Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Conserving resources

This post is my contribution to the Green Moms Carnival which will be hosted by Micaela on her blog, Mindful Momma.

You hear all sorts of admonishments for helping "save" the environment. Replace this lightbulb with that one, recycle what you can, compost your food waste, switch out one product for the "eco" version. The list goes on and on. But you generally don't see too much about the missing link.

So, what's the best way to conserve resources? Stop buying and stop using stuff. I'm happy that you are recycling 80 cardboard boxes every week, but the consumption involved in the packaging of whatever it is you are buying is far more detrimental than the offset of recycling. I'm glad that you are composting your food waste. But, it would be a hell of a lot more effective if you didn't generate any food waste by mindful shopping and meal planning.

Yes, that whole reduce thing is not very sexy. What did you do this weekend? "I went to the farmers market and bought some locally raised fruits and vegetables" is a whole lot sexier than, "I rummaged through my fridge, freezer and pantry to do my meal planning for the week." And "we spent the holidays canning pumpkin and making turkey stock for the winter" doesn't sound nearly as exciting as "I spent Thanksgiving vacation at an eco-resort in the Bahamas."

Now, I'm not in any way suggesting that you shouldn't recycle, buy local and make more eco-friendly choices. But using less of everything: water, energy, food and consumer goods will go a whole lot farther than replacing one thing for another.

What do you think is the most effective way to conserve resources?


Amy in Tacoma said...

I'm not sure generating no waste is possible, no matter how careful and frugal you are. Take food: many fruits and vegetables have rinds that can't be eaten, or ends, or seeds.

And as for buying goods without packaging: you have to live someplace with access to merchants that sell goods without packaging. I buy a lot of goods in bulk from Costco, and by doing so I generate a lot less packaging than I would otherwise, but sorry, I don't have a place to go where I can take an empty bottle and refill it with oil or vinegar. So buy large bottles of these products will have to do.

Robj98168 said...

I agree with Amy In Tacoma withone exception:
"Take food: many fruits and vegetables have rinds that can't be eaten, or ends, or seeds."
Thats why I have a worm bin and a compost bin. And buying in Bulk from Costco is better than bying 2 or three small bottles of Vinegar,
We have the same problem in Burien with the lack of Bulk Bins and I have seen no place around here where you can refill items like oil or vinegar either. (maybe I should get a business loan and start a store like that?)

Julie said...

As a retiree on a "fixed" income with more time than I once had for such matters, I am totally into cooking from the garden, the freezer and the larder (at the same time I am restocking and replanting)I always was a "conserver" but now I am a forager, a scrounger, a repurposer in fact I'm a real pain in the ass. However I do understand that I now have the luxury of time(lots) and money (not so much.)
Others will have the opposite situation and are more likely to make more wasteful albeit easier and less time consuming choices around food. And, heck, when I was tired, overworked and hungry I bought and ate some really dumb and environmentally hurtful things. Burger in styrofoam containers spring to mind.
I think we will all learn to "conserve resources" as they become less available and more expensive. It is happening, just not quickly.

auntjone said...

I don't know if it is the BEST option, but buying used instead of new means less (or no) packaging, no usage of new/virgin raw materials in the manufacturing process to replace what we buy off the shelves, plus no fossil fuel usage to truck that replacement from the plant to the warehouse to the store...less stuff in landfills if we buy something before someone trashes it. Not everything can be purchased used (underwear, need I say more?)but I try to find a used version before purchasing new as often as I can. I like the reduced impact as well as the cost savings!

Crunchy Chicken said...

Ha ha! Rob's Oil n' Vinegar Outpost.

No, I'm not saying you need to eat the bones or anything. Just don't throw out good food or let it go bad. Although I would argue that a lot of rinds can be eaten with the correct preparation.

Eco Yogini said...

so true. we are a consumer nation. it's so hard to get out of the whole idea.
I find it frustrating trying to buy exactly the right amount of foods- mostly as fresh veggies go bad so quickly in our two person, mostly me that eats veggies and fruits, household. That combined with my dislike for canned goods.... well. frugal and fussy+restricted diet is tricky.
i am making progress though. Nice reminder. :)

Leigh said...

I recently discovered It is fabulous if you haven't heard of it. It is shifting the way my home consumes. Instead of going out and buying that brand spanking new garden hose I post on freecycle wanted:garden hose first. You would be amazed at the things you can find on there! Totally local too so you don't have to drive all over the place getting stuff.
Food scraps, we try and use as much of the food as possible before throwing it into the compost bin. For instance, I've stopped throwing away carrot tops and saute them now with garlic and olive oil. :)

Mindful Momma said...

Tell it like it is Crunchy! It's plain and simple - USE LESS!

Aimee said...

I buy used clothes. Underwear excepted, I don't think anyone in my five person family has bought a new piece of clothing in years. I buy used everything, in fact, from furniture to cars. Not only do I save resources involved in manufacture, but I save money, avoid participating in near-slavery/sweatshop industries, and in many cases contribute to good programs, like Goodwill's literacy and job training.
I am creative and conscientious when it comes to leftovers. Maybe too much so; I can make one chicken last three meals. And we conserve water by making the children take serial baths. And we save electricity by turning everything off at the power strip at night, not using any outdoor lighting, and using a clothesline, weather permitting.

Anonymous said...

"I'm glad that you are composting your food waste. But, it would be a hell of a lot more effective if you didn't generate any food waste by mindful shopping and meal planning."

Agree 100%. But for many of us, it's not that simple. It's actually a whole life-style redo. Because we are so busy. So frantic. Working so hard to keep it together that meal planning takes a backseat to the other fires we are putting out week after week.

Maybe we need a "Do Nothing" challenge.

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Watching The Story of Stuff really changed my view on consumption. No, wait. Actually, it allowed me to have a view of consumption - prior to watching it, I had never given consumption any thought at all.

We are all about making do right now, and it's not necessarily by choice, but at the end of the day, it's actually pretty satisfying. Make Do has been a personal mantra for me for the past year.

Jenni said...

Thanks for the reminder to reduce. I am getting rid of things like croissants in huge plastic clamshells, pre made muffins also in huge plastic. Not shopping at Trader Joe's b/c they put four friggin apples in so much plastic! Growing more and more of our own food will help eventually. Now it's time to start menu planning, and not wasting food from fridge :)

Farmer's Daughter said...

I agree! Conservation is key. Turn down (or up) the thermostat, drive less, generate less waste, buy less stuff, cook from scratch, preserve food in season. This has been my mantra.

However, I'm not looking forward to how my live with less lifestyle will change when the baby comes. I'm imagining a lot of waste. (Watch National Geographic's "Human Footprint" for a rundown on diapers, etc.)

Carly said...

Shared accommodation helps for singles and loners. As much as I prefer my own space, cooking for one is inefficient, laundry for one is tricky if you haven't got enough clothes for a whole load but also don't have enough to wear, and I just can't eat a whole loaf of bread before it goes stale..... One furnace heats more than one person just as well, two can enjoy the same tv program with some practice at negotiating, and pooling resources and a willingness to share at least a few things means that I now have access to your music and you can read my books and neither of us has to buy more.... Learning how to lend and borrow items responsibly can go a long way to reducing the consumer need. I need to get better at all of the above.

Red State Green said...

Most of my plant-based kitchen scraps go to my rabbits. Anything bad goes to the compost bin (yes, including skin, bones, bad meat, rotten eggs, etc. I have not had problems with animals, but your mileage may vary.)

I use Freecycle quite a bit. I got my current windbreaker from there, then got rid of a couple pieces of old furniture that way.

Aimee, if you don't know about Wardrobe Refashion (, it's a fun site and there's lots of information available as to making your own undies! :)

Green Bean said...

Totally agree. So often on the green journey, we overlook the first R - reduce. It ain't sexy but it's first for a reason.

Deanna said...

Yes! You are absolutely correct. Recycling is great but not buying in the first place is better. I'm constantly inspired by the blog, "These Days in French Life" and the author's "slow year". If you haven't seen this one, do yourself a favor and take a look:

Anonymous said...

The most effective way to conserve resources? less kids.

Crunchy Chicken said...

EJ - You're opening yourself to all sorts of fun :)

I'd hasten to add that kids raised at the poverty line (or as if they were) are far more environmentally friendly than an upper middle class, middle-aged person as far as resource conservation goes.

What's the solution? Should we shoot the Paris Hiltons of the world in order to make way for a new generation of uber-conservationists?

I sure as hell would rather see Greenpa's batch o' kids running around than the offspring of the entitled.

Angela said...

I agree- buying and using less wastes less resources than buying produced and packaged "green" products. I joined The Compact this year, which is a group that buys only secondhand, borrows, or trades, and it's remarkable how easy it is to stop buying new stuff. There's so much out there already available in our "got to have it" culture- you can live off other people's castoffs. And I don't mean dumpster diving, I mean thrift stores and garage sales and freecycle and free craigslist, and friends. And check out your closet and garage- you might have stuff you've forgotten about piled behind all your other stuff!

Anonymous said...

Re: kids - according to my ecology textbook, one average American kid uses 147 times as many resources as one average African kid.

Fake Plastic Fish...I know what you mean about it not being so simple when your life is packed and crazy busy. Say you want to quit buying cereal...but breakfast has to be something the kids can prep themselves, or you have to get up earlier and never have time to exercise...there are just too many downstream effects from trying to make that one change.

If it helps, I wrote up 2 months' worth of menus (and even a shopping list) for complete balanced, healthy meals. They are vegetarian but you could easily add meat if you like. They can be more "whole grain" or more "white rice" as per your preference. Many freeze well, and one or two of the meals each week are seriously quick - 30 minutes or less - without relying too much on processed stuff (bottled curry paste and frozen veggies - that kind of thing, not Hamburger Helper). See


Anonymous said...

Oops, that URL cut off - the veg recipes are at (I promise it's not spam or a virus)


FernWise said...

Our block has suddenly sprouted mice - I don't know if they just like the tangle of yard in the unoccupied house, or if people have stopped letting their cats run the neighborhood. At any rate, I had to respond by ending putting food waste in my compost pile (still trying to sell husband on worm bin).

Anyone with recipes for mouse? I figure that they are free range, but not necessarily organic depending on what they are eating.... (it's a joke, folks, at this point of time I'm not THAT hungry).

But we DID stop newspaper delivery. Which was hard - we love getting and reading the paper. It's not the same doing it online. Still, doing this has cut what we put out to recycle by almost 1/2.

We Freecycle/garage sale/Goodwill for everything we can. Toaster - from garage sale. Microwave oven - from a friend who moved into a house with one installed. Meat grinder - garage sale. Holy KitchenAid Blender - garage sale (and it makes a huge difference in my bread making). Son's college clothse - Goodwill. Most of my jeans - Goodwill. Husband's shirts and pants - Goodwill. Cats - rescue shelter (even our cats are used!)

Frondly, Fern

Anonymous said...

Thank you.
I am so sick of people who are convinced that buying the organic version of a shirt/skirt/bag makes them environmentally "friendly".

People need to stop buying so much stuff. Unless you've gained a lot of weight/or lost I guess, or your clothes and shoes are falling apart it's probably fine to wear them for another couple of years.

Rosa said...

I always did buy used, so buying what I do buy new as a Green Product is easier (we have more money from all those years of freeganeering) and harder (the cost difference is BIG).

The problem is balancing out different kinds of consumption; if I'm going to buy fair trade tennis shoes, assuming I can even find any, I'm going to have to work more hours and that uses more electricity...

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

my daughter just went off to college. her roommate,a sweetheart, arrived with every single thing new and PINK!! This everything new was rather the norm and I found it deplorable. We personally did goodwill and thrift shopping - her side of the room is a lot more interesting, we saved money too!!

Diane MacEachern said...

My focus is on "simplifying" rather than "using less." I want a simpler life across the board, as do many others, from what I can tell. That leads to not only using less, but enjoying life more, a perspective that's often missing from the "use less" diatribes focused on the public.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Diane - Yes, people are interested in simplifying, but for most that means using some new gadget to make life easier for them. Electronics, appliances and single occupancy transportation are the obvious choices here. To them, that allows them to enjoy life more.

Using less doesn't necessarily equate to simplifying one's life or enjoying life more and I like to be more forthright with people in telling them so. "Diatribe" is a bit strong of a word here, though.

M said...

Great post. I have found one thing that has really helped me use less and waste less food...used cookbooks. I buy them at yard sales, etc and find lots of new ways to make use of food that would otherwise go to waste.

BTW- My DH always overbuys bread. we make croutons for Caesar salad (a staple at our house? make breadcrumbs or use slightly hard bread for French Toast!

Lisa said...

This is a point I try and get across to people all the time and I get this blank "what they hell are you talking about" look. :)