Posts in at home
make an easy switch to renewable energy (for xcel customers)

For way too long I’ve been meaning to look into ways to “green” our energy use. We’ve been limiting our air conditioning use as much as possible this summer, but that’s obviously not enough. 44% of Xcel’s energy comes from coal, so that’s something to consider. Just like where our waste “goes” it’s good to think about where our energy “comes from.”

Xcel let’s you enroll in programs through your account portal online. It’s really fast and easy!

one // sign up for “Saver Switch.”
We’ve been enrolled in this program for years. Xcel installs a small device on your air conditioning unit that can be used to limit your AC use on really hot days. It has your AC cycle on and off at 20 minute intervals and you supposedly don’t notice when it’s in effect. I never have.

two // get on the waiting list for “Renewable*Connect” solar.
This program is full, but if you’re not already on the waitlist, signing up shows Xcel how important solar energy is to its customers. Colorado has plentiful sunshine; let’s make use of it!

three // sign up for “Windsource.”
For just $1.50 extra a month, you can power all your lightbulbs with wind. If you’re able to pay $10-$15, you can get all your electricity from wind. I was originally just going to do a block or two of wind, but opted to get 100% of our energy from Windsource. Again, I think it’s important to tell Xcel what I want as a customer.

What do you think? Have you already made these changes? Will you? If you don’t have Xcel as your provider, does your energy provider have similar options? Ask them!

de-plastic your food storage

I’m always up for talking about all things low waste with anyone who is interested. I know many people who want to decrease the plastic in their lives, particularly in their kitchens, but are unsure how to get rid of it completely. The “final frontier” for many seems to be figuring out how to de-plastic their food storage in the refrigerator.

This has definitely been my journey: I figured out how to buy food without plastic, but then once I was home, I would put my carrots or salad greens in a (reused) plastic bag or plastic container to store them. But in the past 6 months, after reading more about the health concerns of plastic, I’ve been working to de-plasticize my fridge. With some trial and error, I’ve figured out methods that work. There once was a time when we stored food for long periods of time without plastic. It is possible, people!

I also recently discovered the amazing website Save The Food. It’s devoted to ways to minimize food waste, which is a HUGE problem. Their section on storing food is phenomenal; they give lots of plastic-free storage solutions. Search by item! And don’t waste your food.

But to save you some time, here’s a quick rundown of how I’ve been storing produce without plastic (alphabetized by item):

Apples // Leave loose in the crisper.

Broccoli // Cut stalks at the bottom and submerge in water to store in fridge. I use a loaf baking pan.

Brussels Sprouts // Store in the fridge in an open container such as a jar, bowl, or breathable bag.

Carrots // Submerge in water and store in the fridge. I use a baking pan.

Celery // Give stalks a fresh cut and then stand upright in a jar with water in the fridge.

Corn cobs // Wrap in a damp towel and store in fridge for 1-2 days.

Cucumbers // Wrap in a damp cloth and keep away from apples in the fridge.

Green beans // Store in the fridge in an open container such as a jar, bowl, or breathable bag.

Green onions/scallions // Put in a breathable bag or open container.

Kale, lettuce, chard, herbs // Wash leaves and give bottoms a fresh cut. Store upright in a pint glass or jar, as you would flowers in vase. Keep in fridge.

Mushrooms // Store in a breathable bag or open container. Use ASAP.

Radishes // Wash and cut off greens. Put in the fridge in an open jar with just a bit of water in the bottom.

What are your tricks and tips? Please share!

9 easy ways to reduce parenting waste

Sometimes, when I read “zero-waste” blogs or Instagram accounts, I think to myself “well, easy for them to have just a Mason jar of trash when they don’t have kids.”

There’s definitely some truth to the fact that having children increases the amount of waste you produce. Tiny humans need things, and sometimes those things come in plastic packaging. However, the dominant parenting culture in the US often sends the message that the tiny humans need more things than they actually do. Moreover, marketers are constantly trying to convince parents that certain products will make our lives easier.

The truth is, more stuff rarely makes your life easier. Less stuff is the way to simplify! So, if you’re trying to cut down on your family’s waste, here are nine easy steps you can take:

Register for less. It’s been 7 years since I was pregnant with my first, but at that time, as soon as you were pregnant you started creating your baby registry. It was exciting. It was a way to prepare. A way to materialize an important life event ;) Despite being aware of the pitfalls of too much stuff, I still registered for too many things. I’m not sure exactly what I’d do differently if I could go back in time, but I know there are ways this cultural phenomenon could be adjusted. So much baby stuff could be procured from friends or second-hand stores. Maybe there’s something else you could ask your friends to gift you?

Use CLOTH wipes! The wet wipe has become ubiquitous. Any time one of my children has a runny nose or a messy face, another well-meaning parent will offer me a “wipe.” I sincerely appreciate the gesture, but on the inside I cry a little that wipes are so readily available. They are so bad for the earth. Single-use water bottles or disposable straws get used for longer than a wet wipe, and many of us have come to realize how awful those items are for the environment. I am not alone in this opinion: the UK is currently considering a ban on wet wipes.

The solution is simple: carry a little bag of cut up rags (made from old clothes or towels!) in your diaper bag, add water, and you have a wet wipe! Cheaper, too. Not to mention, a wet cloth arguably works better to clean a soiled bum. And if you feel like you just can’t give up a wet wipe for a poopy diaper change, maybe you could try to use fewer throughout the rest of your parenting day. It never has to be all or nothing!

Rethink convenience foods. Plenty of kids have made it to adulthood without eating a goldfish cracker. Honest! And babies learned to eat before puffs that come in plastic containers existed. And don’t even get me started on pouches of pureed foods (in short, they’re bad for kids’ health and bad for the environment).

Give your kids real food. Bananas and oranges come in their own “wrapper.” Apples are easy to transport without getting squished. Dried fruit tastes a lot like fruit snacks. Nuts are full of protein. Of course we all love crackers and pizza and mac and cheese from time to time, but remind yourself that babies and kids can usually eat the same foods you enjoy.

Use what you have. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s good to keep reminding yourself that before you had children you likely had most of the things you needed to live, and many of those items can also be used for children. Marketers want you to think you need baby-specific everything, but honestly how different are baby nail clippers from regular nail clippers? And are baby wash cloths softer than the wash cloths you already have? This logic is widely applicable. Before you buy something, ask yourself if you already possess something that could serve the same or similar purpose. But if you don’t…

…Borrow + buy used. So many people have babies. And all those people buy baby stuff. And then, their babies grow up. They don’t need their baby stuff anymore. They’d love to sell it to you! Or maybe even give it to you. When I wanted to get Willa a Bumbo, we shuddered at the thought of millions of Bumbos in a landfill. Just picture that for a second…. As a world, don’t need that many foam seats! So I found a used one through our neighborhood parents’ group, and made friends with the gal who sold it to me too! If you can’t find what you need from family, friends, or neighbors, hit up your local consignment stores or Goodwill. There are also lots of Facebook groups to “buy nothing” or you can purchase used clothes on online/app options such as: thredUpKidizenSwap.com, or Poshmark.

Buy milk in glass bottles. Some kids don’t drink milk. But some kids drink a lot of milk. If your family likes dairy, try to find milk in reusable glass bottles. The glass goes back to the dairy to be refilled. Hurray for a circular economy moment! In Denver, you can find this milk from a local, organic dairy (their milk isn’t yet marketed as “organic” because they’re in one of the final years of an almost decade-long process of getting organic certification). You can also use their milk to make delicious homemade yogurt (if you’ve ever had Noosa yogurt, it’s made from their milk, so clearly it’s a good choice for yogurt!).

Say “no thanks” to cheap plastic toys. You know the kind I’m talking about. The ones you get at birthday parties or school carnivals or at the dentist. These toys serve barely any purpose. They’re fun for a minute, and then they break and/or are forgotten. Just save the whole hassle and teach your kids to say “no thank you.” This goes for balloons and stickers too! Some might say “what’s the harm?” But I say, “What’s the point!?”

Make your kids share. If you have more than one child, don’t aim to have multiple versions of everything. Of course we all want our kids to learn to share, but this can be applied to more items than we might realize. Water bottles. Lunch boxes. Swim floaties. An iPad. Your kids will benefit from realizing that resources are finite and they don’t always get their own everything. In our family, the things we buy for the kids are to be shared right away. If they receive a gift for a birthday or holiday, they can decide they don’t want to share it for one week. But after that, everything is to be shared. (This family policy is a work in progress for us…of course the kids are changing all the time, so we’ll keep revisiting the rules. But overall, I want to promote the idea that we share things and each member or our family doesn’t always need their own specific things.)

Go to the library. Books take up space. Printing books uses trees. Kids “favorite” books change all the time. Buy a few you love, and then go to the library for fun new ones. This isn’t rocket science. (You’re all like, “duh!”) But take it to another level and look for a toy library in your area. We have one in Denver, and it’s amazing to be able to check out toys for a few weeks and then take them back for something else that's new and exciting. I’ve even heard that some cities have baby wearing libraries. Awesome.

kids, at homeMelissa Colonno
baby items you {i} actually need for the first year

Not long after I had my first baby, I discovered we actually didn't need anywhere near as much stuff as I'd thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn't cost us anything! Fast forward to two more kids later and I’m regularly saying “we have too much stuff!” But a lot of it we actually need. You need more for three kids than for one baby, that’s for sure.

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

From the very beginning, I tried to take a "less is more" approach. I felt like I didn’t put too many things on my baby registry… but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We've since gotten rid of some of those things, but we've held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I've of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that's absolutely a necessity, here's what I'd recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you're going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you'll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn't realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of "all-in-one" car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We're a fan of the Diono Radian because it's one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!) Now, I know what you may be thinking: “but how will I take my baby out of the car if I don’t have a bucket seat I can carry into the store?” You use a baby carrier my friends. Car seats are meant for cars. No where else. I know it’s convenient. But it’s not that great for your baby. Or your back.

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don't need to get into here.) I'm a fan of cloth diapers for so many reasons. Economic. Environmental. Logistical. It just seems weird to me to throw away a product several times a day when you could get a reusable one and wash it over and over again. I’m hoping we can make cloth diapers the norm again!

There are so many choices for cloth diapers you can buy. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip "diaper system" is awesome. And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as biodegradable bamboo liners so you don't ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you're squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Bamboo liners can be composted if they’re only peed on!

Cloth wipes. I use cheap baby wash cloths for everything. Someone gave me a pack of 20 when Willa was born and they’re still going strong 6 years later. I use them for diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I also cut up old clothes and take them with me on the go. Once used, I sometimes save them in a small wet bag, but sometimes I toss them in a trash can. They were destined for a landfill anyway, so at least they got a few more uses!

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren't just for attachment parents, they're for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it's good for toddler carrying too.)

Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we've had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we've moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I'm providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it's approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than "sets." Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It's a racket! No one needs both a 6" and a 8" chef's knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here's the thing about bottles: your baby can't drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn't be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don't need 10. And if you're not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, maybe two.

Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it's way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they're not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don't want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you're sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don't need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You'll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

Highchair. I believe it's super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won't. They need straps.) I like chairs that don't have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it's hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it's that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted's chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. 
In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I'm a big fan of this one because it is silicone and it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don't work on wood or any porous counter/table).

We don't, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. My kids use the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. For plates, bowls and cups, we use stainless steel ones that I’ve found at consignment shops or bought from Asian grocery stores (Korean stores always have a good selection!). I also have some small glasses the kids use for practice being careful.

We love the Pura Kiki bottles because they have interchangeable tops that go from bottle up to regular cap. No need to replace bottles (unless you lose them, which you will!). Tip: get the ones without the silicone sleeve! Silicone is a great replacement for plastic but there’s no reason your bottle needs a sleeve and it just makes them harder to wash!

You also need a few bibs. I like these because they're plain and the velcro doesn't wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they're labeled "boys." They're primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don't waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn't really need any toys. And that's somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

ten first steps to reducing household waste

one. // Use what you ALREADY own.
Being “eco-friendly” is trendy. There are stores that will sell you many things to help you go forth on your “zero-waste” journey. Some of these things are very useful (metal straws). Some of these things are beautiful but not necessary (Wreck jars). Use up the things you already own. Using items that are already in your life is always better than supporting the manufacturing of new materials. Even if those companies are sustainable and ethical. Just a few examples of many:

  • There are some health reasons to avoid using plastic for food, but you can still find other uses for the plastic containers lying around your house. Use them to organize toys, or screws and other hardware.

  • If you’re having a party, don’t buy new decorations; decorate with what you have!

  • Shop your closet before buying new clothes. You probably have forgotten about some of the things you own.

  • Break out your grandma’s china. It should be used more than once a year!

  • Have you kids make art projects with “trash” instead of buying new art supplies.

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two. // Buy LESS and buy USED.
The cold, hard truth is that the world is against us in this crusade. It might change in the future, but for now we live in a disposable economy and it’s incredible hard to avoid having trash come into your life. The best way to create less waste is to just consume less. When you need or want something, first shop your house. Maybe you have something like it that you’ve forgotten about. If not, ask around. Maybe you can borrow it or get it for cheap from someone you know. If that fails, buy it used. There are lots of online or local consignment options.

Food is obviously a semi-exception to this point because you have to buy some amount of food. It’s still a good area to think about buying less (statistics about wasted food are crazy!) but when talking about shopping for food, this is an area it’s more important to consider the packaging…


three. // If you have to buy, CONSIDER the PACKAGING and the MATERIAL.
Best choice = buy without packaging.
Better choice = buy with compostable packaging.
Good choice = buy in paper, glass, or aluminum packaging.
Less than ideal choice = buy in recyclable plastic packaging.
Worst choice = buy in non-recyclable packaging.

Packaging is pretty easy to “rate” but the material of the product can be harder. But the key question to ask yourself is “what is going to happen to this when I can’t use it anymore?” For this reason, I try to buy mostly clothing of organic fibers and toys made of wood or paper. And you always want to think about the quality of the item. If it’s really high-quality plastic that won’t likely ever break or is something you’ll use for years and years to come, then you should buy it!

four. // COMPOST and seek out COMPOSTABLE items.
Food scraps, brown paper bags, pizza boxes, wine corks, tissues, tissue paper, paper towels, paper napkins, toothpicks, bamboo = all compostable. Many cities, including Denver, have city-wide compost collection. It’s pretty ridiculous that in Denver we have to pay for it yet trash is free. However, the bin is large, so you can certainly share with several neighbors to defray the cost. Backyard compost is always an option too; look for free 101 classes at your local library or through the city.

If you need a single-use option, try to find one that’s compostable. It’s easy to order food “for here” at a coffee shop or restaurant and then pick it up off the plate with a compostable napkin. Much better than getting a plastic container! However, you should always try to use reusables before turning to compostable paper products. Paper towels, plates, tissues, etc. all take a lot of resources to manufacture and ship. This makes them less ideal for the environment.

five. // Develop a “rag system.”
In our house, we use different-sized towels or cloths for all kinds of tasks:

  • Towels are for kitchen clean up.

  • Large rags are for one-time messes like Zoë’s food on the floor.

  • Small cloths are used as baby wipes, tissues, or as toilet paper.

  • We use tablecloths and cloth napkins.

  • Cloth produce bags are for grocery shopping and taking food on the go.

After use, baby wipes (and cloth diapers) go in a wet bag and all the other soiled cloths are thrown in a big laundry basket in our unused downstairs shower. Everything gets washed on the “Sanitize” cycle in the washing machine and is used again. Our towels are an assortment of dish towels, and all the smaller cloths are cut-up old clothes. When I am out of the house I will sometimes throw away a “baby wipe” cloth. I figure the old clothing was destined for the landfill anyway, so at least it got a few more uses.

This is our system, but there are lots of ways you could do it depending on your family’s needs and your house/washing set-up. Also, everyone has a different tolerance for and understanding of germs…do what you’re comfortable with but I’m sure you can come up with a system that works for you!

six. // Use CLOTH BAGS and a WASHABLE MARKER at the grocery store.
Stock pile a whole bunch of cloth bags to use at the grocery for produce and bulk items. These can be bags you have bought (I, personally, avoid bags made of synthetic fiber, but that’s a personal choice), bags you already have (I have several cloth bags that purses or other items came in like TOMS shoes), or you can make your own if you’re a sewer (make me some too, please!).

The washable marker is to write the PLU number on your cloth bags for bulk items. The cashier can then see it clearly and it’ll wash right out in the laundry. If your grocery requires you to print out stickers for bulk items, your hands are probably tied, but you can always ask!

(A more “advanced” option is to take your own jars to places like Whole Foods that will tare them for you, but I don’t recommend tackling this if you’re just starting out.)

seven. // RECYCLE but only minimally. REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR and ROT are all better choices!
Recycling is not the answer, particularly when it comes to plastic. Plastic gets downgraded each time it’s recycled and there’s not much of a market for thin/cheap plastic. I often hear people complain that their recycling bin is overflowing every week and they wish it got picked up by the city more often than their trash is collected. I agree with this to a certain extent, but if your recycling bin is super full, then you should still take a closer look at your materials consumption. Recyclables often end up in the landfill.

eight. // ANALYZE your waste.
Everyone is different and we all consume different types of products. Check out your own trash and recycling bins to see what you are throwing away on a regular basis. Ask yourself if you could procure those items in a different or better way.

Examples from my house:

  • Yogurt containers. Even though I was buying the big tubs of yogurt, we’d still have one in our recycle bin each week. As a first response, I started buying yogurt in a glass jar. That helped from the waste perspective, but it was expensive. I then started making my own yogurt which has worked really well for us. And it’s really not that hard!

  • Bread. We eat a lot of bread, and it was our main source of plastic bags. I used to occasionally bake bread, but now I’ve found a recipe that I can make weekly to keep us stocked. If I don’t get my act together to bake, I try to get to a local bakery and buy a package-free loaf.

nine. // Don’t be too SELF-CONSCIOUS.
Eighty years ago, people would have thought the idea of using something one time and then throwing it out was absolutely bonkers. But, today, it’s the norm. When you challenge the norm, people sometimes get a bit confused. When I first started asking for drinks without straws people looked at me like I had three heads. But now, they often reply, “oh of course, we don’t use straws anymore!”

The grocery worker often thinks I’m a bit weird when I ask them to put deli meat or salmon in my Tupperware, but then, sometimes, they have an “ah-ha” moment when they’ll respond “oh wow, that’s a good idea!” My family has rolled their eyes at me more than a few times, but I have observed subtle changes in their own behavior over the years. If refusing single-use packaging is important to you, just be friendly and polite, and usually you’ll get a decent response. Sometimes you’ll get a dirty look or a “no,” but just keep on trying!

ten. // Remember THIS:
All the plastic ever created still exists. It won’t go away in a period of time that we can conceptualize. That one fact keeps me up at night, but has helped me dramatically change my behaviors of consumption!

Now, go forth and reduce your waste. Fist bump, friends!