Not Easy Being Green

As a working mother who cares about the environment, I’m constantly going crazy trying to balance out using/purchasing Products That Save Time/Money vs. Products That Save the Planet.

Products That Save Time/Money give me more of these two precious commodities to spend on and with my child, increasing the quality of our lives. Products That Save the Planet reinforce my values, make me feel better about my personal integrity, possibly reduce the number of poisons to which our family is exposed, and hopefully do a little something to make the world liveable for a little while longer.

Clearly, not always an easy choice. The second might be preferable in the abstract – but the first provides immediate, concrete results. It’s a crazy-making, almost constant dilemma.

Here are some of the products at the crux of my inner debate:

Plastic bags for dog poop: I can order biodegradable poop-scoopers online. I know this, and it makes me cringe, because the time, money, and sheer effort of ordering and organizing this endeavor seems a lot for … dog poop.

Plastic bags for shopping: I have now three or four reusable bags for groceries. I keep forgetting to bring them with me shopping. I end up getting my goods in plastic bags… yes, you guessed it: So I have something to pick up the dog poop.

Water bottles: The recent info that the plastic water bottle I use to ensure that I drink my 64 ounces of water a day is leaking cancer-causing crap completely undid me. I had been so proud of myself for procuring and using the darn thing, only to find this (see the issue discussed). I am planning on purchasing some steel water bottles to replace it. I have not gotten around to doing so.

Diapers: We actually used a cloth diaper service for a year and a half, stopping when we started full-time daycare, which doesn’t accept cloth. Still, I feel guilty sometimes about this choice.

Plastic baggies: I know there are reusable sandwich wraps out there. I just haven’t gotten them yet. Ziploc is so darn easy.

Makeup/Personal products: When I can, I purchase makeup and shampoo and the like at Whole Foods or Rebecca’s, getting the Burts Bees or Whole Foods generic brand. I also like The Body Shop, which doesn’t test on animals and donates to good causes. But I do also give in to buying the cheap crap at CVS, because I like lots of lipsticks and nail polishes, and the shampoo is cheaper there. I have also been using generic baby shampoo. This is kind of cool, because I hate Johnson and Johnson. But who knows what the heck is in it? Nothing sustainable, I’m sure.

Clothing: I shop a lot at Goodwill and Salvation Army – and this is how I justify buying a lot of clothes – I’m buying used goods. I can’t afford locally made, organic, fair-trade clothing, spending over $100 on a shirt. I just can’t.

Local vs. National vs. Online Shopping: I don’t shop at Walmart, but I do shop at Target and Kmart. I shop at Kroger (though maybe not for long) and Toys R Us. I also shop online a lot. Local toy stores, shoe stores, clothing stores, and food stores, are just so damn expensive.

Diamonds: Thank god I don’t have any, so no blood on my hands there.  Poverty can be green, sometimes!

Packaged, commercial foods: In the cupboard, I have individual bags of goldfish, raisins, breakfast bars, crackers. In the fridge I have organically grown pears, apples, and grapes. We eat vegetarian, and most of our protein comes from packaged goods. So, I’d love it if everything were fresh and local, but I also have little time to cook and prepare lunches, and not the budget to do a CSA (expensive!) or buy all organic/local…

Recycling: We do recycle, everything we can.

Composting: My one attempt at this created a mound of stinking dirt through which the dog dug to find carrots. I will try again someday.

Growing our own food: I am proud to say I have a still-living basil and rosemary plant. It’s a slow process.

Cleaning products: I have, believe it or not, used a lot of natural products for cleaning in the house. These do not always work and are not always at the stores I frequent, however.

I recommend getting the daily green tip from Ideal Bite to keep you full of ideas and inspiration for becoming a little more aware of what you use and buy.

Okay, so our carbon footprint is still pretty big. Somedays I feel inspired to reduce and reuse even more. Other days I think, screw it! I don’t have the mental space to worry about all of this!

What about you? 

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8 Responses to Not Easy Being Green

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Okay, here are some of my thoughts on some of the things you mentioned-
    Plastic bags for dog poop- in my book, necessary evil. I purchase the boxes of small, fold-top sandwich bags. Smaller than a grocery bag, anyway… for what that’s worth.
    Bags for the grocery store- I keep them in my car so I always have them. Occasionally I still forget to bring them inside, although I am getting better about it.
    Plastic baggies/ziplocks- I wash them and reuse them when possible.
    Cleaning products- I have to say that I use the chemicals most of the time. It seems like many of the more “natural” products don’t do a great job, which doesn’t work out well when you don’t clean often! =)

    Elizabeth

  2. Elaine says:

    Thank you for talking about this problem; it’s something I think about constantly, and it’s such a relief to see it articulated well and to know that other mothers struggle with these choices.

    For some reason I didn’t used to feel I was ‘legitimate’ as an environmentalist because I wasn’t fully devoted to buying organic (unlike my sister, for example, who is quite guilt-inducing in this respect. Admirable, but guilt-inducing. She is, however, single and not a mother and therefore has much more freedom to make the ‘right’ choices). It is incredibly challenging to sort out the many options available, and to decide where to put yourself, your time and your peace of mind in the complex matrix of environmental responsbility and personal sanity. I believe pretty much everyone does what they can, given the time, money and energy available to them and the level of environmental education they’ve been provided. We’re at a point now where many, many people are aware of the factors in environmental damage and what they can do to change it; but certainly what we lack, in this culture, is free time and support to make these changes. Perhaps in the era when our children and their peers are leaders of the free world, the government will comp every parent for cloth diapers and provide a stipend for a nappy service. Other aspirations: a nationwide, comprehensive curb-side pickup recycling service and similar perks that will encourage and support us in making the right choices–in fact, making the ‘right’ choices inevitable in their utter convenience. Our children will no doubt look back at our lives in amazement, at the fact that we were expected to ‘research’ the Internet for sustainable goods and consistently part with large sums of money and integrate many inconveniences into our lives simply to live lives of moderate environmental responsibility. I have to believe that someday environmental responsibility will be so taken for granted–by everyone, including the leaders of our country–that it will be relatively easy to implement moral choices with convenience.

    Looking forward to that day.
    Elaine

  3. Amanda says:

    mmm. I used Method brand cleaners, Mint spray works so well and pretty non-chemical-y…also considering those little lunch boxes w/ compartments to reduce waste and healthier for Emma than vinyl lunch bags…oh, and today killed flies w/ sticky paper rather than chemicals…but being green means have to watch little fly legs moving til die. That does seem cruel…

  4. E says:

    Just try to do what you can. In my book, you’re recycling the plastic bags by using them for dog poop. Better than causing all the emissions by having the others shipped to you. If you still feel guilty about not buying the recycled bags, send the extra money you would have spent for them & the shipping to your favorite eco-charity.
    For cleaning, try white vinegar & water. I know it’s stinky, but it neutralizes other odors, and it really cleans well – everything (bathrooms, kitchens). It’s nontoxic & cheap, too! I just got a book called Organic Housekeeping and it has some really great ideas.
    I think if everyone made some of the adjustments you’ve made so far, our planet would be in much better shape. Don’t beat yourself up for what you’re not doing…congratulate yourself for what you do and just keep trying to do more as you’re able!

  5. Amanda says:

    Here’s a neat site…was looking her for lunch bags for Emma, this one looked really neat:
    http://www.reusablebags.com/store/laptop-lunches-bento-wbook-p-528.html

  6. amymarshall says:

    Wow, what amazing comments!

    Elaine, I just need to say that I want to publish your articulate comment everywhere – I was saying something very similar the other day, how if the community and our culture supported good choices, it wouldn’t be such an individual burden – mentally as well as monetarily. Recycling shouldn’t be up to us – it should be standard procedure…

    E, thanks for the encouragement. I think I always need lots of “don’t beat yourself up” statements when it comes to issues like this.

    Amanda, good suggestions and site!

    Thanks so much for commenting – let me know if you want to post your own article! Thanks!

  7. Jennifer says:

    I say that you do what you can and don’t fret over the rest. Once you reach a good comfort zone with what you’re doing, try one or two or a few new things and see if they’re worth your time and money. Here in our house, we’re constantly trying new things in an effort to do more, but not everything works for us. For example, I consistently use cloth bags for grocery shopping, but my husband often forgets. I am trying to get fewer bags when I shop at Target or other places — either by not getting one at all or by using one I’ve brought.

    For food, we’re trying to buy local, organic, seasonal, etc. but it’s a lot to remember, especially when one is juggling a job, family, and other responsibilities. I prefer to make food from scratch and not buy prepared/processed foods, but sometimes it’s just not always feasible.

    For clothes, I think it’s great that you’re buying used things, especially if you’re going to local thrift shops.

  8. teri says:

    I feel your pain! That is part of the reason I’ve done this website (better world betty) to lessen the agony and frustration and complexities of going green and make it easier. Let me know what you think. Perhaps I should do a weekly tip for subscribers or something. Anyway, great blog!

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