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).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Week Sixteen--Packing Green Lunches

The school year may be winding down for many students, but my kids still have a little less than two months to go. However, come summer, I don't get a break from packing lunches, because my children attend day camp that does not provide lunch. Others may pack lunch, not for their kids, but for themselves at the office, as a way of saving money. I mean, $5 for lunch doesn't sound like a lot when you look at that number on its own, but multiple it by five days a week ($25) and then 52 weeks ($1,300), and you're looking at some significant dough.

Regardless of the person you're packing lunch for, there are ways you can green your brown bag lunch. And for the next few weeks on Green Boot Camp, I will be discussing ways you can green your various food-related behaviors.

As far as lunch goes, the best way to green a brown-bag lunch habit is to get rid of the brown bag all together. Instead, get a reusable lunch box or insulated bag. These will likely last your for years and cut down on how much your throw out when you dispose of that brown bag.

Another way to adopt these greener lunch methods is to begin weaning yourself from baggies and aluminum foil, and start investing in reusable containers for all of your lunch goodies. I just went to a Tupperware party and purchased two Sandwich Keeper containers. These are reusable plastic boxes for keeping sandwiches fresh, and once I get my order, I won't need to wrap my girls' sandwiches in aluminum foil anymore (though my middle schooler's cafeteria has recycling bins where she's been tossing the used aluminum foil. I think that's allowed).

I have other reusable containers that are in daily rotation for packed lunches, from those little Glad Ware 1/2 cup containers for holding crackers or homemade pudding to a Nalgene screw-top canister in which I place cut-up oranges or other kinds of fruit.

Speaking of Nalgene, after getting in the habit of using bottled water in my daughters' lunches, I finally switched over to reusable Nalgene bottles, which I loved. They didn't leak, they came in fun colors, and my daughters never complained about using them. Then the BPA news broke, and now I need to find a replacement so that I don't have to go back to bottled water. Bottom line: another great way to green your packed lunch is to bring a drink in a reusable container.

If you work in an office with a kitchen area, make the effort to bring in reusable plates, utensils and coffee mugs--even cloth napkins, as long as you don't mind having to take them home to launder. By having these items around and available, you can help your coworkers and yourself succeed in ditching disposables at meal and break time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Boot Camp Gets Publicity

Thought you would be interested in knowing that Green Boot Camp is highlighted in the May 2008 issue of Working Mother magazine (page 52). Here is a link to the online version of that story, which includes a hotlink right back here to the blog!

Week Fifteen--Green Your Laundry Routine With Drying

Last week in talking about greening your laundry routine, I offered tips on washing your clothes in a more eco-friendly fashion. This week you'll learn how to dry your clothes in a way that doesn't harm the earth (as much) and could help your clothes to last long.

Believe it or not, good drying actually starts in the washing machine. That is, at the end of the washing cycle your machine goes into spin mode. This is very important because it helps to wick away extra moisture from the clothing so that laundry don't go into the dryer sopping wet. (Have you ever put super wet clothing in the dryer? It takes forever to dry and always ends up smelling like wet dog anyway.) If you feel that your clothes are still to moist when you're done washing, you could always run a second spin cycle, though this does use extra energy.

Now as far as drying goes, the greenest way to go is simply to hang everything up. This makes a lot of sense if you have access to a clothesline (indoors or outside), and you've got the time to hang everything up. Me, I don't like the feel of crunchy underwear, sheets or towels that you get when things are air dried, and so I throw this stuff in the dryer. Everything else though? I'll run in the dryer for about 10 minutes to get it a little dry and to decrease wrinkles, and then I'll pull them out, piece by piece, and hang them up on hangers to dry. Usually, when I'm dealing with laundry loads of clothing, all that's left in the dryer after my hanging-up routine are socks and underwear, which dry quickly and on the lowest setting.

It is possible for your to hang up your clothes even if you don't have a backyard. I have a backyard but don't want to deal with going outside to dry my clothes. So I've got two towel racks in my laundry room (which is smaller than a walk-in closet, about 4'X6'), but I never use them for towels. When I hang clothes up, I hook the hangers on these towel racks. If I've got loads and loads of laundry to dry, I'll also hang things up in the shower.

People who want to avoid using the dryer also find it helpful to have a drying rack. You can buy them as a shelving set (shelves are made of mesh to allow for air circulation) or a folding rack where you hang your clothes over the rungs to dry.

The next time that you have to run a load of laundry, I hope you'll try out some of these green drying tips. Let me know if they work for you. I love to hear readers' feedback.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen--Green Your Laundry Routine

For the past two weeks I offered suggestions on how you could green the products you choose to use when cleaning your clothes. Now for the next two weeks, we're going to discuss greening your laundry routine all together. I'll help you understand why you always want to wash your clothes on cold (even though your mom may have taught you otherwise), why line drying even if you don't have an outside line makes a lot of sense, and why reducing dryer time can increase your clothing's longevity and your energy bill.

For starters, here are two tips to consider about the washing process:

* Give laundry the cold shoulder
Washing your clothes in cold water is the best way to save energy, resources and money--even if it you have a water-guzzling, top-loading washing machine, so writes Eileen Smith in her recent Courier Post money column. (Smith also has a fun blog about shopping called Shop 'Til You Drop.) You'll notice that there are a number of laundry products on the market these days are allegedly formulated to work best in cold water, including Clorox Cold Water Bleach and Tide Coldwater. It's up to you if you'd like to give them a try. I haven't changed much about my laundry habits since I went all cold, though I have tried the Tide Coldwater to good results. (The PR person sent me a sample, and I have gone on to buy some for myself after the fact. I do love that smell.) Then again before I tried the Tide, my regular detergent seemed to work well, and my clothes were still coming out clean.

* Let Your Clothes Soak
Instead of running the washing cycle all the way through, let your clothes soak for an hour or two. Or, if you work outside the home, throw in a load before you leave for work, shut the washer off before your leave, and then restart when you arrive home. This way you can use the light cycle only, which takes less energy, for finishing the load. And, because your clothes have been soaking, they will come out as clean (if not cleaner) than if you ran the "extra heavy" load cycle start to finish. Note: soaking works for top loaders only. I used to own a front-loader, and soaking clothes meant that only half the pile stayed wet, because front loaders only fill half the bin with water (which is why they are so water efficient). Oh how I miss my front loader!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Week Thirteen--DIY Cleaners with Vinegar and Baking Soda

One of the best ways to go green and save money is to make your own household cleaners, our topic of discussion during this Week Thirteen of Green Boot Camp.

It's a topic in the May 2, 2008 issue of All You magazine (pictured, at right). In fact, I've got a six-page feature on greening every room of the house and saving money in the process. You'll find that feature in the center of the magazine, in an inserted booklet called "Live Green and Save."

In case you're interested in figuring out how you can make your own cleaners that won't harm Mother Earth, here are some ideas to consider using vinegar and baking soda only:

* Vinegar is fabulous as a floor cleaner.
Forget oil and vinegar. A mixture of vinegar and water can clean your floors better than any store-bought cleaner. And it's cheap, too. Only downside? Your house can end up smelling a bit like a salad bar after you're done, so you might want to open the windows to air it out.

* Vinegar works well to "fix" a pet's accident.
If your dog gets skunked or your cat pees on the rug, vinegar can help get the odors out. With the peeing-on-the-carpet instance, the lingering smell of vinegar will likely dissuade the animal for peeing there again. Hopefully she chooses her litter box the next time and not a patch of carpet six inches away.

* Vinegar cleans appliances, too.
I can remember my mother teaching me to use vinegar as a way to clean out the gunk in my coffee machine without poisoning myself in the process. Just fill the coffee pot with vinegar and "brew" until the pot is filled. Dump out and then fill with water to brew a clean pot and get rid of the vinegar. It might take three or four "pots" of water to get rid of the vinegar smell, but I'll bet it will be worth your time--you'll see how your coffee brewing times speeds up after this kind of cleaning.

* Vinegar deodorizes the laundry.
At the end of the last soccer season, I never thought I could get my daughter's cleats to smell normal again. They smelled like the inside of a litter box, and no amount of airing out, or washing and rewashing was helping. Then someone told me about vinegar as a laundry deodorizer. So back into the washing machine the cleats went, with a generous amount of vinegar. After air drying, they may not smell like a bunch of flowers, but they don't trigger my gag reflex anymore either. I'd call that a success.

* Vinegar and baking soda are a green clog-clearer.
My mother also taught me how baking soda and vinegar can clear a clogged pipe better than any chemical cleaner, and if the plunger fails to work, I'll always turn to my trusty vinegar and baking soda combo in a pinch.

* Baking soda won't let you down as a scouring agent.
When my tub gets soap-scum grimy, I pour some baking soda on it and use some elbow grease with a rag to get the tub and tile sparkling again. Some people use borax in a similar way.

Let me know how your switch to these DIY green cleaners goes.