Book Review: Big Green Purse & Giveaway

By Lynn Truong on 18 April 2008 (Updated 30 June 2009) 62 comments
Photo: Amazon

In Big Green Purse, Diane MacEachern offers a simple message: Use your spending power to create a cleaner, greener world. It's clear this is happening already. Organic and other environmentally friendly products are moving beyond the specialty stores and popping up in big chain grocery and department stores. When consumers make demands with their wallets, companies will always come running to meet them.

Why not use that consumer clout to pressure companies to save energy, protect forests, use safer ingredients, and otherwise become more responsible environmental citizens?

The author gives pretty compelling reasons to go green, too:

  • In 2005, the CDC discovered 148 toxic chemicals in the bodies of "Americans of all ages." Among the ingredients that were found in the bones and blood were pesticides, mercury, and phthalates.
  • Dangerous environmental contaminants are fed to babies through breast milk (scientists have found PBDE, a flame retardant widely used in furniture and electronic equipment, in American women's breast milk).
  • An Environmental Working Group and Commoweal study revealed that the umbilical cord blood of some newborn babies contained hundreds of industrial chemicals and pollutants.

Why do these findings matter? Not only is it obvious that carrying these chemicals in our bodies our whole lives, many of them possible carcinogens, is simply not healthy, there is evidence that these chemicals have disrupted life already. Pesticides and other chemical runoffs have caused birth defects and reproductive problems in alligators, polar bears, frogs, and all types of fish. Likewise, we've already seen a dramatic increase in children reaching puberty at very early ages. Also, as many as one in every four couples experience difficulty getting pregnant or having normal children. Studies by doctors, scientists, fertility specialists and researchers have reinforced a troubling conclusion.

Scientific evidence indicates that infertility...sperm count decline, pregnancy loss...early puberty...endometriosis, and cancers in women and men -- are associated with environmental contaminants that many Americans are exposed to in their daily lives.

The problem lies in the EPA and FDA's system of regulating chemicals in our products. First, the burden of proof is on us, the consumers. Companies don't have to prove that their products are safe. We have to prove that they aren't. Second, their studies focus on levels of individual chemicals per dose. This method completely ignores the sum total of our experience, which includes hundreds of chemicals from hundreds of sources every single day of our lives.

In the face of these disturbing facts, it may seem overwhelming to even know where to begin. This is where Big Green Purse comes in. It doesn't just tell us why we need to shop green, it provides guidelines and principles to follow. Of course, many of us simply can't afford to go green all the time. Diane MacEachern focuses on items that make the most impact, highlights eco-cheap money saving strategies, and reveals marketing techniques that try to sell "greenwash" products that aren't really green.

The book is a helpful resource when trying to navigate through the different labels -- it explains which labels are legitimate and which ones are marketing slogans that are not regulated. It explains the environmental impact of particular products that have very reasonable replacements (I now look for "shade grown" coffee beans). It also gives you a variety of options to help you prioritize your green spending based on the cause close to your heart.

After learning that the U.S. paper industry is the country's largest single consumer of wood, ranks first in use of industrial process water, third in toxic chemical releases, and fourth in emissions of the air pollutants that cause respiratory problems, making pulp and paper manufacturing the third-most-polluting industry in North America and one of the largest and most-polluting enterprises in the world, I've resolved to cut down my use of paper (saving files as pdf and only buying recycled paper). Paper products using recycled paper is more expensive, but that is all the more reason to make me limit my use of paper. Also, producing recycled paper generates 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than producing paper from trees.

I also did not know that cotton was one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in the world. Approximately 25% of all insecticides and more than 10% of pesticides applied in the world are used to grow cotton. It takes one-third pound of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough cotton for just one T-shirt. These chemicals then contaminate our drinking water, streams, rivers, and lakes. In the United States five of the top nine pesticides used in cotton productions are known carcinogens. Harvested cotton seed are fed to cattle, pressed into oils and mixed into foods.

Now, I don't know if I'm going to run out and buy clothes made of bamboo and hemp, but now that I know the true cost of cotton clothes, I will buy less and donate more of it.

There is no doubt that the best way to minimize our impact on the environment and health is to consume less. Consider whether you really need the item you're about to purchase. Then consider whether you can buy it used. If those options are not available, then follow the guidelines in Big Green Purse.

Imagine if one million of us collectively pledged to shift $1,000 of our annual spending on green products. We'd have an intentional marketplace impact of $1 billion a year.

I have four copies (printed on recycled paper) to giveaway. To enter the drawing, leave a comment with a green pledge for one item in your life. Don't forget to pass the book along or donate it to the library when you're done. Entries will be accepted until 11:59pm EDT on friday 4/25/08.

 

The giveaway is closed. Congrats to Marisa, Jill, Jake, and Jenn for winning the drawing. Thanks to everyone for participating!

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marisa

I have been trying to be "greener" for many years, but clothing is one area that I haven't really tried to doing anything about. I pledge to buy organic cotton goods whenever possible. (Um, anyone know a good source for organic undies?)

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Aryn

After reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma," I vowed to switch to grass-fed beef and pork from my local farmer's market. Since I'm already going to be shopping there, I'll buy produce there, too. And since I don't want to put plastic bags in my canvas tote, I will make some reusable mesh produce bags.

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Michele

I have been slowly becoming more conscious of being greener even with clothing, however my idea had been that if I only purchased used clothing made in the USA I would be doing my part. After reading your review I see that I have a long way to go.

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ryan

i just switched to planet dishwasher detergent, as well as recycled toilet paper.

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Guest

We have tried to be green as much as possible during our entire thirty years of marriage. For example, we have never purchased paper napkins as we only use cloth for all occasions. However, we have made a change within the past year at the urging of our local electric company. We have replaced all of our regular light bulbs with CFL's. Even though we do not leave lights on when they're not in use, we have really noticed a difference in our electrical bill.

Our family motto is "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without".

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Amber

I pledge to use more natural cleaners...either attempting to make my own or buying ones in the store. Maybe this book will help me make wise choices!

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Karen

Last year, we successfully gave up paper towels. This year, I pledge cut my driving by 10%, using strategies like carpooling & planning errands.

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Cammy

Thanks for this review. I hadn't heard of this book.

I pledge to become better organized with the efforts I've already undertaken:
1) to take my personal water bottle to the gym rather than buy bottled water from the machine
2) to always have a canvas shopping bag in the car
3) to stop and *think* before I leave the house so that I can better plan my route when running errands

All of these will help the planet...and my pocketbook.

Guest's picture
Ruth Ann

I pledge to finally take my plastic bag collection to be recycled...and work on decreasing my use of plastic bags.
When I buy a new mattress, I pledge to make sure that my old mattress is donated, recycled or in some other way does not end up as trash.

Guest's picture

I pledge to use the pages of this book as wicks in my soybean oil, home heating lamps.

I recently purchased a Toyota Prius. This has provided me with a way to look positively at rising gas prices. Since I have no control over the price of gas I just say,"The more expensive gas gets, the more economical my purchase becomes."

Guest's picture

Hello! Last year we gave up using paper plates. My new green pledge is to stop purchasing paper towels. We have cut down immensely on using them and once they're gone, no more will be purchased. We're going back to using cloth napkins for meal time and cloth rags for clean ups.

Guest's picture
Lynnae

This sounds like a great book!

I've been trying to make little changes as I go. I've been using more natural cleaners, and I recently bought some canvas shopping bags. My next pledge is to give up paper napkins. I'm planning on searching for cloth napkins at garage sales.

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violet

I pledge to cut out plastic waterbottles and fill re-useable glass bottles with my own filtered water.

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Kelly H

I'm giving up getting disposable fountain drink cups. I've bought tow 32 oz insulated mugs to use from now on.

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Michele

While I already

1. Make several of my own cleaners including laundry detergent.
2. Use cloth reusable bags for shopping.
3. Garden organically.
4. Use cloth rags instead of paper towels.
5. Use a natural salt deodorant instead of aluminum based anti-perspirants.
6. Favor locally grown over imported produce.
7. Walk to work and the grocery store saving the car miles for out of town trips.

I can do so much more. My green pledge is to

1. Investigate affordable free-range egg and dairy products and to incorporate them into my purchases.
2. Donate/give away what I do not need or use rather than storing extra stuff that I may need "someday."

Guest's picture
Laura Ch.

We recently switched to cloth napkins to cut back on household paper use. But I have other things I know I should do, and been putting off... buy organically, even if it means an extra trip/stop. Stop buying plastic water bottles on trips, and remember to bring my own SIGG bottle. Donate the clothes I'm not wearing anymore. Thanks for the push, and the giveaway!!

Guest's picture

To use eco-safe cleaning products in my home

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Julie Schonlau

I have been wanting to purchase some resusable grocery bags, but have never actually done it. I will buy two reusable grocery bags this week to take to the store with me!! Thanks for doing this contest. It's a good reminder for all of us.

Guest's picture
Nora

We have been trying to be smarter green shoppers. Every chance we get we hang dry our clothes, we are looking into purchasing energy star washer and dryer (for when we do dry). We have been encouraging our friends and family to be greener!! Recycling is so important to us that we are going to start campaigning to our legislature to create a plastic bag tax in our city and state! You have never seen a cloth grocery bag fluttering in a tree's branches!

These are just a few of the things that we are doing to contribute to mother earth!

Guest's picture
dreamy1

I have already started to use CFL's in my home. My job is at a large private university, though, and many of the old buildings have crappy fluorescent lighting. I am going to try to get my entire building (built in 1872) to switch to CFL bulbs. Especially since there is a green student group on campus....

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Kim

As a stay at home mom managing money for our one income family, I think I sometimes have it twice as challenging to go green when I look at the expense involved. I do wherever possible (lightbulbs, reuseable bags, green dish soap, among other things), but if I feel overwhelmed how the odds may be stacked against me (why does everything I want to and should buy cost twice as much as the non-green option?!) I look at what a big difference I can make by reducing, reusing, and recycling. I pledge to recycle everything I possibly can: it's effective and it doesn't cost me a dime.

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Guest

I pledge to never use recycled paper products. After all, it requires more energy to create recycled paper products than to make new ones. In addition, whenever possible, I will use gasoline that does not contain ethanol. What sense does it make to use a finite fossil fuel (natural gas) to cook corn (food) to make an inferior fuel (ethanol) for American cars?

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Jill

I pledge to shop ONLY at thrift stores for clothes other than underwear and socks for the next year, and even then ONLY when I truly need (not "want" clothes). I may be able to go the entire year without buying a garment. I even darned socks yesterday! I will also learn one productive skill this year (sewing, weaving, knitting, canning, etc) to further reduce my consumption.
I already recycle all but 1 lunch-sack size bit of garbage per week for a family of 2, use fabric grocery bags, eat mostly organic and mostly vegetarian, and free-cycle my unwanted goods.
Hope we all live up to our pledges!

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Pamela

Once our farmer's market opens this summer, I plan to buy many of our fruits and veggies there (perhaps meat, too) instead of at the store.

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Maaka

I thought I had the green coffee thing licked since I've been buying organic free-trade coffee beans. I confess I don't know why growing in the shade makes a difference, but I pledge to find out and switch my buying habits if warranted.

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Carolyn

I pledge to make it easier for me to recycle by planning a day when I go to the recycling center and having a few boxes to organize my recyclables so they don't get out of control. In addition, I'm going to try to incorporate a scanner into my school life so I can use less paper.

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Leanne

We are needing to replace our family's minivan, and I pledge to find the greenest option I can. We still need room for at least 5 people, two hockey bags, and various friends. We already try to load up with as many people as possible, to avoid unneccesary trips by other parents. Hopefully we can find a hybrid or very good gas mileage vehicle to meet our needs.

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Robyn

I've given up, on . . . well, buying stuff. Period. Not as hard as it sounds. I think not consuming is the biggest change I can make, and reducing consumption is the hardest issue for our communities to tackle. I now reuse, recycle, and, well, ask friends for leftovers and unused items (like the compact in S.F., only not as formal).

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Michelle

Today I bought the menstrual cup I have been thinking about for several years (before I even started using tampons). My pledge is to try it for three months and see if I can use it as my primary blood-catching product.

I just want to say that those little steps do add up after a while. I was brought up recycling but the more I learn to cook, the less trash I have. Using baking soda made a lot of cleaning chores easy. We also largely made the switch to cloth bags for groceries--yeah, we have too many groceries sometimes, and forget sometimes, but the plastic piles up much more slowly. We've switched to CFL's except in humid and little-used areas. We walk to campus every day and are using the library more. We buy less and donate more. I am even learning to kill plants more slowly--I even got three cherry tomatoes last year!

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Ilissa H.

I use reusable bags and recycle whenever possible.

Guest's picture
Michelle

I think it's wonderful to see so many people committing to individual actions. If you can set an example for your friends, co-workers and community, slowly these things will be the standard instead of something "extra." I have already switched to bussing most of the time and other easy steps. For the summer, I plan to take the "two-mile pledge," to not drive anywhere that is two miles or closer to me. That means walking, biking or bussing to the library, the grocery store, work, the coffee shop, church, etc. Also, to have an energy-free hour every week.
Thanks for doing this!

Guest's picture
SAB

We had a baby in this last year, and I cut out most toxic/environmentally unfriendly cleaners. I started using vinegar, baking soda, and simple soaps for most cleaning. My goals for this year are to take the bus to my job at least 4/5 days weekly, and to try out cloth diapers.

Guest's picture
Crystal

Thanks for the great book review! Although I do try to live as green as possible there is always room for improvement. I pledge to recycle everything! My first goal is to get supplies for vermicompost, so my green waste goes into the garden instead of the city dump.

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Kayla

My green pledge is to continue living life as a vegetarian. I am raising my two boys (ages 2 and 3) as vegetarians and I have converted my carnivorous husband to one too :)

This book looks like a great read.

There are lots of things that I want to do to improve our green way of living.

Guest's picture
Laurel

I'm landscaping our house with drought-resistant native plants. My goal is to provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife, including insects. This means no use of pesticides. I intend to get rid of the lawn by the end of the summer (gas powered mowers have no emissions regulations and turn out a ridiculous amount of pollution), or keep a little patch of lawn and purchase a push reel mower. I want to have our yard certified to set an example for my neighbors.

I've turned down our hot water heater (we live in Florida so the water is naturally hot!). We have installed ceiling fans so we can keep the windows open and use the AC less. We have switched to florescent bulbs, pine cat litter, and non-petroleum based dish soaps.

I recycle or reuse every scrap of everything, and I've started a cute little compost pile out back which I love!!

Right now I'm researching alternatives to house cleaning chemicals, such as baking soda and vinegar.

It makes me VERY happy to see that so many people are making changes for the good of the Earth. I hope these changes are here to stay.

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angela

I pledge to buy CFL's, plan for more solar options for energy in our home and to educate myself further on "green-washing."

This past year we educated ourselves to read labels, and it was eye opening. We now buy local, natural, organic and frequent the natural foods stores. It is gross for us to visit a regular supermarket.

When my first child was born, I thought I was smart to move all the toxic chemicals up on a very high shelf. When our second was born, I wondered why we had chemicals with poison warnings - and now instead make my own, or buy the cleaners that say "If swallowed, give the child a glass of water." As a parent, peace of mind is more important than a pristinely sparkling countertop.

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James

I pledge to give gifts in reusable gift bags this year. Cloth, homemade recycled paper, or something else creatively crazy. I'm also going to not purchase any cotton clothing for the next 6 months and decide if I can do without it.

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mommie

Ugh, that stuff is hard to imagine. Let's see. I pledge to increase the amount of recycling I do today to include all of my trash, not just the cans and milk cartons. This includes paper recycling and all plastics.

Mommie
http://www.mommieshome.net

Guest's picture
Angie

I am buying as much organic, locally grown produce as possible; no more plastic bags---I will be reusing my cloth bags and I keep several stashed in my trunk.

I have cleared out most of the toxic cleaning crap that took up space under my sinks in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Small steps, but the transition so far is going well!

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Guest

I have been trying to green it up by reducing my water consumption. I already turn off the tap while brushing my teeth rather than just letting the water run. Now I'm focusing on shorter showers and switching off the water while shaving, shampooing, and soaping up.

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Kathryn

I pledge to serve at least one meatless meal a week, and to make more homemade snacks available for my family so we can reduce our consumption of overpackaged, overprocessed, bad-for-our-bodies, bad-for-our-wallets, and bad-for the-environment junk food.

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Jake

I pledge to share as much information and knowledge as I can find to friends and family and with people at church. Spreading the word gets the largest amount result. :-)

Jake

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peg

I have made significant effort to drive less on a daily basis. I literally "run" errands (with real running involved!) around town. The post office, grocery store(s) and library are all within 3 miles of where I live. With the weather turning much nicer now, and since I'm training for longer distances, if I need to go somewhere within a 10 mile radius, I plan to run there instead of driving!

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Beth

I recycle everything I possibly can and try to cut down on driving.

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engchik

I pledge to use all green products to clean the home, including eco-safe detergent and soap.

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Lindsie

My green pledge is to clean with non-chemical items. ie: vinegar, baking soda etc.

Guest's picture
Amy K

FaeriesDance.com advertises their organic cotton undies at The Hunger Site.

Guest's picture

We are making small changes and have cut out garbage production down to 1 bag a week - we recycle a lot. I'm currently sewing up small everyday cloth napkins so we can stop buying paper. Now, will I be able to convince my seven year old to take a cloth napkin in his lunchbox?

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Jenn

I pledge to use more natural cleaners, reduce my driving, increase recycling, use my own mug at work instead of using paper cups, and replace my regular light bulbs with CFLs :)

Guest's picture
Alexva

My green pledge is to buy fewer pieces of clothing, and make what I have count. I tend to buy a lot of cheap pieces to get the trendy looks that I want and to keep from being bored with what I have. I hate to think how many pieces still have tags on them. Plus, my weight fluctuates, so I have similar pieces in 2 sizes.

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Guest

This past year I have gotten rid of my car, plastic water bottle use, and have started to make my own natural cleaning products. This year I'm going to try to be more energy efficient and switch to linen cloths instead of paper towels.

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Rebekah

To replace products with more natural alternatives when I run out. I know it's not drastic, but it makes it easier for me to switch.

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Lauren de Bruin

I've been going more eco-friendly for a little while now because it is a hell of a lot easier on the planet and my pocketbook, which is always a good thing. I regularly do stuff like purchase recycled toilet paper, use fluro lightbulbs, run cold-water laundry cycles, make sure the lights are turned off, line-dry my clothes when it isn't below freezing (line-drying is easier on the clothes anyway, which means my clothes last longer and I hardly need to purchase any new clothes at all), purchase as much of my produce and meat as I can at the local farmers' market, recycle and use second-hand materials as much as possible, and keep the temperature of the house low - about 17 or 18 C at night and when we're away and about 20 to 21 C when we're at home (I love programmable thermostats). As I've never bothered with AC, it isn't a problem. I drive a small, fuel efficient car, and am looking for a new job within cycling distance of my home to cut down on my daily gas use.

At the moment I'm fighting a losing battle with my mother in law; she's a wonderfully sweet woman and I love her dearly, but damn does she ever waste, especially when it comes to food and heating. I frequently get on her case for throwing out food long before it's expiration date, and make sure to take home whatever leftovers she offers whenever we come over for for dinner, because I know it will be binned in a couple of days. Plus, she keeps the house positively BOILING! Despite owning a programmable thermostat, she never uses the program and even turns the program off whenever my husband or I set it. The house is always kept between 23 and 24 C; it is cooking in there and rather uncomfortable. But she's been keeping the house that way for 25 years and I doubt she's going to change her ways now.

But I can always keep nagging...

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Guest

I pledge to always take my own canvas bags to the grocery store and to buy as much as possible from the farmer's market (and take everything home in my own canvas bags).

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Emma

I use fabric totes for my grocery shopping, but hereby pledge to whip them out for other shopping trips as well. Also as the rest of my household light bulbs burn out I will be replacing them (1 down, several to go) with CFLs. Thirdly as the last of my toxic, bleach-based household cleaners run out I will replace these products with homemade cleaning solution or environmentally friendly options.

Happy to have discovered your site. Keep up the good work!

Guest's picture
elizabeth

For our weekly grocery/errand shopping trips, I'm good about bringing my reuseable bags.. my problem: the "whim" purchases.

You know... the "gotta get milk and/or something quick for dinner" last-minute stop on the way home from work. For those trips, I almost always end up with a plastic/paper bag from the store.

My pledge is to keep a re-useable bag with me at all times, so I don't add ANY more bags to our at-home stash in the hall closet!

Thanks for your site... I've really been enjoying the posts! =)

Guest's picture
nowsimmisays

I've pledged to research every purchase I make to see if there's a better, greener option. Too many times I've found out after-the-fact that I could have done something better for myself and the world and just didn't know any better. I want to compost organic matter starting this spring for my garden. And also, I've found strong, chic, collapsable and reusable shopping bags and can fit 3 in the side pocket of my purse - that will hold just about everything I can carry!

Finally, everytime I'm in the kitchen at work, I take a peek at the trash cans. It may sound gross, but there's ALWAYS something on the top that I can turn around and throw in the recycling bin - cardboard, aluminum, never fails. I'm proud of the "Recycling Nazi" nickname I've earned.

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Guest

I'll keep wishing for a shorter work week. That would help by reducing driving, and decrease the overall growth in the economy.

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Anne

Great article Lynn! I've already started using the so-called natural cleaners and making my own cleaners to limit household toxins, but I pledge to also limit my trips to the grocery store and use whatever is in the fridge when preparing meals. Every little bit helps!

Guest's picture
Pamela Jean

What I am currently doing:

1. Using toilet paper made from recycled paper
2. Making my own earth friendly cleansers and detergents
3. Have switched lights bulbs to CFLs
4. Use cloth shopping bags
5. Turn off lights when not in use.
6. Hang dry clothing
7. Wash only in cold water
8. Eat no processed foods
9. Eat no red meat
10. Use handkerchiefs instead of facial tissue
11. Use cloth napkins

My goal is:
Reduce family driving by 1 tankful of gas per month by organizing & consolidating trips & errands, reducing unnecessary driving, and walking or biking more.

Guest's picture

I pledge to use reusable grocery totes instead of store plastic bags. I also am switching to fair trade/organic coffee.