A week or so ago I placed a poll on my Facebook page asking what you all would like to see next here on Full & Simple and you overwhelmingly choose "how to reduce your waste."
As I started thinking of all of the ways we've been working towards reducing our plastic use and waste, I found that this post will be the first in a series of at least three. I'm categorizing the habits and swaps we're using currently into different effort categories. All of the suggestions in this post are things that I think you can start today and maintain with as little as 5-10 minutes a day of effort.
But before we get started, here is my disclaimer: I AM NOT PERFECT. We still have plastic in our house. We are not zero waste by any means. There are days when my desire for a gas station fountain pop outweighs my desire for zero waste (but then its usually followed with guilt). I truly believe that any move in the direction of less waste is better than saying, "I can't do zero waste perfectly, so I won't do it at all."
Ok, with that out there, here we go!
Just Say No to Produce Bags
While I'm guilty as the next person to think that I need super cute "bring your own" produce bags like these, really all you need to do is skip the bag. You don't HAVE to bring your own. Yes, people may look at you strangely when you put four loose lemons on the checkout belt, but I got over those looks long ago when we started using the Dave Ramsey envelope system. And I've never had a cashier tell me that I had to get a bag before she'd sell me the lemons.
Pay Attention to Packaging
So you need some more (insert product here)? Pay attention to the packaging. When you are shopping try to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. I used to be the person that said, "It's ok. I recycle," but as I've started this waste reduction journey, I've found that recycling isn't good enough anymore.
Why? Plastic can only be recycled so many times before it can no longer be recycled, at which point it just becomes trash. Plus, with China's ban on taking recycling from the U.S. and other countries, many stateside recycling companies are no longer taking plastics, OR they're taking them but then shipping them to a landfill anyway. Here is a great article from the NY Times on the problem we're facing.
For the purposes of this post and for when you first start your waste reduction journey, remember that when buying the grocery items you need, choose the product in metal or glass packaging--which can be recycled infinitely--over the same item in plastic. I'll talk more about avoiding plastic while shopping later in this post series.
Confession: while I aspire to minimalism and zero waste I still LOVE to shop! Life seems so much more exciting when I know I have a package on the way...even if it's just mundane household items. I get giddy placing a new item in its place in my home. Now when I get the shopping bug, I usually try to look for secondhand first (again, I'm not perfect).
Shopping secondhand not only allows you to save financial resources, but it also allows you to save natural resources which have already been expended to make said item. And with online sites like ThredUP, eBay, and all of the Facebook selling groups, shopping secondhand first is easier than ever.
Buy and use cloth napkins. They are not as hard to maintain as many of us believe. Here are a few tips that I have found to make them virtually effortless.
- Buy them in a dark color to hide stains.
- Use one napkin for the whole day (unless you get it super messy) and just drape it over the back of your chair between meals.
- Kids get wash cloths because they can be wetted down easily and kids are messy. My kids have color-coded wash rags so they know which one is theirs to use all day.
- Hang them to dry to avoid most wrinkles, but we're not a five-star restaurant so some wrinkles are OK! Don't mess with ironing.
- Throw them in with clothes you're already washing. You do not need to do a separate load.
Use beeswax wraps to replace plastic wrap. They really only need a good rinse between uses unless you get them very dirty. I've even sealed a bowl with the beeswax wraps while baking bread and the dough rose just as well as if I'd sealed it with plastic wrap.
You can make your own, buy them online or see if any local beekeepers have made some with their own beeswax.
Bar Soap Over Body Wash
I get that bar soap can seem gross to some. Heck, I used to be one of the some and still sort of am. I don't use bar soap for everyone to use while washing their hands...partly because of the sharing germs thing that I'm still mentally not able to get passed and partly because I'm not sure a three year old won't be dropping it all over the place. However, I have replaced my plastic bottle of body wash with bar soap. Don't want to share bar soap with others? Give everyone their own bar and you'll still be reducing plastic and waste! You get extra points if you find a local soap-maker!
I have these bamboo holders, which are compostable, to keep my bar soap from just sitting in a pool of water in the shower.
When replacing items like loofahs, tooth brushes, and dish brushes, replace them with compostable items. Brushes made with natural fibers and wooden handles can easily be composted.
Now here is another disclaimer: We don't compost.
I tried creating a compost pile, but my chickens and cats eat all of the scraps and spread it out to the point of things not actually composting. So until I can build some sort of containment system, the chickens and cats take care of our food waste...which is still a good system in my opinion.
HOWEVER, we have a woods near us that I can toss that wooden handle into along with all of the other fallen trees and sticks and it will eventually break down. Whereas packing it into a landfill will not allow it to break down. So if you are going to buy compostable items figure out a way to get it back to nature when it's served its purpose and don't throw it in your regular trash.
My favorite sources for wooden cleaning tools are:
- Freckled Hen Farmhouse
- Use code ERIKA20 at checkout until July 1, 2018 to get 20% off your entire order!
- The Laundress
- Use the link above for 10% off!
Get a Reusable Coffee Filter
Yes, we still use a coffee maker. No, we aren't cool hipsters that have a French press or Chemex.
Buying a reusable filter really added no extra time for us. We were already hand-washing the pot and insert anyway. Cleaning the filter literally takes less than 2 minutes. The grounds usually get added to the food scraps or I'll dump them by a plant or bush, like our blueberries, that like acidic soil.
Reusable Nursing Pads
Reusable nursing pads are probably one of my favorite changes so far to reducing our waste. I wish I had known about them three kids ago! I would have saved at least $80-$100!
I purchased my pack of 10 from Marley's Monsters on Etsy and customized them to be mostly white. Now I just toss them in a lingerie bag and wash them any time I'm doing a load of towels or light colored clothes. There is no extra worrying because I'm already doing the laundry anyway. And I found a really cute basket at Goodwill to store them in.
Wool Dryer Balls
Stop using fabric softener sheets and get some wool dryer balls. A clothesline would be best, but the weather doesn't always permit outside drying and a lot of the time we still use our dryer.
Wool dryer balls do speed up drying time which saves energy plus they reduce the waste of the dryer sheet...which contain nasty chemicals. I leave mine in the dryer so I don't even have to think about adding them in each time. If you still want to have a fresh scent when your clothes are done, experiment with adding drops of essential oils to your dryer balls. I personally love lavender on mine.
And for the month of June you can get a FREE set of dryer balls when you sign up for Grove Collaborative!!! Just use this link to find out more about this offer! And if you want to hear why I love Grove, visit this post.
My last piece of advice in this post is to simply slow down.
Do less. Be less busy. Commit to less.
Living a busy and frantic lifestyle makes it much easier to choose the disposable items over reusable or the prepackaged, processed food over whole foods.
Do all of your errands on one day instead of constantly running out of the house to do this or that. Resign from clubs, committees or roles that don't fulfill you or that no longer align with your life goals. People grow and change, it is okay to move on to make room for who you are now or want to become.
Well, that's it for today. I hope that you can find one or two options here that you want to start implementing today or this week. The next post in this series will include habits and suggestions that may take slightly more effort to implement, but that are still easily doable for anyone trying to live more eco-conscious. I hope you'll come back and read that post as well!
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