Thursday, July 24, 2008

where tightwad and environmentalist collide...

Normally I just use this blog to post Sarah stories and family news. Every once in awhile, though, I get in a musing mood (the political ramblings post, all the posts about Lent…). This is one of those posts, so if you prefer to give today a miss, I understand. :)

My sis-in-law Tara is our family’s raging environmentalist (every family needs one, you know). ;) I am our family’s raging cheapskate (every family needs one of those too!). I do all kinds of things to try to stretch a dollar a bit further or save a buck or two. “Pinch those pennies till Lincoln squeals;” that’s my motto! In many ways, I will never be as dedicated to the cause of environmentalism as Tara. I think global warming is a lot of hooey, with poor science and falsified proofs. And I prefer the safety and protection of a large vehicle in case of an accident, rather than the fuel-efficiency of a smaller car, bike, or scooter. Truth be told, I still mourn the loss of my beloved Buick Edward—a large sedan that did a very good job of keeping me and Sarah safe when we had our wreck.

But all that said, I do think God calls us as Christians to be good stewards of the world and its resources. I believe in conservation, and I abhor wastefulness. I’m all about “reduce, reuse, recycle.” And although being “thrifty” and being “eco-friendly” can sometimes seem to be mutually exclusive, there are many times when the two actually mesh quite nicely. Some of the things I started doing simply to save some hard-earned cash can actually benefit the earth as well. Pretty cool, huh? Nice side benefit there!

What, you want examples?! Oh, all right. None of these things are going to make us millionaires, and they won’t win us any accolades from Greenpeace, but they do stretch our budget and help conserve a little bit. Since “reduce, reuse, recycle” is the catchphrase of conservation, I will organize my ideas according to that.

Reduce. My mom read somewhere that the average American family goes through two rolls of paper towels a week. This blew my mind. I barely go through one roll in a month! Dishcloths work quite well, and they can be tossed in the laundry to be used again (hey, that’s reduce and reuse in one easy step!). I also buy the thicker Viva paper towels, so for those times when I DO need to use one, I'm likely to need only one. I use far fewer this way. The majority of the time, however, a dishcloth is works great—even for cleaning mirrors and windows. Save your paper towels for the truly nasty messes.

When Sarah was born, I was given this set of disposable snack cups. The idea was that you used them on the go, and then just tossed them when you were done. How very wasteful! I still have those little snack cups. They have been washed many times, and they haven’t made it into the landfill yet.

Reuse. For years, I have washed and reused Ziploc baggies. Again, this is a two-for-one deal; you reduce the number of baggies going into the trash, as well as getting another use out of them. Honestly, they are quite easy to wash. Just turn them inside out, and scrub the inside while you are washing your dishes. For you lucky folks with a dishwasher, turn them inside out, and clip them to the top rack with a plastic clothespin. Leave them inside out to dry, then turn them back the right way and stick them back in the box to use again. *Note: I DON’T reuse baggies that have held raw meat of any sort—there’s just no guarantee that I can get them clean enough to prevent someone from getting sick. But for all the others, I keep washing and reusing until they get holes.

The editor of the Dollar Stretcher ezine says his yardstick for gauging whether someone is truly an environmentalist or not isn’t whether they drive a hybrid or use a refillable water bottle. It’s whether they attempt to repair a broken item (large or small) before tossing it and buying a new one. He said you would be amazed at the number of self-proclaimed environmentalists who stare at him blankly when he asks them this. Whereas a tightwad who doesn’t even consider himself eco-friendly is probably likely to have tried to fix even the smallest and most inexpensive gadget—and if unsuccessful, he’ll see if it can be used some other way before trashing it.

Recycle. I have to admit, this one is my weakest area. However, I’m getting better here. When we moved to Kingsport, along with the big trash container we were given a blue recycling box. On Tuesdays, a garbage truck comes by to pick up the trash, and a recycling truck comes by to grab the recycling. The first few weeks, I wasn’t entirely sure what went in that blue box. I knew Coke cans and water bottles were candidates, but frankly we very rarely have either of those. I tossed in a couple of magazines, but it would take us weeks to fill up that box.

Now, I am scanning packaging carefully to find out if it can be recycled. Our box grows fuller each week, even as the trash can’s load gets smaller. I don’t know that this actually saves us any money (maybe a reduced cost for trash bags? Oh, wait, I reuse the plastic bags my groceries come in for trash bags!), but I feel good about it nonetheless. Maybe this cheapskate does have a little baby environmentalist in her somewhere!

Oh, and check out This is a great site for combining money-saving (EVERYTHING is free!!!) and environmental causes (the site was started for the express purpose of keeping unwanted items out of the landfill). I love it! There are local groups, so just enter your zip code and have fun! :)


Tara said...

Great tips!! One other thing I noticed that you do is get books from the used bookstore and trade in the ones you have. This is another really great eco-friendly thing to do. Buy used books or go to the library instead of buying new books.

I need to get some clothespins so I can wash my baggies in the dishwasher! I never thought of that and I hate washing them by hand. :P Thanks!

karen said...

Well, this wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list. ;) There are other things I do that I think fit into both the tightwad and eco-friendly category. But if the post gets too long, people's eyes start to glaze over! Maybe I'll have a part 2 sometime! ;)

Chelsea Lyn said...

I LOVE conserving. I started out doing it because I wanted to be "green" but now I also do it because I'm broke! Great ideas, Karen. Saving money is definitely a motivator to use less. :)