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Successes, Mishaps, and Aspirations on the Road to a Lower Carbon Footprint

By DC EcoWomen Guest Blogger Catherine Plume

About five years ago, a friend gave me the DC Recycler Blog. While I’ve long been an environmentalist committed to the idea that individual action can make a difference, the blog gave me an outlet to promote greener living. Though I have a huge carbon footprint from travel associated with my day job, through blogging, I realized that I could reduce my plastic consumption, my landfill contributions and live a lower carbon life and at least partially offset my carbon footprint. Along the way, I have had some great successes and glorious failures, and a few of these are listed below.

What’s worked:

Coconut Oil has a multitude of uses – from a moisturizer to a cooking oil. With 100% virgin organic, GMO free, fair trade varieties available, what’s not to love?

While I try to minimize plastic bags in my life, I realized I could reuse the bags that come my way. A plastic bag drying tree facilitated this effort. Buy one or make your own.

Making food – canning tomatoes, jalapenos, and jellies and making my own yogurt and granola allows me to reduce food additives while keeping innumerable plastic containers and cans out of the waste stream.

I bring my lunch to work in a stainless steel container, so I eat better food and save money.

Weatherproofing your abode, insulating where accessible and blocking drafts around windows and doors will save energy and money. Sealing gaps around electrical outlets, light switches and lighting and vents in the ceiling below the attic is a big saver. Install a programmable thermostat. Does your house need to be 68 degrees while you’re at work? EnergyStar ceiling and floor fans help keep the house cool.

I’ve always enjoyed bicycling, and it’s now my most common transportation means. Investing in gloves, layers and lights allows me to cycle year round. I buzz by cars as I bike home on the L St Cycle Track!

I stopped blow drying and coloring my hair and embraced my gray, saving time, money and keeping B-A-D chemicals out of the waste stream and my scalp. Yay! Taking “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” to heart, I’ve upcycled a plethora of reusable goods – plastic banners, bricks, sinks, futons, and more through DC’s FreeCycle Network.

Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission, Catalog Choice, and calling companies and asking to be removed from their mailing lists, I have reduced the amount of junk mail I receive – and recycle.

Composting is my outlet for food scraps, newspaper, yard trimmings, and coffee grounds, and my yard loves me for it. My bin sits in the alley where neighbors contribute to it. If you cannot set one up, Compost Cab or Fat Worm Compost provide pickup services.

Baking soda is a great toothpaste (my dentist approves) and doubles as a low impact abrasive for cleaning my stove, bathroom, etc. Buy in bulk and refill your Comet container with it. Vinegar is another non-toxic cleaner. Watered down, it’s a great window/glass cleaner and also works well in bathrooms, on countertops and even as facial astringent.

Line drying clothes reduces your carbon footprint (clothes dryers are major offenders) and increases the life of your clothes. If you can’t string one up outside, consider a foldaway drying rack or a retractable clothes line over your tub or shower. Even reducing the number of loads is a start.

What hasn’t worked:

While it’s not rocket science, my soap making – hand soap, laundry soap, and dishwasher detergent – efforts have all been disasters. I buy hand soap (sans plastic packaging) and boxed dishwasher and laundry soap powders. However, I do like the lotion bars I make.

I really wanted to use baking soda and water as shampoo. I stuck with it for a couple of months hoping my scalp would adapt, but my hair texture resembled the bottom of a broom. I buy in bulk and look for brands with fewer chemicals.

The deodorant I made, neatly poured into an empty deodorant tube, ripped hair out of my boyfriend’s armpit and didn’t “glide” across mine. I am using what I have on hand until I run out and get up the courage to do more experimentation.


A recent fermentation course introduced me to making sauerkraut, butter, sour cream, and kefir. A cycling trip through Provence reminded me how much I like goat cheese. Can it be that hard to make? DC has recently revamped its beekeeping regulations, and citizens are lobbying to allow backyard chickens. I’d love to get my dog off kibble and make her food. And participating in a community garden would be a lot of fun. Another cycling vacation – or canoe trip would be fun and maybe, just maybe, I’ll give soap making another try. Who knows what’s around the next bend?!

Catherine Plume is an environmentalist and the blogger for the DC Recycler,;; Twitter: @dc_recycler


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