2018 starts in just a few days. It's the that time when you find yourself taking stock of your habits, and thinking about how you can improve in the coming year. In addition to using a new to-do item scheduling app, exercising daily, and scheduling in self-care time, as this new year approaches I find myself thinking about how we can improve some of our less than stellar environmental and energy consumption choices. We have a few practices in place already I feel really good about in this arena: we gave up paper towels and napkins two and a half years ago and replaced them with kitchen rags and the cloth napkins we bought for our wedding. We're a one car household, and it's a very small car that gets 40MPG. We live in a smaller than average one story house. We got rid of our trash pick up service when we moved to this house, to force ourselves to be more conscious of the waste we're creating. We compost and give food scraps to our chickens. All that being said, there's still a lot of room for improvement! Here are 11 ways we are going to be working on minimizing waste creation, and lowering our utility bills in the coming year. *This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small portion of the sale if you choose to buy something through the link. The prices are unaffected, and all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Hey Jillian.*
1) No more dryer. That's right; our dryer died just a few weeks ago, and after talking it over, we decided to get a high quality drying rack and air dry our clothes instead of replacing the dryer. We've done several loads already, and so far I absolutely love the drying rack. Everything comes out like it was ironed, it's less wear and tear on our clothes, and it helps counter our dry winter indoor air. Come summer we'll be setting up our rack outdoors, and can take advantage of the stain fighting power of the sun. We do a lot of laundry because we have a toddler and we cloth diaper, so we should save about $200 in utility costs, and about $400 by buying the drying rack as opposed to a new dryer.
2) Making our own bread. I had gotten in the habit of making all our own bread, and went eight months last year without buying bread, but I fell off the baking wagon a few months ago when my bread pan sustained some damage. We started buying bread again, and with bread comes a plastic bag with every loaf. I got a new bread pan for Christmas, and I'm delighted to have a sandwich loaf and half a dozen rolls wrapped up in the fridge, in the cotton drawstring bags that my Soul carriers and accessories arrive in! You can buy or sew cloth bread bags, but these ones work great and we already had them, win-win.
3) Making our own yogurt. Yogurt with frozen berries is my son's preferred breakfast. We have been going through so many plastic yogurt tubs, and yogurt is expensive! I am switching over to local organic milk that comes in glass, reusable containers you return for a deposit, and even though a half gallon costs $5, it makes two quarts of fresh yogurt, which for local organic yogurt would be about $10, and there's no plastic involved! We should save about $260 a year, and cut down on 52 plastic containers.
4) Keeping our empty glass jars full of cold water in the fridge, and vacuuming the coils once a month. Keeping your fridge full, but not crowded, greatly improves its efficiency, and when I need to put away leftovers, I can just dump the water in our tea kettle, in a plant, or somewhere else it will get used, and have a clean jar ready to go. Vacuuming the coils of your fridge and making sure it's 2" away from the wall also help improve its performance.
5) Reusable cloth produce and grocery bags. Another great use for my beloved cotton Soul bags! You can buy special produce bags, but they are pretty much exactly the same as these ones, you can also sew your own from regular cotton muslin that's $1.99 a yard most places, or even recycle old pillow cases. Not only do you not bring home the filmy plastic produce bags provided at the store, but storing your produce in cloth bags can extend the life of your vegetables up to a few weeks, especially greens that tend to get slimy in in humid, constant contact with plastic. This one will reduce food waste and the amount of plastic we bring into our home. I also love using my Soul tote bags for my grocery trips, and will be investing in a few more. They are so sturdy and beautiful it makes it easier and more enjoyable to use them, and so I am much more likely to remember them on the way to the store, rather than collecting a cabinet full of plastic grocery bags I tell myself I'm going to reuse. (I am a Soul brand ambassador for a few more days, but that has not influenced my opinion of their products.)
6) Being more mindful of our hot water use. Switching to cold washes for our laundry should make a big dent in our use, as well as switching to a low flow showerhead. I also recently found out that you can safely rinse dishes in cold water, so I will be filling one side of the sink with hot soapy water for washing, and rinsing with cold. I know we currently use a lot of hot water letting it run while we wash and rinse dishes. Later this year we plan on replacing our very outdated hot water heater with a high efficiency on-demand model, which should improve our energy usage by leaps and bounds.
7) Switching light bulbs to LEDs as the old ones need replacing. We still have a few lingering incandescent bulbs in our house, and while it would be expensive to replace them all at once, we can manage a bulb at a time as they kick the bucket.
8) Transitioning away from soaps, lotions, and other beauty and cleaning products in plastic packaging. We aren't going to give all our current products the heave-ho until they run out, but one by one as they need replacing we will either switch to a DIY recipe that can be stored in a reusable glass container, or new products that come packaged in glass to being with. I need to do more research about the best color safe DIY shampoo before that one runs out. We also plan to switch to paper wrapped, recycled paper toilet paper as our current Costco pack runs out. It's still only $1 a roll, which is not too shabby! If you're curious about the environmental differences between using recycled vs virgin toilet paper, this report is incredibly thorough.
9) Making sure chargers and appliances not in use are unplugged. Your house's "phantom load" of all the power you use not doing anything at all, can be quite significant, up to 10% of your annual electric bill. Just by being more mindful about unplugging things we aren't using we should reduce our energy consumption by a noticeable amount.
10) Switching from bleached cotton tampons to a reusable menstrual cup. I have a critical mass of friends singing the praises of their silicone menstrual cups. I just ordered mine, and hopefully I will love it as much as they all do! Over the course of the year I should save about $60, to say nothing of the plastic tampon applicators I won't be throwing away, and the harmful effects of putting bleached cotton inside my body.
11) We signed up for a monthly meat share through a local farm. Our family had been close to meatless, before we discovered that my son can't really digest beans. We made the transition so rapidly to a diet with more meat in it, that I am sad to say we have been eating a fair amount of conventional, factory farmed meat, even though we do our best to stretch it in dishes like soups, pasta dishes, and stews. Starting in March we'll be receiving 5lbs of meat, a mix of locally raised pork, lamb, beef, and chicken each month. We've been to the farm where these animals are raised, and I know we will feel much better about our (still pretty minimal for the average American) meat consumption, and know we are supporting our local farming economy.
What about you? Do you have environmental goals for the new year? I'm going to be tracking our utility bills over the course of the year as we continue to make changes, so we can really see what's working and what isn't, and I'll be sure to post updates. For more ideas, follow my Reduce board on Pinterest!
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