) I’m going to have to find something to do with a power tool pretty soon or the neighbors will all begin to seriously wonder what’s happening." HA! Get out the power tools and build a garden shed!!! Keep with the spirit of the blog, and use recycled materials. You'd be saving money and keeping the stuff out of the landfill. Come to think of it, this sounds like a perfect project for Keith! Thanks, Dave, for the idea. And yep, Glads planted now should bloom this summer. I wonder why all Moms must have a potted geranium for Mother's Day. It's true though. It's too cold here for annuals still; although the box stores have them out, they're not hardened off enough to leave outside, and we're still dipping down into the thirties at night. We won't get the bulk of them in for at least another two weeks....except this week, our hoop house will be loaded with geraniums and

nebraska dave
5/2/2009 9:59:32 PM

Cindy, I have established the foundation of plant watering conservation on the Old Nebraska Dave property. I bought and assembled the necessary menagerie of parts to allow drip watering of the pots that will enhance the new wall of the poor man’s patio I built last year. Soon the patio will be bursting with a plethora of color as the flowers mature. The neighbors were all aghast when they caught me potting begonias in the backyard. (gasp) I expect they were wondering if this was the same Neighbor Dave as I’m known on the local street that goes to far away places to help rebuild after disaster happens? The great adventurer was potting begonias in his back yard? Well, actually it was quite an adventure for me to begin building a flower pot garden on the wall and surface of the patio. I’m not sure how it will end up but with a watering plan in place it should turn out better than last year. I was truly amazed at how many pots I found beside the house in the pot grave yard from bad experiences of years past. Sheesh, I was even thinking that a potting table would be nice. What next a garden shed? (Rolling eyes up) I’m going to have to find something to do with a power tool pretty soon or the neighbors will all begin to seriously wonder what’s happening. Oh, hey, I discovered what I could never get Black-eyed Susan to grow more than one year. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as annual Rudbeckia. I’ve been buying annuals instead of perennials. So perhaps I give it a try again. If Gladiolas are planted this Spring will they bloom this year? Cindy, rest well this day as Monday begins Mother’s Day week. We have a semi load of Deco pots to distribute on Monday. Just when I thought things were going to ease up a bit, Mothers all across the city must have a potted Geranium.

cindy murphy
4/28/2009 5:12:30 AM

Hi, Dave. I couldn't agree more with your statement that we haven't managed our water resources well. Right now, water is considered a renewable resource on this planet - it's replenished at a rate equal to, or faster than consumed. Although in many places it's quickly becoming non-renewable - it's used faster than it's replenished. Renewable resources become non-renewable through mismanagement and pollution by humans. You mentioned the battles in Arizona, Nevada, and California over the rights to the Colorado River. Here, the battles are over ownership of the Great Lakes. A number of the surrounding states, and Canada at one time or another have argued that they have the right to sell the water...some of to be shipped overseas. I remember reading a quote from National Geographic: "All the water that will ever be is, right now." The time is long overdue when we learn to use it wisely. Glad you found the begonias - as unassuming as they are, and less flashy than some of the other annuals, they really deliver when it comes to non-stop color and durability - AND they don't require much water!

nebraska dave
4/27/2009 9:10:47 AM

Cindy, it is so appropriate that your blog encourages people to conserve and manage water. I believe that in the not so distant future our crisis will not be about whether we have enough oil to sustain our economy but it will be about water. I have relatives that live in Las Vegas which is the home of Hover Dam. Behind the dam lies Lake Mead. Not too many years ago the lake behind the dam threatened to flow over the top of the structure. Millions of gallons of water rushed through the wide open flood gates to keep the water from spilling over the top of the dam. Today the lake is so low that buildings that have submerged since the filling of the lake are on dry land. The water level of the lake I would guess is down by at least 100 feet. Nevada, Arizona, and California are in constant battles over the water rights to the Colorado River. Huge amounts of water stored in underground caverns are the cause of continuous court cases. Here in Nebraska the farmers have sucked up billions of gallons of water from the under ground aquifer to irrigate crops. Massive amounts of water are sprayed on crops to sustain ever increasing yields needed to stay business solvent. We have not cared for our water resources very well on this planet. Certain parts of the ocean are dead because of the pollutants dumped there. Conservation of water no matter what part of the world we live in will become a high level priority sooner than we think. Cindy, it warms my heart to hear about your blog readers that are taking water conservation seriously. Oh, by the way I found Begonias. I just didn’t know exactly what they looked like. Yesterday was a hard flower delivery day. Deliveries had to be made in down pouring rain. When the lightening started, I didn’t think it too cool to be pushing around seven foot tall metal carts and called it a day. Luckily all the deliveries were made just not put on the displays. I hope nursery life is treating you well.

cindy murphy
4/25/2009 5:40:33 PM

Iggy - never, ever admit you're cheap. Thrifty is a much better description! Hi, Lacy. I hang a lot...not all, but a lot of our clothes to dry. Not only do you save energy by doing this; it makes the clothes last a whole lot longer too. I love this saying a friend of mine mentioned: "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."

razor family farms
4/24/2009 9:25:25 PM

Excellent post! We try really hard to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve. One of the best ways that I've found to conserve is to use my clothesline and my wringer washer. Of course, I make all sorts of things (check out my blogs NEWS @ Razor Family Farms here at and and try to reduce starting with our purchases. It's always lovely to know that I am not alone in my efforts. Isn't that the best part of blogging? You find someone hundreds (perhaps thousands) of miles away who shares your values. It's so encouraging. Blessings, Lacy

michelle house
4/23/2009 8:51:50 PM

Happy Earth Day :), very nice stuff there, I do alot of that, because I am cheap, or thrifty, depending on who you ask:) Iggy