Tag Archives: Conservation

Eco-Saturday: Reusable containers

One evening about 10 years ago, I looked at my motley collection of plastic food-storage containers — some stained, some cracked, some missing lids, and some permanently infused with strong odors that limited what I could store in them — and got fed up.

In a moment of frustration or clarity (or maybe both), I tossed out the whole mess and took myself to Target for replacements.

I came home with three white Corning soup mugs with vented plastic lids and a big set of Pyrex containers with lids in assorted sizes and shapes. All of the containers were heavy, stain-proof, odor-resistant, microwave-safe, freezer-safe, dishwasher-safe, and — with the exception of the lids — oven-safe. This meant I could bake a small casserole or batch of lasagna in them, snap a lid on, and stick them in the fridge or freezer to warm up in the microwave later.

I don’t remember exactly what I paid for the set, but I want to say it cost about twice what I’d have paid for good-quality plastic containers in similar sizes. Given the limited lifespan of plastic containers — I’ve never managed to keep a set going longer than three or four years — they’ve paid for themselves and kept a lot of plastic out of the landfill.

I did notice the lids on the Corning mugs were starting to get brittle with age this spring, so Ron contacted the company to find out where we might be able to purchase replacements. A Corning rep emailed him back, asked for our address, and sent us three new lids at no charge. I was impressed; I haven’t seen a company provide customer service like that since Tupperware did that lifetime-lid-replacement warranty in the ’80s.

I’m completely sold on the merits of tempered-glass containers with plastic lids, but if you can’t afford them, reusable plastic containers are certainly better than disposables. I focus a lot on portion control to make sure I’m getting the right balance of nutrients to support my lifestyle, but I try to avoid excess packaging, which means I usually buy in bulk and then divide up the food into single-serving containers I can take to work. IKEA’s 17-piece Pruta set, which I picked up for $4.99 last time we were in St. Louis, is really handy for this, as it has a nice mix of bigger containers (good for packing fresh fruits and vegetables) and little ones (ideal for single servings of salsa, crackers or pretzels).

I still use disposable storage bags now and then — usually for freezing big or awkwardly shaped items — but I’ve been phasing them out gradually over the last decade, and I can’t say I miss them. If you’re not already doing it, I challenge you to replace one plastic bag per week with a reusable container and see how quickly you can reduce your environmental footprint.


P.S.: As always, nobody paid me anything or gave me any free product to get me to write this post; these are just my personal experiences with stuff I’ve bought and liked.

Eco-Saturday: Blanket shades

Falsa blankets make inexpensive, insulative window coverings.
Falsa blankets make inexpensive, energy-efficient window coverings.

I swiped this idea from my mom, who made Roman shades out of quilts to insulate her windows. I’m too cheap to buy quilts — and much too lazy to make them — but I love falsa blankets, which fit my Southwestern sensibilities and can be had for $10 or less at just about any truck stop on Route 66.

To make a Roman shade out of a falsa blanket, you will need:

1. Falsa blanket
2. 15 small plastic rings
3. 1×2 about an inch longer than the width of your window
4. Three small screw eyes
5. Nylon cord
6. Sewing machine or needle and thread
7. Scissors
8. Cordless drill
9. Screwdriver
10. Pins
11. Three deck screws
12. Cleat hook

Instructions are below the fold. Continue reading Eco-Saturday: Blanket shades

Eco-Saturday: Curb your car’s appetite

We get killer mileage on our road trips.
We get killer mileage on our road trips, including this one — to Bedford, Pa., to see the World’s Largest Coffee Pot — a few years ago.

We love road trips. Mother Road, Loneliest Road, Pacific Coast Highway, Devil’s Highway, Lincoln Highway, Blues Highway, Great River Road — you name it, we’ve probably driven part of it. We don’t fly to our destinations. We drive, because the journey is half the fun. More than half, actually, and you miss a lot of kitsch when you fly over it.

We couldn’t afford to drive all over creation if we didn’t choose our vehicles wisely and care for them properly.

Here are some quick tips to boost your gas mileage:

1. If you’re considering a new car, look for the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs, and don’t let Madison Avenue talk you into buying something bigger or fancier just to keep up with the Joneses.

2. Keep an eye on your gas mileage. It’s easy to do: Just reset your trip odometer the next time you fill your tank. Then, each time you refill the tank, divide the number of miles on the odometer by the number of gallons it took to refill the tank, then reset the odometer again. Do this every time you fill up, and you’ll be able to tell right away if your mileage drops or rises suddenly. In addition to giving you an idea of how various conditions affect your gas mileage, this will give you a heads-up about mechanical problems. A sudden drop in gas mileage can be a signal that something is wrong under the hood, and it probably warrants a trip to the dealership to see what’s going on. A lot of problems are cheaper and less hassle to fix if you catch them early.

3. Check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires will drag down your gas mileage.

4. Replace your air filter regularly. A dirty air filter can compromise your mileage.

5. Change your spark plugs. Old spark plugs can reduce your mpgs.

6. Ditch the flag. There’s nothing patriotic about sending more money to foreign oil producers, but that’s exactly what you’re doing when you attach flags to your car. A flag mounted to a car’s window or antenna acts as a sail, adding drag and increasing the amount of energy it takes to propel the vehicle forward. If you want to show your patriotism or your team spirit, do it with a bumper sticker or a custom paint job — not a piece of fabric that’s knocking down your gas mileage.

These aren’t the only ways to boost your car’s fuel efficiency (I’ll get into “hypermiling” — mileage-boosting driving techniques — in a future post), but they’re quick, easy and can make a significant impact with minimal effort.