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Eco-Choices Report #1: Waste-free Lunches, Handkerchiefs and Car-free Living

February 1, 2011

In addition to giving you detailed posts on many topics we would like to use this blog to track our own progress toward sustainably.  So every so often, we’ll post about what eco-conscious decisions we’ve made and give them a grade for how easy they were to accomplish, how well they fit into our lifestyle,  how much money it cost to set things up and how much of an impact it will make–not to mention side benefits like saving money!   Let us know what you think, and whether you will be incorporating some of our ideas into your own life.

1)  Waste-free meals at work

I love buying lunch at the cafeteria at work, but I realized that every time I did,  I also got nasty take-out containers including the dreaded #6 (practically un-recyclable) plastic see through boxes!  Boy am I ashamed!   So I took some simple actions.  Staring Tuesday I brought a bowl and plate to work.  I also brought a cloth napkin and some silverware.  I wash them after every use – easy peasy and no trash!

Ease of Incorporation: A

Cost & Money Saved: FREE (I don’t think I saved any money because I still plan to buy lunch but perhaps I made a deposit in my Karma account…)

Time: Minimal  5-minutes per day (I do have to wash my dishes, but its no big deal.)

Impact:  Pretty Darn Big (5-10 take out containers, plasticware, and paper napkins a week not going to the landfill. Plus maybe if we buy less, the companies will make less, which will mean less energy spent in the creation and transportation of disposables.)

2)  Hanky-Panky

It’s allergy season which in the past meant I probably killed a tree or too with all the tissue I used,  so this week I explored the old fashioned reusable solution–the handkerchief.  Since I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, I didn’t want to spend any money so I drudged up the sewing machine from the basement, found some fabric  scraps and channeled my inner martha stewart.   The result (If I do say so myself) was a beautiful 12 x 12 cotton plaid printed hanky.  I will go into the making, using, and washing hankies in a future post but for now suffice it to say:  Mission accomplished.    I am going for a two prong approach; 8  full sized hankies for each person ( 1 per a day of the week, and one back up just in case)  also dozens of half sized hankies to be kept in a basket in the bathroom.   I will do laundry at the end of every week   I haven’t decided whether to do an all hanky load or just throw them in with the rest.  I will let you know how it goes.

Ease of Incorporation: B+ (This took some getting used to,  although I do like the feel of the cotton; much softer on the nose and no paper residue stuck to your skin!  Plus all this sewing was so much fun.  I could see how this would be a challenge for those who don’t sew,  but I’m sure you can find hankies for fairly cheep.

Cost: FREE (For me…I used old bits of fabric I had and I already had thread)

Time: Small commitment About 15-20 minutes per a handkerchief once I got the hang of it.  Also some extra laundry…but hankies are pretty small so not too much.

Impact:  Pretty Darn Big (At least for me.  I know I was going through several boxes of tissue a month in addition to many rolls of toilet paper, which I’d use in a pinch!)

3)  Living Car-Free

There will be plenty more posts about this so I’m not going to go into too much detail here.   Al and I have made a commitment to living car free.  This means we have a priority system for transportation. For all journeys within a short distance of our home, we bike.  This includes all our small errands such as grocery shopping, the library, take out food, etc.  For longer distances and on rainy days we take public transportation.   Finally for very long distances or unusual occasions (moving furniture, for example) we drive.  And by very long I mean the distance that must be traveled is too far to conceivably get there by train.     Grocery shopping by bike is much easier than you’d think.  We got to the store faster than by car to start.  We were able to fit two weeks worth of groceries in our backpacks with the addition of two cloth bags hanging from the handlebars.  Al was grunting a little by the end, having taken the all the heavy stuff on his bike.  We’ve modified Al’s bike to have two paper boy style wire baskets on the side, so next time it will be even easier.

The transition to car-free has been rather smooth.  We had to get our bikes checked out to make sure they were sound mechanically, also we picked up some safety gear (LED lights for the rear, bright orange reflector vests for night and rainy days, and rain ponchos for unexpected showers).  So far so good.   Riding a bike in the city is an amazing experience!  I prefer sticking to marked bike lanes and quieter side streets, while Al likes the bump and grind of racing alongside traffic on the main roads, but he gets to his destinations faster than I do, so I think we all develop our own biking style.  I enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about parking.  Also when biking I feel like I am really seeing the city, and experiencing the sights and smells that normally just rush by in a blur outside your car windows.  Plus, the health benefits are great!

Ease of Incorporation: B- (This really took some getting used to [can you say saddle-sore!] ,  still does in fact, but I truly believe the benefits outweigh the challenges.)

Cost: $150-200 initially This is just our initial investment though.  We needed to make sure the bikes were mechanically sound and get some gear.  Now that we have done this we don’t have to put any more money into the bikes.   They are now FREE transportation….you don’t have to fill them with gas, and they don’t cost you per a use like public transit.

Time: Medium Commitment (In general it takes longer to get to a place than by car,  but you never have to worry about parking which saves some time for sure!)

Impact:  Critical (I’m not sure how big of an impact we are making on the environment by not using the car, but the personal impact is enormous.  We are saving money and getting healthier. The main reason we started biking was to start getting used to the idea of living sustainably which means relying less and less on fossil fuel for transportation.  We want to build up our muscles and endurance.  We want to be prepared for the future so it will be less of a shock when what is now a choice becomes a necessity.)

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