Tag Archives: green living

Reusable vs. disposable — which is best?

Marketing companies have drawn a pretty clear line in the sand between disposable products and reusable ones. Disposable is synonymous with convenience, ease of use, and less work — but you pay a higher price for that convenience. Reusable products are better for your wallet and the environment, but harder work. Is this always the case, though? Like most things, I think it’s way more complicated. Depending on the product and your life circumstances, these rules often don’t apply.

Here are a few examples based on my experience.

Mop and bucket vs. disposable floor cleaning pads

For most of my life, I lived in places with wall-to-wall carpet and just a small space with hard flooring — the bathroom and kitchen. Filling a bucket with water and swabbing the deck the old fashioned way just didn’t seem worth the time with such small spaces. For years, I used a Swiffer wet jet and I was perfectly content with the results. Then I moved into a house with wall-to-wall laminate flooring and a small child. Suddenly, the Swiffer was a huge pain. It took several pads to get through all the floors in our house, and I never felt like they were clean enough.

I finally broke down and mopped the floors with an old fashioned reusable mop and bucket, and I was shocked to find that it was easier. The large mop head cleaned the floors much faster. I used vinegar and just a little Dawn dish soap, so cleaning solution cost next to nothing (and is healthier for my toddler than chemical-filled cleaning solutons). When I was finished, I tossed the cotton mop head into the washing machine in an old pillow case with a load of towels, and let it air dry. It was so simple, and so much cheaper. I’m kicking myself for not switching sooner.

Paper towels vs. reusable rags

I made the switch to reusable rags earlier this year, and I’m happy I did it. Paper towels cost a fortune, they aren’t very eco-friendly, and I’ve found that it’s easier and faster to clean most messes with a nice thick rag. Rags are a little fussy to wash — if you throw them into the hamper wet, they will mildew and stink. It’s also a good idea to put them through a hot wash with vinegar and a second wash with detergent to prevent stink problems. It’s been worth the trouble for me, though.

I do still keep paper towels on hand for some messes, though. I don’t like to use reusable rags or sponges to clean the counter or sink after handling raw meat, and paper towels are the best way to clean glass and mirrors without leaving streaks. Switching to rags 95% of the time has saved us a bundle, though, and reduced our footprint.

Plastics bags vs. reusable shopping bags

This one is a no-brainer for me. Reusable bags are affordable, carry more stuff, and are generally easier for me to carry. The only real downsides are remembering to bring them and keeping them clean (I do ask for a plastic bag to transport raw meat, and I wash my bags regularly). I occasionally request plastic bags for small purchases, because I like to stock pile them and use them as trash bags for the little trash cans in the bathrooms. I figure it’s better to reuse a plastic bag than buy plastic bags for that purpose. Aside from that, reusable bags are a clear winner.

Disposable toilet bowl cleaners vs. a toilet brush

Disposable toilet bowl cleaners are my guilty cleaning secret. The OCD germophobe in me can’t handle the reusable toilet brush. I never felt like I could get them clean, and then I couldn’t figure out how to let them dry without leaving them out in the open in the bathroom, so I’d stick them back in the stand wet and they’d start to mildew or mold and ugh. I can’t handle it. So I pay a small fortune for the convenience and sanitary bliss of replacing disposable toilet bowls cleaners. When I’m done, I pop the cleaning pad into the trash, sanitize the wand, and get on with my life. So worth it for me.

Disposable diapers vs. cloth diapers

This one was a toss-up for me. For the first year of Judah’s life, I absolutely loved my cloth diapers. They saved me money, are better for the environment, and I really didn’t feel like they were too much hassle. Just a couple extra loads of laundry every week. Then my son turned 1. We stopped breastfeeding shortly after his first birthday, and suddenly cloth diapers weren’t so easy anymore. I made the switch to disposables full-time, boxed up my cloth for the next baby, and I’m thankful I did it every time I change a poopy diaper.

So what do you think? When do you prefer disposable over reusable and vice versa?

Photo credit

Strategies for kicking the paper towel habit

I’ve written about kicking my paper towel addiction before, but it’s one of those things that I never got around to doing. I convinced myself that I still needed paper towels for cleaning up things like raw chicken in the kitchen or wiping down toilet seats when cleaning, and so I continued buying them in bulk. Bad for the environment and bad for my wallet.

Inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s book, “One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler,*” I decided this was the year I was going to kick the habit for good. Here’s how I did it:

Stock up on cloth alternatives.

In Tsh’s book, Maya Bisineer, contributor for Simple Mom Green, recommends keeping enough dish towels, washcloths, and cloth napkins on hand to avoid the need for paper towels, and making them easy to access in the kitchen. For about the price of a 2-month supply of paper towels, I bought 8 large dish towels, 12 smaller washcloths, and 12 cloth napkins. I cleared a drawer, and stocked it up with our new cloth towels and napkins.

Don’t be afraid to use cloth.

The transition will feel weird at first. It might feel too formal to wipe your mouth with a cloth napkin on taco night. Or it might feel gross to wipe up surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat with a washcloth. Remind yourself that these napkins and towels are meant for daily use, and keep in mind that cloth can be sanitized in hot water and a little bleach, if necessary. When you use cloth to clean particularly nasty messes, just be sure to rinse in very hot water, ring out the rag completely, and hang it up in the laundry room until you can throw it in the washer. Never throw wet rags directly into your laundry basket or they’ll start to stink and mildew. If you can’t bring yourself to use the cloth, keep sponges on hand for wiping up messes, and disinfect them in the microwave or dishwasher after using.

Use sponges for cleaning.

I used to use paper towels for cleaning everything in the bathroom. For the past few months, I’ve gotten used to using a sponge to clean the sink and tub, but I was still using paper towels on the toilet seats. To keep things sanitary, I now have two sponges that I use for cleaning the bathrooms — one is brown, the other is blue. I use the brown sponge for wiping down sinks and tubs. The blue sponge is used on toilets only. When I’m finished cleaning, I let the sponges sit out to dry for a few hours, and then I store them under the sinks. Because I’m only using them to clean the bathrooms once a week or so, they last forever.

Have you kicked the paper towel habit yet? How did you do it?

(*Affiliate links are denoted with an asterisk.)

Our cloth diapering game plan

Since we’ll be using cloth diapers, and cloth diapers aren’t particularly easy to add to a registry, I’ve already started to stock up.

Here’s what I’ve collected so far:

I’ve spent about $100 on diapers so far. All of them are brand new.

I think I’m done buying covers and fancy diapers. I may get a couple of Thirsties covers since they’re highly recommended and I’d like to try them, but we’ll see.

Since the Flips, Econobums, and Bummis are all waterproof and easy to wipe clean, they don’t need to be washed after every change. I’ll be able to reuse them a few times a day and just change the prefold diaper. I got the pockets and all-in-one to try them out, but I’m hesitant to stock up since they’re more complicated to wash and take longer to dry. I may buy more later if I really like them, but I’m hoping to mostly use the covers and prefolds method since it’s more economical, and they’re easier to wash and more durable.

Here’s what I still need to buy:

I’m estimating that it will cost another $200 for me to complete my stash. That puts our cloth diapering supplies total at about $300. Not too bad considering these should last us until our baby is potty-trained and perhaps even last until baby #2.

My mom is very skilled with a sewing machine, and when she visited a couple weeks ago, we looked at some patterns for cloth diaper covers together. I know how to sew, but I’m terrible at following the diagrams in patterns. She promised to make me a few diaper covers and diapers and then show me how to do it. I’m excited at the possibility of making cloth diapers for myself at a fraction of the cost, so we’ll see how that goes.

You may have noticed that all of my diapers are “one-size.” According to the manufacturers, all of these diapers should fit babies that weigh 8 pounds and up. If you’re experienced with cloth diapers, though, you probably know that long, skinny babies usually don’t fit into standard one-size diapers until they’re 10-12 pounds. And what if my newborn is only 6 or 7 pounds?

Tony and I both have a family history of big babies, and since we’re having a boy, I’m pretty confident that our little guy will be at least 8 pounds at birth. But who knows? I could go into labor a couple weeks before my “due date” and end up with a tiny 6-pounder.

My point is, we won’t be using cloth diapers from day one. There are “newborn-sized” cloth diapers on the market. However, these diapers are just as expensive as the one-size diapers, and depending on how big my baby is at birth, he may only fit in them for a few weeks. Not a good deal compared to the one-size diapers that will presumably fit him for 2-3 years.

Instead of investing in newborn-sized cloth diapers, I’ll be using newborn and size 1 disposable diapers for the first few weeks until our baby is big enough for his one-size diapers. This will give me a chance to get used to caring for a newborn before I need to learn to care for his cloth diapers.

I want to bargain shop for a few packs of disposable diapers, but it’s so hard to know how many and what size to buy. If he’s at least 8 pounds at birth as I suspect he will be, then he’ll skip the newborn size entirely and immediately fit into size 1s. And he’ll only wear size 1s for about 2-4 weeks. If we end up having a small newborn, he might need a few packs of newborns and more packs of size 1s.

Rather than stressing about it, I’ve decided to keep an eye out for really great diaper deals. If I can get them for cheap, I will, and I’ll save the receipt so I can exchange sizes or return them if necessary. If I don’t have enough disposables to last until he fits into cloth, I’ll suck it up and pay a higher price for a few packs. No biggie. He’ll be in cloth for 2-3 years. Buying a few packs of disposables at regular price won’t kill me.

Do you use cloth diapers? What’s your stash like? Did you use them right away with your newborn?

Photo by vincentmartinez

Turn off the lights to conserve energy & save money

This past Saturday, cities and households throughout the world observed Earth Hour. Once a year, families, businesses, and cities shut off the lights for one hour to raise awareness about energy conservation.

Tony and I observed the tradition with candles, an game of Battleship, and Jones Soda root beer, and it was actually a lot of fun. It reminded me of summer power outages when I was a kid when we suddenly had to find creative ways to entertain ourselves.

Shutting off the lights doesn’t just conserve energy, though. It also reduces energy costs and promotes quality time with family. Shutting off computers, televisions, and video games — even for an hour — is a great way to reconnect. All of the benefits made me wonder — why don’t we observe Earth hours more frequently?

Every year, my older sister and her family shut off the lights, eat canned foods, and enjoy an entire weekend with limited energy use. For them, the tradition is a chance to embrace simplicity. It’s also a reminder of how life would be without electricity.

If you’re trying to conserve energy and lower your electricity costs, consider a weekly or monthly “earth hour.” Stock up on candles and flashlight batteries, and plan a fun night with these power-free activities.

  • Play board games or cards.
  • Tell stories.
  • Read or write by candlelight.
  • Prepare a meal that doesn’t require electricity.

How did you observe Earth Hour?

Benefits of keeping the thermostat low

thermostatIn the winter, we keep our apartment pretty chilly. The thermostat rarely goes above 65 degrees. It’s just the two of us and our dog, who has a built-in fur coat and spends most of the winter cuddled between us anyway, so we’re able to keep it that cold pretty easily.

Even if you can’t keep it quite that chilly, it’s likely that you could survive comfortably with the heat set lower than it is. Running the furnace less in the winter has obvious financial and environmental benefits, but we’ve discovered some unexpected additional benefits of a chilly house.

We save money.

Lowering the temperature on your thermostat even just a few degrees can translate to huge savings on your electric bill. If you can’t get away with keep it low all day, consider adjusting it just at night when you’re covered up in bed.

We cuddle up more.

When it’s hot outside, cuddling can get pretty uncomfortable. But in the winter when it’s chilly, you can cuddle up with your spouse, kids, or pets all you want and be more comfortable because of it.

We sleep better.

Studies have shown that the optimal temperature for sleep is a chilly 60-68 degrees. Keeping your thermostat lower might actually mean a better night’s sleep.

We enjoy hearty winter meals more.

With the thermostat set lower, our apartment is less likely to overheat after hours with the oven on. And a little chill in the air makes a good soup or stew that much more enjoyable.

We get moving a lot faster in the morning.

It can be pretty tough to leave the warm comfort of bed for a chilly apartment, but once I’m out of bed, there’s no time to dawdle. If we don’t get up and get dressed right away, we freeze! It’s a great motivator to get up and get moving.

Photo by mulmatsherm

Oh, organic food. Why are you so expensive?

foodincWeekend before last, Tony and I saw the documentary “Food Inc.” for free on his campus. It was an incredibly well produced, enjoyable film, even for people who aren’t into documentaries. But it scared the crap out of us.

I won’t go into gory details here. I do recommend watching it, but if you’re squeamish you might want to read about the issues on the website instead. The scenes inside the hatcheries and “farms” are pretty brutal. I’m not particularly squeamish, but it was hard for me to take.

I’ve never really liked the idea of something dying so I can eat, but I’ve never been a vegetarian either. This movie almost pushed me there, not just because I feel guilty, but because I have serious concerns about the sustainability of current farming practices, the effects on our environment and our health.

So. Where am I going with this? I have a point, I promise.

My husband and I decided to try a halfway approach to organic and sustainable food. We’ve always bought organic produce when we can. We shop in season and try to buy locally, which is good for the environment and for our budget. Organic meat is just so expensive. Our solution is to buy the expensive organic meat — only less of it.

This week at the grocery store, we bought a whole organic chicken (marked down 25% because the sell-by date is tomorrow) that we’ll cook tomorrow and use in three meals. We also bought a pound of organic ground chicken that we’ll use next week because it was on sale for half price.

I left the movie feeling pretty powerless. We spend all this time trying to make the right choices for our health and the environment, and yet so many decisions about our food are made before we even have the option to buy it.

Unfortunately, this won’t change unless we’re willing to change our lifestyles — and our budgets. It means shifting the grocery budget to allow healthier food without spending a fortune. The only uplifting part of the movie is that it reminds us how much power we have as consumers. If we demand healthier food from producers, then they will deliver. And as the movie says, “We vote three times a day.” Every time you make a choice about what to eat, you’re telling food producers the type of food you want to buy. If you choose healthier foods, they’ll get the message.

After finishing our grocery shopping this week, we felt empowered. Our grocery bill was only about $5 more than normal, but we bought all organic meat and more organic, local produce than normal. By making smart choices (like buying higher quality meat only less of it or stock piling organic foods when they’re on sale), we can minimize the impact on our budget and still eat a healthier, more eco-friendly diet.

If you want to get involved, you can sign a petition here asking that school lunch programs serve healthier, more nutritious food to children. Or you can also learn more about how to change the food system.

I usually try to keep politics out of my blog, but I really believe this is a bipartisan issue. It affects our environment and, most importantly, our health and the health of our children.

I’m trying my luck at herb gardening again


I’ve tried herb gardening a couple times before, and the results were dismal. But I’ve never been a quitter, so I’m giving it another go.

Last weekend, I picked up three herb plants from Lowes — sweet basil, thyme, and rosemary. At $3 each, they cost the same as fresh cut herbs at the grocery store. I already had the window box and soil from my last attempt at herb gardening.

I planted them, and I placed them in the sunniest part of my porch. Unfortunately, even the sunniest part of my porch is pretty shady. I think it only gets a couple hours of direct sunlight a day tops.

It’s been a week and a half, and they’re still alive. The basil is looking a little sad after three days or so of clouds and lower temperatures. I’m hoping a little sunshine today will perk it up a bit. However, the thyme and rosemary seem to be doing okay for now.

I’m looking for a window box hanging device so I can hang them over the edge of the deck. Part of the reason they’re not getting enough sun is the roof overhang that shelters my porch. I’m hoping if I can get them out from under the roof, they’ll do a little better.

I’ve made it through the first week, but I’m a little worried about my basil. It’s looking pretty sad. :( I’m notorious for killing plants. I even managed to kill a pot of impatiens last year after my mom told me they were the hardest plant to kill.

Anyone have any advice for container gardening with herbs? I’m open to anything that might help me get better results this time!

Frugality is good for the Earth


Everyone’s thinking about ways to be more eco-conscious these days. We’re also thinking about ways to save money. Luckily, the two go well together. Most of the habits that are good for the Earth are also good for your budget.

Here are some little changes you can make to help your wallet and the planet:


Consuming less doesn’t just create less waste, it also costs less. Walk or carpool to reduce your fuel consumption (and gas bill). Turn up your thermostat this summer to save electricity. Take shorter showers to conserve water. All of these things will impact your budget and reduce your footprint.


Think before you throw anything away. Is there something else you could do with it? Find creative ways to reuse household items, donate old clothes to Goodwill, check Freecycle before you buy anything new, and list your gently used items on Craigslist to reduce someone else’s consumption and make a little money.


It’s tough to make money on regular recyclables, but it’s possible to earn a little recycling high-tech items. Computers, cameras, cell phones, iPods and other electronics that are too outdated to sell can all be swapped for Amazon gift cards at Gazelle.com. In many stores you can exchange your used ink cartridges for a discount on new ones.


Take care of the things you already own. Mend your worn clothes instead of replacing them. Regularly service your car to maximize gas mileage and extend its life. Check your tire pressure frequently to increase gas mileage and lengthen the time between replacing tires.


Organic is best for health and the environment, but the cost can be high. Even for non-organic produce, you’re paying for transportation (and diesel engines are burning fossil fuels to transport them). Why not save some money and fuel by growing a garden? If you don’t have the space to grow produce, consider an herb garden. Herbs are pricey, but if you have a sunny porch or window you can grow your own for next to nothing.

What frugal habits do you have that are good for the environment?

Photo by aussiegall

Planning ahead to keep cooling costs down

Photo by snapapicture

This may seem premature depending on what part of the country you live, but it’s already time for us to start thinking about summer cooling costs. The temperature here over the weekend was a beautiful 75-80 degrees. However, because we live on the third floor, a balmy 80 degrees outside usually means an uncomfortable 90 degrees in our apartment.

Last year we made it until the beginning of June before we turned on the air conditioning. Using fans and open windows, we were able to keep our apartment reasonably comfortable. On the hottest spring days last year it wasn’t pleasant, but it was bearable. We’d like to make it that long again this year.

Over the weekend we spent $25 on a new fan for our bedroom. It’s portable, so Tony will be able to bring it into the living room where he works during the day or into the kitchen when we’re cooking.

Without air conditioning or heat, our electric bills are typically $45-$50. Once we turn on the A/C it will at least double, and the cost to cool our apartment will probably peak at $150-$160 in July and August. The temperature will probably remain in the 80s through October. Ugh.

I complain about the cost to cool our apartment in the summer, but our monthly average actually isn’t so bad. Our heat bills are pretty low in the winter. In 2008, we paid a total of $1,019.67 in electric bills for our 900-square-foot apartment. That works out to about $85 a month on average. Not too bad when you look at the big picture, but it’s still painful to see our electric bill triple in the summer.

Here are some ways we reduce the cost to cool our apartment:

  • Keep the thermostat set at 80 degrees. We try to keep it set at the lowest temperature necessary to keep humidity out and stay comfortable, but not frigid.
  • Close the vents in the guest room and keep the door closed so we’re not cooling a room we rarely use.
  • Keep the blinds closed in the afternoon to keep the temperature down.
  • Use fans throughout the apartment.
  • Minimize oven use, especially before sunset.

We’ll save $100 by waiting until June to turn on the A/C, and hopefully utilizing these methods throughout the summer will reduce our costs somewhat even after we turn on the air conditioner. Minimizing air conditioning also minimizes our energy use and carbon footprint, which is good, too!

I wish we were tough enough to make it through the entire summer without air conditioning, but temperatures reach 100 degrees frequently where we live. We were without air conditioning for three days when we first moved in at the peak of the summer, and it was too hot to do anything but sit in front of a fan covered in sweat. And let’s just say my husband is not a pleasant person to be around when he gets too warm. I’d rather have a high electric bill a few months out of the year than a crabby husband.

How do you keep cooling costs down in the summer?