I'm on a mission to rid my life of disposables. Sometimes when I think about the insanity of disposable items it conjures up images of pioneers, American Indians, and the likes of early hunter-gatherers. People who had to painstakingly create everything they owned, and then valued those things. I imagine them carving a bowl from stone or weaving a basket from long grasses. Forging utensils from metal, patching clothing until it's threadbare and then using scraps for cleaning rags. I think what it would be like for them to watch us use bowls and utensils and then throw them in the trash "because," we would explain, "it's more convenient than washing them and using them again." What would they say to see that every single food item we bring home from the store is encased in a carrying device that exists solely to bring that item from the factory to the store and from the store to our home, and then will also be discarded? They would probably think we're either crazy or complete idiots.
This meme pretty much explains how I feel about disposables, and even leaves out the part where we throw it away (in a plastic garbage sack), haul it out to the curb, and then spend millions of taxpayer dollars for a truck (spewing carbon emissions) to carry it off to a landfill.
In short, I no longer want to purchase or use anything that is created with the intention of being used once or a few times and then thrown away. My reasons are many and include:
- Reducing my waste. The path to zero waste is lined with reusable items. Slowly replacing things intended to be thrown away is how you reach a point where you don't need to throw anything away.
- No longer contribute to plastic pollution.
- Minimize. I have found that in many areas, I can replace a whole drawerful of items with one or a few reusable items. This results in less clutter and more organized spaces. Reusables also minimize the amount of time spent on endless shopping trips to replace items I have used up.
- Financial sense. Reusables make SO MUCH FINANCIAL SENSE. I'm a pretty frugal person, and I had previously switched to some reusables to save money (most notably diapers). Others I would try not to waste or use more than necessary (paper towels, foil, plastic wrap) but it had never occurred to me that it was possible to ditch them altogether. I considered them necessities--something I just had to buy when I ran out. Now it seems quite comical to me that I ever considered plastic ziploc bags a necessity of life and a non-negotiable expense. They are not. Reusables sometimes require an upfront investment, but in the long run will almost always save you a ton of money.
Once I realized all the of the environmental and other reasons why disposables are such a bad idea, I was amazed to realize how many things in our culture are disposable and how normal that has become. So here are some of the swaps I've made so far that have already drastically reduced my waste.
Water Bottle: Water bottles have a BAD rap in the environmental world for a reason. They are a huge contributor to plastic pollution and just create a ton of needless trash. Since I never purchase water bottles anyway, I thought I wasn't part of the problem. Well, I got a stainless steel water bottle and started carrying it with me everywhere I go, and quickly realized how often I used to use plastic cups and water bottles! At school events, church functions, birthday parties, social gatherings, eating out, it's part of our culture to use them everywhere! Add my kids and husband and that's a lot of pointless plastic trash that I can avoid if I just remember to grab our water bottles and sippy cups. If you drink a lot of soda or drinks that come in plastic bottles, consider switching to water! It's probably safe to say that in 99% of cases it's going to be better for your health than whatever else you're drinking.
Utensils: I started stashing a fork or two in my bag when I know I'm going somewhere where a plastic one will be my only other option. Again, I'm shocked how often this comes in handy.
Tote bags: Plastic bags are the worst. Bring your own grocery bags. Easy.
Produce bags: While tote bags have become fairly mainstream, I've never seen anyone else using produce bags. This is unfortunate, as it's easy to end up with almost as much plastic in the produce section as at checkout. I got some muslin produce bags off of Amazon and use them like crazy, as well as making a bunch more myself from an old sheet. (I have zero sewing skills. It's a square, anybody can do it.) I use them to put my produce in at the grocery store and farmers market, as well as to fill up with beans, oats, nuts, treats, or lots of other items in the bulk section, thus eliminating food packaging. I also use them to pack snacks for my kids when we're going somewhere instead of ziploc baggies. Which brings me to . . .
Kitchen Items: Some of the environmental changes I've made have been difficult, but nothing has been easier than ditching kitchen disposables cold turkey. I literally just pulled everything out of three drawers in my kitchen--plastic wrap, aluminum foil, ziploc bags (sandwich, quart-size freezer, and gallon freezer of course), paper towels, brown lunch sacks, kitchen garbage bags, bigger black garbage bags--and threw them all in a box that I hauled out to my garage. I anticipated needing to go out and fetch something occasionally, but I wanted to make it hard so that I'd think of an alternative first. I didn't once go get something. I couldn't believe that these kitchen "necessities" I'd been buying over and over and over for so many years just . . . weren't necessary. When I need to put away leftovers, I put the lid on the pot and put in the fridge. Or I have quite a few mixing bowls and baking dishes that come with lids so it's easy to just throw the lid on instead of covering something in plastic wrap. Otherwise--tupperware. Or I'll get creative and just stick a small plate over a bowl, or put a tomato or avocado face down on a plate in the fridge. I use reusable freezer containers. I don't line my pans with foil, I just wash them. And as far as plastic bags, I pack my kids snacks or lunches in produce bags or small tupperware containers. There are tons of stainless steel alternatives on the market now that I haven't invested in (yet) but for now what I have easily replaces ziplock bags. I don't need kitchen garbage bags anymore because we don't produce enough trash to need them. (I'm currently using leftover grocery sacks and fill one every 1-2 weeks). I even sold my outdoor trash can for $5, as well as returning five unopened boxes of ziplocks that I'd stocked up on back to the store for $19. That's $19 back in my pocket that I will never waste on these items again.
Paper Towels: I clean with towels. What a novel idea!
Menstrual Cup: How did I not know about menstrual cups before now??? I think I'm going to give this one its own post, but ladies--GO BUY A MENSTRUAL CUP!! I spent $40 on this little silicon ruby cup that eliminates my need for any tampons or pads and will last ten years if I take care of it properly. This one was the hugest minimalist win ever--I replaced a whole drawer full of products with one tiny little cup, not to mention saved tons of money. They aren't covered in chemicals like tampons are, they're more comfortable, and just way better for the environment because of all the waste they prevent. There are plenty of other alternatives for disposable period products, but really--just go buy a menstrual cup.
Diapers & Wipes: Cloth diapers are not as bad as you probably think they are. I do one extra load of laundry every two or three days and save hundreds of dollars on diapers. There are so many options now and it's really no more messy or disgusting than disposable diapers. What grosses me out is the thought of my kids poop sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years! I have not switched to cloth wipes (people do) but I've reduced the wipes I do use by wiping my kids faces and noses with towels or rags instead. Some moms use wipes for everything, but it's really no less convenient to grab a rag.
Soap Nuts: Soap nuts replace laundry detergent. You can go do your own research on all the different dubious chemicals your current brand of laundry detergent may or may not be filled with, but I skipped that altogether. I was looking to avoid the big plastic bottle the stuff comes in (or box--which is non-recyclable because they're lined with plastic) and knew that any zero waste option would be a safer, healthier alternative. There are lots of recipes out there to make your own natural laundry soap, but while I was tracking those ingredients down, I found soaps nuts. They are little berries-literally, that grown on a plant- of soap. You put five of them in a little bag, throw it in the washer with your clothes, and can use that five times before you switch them out for new berries. When they're finished they are compostable. This $18.95 bag on Amazon will last me over a year at the rate I've gone through them (with a family of four who cloth diaper).
These changes have by no means replaced every disposable item in my home, but have made a significant impact, and there are many more swaps I'll be making in the future! Tell me, are there any habits you'll be breaking after reading this?
This is a great list of Zero Waste alternatives from Trash is for Tossers:
I highly recommend the book Zero Waste Home for learning ways to ditch your disposables: