Recently, I took a look around our household and realized we have made a series of small choices over the last few years that have cut down on our household waste. Yes, we still have a trash can we take to curb like everyone else, but we aren’t taking out big bags of trash everyday like we used to.
Do you want to know my favorite thing about small choices? They add up over time. And often, they are easy to implement. Here are the changes we’ve made. They might sound weird at first, but now they’ve become part of our regular routines, and are barely noticed.
No ziplock bags.
Four people take their lunches to-go in our house, three of them five days per week. (That means we’re packing 17 lunches per week, yikes!) We use an assortment of reusable containers to omit any sort of plastic waste (ie. baggies or plastic wrap) from our routines. My oldest has used the same Goodbyn bento box since kindergarten and I really like it. The only trick is finding a lunch box big enough to house it, and being strong enough to snap it shut. My younger daughter uses a different bento-style lunch box, but I find it doesn’t hold very much food. My husband uses glass pyrex dishes on most days, but they can get heavy. We ordered the GreenTraveler for him several months ago, and we’re hoping to get that soon. And when we do meal prep we use these. Around the house I will very occasionally use gallon-sized ziplock bags but, for the most part, I’ve found I can re-use other bags (like bread or produce bags) in their place.
Beeswrap instead of plastic wrap.
I finally got my hands on some Beeswrap after thinking about it for way too long. I’ve only used it a few times so far. I really like the concept of it, but it takes some getting used to. You have to use the warmth of your hands to warm it up to help it stick to the sides of bowls, so it’s not as quick as plastic wrap.
No paper towels.
This is probably the most radical change we’ve made in recent years. In 2016, I went back and forth on it – I’d buy a large pack, and then when it was gone we’d live without them for awhile. Then I’d buy a pack again, etc. However I found myself reaching for them way too often, just because they’re convenient. But every time I threw them in the trash it made me kind of sad. I finally stopped buying them altogether, and I haven’t purchased any for about a year now (except a few rolls when we went camping in the summer) and I really don’t miss them. We’ve been using old towels and rags (read: old cloth diaper inserts) to get by when we previously would have used paper towels.
Cloth napkins only.
We made this switch quite awhile ago, but it’s funny how paper towels would slip in the place of a napkin occasionally. We have three sets of buffet napkins from World Market that we have used regularly for the last 3-4 years. Some of them have stained a bit and others are mishapen from the wash, but they function beautifully for keeping napkins out of landfills and they’re still pretty enough for when we have guests over. This fall I added a stack of ‘kid-friendly’ cloth napkins to our rotation. They are perfect for little hands or when a full size napkin isn’t necessary. They also help us go through our stack of full-size napkins a little less quickly!
buffet napkins from World Market
Washable Sponges in the kitchen.
This is probably my favorite on this list! In November, I ordered a set of three reusable sponges from Marley’s Monsters, and I LOVE them. (See photo at the beginning of this post.) They can go in the washer and the dryer. I love that I can swap them out as frequently as I want without consequence. I use them to wash dishes in my kitchen, and it’s great to feel like I can have a fresh sponge whenever I want. Before, I’d use my sponges waaay too long because I felt bad throwing them out, and I can only imagine the germs that grew on them!
Reusable grocery bags.
This one feels like a given to me, because we’ve been doing it so long we’re just used to it. In Portland grocery stores do not use plastic bags. Personally, I like to bring my own bags anyway because they are easier to haul groceries in and out of the house. The handles are longer, and they hold more food. I prefer the canvas kind, because you can throw them in the wash to keep them clean. My stash is from Trader Joe’s where, surprisingly, many of their reusable grocery bags are made in the USA! I keep them all stored in one grocery bag in the back of my car so I always have them with me.
Reusable produce bags.
Over the summer I bought a set of six reusable produce bags. I am not as good at using these as I’d like to be. Sometimes I forget them, and sometimes I don’t have enough of them for all of my produce. But, I think it’s a good habit to get into, and I am going to try and get better at it.
No plastic water bottles.
I feel like this is a given, but still wanted to add it just in case you’re on the fence about ditching one-time use plastic water bottles. Invest in a great glass or aluminum water bottle. I often use simple mason jars. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to keep the plastic water bottles out of the landfill, and even the recycling centers. Remember, it’s important to consider reducing because even recycling consumes precious resources.
There are a few areas I would like to improve on:
Occasionally I still use cotton rounds. Eventually I’d like to replace them with washable ones.
Individually packaged kid snacks like yogurt and granola bars often make me cringe because of all the wrappings. For awhile I made my own granola bars for the family, but it can be a lot of work.
Silpat instead of parchment paper. I need to make the investment. I don’t do a lot of baking so I keep putting this one off. But eventually I will get one.
This list might seem intimidating if you’re just getting started. My advice would be to take it slow, implement one change per month or every few months. That way it will be natural and you will be able to sustain the changes over time.
All these changes in our household over the last few years certainly mean more laundry and washing. I run my washing machine at least once per day, sometimes several. It takes a village sometimes with all the folding, but it’s a perfect chore for my kids.