For the past few months I’ve been tackling my weekly cleaning every Monday. I have a pretty standard list of things like cleaning my stove, bathrooms, and floors that I try to get done during the day on Mondays. I’ve gotten my cleaning routine to be pretty zero waste. I do still buy cleaning products in recyclable plastic containers, but I do have three very zero waste accessories to those products that I want to share with you today.
The first is an alternative to the ever so convenient Clorox wipe. I cut a bunch of squares of fabric, put them in a container with some concentrated all purpose cleaner and water, and they’re good to go. I clean my counters, spills on the floor, dining room table, cabinets, stove, microwave, refrigerator, bathroom counters and sinks, outside of the toilets, and anything else you might use a clorox wipe on with these things. Then they get thrown in the laundry, and used again and again! You can make your own, it’s super easy.
The other reusable cleaning product that I use constantly are unpaper towels. These are larger rectangles of flannel that are serged around the edges. They are super absorbent and durable – way more than any paper towel I’ve ever used. We use these for cleaning, as napkins, to wipe the baby’s drool away, and more. They are also super easy to make, or there’s some cute ones on etsy! I roll them around an old paper towel tube and put them on our paper towel holder, but they can also just be folded and put in a drawer or container on the counter. We do still have some paper towels for situations that we really want something disposable for (think dog poop in the house kind of situations), but we almost never use them. (I know that paper towels aren’t plastic – they do come wrapped in plastic though.)
Lastly is the sponge. I was a die hard blue wavy edged sponge with the scrubby and soft sides user. I changed my sponge out at least once a month. It was made of plastic – a material that lasts literally forever, and I was throwing away at least a dozen each year. They would fall apart, or get gross, so out they went. Weirdly, I was kind of attached to those sponges though, switching to something different was really hard for me. I found some super cute animal shaped crochet cotton sponges at my favorite kitchen store. Since they are 100% cotton, they are compostable. So once they start to fall apart, I just drop them in my kitchen compost and start using a new one. They are also machine washable, so if I feel like they get something super gross on them I can stick them in my washing machine. I have since replaced the animal shaped ones with some that I crocheted myself. They are easy to make if you know how to crochet, or you can buy some! You can also find wooden and natural fiber dish brushes easily, or use a loofah (did you know loofahs are plant-based?).
We aren’t just creating a lot less waste with all of these alternatives, we are also saving a lot of money! Have you tried any of these alternatives? What other plastic free cleaning supplies do you use?
On this first day of Plastic Free July, I’m going to talk about the four biggest offenders in the land of disposable plastics that many people use on a daily basis. But before we dive in to all of that, let’s talk about why I’m going plastic free this month, and why you should too.
Most of the plastic that we use gets disposed of within minutes. Plastic bags, bottles, containers – they’re all made for the short term and yet they are made out of a material that lasts the long term, the way long term, as in forever. Plastic doesn’t break down, it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces becoming permanent pollution. So where does it go if it’s not breaking down? A lot of it ends up in waterways. Scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more tons of plastic than tons of fish in our waterways and oceans (plasticfreejuly.org). That’s a problem.
One of your big takeaways from this month should be that it’s not all about recycling anymore. Only 33% of recyclable materials actually get recycled (National Geographic), and when they do fossil fuels are used to pick them up and make it happen. The zero waste movement and initiatives like the Plastic Free July campaign are recognizing that when plastic is recycled – if it actually makes it to a recycling facility – it’s just turned into a low grade product (this is called downcycling). Recycling is a great alternative to the landfill – absolutely – but it’s not the answer to our waste problems.
Whew, I’m glad you’re still with me. All of that is kind of a downer. But don’t worry, we’re here to have fun. All of the plastic free alternatives are super cool, you’re going to love this!
Ok, remember how we were going to talk about the big four plastic things that we can give up this month, easy peasy? Right, these four things are: single use plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking straws, plastic disposable coffee cup lids, and single use plastic water bottles. If you can avoid these four things, you can make a huge difference in the amount of plastic waste that is created on a daily basis. Over the next few weeks I’ll be going into a lot of detail about some of these things, but for today – let’s just get the basics down.
Single use plastic shopping bags. If you’re not bringing your own bags to the grocery store, you’re behind the times! Even big ole Walmart sells and encourages the use of reusable shopping bags! I just got some smaller reusable bags that I love taking to the store. They don’t get as full and heavy as the set I was using. Whatever kind you’re into, go for it! I’ll admit, most of mine are made of some kind of plastic-y material, so they aren’t totally plastic free – but at least they are reusable! (I’m going to talk more about this on Wednesday – my grocery shopping day!)
Plastic drinking straws. This is one that a lot of people are getting behind right now. It’s no longer totally weird to add “no straw please” to your drink order at a bar or restaurant. Many restaurants are even switching to a policy where customers may ask for a straw, but aren’t automatically provided one. If you aren’t sure if your drink is going to come with a straw, I recommend preemptively turning the straw down. There are lots of reusable straw options out there for those who just can’t live without one. I have stainless steel and glass, and love both! If you’re still not on board, just watch this.
Plastic disposable coffee cups with lids. If you are someone who drinks to-go coffee, you probably do it once a day. Just think about how much plastic waste that is creating over the course of your coffee drinking life! I encourage you all to seek out a reusable coffee cup that you like enough to use daily. Some really excellent options are the cuppow mason jar lid and the yeti rambler (this is great if serious insulation is your thing). Most coffee shops will provide your coffee in your to go cup with a discount, and some forward thinking places don’t even offer single use cups any more. You guys, it’s the future bring your own cup!
Single use plastic water bottles. Get yourself a cool reusable water bottle, there’s so many kinds and I already talked about the cuppow and yeti so I’m not going to bother linking anything here. I think that the disposable water bottle must appeal to folks who are anti-tap-water. I get it, the water in my city is pretty funky smelling when the lake turns and that’s super gross. Our fridge has a built in filter, so we use that to refill our reusable water bottles. Some other options are: brita filters (or something similar) or buying big containers of water for a water dispenser. Make your water bottle something that’s as glued to you as your cell phone and you’ll be a more hydrated zero waste water drinker who is never without a reusable cup.
Ok, so I feel like I need to address the fact that a lot of my alternative suggestions are still made out of plastic or have plastic components to them. I think that it’s great if you find and use plastic free alternatives to these big four. But, just making the changes listed here keeps a lot of plastic out of landfills (and recycling centers).
As the month goes on we’re going to get more in depth. I’ll dive into every plastic thing I use throughout July and you can learn right along with me. Stay tuned on instagram (@paigelorrabeth) and here on the blog. I can’t wait! Are you ready?
I’ve been practicing showing gratitude toward my trash. I like to think I’m mashing up a bit of the KonMari method with my zero-waste-ness. It’s helping me get a better understanding of what kinds of things we are throwing away and how valuable those things were. Saying thank you to each item makes me question, “was it worth the waste?” Of course the answer to that is up to each person and how much value they find in any given piece of trash. If you’ve ventured into any kinds of thought about working toward a more zero waste home, you should try thanking your trash.
In the KonMari method of tidying up it is a part of the practice to thank each item that you give away. You had that thing for a reason at some point, and it may have served you well in one way or another, so it only seems right to show gratitude for it’s existence. I think that this practice is meaningful because it helps us assign more value to our things. We live in a world of consumerism, and we are surrounded by things – often too many things. If we slow down and give thanks for each of those things, perhaps we will take note of what is actually of value to us.
In my home I have made a significant decrease in the amount of trash that we produce over the past year or so. We are a family of two adults (and one big dog) and now fill a tall kitchen trash bag every two weeks. Sometimes we have big projects that create lots of waste (like home renovations or big packaged purchases), but usually it’s just half a bag a week. We recycle a lot (most of our waste is paper, paperboard, and cardboard), and we also compost. When I started trying to reduce our waste a year or so ago, I made an effort to pay more attention to what was going in the garbage can. How could I work on having less of it, if I didn’t even know what it was? That turned out to be really effective. It was hard at first because there was a lot of stuff going in there, but as I focused and researched I found that there were a lot of things we were throwing away that we could replace with reusable alternatives or live without.
While that is still a part of my practice, I feel like our waste production has kind of leveled out. There are few alternative solutions to the things we throw away, and/or I’m just not ready to make the jump to eliminate those things from our lifestyle. So, instead of feeling guilty for having that waste – I am thanking it for it’s service.
Thanking your trash is easy, you just pause at the trash can while you’re still holding whatever you were about to throw away and thank it for doing whatever it did. For example, I just threw away the bag that our dog food comes in, so I said, “Thank you for keeping Betty’s food fresh.” Easy. And, there’s more than that going on in my head. I’m thinking about that bag and how it is worth the waste for me. I want to buy my dog food in bulk every month or two because it’s convenient and good for my dog. There is nowhere that I know of where I can buy her food in my own container or in something recyclable, so that’s that. I’m happy with the piece of trash and how it served our family and off it goes.
The extra moment of gratitude is helping me develop a better sense of what kinds of waste we are producing. It’s also helping me understand what kinds of things are really worth the waste to me, and which things I need to work harder to eliminate from our lifestyle. What do you think? Would you thank your trash?
In my ever-growing desire to be more and more waste free, I have found an excellent reusable solution for yet another disposable that I thought I couldn’t live without. The disposable was: the clorox wipe. They are so extremely convenient and good at what they do! I used them all over the house to wipe up small messes. But then, I threw them away! Ugh. For a month or so, we’ve been trying out using reusable cloth wipes instead. And it turns out, they aren’t just as good – they’re even better!
Here’s how it works; I’ve got a clear plastic container with a watertight seal. I really wanted something that it wasn’t gross to reach down into the bottom of. Clorox wipes that lost their little catcher to hold them up at the top were always a nuisance, and these cloth wipes wouldn’t work that way anyway, so I knew I’d need something I could put my hand in to the bottom of comfortably. We just had one of these around already, but I am making a set for my mom and found the same container at Walmart.
In the container, I fold up a bunch of squares of fabric that I’ve hemmed the edges of. I used an old painters cloth that I had laying around because I thought the durability would be nice when scrubbing the counters or sink. It’s turned out to be excellent fabric for the job, but if you peruse the rest of the blogosphere you’ll find people who use old t-shirts, cotton, and all kinds of other fabrics. The squares are cut to about 8 or 9 inches. It was important to me that the square be at least as big as my spread flat hand so when I’m wiping up sticky messes I don’t have to touch the sticky-ness. I used a serger to hem the edges of mine, but any kind of hem will do. If you do go with a regular zig-zag stitch on this kind of fabric, make sure it’s tight. These tended to fray a lot before I gave them a proper hem.
With the wipes in the container, I add a small amount of a multi-surface cleaning concentrate. Right now I have Mrs. Meyers Clean Day in honeysuckle scent, but Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap would work, as would plain old white vinegar. It just takes a little, and then I add enough water to moisten all of the wipes and dilute the soap.
Now the wipes are ready to be used! They are especially nice because you can shake crumbs out in the sink and give them a rinse and keep going. Once you’re done with a wipe, just add it to your laundry pile. I wash mine along with my towels, but they could go in any load. As they come out of the wash, I’ve been stacking them in a little container. It turns out they are kind of nice to have on hand dry too! You can use them to dust, or wash windows, and for other stuff you might do with other kinds of cleaners. When the wet ones are all used up, I throw the stack of what’s clean in the plastic container and start over. You could also just put the clean ones right in the container and keep it going that way, adding water and surface cleaner as needed.
Do you have reusable cleaning wipes in your home? Any pro-tips? Are you dead set on clorox wipes? Would you give these a try?
I’ve been making baby steps toward a more “zero waste” lifestyle. I am not keeping my trash in a mason jar, and honestly don’t plan on it. But I did buy a smaller trash can and bigger recycling bins recently. All of that is pretty straight forward. I compost and recycle what I can, but what’s tricky is what happens outside of my home. I’ve been trying to shop more consciously, and choose items that come in bulk or in minimal packaging – and that takes planning and thought, but it’s also not the hardest part. What’s hardest is going about my day outside of my home – eating out, using public restrooms, and being in a world filled with disposables for the sake of convenience. And damn it those straws and paper towels are convenient! My answer? Carry my own everything. My purse houses the following zero wast essentials:
- A water bottle. I carry one everywhere. In colder months when I might get coffee somewhere it’s usually something that can hold hot stuff like a mason jar with a cuppow or my new yeti rambler.
- Sporks! Yeah, multiple sporks! Mostly because often times I’m with my boyfriend and he’ll put one to use too. I started with the little bamboo one which is a great thing for someone starting out and unwilling to carry a bigger purse in the name of zero waste supplies.
- Stainless steel straw. This is one I haven’t been brave enough to use yet. I just put it in my purse like, today, because yesterday I ate out for lunch and used the plastic straw that came to the table and felt guilty.
- Handkerchief. When it’s cold out this is more important. As soon as I get off of my bicycle in cold weather I’m totally snot faced. But keeping a smaller one in my purse is good for any little sniffles I may have.
- Microfiber towel. This one’s been hard for me to put to use. I put it in my bag to dry my hands after I wash them, but by the time I get my hands washed it’s been deep in my bag and I go for the paper. Why oh why can’t every bathroom have that cool dyson hand dryer?
- Cloth napkin. I use this constantly. This is a must.
- Lunch bag. I often carry a meal with me, but I also carry much of these in this bag to keep my purse less cluttered.
- Not pictured – a shopping bag that folds into itself and is tiny and amazing. I am forever buying things and forgetting to bring a reusable bag. Another must.
Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment!