Over the past several years, I've adopted one new green habit each Earth Day. With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me reduce my family's impact on the Earth, improve our health, and save money. Hopefully you'll find one that you can add to your family's routine.

Traditionally you have two choices at the checkout counter: paper or plastic. Plastic bags are durable and easy to carry, but for some reason it takes two dozen of them to bring your groceries home. If you throw all those bags away, you're greatly increasing your addition to the landfill situation. In some places, you can recycle plastic bags, but the energy and emissions generated to produce and recycle them are hazardous to the air we breath.

Paper bags are another option. Not as durable or easy to carry, but they do biodegrade in a landfill if you throw them away. With paper bags, you still have the energy and emission situation, plus you have to add the number of trees it takes to produce paper bags (about 14 million in 1999, according to the American Forest Association). Since trees improve our air quality, paper bags might be a double-edged sword in your green efforts.
The most generally accepted solution is reusable shopping bags. I have found them to be an easy addition to our family's shopping habit. I simply keep half my bags in the trunk of my car, ready for quick stops at the store. The other half I keep in my pantry, so when I'm in the pantry making my grocery list I can just grab my bags, too.

Once you decide to make the switch to reusable bags, you'll first have to decide how many you'll need. I grocery shop once a week, buying for two adults and two kids. I guessed we'd need about 10 bags (turns out we usually only use about 6 -- you can pack a lot in one of those bags!). You can get them at most major stores for $1-$1.50, not much individually, but if you buy them all at once it could really skew your weekly grocery bill. So I bought 1-2 bags each week for a few weeks, until I had enough collected.

You may want to scout out the different designs available at different stores. Some are very decorative, others pretty simple. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a walking advertisement for any one store, but found some fairly plain black bags at Wal-Mart, and I've been satisfied with them. You'll want to get bags with a flat bottom so they'll stand up nicely when full of groceries. You also want to get bags with a little loop on the back -- makes it easier to store them hanging, and your grocery clerk can hook them over the plastic bag corral easily.

Some people will suggest you buy organic reusable bags. That way you know the bags were produced from cotton that was grown in a healthy way, avoiding any concerns that chemicals in the bags might contaminate your food. If this is a concern for you, is a great place to buy organic shopping bags. I don't have any of my food that just rolls around in my bags, so I'm not personally concerned about trace amounts of chemicals contaminating it.

Many folks will forget about produce bags. If you're like me, you've always used those thin plastic bags at the grocery to carry home your produce, without really thinking about it. Let me suggest you think about it. That little plastic bag gets thrown away and goes directly to a landfill. If you need a bag, try one of these. I also hear Whole Foods has great reusable bags in a variety of sizes, if you have a Whole Foods nearby.

Other ways we use reusable shopping bags:
  • I allowed the kids to each choose one bag they liked. We use them when I have a short shopping list. Each boy "helps" me shop by carrying his bag through the store and adding items from our list. I usually need to carry a bag, too, for the heavier items. But this keeps the boys occupied and keeps us from needing a cart.
  • When I'm taking dinner to a friend who just had a baby, I will pick up an extra bag to deliver it in. Looks a little nicer than a plastic bag and the new mom can use the bag for other things.
  • Toys R Us has very fun designs for their reusable bags. I like to wrap birthday presents in one of their reusable bags instead of a traditional gift bag. It's usually cheaper, won't sit in a landfill, is very decorative, and gives the birthday kid an extra bag to hold their stuff. I add tissue like I would a traditional gift bag (I know, tissue is not very green, but it looks good).
  • Try to find one bag that can be folded up small and snapped closed. Keep this in the car and you can drop it in your purse if you're going to the mall or running errands. You have the bag if you need it.
Over the past several years, I've adopted one new green habit each Earth Day. With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in a month, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me reduce my family's impact on the Earth, improve our health, and save money. Hopefully you'll find one that you can add to your family's routine.

Recycling is a daily habit that can make a big difference in the amount of waste that goes in landfills around the country. It's estimated that the average person generates 3-4 pounds of trash each day. If we gathered all of America's trash for a year in one place, it would be a pile 40 stories tall and over 1000 acres square. Glad that's not in my backyard! According to the EPA, about 30% of each person's trash is recyclable - that could knock about a dozen stories off our giant trash pile each year!

The easiest way to recycle is to join your community's recycling program. Many communities have recycling pick-up just like trash pick-up. Just call your trash collection company, or city hall, to join their program. You'll want to ask which items can be recycled in your area, then be sure to sort your recyclables to match (you'll have to check the number in the center of the triangle on your plastics). Sorting may be a hassle at first, but it won't take long for you to remember the things you use regularly. Just keep a separate trash can in your kitchen for recyclables.

Recycling could save you money. Most trash collectors charge for the size garbage can you use. If you start recycling, you'll throw less waste in the trash. You may even be able to downsize the garbage can you use, and lessen your monthly payment for trash collection. If you don't fill your garbage can each week, check with your trash collection company and see what they can offer you.

If your community doesn't offer a recycling program, you have a couple of options. You could drop off your recyclables at the nearest recycling center. That seems pretty impractical to me, not sure I'd be really excited about loading trash in my car and going out of my way to deliver it. But if the recycling center is convenient, it might be a great solution for you. Another option would be to start a grass roots campaign to begin a recycling program in your community. Contact someone on your city council and ask for their advice and help.
For whatever reason, recycling just may not be your thing. That's fine. Let me suggest you rethink your shopping routine and habits to reduce the waste you generate. Instead of buying a box of single-serve snacks, reduce the package waste by purchasing the larger bag. If you still want smaller servings of that snack, buy some of the little reusable Ziploc containers to divide your snack. You can also use those containers instead of baggies when you're packing a snack for the kids in the car. Instead of buying plastic bottles of juice, buy biodegradable cans of concentrated juice and mix them in reusable pitchers at home. Don't buy anything with an outer package, like yogurt with a lid over the foil seal. Instead of using paper towels to dry spills or clean your windows, buy some bar towels that can be washed and reused. In most cases, these choices will not only save trash in the landfill, but will save you money, too.
I started a new, real, paying job in February. Now that both kids are in school a couple days a week, and I have this college degree, and there are things I like to do besides laundry and cleaning (sarcasm), I thought maybe I could do some of those things and use that degree. A friend of ours at church works with a young company that needs some PR work done for them, so we managed to work out an arrangement where I work from home two days a week. I write press releases and a monthly in-house newsletter. I manage their news archives and Twitter feed. I help them find opportunities to build relationships and promote their product. It is good, and they pay me.

Unfortunately, I have run into a bit of an identity crisis. When people ask "What do you do?" I've always easily and proudly answered "I'm a full-time wife and mom." However, this job has opened me up to the possibility that I might someday re-enter the work force full time. Not because we need the money, but because I like PR work and I'm good at it (which are not feelings I always have about mothering *sigh*).

So now when the question is posed to me, should I say "I'm a part-time PR rep."? Although that's accurate, there's a piece of me that says "If I'm a part-time worker, does that make me a part-time mom?" I don't want to be a part-time mom -- I am a mom all the time, it is who I am.

I also don't like the answer, "I'm a working mom." because, seriously, I work two days a week from home. I have total respect for the women who are able to manage full-time jobs and their mothering and household duties -- I have no idea how they do it. I do not qualify for their ranks.

My conclusion is that I am a woman with no labels. I wear many hats, as most women do. I wake up every day and try to love my husband and kids the best I can, contribute to the world in a positive way, and follow God with all my heart. There is a sense of freedom in ridding myself of a label. I feel like God could lead me anywhere, and I'm ready to follow.

So if you ask me "What do you do?" I hope you have some time to kill. My answer may not be simple, and it may change depending on the day. I think I like it that way.