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Slowly Going Green: Use this, not that!

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids. Motherhood is the best job she never knew she wanted so much until she had it...

Banish paper towels & baggies

Are you hoping to "go green" but have no idea where to start? Or perhaps the idea of "greening up" your life is a little overwhelming, like it was for me. We have solutions! Stick with me each week as I make suggestions for slowly going green, one baby-step at a time. This week, we'll discuss a few "use this, not that" ideas to cut down on waste. Paper towels, water bottles and sandwich baggies, be gone!

Women going green

If you've never made an effort to be less wasteful, there's no time like the present. And if you're reading this and thinking, "Who has never done that?" you probably didn't know me a few years ago. I was embarrassingly wasteful, using whatever was convenient for me without regard to the environmental impact. I know there are others out there, even if you don't want to admit it.

I'm a reformed wasteful girl, though, and now I cringe when I absolutely must use a paper towel. Try a few of my easy "use this, not that" tips to cut down on your footprint. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting anything drastic. Remember, we're starting slow.

1Reusable snack bagBanish baggies

Sandwich baggies are handy, right? Of course they are! You can use them for your child's PB&J, the beads from your bracelet that broke (you're definitely going to re-string that when you have time) and the handful of the trail mix you plan to eat for your afternoon snack.

Perfect -- until you throw them in the trash. We were using way too many plastic bags in our home -- I knew it was bad when I was working my way through Costco-sized boxes regularly. Our simple solution was BPA-free plastic containers of all sizes, so I hit the Container Store and stocked up. I still pick up cute little containers as I see them and my kids are used to eating their snacks out of snack cups and holders. In fact, my 4-year-old recently told me, "Plastic baggies kill fishes!" I'm not sure where he learned that, but we're going with it.

If you're just in love with your plastic bags and a snap-lid container won't do, consider purchasing reusable food bags. Etsy is overflowing with adorable, safe and environmentally conscious snack and sandwich bags, like the one pictured at the above right (offered by seller Girl Sunday Designs).

2 Lay off the paper towels

White washcloths

I was probably a little extreme in this area. I watched an Oprah show about how much bacteria can colonize on kitchens sponges once and was scarred for life. (I know, I know, Oprah's show just ended and the country is still drying its tears. I'm not bashing Oprah -- just citing the reason for my paper towel habit!)

Back to the bacteria: Millions of them, having millions of baby bacteria, all over my kitchen sponges. Shudder. So I switched to paper towels ... for everything. At the peak of my wasteful ways, I probably used a roll of paper towels every few days.

When I finally came to terms with my paper towel habit, I committed fully to cutting way back, but not at the cost of breeding germs. My perfect solution was "rags." I purchased several packages of inexpensive white washcloths at Target. I keep them folded in the kitchen drawer next to the sink and we use them for just about everything we used paper towels for in the past -- wiping down the counters, cleaning of the kids' hands and faces, drying our hands after we wash them, just to name a few. When I'm done with one, I rinse it and lay it on the side of the sink to dry before tossing it in a tiny plastic trash can we keep in the laundry room. When that's full, I wash and dry them. Simple!

I'm down to using one roll of paper towels every three or four weeks -- from one roll every few days. I don't do math, but if I did, I'd tell you that's a {insert big number} percentage reduction! If paper towel usage is an issue for you, give this green solution a try.

Try these other 10 ways to go green in the kitchen >>

3Skip the sackChicoBag

Plastic grocery bags are not good! Recycling bins are finally cropping up at grocery stores for the sacks, but it's better to avoid stuffing them in there in the first place. The easy solution is reusable grocery bags.

If you're reusable-bag-resistant, you've probably seen a news program about the bacteria reusable bags can harbor and thought, "No, thanks," right? That's what I would have done if I had not already been toting reusable grocery bags to the store for years. Believe it or not, this is one of the more environmentally conscious steps I took when the only place you could buy the bags was at specialty grocery stores. Even I couldn't deny the horror of adding to our landfills full of plastic sacks.

First of all, the bacteria solution is to ... wait for this ... wash them. I know, I know -- you actually have to wash something that is cloth and holds food. Second, you can read about the issue to learn more. I suggest clicking over to NPR for some interesting facts.

Cute bags are available everywhere. (Check out the Recycle Heart bag to the right from ChicoBag.) There are endless choices for size, style and color, all over the Internet. Toting reusable bags can be stylish, too.

Making these three changes -- even one at a time -- isn't difficult. I promise! Try one at a time and commit to slowly going green.

More on going green

Top 20 green products for your home
DIY green home makeover
6 Environmentally friendly products we love

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