Monday, July 14, 2008

Four Little Green Habits

When I was a young tyke at Washington Elementary School, I acquired a copy of 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. The tips and ideas about conservation and recycling excited me-- they were so creative. I learned about conserving water when bathing, I experimented with making my own recycled paper from old newspapers, I became interested in gardening, I made my own play-dough, and many other experiments. There were varying degrees of success, but I always had fun.

Admittedly, that spirit of conservation was mostly play and I don't think it actually gelled with me in terms of everyday life back then. As I reflect on my habits throughout adolescence and adulthood, I realize that I was probably very neglectful of the amount of waste I generated, the amount of fuel I used, and the amount of processed food I ate. Luckily, I also happened to grow up with parents who are incredible gardeners, who taught me the art of re-purposing things, and who taught me to enjoy building things with my hands.

While we don't exactly agree on my desire to get rid of my car (which is a large discussion that deserves its very own post), I know that the way that I try to do my small part now is directly supported by the knowledge they gave me.

I thought I'd share a few of the habits I've cultivated to be a bit more environmentally friendly and to be less wasteful in general. I believe that we should make small changes if we can, because even if our efforts seem small, they add to our general consciousness about sustainability and normalize conservation instead of making it seem like something that only hippies and hipsters do (This piece by Michael Pollan is about food, but it's a great article and relates to this.).

Four Little Green Habits

1. Bring your own beverage receptacle. I began this habit when I started going to Antigua Cultural Coffeehouse on a regular basis. Many cafes serve their beverages in paper or styrofoam cups whether or not you leave or go, so I've taken to carrying around either a mug or this Pom Tea glass (left) with me when I plan to spend time at a cafe. I think I enjoy this sturdy, re-usable glass with the tight-fitting, snap-on lid more than I enjoyed the Pom Tea that came in it. Now that it's warmer, I often get a "Balance" (also known as an Arnold Palmer, also known as "half lemonade, half iced tea") at Lost Souls Cafe instead of my usual Soul Drip. Another plus of this is that if I don't finish it by the time I have to leave, I can pop the lid on, put it in my backpack, and ride my bicycle off into the sunset.

Why am I re-using a glass instead of getting a nifty Nalgene-esque bottle? Because I think that it's important to remember that when we buy newly manufactured things, especially plastic things, in an effort to conserve, we may actually be defeating the purpose. Though it might be slightly heavier and has a bit less active-lifestyle cred, glass doesn't retain odors, is completely recyclable, and is easily cleaned. I don't plan on rock climbing with it, so it works for me.

2. Forgo the bag (and use the one you have). My first job was in retail and we were taught to bag everything. Even if there was just one small item, we had a small plastic bag that was made specifically for occasions when customers would make a small purchase. I didn't think about it at the time, but it was very rare to hear a customer say "No thanks, I already have a bag." I carry a backpack or messenger bag with me most of the time, and I've taken to telling cashiers at checkout that I don't need a bag. I keep a canvas bag inside my backpack so that I can easily pack groceries in and protect them from getting mixed up with the various objects I have floating around inside my bag. Carrying around a backpack isn't feasible or desirable for everyone, but it's possible to consolidate items into a single bag or to tell the checkout person that a bag is not necessary for just a quart of milk.

3. Keep reusable cutlery at work. When I worked at places with a regular dining area and a kitchen, there was always communal metal cutlery. The building I currently work in has a small staff and we do not have the luxury of a kitchen, so I started out using the plastic cutlery that was always available. After a few weeks of this (I know it shouldn't have taken me that long), I realized how much plastic I was wasting and so brought a knife (for cutting fruit), fork, and spoon from home. I actually didn't stop there-- I also brought a plate and a bowl for microwaving my food because of my paranoia about plastic leeching toxins into food upon being heated.

Enci at IlluminateLA had a great idea about carrying camping utensils around in order to avoid using disposable cutlery on the go. I think I may begin to carry around a set of silverware from Goodwill as she suggested in the comments. Dessert-size silverware is smaller and would be easier to carry around than full-size cutlery, and though it lacks the nifty-ness of the camping utensil set, it doesn't involve the manufacturing of more plastic things.

4. Avoid buying things in plastic packaging. I try to buy things in glass or aluminum whenever possible. There is a scary trend in the produce section of shrink-wrapped-everything. The days of sorting through, touching, and smelling produce before purchasing are slowly creeping out of fashion. When I was in Japan, I was astonished to see that things like bananas and broccoli were vacuum-packed, a trend which seems to have spread. I am inclined to believe that this is for ease of sale, not so much to retain freshness, as plastic generally isn't very friendly to produce. I guess we are supposed to judge our fruits and vegetables solely on looks.

Even with the skyrocketing price of oil, more and more plastic packaging seems to be appearing, more and more individually wrapped, this-many-calories-only "snack-paks." It might be convenient, but the amount of extra trash it generates is alarming.
Of course, there have been times when I have violated these habits, but some action is better than none. Better to try and falter than not to try at all.


  1. HI Narinda welcome back
    great advice and tips, so simple yet we sometimes complicate things ourselves.
    I don't drive anymore (not by choice, but thats another story lol) and yes I have my small black messenger back that i use to carry my stuff.
    I'm a few years older than you, but i can't imagine how bad it can be for my 1 yr old nephew or 3 yr old niece in 40 or 50 yrs if we do not take care of the planet and our environment.

  2. Thanks for the welcome and the compliment. I think that things are slowly changing, and I hope that by the time your niece and nephew are grown up, they'll have better habits than we do.

  3. ...great ideas for lightening our footprint on the planet...

    Here are some seldom mentioned ways to put the "reuse" concept into action.

    Offer unwanted items on craigslist

    Buy needed items from thrift stores or garage sales.

    Go to estate sales


  4. Thanks for adding those tips, Martin. I'll keep them in mind when I write on the topic again.