Sustainable Household: A Few of Our Methods

January 4, 2018

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.

Menstrual cup.

I wrote about this in detail a few months back. For further reading, check out my friend Chloe’s experiences with a menstrual cup.

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.

I’d love to hear what changes you’ve made to reduce waste in your household. I’m always looking for new ideas!

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  • Reply lisa January 4, 2018 at 7:23 am

    I love your blog, for many reasons, mostly the clothes and companies you recommend. (so happy you introduced me to lauren winter pants!) So it’s funny to me that the first time I comment is on a home topic! We’ve been working on reducing our household waste also and I’ve tried many of the things you suggest above. One question about the cloth napkins though, where do you keep them once they’ve been used and before they go in the wash? I can’t seem to come up with a sanitary spot and I don’t want to have to wash them every day. Would appreciate hearing how you manage them. Thank you so much!

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 7:48 am

      Hi Lisa! I’m so glad to have you. 😊 I toss my napkins in with my dirty towels. Sometimes it can be the logistics that hang us up!

      • Reply Meg January 4, 2018 at 8:32 am

        Sometimes it really is the logistics! When we started using a lot of reuseable stuff in our kitchen/dining room (cloth napkins, sponges, etc.) I bought a pretty basket and we use it as our downstairs hamper.

        I need to designate a spot in the kitchen for rags, because I have a tendency to grab a baby wipe out of the diaper bag rather than run upstairs for a rag. But I’ve been hung up for months on where to put them…

        • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 5:25 pm

          This is a great idea! The patterns we set up for ourselves likely have a big impact on follow through.

      • Reply lisa January 4, 2018 at 11:42 am

        Thank you!

        • Reply lisa January 4, 2018 at 11:42 am

          Always helpful to hear how other people do things!!

  • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 8:41 am

    Hi Andrea,
    One of my goals for 2018 is to start incorporating more sustainable practices in my home–and this is such an AMAZING guide! I’ve been a bit overwhelmed in trying to find out practical switches for things we use everyday, and this post really opened my eyes to just how easy these switches can be. Thank you for all the recommendations! I’m super excited (:

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Andrea! Baby steps are definitely the way to go. And then when you’re so used to it that you don’t notice it anymore, it’s time to add another one. :) I am so happy I could help!

  • Reply Samantha Luis January 4, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Andrea, I absolutely loved this post. Thank you for giving us an inside look into your sustainable world besides just clothing. I initially started my ethical/sustainable blog specifically around clothing, but have since been making small changes like the ones you’ve listed above in my life and hope to share them with my audience as well. You’ve included some great new tips in here that I will definitely consider implementing. I’ve already had my eye on the silpats for some time now! Thank you for sharing your world with us :) xxx

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      Best of luck on your journey Samantha! And I’ll be sure to check out your blog. :)

  • Reply Ela January 4, 2018 at 9:23 am

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! One of my new years resolutions is to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly life so these tips/reccos will definitely come in handy :) I’m nervous about omitting paper towels since they are so convenient. But I’m confident overtime it’ll feel like I never used them at all. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on living a sustainable life!

    xo, EK

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 5:29 pm

      Yes, I don’t even notice they are gone! I will say the hardest part of not having paper towels is cleaning up things like pee or throw up (I have 3 kids and a dog!). But I learned some really great washing practices from doing cloth diapers a few years ago. If it’s really dirty (with the items previously mentioned) I run a full cycle with just hot water, no soap. Then I do a second cycle with soap. The first one rinses the yuck off really well!

      • Reply Jenna January 8, 2018 at 1:04 pm

        I would LOVE to completely eliminate paper towels. My main obstacle is living in San Francisco and not having laundry in our apartment (not even in the building!) so we send it out once every two weeks. I can’t find a workaround I’m comfortable with for those puppy pees and throw up. The thought of using a laundered rag for that then having it sit for potentially a week or more is too much for me. If I have paper towels around for use in just those circumstances, then it’s so easy for me to grab it for other spills. AH, must continue to work on this :) Thanks, as always, for your insights!

        • Reply Andrea January 8, 2018 at 1:18 pm

          Hi Jenna, that is totally a tough one! For washing out stains and urine, you definitely have to do it frequently. I wonder if toilet paper could help out with any pee mop up?

  • Reply Monica January 4, 2018 at 9:45 am

    I loved this post! We also have a ton of cloth diaper inserts that are used as mop up towels, but I haven’t been able to let go of my paper towels. The main problem area is chicken! Haha, sounds crazy even as I type it. I buy chicken in bulk and freeze in portions but when defrosted, the chicken needs to be patted dry before cooking. I can’t quite bring myself to use the cloth diapers for this. Do you have the same issue and am I crazy for being hung up on this?

    I have a silpat and while I like it, I find it’s hard to get that greasy feeling off. I’m hoping someone can comment on any tips or tricks for this.

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      Cloth diaper inserts are my favorite!! Raw chicken, not my fav. >< I generally do not rinse or dry my chicken, I just cook it as is. If I am thawing it, I pull it out the day before and thaw it in the fridge. And you are not crazy at all! It's these little things that no one talks about that are so good to work through with others. I hope you find a solution!

  • Reply Krystal January 4, 2018 at 9:51 am

    This is a perfect accompaniment to my New Year’s Resolution to reduce waste/stop purchasing so much plastic junk. There are a lot more options than there used to be, I’m sure, but it’s hard to know exactly where to start. I’ve been eyeing the washable sponges from Marley’s Monsters as well as reusable cosmetic rounds, but I’m worried they won’t fluff out right since we don’t have a dryer (and if they’ll be sanitary after a few hours hanging to dry outside or inside). Have you ever tried skipping the dryer with the sponges?

    Also, I’m really impressed with your household going paper towel-free! I only use them on occasion, but my boyfriend always overuses them (and tissues and napkins). We’ll probably never get rid of these things for good, but I’d like to move toward using more rags/older towels for wiping things down.

    Also, also (sorry) – get the silpat! You won’t regret it. Nothing sticks to them, and they roll up easily for storage (I keep mine in an paper towel roll, but I’m sure there are other things to roll them in).

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 9:57 pm

      Hi Krystal!
      That’s a great question about the sponges. If your washer has a pretty good spin, I bet they would be mostly dry by the time they come out of the wash. You could always email Marley’s Monsters, I bet they could give you some info!
      As for the napkins, paper towels, etc. Reducing is a huge accomplishment! Keep it up, maybe your BF will be inspired someday. I used to not think about this stuff at all. I never gave a second thought to the waste I produced, and over time my attitude and opinions slowly changed!

  • Reply Susan Nugent January 4, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Hi Andrea, I am a long time reader and subscriber and have been using some of your ideas listed here for a while. I thank you for reminding me of those I haven’t yet made a reality. I would like to invite you to my shop called ClassicPetunia. There I sell bags of all kinds made only from up-cycled materials. Thanks for all you do! Susan

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      Hi Susan, what a great idea! It pained me with all the christmas wrap we threw away, I love the alternative your shop offers!

  • Reply Kyung January 4, 2018 at 10:24 am

    We have switched mostly away from using paper towels but there are times when we still use them. Mainly for cleaning up greasy things. But our city has industrial composting so at least it doesn’t have to go into the trash! We do all the things you mentioned and also have been trying to buy in bulk more. All the food packaging can really add up to a lot of plastic.
    Thanks for this post and all the ethical fashion advice, happy new year!

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:08 pm

      Hey, that sounds like a win-win! We have a great yard debris program that accepts all our food scraps, but I love it when they can include waste like napkins or greasy paper towels.
      Agreed on the food packaging. I love Trader Joe’s but all the packaging on their produce makes me kind of crazy sometimes. Shopping in bulk is such a great alternative!

  • Reply Lo January 4, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Reuseable produce bags, of course! I usually go without, and then just try to scrub the hell out of any skins we’d eat, but that seems much simpler and more organized. I struggle with Silpat because it’s so hard to clean! (I don’t have a dishwasher).

    • Reply Krystal January 4, 2018 at 1:12 pm

      I don’t have a dishwasher either, and just wash my silpat in the sink on top of the baking sheet with a tiny bit of soap. When it gets greasy, I just pour a little cornstarch on it and let it sit for awhile. Hope that helps!

      • Reply Lo January 5, 2018 at 10:00 am

        I will have to try cornstarch, thanks! I’ve been feeling like it’ll be greasy forever haha!

  • Reply Madison January 4, 2018 at 10:48 am

    Our family always thinks it’s crazy we don’t have paper towels! My husband and I moved in together five years ago and have never bought a roll. Rags and cloth napkins are the way to go! We also cloth diaper which means a lot of laundry but I absolutely love them. I also use a washable nursing pads and a menstrual cup. I need to get some of those washable sponges! Thanks for the great recommendations. My recycling bin is overflowing with all the waste from presents and packaged food that our families brought for the holidays. I appreciate the generosity butthe amount of waste makes me feel a little disgusted.

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      My family did too! I think my parents still think we are crazy actually, or at least that we are hippies (hi Mom!). Five years, that is an amazing run, way to go!! It’s funny, you probably don’t even notice anymore, right?
      I did cloth diapers with my middle and liked it quite a bit. With my youngest he got an awful yeast rash that we just could not shake (and thrush, back and forth), even with stripping the diapers multiple times. So sadly, I didn’t end up using very many CD with him. But I think it was a great route, and I’d do it again. I had a stash of washable nursing pads too! They were way more comfortable than the disposables. Wish I would have saved them for using as cotton rounds…

  • Reply Alejandra January 4, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Hey Andrea! Thanks for all the good advice. I find myself in the middle of these changes, since my 2018 resolution was to reduce plastic use, will see how it works!
    Greetings from Spain!

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Alejandra, so great to have you here all the way from Spain! Best of luck on your resolution. Remember – baby steps!

  • Reply T January 4, 2018 at 11:37 am

    I ordered a three pack of the reusable sponges today! Can’t wait to try them. We have cloth napkins which I think has reduced paper towel usage, but we haven’t eliminated them. It at least helps with the use case of just barely using one and then tossing it! I usually try to make one of these types of changes at a time.

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:17 pm

      YAY!!! I hope you love them!! I agree, it’s smart to implement one change at a time. It’s wayyyyyy easier to keep up. And then you can slowly add more over time. :)

  • Reply Alicia January 4, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Nice! I’ve done a few of these things too (old burp cloths to replace paper towels, cloth napkins, menstrual cup, reusable shopping bags). Most recently, I’ve made my freezer a compost scraps holding tank (scraps are usually in plastic bags that come from produce I don’t get at the farmers market). Once they’re full, I dump the scraps in the composting bin at the farmer’s market. I also started to make more of my face products and reusing containers to store them.

    Reusable cotton rounds are definitely the move. They have a ton on etsy you can buy, too. I’d recommend a mesh bag to keep them all together in the wash.

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:19 pm

      Yes, I love hearing all this, soooo impressive. I like to keep my compost in the freezer too, way less stinky! I didn’t know that you could dump it at the farmer’s market, that’s awesome! Thanks for the tips.

  • Reply Cassie January 4, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Thanks for sharing!! So many good reminders and some new tricks too!! Xo

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:23 pm

      Thanks for commenting Cass, means so much to have you reading my blog! I bet you have some great tricks up your sleeve!

  • Reply Charis January 4, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    Yay! Love this. I’ve been thinking about getting reusable sponges and love the ones you feature, but where did you get the little ceramic holder? Genius!!!

  • Reply Katy January 4, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    Great post, Andrea! We are using so many similar items in our household! I purchased reusable face rounds from Etsy a couple months ago and I’ve loved them so far! The only time I don’t use them is for nail polish (obviously) so I was thinking of maybe using an old rag…or I could stop painting my nails altogether. ☺️ We also stopped buying dryer sheets. We haven’t needed them, but I’ve also heard that you can use one made from felt and just add essential oils, although I haven’t tried that yet. We also use old rags for all household cleaning, and it works great. Getting my southern-born husband to make all of these switches has been a slow process but he’s totally onboard now. 😉 Take care!

    • Reply Andrea January 4, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Katy! I hadn’t thought about nail polish, maybe an old rag or old t-shirt would work? We don’t do dryer sheets either! I personally think they are terrible for clothing, I don’t like how they coat the fibers. I stopped buying them when I had kids because I heard that it wasn’t good for their clothing… I think I read that it made their clothing/sleepwear less flame retardant. Plus, you’re not supposed to use them with cloth diapers (not even on other loads). Our clothes are very rarely staticky, so I’m not sure what I’m missing. I have used lavender sachets in the dryer in the past with my sheets, they smelled so good!
      You know, I was like your husband, very slow to come around on this stuff too. I am 34, and have only really been mindful of this stuff in the last few years! Good job getting him on board! :)
      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply Kat January 5, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Great minds think alike…we have the same ceramic sponge holder! Do those sponges work well for scrubbing pots and pans or do you use a brush for more difficult dishes?

    • Reply Andrea January 9, 2018 at 10:28 am

      Hi Kat,

      Great question! I have a brush that I use for scrubbing pots!

  • Reply Jodie January 5, 2018 at 5:55 am

    Thanks for sharing so many great tips Andrea!
    Small steps really do add up over time.

    Hope you and your family have a great weekend! Xo!

  • Reply Kate January 5, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Oh, wow, it’s fun to read through a list and realize I do most/all of these. I love those cute sponges — we just use dedicated small dishrags (which is how my husband did it growing up — no sponges for his parents!). We still keep one roll of paper towel on hand for things like dog vomit — the stuff I really don’t want to go in my washer. ;)

    I also still use ziplock freezer bags for long backpacking trips, because all the alternatives are too bulky/heavy, and at least ziplocks double as excellent mini trash pouches! And I’d rather buy a pack of freezer bags and pack my own meals than pay extra for pre-packaged snack foods.

    Though I don’t use plastic produce bags, I do use plastic bags in the bulk section. I’d like to up my bulk-buying game, but bringing jars or other re-usable containers to the grocery store gets so bulky… I haven’t figured out a good system for that. So I just put my rice, oats, beans, etc in the provided bags, and figure it’s still less packaging than conventional groceries.

    • Reply Andrea January 7, 2018 at 9:29 am

      Hey Kate, for dry bulk I use nylon bags from Kootsac on Etsy:

      The tight nylon weave is good enough for even flour. Every time I go to the bulk store, someone new asks me about the bags. Morgen should almost give me a commission for the referrals! ;-)

      I have had the same bags for years now – they are durable. I just turn them inside out, corral them in a lingerie bag, wash with my towels, and lay flat to dry. Though sometimes they go through my dryer if they don’t make it into the lingerie bag, and they haven’t been damaged that way.

      I’m still stumped by the ziplocs for backpacking food, too. I try to reuse them when possible but eventually they all go in the trash. I have thought about the nylon bags but 1) they don’t zip at the top and 2) they are not waterproof.

  • Reply Elle January 5, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    I loved hearing about how you deal with lunches in your household! My heart cries every time I pack my husband his lunch – I like leftovers which I put in a mason jar, but he likes the traditional sandwich+carrot sticks+cookie+handful of chips fare, which means that every morning I take out 4 Ziploc bags and every night we throw those ziplocs away. I’m going to look into a Bento box for him! I like that idea better than trying to find 4 tupperwares that will hopefully be small enough to fit in his lunchbox (the solution he and I talked about this morning haha). Thank you for sharing your routine, Andrea!! So helpful!

    • Reply Andrea January 9, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Yay, I’m so glad I could help! I know the struggle of finding four matching tupperwares and lids, that is no fun!!

  • Reply Eve January 6, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    I really like the sponge holder you have in the first pic, where did you get it? Weird thing to ask about, but I am trying to find something to put the sponge in that I like and yours looks very nice.

    Also, this was a great read! Thank you for posting.

  • Reply Chloe | Conscious by Chloe January 10, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing my article about Menstrual Periods. I loved reading your piece too ;)

  • Reply Shelbi January 10, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Great list. I saw a new eco friendly product on FB that replaces plastic wrap and ziplocks. It was great but I was literally too busy to look into at the moment and I’ve been kicking myself ever since! When I figure it out I’ll pass it on.


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