Organic and Green Savings: Gardening Edition!

April 11th, 2010

The next Green Moms’ Carnival, to be hosted on Monday, by the lovely Anna of Green-Talk, is all about gardening.  Last spring, inspired by Anna and her great gardening posts I decided to try raising plants from seed for the first time. It was fun in the beginning.

recycled seed pots

But unfortunately the plants never took.

Fact is, I’m not much for gardening. I can’t even keep an “indestructible” bamboo plant alive on my desk.

deadbamboo

The only plants that survive in my garden are the really natural ones – you know, the ones that come up no matter what you do. (And the ones that our house’s former owner, a Master Gardener, planted and left for us!)

So my bad luck with gardening presented a dilemma for this carnival. What to write? What could I possibly contribute?

For the past few years, I’ve blogged on a semi-regular basis about organic and green savings. Most of the time I’ve focused on food. Never on gardening. So here you go – if I can’t pass along sage gardening advice, at least I can pass along a few tips on good gardening values.

Organic Gardening Soil & Other Organic Accoutrements

In the past few years, the organic gardening trend has really taken off. And frankly, it’s puzzled me a bit. For unless you live on soil that was previously treated with chemicals, herbicides and pesticides, odds are your soil is already organic! There’s no need for fancy “organic” soils and supplies. Save your money for more important organic supplies…plants and seeds.

Which Organic Seeds?  Which Organic Plants?

It’s pretty cool to find all of the grocery stores stocking seed these days – even organic seed. But there’s a price differential – as with most things organic. At the  local Giant and Safeway grocery stores in Bethesda, Maryland, you’ll pay .90 cents more per packet for organic seed versus conventional. Funny how it seems like a lot of money at the time – until you think of how much produce those seeds should yield!

organicseed_Giantphoto

What are you really buying?  For the home gardener, the most important thing about organic seed is that it guarantees that the plants you are growing will not be from genetically modified stock. So which plants are most likely to be genetically modified?  In the US, the vast majority of corn, soy, and tomato crops are genetically modified. Concerns have been raised about what the ramifications may be of ingesting GMOs – a practice that has been banned in Japan and the EU.  There may be some genetic modification of other crops, but it’s not as common as with corn, soy and tomato – so those are the plants and seedlings you should definitely buy organic. By all means, buy everything organic if you can  – just to be on the safe side. But if not, spring for the big 3: tomatoes, corn and soy.

Gardening is Not Necessarily Green

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on this blogging journey is this: organic does not necessarily mean green. Green does not necessarily mean organic. Organic doesn’t mean fair trade. And the list goes on…..

Same with gardening. If you’re trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, does buying plants in plastic containers make sense?

plantsmixedphoto

Not only is plastic made from petrochemicals (increasing our carbon footprints and contributing to global warming), but it doesn’t degrade in a landfill or compost heap. The manufacturing process is also highly toxic, often causing health problems for the people unfortunate enough to live nearby the manufacturing facilities. (For more on this, watch Tapped, The Movie).

Sometimes, the choice is easy, like it was at this Giant store. A wooden basket or plastic? For the same price? What an easy choice.

bushelphoto

Other times, you may think you have no choice – just row after row of plastic seedling containers.

But there’s always a better way.  Cardboard, egg crate, and other paper-based materials can all be re-used (and later composted) to make seedling pots.

Talk to your store’s manager. Ask if they can talk to their suppliers about more sustainable packaging.  Even if they can’t change the packaging, surely they can start a take-back program for the little plastic pots.  Write a letter. Ask your friends to do the same. You’d be amazed  at what a little bit of consumer input can do!

Garden. Do it Organically or Not. But  be Green.  Don’t contribute more to the plastic waste stream in your quest to “be green” by planting a bit of garden space in your backyard.

For more tips on gardening, head on over to Green-Talk to hear what the rest of the Green Moms Carnival members have to say about gardening. And for more tips on living life with less plastic, check out Fake Plastic Fish.

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2010

How to Pack A Cheap and Easy Waste-Free Lunch

August 9th, 2009

There are many  eco-friendly options available for school lunch, but let’s face it: most of them are still pretty pricey. Shelling out  $21 for a Sigg water bottle or $37.95 for a Laptop lunch box adds up to big bucks quickly.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

The very popular Sigg bottles range in price from $17.99 to $24.99 at this Bethesda Whole Foods.

Here are five super cheap, easy ways you can send your kids back-to-school with an eco-friendly lunch bag.   If you’re fortunate enough to have what you need already, maybe you could take this post and send it to a school list serv or to others  who might find this information helpful.

There are really just five things you need for a waste-free lunch:

1.    Lunch box – or brown bag. While there are great eco-friendly lunch box options out there, most range from $14 on up. You can buy a pack  of 100 brown paper lunch bags for $1.99.    No, it’s not totally waste-free,  but most municipalities recycle paper – so you can toss the bag out with the newspapers to be recycled!     It’s a much more environmentally  friendly option than buying a conventional school lunch bag, which are often made of PVC plastic. Read here to learn why you want to avoid PVC, which is harmful to our health and to the environment.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

As seen in a Bethesda Safeway, buy 2 packages for $3.98 and you'll have enough recyclable brown bags for the entire school year.

2.    Water bottles. This is a biggie. Visit nearly any school cafeteria and you’ll see a staggering amount of waste from disposable juice boxes and milk containers.  Yet most stainless or non-PVC water bottles are $10 and up – some as high as $25 or more.  Before I invested in two Sigg Mr. Sharky’s  (pictured below), I used a good ole Honest Tea bottle. Made of durable glass, it was fine for drinks on the go.  I still use one in a pinch!

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

A durable glass bottle, such as this Honest Tea bottle, can be reused as an on-the-go water bottle.

3.    Cloth napkin. No need to buy new here. Pretty much everyone has a spare dish rag or dish towel lying around the house, or some “good” cloth napkins that are only taken out for “special occasions.” These are perfect for school lunch. So far, my son hasn’t asked why he carries a linen dishcloth with a 1977 calendar on it, but I’m sure that day is coming soon…!

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

Yes, that's my mother's calendar dish towel from 1977, now doubling as a napkin in my son's lunch box. Do I get a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse award for this?

4.    Food containers. My how things have changed just in the past year. Now you can buy stainless steel containers for school lunch. But again, cost is an issue. If you don’t want to spend  $40 for an all-in-one lunch kit or $16 for a stainless steel food container, you can go the el cheapo route like I did.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Three of these glass Pyrex food storage units sell for just $4.99 at a Bethesda Giant Food store.

Unfortunately there are no more of these nifty $4.99 glass pyrex containers at the Bethesda Giant, because I bought out their entire stock!

And here’s  a shot of Big Boy with his lunch bag, which contains some plastic (gasp) Gerber food containers. I love these.  They’re made in the good old USA, they’re  cheap (under $5 for 4 small dishes) and they’re made of #5 plastic, which does not contain BPA. Still, to be on the safe side (because all plastics can leach) I keep these plastic bowls out of the dishwasher and the microwave   I had to search high and low for these – they seem to sell out as soon as they’re in stock, but you can sometimes find them at Target or Buy Buy Baby.

school-lunchphoto

He’s also carrying a more traditional “Green Mom”  accoutrement – a Wrap n’ Mat sandwich wrap, which is made of washable cloth and durable, low density polyethylene (LDPE). These sell for   $7.99 on the Internet, but I bought mine locally at My Organic Market.   When I hit the Wrap n’ Mat website as I was writing this post, I learned that they’ve just introduced little snack pouches, which sell for $8.99 each.

5.    Cutlery. This past school year I packed lunches with our regular cutlery, and unfortunately I regret it because some of our silverware never made it home.  This year I’m trying Sporks !

And I leave you with a picture of my boys’ trusty Crocodile Creek lunch bags being cleaned out. Because this frugal green Mom isn’t planning to buy new ones this year!

lunchboxphoto

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival: Green Schools Edition, which runs tomorrow (Monday, August 10th) right here at OrganicMania.

– Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

Organic & Green Savings: CVS, Whole Foods & Bethesda’s Giant Food

May 31st, 2009

It’s been a while since the last Green and Organic Savings feature. With all this child advocacy, green activism, and taking care of clients, I’ve not had time for long, leisurely shopping trips. Mr. OrganicMania has picked up the slack, but that’s going to change.

Anyway, this week, you didn’t even need to make it to the stores to see some fabulous deals at Whole Foods, Safeway and CVS, thanks in part to some old-fashioned direct mail pieces and newspaper inserts.

CVS has an incredible deal running on Physician’s Formula make-up. With your CVS card, you can buy one, get 50% off one Physicians Formula cosmetic. And check your newspaper coupon insert today. The Sunday Washington Post has a $1 off coupon for Physicians Formula. As I blogged here, not all of their products score the best ratings in the Cosmetics Safety database, but five of their 185 products score “low hazard” ratings, so OrganicMania recommends you try these Physicians Formula products: liquid eyeliner, finishing veil, pressed powder, concealer stick, and extra sensitive skin sunblock. If you have questions, you can check out their ratings at the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database here.

Next time you’re in Whole Foods, be sure to use the Green & Black’s $1 off coupon from the Whole Foods Whole Deal newsletter (good through July). I’ve raved before about Green & Black’s delicious organic chocolate here at OrganicMania, over at Big Green Purse, and at The Daily Green, but since it’s nearly summer I decided to try their ice cream. Wow. It’s fantastic! Thanks again to my bloggy friend Wrekehavoc for turning me on to Green & Blacks Organic!

If you’re anywhere near Bethesda, be sure to check out the Arlington Road Giant, which is running a triple coupon deal through June 4th.  You can find the triple savings coupons in a newsprint mailer sent to area homes. Now of course you don’t want to use those coupons for junk food, so I decided to scour the net to look for organic coupons for under $1 each that could be used at Giant to qualify for triple savings. The Giant deal means you can save up to $2.97 on each of five items, for $14.85 in savings! After looking at national organic brands with distribution at Giant including Stonyfield, Ian’s, Newman’s Own, Green & Black’s, Amy’s Organic, Annie’s Naturals and Earthbound Farm, incredibly I could only find valid online coupons (those under $1) at Stonyfield Farm. (Disclosure: Stonyfield is a sponsor of OrganicMania’s trip to BlogHER, but honestly I couldn’t find valid under $1 coupons anywhere else! Leave a comment some if you happen to find them!)

Stonyfield has 14 different online coupons available including .50 off their new Oikos organic Greek yogurt, as well as organic milk, Yo Baby, Smoothies and more. You need to register here before accessing the e-coupons.

Did you find any other great deals on organic and green products? Leave a comment and share!

Note: I’m looking for two additional sponsors to help defray the cost of my BlogHER trip. If you represent a sustainable brand that you think may be a good fit with OrganicMania, please email me at organicmania at gmail dot com.

Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

Great Deals on Recycled Toilet Paper & Why TP Shouldn’t Be at the Bottom of Your Green List

March 2nd, 2009

Perhaps you saw the news a few days ago: reports from Greenpeace, publicized in The New York Times, Fast Company, and the UK newspaper The Guardian, which emphasized the importance of choosing recycled toilet paper over “squeezably soft” brands, which get that softness from wood pulp found only in virgin forests.

Going green involves huge changes in buying behaviors: everything from food to clothing to houses, cars, and even toilet paper gets looked at with increased awareness of its ecological impact.

And for many of us — well, swapping out our favorite toilet paper brand is at the bottom of the list. I’ll admit it: I didn’t give much thought to recycled toilet paper, figuring that I’d just wait until the prices came down and the quality came up. Memories of scratchy paper from overseas didn’t do anything to encourage me to check out recycled toilet paper, and frankly, I didn’t realize the extent to which premium toilet paper is taken from old growth forests. (Read more of this disturbing news here).

So I took a fresh look at recycled toilet paper versus conventional, and found big changes in the marketplace. Did you realize you can buy recycled paper for less money than conventional toilet paper?

CVS recently introduced CVS Earth Essentials, recycled content napkins, toilet paper, and paper towels. I decided that at .89 cents a roll, I could spring for one, and put it to the test versus Scott bathroom tissues, available on the same drugstore shelf for $1.29 per roll, and Seventh Generation, available at Whole Foods for $1.39 per roll.

The verdict? Recycled toilet paper has come a long way. Yes, from the perspective of “The Princess and the Pea,” you do notice a bit of a difference, but it is very slight and not nearly enough to merit being called “scratchy.” The quality is equivalent to the type of toilet paper you find in most public buildings. It’s fine.

And it’s really cheap in bulk. After the successful home test, I returned to CVS to stock up. They’re running a sale on four packs of Earth Essentials, now $3.49, on sale from $4.69 through April 30th. That’s a $1.20 savings per 4-pack. But the savings really add up when you buy a 12-pack for $8.99. That’s less than 75 cents per roll. And if you have a CVS “ExtraCare card,” you may reap even more savings. My initial .89 cent purchase yielded a $5 off any $15 purchase, so when I returned to pick up the 12-pack, I added a few other things in my cart and saved even more.

The CVS Earth Essentials toilet paper rated a “Green Tree” stamp of approval from Greenpeace. (Unfortunately the other Earth Essentials products didn’t rank quite as highly as their toilet paper). Check out the Greenpeace guide here. Other good bets for best buys include the Trader Joe’s house brand and Whole Foods 365 brand. And don’t forget, you can often get 10% off a case of goods such as toilet paper at your local market – just ask! My Organic Market offers this discount plus a “best price” guarantee. Other good sources include CSAs, which often stock paper goods too.

So what are you waiting for? Take the switch to recycled toilet paper off the bottom of your list today!

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2009