Tenets of Sustainability: Reuse

This post is the third post in a multi part series on sustainability.  These posts are meant to be guidelines on how to make more sustainable choices in your day to day life.  Enjoy!  You can find  the series here

We all know about the scarcity of resources, and this blog even touches on it quite a bit.  You dont have the money do to all the things that you want, and if you did, you’d be Bill Gates, and then you’d run out of time to do all the things you wanted long before you ran out of money.  Not only does scarcity apply to time and money, but it applies to resources as well.  While the ways to get resources is constantly improving, therefore expanding the amount of resources available, the fact remains that there is a finite amount of resources available.  While we cant change the fact that we need to use resources, we can change how much we use over time.  There are of course multiple ways to do this, but today I’ll talk about just one: Reuse.
Once something is bought you cant take the materials used to put it together and put them back where they came from.  Once some iron has been melted down and turned into a steel beam for a building, you cant get the iron ore back.  At this point, you’ve got to work with what you have at the current time, not think about ways that you would have done things different if you were the builder – that could have been over 100 years ago.  When you go to upgrade the building however, you can reuse the steel for something else.  It’s not trash, it’s still a resource and it still has value – perhaps not as much value as it initially did, but there is still someone, somewhere who can reuse it.
Not only is this true for large scale products like steel beams, but it is true on a personal level as well.  For instance, when I moved into my own house and became responsible for fixing up things that broke, I needed tools to do some of the jobs.  Initially, I was thinking that I’d need a huge amount of cash to just get some basic supplies like a circular saw, a drill and a few other things.  Buying those new would have cost a lot of money, and would also have taken quite a few resources out of the ground to build the new tools.  Luckily, my dad had some old tools that he had replaced that still worked just fine, and asked me if I wanted them.  Of course I jumped at the chance to abate a huge cost, and stop some resources from coming out of the ground that didnt have to.  While I didnt get the newest equipment, what I did get works just fine and suits my needs perfectly.
Reuse doesnt just apply to durable goods – basically anything can be reused.  I’ve reused my old t-shirts, old backpack straps trying to fix the dogs camping pack (don’t ask) old jeans and just about anything I can think of.  You can reuse food scraps for stock of any type (Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Turkey) or compost.  Many things in your daily life can be turned in to multi purpose tools – even after they are no longer usable for the project you bought them for – you just have to keep an open mind and think about what you actually need when working on a project.  Most materials dont need to be thrown away – if you cut them up or otherwise modify them, you can make something out of them if you’re thinking hard enough.
Even if you dont have a generous family member, there are plenty of ways that you can reuse items to save some money (usually a lot) and help out the planet.  Here are a few of my favorite ways:
  1. Look for your item on Craigslist. There are plenty of other people in your area (most likely) that look at the item you’re looking for a useless junk in their house – offer to take it off their hands.
  2. Put the word out to friends/family.  This can help as well for the same reason listed above, but your friend may just give it to you
  3. Garage Sales.  Though this could be tough and you may not find what you’re looking for, you can often find some real gems at garage sales.  Often times people are trying to clear out space and will get rid of some stuff that is oddly expensive (50 ft extension cords, for example) for a fraction of what they would cost you for a new one.
  4. Check the alleys/backroads.  This may not be for everyone, but I’ve been doing it lately.  I’ve been trying to find some borders for my raised garden beds and dont really want to waste new, good lumber on that (nor do I want to pay for it) so when I go driving around little used roads, I’ve been looking for scrap lumber that I can use.

While reusing wont always fit your situation (You may want the warranty that comes with the new item, you may want updated features, etc) often times it’s very overlooked – even by me.  Getting your items used is a great way to keep materials from being used needlessly and save quite a bit of money.

Readers: Do you buy used items or reuse things?  If so, what things do you reuse?

Tenets of Sustainability: Know Thyself

This post is the second post in a multi part series on sustainability.  These posts are meant to be guidelines on how to make more sustainable choices in your day to day life.  Enjoy!  You can find  the first post here.

You may think this is an odd spot to start, but after giving careful consideration I think that knowing what you’re willing (and not willing) to do is key to make you as sustainable as you want to be, and no more sustainable than you think you should be.  If you go too deep into it, you could very well find yourself doing things you dont think are worth your time.  You’ll quickly become resentful and feel like you’re forced to do things that you dont even care much about, such as sprinkling your old coffee grounds on the plants, or walking 8 blocks in bitter cold and sustained wind, all to further your goal of “being more sustainable”.

You dont need to do crap you dont want to do to become more sustainable.  I find this happening a lot in my own life.  I live near the downtown area in my city, and have to run errands down there occasionally over lunch.  Not too long ago, I had to go to the post office to drop some things off.  I started walking over there, and the wind was probably sustained in the 40mph range, with gusts in the mid 50mph range.  I got about a half a block before I turned around and got in the truck and drove the few blocks it took.  While this obviously wasnt the most sustainable thing I’ve ever done, walking over there and being miserable the entire time would have really annoyed me.

The best part about becoming more sustainable is that there’s so many options you can really choose what you do want to do and what you do not want to do.  As my dad always says, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, and this is true in this situation as well.  If you’re concerned about the amount of energy you’re using around the house and are not interested in unplugging everything after you’re done using it because you think that’s a pain and dont want to have to plug it all back in later, dont worry about it.  That’s not going to kill all the polar bears.  Try doing something else instead, like installing a programmable thermostat, or getting new, more efficient windows.  These things (once paid for) take no extra action on your part aside from initial set up, and you dont have to mess with a plug 15 times a day.  They’ll still reduce your energy consumption (most likely much more than stopping vampire draw).

Once you figure out what you’re willing to do, keep trying new thing things, eventually, you’ll find your lower limit for sustainability – or perhaps once you get the low hanging fruit you’ll be interested in heading further down the rabbit hole.  Of course, maybe you wont.  What you need to figure out when you decide you want to be greener is how far you’re willing to go.  Once you get to this point, you can head off in as many directions as you want.  You can tackle your personal energy consumption, personal transportation, food sources, and anything else you can think of.

Tenets of Sustainability Series

Those who know me offline are well aware that I’m really not that into rules.  Oftentimes, I feel like they are too suffocating for a variety of reasons – rules don’t take every possible circumstance into account, nor are they adaptable for a unique situation.  Rules are tailor made for “textbook” cases, which almost nothing ever is (for me anyway).  For instance, despite all financial advice to the contrary I had read and heard at the time, I went and took out a loan for a vehicle.  You can read the whole story here, but needless to say, the rules that I was supposed to follow didnt take my situation into account – how could they, as they had no idea what my situation was.

This aversion to rules is pretty established because I feel like rules just cut too hard and can potentially cut in the wrong direction, and I much prefer a set of guidelines or boundaries.  Guidelines are typically more flexible, and can offer room to maneuver where rules can not.  For instance “spend less than you earn” is a nice guideline, but to enjoy you’re money you’re going to have to break that rule at some point (think taking a vacation).  In an interest to continue to become more sustainable, I’ve been working on a series of guidelines for sustainability.  They won’t include things like “Always buy local” or “Dont eat chicken unless you killed it yourself” because some people couldnt bring themselves to kill a chicken, and some dont have the extra money that local goods typically cost.

Instead, this will be a series of posts with very broad guidelines to help you live a more sustainable life – if that’s something you’re interested in.  If not, that’s cool too.  Hopefully, this series will help you look at some easy things you can to to become more sustainable, and not feel like you’re giving up anything fun in the process.  There will be things about your home, your food, your work, reuse of materials, and everything in between.

If you’ve got anything specific you’re curious about, feel free to shoot me a question and I’ll be happy to look into it for you.  The Tenets of Sustainability Series will be posted every wednesday for the next 10 Wednesdays – it would be awesome to have some excellent feedback from you readers (and lurkers)!

This is the first post in a multi post series on sustainability.  Check back soon for more!

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 3

One big part of sustainability (to me) is food.  What you eat, how often you eat it, what your food eats, where it comes from, how it gets to your fridge and so on.  There are so many variables to how your food comes to your plate that affect all of my favorite topics: finances (cost), sustainability (transportation/”food miles”, growing practices/feeding, inputs/fertilizers/hormones/etc) and health (what you eat/how much/how often).  In an effort to lower my own impact, I’ve been focusing on getting my own food – mostly meat, but hopefully next summer I can try my hand at gardening.  When I do go out and get my own food, I like to do a bit of cost/benefit analysis.  Was it worth it for me to get it, or should I just save the time/money and buy it at the store?  If you’re curious you can find part one (halibut) and part two (duck) on the site.

This time, the hunt was for elk.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Elk Tag: $52
  • Conservation Stamp for 2011:  $12.50  – This is something anyone in wyoming who is hunting or fishing has to purchase.  Usually they use the money for land conservation.  The stamp is good for 1 calendar year.
  • Conservation Stamp for 2012: $12.50 – Unfortunately, these stamps are good for a calendar year, not from year to date purchase.  Since I didnt get an elk in 2011, I had to buy a new one.  Feeling like I was buying these things all the time annoyed me (and I didnt want to forget), so I bought a lifetime conservation stamp for $180.50.  I just used the yearly cost here though.  If the price stays the same, I’ll be money ahead in 15 years, and sooner if the price goes up.
  • Gun/Ammo: Borrowed/given to me – but this will be an expense in the future.  Obviously the gun will be a 1 time expense, but not the ammo.
  • Gas: $200 – This area isn’t really close to my house at all and I’d guesstimate I used 3 tanks of gas I wouldn’t have used otherwise.  I went up a total of 5 times and I took my truck 2 of those times, using a full tank both times.  The third was for meeting the rest of my group.
  • Foil/Saran Wrap: $8 – Yes, even though I bought some in Alaska, I needed more to process my elk meat.
  • 750 mL of whiskey: $11 – Needed.
  • Grinding: Free – Usually I pay to have the tougher cuts ground into burger meat, but a co-worker has a grinder that she is willing to let me use, which is a huge score!

Obviously, that’s quite a long list, and the total is $297, which is about what I spent on the halibut (go figure) but  is still a whole slew of money.

Before I went out last Saturday, I was pretty pessimistic about the whole thing, figuring that I’d thrown all that cash down the drain and not gotten anything from it (for the second year in a row)!  Even after I ate my lunch on Saturday, and we had finished our loop and were headed back to the truck, I was ready to go home and had made the decision to give it up for the season.  Thankfully, we stumbled upon some tracks and I was able to bring one down after some stalking.  So once I drug the thing back to the truck (2 miles!) and went home, I had to get to work processing and weighing. After everything was deboned, I had 58 lbs of meat.  This is meat of all different grades and qualities, from things that need to be slow cooked or ground because they aren’t tender to things that are very, very tender and tasty.  (Pictures: Pre deboned meat from 1 rear leg, and a de-boned rear leg [pic1, pic2]).  I basically spent most everyday from Saturday to Thursday trimming the silver off, and spent about 3 hours last this Saturday wrapping everything up.  Obviously, it doesn’t end once you’re out of the field.

I had to cut all of the silver off so the meat wouldnt taste gamey, and I’m guessing that was about 5 pounds, leaving me with about 53 pounds of useable meat.  This puts my total cost per pound at $5.12, which I think is pretty good.  While not all of what I got is “steak” quality, it is all organic, grass fed, pasture raised, etc.  Overall, that’s a pretty cheap price per pound for meat like that – I’ve done the math on buying a side of beef and it comes out somewhere between 6 and 7 bucks a pound (at least around here).  I figure this is a pretty good comparison, so I’m happy with the results.

I also don’t think I’ll need to do this again next year.  H is a vegetarian, so I’ve got all of this to eat myself or give away.  I’ve already given some away  and will probably give away more. I’ll save the ground elk meat for my bachelor party this summer and probably keep the rest and hopefully find some good elk sausage recipes or elk chili recipes (shockingly, I had enough freezer room after my quest to eat freezer stuff).  The unfortunate thing about this is that I could have spent all of that money and came up with nothing, but that is just how it all works.  Buying a tag isnt like buying the meat off the carcass – it does take a considerable amount of time and effort, but to me it’s worth it.

Since this was my first elk hunt, I needed to do a lot of work to figure out what I needed to bring and everything else like that. There were a lot of great hunting websites around, and one of the best was at www.huntinginsight.com.

Some thoughts on the cost: I try not to put a price on the time I spend outdoors in some gorgeous country (if you want to know what the area looks like, check my facebook picture) because that is subjective, and I could derive more value from it than others (or less).  I also don’t count the benefit of the workout I get, but I do count it towards my workout total for the month – it’s a lot of walking.

Readers: Do you hunt, or are you interested in it?  Are you lucky enough to have a friend that just gives you meat instead of you having to go get it yourself?  Have you ever considered hunting as a (long-term) strategy to save money and increase the quality of your food?

Sustainability Goals 2012

Since it’s the first week of 2012, I figured that I’d share my goals for 2012 with all of you.  I don’t list every goal in every category, but I do put the ones that I feel relate to the things we talk about on the blog.

Every year for the past 6 or so years, I’ve tried to set some yearly goals for myself.  I have found that instead of writing them all down on a piece of paper and trying to go after all of them at the same time, it was easier for me to break them down into categories.  That way, they didnt get to be too large, and by defining the large categories, I was also able to make sure that I was doing things that I truly find important, such as staying healthy, getting my finances in order and trying to live a more sustainable life all around.   I usually share those 3 categories on the blog, and on my goals sheet that I write everything down on, I have a few other categories, like personal and a grab bag category of sorts.  Last year, I didnt really set any sustainability goals specifically, but getting a job in the city where I lived definitely helped me be more sustainable because I was driving less.

This year though, I thought i’d come up with a few sustainable goals, which are heavily subject to change, mainly because I dont own my own place (yet).  I’ve thought about a few and if I cant do all of them, I’ll still give some of them a try.  Here’s what they are.

  1. Plant a freaking garden.  This, unfortunately, is subject to landlord approval.  I’ve already talked to him about it, but I’m not sure if he’s going to go for it.  It’s kind of in a dead patch in the yard, so all I’d really have to do is get some lumber (was hoping to use railroad ties, but the creosote kinda spooked me).  I really want to try this next year because I even wrote about how having a garden would green your summer.  Even though I’m sure I’ll be busy with wedding stuff most of the summer, I’ll still want to give this one a go.  It shouldnt cost that much either, because I can get a truck bed full of composted soil for about 20 bucks from the city.  If I dont get approval from my landlord, I’ll try to get something going in some pots – probably commonly used herbs around my house like basil and mint.
  2. Make some papercrete.  I really think this stuff is cool, and I’ve been saving paper at my office to bring home (dont tell H) and make some at some point.  I think this stuff would be perfect to use instead of lumber for raised garden beds, and I’m sure I could find some other uses for it.  Hopefully this stuff wont be too easy to make.  (If you’re curious about what it is, check out my guest post on sustainable personal finance)
  3. Continue using human power for most traveling.  Most of the places I go are nearby my home and office, so I’ve been walking or biking there recently.  This is not only good for my health, but it keeps the miles off of the truck and keeps the environment healthier, all while saving me some gas money.  The only places that I do drive are to the grocery store and to target when shopping needs to be done.  There have also been times when I’ve needed to go multiple places and pick something up, or it has been really cold when I’ve driven somewhere I’d usually walk.  I’d like to keep that up for 2012.  More walking and biking, less driving!
I think this is a good list, and there may be a few other things related to sustainability that I do this year, but I’m not going to put them on here – I’ll probably write posts about them though, so you’ll be updated either way.  Most of these are of the “pass/fail” style of goals – meaning that I’ll either end up with one of those two results, and nothing in between.  We shall see how it goes.
Readers:  What are your health goals for the coming year?  Do you have health goals, or are you simply trying to maintain what you’ve got?  Are you goals focused on weight-loss or something different?  

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 2

A while back, I wrote a post on the costs I incurred while going halibut fishing in Alaska.  When I wrote the post, I was relatively unsure of the street value of the fish, and was pretty sure that I was getting soaked in the deal.  Even though I used a pretty high price point, it looked like I came close to breaking even in the end, and I have some great memories from the trip to boot.

After I wrote that post, I figure it would be interesting to do this with all of my adventures getting my own food, so here’s the next chapter.

A while a go, my fiancee’s friend mentioned that he wanted to come up to Wyoming and hunt antelope and I offered to take him with my future father in law.  Unfortunately, the dates didnt work out and I was at fincon during the only weekend available, so I was unable to go.  After he got back (he was successful) he invited me to go duck hunting with him.  I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about ducks, duck hunting or anything like that.  Along with that, I’ve only even eaten duck once in my life.  Even so, I decided I’d go.

I already had a shotgun, so I didnt need to buy one of those.  What I did need was ammo, license, a state duck stamp and a federal duck stamp.  Most of the stuff I still have left and can be used again within a certain time frame.  I believe the federal duck stamp is good for the season, and the state duck stamp is good for 45 days.  Here was what I paid

  • 2 boxes ammo ~$22.  I can use this again, because I think I shot 3/50 shells.
  • Federal Duck Stamp/State Duck Stamp (State good for 45 days, federal for a year): $20
  • 1 Day waterfowl hunting license , non resident. $11
  • 1 Tank gas ~55
Unfortunately, this was a bit of a slow day out on the pond.  Of course, I’ve never been before so I didnt know, but the guy I went with said that usually he bags out and gets 6 ducks.  Unfortunately, we only shot two.  He was nice enough to let me take home both ducks as I assume his freezer is already full of them.  As I found out when I was processing the animal at home, there’s really not much to a duck.  You basically just want the breasts to eat, and some people save feathers if the make files for fly fishing (I don’t, and the guy I offered them to at work didn’t want them).  I didnt really know what to do with the rest, so I just got rid of them.  I’d like to find something to use what’s left of the animal for, but I dont know anything.  If you’ve got ideas, leave them in the comments 🙂
All in all, I think that I got meat for about 4 meals out of it, but I could have gotten more.  One of the duck breasts was compromised during the trip and had to be discarded.  So this was kind of an expensive trip at a cost of 108, and a cost per meal of $27.  Of course next time I go, It will only cost $11 for a duck license and whatever I use in gas.  This may not have as high of a return as my fishing trip did, but once I go a few more times I’ll have (hopefully) staggeringly lower cost per meal.   This may not best return, but it a good time – not nearly as bad as my dad described it “standing in a freezing ass duck blind at 5am”.
Readers: Do you hunt?  Are you interested in hunting?  If so, why?  Would you like a natural source of meat, a cost effective source, or do you hunt so that you can get back to the land and know where your food came from?

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper

For the last few years, I’ve made it a point to try and obtain some of my own food.  For a lot of people this means a garden.  Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to do that quite yet because I’m afraid the dog will tear it up, and along with that, I dont want to do anything to the back yard (I rent).  So this leaves me to trying other ways to get my own food.  I’ve done some of this (though I’m not sure if it would count) by canning apples, and I’ve also done some elk hunting  and antelope hunting.  Unfortunately I havent gotten an elk yet, but antelope are plentiful here to the point of becoming a huge nuisance, so I’ve gotten one of those two years in a row.  One thing that I’ve been wanting to do more of is fish.  Usually it’s pretty cheap, and there’s good fishing close to where I live (mostly trout).  So I decided to book a charter fishing trip when I was in Alaska – it was one of two “big” (read: spendy) things that I decided to do while there.  Here’s what it cost – and I’ll leave out the flight and the room and food, I would have needed those anyway.

  • Charter trip (Late season) $220
  • Out of State fishing license $20 (1 day)
  •  Safeway $15 – Ziplock bags, foil and saran wrap.  There were no processors of fish left open in town ( I probably wouldnt have used one anyway) so that I could portion, pack and freeze my catch.
  • Cooler $23 I needed something to take the fish home with me so that they wouldn’t de-thaw on the plane.  This worked really, really well, but it was because the cooler was packed very, very full.  It also didnt fit everything in it – 1 serving had to be packed alone.  I’ll have to see how this one fared.
  • Check bag fee $20 – to check the cooler to take home.
So in total, I spent approximate $298 to catch and take home this fish.  I didnt get any very large halibut, but I got some fair sized ones.  According to my count, I got about 12 two person servings for dinner, for an average cost of $12.50 per serving.  Now I dont typically buy halibut too much at the store but if I recall, I’ve seen it go for 16.99 per pound, and I took home approximately 15 lbs.  While this is high cost, I took this estimate from a nearby whole foods and though the store is expensive, what I caught is what they market.  “Organic, wild caught, bla bla bla”.
Fish Caught by Everyone in the Boat – We each got 2.

All in all, I got less than $90 dollars worth of fish from the fishing trip, bringing my cost per pound of halibut to a level that I dont even care to calculate.  However, the trip wasnt just about taking home enough fish to feel me and H for the winter.  I wanted to experience something new (I’d never been halibut fishing, or on a boat that small in the open ocean), and I wanted to have fun.  Both of those things I accomplished, and like I’ve been learning quite a bit lately, it’s not always going to be about the money.

Of course, there are  plenty of ways that you can make getting your own food cheaper.  Hunting or fishing in your own state would probably be the first one that comes to mind.  You’ll get cheaper prices for tags because you pay state taxes, and you wont have to travel too far.  This would also eliminate the need to check a bag to take back home.  (sidebar: One guy on the boat from my state shipped a moose home from Alaska.  I dont even want to know how much that cost).  Doing the processing at home would be free as well, as just about everyone has foil/saran wrap already.  Some of my hunting trips over the last 3 years have cost about $75 ($50 for an antelope tag and another $20 or so to have it ground into sausages/hamburger, and 5 bucks for a beer or 2 to celebrate with my hunting buddies).
I also got some killer pictures from the fishing trip, and alaska.  To see part 1 of my alaska pictures, head here.

Readers: Do you ever get your own meat, or do you stick to gardening?  If you do get your own meat, have you thought about cost effectiveness, or are you just interested in where you food comes from and going out and having some fun?