Earth Day rolls around every April and suddenly the NBC logo is green, the morning shows have their little three-minute segments about the joys of chic reusable bags and cute eco-shoes and there are a myriad of Earth Day celebrations that usually leave an insane amount of trash behind (but it will be recycled right?) Everyone wants to go green it seems, yet most people in their day-to-day lives do very little do practice it. The biggest lament I usually hear from friends and family for not “going green” is that while people want to do the right thing being environmentally conscious is sooo expensive. And that is the one excuse I just don’t understand.
Last week my daughters’ old preschool had a waste free lunch week. My friend whose child still attends the school admitted to me that this was really hard for her. Usually she didn’t think twice about throwing in a bag of crackers, a bag of cookies, a baggie with a sandwich, a juice box or water bottle. But last week she had to figure out how to make lunch happen without any of that packaging. Now, she is a very conscious woman – in all aspects of her life. She is someone who goes out of her way to do the right thing in her dealings with friends, family and strangers. But, in this one thing I don’t think it ever occurred to her that how she was assembling her child’s lunch was so completely unfriendly to the earth. It was also ridiculously expensive! (not to mention full of processed foods)
When you buy these prepackaged, portion controlled “snack” bags you’re paying at least 25% more than if you had just bought the large box and put an appropriate portion into a small reusable container. You’re also leaving a bag that needs to be thrown away. Ditto for the juice box when a reusable water bottle is just fine (and the water is free), and giving your child a small reusable container of bite size fruit is also way better for them and the environment than prepackaged apple sauce or bagged fruit slices (or the worst thing of all “fruit” snacks that are nothing more than gummy candy). Even if you do pack a throwaway container of applesauce you can give your child a regular spoon that they can bring home to throw in the dishwasher.
Obviously going meatless, at least a couple of times a week saves a huge amount of money. Pound for pound beef and chicken will always be more money than grains, beans and tofu. You don’t need to replace meat with fancy soy-meat substitutes, just go to websites like eatingwell and find great meat free recipes that don’t rely on the new expensive (and heavily processed) faux-meats. Or do like our grandparents did and make a little meat go a long way by making sauces, stews and soups that use the meat for flavor and texture not the starring role. Need inspiration? Check out Jennifer Perillo’s exquisite food blog for recipes that are easy, delicious and always “wholistic.” (Seriously, you need to make the lentil-ricotta meatballs) Is eating like this healthier? Yes. Cheaper? Undoubtably.
I won’t go into the energy and money savings of Energy Star appliances, weather proofing and CFL lightbulbs. That’s the kind of stuff that’s being drilled into us at every turn. Turn up the temp on your AC, turn down the temp on your furnace. That stuff is just common sense at this point. By all means use reusable bags when you grocery shop – or anywhere shop. Switch to eco-cleaners, don’t flush your old meds, and for the love of mother nature get rid of your toxic lawn. Those are all things you can do for the earth; some are more about just doing good than doing something frugal.
In the end I try to remember that the simplest ways to be green are often in the small choices in our everyday lives. Sometimes I don’t have a reusable bag on me, and sometimes I want to kick myself for being loyal to my makeup brand that I’m sure has 20 different ingredients on the bad list, but the one place I truly feel that choices matter (and that I can usually control) is in the feeding of my family. The food revolution is not happening in a bubble. Our food choices are intertwined at the deepest level with our impact on the earth. So put down that box of 100 calorie snack packs and pick up a box of whole grain crackers or pretzels and a few small lunchbox friendly containers and take the extra minute to pack it yourself. Save your money, up your child’s nutrition and keep some junk out of the landfills. It might not always be easy being green, but even Kermit would agree it’s not always expensive either.