Going Green 2: Laundry

Back to basics, back to going green. Green I tell ya, green! Let’s do it together and get some green sh*t done.

Over the years I have had a love-hate relationship with laundry. At age 10 or so my Mom used to make me help fold the odd load, and I hated it. Why do I have to fold these stupid towels, I didn’t dirty them. Why do I have to fold my sister’s clothes, when they are not mine?

Ha ha ha. If only my 10 year old self only knew the laundry mountains that awaited…

From about age 12 or so I did my own laundry. By that I mean picking up the contents of my floor, throwing it in the washer, forgetting it for a while, throwing it in the dryer, then using the dryer to find socks in the morning. Finally someone would nag me to take my laundry out of the dryer already so I would throw it in a laundry basket and continue to mine through it for socks each morning. Who needs a closet anyway?

Hey, I was twelve.

Since then I have matured somewhat and now I have a husband and two dirty darling little kids and I do all the laundry. I used to be on an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” sort of schedule. This worked for a while, until I stopped feeling like it, and then the mountains grew and grew and nobody had socks…

Then I turned all green and the laundry mountains came tumbling down. I have totally different relationship with laundry now. It has obtained a sort of zen like status. I can’t explain it. Somehow smoothing, hanging and folding clothes is very calming for me in a hectic, busy house. I do it exclusively in the laundry room, with no distractions. I have a schedule. I rock it.

How do you feel about laundry? Love or hate? At all green? How would you classify yourself on this sliding green scale:

Dabbler

You tend not to use dryer sheets. Those things are filled with chemicals anyway. That is why some people carry dryer sheets to keep bugs away. The bugs know better. You don’t want to smother everything that touches your skin with these things. You use dryer balls or tennis balls instead to cut the static. I started doing this when my first baby was born.

Intermediate

You just wear your clothes more. This is so easy. Just wear a pair a jeans, and then the next day, wear them again. Make your kids do it too. All pants get worn more than once in my house. Unless they are muddy or have food on them can’t be picked off (I am only slightly joking). Pajamas are on a three day rotation. As for shirts, you can wear it again if the following is true:

  1. it is a sweatshirt or sweater and does not lose its shape with one wearing
  2. you are a kid and therefore don’t have any concerns with BO issues, at all, ever
  3. you are me and it is a Saturday and you just don’t care what you look like and you are just cleaning up around the house anyway. Besides, who cares? Less laundry is almost always better.

Hardcore

Make your own laundry detergent. This is really easy, I have been doing it for over a year now. It takes about 10 minutes and lasts about 4 months. I don’t mess around with the liquid detergent recipes, I go straight for the dry ones. I just let the detergent dissolve in the water a bit before putting the clothes in. My clothes come out clean and I use ingredients I understand, like plain bar soap, baking soda and borax. I use recipe #4 or #9 from Tipnut. My fave is #9, here is what you need to make it:

Here it is all finished. You only need 1/8 cup per wash. It is literally pennies a wash.  Plus there is no throw-away plastic container.

If you don’t make it, then you buy the ultra greenie type of washing detergent at the store. No bleach (dioxins are bad).

Ultimate

You line dry your clothes. Most of the world does this anyway. Most of our grandparents did this. Australia does this. For some reason Canada seems to have a hardcore dryer culture. Maybe it is because it is too cold to dry our clothes outside for over the half the year. I line dry inside, it works like a charm. I would even go as far as to say that line drying INSIDE in the winter is EASIER because the clothes dry FASTER. Like in 12 hours. Dry, done, folded. But that is winter. In spring, it is more like 24 hours.

So I have not turned my dryer on in over a year. It took a few months to give it up all together. Now it just sits there but does make a very nice surface on which to fold clothes.

Sometimes I will pull sheets out of the closet that I have not used in a while and put them on the bed and smell that outside smell all around them and just close my eyes in that dreamy way those chicks in those laundry commercials do when they smell their chemically scented laundry… Ahh, freshness.

I also like folding line dried laundry. It is not all crumply. It is smooth and straight and slightly crisp. My t-shirts come out looking ironed. Everything folds up easy and fast. Also when you wear the clothes, they are crisp and fresh and I just like it better now.

The best part is the electricity savings. Here is a graph of two years of electricity use at my house (I am nerdy with a spreadsheet that way). I switched all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescent and turned off the dryer late in 2010, so the blue bars on the graph is old way of doing things, the red is new. I am not sure how much of the drop is due to light bulbs or laundry, but those are the only two big things I changed.

When you run the math (which I did, since I am an accountant and all) I saved 22% in electricity. So easy. Done. Waste not.

Bonus Points

Do you get any bonus points?

  1. You wash in cold water. I admit, I do not do this in the winter. The water here is so cold here it hurts your hands. Seriously! In summer it is a more reasonable cold. Lately I have been putting a bit of warm in, letting the soap dissolve, then switching to cold. Seems to work.
  2. You wash more often and buy less clothes. This is more related to cutting some consumerism habits vs. greening your laundry. But I thought I would just throw it there in for good measure.
  3. You have been known to pick off an unknown crusty bit from a sweater so you could wear it again without washing. Secretly.

So where do you fall on the sliding green scale – dabbler, beginner, intermediate, hardcore or ultimate? Do you get bonus points? Any change for the green is a good change, no matter how small. So take the poll, check all that apply:

Clothes to Me

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; Cotton

Image via Wikipedia

I watched a show yesterday called Eco-Trip: The Real Cost of Living.  In this episode, they  followed the life of a cotton t-shirt. Apparently, cotton crops are some of the most heavily sprayed in the US agricultural industry. Cotton crops also consume a vast amount of water, over 2,700 litres (700 gallons) per pound of cotton. The heavily sprayed seeds and other plant parts are also fed to cows, which we then eat. According to this show, we are actually consuming more cotton through eating beef than through purchasing clothes. Hmmm.

After it is picked, the cotton is cleaned and shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is woven into cloth, using more water and dyes and chemicals. In many cases the cloth is shipped again to another country where the garment is put together, and then shipped again back to North America, where it is put into stores for us to buy.

Our clothes really have an amazing journey, even before we walk around in them for the first time! Just as importantly, our clothes consume a lot of water, even before we have washed them for the first time. Finally, our clothes have been responsible for a whole lot of pesticide use, almost 1/3 of a pound per t-shirt. If you think about it, the pesticides used to produce a regular cotton t-shirt, can weigh more than the t-shirt itself. Ewww.

Before turning all green last November, I had never once thought about the impact that my clothes had on the environment. I had never considered my clothing footprint.

We have an insatiable appetite for new clothes in North America. The fashion industry feeds this frenzy, by making us feel decidedly un-cool if we don’t buy new clothes each season. Many people have racks and racks of clothes, some of which they have only worn once or twice, some still with the price tags.

If we all knew the environmental cost of making our clothes – would we still buy so many?

As part of my Nothing New challenge, I have not purchased any new clothes for myself, husband or kids since January 1st. It honestly has been very easy. We have so many clothes to begin with there is no reason to buy more. However with kids it can get a little tricky. Take my son for example – he is five years old and plays rough and tumble on the floor. The knees of his pants can take quite the beating. Since our challenge began, he has blown out the knees of 3 pairs of jeans. I still let him wear them, just not to school.

My next problem is socks – my socks. It seems like I am getting holes in all my socks all at once. The other day I had to try on 3 pairs of socks before finding one without new holes.

My community held an “I’ve Outgrown It” sale last weekend. It is an annual event where they stuff a school full of used kids clothing and toys. It is like a giant garage sale! There are great deals to be had. I purchased 4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my son, and 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my daughter. I got all this for $100. Several items had never been worn and still had the tags on them. Others were high-end, brand name items that had seen very little wear. So I am now set up quite nicely for spring and summer.

I am closing in on my 3 month challenge of nothing new, with only about 2 weeks left. It has me thinking about what I will do once the challenge is over. Will I rush out and buy a bunch of new stuff? Will I continue to not buy any new stuff at all? Or will I take a hybrid approach and purchase new only when absolutely necessary?

I have not quite decided. I do know that I am very aware of the huge footprint my clothing has, and will opt to wear what I have instead of purchasing new.  If I have to purchase, I will try to purchase used whenever possible. If I have to purchase new, I will buy from stores that offer high quality fabrics that don’t wear out as fast – it may cost more but it will last longer, and someone else is more likely get some use out of it when I am done. I am also going to be on the look out for organic cotton fabrics in my area. I would like to save some pesticide poundage! I will also get out my mending skills and see what I can do about those nasty holes in my socks and my son’s jeans.

Umm… wait a minute. I think I just committed to darning my socks. Seriously?

I guess so! 🙂

Green Team

Okay… um, I think I just suggested that I would set up a greening office program at work for an office of about 800 employees. Ya. Also, I did it in my written performance review. I just blurted it out at the very end and then sent it off to my boss before I could change my mind. Say whaaat?

I am not sure what his reaction will be. I hope he shares it with his boss, and that together, they think it is a good idea. Worst case scenario – they think I am a nut.

What business do I have with this idea? I am an accountant, I work in Finance, I work with numbers and excel all day long. I am not HR or Communications or Facilities Management or anything like that. I don’t even really know anyone in these departments.

I was actually inspired by Bill Gerlach of the New Pursuit. He started a grassroots movement at work to green the office. When I read about what he had done, it hit me. Why can’t I do that too? I am looking for things to DO. I want to HELP. I am greening my life, but what else? What else what else what else? I know! Green the office!

Here is a little known secret. Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 years old, I worked for Environment Canada as a co-op student. I was on the “green team” which was mostly comprised of other students. It was organized by the internal communication managers, and we were the grunt labour. We posted green “did you know” facts inside bathroom stalls (these were mostly annoying), we took away everyone’s garbage can and replaced it with 1) a recycle bin 2) a tiny garbage can that could sit on your desk and 3) a compost keeper. Then we set up worm composting in the office. Worm composting! This was 1996 people! The worms were so popular that we had to go from 2 bins to 4 and then eventually to 8 bins, to manage our office organic waste.

So I have some experience in this area I suppose. I remember that the Finance department was mad that we took away their garbage cans, so some people brought in big ones from home. C’mon people – roll with it! It was only the accountants that took issue though, which was good. I would have a bigger problem with people who study fish and wildlife rejecting the transition. But hey – now I am an accountant and look at me! I want to start a green team all on my own!

I will keep you posted on developments. I say there is a 50/50 chance of “brilliant idea Sherry” and “Um…no”.

Natural Woman

I have always been a make-up girl. I started using it in junior high and never looked back. In my 20s I worked at Merle Norman Cosmetics, and gave make-overs. This of course was while I was going to University and studying to be an accountant, go figure! I still do make-up for bridal parties for my friends and family. I guess enjoy making people pretty.

My 2 year-old daughter also enjoys the stuff, and will get her little stool and sneak into my stash when I am not looking. Whenever I am in the bathroom putting on make-up, she comes toddling in, caring her stool, wanting “some too”. Sometimes I let her have some lip gloss for fun.

Then I found Femme Toxic. I knew that some ingredients in some of the lotions and potions we use were questionable, but I never had any facts. Now Femme Toxic has published a “Toxic Twenty” list of chemicals to avoid. It is not all inclusive, but has the worst offenders. So I went looking through my cabinets to see what I had.

It turns out that almost all soaps have sodium lauryl sulfate. Almost all toothpastes have triclosan. Almost all shampoos have parabens. Almost everything has fragrance. These are all ingredients in the Toxic Twenty.

Whoa there! Back up the truck!

Before I let my baby girl put sneak more lip gloss, I have to get to the bottom of this. Why are these ingredients in our products if they are supposed to be bad for us? Don’t the regulators check these things to ensure that everything is safe?

Well everyone has a different opinion, and while most would agree that these ingredients would not be good for anyone in high quantities, the small amounts we use in our products should be okay.

The problem is that not everyone agrees with how much is too much.

With rates of cancer increasing all the time, I just don’t want to take a chance. I want to go au natural. I want to be a natural woman! Okay I am not talking about never using any cosmetics again (we all need to wash, don’t we?), I just want to go for those natural products without the chemicals, and with ingredients I can actually understand.

In short,

  1. I don’t want anything on the “Toxic Twenty” list
  2. The fewer ingredients in the product the better
  3. If it has certified organic ingredients in there, that is good too

So today I went out looking for some natural products. I found some items that look pretty good, including a toothpaste, a day lotion, a deodorant and a body wash. I will try them out and let you know the scoop.

Being aware of the harm that chemicals can have on our bodies will remind us to be aware of the harm that pollution can have on our planet. We both have fragile systems. Besides, the chemicals we use don’t just end up in our bodies; they end up in the water and in the landfills.

Let’s go natural, woman!