Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kid's Consignment Sale Madness

I love the JBF Children's Consignment Sale ! This sale, which occurs twice a year in Oklahoma City and many other cities across the country, provides a way for families to get rid of the old and pick up the new (well, new to you anyway :). I buy almost all my son's clothes, toys, and books at the sale so that I can avoid the environmental bad karma of buying new stuff, avoid environmental bad karma from all the packaging on new stuff, pay great low prices, and pick from a HUGE selection.

If you plan ahead, there is really no reason why you need to buy (almost) anything new. For example, you can get:
  • Clothes - shirts, shoes, jackets, coats, pajamas, sweaters, hats etc.
  • Maternity clothes (I paid $80 for ALL my maternity clothes)
  • Shoes
  • Costumes
  • Toys, puzzles, games
  • Books, videos, DVD's
  • Homeschooling books
  • Baby gear - strollers, Boppies, jumpers, breastpumps, bottles, cloth diapers
  • Cribs & other furniture
  • Matresses and bedding
  • Bath tubs and towels
  • Decorations

Shopping the JBF Sale is somewhat competitive, due to the desire to get to the best stuff first. The bigger items, like cribs, will sell out the first day. And on the first day, you may have to wait in line for 30 minutes. are my JBF shopping tips:

  1. Go on the first day, as soon as it opens, for best selection.
  2. Leave kids at a babysitters if at all possible.
  3. Print coupon off of the website for free entry (costs $2 first day only).
  4. Bring a stroller to use as a shopping cart. VERY important.
  5. Bring water and a snack.
  6. Know sizes of children for the next 6 months. (i.e. My son will need 12 - 18 month winter attire)
  7. Make a specific list of what you need.
  8. If you really want first pick, you can get admittance to a 'pre-sale' by volunteering to work a JBF Sale shift or consigning some of your stuff to be sold.

Some people avoid "consigment", thinking that it means "expensive used". In the case of the JBF sales, I would disagree. Just to give you an idea of prices (I went this morning, this is actually a sample of what I bought):

  • Fleece footed pajamas - $3-5
  • Nice winter coats - $5 - 9
  • Toddler shoes - $2 - 6
  • Books - $1 - 4 for good quality; $10 for full sets of books

Of course, you can get cheaper stuff at garage sales, and bag sales at nice thrift stores can be a great bargain. Still, it's hard to get everything you want, with guaranteed excellent quality and excellent selection, at a garage sale. On top of that, you can shop the last two days of the JBF Sale for 25% - 50% off of everything. At the end of the sale, the remainders are given to charity. Sweet!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Joy of SE

I think self-employment is going to enjoy a renaissance. In a post-peak future, when more expensive energy means far fewer globally shipped goods, the global economy may well transform into a local economy. In a local economy, we will all have to start meeting each other's needs. This will be a prime opportunity for entrepreneurs and others who want to work for themselves, as well as those who can't find paid employment.

Why would someone want to work for themselves? Why give up a steady paycheck, health care benefits, and 2 weeks of paid vacation to take on the hassles of figuring out how to start a business? Dealing with your local bureaucracy, deciding how to market your product or service, and accounting for your revenues and expenses can all be a big headache.

It can be a PITA to pay your own payroll, SS and Medicare taxes, and it can be frightening to know that you alone are responsible for your paycheck... the size of which can vary from week to week, or season to season. Add to that the fact that new businesses may not provide a living wage or break even on their investment for one or two years... if ever.

Ah! But the rewards.....
1. You answer to yourself.

A primary reason to quit the job for many self-employed folk. It's not just about escaping bad bosses. When you work for yourself, you get to choose where you work, when you work, and what you do. You can choose the color of the walls, the location of the office, the style of your website. Everything!

You can make decisions in line with your values. You don't have to deal with clients you don't like. And no boss can tell you what to do.

2. You can choose to make a difference.
When you work for someone else, you are limited by your job description. Policies and procedures, rules, bureaucracy, and hierarchy all dictate your actions. You do what your job is, whether or not you agree with the meaning of your acts, the goals of your employer; whether or not you believe in what you are doing. That is, if you want to get paid.

When you work for yourself, you can choose to spend your time doing something meaningful. You can choose a healing profession. You can choose to start a business selling sustainability products. You can choose to set up a business manufacturing Sun Ovens. You can start a non-profit helping children, working to stop sprawl, community gardens, a food co-op. You can offer to start gardens for the elderly or disabled. Dream it, do it. Align your life with your values.

3. You have flexibility.

Flexibility in choosing your working hours is extremely important for some people, including stay at home mothers or those who have disabilities or illnesses. You decide when to work, how many clients to take on, and your schedule. If you suffer from insomnia, you can take naps during the day. If you have a small child, you can work part-time. You can go to the doctor when you need to. You can take off 12 weeks if you want to take a dream vacation, or for maternity leave, or for chemotherapy treatments. You can take all the time you want to prepare for peak oil. You can take off half a day to take your son and daughter to a baseball game.

Now, working for yourself is also very demanding, and can be seasonal. At those times you will not have flexibility. But still, you will be able to make the call.

4. You get the credit, and the profits.

When you are self-employed, you decide your rates and prices. You get to keep 100% of your profits after expenses and taxes. It's also nice having clients who have a relationship with you, are loyal to you, not your employer.

5. You can avoid traffic.

You can choose to work from home, or choose an office close enough to bike to, or go to work outside of rush-hour times. Bonus: save time, reduce carbon emissions, and possibly even get rid of your car. Personally, I have a home office (which is also a tax deduction at the end of the year).

6. You can control your environment.

You can set up your office environment to be as comfortable and as aesthetically pleasing as you'd like. You can choose what to wear - whether it's pajamas, scrubs, or business casual clothes. Many people these days have chemical or environmental sensitivities, and since you have control over your office, you can eliminate these potential hazards.

You can also make your office as environmentally friendly as you'd like. You can use CFL bulbs, insist on recycling and composting, buy green products, use only non-toxic cleaning products, and fill your space with houseplants. If you employ other people, you can be a trendsetter in environmental office space.

My experience with self-employment

When I first started my private practice, it was tough to take the massive pay cut. I also lost my benefits, so I now rely on my husband to provide health care insurance. Note: It's much easier to work for yourself if you have a partner who is providing traditional benefits like health care, and whose paycheck you can rely on to pay the bills every month.

In the beginning, there were plenty of start up costs, and lots of marketing to do. When you work for yourself, you need at least 3 skill sets: the skills of your profession, business skills, and marketing skills. For example, I had to figure out how to get licensed, what rate to charge, how to register my business name with the state, obtain liability insurance, design a website, and set up my accounting books. Then, I had to wait for clients to call, and encourage them to re-schedule. Nerve-wracking!

That was 2 years ago, and it did take a full two years to build up my business to provide a living wage. It seemed like an uphill battle. I had to have faith in myself and keep marketing, marketing, marketing, even when it seemed as if marketing was not working. I had major doubts in my mind throughout that first year, including the viability of my business in this location, my self-esteem, and how long my husband would put up with my sad income.

Now, I have a steady clientele, and I'm glad I choose self-employment since I do have so much flexibility and control. It really comes in handy with a baby/toddler.

Are there any other self-employed folks out there? How do you like it?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Living Well without Owning a Car - Review

Chris Balish's How to Live Well Without Owning a Car - save money, breathe easier and get more mileage out of life - is packed with reasons to sell your car, ways to make the transistion, and substitutes for car transportation.

This is a great "Why to" and "How to" book for Peak Oil preparers living in cities who would like to reduce their dependence on cars, save more money for potential financial disruptions, prepare for a more physical life by getting more exercise, and reduce their negative impact on the environment. Hey - may as well do it now, while gas is $3.50 a gallon, rather than when gas is $6 a gallon.

Chris, a seven time Emmy-Award winning journalist, is also a former SUV driver who started feeling the pain of rising gas prices. He sold his SUV sooner than anticipated and he was left, briefly, without a car. He began taking the bus, biking around town, and hitching rides from friends. At the end of the month, he couldn't believe the excess balance left in his bank account and soon became a car-free advocate.

His primary argument is that cars and SUV's cost much more than you think they do. When you add up the cost of car payments, financing, insurance, gas, depreciation, maintenance, repairs, car washes, car tags and title, parking, speeding tickets, and so on, the True Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a car is about $8400 ($700/month), while for an SUV the TCO is nearer to $10,000 ($833/month). And that was at 2006 prices! If you saved and invested the average TCO instead of spending it on your car, at a 5% return, you would have over $100,000 in 10 years. Whoa!

Of course, a car based transportation system also causes all sorts of other problems both for individuals and society. Take a look at the following list:
  • Pain and suffering from car accidents (3 million injured in the US in 2003)
  • Deaths from car accidents (Over 46,000 in US in 2003)
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of deaths for infants and children
  • Air pollution
  • Carbon emissions contributing to global warming
  • Noise pollution
  • Stress caused by traffic
  • Time wasted in traffic
  • Health problems caused by not enough exercise
  • Dead wildlife and animals (road kill)
  • Wildlife habitat fragmentation
  • Sprawl from unchecked development enabled by cars and cheap oil
  • Use of diminishing fossil fuel resources
  • Waste trash and pollution from old tire, motor oil, and car disposal
  • The paving of America: roads, highways, driveways, and parking lots

He cites the following as the Six Keys to a Car Free Living:

  1. Can you get over your ego?
  2. Do you have a reliable way to get to work without a car (bike, car share, bus, walk)?
  3. Do you live in an urban or mixed-use development?
  4. Do you live near amenities?
  5. Do you have access to public transport?
  6. Are you flexible?

One of the keys to car free living is getting over the ingrained belief, pummelled into us by advertising and recieved wisdom, that all Americans need and desire a car. Think differently! Many people try to reduce the strain on their transportation budget by taking public transport, and this does eliminate the cost of gas, but most of the financial benefits of not owning a car only come after you sell your car.

If you have a reliable way (or two) to get to work, it's much cheaper and healthier, not to mention environmentally friendly, to release your car, embrace public transport and biking, and just RENT a car for isolated needs like vacations, moving large items, or ferrying guests around town. Chris only puts one sentence in the book in all caps, and it's this: Living within a few miles of where you work will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

He lists the following Top 10 Cities for Car Free Living (from Kathryn Keller, Women's Sport and Fitness magazine):

  1. Boston, Massachusetts
  2. Chicago, Illinois
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. New York, New York
  5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  6. Portland, Oregon
  7. San Diego, California
  8. San Francisco, California
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Washington, D.C.

Having lived in Denver, I can vouch for their public transport and excellent biking trails. They also have a great downton, lower downtown, and historic mixed-use districts surrounding downtown. Even the vast, far off southern suburbs are connected via a system of high-speed Light Rail and Park n' Ride parking lots. When I lived there, I commuted to downtown via bus and really enjoyed avoiding the parking fees, sitting in traffic, and having the extra time to read a book on the way to work. My husband biked to work 2 days a week and rode the bus the other three. (I miss you Denver!) Sadly, Oklahoma City always ranks dead last on these types of lists.

So if you are intrigued by the idea of saving $8,400 a year, reducing stress from traffic and your dependence on your vehicle, and decreasing your impact on the environment, consider reading this book to get the helpful and informative details on ditching your car.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Magical paste

My parents are coming to visit tomorrow. This means I needed to clean my tub, which hasn't been cleaned in an embarrassingly looooong time. Calling it dingy would be quite polite. I've been putting it off because I'm transitioning to non-toxic cleaning products. Oh yeah, and because I'd rather do just about anything else besides clean my tub.

So far, my cleaning transition includes: a vinegar spray and old newspaper to clean mirrors and windows, just plain Method dish soap and water to clean countertops, Method toilet cleaner (which actually smells good - weird) and Seventh Generation laundry detergent.

But I wasn't really sure if any old natural or home-made product was going to be up for THIS challenge. I had heard somewhere to make a paste of baking soda and vinegar. So I mixed up a small batch (about 1/8 cup) of the two ingredients in an old small glass jar, and applied the liquid paste to the tub tile grout with an old toothbrush.

Shiver me timbers!! The bizarre orange stuff in the tile grout magically disappeared. Instantly! It just washed away with a wet cloth rag. So I decided to go for it, and applied the velvety white magic paste to the ring around the tub with a brillo pad. More magic! Oh so clean. No scrubbing. No cursing. No toxic odors. No poisons washed down the drain.

I'm so giddy. That actually was easy. And now, 5 minutes later, I'm done - without breaking a sweat. I hope you will forgive me for grossing you out with the description of my "dingy" :) tub. If you'll excuse me, I need to go check my tub just to make sure it's as lovely and white as I remember it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Our savings with a Geothermal Heat Pump

Two years ago, our A/C and furnace were getting decrepit (15 - 17 years old) and needed to be replaced. Then we had two gas leaks from our furnace, and we had to go without heat for a few days. As we were evaluating our options for replacing the furnace, we found the Geothermal Heat Pump technology.

Geothermal Heat Pumps provide heating, cooling, and free hot water when they are running. The Geo technology uses much less energy overall than other types of HVAC systems, because it transfers the constant temperature from the earth into your house via closed-loop pipes drilled deep into the earth. According to some experts, Geo systems also last longer.
So, mostly due to environmental reasons, we decided to install a Geothermal Heat Pump. We chose a Climate Master unit, which sits in the garage, connected to a blower in our former furnace closet. The pipes had to be installed in our front yard, which was totally devastated from the digging and drilling.
Our installers were supposed to use a Ditch Witch to dig the trench for the connecting pipe, which was only 6 feet down, and connects the well pipes, which are drilled down about 200 feet. Nope! Surprise, a gigantic earthmover showed up to dig the connecting trench. And the driller was quite a sight to see - I wish I had a picture. It looked a lot like an oil rig on our front lawn for a day or two. We were quite the talk of the neighborhood.

Along the way, we had to upgrade our electric system for an additional $1300. Basically they replaced the main panel. Personally I think we got hosed on this one.

Once the pipes were installed in the wells, the installers ran them up the side of our house and into the attic, then finally down to the Climate Master unit in the garage. They also connected the unit to our hot water heater. "Waste" heat, leftover from the HVAC process, produces free hot water.

Geo pipes connecting to Geo unit

How does it work? Well, it keeps the house at 68 degrees F easily during the winter (with a minimum temperature of 0 - 10 degrees outside, but usually more like 30 - 40 degrees). During the summer, it has trouble keeping the house at 78 degrees when outside temperatures run above 100 degrees. The first summer we had a lot of trouble keeping the house cool until we installed some more insulation, and our original installer came in for a check up and discovered - oops - some of the settings were improperly set, which was causing our unit to run inefficiently. So, I'm not sure why it still doesn't keep the house as cool as we'd like during the summer... maybe it's just not sized right.

What did it cost?
  • Geothemal unit and installation + backup electric heater - $9500
  • Upgrade of electric system - $1300
  • Replacement and leveling of lawn that was destroyed - $700
  • Tax credit in 2006 - (-$300)

  • Total cost: $11,200
According to some estimates, the cost of comparable energy efficient furnace and A/C units would have run about $4 - 5000. Now, keep in mind that many people would not have to incur the costs of the electric upgrade or the landscaping replacement - especially if building a new home. Then again, according to the estimates I got, $9500 was pretty cheap for an installation of a Geo system.

We also invested $250 on an Energy Audit and $565 on cellulose insulation blown into our attic. So our total investment was $11,200 + 250 + 565 - $5000 (for comparable systems) = $7015.

I just ran the analysis today to see whether the investment was worth it. I looked at our natural gas and electric bills from before the switch and compared them to the electric bill after the switch. Here's what I found:
  • The Geothermal system saves a good amount of money on heating, at an average of $50 - 60 per month during the heating months. I have to note here that we are also keeping the house at a constant 68 degrees now during the winter (due to our small child and my home office); before we installed the unit we were running our furnace at 64 degrees during the day and 60 at night. So this is not a true apples to apples comparison.

  • The Geothermal system seems to cost about the same to run as our old A/C unit did during cooling months.

  • On a first year to year comparison, we saved $400 (32%) and 8511 kwh (46%). Note: I had to convert Dekatherms to kWh to make the comparison. For some reason saving 46% of kWh did not translate into 46% of actual dollar savings - I think this is because prices went up between 2005 and 2007.

  • The Geo system brought us to a total home energy usage of 9901 kWh, with no therms at all. This reduces our impact to 75% less than the average American's use of 11,000 kWh + 1000 therms = 40,300 kWh converted. Very satisfying!

So what do I think?

  • At this rate, it will take us 15 years to make our money back.
  • If prices increase rapidly (possible scenario), it will take much less time - maybe 6 to 8 years .
  • There are cheaper ways to use less energy, but this way we keep about the same amount of comfort, and I can continue to use my home office, while still reducing our carbon impact (from home energy use) about 46%.
  • The Geo system does seem worth it, assuming energy prices continue to rise.
  • If you have tight budget constraints, I would recommend spending the money on insulation and weatherizing first, and investigate solar heating as an option.
  • Talk to people in your climate to see if it is worth getting a Geothermal Heat Pump system in your weather conditions!!

Update 2009: I believe that the current federal tax credit is much improved over the credit we received when we installed our system - it is now $2000 instead of the measly $300 we got :).

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Meaning of Community

Over the past hundred years Americans have come to have very different values than our ancestors. Our foremothers and fathers valued prudence, frugality, patience, humility, community, cooperation. (These sound very boring, don't they?) People didn't live very well if they didn't contribute to the community. No one was able to survive "on their own". From the Native American tribes of the past to the Amish communities today, people took care of their own. Not just families, but whole communities.

Instead of working to accumulate money and things, our ancestors worked to accumulate goodwill, favors, and support of the community. Instead of the cycle of making money ---> spending money, our great-great-grandmothers lived in the cycle of giving support ----> getting support. Our ancestors knew they would be taken care of when they needed it, just the way that we have confidence that we'll get a paycheck from our employer every two weeks.

So it made sense to our ancestors to spend a large part of their time helping others. The more they helped others, the more they would be helped. Every act of charity - helping a new mother care for her little ones, helping a sister through labor, helping with a barn raising, bringing in the harvest with a neighbor, or dropping off a hot meal for an elderly aunt - these were as good as putting money in the bank. Of course, it was probably never articulated that way. It was just how it was, and the more you helped, the more successful you were.

A strong, caring community was actually even better than a paycheck or a bank account, because the whole fabric of the community would have to be destroyed before any one person was not taken care of. In our present-day monetary system, we're on our own. Our comforts, even our very existence, hinge on the vagaries of the global financial system. A serious illness, a job loss, a bad car wreck - any one of these things can send us into bankruptcy, poverty, despair. So, unlike our ancestors, we are filled with uncertainty about our futures. We are never safe, because no amount of money can ever really be enough to protect us.

Sadly, the security that came with a strong community has all but disappeared. Only a few remnants of that ethic persist - baby showers, wedding showers, baking food for your sister-in-law when she's just had a child. Even the core activities of the family - caring for the little ones, educating the kids, looking after elderly parents - has been outsourced.

"Community" - the community we've lost - is often cited as a way to get through peak oil and climate change. How would having a community help us confront these issues?
  • Teamwork. Working together on projects for the common good, like putting in a garden.
  • Pooling money to make group investments, like a canning kitchen or solar power for a community center.
  • Sharing. Not everyone needs to buy a new product when tools and goods can be passed around.
  • Leveraging knowledge. Gardening, preserving, mending, and fixing knowledge can be transmitted from the knowledgeable people to the rest of the community.
  • Protecting the vulnerable. Caring for the ill, and elderly, and helping single parents.
  • Giving us a feeling of belonging. People will make sacrifices for the group when they know they are being held accountable for results, and when they know that their sacrifices count. (Ask any drill sergeant).
  • Civic amenities. Services like police, firefighting, community theater, parks.
  • Status symbol reduction. When everyone knows each other, and knows our real characters, will SUV's, Rolexes and diamond rings really be necessary?
  • Crime reduction. Anonymity is the enabler of crime. When people know each other, and keep track of each other, alert each other to strangers, watch out for suspicious activity, and hold each other accountable, crime can be reduced.

What do you think? What are other ways that building community would help us transition through peak oil to a better future?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Juneau Project

What would you do if you had to cut your energy use by 30% in a matter of days?

The citizens of Juneau, Alaska, had to do exactly that when their cost for electricity went from about 11 cents/kwh to 52 cents/kwh overnight. An avalanche cut off their cheap hydropower and they were forced to switch to expensive (and polluting) diesel.

Here is a chart of their power usage. The pink area is the time in which Juneau citizens were paying the higher rate. The great thing, though, is that they have apparently maintained their lower-energy lifestyle after their hydropower was restored!

What would you do if you knew your electricity bill, which usually runs about $70 per month, was going to increase to $280 this month if you used electricity just like normal? What creative ways could you find to cut your energy usage by 30% in a matter of days? Or by 50%? (Note: The folks at Riot 4 Austerity are going for 90% - and not just in electricity, but in their carbon footprint for food, water, gas and consumer goods too.)

How much comfort and convenience are you willing to trade for money?

Which of the following would you be willing to do?

  • Line dry clothes (even in cold, damp weather?)
  • Wash dishes by hand
  • Turn off A/C completely or turn it up to 80 - 82 degrees
  • Turn off heat completely or turn down to 55 - 60 degrees
  • Cover your windows with plastic and your walls with blankets for emergency insulation
  • Take cold showers or cut your number of hot showers drastically
  • Turn off your fridge - and stash food out in the snow?
  • Wash laundry in cold water
  • Wash laundry by hand
  • Eat cold meals requiring no cooking energy
  • Use a Sun Oven for cooking and baking
  • Not use any sort of electronic entertainment

(Of course, with a longer time horizon, you can make your technology and home more efficient.)
The coming years may see a huge increase in the cost of electricity for all of us - and it's already started increasing for some of us. I guess we may as well figure out how to deal with it now.

How about you readers who have already decreased your electricity bills by 30%? What did you do and what made the biggest difference?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Disposables begone!

Following in the footsteps of Sharon, Crunchy, and others, I've made progress in my slow but steady quest to reduce my use of disposables. This goal has two purposes: Prepare for reduced availability / increased price of disposables during the peak oil descent, and reduce my impact on the environment. A few of the steps required some monetary outlay, but by my calculations I will make my money back within a year. The others were free!

1. Cloth hankies

This one was easy, free, and took about 5 minutes. Psychologically, this was also an easy change. At first, I thought that I would sew some cute handkerchiefs out of an old sheet. After about 2 months of having this plan in my head, I realized it was holding me up from getting it done. So, I simply took my husband's soft old T-shirt, cut it into strips, and set the stack of them on my bedside table. Since then, I have not used a Kleenex! I admit that this method would not work during cold season - I go through about 20 Kleenexes per hour (not exaggerating!). But the rest of the year, it works great.

2. P-cloth

Also free! But psychologically, not as easy. The first time I read about using cloth t.p, I thought, "Freaky nutcases!". After awhile, I started to think, "Why not?", and I couldn't come up with a good answer.

I use folded baby washcloths (the soft side, not the terry cloth side) to wipe after #1 only, then I drop them in a dry basket by the side of the toilet. I wash the cloths every few days in the washing machine with the rest of my whites, using my regular detergent. Since urine is sterile, I'm comfortable with this method. I haven't noticed any smell yet (in the last 2 months), and actually the P-cloths are quite soft and comfy! I get a lot of satisfaction in decreasing the destruction of trees and stopping wasteful plastic use (the wrapping of the t.p. packages). Somewhere, a tree is thanking me. Avoiding the expense is nice too.

Now that I've done it for awhile, I can't see why I thought it would be gross or difficult. I actually would not want to give it up. It does take an extra 5 minutes of my time every three days, but I think this is balanced by the need to only buy regular t.p. maybe twice a year. And this way, the toilet paper we have stored for TEOTWAWKI ;) should go much, much further... maybe years instead of just a few months.

3. Monthly feminine needs

Another chance to decrease my use of cotton (did you know cotton is the #3 crop user of pesticides?), avoid destruction of forests, and cut toxins in my body and the environment! I bought a Diva cup and some Luna Pads for backup. Diva does a good job of making these things fun and attractive, and they've been working pretty well in combination, even overnight. Problem of how to take care of this need if TSHTF: Solved.

4. Klean Kanteen

Ooooh! These are so pretty, I will actually show them off! Klean Kanteens replace plastic water bottles. They are made of stainless steel, with no plastic liner. Using a Klean Kanteen reduces the amount of plastic going into the waste stream, decreases the use of fossil fuels to make the plastic water bottles, stops wasteful shipping of water all over the world (insanity!!!), and decreases the amount of the chemical BPA going into your body.

I haven't been using bottled water in a long time, but I have been refilling an old plastic water bottle over and over again, and my hubby has been using a Lexan bottle that he hates. So I thought I'd pony up the dough for these beauties and make a statement. I bought two 27-oz Kanteens and a Sippy Cup for the small guy. I've only had them a day, so I can't blog on their long-term use, but so far I love them! One caveat: they dent if you drop them on something hard.

5. Cloth bags

The scourge of plastic bags drives me nuts! We've been using cloth grocery bags for eight years now. We figured out that it takes 4 cloth bags (2 large, 2 small) to replace about 10-15 bags per grocery store trip. That comes out to 8 x 52 x 15 = 6240 bags in the last 8 years! We got our grocery bags as "Thank You" gifts from Environmental Defense, but you can find them cheap-o at thrift stores, and many places are starting to sell them at reasonable prices.

However, I was still getting plastic bags from non-grocery stores, so I just recently got a giant bag from Bed Bath and Beyond for big bulky purchases ($2), and also a small bag from my library ($2) for books. I can keep these tucked in my glove compartment for any spontaneous shopping. Next step: I'm thinking of giving cloth bags as a Christmas gift to my clients this year.

How about you? What are you doing or planning to do?