YES! But How? :: Car Sharing

Troubled by the difficulties of a clean & green existence? Whipsawed by confusion because you just don't konw how? Don't worry... Ask Doug & Annie!


Dear Annie & Doug,


I've been hearing a lot about car sharing co-ops. How can I start one in my area? —Walking After Midnight in Seattle


Dear Walking:

Before we talk about how to start a car-sharing co-op, some folks may want to know what one is.

Car sharing is a pretty obvious concept, once you get past the American ideal that you'll take my car when you pry my cold, dead fingers from the steering wheel. Most cars spend most of their time – as much as 95 percent – parked and empty. If you consider the fixed costs of owning a car, that's some expensive down time.

The quick nuts and bolts are: You pay a fee to join, usually on the order of $500, and usually refundable. You then have access to a pool of cars; to use one, you call a reservation number. Most organizations bill based on time and distance (e.g., $1.50 per hour plus 40 cents per mile). The price includes all costs, including gas and insurance.

Formal car sharing has been around at least since 1948, when some Swiss folks figured out that a group of them could own a car when no one of them could afford that luxury. The current wave of car sharing traces back to two German brothers who decided to share one car. That was in Berlin in 1988 and marked the beginning of StattAuto, which now has more than 4,000 members and is growing by a member a day. Europe has some 200 car sharing organizations, with total membership estimated as high as 50,000.
The immediate objection: “I want my car when I want my car.” Amazingly, car-sharing organizations report that 90 percent of their members get the car they want, when they want it.

But if you can afford a car, why put up with the bother of going further than your parking space to drive one? How about $2,000 or so a year, which, for someone driving about 7,500 miles a year, is the difference between paying for a car only when you use it and paying for it whether you use it or not. (7,500 miles a year is equivalent to 20.5 miles a day, every day of the year. Unless you use your car to commute, you're probably in that range.)

If that's not motivation enough, how about the knowledge that you're saving wasted urban space? In Europe, one shared car typically replaces 10 individually owned ones – freeing parking space up for bike lanes or trees.

Car sharing also transforms driving into an intentional activity. Paying the real cost of driving – rather than forgetting about the high start-up cost and looking only at the price of gas and oil – makes other forms of transportation more attractive. In Europe, car sharers typically reduce their driving by as much as half. According to Russell Martin, general manager of CarSharing Portland, car sharers in the US are so far driving even less than their European counterparts.

How to start your own car-sharing co-op? It can be as simple as the beginning of StattAuto: A few friends and an answering machine ZipCar is running in Seattle, Portland, California, Maryland, Virginia and more.

Many green solutions pay off slowly, or solely in terms of benefit to the Earth. Here's one that offers you $2,000 a year, starting right now.


Dear Annie & Doug,

I worry about my daughter using commercial fingerpaints, because she puts her fingers in her mouth. Is there a safe alternative? —A Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom:

I used this recipe with great success with my daughter when she was young. Fortunately, the soap doesn't taste great to toddlers, so they won't spend much time trying to eat the paint. Dye the fingerpaints with natural fruit and vegetable dyes for beautiful and mellow colors. I've thrown in a great goop recipe (a sort of stretchy playdough) for good measure.


  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup finely grated soap bar
  • 1/2 cup boiling water, juice dyes
  • Place cornstarch in a bowl and stir in the cold water. Grate shavings from a bar of pure soap. (A regular kitchen grater works very well.) Place in a separate, heat-resistant bowl. Pour boiling water into the bowl with the soap shavings, stir until the soap has melted, and then pour the contents into the cornstarch mixture. Stir to blend. Let the mixture rest until it has become a thick, finger-paint texture. Divide into separate bowls and stir in juice dyes for color. Makes 1+ cups.
  • Preparation time: about 20 minutes.
  • Shelf life: two weeks refrigerated.
  • Storage: glass jars with screw tops. Refrigerate.

Juice Dyes:

Juice dyes are wonderful, safe materials to use to dye children's art projects. Simple vegetables and trees growing in our backyards can provide us with a rainbow of colors for clays, fingerpaints, and playdough.

  • Handful or 1/4 cup of plant dyestuff, 4 cups water.
  • Blue: red cabbage, blueberries, red onion skins.
  • Brown: walnut hulls, paprika.
  • Green: oak bark, crab apple leaves and bark.
  • Orange: yellow onion skins, oats.
  • Purple: purple grapes.
  • Red: cranberries, beets.
  • Tan: coffee and tea.
  • Yellow: apple tree bark, white onion skins, turmeric.
  • Combine ingredients in a pan and simmer over low heat for an hour or two. Strain and cool. Add a few tablespoons at a time until the desired shade has been reached. Freeze what you don't use for another time.


Goop is fun to play with because it feels so slick and gooey at the same time.

  • 1 cup corn starch, 1/2 cup white glue
  • Pour corn starch into a bowl and add white glue a bit at a time, mixing first with a spoon and then with fingers as the texture becomes too thick to stir with a spoon. You don't want the goop sticky – that is a sign to stop adding glue and begin adding a bit more corn starch.
  • Makes 1 1/4 cup. Preparation time: 5 - 10 minutes. Shelf life: a week or so refrigerated. Storage: glass jar with screw top.


Dear Annie & Doug,

My lips get very chapped in the winter. Do you have any good recipes for a lip balm without petroleum? —Jeanne in Minnesota

Dear Jeanne:

Lips don't have oil glands, and without the natural lubricating benefit of body oils, lips become easily chapped and have difficulty retaining moisture. Lip balm is easy to make; different variations will suit different needs. You can even make rosy red lip balm by adding alkanet root. If you do have badly chapped lips, try drinking more water in addition to using a balm.

As for choosing oils for your lip balm, I highly recommend trying out different oils on your lips to chose the best one for you. I tried a drop of apricot kernel oil on my lips and never had to look further. Other oils used in lip balms include sesame, almond, grape seed, and pumpkin seed. It is also important to include honey or glycerin in the balm, as they are humectants and draw moisture from the air to hydrate the lips.

Basic Lip Balm Formula:


Stiff and waxy, yet creamy enough to easily apply, this formula is perfect to put in little plastic jars with screw tops that are available from herbalist supply catalogs and easy to carry around.

  • 2 oz. oil
  • 1/4 oz. beeswax
  • 1 teaspoon honey or glycerin
  • natural flavoring oil such as vanilla, cherry, peppermint, lemon or orange (optional)
  • Combine oil and beeswax in a double boiler and heat on medium heat until the beeswax has melted. Remove from the heat, and stir in the glycerin. Blend with a hand electric mixer until creamy, add the flavoring oil, and stir to combine. Scoop into jar(s) with screw tops. Makes 1/4 cup. Preparation time: 25 minutes. Shelf life: six months. Storage: jars with screw tops.

Annie Berthold-Bond is the author of Better Basics, The Green Kitchen Handbook, and Clean & Green.  Doug Pibel is a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, Washington.
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