The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 13, 2009

Practically Green Book Review and DIY Project

I first met Micaela Preston through the Green Moms Carnival. Her blog, Mindful Momma, is full of practical advice and Do-It-Yourself projects for living a more sustainable life. She was also my roommate at the BlogHer conference this summer, where she impressed everyone with her ingenious handmade business card holder, made from the pocket of an old blouse and sporting two compartments — one for her own cards and the other for cards she received from other people. So it’s not surprising that she has just published a new book.

Micaela sent me a copy of Practically Green: Your Guide to Ecofriendly Decision-Making.  I love it. Each chapter is divided into two sections. Buy It Green includes useful charts and lists that explain the various green standards and environmental and health hazards to watch out for when purchasing food, clothing, home furnishings, toys, etc. Do It Green includes recipes and instructions for making your own from materials you might already have on hand.


DIY Utensil Wrap

I was treated to another sample of Micaela’s handiwork at the BlogHer conference while showing her my To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set in its cute carrying case. She did me one better and showed me her own homemade utensil carrying case that is so simple anyone could make it.  And she uses silverware that she already has in the house.  No need to go out and buy anything new.

1) Take a cloth napkin. Instructions for sewing your own cloth napkins are in the Do It Green section of Chapter 2, but I’m betting you could use a napkin that you already have.

2) Lay your own knife, fork, and spoon along one side of the napkin in the vertical center and fold up the bottom over them.

3) Fold the top of the napkin over the utensils and roll them up in the napkin.

4) Hold it all together with a nice ribbon.

I actually might create a system like this for my bamboo utensils.  The case I currently have allows the utensils to slide out through the top if I don’t tie it tightly enough.  And in Micaela’s version, you have a napkin to put on your lap.


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Eco Mom
9 years ago

I love your ideas. Would love to read your book!

Fr. Peter
14 years ago

This idea is from a US friend and colleague Dee, who is a fellow volunteer with me in the UK.

It’s much too good not to share it with everyone!

14 years ago

Man, we just had Thanksgiving dinner and could’ve used that napkin folding plan. That’s awesome.

Aaron Shaw PhD
14 years ago

Loved the togo bamboo ware! They are smart and really pretty! I can’t believe it!

The Raven
14 years ago

My son and I tried the napkin trick today while at our “byol” discussion group. it works perfectly! Thanks.

aurora fox
14 years ago

well Beth–you know me–I shrink (felt) old wool sweaters and sew them into bags, and stuffed toys—and I alter sweaters I find also—to fit me or someone else…sometimes I felt them first, and embellish them with embroidery or crochet. This holiday season I making some Christmas stockings out fo felted sweaters…

But, the best tip I have for you all–is to try the BUY NOTHING NEW PLEDGE for a few months (or even a year) i did this for 6 months and it formed a habit for me–now I always think twice before purchasing anything new–and I haunt all the local thrift store (one of my faves: The Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland)…doing this really did change my purchasing patterns. I just vowed to buy nothing new for 6 months–except food, medicine, and any supplies i needed for may classes…it was so much easier than I expected to fine everything I really needed used….and since I went public with this and blogged some about it—this kept me honest…

Just Ducky
14 years ago

A few things we do…

1) If one of my kids gets a hole in the knee of her pants…we cut off the bottoms and make the pants into shorts.

2) When try a new product whether it be food, soap, lotion, etc…if I don’t like it (for whatever reason) I offer it to my mom, my sister, or my co-workers for free. There is no reason why my purchasing error should be wasted. Someone else can benefit from my mistake!

3) My daughter (a teenager) and her friends all swap clothes and shoes. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve swapped t-shirts, shoes for prom, jewlery. So far, no one has gotten upset or had hard feelings—much to my surprise! They quadruple their wardrobes this way, and the girls who have income-strapped families get to wear clothes they couldn’t otherwise afford. It levels the playing field among her friend group and makes everyone feel equal. I find it amazing that teenage girls can do this!

4) Freecycle, freecycle, freecycle!

5) Pick one day a week (more if you are comfortable with this) to skip a shower/bath. If you haven’t gotten super sweaty/dirty…then do you really have to shower everyday?

6) Don’t wash your pants/shirts if they aren’t visibly dirty and if they don’t smell dirty. OK, after numbers 5 and 6 some might question my personal hygiene or my desirability…and I understand that…but I ASSURE you–I am very self-conscious about my appearance and aroma…and I strive to not be the “dirty bird” of the group. Honestly–you don’t have to shower every single day or wash a shirt everytime it touches your skin.

I’m sure I could come up with oodles of ideas…but these are the first ones that came to my mind.


14 years ago

I have been repurposing old Tyvek envelopes as new Tyvek envelopes by cutting to size and sewing on a sewing machine. The people who eventually receive it think they’re great!

The Raven
14 years ago

On Saturday, I started learning to sew.

I first sewed up the bottoms of some old thrift store tank tops to make super-easy grocery bags. We had been about to buy some new tote bags in an effort to avoid using all the totes we own with awful drug company logos all over them…

Next, I started cutting up an old ripped sheet into squares to sew very simple cloth bags with a drawsting closure at the top. These I will used for all the handknit holiday presents I am knitting up. No more wrapping paper for us. (We’ve been using silk scarves for the last few years–but this will be a change.)

The book sounds fabulous!

Logan Johnson
14 years ago

I would love love love to win the book even though my tip has to do with no new books.

So, my tip is GOODWILL! I refuse to buy new books because of all the waste in the paper industry and thrift stores have a multitude of wonderful books for very cheap. I haven’t bought a new book in well over a year. It takes awhile to matriculate down to their, but in the end I can almost always find books that I want. I’ve collected tons of series in their entirety completely from goodwill. This is also my only source for textbooks. i never ever ever buy the expensive textbooks from school, I always just find a textbook for the same subject and read out of that.

Fr. Peter
14 years ago

My favorite one is here

Keep your garden organic!

14 years ago

I just wanted to add to Kyce’s post about the many many uses of cloth diapers:)

Cut them into very little squares and use instead of disposable cotton pads. I love using Witch Hazel on my face after washing, and I always just bought the rolls of round pads. They’re really cheap, but it’s a 1-use product packaged in plastic, so the cloth diapers are a great alternative.

Now, where to find Witch Hazel in a glass bottle…

14 years ago

Love hearing everyone’s tips, and could go on and on about the ways we’ve found to simplify. It comes down to a love affair with our local co-op that offers us just about everything we need in bulk (we use homemade muslin bags to bring it all home in). The main thing we missed when we went plastic free was tortilla chips–can’t make those. Now we get them from the burrito shops that make their own and sell them in paper bags.

Also, as a mother I’d like to say that cloth diapers and baby wipes are indispensable and everyone should have them around the house. Diapers are the BEST for mopping and wipes (basically flannel or terry cloth squares repurposed from sheets and towels) are great for everything from handkerchiefs to menstrual pads.

14 years ago

A pretty simple thing to do is reuse old jars from sauces or jams. I clean them out and use them to store bulk grains, spices, and even liquids. Otherwise it gets expensive buying fancy containers.

I also like to use old plastic jars that are laying around to use as planters or seed starters for my indoor garden.

I save my T-shirts for rags and the nice ones I’ll someday get around to making into a T-shirt quilt.

14 years ago

Beth, Thanks for your blog! It encourages me to not be so lazy and that one’s life can be an example to others.
I use newspaper for kitty litter disposal rather than plastic bags. I lay out two or three pieces of old newspaper, scoop the litter with a slotted scoop and wrap it up like a package and lay it in the trash. It is neat and tidy. When I finally have to swap out the entire box I just pour the litter into the empty litter bag from which the litter came in the first place.

Jen F
14 years ago

So many great ideas. I do my best not to buy anything as well. I try to borrow it or do without. If I really need it I buy it used or buy super high quality so I won’t have to buy it again.
I’d love to have a look at this book. And promise to pass it along when I’m done.

14 years ago

I love all the ideas already mentioned, but I wanted to share (again) my passion for water-activated paper tape, instead of plastic. I use it not only for shipping for my etsy shop, but also everything else I was formerly using plastic tape for in my classroom – reinforcing broken folders, trapper keepers, pencil cases, planner notebooks… Even my students love using it, and not only because it’s so novel to spray your tape with a squirt bottle before using it! You can still recycle your paper stuff, even with tape on it, and once the water is dry, you can do whatever you normally would do with paper – write on it, punch holes, cut it. No plasticky gummy residue on the hole punchers or scissors! And if you need to remove the tape, it usually tears off pretty easily, and what is left behind comes off easily with water – no oil-based sticky mess like with plastic tape!

Anyway, I’d love this book! (-:

Crafty Green poet
14 years ago

I make my own diary every year from reused office scrap paper and card and usually an old broken shoe lace to hold it together.

14 years ago

Just want you to know how much of an influence you’ve had me!!! I am now trying my best NOT to buy anything in plastic..altho it is sometimes just damn impossible… all the packaging… it is rediculous, REALLY!!! I am recycling, reusing or redistruting just about ALL of my plastics :-) Our garbage take out used to be filled to the top with sacks and sacks of plastics… now we have maybe 2 bags of real trash….. much better for us!!!! thanks :-) HumbleVegan

14 years ago

When my son gets bored with his toys I do a toy swap with some friends of mine, and he has brand new toys without buying anything…then we can pass them on again in a few months.

14 years ago

I save all of the one-side-used paper from work and my kids’ school work for use on our home printer and for coloring/cutting out….I never have to buy paper (but my husband does for official business).

14 years ago

I have been recycling for years but now my big thing is to reuse and repurpose. We were given a pool table by friends who needed the space for other things. We needed a pool cue rack and thought of many ways to make one, once we bought the wood. Well, a neighbor had an old rectangular fireplace mantle he wanted to get rid of, it had decorative pieces on it, even crown molding! My handy husband cut the mantle in half width wise and the height was perfect to drill holes in to pass the pool cues through. Now we have a beautiful, one of a kind piece of furniture.

14 years ago

I refashion old clothes into quilts, bags, pillows, and items for my kids. We get to enjoy many different fabrics and the stained or holey clothes get new life.

The book looks wonderful!

Alyssum Pohl
14 years ago

I work in retail and one of the worst byproducts of retail business is all the shipping material. I save the paper that items are wrapped in, double or triple fold them to increase strength, sew them along the edges to make envelopes. Whenever we have to ship something out (wholesale), it saves us from buying plastic tape or plastic-containing envelopes. Or buying any envelopes at all!

14 years ago

My tip is so simple and goes inline with the giveaway- I take a knife, fork and spoon bought at the thrift store and drill a little hole in the end, then take an old fashioned metal shower curtain ring and slip through the holes– There- you have a set of silver ware for work, camping or whatever. Would slip in nicely with the napkin holder

14 years ago

I try and reuse/repurpose everything I can and freecycle as much as possible also. To that end, I do the same thing with my clothing… old t-shirts become unpaper towels, cotton rounds, rags or even underwear. I try to repurpose other clothing that doesn’t fit, is stained, or worn into new pieces… it helps if you are like me and tend to wear the same colors all the time.

I could use some new ideas though, so I would love to win the book!

14 years ago

Hi Beth! I am a fairly new reader to your blog, but I have ready MANY of your posts, and you have changed the way I look at EVERYTHING! Reduce, reuse, and recycle, in that order!

My tip is before buying anything, even used, look around to see if you have something already in your house that will work. Recently, when my trash can in the bathroom got so many cracks in it that it wouldn’t even stand any more (cheap plastic thing!), I looked around the house and found a basket that I wasn’t using, and it it a perfect trash can.

I would love to win that book!

14 years ago

Ok- I’d REALLY REALLY LOVE this book.
And you didn’t say the idea had to be unique.
We simply try to avoid buying things if at all possible.
When we do go shopping we bring canvas bags we already had, some we received from others on freecycle, and we re-use the plastic ones we had already over and over and over.
One idea I had, though after reading about your new quilt was to take t-shirt material, cut napkin sized squares, and sew firmer scraps not big enough to use for anything else (cotton muslin etc) around the edge as a border…to help the jersey keep its shape and stay neeter on the table.
The jersey would be a nice soft option for children etc..
I haven’t done it yet, but it is on my to-do list!

Kathy G
14 years ago

I’m making a utensil carrying case today with a napkin from my drawer and some of the motley collection of silver ware I’ve acquired over the years. I’ll just have to remember to bring it into places with me!

I don’t buy much, but when I do I make my first stop Goodwill or another resale shop. I’m not buying something new that’s used valuable resources to create, I’m keeping things out of landfills, and I’m supporting a charitable organization.

14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Ok, first thing first, ever since I found a reference to your blog on No Impact Man, I’ve been obsessively looking over your old posts – it’s changed my life. I can’t thank you enough for all the work you do – fantastic! Inspiring me to keep going with the changes as well.

I avoid buying new in one simple way. Every friday I go to my bank’s ATM (plastic card, it expires soon and I’m going to just cancel anyway, talking to tellers is more personal anyway) and take out my weekly allowance, $100. I buy groceries with 60$ (usually all bulk and seasonal fresh produce, it’s cheaper and greener, and I can cook a big dinner for friends once a week on that budget), 20$ goes to my weekly kungfu class, and 20$ is to cover ‘miscellaneous’. Utilities are automatically deducted from my accounts, bills are paid online. The only other thing I use my card for is diesel for the car, necessary where I live. Borrow, substitute, do without, buy used (except underwear). It’s been a few months and instead of feeling deprived, I’m totally jazzed – that money goes to paying down the mortgage at light speed, and savings, to be later spent on vacations, donations, nieces and nephews – the things that count the most in life.

The easiest and greenest way to save money? Don’t buy anything :D Not for everybody, but a good solution for me.

14 years ago

This is a book I’d love to take a look at!

It’s not new thinking by any means, but perhaps the one thing that has changed my life and helped me “green” up my life the most is just learning what I can do without. There has been very little that has broken or disappeared that I needed so much that I ran out to get a new one right away.

This happened recently with our microwave – the old thing started on fire! We freecycled it to someone who knew how to fix it, and for several weeks we made our oatmeal on the stovetop instead of in the microwave. We learned to bake instead of nuke, and that we really didn’t need a microwave.

We decided we’d wait and see if we really missed it. We did, especially because I use it to make some of my products, and the stovetop wasn’t working as well, so we searched freecycle and craigslist, asked friends and neighbors, for a few more weeks. Eventually, with no luck in the used market, we did end up buying a new microwave.

But it made me realize that when I run out of something, it’s better to see if I can do without before I run out and buy a new one. Many times, I never buy that item again (body washes and lotions being another thing – I use a handmade soap without sulfates and cut way back on dry skin!) Sometimes I realize it’s something I do need, and I get it.

14 years ago

Some things we do:
-With a group of friends, we have a continuous merry-go-round of baby/kids clothing. Some clothes have been worn by at least 5 children in our circle with more to come I am sure.
-Rather than buying drawing paper for our kids, the parents take home one-sided printer paper from the office (because argh! some people still print one-sided only!).
-Scarves, hats, gloves that once belonged to a great-aunt are handed over to the kids for ‘dress-up’: a scarf can be a baby sling, a headcovering, a hobo pouch, a skirt, a blanket, lots of fun to be had!
– We are avid library borrowers. Our motto is, say it now: “My favourite bookstore is called the library”. We only buy books once we have read them and know that we want to read them again and want to refer to them repeatedly. I find that there are almost no books I must read right away, waiting is ok. Yes, sometimes there are fines when we are delinquent, but these are way less than the cost of buying the books… and the fines contribute to the library I guess.
I would love the book and promise I would pass it on.

14 years ago

This isn’t a new tip by any means, but instead of buying paper towels or even new washcloths to use, I’ve been cutting up threadbare and stained t-shirts for rags.

I didn’t think of this as newsworthy by any means, but I thought of it because I had a few friends over last week, and someone spilled something. I grabbed a rag to wipe it up, and in unison (unison!), my two friends asked, “Is that a Sham-Wow?” I had no idea rags were turning into a brand name thing. Why buy them when I have super absorbent fabric already at my disposal?

14 years ago

I reuse old socks that aren’t quite stretchy enough to stay up any more (HATE saggy socks!) by cutting off the feet and using the ankle parts as fingerless mitts at work — great for typing in a chilly office! (You can cut a thumb hole to help them stay in place.) Since the socks are cotton knit, they don’t require any hemming — just cut and wear! As for the feet of the socks, I’ve used them in the past to re-line the worn-through heels of my bedroom slippers.

14 years ago

I would LOVE to win her book – she sounds like an amazing person!

My green tip is that in springtime instead of buying seed starter boxes (made form plastic, mind you), I cut up squares of multilayered newspaper, fold them into the shape of a little box and staple the 4 corners together and make tiny little 2″ x 2″ seed starter pots to start my seeds indoors. When they’re ready to go in the ground weeks later, I just dig a hole and bury the whole pot – composting the newspaper at the same time. LOVE them and do them every year!

Jennifer M
14 years ago

While planning a big summer party I got together with a neighbor and we agreed to split the cost of an extra dozen or two place settings (price not to exceed a couple dollars per setting). We then went to a couple of thrift stores and bought (used) plates, silverware, and napkins (we’re still looking for glasses). Then we sent out a broadcast email to the neighborhood, saying that we had these packed in boxes, a dozen settings per box, and they were for the neighborhood to use for parties — just drop a line, and we’ll have them ready to pick up. (Broken stuff to be replaced by the breaker, but, really, at 50 cents a plate it’s no big deal.) We can get “green party” compostable-ware, but this is much nicer to use — actual cloth napkins and ceramic plates! Plus, it’s really, truly zero waste — we had a party for 35 people and had more compost than trash. (Actually, I can’t remember any trash, other than possibly some food wrappings? )

(The summer party — which was set up outside, with tablecloths and glasses, under the trees, was just wonderful. And mellow, even with a dozen or so kids running around.)

Thanks for the inspiring website! I’d love the book!

Jennifer M

14 years ago

At work, I’m in quality control. My team verifies all inventory coming in, stored, and going out. It’s a million square foot building, with more than 62,000 individual items numbers. I was trained to print reports, highlight discrepancies, return to the computer or warehouse floor and fix them, and then print a pass down report. I stopped all printing unless it required foot work, and even then, if the list is short, I pull a piece of paper from the recycle bin and write down the items and locations.
If printing is necessary, I encourage recycling by flipping pages and printing on the back.

Nancy Tropin
14 years ago

When I get a greeting card in the mail I carefully cut out the pictures and written sentiments and put them in an envelope (saved from junk mail). I also save paper bags when I come across them during the year (mostly other peoples’ since i usually have my own when I buy something). When I need a gift bag I make my own from these materials along with other bits of ribbons, etc. that I save. It’s fun to personalize them for the recipient too. For filler I use paper that I’ve shredded or shred the comics. Voila!