Sometimes going green can be an hard thing to do. We feel like we like it’s all or nothing. You may think that since I have a blog called, “Ashley’s Green Life” that I’m living the high-fab super green life. But I’m not. I guess you could say I’m one green girl, but on a budget! In my “green-dreamland” I would drive an electric car, have an organic garden in my backyard, solar panels on my roof, bamboo flooring throughout my house, and all my appliances would be Energy Star certified, just to name a few! He he! What can I say, I like to dream big! But, since I don’t exactly have the budget to buy or do all of those things, I don’t abandon ship and say, “Screw this going green stuff…better go buy some paper plates and forget recycling!” Instead I do what I can with what I have. I make my own cleaners, I buy organic, I recycle, and use compact fluorescent light bulbs, and I always turn off the lights when I’m not in a room, just to name a few.

Maybe you’ve tried going green before, and then it became too much work. Or it got too expensive. Or maybe you steered clear from it because you think global warming isn’t real. Trust me, it is. But you don’t have go out and drive a hybrid or become vegan to start living a greener life…even those would probably help. Today I’m going to talk about my top five easy and affordable ways that you and your family can go green. Maybe you want to do one at a time, or all five, it’s up to you. The important thing here is to just do something.

1-Recycle. Nowadays, recycling is easy as pie. Most recycling pick ups allow you to throw all your plastics, cans, and paper products into one tub, as opposed to sorting it like back in the day. I pay about $3-4 a month to have my recycling picked up by my trash pick up company. Does yours offer a recycling service? There are also a variety of drop off bins located throughout communities such as with school districts or recycling centers sponsored by the city itself. Recycling is key if you want to start enhancing your “green-ness” because it gets you thinking about the products you use and the effect they have on the environment. Instead of all that packaging, cans, and plastic going to a landfill it will now get used to make new things, a description I tell the 3-5 year olds in my class all the time. We even make bulletin boards to celebrate recycling, like the one seen below where I put my student’s pictures inside of a recycling triangle they cut out. We then put the caption: “I know how to reycle” inisde the triangle.” I’m glad they don’t mind my green-ness too much!

Getting back…instead of contributing to our ever-growing landfills, you could look through the things you normally throw away and see if anything could be recycled. It’s kind of like those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets, but instead ask yourself, “What Would Ashley’s Green Life Do?” Now “WWAGLD” doesn’t exactly have the same catchy appeal, but you get my drift. Chances are if there’s a recycling triangle on the object, the recycling bin is a much better home for it than the trash can.

My tip for making recycling even easier…put bins throughout the house to collect recycling and then once they are full, dump them into one main bin. If you’ve got to walk all the way to your garage or to another level of the house to recycle something, you’re not going to do it. Make your life easier and put one close to where you usually have things to recycle. Since I’m kind of a recycling freak, I have a container in nearly every room to collect recycling (kitchen, office, bathroom/bedroom…you know all those paper tags that come on clothes or the boxes makeup and cosmetics come in, well I recycle those too). Below is the box I put my recycling in when I’m in my kitchen. Once it gets full, I empty it in the garage. The same goes for the other containers I have around the house. Now don’t worry about going out and buying even more recycling bins, see what you have around the house. I just use old boxes (like the one below) or other old containers to put the recycling in. Easy peasy.

One step further: Go beyond your traditional recyclable items like paper, plastics, and cans into foreign territory…glass, batteries, printer cartridges, and appliances- oh my! You can do it! Check this page to see a few of the not-so-common things I’ve recycled in the past. Also, look further too see where some of these items can go by searching them in this database on Earth 911. Just enter your zip code, and what you want to recycle and bam, you’re done. Pat yourself on the back for going above and beyond with this one.

2-Invest in some reusable cloth napkins.

One thing that’s key with the “going green mindset” is to evaluate all the things that you throw away and ask yourself, “Is there a reusable alternative?” If so, try it out! In the past year or two I’ve switched over from disposables to reusables on the following items: paper towels, grocery bags, Ziploc bags, plastic water bottles, and even plastic straws, just to name a few.

One easy way to start your “reusing” trend is with a nice set of cloth napkins. Think of it as a paper towel challenge…see if you can go 30 days without using a paper towel. Sound like a daunting task? Again, ease in. Here’s a more in-depth post I did specifically about saying goodbye to paper towels that might help you. Start off with purchasing a set of cloth napkins. I have two favorites:

1-Custom Reusable Unpaper Towels from EcoEllie on Etsy. $17.99 for 24 single-layer napkins. These rock because when you get the “custom” napkins, you get to choose from whatever style or pattern of fabric you want…and there are 525 types to choose from! As you can see above, one of my favorite prints was the recycling triangles…imagine that!

2- Unpaper Towels by Made in the Red Barn off Etsy. $23 for 24 napkins (Although I originally got white napkins, I’d suggest another color, such as these awesome hand-dyed ones that way they will look better longer since white tends to stain a bit easier.).

These two are my favorites, but there are tons of brands and styles out there so search around. You could even get a set of washcloths from Wal-Mart to get you going. Whatever works for you is fine. The idea is simple, use the cloth napkins in place of traditional paper towels. So you spill something, grab a cloth napkin. You need to wipe your mouth after a delicious meal of vegan sloppy joes, grab a cloth napkin. Now once they get dirty, simply throw them in the laundry with your other clothes, wash them, and then use them again, and again, and again. Ahhh…doesn’t it feel so good to go green!

Just like having a system in place for my recycling, I also have a system for my cloth napkins. I use this “Unpaper Towel House” also from Made in the Red Barn off Etsy ($39) to store my clean cloth napkins. It’s great because there’s no folding, just lift off the lid, stuff them in and you’re ready to go.

Now after the napkins get dirty, I simply throw them under my sink in an plastic container (just a simple plastic package my spinach came in). Once that container gets full, I dump it in with a load of laundry, and then the cycle begins again.

These cloth napkins do not have to be only used in place of paper towels, I use mine in place of Kleenex tissues, cotton balls, and sometimes even nursing pads. I love thinking of all the disposable things I don’t have to buy because of these cloth napkins! Rock on!

One step further: Go beyond cloth napkins and see what else you could switch from disposable to reusable. How about some reusable grocery bags? You know you see those at your local grocery store every time you check out. How about picking one up next time. Yes, they are a bit of a hassle to remember, but it sure feels good to know that I don’t need to waste any plastic bags to get my groceries from point A to point B (from the store to my house) and never used again.

3-Invest in some glass Pyrex containers.

Take one look inside my fridge and what do you see nestled up to all my yummy gluten-free and vegan condiments, food, and produce? Lots of glass Pyrex containers. In this next step, we will be cutting out plastic from our lives and replacing it with it’s older, wiser, stronger big brother…glass. I used to have a fear of glass. It seemed so heavy, breakable, and unsafe. Plastic was the better choice right? Wrong. I learned that plastic containers can leach all kinds of nasty little chemicals into our food and bodies…some of which can even mimic hormones like estrogen!

Do you have any of those plastic Tupperware containers that are all cloudy, worn, and stained looking? Kudos for trying to kind of go green by reusing them again and again, but they may actually be hurting you by leaching chemicals into your food. They get even more a bad rap when they undergo extreme temperature changes, such as when they are frozen or microwaved. Yuck! Plastic, you suck! Get on out of my kitchen!

Instead invest in a set of glass Pyrex containers. Such as this set of 7 bowls of varying size with matching lids, which costs $22. There are all kinds of brands, styles, and sizes out there so shop around and see what works for you. The cost for these containers is minimal and you will get use out these for many years to come since they won’t scratch or wear down like their plastic counterparts. Even better, you don’t have to worry about any toxic chemicals leaching into your food. Just a tip, be sure to take the plastic lid off when you microwave your leftovers in these containers.

Another green favorite food storage item of mine is mason jars. While they store liquid items more commonly, I also use them to organize my dry-bulk foods like beans, lentils, and TVP. Mason jars sure are amazing.

One step further: Kick Teflon to the curb as well, and replace your cookware with stainless steel or cast iron. Read more about how I did it here.

4-Replace at least one of your cleaners with a green alternative.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the air inside our home is often more toxic than the air outside. Who knew? Actually I knew, only because I’ve researched and learned that the “fresh clean smell” we all strive for in our house cleaning ventures, may actually be harmful to health because in order to accomplish this task a number of chemicals and toxic ingredients need to be used. I won’t bore you with the details, but the idea is…the simpler the ingredients, the simpler the product. So for this step we’re going to trade chemical-scientific sounding ingredients for simpler, more natural ingredients. This can be done by buying a greener version of a clening product you like, such as with brands like Seventh Generation. Or you could make your own cleaners from scratch. Here’s some of my favorite green cleaning recipes that are super simple, easy, and cheap to make, as well as my favorite store-bought cleaners.

One step further: As each of your old cleaners run out, try switching to a green alternative or making your own. It’s a bit of a daunting and expensive task to go through each item you clean with and replace it with it’s green cousin, but when you do it gradually and one at a time, it doesn’t seem quite as bad. So maybe one week it’s window cleaner, and the next week it’s toilet bowl cleaner, one by one, your greening you cleaning and taking drastic steps to reduce the toxins in the air of your home.

5- Try to go meatless one day a week.

Come on, you knew some form of veganism would sneak into this list. He he! I understand that the task may seem daunting when you think about cutting out all meat and dairy from your life, so I invite you to have an open mind about this one and ease into trying this one foot at a time, or one meal at a time. There is a cool movement going on now called Meatless Mondays and it’s just as it’s name describes…you meatless for one day a week, Monday being that day. As simple as it sounds, there are many environmental benefits that come along with it. In fact, if a large number of people would abstain from meat for one day, it would decrease their carbon foot print, minimize water usage, and help reduce fossil fuel dependence…not to mention decrease their cancer risk, reduce heart disease, fight diabetes, and curb obesity. So take a 1-day break each week from meat, and see how creative you can get. Need some recipe ideas to get you started? Check out my recipe page or my “Going Vegan” page.

One step further: Try to cut out all dairy on that meat-free Monday…thus making it a Vegan Day. Too much? Take it similar to the green cleaner swap out, as you run out of one meat or dairy item, try a vegan alternative. Regular butter runs out…try some vegan butter. Skim milk runs out…try some Rice Milk. Maybe you’ll find a vegan alternative you like better than the original. You’ll never know unless you try.

So those are my top five simple and easy ways to go green right now. I’m sure I could go on and on with many more, but I’ll leave you with these for now. Go on and prosper my green friends.

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