ATTAINABLY GREEN: A SIMPLE GUIDE TO GOING GREEN IN THE HOME
Watching the world slow down during the height of the pandemic and seeing Mother Nature thrive has shifted something in me. Like so many, it gave me hope that small actions can truly make a difference. I now want to do better when it comes to living a greener lifestyle for the sake of our beautiful region that we live in. I want to live a sustainable lifestyle and make things better for our future generations. But where to start? It seems around every corner, a new product is being marketed as “green”. How do I know which products are really “green?” How does one make the lifestyle shift to being greener without jumping off of the deep end and blowing the budget? How does a family with two kids under 2.5 and a new puppy make the shift to being cleaner and healthier when time and convenience are the currency?
That’s where local “all things green and good” expert, Ange from Harlowe Green came to my rescue. Not only does Ange run a business and blog providing sustainable ideas and products, she was more than willing to help me (being that I am new to it all) with some tips for getting started. Best of all, they didn’t blow the budget and are completely attainable for anyone wanting to do better.
Like a lot of people, my view of going “green” meant going out and buying the product, using it and sleeping better at night, knowing I was doing my part. But Ange challenged me to shift my focus and take a few steps back. Going green in your home doesn’t mean sacrificing your time and convenience, nor does it mean having to go out and buy all new products - it’s more of a series of small, mindful changes that all add up.
The first recommendation was to use what we already have in our home. At first I didn’t really get it. Why on earth is she telling me to use these products if they are SO bad for the environment?! But stay here for a sec: We’ve already bought the product. We’ve already spent the money. The plastic likely has been created to serve the purpose of the product, we might as well let the product (whatever it may be) have some life before consuming something else.
For me, it was the multiple bottles of shampoo, body washes, dishwasher detergent, multipurpose cleaner and glass cleaner that I had sitting in the back of my cupboards. Perhaps I didn’t like the way they smelled or didn’t leave a glistening shine - whatever the reason, I bit the bullet and used them all. No, it wasn’t ideal to not have a streak free shine on my windows or perfectly soft hair but part of going green means taking some accountability. In the end, if we use what already exists (it really isn’t that hard and is really satisfying to declutter), we are actually consuming less, which in turn is better for the wallet and our earth.
Another recommendation that was provided was to give items in your home as many lives as possible. Things like that margarine container, the pie pan, the bread bag. Surprisingly enough, they DO NOT need to be tossed when we are done with them the first time around. This one hit me in the heartstrings. I think back to my maternal grandmother, who was raised in wartime Holland. The habits she grew up with stayed with her for her whole life. I remember as a child she would pack us sandwiches in used bread bags and her homemade applesauce was stored in Becel containers in the freezer. I don’t ever remember seeing her with a brand new set of Tupperware and never once did I think about it. Using things that you already have or NEED to buy instead of single use things (like Ziplocs or even the eco friendly options like reusable sandwich bags) means less demand for all.
Re-using items in my home goes hand and hand with buying things in bulk or using a refillery system instead of buying single use items. Pasta sauce jars in my home now are being used as containers for grains and granolas (also added two liquid filled Alfredo jars to my pilates routine instead of buying weights) and I currently have my body wash in a dill pickle jar. No, it might not the prettiest but its functional and practical and its one less thing to en0d up in a landfill.
PS - did you know that in Canada only 9% of the plastic that we recycle actually gets recycled? This is mostly because these items are being thrown into the bin without being rinsed out - geesh.
When it comes to making the shift to more eco friendly products, there’s NO need to jump in with both feet. Do what you can, without stressing yourself out. Don’t commit to an all green lifestyle if this is completely new to you. A few simple ideas to start off:
1. Switch out to a bamboo toothbrush when your plastic one reaches the end of its life (and save that plastic toothbrush for cleaning household crevices).
2. Try using eco friendly dishwasher detergent when your current stash runs out and replace your jet dry with a cup of vinegar in an upturned bowl. For your dishes, a wooden and compostable dish brush.
3. Switch to wool dryer balls instead of fabric softener and lint sheets. Instead of using the common laundry soaps, why not try laundry strips?
4. Combat paper towel use in your home with fabric towels for the day-to-day messes. If paper towel use is a must, make sure to compost the ones you do use, if used on organic messes. Opt for fabric napkins at the dinner table.
5. Try to buy used items or borrow items from friends. Again use what already exists!
What about revisiting the good old fashioned soap bar (this disappeared in my teenage years because the cool kids didn’t wash with bar soap)? Shampoos, conditioners, body and face wash and shaving creams are all alternatively available in bar form with next to zero packaging and waste.
6. When it comes to purchasing products, support a Canadian or local brand and do your homework with what is in the products you buy. For info on the products you use, check out the Environmental Working Group (or their handy app). And be sure to check out harlowegreen.com for more handy tips for around your house and products to support your greener choices.
On the big scale these changes might seem pretty insignificant. Can one person/family really make a difference? The answer is yes and no. It is so much more than just keeping things out of landfills and keeping our waters clean. It’s about setting an example for the younger generation and changing the mindset of the whole. It’s a contagious feeling knowing you’re doing a little better, because you know a little better. Start with the small attainable steps, have the discussion...and the rest will come naturally.
-- Alyssa B.