Earth Day: Small Changes

You know the expression, “Look after the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”?  I kind of feel that way about green living.  It’s not a perfect analogy since the earth also needs some very big changes, and some of these may require some serious dollars.  But on an individual level, living with a light footprint can be achieved by making small changes, none of which is so momentous in itself, but which cumulatively can really be impactful.

Making even small green steps still takes intention though, and especially if they take time they have to be put on the agenda to materialize.  So I was glad to participate a couple of years ago in One Small Change, an upbeat (if short-lived) online challenge seeking people who would commit to make one small earth-friendly change a month from January to April (and presumably some would continue on from there).  I chose as my four commitments:  caulking our drafty house, learning to make yogurt, baking my own yeast bread, and making my own laundry detergent.

How did I do?  Well, my husband (I didn’t help) did a not bad job caulking the house (there’s more we could do).  I made a single batch of homemade yogurt and baked a single loaf of bread.  I had some difficulty finding the ingredients for the laundry detergent so I didn’t make it.  My performance was very average, and it was a little undignified how I raced to accomplish my challenges just shy of the deadlines.

And yet, every little movement we make in one direction helps to create momentum.  I didn’t know it at the time of my mediocre small change outcomes, but two years later, I am making almost all of the organic yogurt my family eats.  We avoid a lot plastic tubs, and the money that then stays in my pocket I can direct towards the more earth-friendly purchases.

And last week, I went to do the laundry and discovered our detergent tin was empty.  Five minutes later, I had mixed together a double batch of homemade detergent with natural supplies from the closet with my kids in tow, and then I went back downstairs to put on a load.  Just safe biodegradables into the water stream and minimal paper packaging.

Have we caulked the rest of the house or do I bake all our bread from scratch?  Nope.  But there was still positive movement from that voluntary online challenge, and I’m glad I tried it even though it was hardly a wild success at the time, because each green action we take lights a spark.  Not long ago, yogurt and laundry detergent making once seemed daunting and kind of “out there” to me but now I know the recipes by heart and making them is a matter of course.  And these small changes ready me for more.

Which leads me to a couple of new green ideas to implement in the next couple of months.  First, I’ve got to do something about the bread.  What we buy from the store is made from whole grains but has a million ingredients and I’m annoyed every time I get it because I don’t really know what  I’m buying and yet I’m supporting it with my money.  My foray into baking yeast bread showed that I don’t (yet) enjoy it enough to make my own, but I’m close to buying a breadmaker or at least eating less bread in favour of other whole grains.

There is also a fresh jar of yeast in the cupboard that I want to use for making our own pizza dough because I’ve been buying that too but don’t want the preservatives.  My boys would enjoy making it and I love cooking with them, so I’ve got some incentive on making that work.  Who could argue with homemade pizza?

And I’m going to start buying these eggs laid by hens that are raised humanely at a local farm.  And by the way, this sweet cafe that sells them has the best croissants and scones in Toronto, I swear.

Do you have one small change you could make this month, or maybe next?  Pray tell.  Here’s a list of possibilities if you need some inspiration.

And Happy Earth Day to you.  Wishing you a great weekend.

4 thoughts on “Earth Day: Small Changes

  1. What’s your laundry detergent recipe? I’ve been wanting to start making my own, but right now have a lot on hand–stocked up when it was on sale–so haven’t gotten around to figuring out how.

    I’d like to work on water consumption. We’re pretty good in lots of areas, but that’s something we don’t focus on much.

    • The ingredients for the laundry detergent are:
      2 cups soap flakes
      1 cup borax
      1 cup baking soda
      1 cup washing soda
      Mix all together and use 1/8 cup for each load. This recipe is adapted from the Soulemama blog (http://www.soulemama.com/soulemama/2010/05/on-the-laundry-line.html). For the soap flakes, she uses Dr. Bronner’s castile soap bars and grates them. Dr. Bronner’s is a great company, and I did use the bars for my first few tries, but then found soap flakes made by Eco-Pioneer, the same company that made the borax, baking soda and washing soda I was buying. Since the grating was a hurdle in making the detergent, the flakes were way easier – and way cheaper and still made by a reputable green company, so it was an easy switch for me. The Big Carrot in Toronto sells all the ingredients, including Dr. Bronner’s products. If you are up for it, it really is supremely easy. We do tons of laundry around here with kids and an athlete husband (lots of sweaty clothes) so I feel good about avoiding the bad stuff down the drain.

      Good luck with the water – we could improve on that too.

  2. Thanks–I’ll give that a try when I’ve finally made it through the detergent stockpile I’m now cursing myself for!

  3. I just wanted to post an update: I’ve been using your recipe for about six weeks now, and love it! I ordered Eco-Pioneer washing soda and soap flakes from Well.ca (free shipping!). I’ve also been adding a few drops of grapefruit essential oil to each load, for just a hint of scent. Easy, cheap, green–I can’t imagine ever going back to store-bought.

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