Reducing Your Carbon Footprint without Reducing the Size of Your Wallet

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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My 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.

(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.

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?

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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!

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