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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green and Frugal Update

Last night, during my usual toss and turn time, I was thinking that I ought to report on some of my regular frugal and green efforts from time to time. Though I'm not sure what format this will ultimately take, I'm just going to jump in and get started. After all, what better day to launch a "Green Report" than St. Patrick's Day.

Since about March 1:

Home Recycling - we put out the usual amount of recyclables including, the winter amount of newspaper (we use quite a bit to start fires in the cold weather so less gets recycled), pasta boxes, toilet paper tubes, English muffin paperboard container, wine bottle, sherry bottle, seltzer bottles, bean cans, plastic milk container, bourbon bottle, cranberry juice bottles. No recyclables were thrown out.

Office Recycling - a full kitchen trash can of water bottles, soda cans, paperboard boxes from the individual coffee and tea servings for the Keurig machine (don't get me started on that!), toilet paper and paper towel tubes, yogurt cups and a big plastic jug that held pretzels. In addition, I took a full box (the size of carton of paper comes in) of office waste paper, including magazines and brochures, to the Abitibi collection bin behind the school. Unfortunately, 2 full boxes of office waste paper and a full trash can of recyclables were thrown out by a neatnik last week before I could take them out of the building. I have to be more disciplined in removing the stuff in a timely manner.

Compost - we composted typical amounts; mostly coffee grounds, egg shells, potato peels, onion, garlic and cucumber skins, radish ends and orange rinds, and about 10% of a package of gourmet lettuce (see Waste). We have a big cabbage to cook so tomorrow we'll add bulky outer cabbage leaves. No organic kitchen waste was thrown away.We continue to add some leaves left over from fall clean up to the pile. But there are too many for the bin, and since we have no place to store them, a few bags full have to go in the trash. I'm hoping to figure out a remedy for this less-than-environmentally-friendly situation by next year.

Reuse - I have taken a few more cardboard boxes to the UPS store at the shopping center. In addition, I helped dear friends sort through several storage units to determine what could be sold, what could be donated and what had to go in the trash. Fortunately, very little was trashed - 4 or 5 pillows that had spent four years in the locker and just couldn't be used by anyone else, a ratty mattress, some broken dishes and a couple of small, not easily identifiable items. I rescued a big box of towels, sheets and bath mats that will go to the SPCA as soon as I can deliver them. And I took a metal tray, a couple of books, a Pyrex casserole dish and a pretty, though stained bed cover for myself. I'll try to get the stains out. If it proves impossible, the SPCA will get an additional donation.

Waste - the package of gourmet lettuce, which was on sale (see Frugal Finds), started to decompose after a couple of days so we had to throw some of it on the compost. We're still working on making just the right amount of coffee in the morning so we don't pour any down the drain. When the weather gets hot, this becomes a non-issue since we save leftover coffee to drink iced. A half a chicken breast went unnoticed in a food saver in the back of the fridge until it was too late (see Trash);  there was a bit of cheese that was way past its prime, and the last handful of almonds in a large bag bought at BJ's for holiday baking had bugs, so we put them out for the birds.  We need to work on keeping better track of what's in the cheese drawer and pantry cupboard.

Trash - last week's trash bag contained a pair of ruined knee high stockings; a broken lint brush, and the remains of a bathroom sink fixture (see Unexpected Expenses).  There was a tiny bit of copper still attached to the fixture, but I just didn't have the energy, or know-how to retrieve it for possible reuse. The defunct half chicken breast and bit of cheese also wound up in the trash. This week, there are also 3 large bags of old leaves left over from last fall's clean up.

Energy - with Daylight Savings, we have adjusted the timer on the heater to come back on later in the day. And now that the weather is warmer, and not likely to dip below freezing for long periods, we have turned off the electric heater in the sunroom (when it's really cold outside, it keeps our plants alive and helps warm the kitchen which is above the sunroom). We continue to be quite diligent about turning lights off in rooms we aren't using. And we continue to disagree about what time to turn off the porch light - I'm inclined to switch it off around 9 pm, while my husband thinks it ought to be on until we turn in. Last month's gas and electric bill was around $400. I'll be glad when it gets back down to the more typical $100 when we aren't running the furnace.

Frugal Steps - our dishwasher has given up the ghost. We've debated replacing it, but have decided to put it off for a bit. Knowing that the stove and refrigerator are not destined to last much longer either, we're thinking that we will get all 3 appliances at the same time. We believe that we can negotiate a better price that way. So for now, we are washing the dishes by hand. Though we know that hand washing uses more water than a dishwasher, water use is cheaper than electricity, so handwashing is still the more frugal approach. We've also been keeping costs down by planning dinners around what is in the freezer, fridge and pantry as often as possible, and using meats sparingly. I've also continued to "shop my closet," and haven't made any clothing purchases. Spring weather brings a welcome relief from my winter wardrobe which is starting to bore me, though I was able to add 5 new pairs of pants, a sweater and a pretty scarf as hand-me downs from a client who was cleaning out her closet for a move to Florida. How lucky that she and I are the same size!

Unexpected Expenses - the above-mentioned bathroom vanity fixture began leaking in earnest a few weeks ago and just had to go. It was installed about 20 years ago, and wasn't a particularly good one to begin with, so it didn't owe us anything. We replaced it with an attractive brushed nickel set of faucets that was in the middling price category. My husband Ernie bought it from a supplier who gives him a discount, so the price was just over $100. We saved the cost of a plumber (figure about $100) because Ernie removed the old fixture and installed the new one himself. It was a bit messy because one of the old pipes was very corroded and a piece had to be replaced. But that cost was minimal.

Another unplanned expense was some dental work. I broke a crown and had to have it replaced. When I asked the dentist how much the new crown would cost, he said it was $1200, but he only charged me $600. I didn't ask for the discount, but I sure did appreciate it.

Frugal Finds - Because we haven't been shopping for non-essentials, and we've been doing most of our meal planning based on the pantry and the freezer, we haven't spent much time at the grocery store, or any store, for that matter. But we did have a couple of recent Frugal Finds. The box of gourmet lettuce was $2 off, so even though we couldn't use about 10% of it, it was still a bargain. We also bought 2 heads of iceburg lettuce (I don't want to hear any noise about iceburg not having any flavor - sometimes we just want a salad made with iceburg lettuce!) for $1.89. Corned beef is usually on sale as a loss leader in advance of St. Patrick's Day, and this year was no was $1 a pound. So we'll have a nice corned beef and cabbage dinner tonight, with enough leftovers for two more dinners (one of which will be corned beef hash, mmmm) at a cost of about $8.

So that's my Green and Frugal Update for mid-March. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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