League of Women Voters

Living sustainably saves more than the planet


Remember hanging the laundry on the line? The fresh air smell of laundry, beaten soft by the breeze and the bleaching power of the sun on the whites? There was always something to that extra effort, though a bit inconvenient. Not only did it connect us with our senses, it saved us money.

We don’t often think about the coinage with laundry unless we are popping quarters into slots at a laundromat. If we have high efficiency washers and dryers, it feels like we are saving. We are using less water and less electricity. EnergyStar reported in 2015 that we are using 20% less energy with a high efficiency dryer and with a high efficiency washer that uses less water, our dryers aren’t working as hard. Still Trent Ham of the Simple Dollar said in 2020 that conventional electric dryers cost about 38 cents for a small load. It’s closer to 50 cents for large loads. In researching how much he could save air drying, Ham timed himself hanging laundry. He spent about seven minutes putting three loads on the line and saved a dollar. Calculate the loads of laundry you do a week. Hanging heavy laundry -— towels, blankets, sheets — and using a vinegar to soften clothes in place of dryer sheets saves far more energy and money (Vinegar softener is a life hack: 1/2 cup of vinegar is cheaper than fabric softener or dryer sheets and there’s nothing to throw away at the end. It also helps towels absorb moisture without leaving any odors.) Most of us need a dryer at some time. To help save, be sure to clean the lint trap and vents as instructed to reduce drying time (and prevent fires).

How we think about time and money matters. They are both valuable resources. It helps to think “new” about the old adage “time is money.” What saves us time has all kinds of hidden financial costs. A k-cup brews coffee fast but increases our trash. We pay more per serving when we buy single-use pods for convenience, and we’ll pay for our increased trash fees that week. Later, we will see incremental increases in taxes when our community has to address landfill and waste issues.

A few “good ol’ days” habits make a profound impact: reusing, home cooking, and buying fewer, better quality items that last. Consider the humble plastic container. My mother used to wash old cottage cheese containers to store leftovers. She diligently washed old ziplock bags and hung them to dry. Weeks later, we sniffed through the containers in the back of the fridge and discovered hairy beans that left an odor to rival skunks. Chicken thighs frozen in reused ziplocks dripped all over the fridge while they thawed.

It’s no wonder someone thought up the idea of a clear, short life-cycle storage container. We thought we wanted something with a few uses. We could eyeball the leftovers that sounded appetizing until they weren’t any longer and throw away the gross stuff without opening it. If we wanted, we could recycle. We weren’t counting the cost of what we didn’t recycle nor the chemicals in plastic that make it harmful to us.

Many people have switched to glass containers and silicone storage bags. Silicone “zip” bags are a worthwhile investment. They can be put in the dishwasher and microwave. They have a long life cycle, and unlike glass, they don’t shatter in the freezer. Nor do they leak, not juice nor BPA or phthalates like plastic containers do.

Speaking of BPA and phthalates, eating out regularly increases the amount of these two endocrine disrupting chemicals in humans. We know that eating out is associated with consuming more of the wrong kind of calories and preservatives, but UPI reported in  2018 on a study that showed people ages 6+ had 35% more phthalates in their systems than those who ate at home. The restaurant industry uses plastic packages (and canned goods which may come in BPA-lined cans) at all stages of a meal’s life-cycle, from prep to serving. Cooking at home, said researchers at the University of Washington, improved the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables in diets. In the 1970’s only about 18% of calories came through eating out, now it’s about a third of the average American’s caloric intake. Choosing high quality, fresh fruits and vegetables allows us to fill up with fewer calories. We also tend to waste less food, since restaurant portion sizes are often larger than dietary needs. Researchers felt that people eat out more because of “time poverty.” We are conditioned to be “productive” at work or socially so we trade a few minutes of meal prep to do more, be more.

It’s easy to be consumed when we describe humans as “consumers” instead of persons. The LWV encourages us to change our personal habits to reduce the carbon footprint. The surprise of living sustainably is that we sustain mental health. Waiting on a pour-over at the coffee shop every morning is costing us two ways: time in the drive-thru and and the smell of fresh ground coffee in our kitchen.


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here