Saving Money Through Green Means (My Top 20 Tips!)

November 18th, 2009

There was a time when I thought going green meant expensive, frou-frou organic and eco-chic “stuff.” Sure, that can be part of the picture, but for most people, going green actually saves money. I’ve been posting about how to find deals on green and organic items for the past few years now, so for this “Saving through Green Means” edition of the Green Moms Carnival, hosted by Condo Blues,  I’m sharing a round-up of my favorite tips for saving money while going green. I’ve linked to 10 posts below, and together they cover more than 20 tips for saving money! Now what are you going to do with all that money you save? Leave a comment and share!

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1.  One of my favorite “savings posts”  – and honestly, not just for “green means” either. Here are the things to AVOID doing – My Top 10 Don’ts.   Follow these rules and I swear you’ll save money!

2.   Hate spending money on kids’ stickers? So do I! So much packaging waste and they’re a total rip-off! Here’s a post about what you can do instead.

3. Buying in Bulk and Watch Those Labels! You don’t have to trek to a big box store to buy in bulk. You can save by stocking up on discounted items at your regular grocer. Read this post for more info.

apple-juice-apple-eve14.  Bigger Isn’t Always Better – the “bulk savings bin” or “special deals” aren’t always the cheapest way to go. See this post for details – but check what you need and read labels and per ounce/per serving pricing carefully. If you waste something, you’re not really saving anything – and it’s not very green, is it?

5.  CSAs are a great way to save money on organic, local, farm-fresh and even biodynamic foods. Did you know you can save even more money by sampling a CSA? Read this post to learn how.

6. Disappointed by in-store expired coupons? Don’t be – take a few minutes to go to customer service to get the money you’re owed! Here’s my experience at Whole Foods.

7. Not finding what you want? Look up, look down, look all around. Did you know that most stores put the most expensive items at eye-level? That means you have to crane your neck to look up, look down, look all around and find what you want, as this post demonstrates!

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8. Late Night Specials at Whole Foods: Perfect for tomorrow’s lunch or a late night snack, did you know you can grab the day’s freshly made gourmet sandwiches for half-off in the evening?  Read more here.

9.  Waste-free lunches are green, cheap and easy. Sure, you can buy some of the lovely waste-free lunch kits. But you don’t have to. You can make your own or brown-bag it. Here’s how.

10.    Green Household Cleansers: Make Your Own!  Vinegar, baking soda, castille soap, and maybe some lemon. That’s really all you need! Read more here, and check out The Smart Mama too. She’s a wealth of knowledge about green cleaning – she has some great “cleaning recipes” on her site to help you!

Hope you enjoyed all these “oldie but goodie” posts on saving through green means! Leave a comment and share your best tips!

A Fair Trade Halloween? Not Completely.

October 31st, 2009

This Halloween, I was convinced, would be the year that fair trade Halloween chocolates made it to the mass market — or at least to Whole Foods!  Sadly, #nestlefamily fiasco notwithstanding, we’ve still got long way to go before fair trade Halloween chocolates are widely available.

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I started my quest in early October,  pulling up the Reverse Trick or Treating website run by Global Exchange.  This program distributes free Fair Trade chocolates along with educational materials about the benefits of fair trade, which include a commitment to:
* ENDING poverty among cocoa farmers
* STOPPING  forced/abusive child labor in the cocoa industry and
* PROTECTING  the environment

Unfortunately, they were already sold out. And my quest for Fair Trade chocolate began.  My first stop was Whole Foods in DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood. No luck.  Then I tried Whole Foods River Road in Bethesda, Maryland. Nada. How about Whole Foods Rockville Pike, in Rockville, Maryland? Zilch. Back to My Organic Market in Rockville, Maryland.  Nothing. Trader Joes in Bethesda? No.

Why was I so determined? Ever since my friend Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse told me that 50% of the cocoa in this country comes from Cote d’Ivoire, which still practices forced child labor on many of its cocoa plantations, I have tried to avoid conventional chocolates.

But by mid-October,  I was beginning to think I’d never find Fair Trade Halloween chocolate, so I started looking for substitutes.

At Target, I found pretzels from Pennsylvania – $3.27 for a bag of 35,  or just 9 cents per treat.

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By now, we were a week away from Halloween, and Big Boy was bitterly complaining about only having “boring” pretzels to give out as treats to his friends. So I caved and bought some bon bons at Giant. I thought I was safe – chocolate-free – until I discovered that one of the candies – Bit-O-Honey – are made by Nestle.

Finally, at Trader Joes, I picked up 2 bags of chocolate bars – not whole trade, but from Columbia. Since the slave labor employed in the cocoa industry is focused in Africa  — specifically Cote d’Ivoire – I reasoned that cocoa from somewhere other than Africa was probably the next best thing to Fair Trade cocoa. And at $2.79 per bag, or ten cents per piece, it was competitively priced to American brands.

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A few days before Halloween, at the Takoma-Silver Spring co-op, I found small Fair Trade chocolates – but the price — 40 cents per piece – gave me pause. My neighborhood is overrun with kids on Halloween eve, and I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars or more on Halloween candy!

But I did leave the co-op with YUMMY EARTH USDA Organic lollypops, 70 in a bag for $2.79 or just 3 cents per piece.   Made with real flavors including organic black carrot, pumpkin, black currant, and apple,  these lollypops are delicious!  They will definitely become a Halloween staple in our household.

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I could not believe that there was no Fair Trade Halloween chocolate to be had in DC or Bethesda, so I started sending tweets out asking for help. I heard back from Divine Chocolate, suggesting I visit a store in a far away part of DC.

In a final attempt to finish my quest, I dashed into Ten Thousand Villages near Bethesda Row and low and behold, found some Fair Trade chocolate – perfect for Halloween. At 25 cents per piece, the Divine Chocolate gold coins were about the price I expected – expensive but manageable.  I picked up 2 bags of gold coins, but not before hearing the store manager say many other frustrated shoppers had been in seeking fair trade Halloween chocolate as well.

Not in my neighborhood. Surveying my son’s overflowing trick-or-treat bag, I didn’t see another organic or fair trade item. I felt a bit like I had been spitting into the ocean – a tiny drop of nothing in a sea of high fructose corn syrup, slave labor chocolate, and artificial colors and ingredients — all wrapped in plastic – reams and reams of plastic.   I wondered how my Green Moms Carnival friends Jennifer (The Smart Mama), Jennifer (The Green Parent), Micaela, Beth, Maryann, Sommer, Jess, Karen, Anna, Alicia and the others had handled this holiday. Hmm…I’m thinking next year we should plan a carnival on Halloween treats!

Hope your Halloween was happy!  What did you hand out? And did you go crazy looking for Fair Trade chocolates too? Leave a comment and let me know!

And at the end of the day,  it’s all about these funny little faces, isn’t it?

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– Lynn

Copyright 2009 OrganicMania

NOTE: Here is a link to the latest information I could find from the US chocolate industry about the continued struggle for equity in Cote d’Ivoire.

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.

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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!

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

– 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