Can you afford to be green when you’re not rich? I kept a diary to find out

Politicians and corporations have placed the burden of environmental responsibility on the consumer but how easy is it to go green when youre barely getting by?

How easy is it to go green, to construct deliberate, eco-friendly selections when you’re barely getting by? Can you be green and poor, as I am?

This is the question I ought to have mulling as politicians and corporations have placed the burden of environmental responsibility on the consumer: stop using plastic straws, carry reusable shopping bags, recycle everything.

I live in an environmentally conscious place: a rural town with flourishing local food businesses, a farmers’ market and many organic farms. But it’s also a small town in central Appalachia, in the poorest county in my country: Ohio. Many people here go hungry. They can’t afford food, let alone organic food. A gas station is the closest source of “groceries” for some people without autoes. You can’t stroll everywhere if you live in the country.

For a week, I kept a diary with some of the choices I made toward being green.



I make my son’s lunch for camp. I got rid of most plastic in the kitchen several years ago- I don’t buy disposable plastic bags, plastic wrap or plastic storage containers- but reusable cloth bags don’t hold much, and most don’t maintain food from going stale, even for a few hours. There’s mold spotted on one of the cloth purses I take out of the drawer, even though I rinse, bleach and dry them. Any disposable plastic bags I have- because my mom sends snacks in them for her grandson, for example- I clean and carefully dry.

I bought my parents beeswax wrap, which I love: reusable, washable food wrap that molds around leftover food, utilizing the heat of your hands, and recently my mommy purchased newspaper and aluminum drinking straws. But it’s been a bit of a struggle to persuade the older members of family to induce green choices: it’s new to them, and it seems like extra work, because it often is.

My son, a rising third-grader, told me that his school can recycle cans only if the cans are totally empty. But there’s no place or opportunity to dump the liquid in the cafeteria, and he doesn’t have enough time in his 15 – to 20 -minute lunch period to drink a full can of seltzer or juice without chugging it and getting a stomachache. This is an issue of anxiety for him, so I stopped packing cans.

I feel that most mothers are trying to do their best, despite our often-difficult circumstances in this region, but it’s hard to balance children’s needs, finances and eco-consciousness.

It’s hot the summer months, usually intense and early, even for swampy Appalachia. Camp is just a 10 -minute drive away, but we couldn’t stroll it in this heat and with an eight-year-old who is already not thrilled about going to camp so his single mom can work. The rainfall cools things off enough to open the windows.

Today’s expenses: beeswax wrap, $18.99 for three wraps


Illustration: Dev Murphy

So many of my decisions are made by time. There’s a bus station by my house, but the bus comes irregularly, and I merely have so long before my son returns from his second day of camp, hungry and wanting dinner. I drive 10 minutes to the small Aldi.

Shopping at a discount grocery like Aldi constructs it difficult to meal prep because you can’t really plan on what’s going to be there. But when I was laid off from my full-time job in March, I swore I would mainly shop there, or a similarly priced store. Doing so has cut my grocery bill by at least $ 40 a few weeks. I haven’t been able to find full-time work yet, and I get by with a lot of freelance writing and editing, which entails I need to keep my grocery bill low.

But Aldi doesn’t have everything I need, like breakfast burritos and tofu for my largely vegetarian kid, so I have to made Kroger, too. Fortunately it’s on the way back home. I’m not squander gas, only time, but I do spend a lot of fund for simply a few items at Kroger: the eco-friendly dish soap that is not available at the discount store, the recycled paper towels.

I spend $50 at Aldi for the largest proportion of our snacks for the week. And I expend $59 at Kroger for merely … things. I’d like to buy local meat- I feel it savours better, has fewer hormones, and I like supporting local farmers- but to do so, I would have to go to yet anothe r grocery store, this one clear across town. This third, smaller store has issues with shelf stability: items don’t sell quickly enough not to go bad sometimes.

Often, I shop at the health food store. It’s expensive but locally-owned, and along with herbs and vitamins, they have organic food, frozen meat and vegetarian food. My son and I can walk there, and usually do. Merely a few months ago, another, much bigger health and organic food store opened, which is even closer to our house. I’ve only been in the new store once. It looks like a mini Whole Foods and is priced as such. What this community needs isn’t another pricey organic food store; I worry it could set the older, more established local health food store out of business, and it still doesn’t bring affordable, fresh create to the people who need it most.

I bring my own reusable purses to Aldi, which is a requirement and it helps- if you have to buy or bringing shopping bags every time, you will remember to bring them. And I use another of my own purses at Kroger. After unpacking groceries, I return the suitcases to my car and keep them there.

Today’s expenses: $59.28 at Kroger for 11 items , $50.06 at Aldi for 21 items


My son and I live alone in an old house, over a hundred years old, which I rent. As a renter, there isn’t a lot you can do. My house has new windows on the top narrative, but the original ones on the bottom, most of which don’t open. In the winter, I seal the windows to keep in heat, and seal the drafty kitchen door, closing it off for the season. I change the furnace filter regularly and have blackout draperies on many of the windows, which can help keep the house warm or cool.

But in the summer, like in many old homes, the downstairs is OK and the upstairs sweltering, too hot to sleep. I have two window air-conditioning units, given to me used. I feel terrible about running them, but am forced to sometimes to escape the high humidity, and 90 -plus degree heat we have had this spring and summer.

One of my neighbours has a fantastic, almost full-roof display of solar panel, but she owns her home. I can see her panels glistening in the sunlight from my porch.

Today’s expenses: blackout draperies, $34.95 for two; furnace filter, $36 for two


Illustration: Dev Murphy

I am someone who was raised in the country, and while I don’t think I ever really made it into the middle class as an adult, my circumstances certainly lessened when I became a single mom, then lessened again when I was laid off. For me, having a dishwasher would be a marker of success. I’m not there yet.

I have thought about buying a standalone dishwasher, but our older kitchen is extremely small. I don’t have the counter space for a counter dishwasher. So, even though I have read a dishwasher can actually use less water, I have to wash dishes by hand.

I wash all of our clothes in cold water in the washing machine. I don’t wash my own shirts or jeans every time I wear them, both to conserve water and electricity and to extend the longevity of clothes. But my son’s clothes, stained with dirt, grass and paint, I have to wash often.

I hang most of our wet clothes to dry, which is another time-suck and one of my least favorite chores, but prevents the energy utilization of the dryer and maintains some shirts from shrinking.

Today’s expenses: hand washing dishes: about 50 pennies a batch ; washing clothes in cold water: about $1.50 a loading


My son and I are traveling this weekend: flying, which is not an environmentally conscious thing to do. We don’t travel often, but this is a special, long-planned trip to visit family in Colorado, route too far to drive with a small child and my 18 -year-old Honda. I would love to replace my vehicle. I know a new model would be more gas efficient, but it’s not possible for me right now financially. A hybrid, or any new or utilized vehicle, is simply out of my reach.

One of the impacts of our current eco-consciousness is some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control- and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control. I feel guilty for flying to see loved ones. Do executives at Coca-Cola feel guilty for their massive plastic pollution?

Somehow I doubt it.

The inventor of Keurig K-Cups, a source of mounting plastic pollution, did publicly express remorse for his invention. I was gifted a Keurig coffee maker, but utilized the refillable attachment, putting in my own ground coffee rather than the plastic cups. When that coffee maker broke, I started employing a simple French press.

You can purchase carbon offsets to try to mitigate some of the environmental damage done by flying. The notion is to invest in green options, like gale farms. This is not something I have done before, and I have to admit, it’s a little overwhelming and confusing, especially as many carbon offset companies work directly with airlines and other corporations now.

We’re taking a direct flight to Denver, which helps cut down on more unnecessary traveling pollution, and we carpool to the airport. I bring empty reusable water bottles for myself and my son, and fill them up after security.

I’m disappointed to see the recycling and trash can at my airport appear exactly the same: the recycling can is overflowing with trash. Some airlines mention, as the flight attendant collect items after the drink service, that they recycle those cans and little plastic cups. But do they?

Today’s expenses: glass French press for coffee, $28.00


I haven’t buy much new dres for years. Proportion of that is out of necessity. Not merely can I not afford it, I live in an area without many shopping alternatives. We have a mall, but more storefronts are empty than occupied. The closest Target is across state lines. The biggest clothing retailer in my township is Goodwill, and all my friends and I shop there, and at other, local charity-based thrift shops.

It’s normal in my town to wear utilized things- something I believe should be normalized everywhere : not to be sporting the latest trend, but to be wearing a piece that meant something to someone you know, that has a story or history. For an item to take up space in this rapidly filling world, it should really matter.

It’s so typical to wear employed clothes where I live that my friends and I hold clothing swap parties, where we bring bags of clothes that don’t fit any more or household items that we no longer need, and shop one another’ closets. Once, it would have mortified me to be out wearing a dress that a friend pointed to and said: that used to be mine . Now it’s a source of pride. Clothing connects us. It’s more than only fast fashion. That shirt brought me luck , person said when I held up a red T-shirt at a clothing swap. Maybe it will bring you luck too .

I didn’t buy anything new for my journey to Colorado. My sneakers are several years old. I rinse them carefully, and replace the laces. I do have to buy new shoes for my son often, as kids grow quickly. I sometimes buy items from ThredUp, an online resale garb shop, and I sell clothes to them as well, usually saving up credit for trade so I don’t have to expend a dime.

In Colorado, after eating at a eatery, I feel nervous asking for a box for leftovers, fearing the most difficult: Styrofoam. But at every restaurant in Colorado that we patronize, the carryout boxes are recycled or recyclable cardboard.

I don’t think we talk enough about how the America consumer’s attempts to go green involve so much uncertainty and absence of agency. Starbucks, for example, gives me a plastic fork for a sandwich I order and certainly don’t need a fork to eat with. They don’t ask first if I want a fork, and should. I leave the fork unwrapped and dedicate it back. But will they just throw it away?

Small choices like this feel huge- but many of them aren’t even selections we as individuals can construct. I can’t bringing my own takeout receptacles to local eateries in Ohio – it’s a health hazard, according to the restaurants. On our Colorado trip, my mom was amazed at a store that sold soap and shampoo by the barrel – you bring your own containers to fill. There are no stores like that near me.

There are no bins or instructions about recycling in the Airbnb we have rented. So we pitch all the empty cans, bottles and cardboard into a couple of grocery suitcases, and at the end of our trip, trek them back down the mountain to my boyfriend’s mother’s house in the city( sorry, Judy ), where they can be recycled.

Today’s expenses: a pair of kids sneakers, utilized, about $16 ($ 35 -4 0 new )


A couple of years ago, inspired by several classmates, my son decided he was going to go vegetarian. Recently, he has started eating some meat again: chicken fingers, pepperoni pizza, but for the most part, we only eat meat two or three times a week. This does a lot, both for health- my dad’s physician commended my son for getting his grandpa to eat less meat, and my dad’s subsequent weight loss and lower cholesterol numbers- and for the environmental issues.

But eating vegetarian isn’t always easy, especially in rural Appalachia, and it isn’t always cost-efficient or healthy. Many of the meat substitutes I have bought my son- soy bacon, bean burgers- expense more than meat, and are much harder to find, requiring special trips.

Which means more gas. And more time.

Time is a resource, especially for women, people of color, people who are incapacitated and people who are poor, and to ignore the impact of time on environmental choices is to ignore the reality of many people’s lives. People have to work multiple jobs, have to travel for run or groceries, don’t have recycling available, don’t have enough childcare to spend precious hours hanging laundry or cleaning plastic bags.

A lot of things aren’t easy in my Appalachian home: finding work, procuring and affording a place to live. Why did we believe being green would be any different?

When it comes to the environment, I am not alone in feeling a predominating sense of remorse and concern. I have felt this a lot of the time, since I was a child and first heard in school about the depletion of the ozone layer.

We live in a time of such dreaded. We walk with and through dreaded constantly. Dread is our companion in 2019, and also the feeling of futility. So many news sites have tossed about data and studies on how long until we run this planet into the ground. The dates vary, but it’s not long. Not long at all. It’s overwhelming to suppose the burden of maintaining the world alive remainders on the shoulders of consumers. And frankly, it shouldn’t. Not entirely.

People need help from the companies that got us into this mess in the first place with their products and pollution. People need incentives- but also, assistance on how to be green. You have to offer and clearly label recycling bins, for example. Fresh, affordable produce needs to be available before we can focus on organic.

In order for people to construct eco-conscious choices, there has to be an eco-conscious choice available for them to stimulate . For many places, especially in rural and impoverished America, those choices simply don’t exist , not yet.

Today’s expenses: veggie hot dogs, $5.79 for four

Read more:

Upset about the plastic crisis? Stop trying so hard

We make good-faith efforts to help the planet by recycling, but what we really need to do is even simpler

Did you ever decide to get off a jammed superhighway and take the backroads even though deep down you knew that it wouldn’t be any faster? Are you constantly switching to the faster lane on a busy superhighway even if you was noted that autoes sticking to their lanes keep catching up with you?

Both are examples of action bias, the phenomenon in which people prefer “ve got something” over doing nothing, even if the likely outcome of the action is worse than the outcome of inaction. Research has shown that actively managed portfolios tend to do worse than passive investments. And one study found that football goalkeepers prefer to jump left or right during a penalty-kick, even though the best thing would be to stay put in the middle.

A prime case study of how action bias get in the way of solving environmental problems is plastic in the oceans. The discovery of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch alerted the world to the issue of plastic marine rubbles. It turned out to be everywhere , not just in that specific patch or any of the other large circulating ocean currents known as gyres. In fact, there is growing consensus that only a minute fraction of all ocean plastic is on the surface, and that the vast majority is probably on the ocean floor. This has not stopped a growing number of ocean plastic action heroes from wanting to clean up the gyres.


The best known of them, The Ocean Cleanup, last year launched a 2,000 ft-long boom, made of plastic, to gather plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t work, violate apart and had to be towed back onshore. Even if we also somehow figured out how to vacuum plastics from the ocean floor, these technologies would not stop new plastic from constantly entering the oceans.

The cheapest and most effective solution to ocean plastic is strangely also the one that is least talked about.

It is this: making and using less plastic.

Virtually everyone I know is genuinely upset about plastic pollution in the oceans, and at parties I am routinely cornered in the kitchen with questions about which of the myriad of single-use plastic items on open showing is also available recycled, and whether they actually will be recycled if hurl into the recycling bin.

Yet while people set enormous attempt and hope into recycling, they don’t devote source reduction much guessed at all. The west used to send much of its recycling to China for processing, and China’s recent decision to no longer accept it because of environmental concerns has triggered an intense debate about how to fix our obviously violated recycling system. It would be so much easier and more effective to make and use less, and thus reduce our need to recycle in the first place.

Climate change is another example where action bias comes into play. Despite increasingly urgent bellows by scientists, we seem unable to reduce our carbon emissions. Could this be because it is essentially a call to non-action? The simplest, and some would argue only, realistic route to cutting carbon is to not burn those fossil fuels in the first place. To leave them in the ground. Every forsworn carbon-intensive activity would be a step towards stabilizing our climate. But no, there are more calls for action instead. Let’s do something.

At this stage of the climate crisis we do, of course, need a massive deployment of low-carbon technologies, like gale and solar power, and to become more energy-efficient. That said, some serious attempts at non-action by all of us would go a long way.

Just as the most effective technique for weight loss is to eat less, the most effective technique for reducing our environmental impact is to produce or eat less. There is no greener packaging than no packaging. No trip is greener than the one we didn’t construct. No product is greener than the one we didn’t buy. When it comes to the environment, one of the most powerful and effective paths to sustainability appears to be inaction.

Social norms, however, tend to favor action over inaction. A dictionary definition explains inaction as” absence of action where some is expected or appropriate “. As synonyms for inaction, my term processing software offers me” procrastination, dithering, laziness, and sloth “. No wonder there are no inaction heroes in the movies.

There should be. Stanislav Petrov was an inaction hero in real life. Just three weeks after Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet military in 1983, the brand-new Soviet nuclear early-warning system reported incoming American missiles. Petrov was the on-duty officer at the command centre and transgressed military protocol by deciding to not act on the report, which he thought was fishy. It turned out to be false.

Petrov’s non-action saved the world from nuclear war. Only imagine how many other unsung heroes like him there must be in the world- people who helped others through restraint. Whether it’s plastics in the oceans or carbon in the atmosphere, there is an urgent need for all of us to become environmental non-action heroes.

Roland Geyer is professor of industrial ecology at the Bren School of Environmental science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Penguins on a treadmill: analyse depicts fat ones fall over more often than slim ones

Experiment discovered the heavier monarch penguins from Antarctica were not as good at waddling, but the extra weight helped them survive fasting while breeding

Fat king penguins are unsteady on their feet while waddling compared to their slimmer equivalents, but carrying a little bit of extra weight comes with an important advantage when it comes to reproduction, biomechanics researchers say.

A research team led by Astrid Willener from the University of Londons department of life sciences travelled to the subantarctic region of Antarctica to research the monarch penguin, which can grow up to 1m tall and up to 16 kg, constructing it the second largest species of penguin behind the emperor.

Ten male king penguins who were in courtship and who weighed more than 12 kg were captured near the shoreline at the edge of a colony. The penguins, which are serial monogamists, have the longest breeding cycle of all the penguin species 14 to 16 months and create merely one chick per cycle. Weight gain is essential in courtship so that the penguins have enough fat reserve to survive their fast while taking care of their eggs.

However, being too fat stimulate them least stable and thus easily spotted and eaten by predators, Willener told. So understanding the biomechanics of how penguins deal with strolling with an additional one-quarter of their usual weight, while still being quiet stable, is very interesting.

The researchers maintained the penguins for 14 days and fasted them during this time, and tested them for their ability to walk on a treadmill at a speed of 1.4 km/ h before and after their weight loss. Fasting for periods of up to one month is normal for monarch penguins, and the researchers checked the critical body mass of the birds to be sure that “theyre not” losing body mass too fast. They also maintained the penguins in a pen next to their colony during the study.

A king penguin on a treadmill during the research into how they manage the extra weight they put on for reproduction. Photograph: Astrid Willener

However, there were difficulties in get some of the penguins to cooperate, Willener told, with some of the larger someones trying to defraud the system.

A good sum of the individuals were able to walk on a treadmill straight away, she told.

Once the speed is set, the penguin usually can walk fluently. But an individual that is not able to walk straight away on a treadmill is difficult to train. Sometimes the penguins were lazy and water-skied on the treadmill by leaning their back on the back wall of the treadmill. That is obviously not good for the data collection.

The penguins received two training sessions of 10 minutes to get used to walking on the treadmill. The posture( leaning and waddling) of the penguins while strolling was then determined by the researchers. To quantify the waddling, the amplitude of peak left and right leaning was calculated.

They found that although the penguins waddled with more agility at a lower weight, they had nonetheless accommodated well to be able to handle waddling while heavier, even if “theyre not” as efficient and least stable.

Scientists say king penguins need extra fat to survive their fasting during the course of its breeding season. Photograph: Astrid Willener

Waddling amplitude, leaning amplitude and leaning slant all remained fairly constant across the two body mass, the study, published in the online science journal PLoS One, discovered.

However, some differences were uncovered; in particular there was good evidence that variability in the leaning slant and leaning amplitude, and some evidence that the waddling amplitude, were lower when the birds were lighter. These outcomes indicate that heavier king penguins have a higher frontal and sagittal instability; they are less stable walkers than when they are lighter.

But with swimming the primary method of travel for the birds, being agile in the water was more important that a quick and graceful gait, Willener said.

The weight gain is an adaptive mechanism for them to survive their fast while reproducing and taking care of the egg, she told.

But it is a trade-off between putting on weight to fast longer, in case there is a delay in detecting a penguin partner to mate with, and still being able to walk, because if they cant stroll steady, they fall and will be spotted and eaten alive by predators. However, pedestrian locomotion is merely their secondary locomotion mode.

Willener hopes the findings will help in efforts to better understand, and protect the species. While king penguin numbers are not threatened, they have been in the past.

The is connected with gait and energy expenditure can help to improve penguin protection, she told. The energy expended during their stroll, particularly when emphasized and responding to predators, may affect their ability to fast and protect their chicks.

* Note: The video has been sped-up, and so the speed seems faster than the reality. No penguins were made to fall over on the treadmill .

Read more: