Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Green Boot Camp Black Out

Sorry, readers, about the Green Boot Camp black out. I just haven't been able to keep up with the weekly posts. The Lean Green Family has grown so much in the past year that, with five postings weekly--and a freelance writing business to run--I just don't have the time to post on Green Boot Camp as well. It was a good idea, but one that I've had to give up on. I hope you'll continue to follow me over at The Lean Green Family. Thanks.

Leah Ingram
November 21, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Week 34--Reusable Water Sources

This past weekend we were treated to the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna, which dumped about four inches of rain on our thirsty landscape. As most gardeners know a great way to get your potted plants watered without wasting water is to set them out on your step or in the front yard when you're in for a good downpour. The plants will get a great drink, and you won't have to turn on the tap to quench their thirst.

There are other ways that you can create reusable water sources throughout your house, and this week in Green Boot Camp, I want you to figure out what those reusable water sources are--and how you can use them.

For example, my daughters take refillable water bottles to school each day in their lunch boxes. At night when I'm cleaning their lunch boxes out, if there is any water left in the bottles, I'll use it to water the indoor plants. Sure, the easiest thing to do would be to dump it down the drain, by why not get a second use out of it?

Over the summer, when we were swimming in our pool nearly daily, I had everyone get into their post-pool shower with their bathing suits on. I explained that you could clean yourself and your suit at the same time. That is after soaping up with shampoo, you could take your bathing suit off and let it wash itself in the bottom of the tub. Then, when you rinsed your body, your bathing suit got rinsed, too. This saved me from having to hand wash bathing suits, and the quick washings has extended the bathing suits' life because we're getting the chlorine off of the fabric pretty quickly.

I've also found my dehumidifier to be a terrific source of free water. Here's how I've taken to reusing that water:

* Pouring it into the washing machine as I'm filling a load. I have to do this when the load is filling, otherwise the water goes right down the drain. I figure that if the dehumidifier water helps to fill up the washing machine's tub, I use less water (which I pay for, now that we're on a public system) when washing my clothes.

* Using it to flush the toilets. Yes, I admit that we often subscribe to the notion of "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown flush it down." That is, if you don't have to flush the toilet every time you use it, don't do it so you can save water. Of course, if I were having guests over or I was at someone else's house, I wouldn't ever do this. I'd flush with each bathroom use. But when it's just the four of us around, it works for us.

* Filling the kitchen sink with the water to let dirty dishes soak. Because dehumidifier water isn't potable--and therefore I can't refill the dog's water dish with it--I can use it to soak of stuck-on gunk before placing anything in the dishwasher.

* Dumping it in the pool. Of course, this option will stay viable for only as long as the pool stays open. But, then again, I tend not to run the dehumidifier during the cold weather months, because it isn't humid out.

Let me know if you come up with other ways to reuse water during this week of Green Boot Camp.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Week 33--Top 10 Tips for Greener Living

(Note: This post also appeared on The Lean Green Family)

Now that we're more than halfway through Green Boot Camp's 52 weeks to a greener you, I thought it was the perfect time to do a refresher course in greener living--most of which we've already covered here but which bear repeating:

1. Get compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL).
These energy-efficient bulbs last way longer than regular incandescent bulbs--CFLs give you about 10,000 hours of light whereas incandescent bulbs give only 1,000 hours. (Note: when your bulbs do eventually burn out, don't toss them in the trash. Instead, drop them off at IKEA, which will recycle them for free, or figure out another green way to dispose of them.)

2. Stock up on reusable bags.
While most supermarkets sell reusable bags these days, save the money and dig out all of those canvas bags you've picked up at conferences or maybe on vacation. Bring these bags with you whenever you go to the store--whether it be grocery shopping or a day at the mall. Or, keep them in the trunk of your car so you'll never forget them at home. If you remember to bring a reusable bag, when the checkout person asks you, "Paper or plastic?" you can reply, "No, thanks. I brought my own."

3. Be cool (or warm) in winter and summer.
That is, make your house or apartment a couple degrees cooler in the winter, and then run the a/c a little warmer in the summer. Just a few degrees difference can cut your energy consumption and lower your bills, too. Also, when you can, open the windows and let Mother Nature cool your home. We were able to do this during our exceptionally cool August, and our electric bill went down by $100. Unfortunately, now that it's September, it's ragweed season, and my allergies require us to keep all the windows shut and the a/c on.

4. Embrace daylight.
There is no reason to have lights on during the day if it's bright and sunny out. Try to turn on lights only when it's getting dark or if it's a gloomy day. Also, get in the habit of turning lights off when you leave a room to save energy as well.

5. Start composting.
I got my composter for free off of Freecycle, and now I put all of my food scraps (except for meat and dairy) in the compost. Since I started composting, I would estimate that we've reduced our garbage output by at least half.

6. Recycle more than just paper and plastic.
Of course everyone should be recycling paper and plastic as their town or city might require, but you can find ways to recycle and reuse other items so that they don't end up in landfills. Case in point: old towels, sheets and t-shirts can become rags (saves on paper towels), or you can donate them to a local SPCA, which uses them to line pens or dry off animals after baths. Need to get rid of a piece of furniture? Don't throw it out--list it for free on Freecycle or Craigslist.

7. Shop locally.
Spring and summer are great times to take advantage of local farms and farmer's markets for fresh produce, eggs and other locally grown or made items. Tonight, for example, I picked up honeycrisp apples at the supermarket, and as soon as they're picked in a local orchard, that's where I'll go to get our favorite apple variety. By shopping locally you can feel confident that you're getting fresher fare, and you don't have to feel guilty that the tomato in your salad traveled 1,000 miles or more to get to your table.

8. Leave the car at home.
I realize that for city-folk, walking everywhere is a no-brainer. But people like me who live in the suburbs can find a way to walk more so we can leave the car at home. Whenever I need to go to the post office, the bank or even take the dog to the vet, I walk. Or, if walking from home isn't an option, you can park your car in one central place, and then walk to all of the stores where you need to run errands. Also, get yourself a pedometer so you can keep track of how much walking you are doing, which does a body good. Yesterday, I barely got in the car, and ended the day with 19,000+ steps (that's close to eight miles)!

9. Dispose of disposables.
Get yourself out of the habit of using disposable anything, whether it be paper towels, plastic spoons or paper plates. You'll do Mother Earth right if you throw out less trash. Besides, even though it might seem logical to use paper plates instead of running the dishwasher, the dishwasher is actually the greener choice. Just think about the trees that had to be cut down and trucked, and the energy that was used to make paper plates. No, your everyday plates washed in the dishwasher wins hands down every time.

10. Change how you use (and drink) water.
An easy way to green your water use is to install aerators on all of your faucets and low-flow showerheads in your bathrooms. These can cut water consumption in half, simply by allowing less water to come out at a time. In addition, as every kids knows, you shouldn't let the water run when you're brushing your teeth or waiting for it to get cold enough to drink. With the latter situation keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so you've got chilled water on hand to drink at all times. And speaking of drinking water, ditch the disposable water bottle habit and get yourself a reusable water bottle that you can use to quench your thirst without adding to landfills.

Have any tips to add to my top 10? Post a comment. I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Week 32--Start Thinking About Stocking a Gift Closet

Will back to school about to get into full swing here on the East Coast--and already back in session in many parts of the country--I'll guarantee that you'll find school supply sales galore. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the fact that retailers are forecasting a soft back-to-school shopping season. But that shouldn't bum you out. No, this is a great time for you to think about stocking a gift closet back-to-school and end-of-summer items. In fact, a gift closet is your task for this week on Green Boot Camp.

What's a gift closet? It's a place in your home, be it a closet, shelf in the garage or drawer in a dresser, where you keep onhand gifts that you might need at the last minute. These kinds of gifts would be hostess gifts, thank you gifts, children's gifts and more.

Some of my other favorite items to keep in a gift closet include bags of whole-bean coffee, savory bottles of olive oil, picture frames, bottles of wine, and serving or decorative bowls. For kids I'll get games, puzzles and anything having to do with arts and crafts.

Around the holidays I add bottles of wine and boxes of chocolate, which I keep in the refrigerator. But they serve the same purpose--should I need a last-minute gift to bring to a party or a dinner to which I've been invited, I don't need to hop in the car (wastes gas) to get to the store and make a purchase I probably can't afford. No, I stock up when things are on sale and in one trip so I'm saving gas.

OK, so at the end of the summer, what cool things might you find for your gift closet?

* Stationery store items, such as notecards, writing journals, and arts and craft supplies
* Summer/pool accessories, such as beach towels, goggles or inflatable pool toys
* Housewares or home decorations, such as candles and greenery.

Soon enough the stores will be overflowing with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas items. And once each of these holidays has come and gone, I would recommend taking a day to stock up on those seasonal items for next year's gift closet.

Let me know what kinds of ideas you come up with for your end-of-summer gift closet.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Week 31--Green Your Break Room

My friend DeeDee has determined that the break room in the real estate office where she works needed a green makeover. With an abundance of paper plates, plastic flatware and disposable drinking cups, the trash cans there overfloweth with garbage while the recycling bins remained empty. Just as bad as no one recycling, no one was making the effort to use anything reusable. That's when DeeDee decided to bring in a couple of sets of old dishes, coffee mugs, flatware and cloth napkins to stock the break room. While it's been tough converting her fellow realtors to her reusable ways, I'm convinced that soon enough she'll succeed.

Around the same time that I heard about DeeDee's efforts, my mother sent me an email suggesting that I write a post about making refreshments at meetings green. (She serves on a number of non-profit boards, and at their regular meetings, there's always food served.) Here's what my mom had to say about the greening of her meetings:
"The only paper we now throw away are napkins. By shopping @ Goodwill or Yard Sales, we have enough dishes, bowls and silverware....NO more plastic or paper. To avoid using paper towels, we also have dish cloths (which I bring home to launder) to dry the dishes."
You go, Mom!

This is all leading up to this week's task for Green Boot Camp. I want you to figure out how you can green the break room at your office. Or, if you're a teacher getting ready to go back to school (or have already gone back to school), I want you to come up with ideas to green the teacher's lounge.

Some ways you can achieve this, that tap into what DeeDee and my mom have done, include:

* Stocking the cabinets with reusable silverware, flatware, coffee mugs and drinking bottles

Are you an ardent yard sale shopper? Do you like to troll for bargains at thrift stores? Have you ever seen an "offer" on Freecycle for old place settings? If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you realize that these are all great options for finding free or very low-cost dishes and other serving utensils that you can use in the teacher's lounge or break room.

Also, teachers tend to get way too many coffee mugs as gifts from their students--ask any teacher and she'll tell you this is true. So maybe if you work in a school, all you need to do to is ask your colleagues to reach into the depths of their storage cabinets in their classrooms to find all of those gifted coffee mugs that they never knew what to do with.

Finally, if you work in a school, you might want to query your physical education teachers to see if they have overstocks of refillable water bottles. I know that at my daughters' schools, mini sports bottles are often the "prize" they get for doing some sort of fitness-oriented fundraiser like Jump Rope for Heart. Might your PE teacher have an abundance of these that can go into rotation in the staff lounge?

* Bringing in cloth napkins and washable dishtowels

Again, the idea here is to reduce the amount of trash that ends up getting thrown out after a lunch break or prep period. Ideally, you can get a couple of teachers or work colleagues to agree to bring home the cloth napkins and towels at the end of the week to wash, like my mother has volunteered to do for her meetings. I'll bet that yard sales are a great place to pick up mismatched cloth napkins sets. Who cares if they don't match?

* Providing a compost bin for food scraps

I know plenty of people who aren't as lucky as I am to have a compost bin right in their backyard, but that doesn't stop them from being committed to composting their food scraps. These folks truck their scraps to a community composting pile or bring them to a local garden that collects organic matter. Perhaps the teachers among us could convince their school district to work with the cafeteria to compost their food scraps, and then the teachers could contribute their leftovers as well. At the very least if you have a compost pile at home and are willing to bring home organic matter to add to your compost pile, then you could provide an empty bucket, tucked under a sink or in a cabinet, and then let your colleagues know that they can dump their food scraps (except for meat or dairy), including coffee grounds, in that bucket.

* Making food and drinks on-site

Most people know that a great way to save money on workday nourishment is to bring in or make your own. Well, brewing your own coffee in the office or in the staff lounge is also a great way to cut down on people having to bring in disposable cups filled with coffee from the local coffee shop or Starbucks. At the same time, wouldn't it be great if you could have a freshly made, hot lunch that cost barely anything to cook up? Why not consider bringing in a Crock-Pot and having a schedule that you and your colleagues can use to Crock-Pot lunch? They could bring in the ingredients and dump them in the Crock-Pot before the first bell, and by the middle of the day, lunch is served! (For great ideas on easy Crock-Pot recipes, check out the blog A Year of CrockPotting.)

* Providing recycling bins

While most offices and schools have finally gotten around to recycling office paper on a regular basis, I'm convinced that not all of them are recycling plastic, metal and glass like they should be. So why not set up a clearly marked set of recycling bins in your break room or staff lounge so that when someone finished a can of Diet Coke or a bottle of water (gasp: bring a refillable bottle!), she has an easy way of tossing that can or bottle in a recycling bin instead of right into the trash.

I realize that all of these ideas are great in a vacuum and maybe you don't have colleagues who will buy into this notion of using reusables and then washing them afterwards. But you'll never know unless you try. Let me know if you can bring this up at your next staff meeting and what kind of reception your idea gets.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Week 30--Don't Bust Your Budget for Back to School

This week's task on Green Boot Camp may not be for everyone. Why? Because it's focusing on back to school. Now I realize that not everyone has kids that will be going back to school shortly--or may have already gone back if you live someplace where school started last week--but I promise that some of my advice and suggestions may apply.

OK, for starters, do not--I repeat, do not--head out to go back-to-school shopping before you've had the chance to do an inventory at home. The easiest way to collect more stuff, and therefore create more trash, is to buy and bring home items that you actually didn't need. And with too much stuff comes clutter. And as Flylady always says, "You can organize clutter."

So how do you get your inventory started? Well, if your kids are like my kids, they came home on the last day of school with a backpack full of half-used school supplies. That means that your first stop is to locate that backpack (I found both of my daughters' backpacks on the floor of their respective closets) and see what you've got inside. Turns out I had at least two packages of lined, three-hole-punch notebook paper that were never opened. I also discovered those stretchy Book Sox book covers, which I tossed in the laundry, and now they're good to go for the next school year. I tossed all of these into my all-purpose school supply box, which I learned about creating before the start of the last school year.

Next I want you to take a look around your house and see if there are any paper products, writing utensils or other items that you could easily reuse as back-to-school supplies. For example, last year had me attending a number of business meetings, which ended with my coming home with a pocket folder full of information. I know enough not to toss these kinds of pocket folders--once I've emptied them out and filed whatever it is from inside that I want to keep--so a few days ago we raided that stash of pocket folders to see if anything would work for back to school. Three such pocket folders did. We also discovered a few unused three-ring binders (not enough for both girls), some empty spiral notebooks, and three Rubbermaid-like container each filled with colored pencils, markers and crayons.

You can bet that I'd like to dip into each of those containers to fulfill the writing-utensil portion of my daughter's supply lists. I mean why buy new when I've got all of these perfectly good (yet not in a package) pencils, markers and crayons? Truth be told is my youngest is embarrassed to reuse colored pencils; she wants a fresh package. So I made her buy her own.

Speaking of supply lists, that should be your next step. Download them from your kids' school website (assuming your district is technologically advanced), and review the list with what you've already got in stock. Chances are you'll still need to buy some new supplies, but wait: don't head out to Staples or Wal-Mart or Target just yet. Now you've got to troll the sales, assuming you've got the time to buy a little bit of supplies each week.

For example, a few weeks ago Staples was having its penny sale, so we stocked up supplies we needed that were dirt cheap. In the end we spent only 13 cents on supplies. Last week Staples had other items on sales--like those marble-covered composition notebooks for 25 cents and filler paper for 10 cents a pack. On that trip, we stocked up on those items. For us now the only thing we've got left on our list are three-ring binders, and hopefully those will go on sale before school starts in September.

My wait-for-the-sales approach to back-to-school shopping assumes that your trip to a store selling school supplies isn't so far that you'll eat up your savings in gas by making multiple trips. I'm lucky that Staples is less than a mile away from where I live, so I can stop in on my way back on an errand day, when I'm in the car anyway, or we can walk to the store.

In the meantime, I can't stop thinking about those containers of colored pencils that we'll probably never use. So I'm thinking of culling them and putting them up as an "offer" on Freecycle. Maybe some other family will be able to put them to good use.

In fact, if you don't have kids going back to school, maybe this is how you can use this week of Green Boot Camp to your advantage. You could figure out how you can declutter your school-like supplies and give them away on Freecycle (or another kind of swap site, like I discussed recently on my other blog) so that your stuff doesn't end up in the trash, you'll have less stuff around that you're probably not using anyway, and you'll help out a family that maybe can't afford to get its children all the school supplies that you're going to give away for free.

Let me know how this week's Green Boot Camp tasks work for you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Week 29--Dust Off Your Library Card

In our 24/7 retail world, it almost too easy to buy anything--day or night. With websites like Amazon.com, why would anyone ever go to the library? Well, that was my thinking for many years, which is how I managed to spend about $800 a year on books. Yes, that's also why my home looks like a library but I don't receive state funding or grants or anything. Nonetheless, it really is wasteful to think about reading a book once and never touching it again.

One of my resolutions when I started The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal) was to stop buying books and start borrowing them from the library. And since I made that resolution more than a year ago, I've purchased one book for myself. It was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. The only reason I ended up breaking my resolution was I was going on a business trip, needed something to read, and the wait list for Three Cups of Tea through the library was just too long. (Great book, by the way. While it was a bit overwritten, I highly recommend it, and I hope it gets made into a movie.)

Now that I'm back on track with borrowing books from the library, I'd like you to make this change as well. So this week in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to get out your library card and start using it. Don't have a library card? Then get thee to your local branch and apply for one. (You'll need to bring identification that proves that you live locally.)

Some libraries charge a nominal amount for a new card--especially if you once had one and lost it. Yeah, I learned this lesson the hard way when I had to fork over $3 to "reactivate" by library account. But that's OK. Three bucks is just a drop in the bucket when compared with the cost of a new book.

Hopefully, your library system offers an online option like mine does. It's great because I can do this: when I read about a great book in a magazine or newspaper, or hear an author speaking on TV or the radio, and want to read his/her book, I can log onto my library's website and reserve the book. Sometimes the staff just has to pull the book off the shelf at the library around the corner, and call me to come pick it up; other times they need to "order" the book from another branch, and it gets to me in a few days. In those rare instances where there is a waiting list, it could take weeks to get the book I'm dying to read (which is how I grew impatient with Three Cups of Tea).

One of the reasons that I love this online-reservation option is it allows me to "get" books the same way I used to when I was buying them off of Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I would hear about a book that piqued my interest, and I would log on to buy it. With the library system, I get to go through the same motions, except I don't have to enter my credit card number to complete the transaction. I just click on the "reserve" button, and then I can expect a call or email from the library when the book is ready for me to pick it up.

It really was a painless change to make. Think you can do it, too? Good luck and happy reading.