Today is Earth Day. Unlike the other annual events that happen this week, Earth Day is an opportunity to celebrate the good in/of the world. Since I am packing up and moving on out of the roach motel, I thought I would make a list of earth saving moving options:
Use recycled boxes – there are a lot of options here and most save money as well as trees.
- The obvious choice: ask friends and family for unused boxes. My TA just brought over 5 book boxes this weekend from her last move, that saved me $25-$35 depending on where I might have bought them and saved her storage space. Everybody wins!
- Ask your local bookstore and appliance stores for boxes – not only do they have an abundance, but you can get just the right size for things like TVs and Microwaves. FREE
- Buy boxes from uhaul : uhaul sells used boxes and then buys them back when you are done. They guarantee buy back so there is no risk. You save money and you ensure that the boxes you use are used over and over again.
- Use a moving company that provides used boxes for moves for Free. The company I chose does this. The only issue I had with them was that I had to drive to the complete opposite side of town to pick them – saving trees but killing the ozone and depleting oil resources – and they would only give me the same amount as listed on my estimate which turned out to not be nearly enough.
Use recycled/recyclable padding materials:
- the obvious: blankets and other linens work great as packing material and you have to pack them anyway so its two jobs for the price of none!
- hate junk mail?: use all those fliers, weekly mailers, etc. as packing material. Back before we all got sold on bubble wrap (made of not so biodegradable plastics) newspaper was a movers bestfriend. Don’t believe the hype, go back to the tried and true and save a couple of trees and space in the landfill too. 🙂
- identity theft woes?: invest in a household shredder, they are cheap ($20 or less), small so they use way less electricity, and just the right size for bank statements, credit card offers, etc. I fill a tupperware bin with my shreds and then whenever I have a fragile gift to mail (which for me is often because moving a lot means friends with special days all over the world), or to pack, I use them. They are great for everything from TVs to delicate gift items.
- use recyclable peanuts: several companies now sell peanuts that can be transformed into mush with a little water and safely washed down the sink (continues to biodegrade as it travels, washed completely out in the water treatment process) or returned to the company for industrial recycling. companies that are easy to use uhaul or even better ecoproducts
- plastic bags: if you are like me, you collect a ridiculous amount of plastic bags from shopping trips at stores that use nothing but plastic. I keep mine folded up in a bottom drawer in the kitchen where they sit and waste (I see you nodding). Well, crumpled up and put in between items in a box, plastic bags become the ultimate reusable packing resources and keep you from filling the landfill with those ever growing bags.
Reuse bags for clothes and linens:
- If you dry clean your clothes – How many plastic bags have you thrown away from the dry cleaners? Instead, fold them up and put them in a biodegradable lawn bag inside your closet (you can get these at any hardware store and they are HUGE), put the safety pins in a small box made out of recyclable cardboard, also kept in the closet. When you are ready to move, use the bags and pins to protect all of your clothes and linens as they travel to your new destination. Extra bags can be used as packing material, see above. When you get to your new place, ask your new dry cleaner to reuse the bags when they have cleaned your clothes; if they won’t, ask them not to bag your clothes and then bag them yourself when you pick them up to keep them from getting dirty on the way home. Bags can also be reused for short trips, whenever I have to take a business suit to another country or I have to check my bag, I put the clothes in a dry cleaner bag fastened with the safety pins so that no matter how dusty my destination or how much wear and tear my bags endure in flight, my clothes are polished and ready to go.
- Don’t dry clean?: Use kitchen garbage bags. They are just the right size for lining the tops and bottoms of clothing boxes and for sheets and quilts. I recommend using the flex bags if you are going to put blankets and sheets inside so they breath and get them out immediately when you get to the other side or they might get that plastic smell.
Use plates made from recycled goods:
- After you have packed the dishes/ before you have unpacked them in your new place – why not invest in recycled/recyclable dishes and plasticware? These items can be rinsed and reused and they are either biodegradable or made of previously recycled materials, or both! My favorites are Preserve brand Cutlery and dishes, they come in vibrant colors (purple, pink, green), they can be used over and over again, and they are 100% recycled material primarily from yogurt containers and I eat a lot of yogurt so I feel like I am recycling twice. 🙂
Think of others:
- Practice the 1 year rule – if you have not worn or used something in one year or more, give it up. Do to stress in my job, I have gained 1-2 sizes in the last few years but I keep holding on to my slimmer clothes as if some day the Director of my Department will stop harassing me and cortisol will just miraculously disappear from my body. NOT GONNA HAPPEN! So, I put two biodegradable lawn bags in my closet. Each year, I go through the closet and put the clothes that no longer fit, I haven’t worn, or have finally admitted was never my style anyway (I see you nodding again), into the bags separated by “professional clothes” and “regular clothes.” I give the professional clothes to Dress for Success, a program that helps low income and homeless women get outfits for job interviews and the first few days of work, and the regular clothes to the local area women’s shelter.
- Fashion victim – one persons fashion no-no is another person’s “rock on!” I try to think of my friends and colleagues whose fashion styles are similar to clothes that I don’t want but cannot return and share my size. Whenever I get ready to take those bags out of the closet (see above) I have a little get together and let them go through the bags first. All I ask is that they bring their goodies too. It is a great way to get together, enjoy some food and company, and do our part for the earth all at the same time.
- bathroom stuff – One thing that is always in short supply at shelters: cleaning supplies and bathroom gear. If you are like me, you get tons of sample sizes in the mail, while shopping, or because you travel a lot. When I get ready to move, I check the expiration date on all of these things, make up small bathroom kits (one soap, one shampoo, one conditioner, one tissue, one lotion) and then donate the lot to the local women’s shelter. I also give up the unused cleaning supplies – nothing already opened of course.
- things I hate – I occasionally have kitchen appliances that I bought thinking they would be wonderful – the air saver food storage kit, medium end pots and pans, waffle maker, etc. – they looked cute and useful in the store, they matched my other stuff, but seriously I never use them or I don’t have time to figure out how to use them. I guarantee you someone else is dying to have them. I resist the urge to sell them on craigslist or ebay – all t
hough if you need money this works and it still saves the environment by not throwing things out – and instead give them to family friends who have admired them, do the drive to the local charity, or sometimes, when I have seen a family who doesn’t have anything in the neighborhood, I leave it outside their door at night.
- blankets – these are another hot commodity at shelters. In recent years I have sought out the shelters that pass out blankets to the homeless regardless of whether they stay there or not. The other thing I have taken to doing, which I am sure park service is not so happy about . . . putting folded up blankets on the benches and under the trees where I have seen homeless people sleeping in winter. Local area churches are another good place for these items. Lets face it, sometimes you have blankets you don’t want anymore or when you move you plan to upgrade to a larger mattress size, why waste these items when others need them so much?
- Got books? – if you are an academic, you have one or more extra copies of important books in your collection. I keep two copies of the books I teach the most – one for me to re-read as I teach and one to make photocopies or put on reserve for the kids who cannot buy their own. Every time I move, I separate the extra copies in to two piles – books to give to friends and special students and books to donate. If I have books I just know will help a student or colleague with their research, I give it to them directly. All other books go into the donate pile. I try to give these books to one of the following places: Women’s Resource Center, Ethnic Studies Library, or Coop Bookstore or Feminist coffeeshop. These places all have in common the sharing of radical books across a wide range of readers – academics, community members, the curious, and the seasoned. I never give ancient or soiled books to these places because I want them to be relevant, timely, and well used resources. The ancient and soiled books go to the second hand bookstore. Someone always wants them and they are not insulted by books that are warped, nor does it send the message that feminist and ethnic spaces (not mutually exclusive by the way) are unworthy of clean books. When I was an undergrad, the Women of Color Collective asked each professor on campus to comb their bookshelves for extra copies and donate what they found. In one semester, we were able to open an extensive library collection in the Women of Color house just based on this request; we were also able to identify the professors who were truly committed to our cause by those who gave use usable books versus those who gave us ancient, soiled, junk that neither they nor we wanted.
Nothing like the smell of toxic chemicals or the sound of your animals, children, or yourself gagging to know why you should use green cleaning options.
- remember those old magazines or junk mail you haven’t quite used up in the packing process? how about using them to clean the windows and mirrors? Yep, a little vinegar and newspaper and you have professional shine on all glass surfaces.
- Vinegar is also a winner for any organic messes – vinegar eats all organic materials, you can use it safely on mold in the kitchen or bathroom (or deities forbid, in the car).
- Baking soda and a little carbonated water (regular water if you must) will clean any tile surface or counter top like new, and get rid of toilet troubles.
- lemon juice also works in combination with baking soda for tough stain and it leaves a fresh scent instead of the vinegar smell.
- I have heard, but cannot be certain, that Tea Tree works wonders on mold and wood floors. It needs to be diluted in water or oil first. Left over tea tree can be used to combat dandruff, lice, and dry scalp issues in general when mixed with water, cream bases like milk or mayonnaise. I am allergic to tee tree and do not recommend for sensitive skin types.
- Always Carry Water – We could ensure clean water for the entire world with the amount of money we spend on the bottle water industry. Why not travel green? I buy a two gallon refillable water container from the local coop whenever I move in to a town (or I reuse the old one if they will let me). When I road trip, I pack my handy dandy water bottle made of recycled plastic in the front of the car – one for me and one for my travel buddy – and I put the two gallon container of water in the back of the car. At every rest stop, we refill the bottles in the front of the car so we never have the urge to buy bottled water or other fizzy beverages that may be supporting water depletion in other countries (like Coke in India for instance). Bonus: If traveling with pets, you can also fill their water dish from the same place and not worry about making them sick with unclean water. If the water runs out before the trip does, the container can be refilled at the nearest coop or green produce store for less than the price two regular bottles of water would have cost you. Extra Bonus: if you find your car overheating, you have room temperature water ready to go, no worries about hoping the engine will hold out until you get to water or your bottle being too depleted to help.
- Snack pack. By packing your own you not only resist the urge to buy food that is bad for you, but also avoid supporting fast food that does not operate on a sustainable living model, may be contributing to the depletion of natural resources, and the exploitation of people, land, and non-renewable resources, and you may even make the road safer by ensuring that your body is operating on natural high energy, brain function enhancing snacks (like proteins – pressed tofu keeps in the cool pack described below for 24 hours; if you put in a hotel fridge it can be stretched to 48 hrs, and nuts – especially almonds which can also be put on your salad). When going green with snacks however, resist the urge to buy travel sized snacks; hello, that is just more plastic for the landfill and more for the bottom of your car. Remember that half used plastic wrap you were tempted to throw out while packing? Wallah! Make bags out of that and either buy snacks in bulk or dip into your bulk snacks already in the house. I like to put two travel tubs behind each front seat, one has reusable ice packs/ice cube substitute and keep cold items in it like jam, fruit, water bottle, soup, salad, etc., the other has dry items like nuts, trail mix, homemade travel bars, bread, peanut butter, dry fruits, etc. I usually put everything in air tight containers made from recyclable plastics that I can use again and again in my new place, and then some easy grab bag single serve balanced snack pick me ups on top inside recyclable plastic bags, home made plastic wrap bags, or reusable single serve salad containers for the salad you know you should be having on the road. They are great for snacking on while driving, can be rinsed out at the hotel or rest stop at night, and reused in the new house. 🙂 (The container store really should pay me for this one)
- going a short distance? – pack a lunch or snack box for each passenger in the car using washable/reusable containers. Customize each and use cute outer containers or functional outer container that can be reused. I am a big fan of the
se veggie and dip packs and special treat packs; both are great for kids and teens on short car trips, park outings, etc. I put banana nut bread with whipped peanut butter for frosting in the cupcake containers, it is a health snack full of needed nutrients, and in the cupcake tin it feels like a cupcake even when it really isn’t.
- Make a green road map – when road tripping, consider campsites instead of hotels or hotels that have gone green instead of those that still use excessive water and earth toxic products. Better yet, use your road trip as a chance to visit friends. Bring them your professionally cleaned and cutely packages recyclables (see clothing and appliance suggestions above), your labor (make dinner or lunch for them), and stay over night. Everybody wins!
- Also, use biodiesel if you can, or if you have lots of time and very little stuff that isn’t on the van – why not bike there or take the train? Coastal trains are some of the best fun in the world for cheap, and they do not prevent you from bringing your own green snacks and taking site seeing detours if you buy the right kind of tickets. Trains are not as easily used for commuting in the US as in other countries but that shouldn’t stop you, just plan well.
Make Extra Paper into a Travel Journal
- If you are like me, you find extra typing paper all over the house when packing up. Why not put it all together with a clip, or in a reusable closing file folder, and turn it into a travel journal? You can write down your impressions of the towns and places you visit on your way to your next place. I like to put free post cards with pictures of the town, or cut outs from hotel guides, found objects, etc. in with my narrative. I always remember every place I have ever been, including scenic views, great coffee, and unexpected events this way and I don’t just throw paper away. Win- Win.
- Make paper into stationary – same concept. Keep the paper in the same way as above, then at night or during a drive break, write a letter to your friends, lovers, or colleagues, about your progress. Make sure to add cool places to visit, green ideas you may have picked up, as well as the funny stories when you write. High end hotels will mail your letters for free, otherwise bring stamps with you. Trust me, everyone will love it. 🙂 (And it has the added bonus of cutting down on travel books for your friends when they travel the same way in the future, b/c they will already have your suggestions to get them through.)
When you get to the other side:
- Give the boxes away – break them down as you unpack and then tie them together based on size and shape. You can always just recycle them if the new town does that. Or you can make them work to cut down on the production of new boxes by placing a free ad on craigslist for free boxes to other movers, selling them back to uhaul, or storing them for that time when you or someone you know will move again.
- recycle the packing materials – whether it is plastics, peanuts, or newspaper, there should be a place to take these items or even curbside if you just do a simple search
- reconsolidated your left over snacks with the larger bulk tins you shipped, or use them in lunches, whatever works. Just because the food has been in the car doesn’t mean it has to go in the garbage. If it is too worn to keep with the rest of the bulk, use it in the next few days by combinging it in lunches or quick one pot meal ideas. The great thing about using sustainable snacks instead of fast food is it at the end of the day they are every day meal items like fruits, veggies, and nuts, all versatile, yummy, usable items. Wash the containers and use them again and again.
- Convert to reusable bags. ok, so this will mean no plastic bag draw to raid on your next move . . . that’s ok, canvas bags works just as well. Most green stores or coops will sell you reusable canvas bags to carry your groceries in. Just remember to clean them out immediately after you unpack them and then put them near the front door or in the car for next time. My gf laughed at me for months the last time I lived on the east coast b/c I kept forgetting the canvas bags I had already bought from the coop and buying new ones. I replaced the plastic bag drawer with a canvas bag drawer. Ugh! Oprah is also selling bags at cost on her site: www.oprah.com (This is not an endorsement of Oprah or Harpo). For veggie bags go to: http://earthlight.greenhome.com/products/kitchen/food_storage/
- Get off the junk mail bus: www.greendimes.com will help you save trees, space in the landfill, and the stress of a mailbox full of junk for $35 a year. I’ve started giving these as gifts to my students in my social change class at the end of the class; I give them a one year subscription and I give them a catalogue to women for women especially if the class meets in the fall, then they can get presents that sometimes use recycled goods, support women survivors of genocides, and make their loved ones happy on seasonal holidays. 🙂
- get organized. If you can, install the organizational tools (some are mentioned above) before you unpack so that you never get too cluttered again you will save the environment by saving trees, landfill space, and those hostile vibes that come from a cluttered life. Cutting clutter means better mental health, better productivity, and better recycling skills (see donation examples above). Also if you move alot you may want to include portable file boxes into your regular use; these boxes are great for home office, b/c they stack, and for moving, because they tape up and will be taken on by commercial movers.
- Convert to sustainable cleaning options. See above or Oprah once again has come to the rescue with a 30% off green products deal at her website www.oprah.com
- That first night meal – instead of falling into the pizza trap that most people fall into on their first night post-driving and unpacking, why not plan ahead? A) Pack a nice first night meal in the car – pre cut veggies, fruits, and cheeses for grilling and then air tight seal them and put them in the cool items snack container, then when you get to your new place, unpack them, put them on the George Foreman, and have a yummy dinner in an instant (add some rice and tofu to the mix and you have a well balanced meal). B) before you move, locate the nearest coop to your new town. Pull in to the coop before you go to the new house for the first time – you can sign up for membership that day, ensuring that you are contributing to sustainable eating for the rest of your time in the new house from day one, and get a nice home made meal from the deli section. If you ask nicely, and your tupperware is clean and the right size, they will put your meal in your reusable tupperware, if not they usually use recyclable containers for take out foods. C) If you are friendlier than me, time your arrival with the monthly meet and greet – every big town has a monthly meet-n-greet for Christian families, Lesbian Singles or Couples, Young Professionals, etc. If you plan your arrival to coincide with this event, you can pull in to your new place, shower, put on that well preserved nice outfit (see suggestions above under travel clothes), and get the ball rolling on meeting new people and making new friends while avoiding the pizza box garbage and non-sustainable pizza production that ar
e so not good for mother Earth. (If you live in one of those neighborhoods that has picnics, block parties, or bbqs, same thing applies and you meet your neighbors. I have seen to many exclusionary practices at these events to be too gung ho about this option, but to each her/his own)
- When you’ve unpacked the regular dishes – sanitize your ecofriendly plastic ware (see above) and put aside for picnics, quick meals, or the next move.
Hope this helps somebody out there with ideas. Anybody got some I missed?