Most of us have bought or used items which are more prized for being conveniently disposable rather than a purpose filled product. If we do not want these items to end up in the landfill we will need to find ways to eliminate them or replace them with reusable products.
On our quest to become more self-sustainable we have been looking at items people use that are essentially made to be disposed of. Plastic wrap, tinfoil, baggies, lunch bags, freezer bags, produce bags, plastic cutlery, paper napkins, grocery bags, paper towel, facial tissue, toilet paper, feminine sanitary products, and the list goes on. If we cannot eliminate these items then there must be more sustainable product out there to replace them! Here is what we do to reduce our usage.
Plastic wrap and baggies: we use Tupperware or lidded glass mason jars to store food. Sometimes I really want plastic wrap (cheese comes to mind) so I am looking into making waxed linen. I have not used waxed linen but it is totally on my to do list!
Tinfoil: I bought glass baking dishes with lids at the thrift store and that was enough to eliminate most of my need for tinfoil. When I cook squash in the oven I bake them cut side down to keep them moist without using tinfoil.
Paper lunch bags: I sewed drawstring lunch bags out of fabric. These are more convenient than lunch kits in our household because they can hold numerous pieces of Tupperware.
Freezer bags: I do use plastic items like upcycled yogurt containers to freeze but I still use freezer bags. I want to point out that I also reuse freezer bags. Because I only use them when freezing, I am comfortable washing them out and reusing them until they will no longer work. Eventually I will find a better solution but for now this isn’t causing waste.
Produce bags: I am finally getting around to sewing my own produce bags. I went to the thrift store and picked up a curtain sheer for $1. This is enough fabric to make 8 bags. I picked sheers because the polyester material is lightweight and I am hoping that it keeps produce from drying out in the fridge. The weight is slightly more than double a plastic produce bag but this is an acceptable tolerance for not having to throw anything out.
Plastic cutlery: We actually use these. When we get them, we use them and wash them over and over again. They work well in our work lunches so that IF we lost one or forgot one at work it would not be the end of the world. There are environmentally friendly versions like bamboo or compostable plant starches, but the ones we use are unfortunately just the plastic kind. Still we keep using them and they stay out of the landfill.
Paper napkins: We don’t buy these to use but we have a glove-box full of them. I head my head in shame. They come in the bag when we get drive through food. They are great for emergencies when you need to go on the side of the road. (Thank you car for breaking down so often I had to learn to pee outside!) We do have too many napkins and we need to ask restaurants to not give us any more. I do keep a handkerchief in the car though for runny noses!
Grocery bags: Most stores offer reusable cloth bags for cheap. There are many DIY projects for upcycling items (like old tee shirts) into grocery bags. The Truth is we forget our reusable grocery bags at home a lot, and we still avoid getting more plastic bags to add to the drawer filled with plastic bags. We will literally carry our groceries out by hand if we forget our reusable bag.
Paper towels: I see all these crafty projects to make snapped together cloth paper towel rolls. I don’t get it. I use a dish rag. If it is something really terrible to clean up I use a rag.
Facial tissue: Kleenex is expensive. Honestly, since I was little I preferred to blow my nose on a handkerchief. My family called them nose blowers or snot rags. They wash fine and are easy on the nose. No garbage produced.
Toilet paper: I am not ready to give up toilet paper completely although many people have switched to cloths which is great! We have however installed a diaper sprayer onto our toilet’s cold water valve and use it as a poor man’s bidet. Our toilet paper consumption has been dramatically reduced.
Feminine sanitary products: Let’s talk pads and tampons. Yup, most of us use those expensive little items. There are alternatives but I am not totally there yet. I have made some compression fitted wool pantyliners which are great around the house but I am not sure that they wouldn’t migrate at an inopportune time if I wore them out. I switched from plastic applicators to cardboard. I still prefer disposable sanitary napkins and have not made the switch to cloth. There are many patterns for sewing cloth pads online. There are also products like the Diva Cup and sea sponges for more environmental options.
This is just the beginning of our journey. We have a long way to go to get to where we want to be. It is not becoming a self sustaining, zero waste producing household that will make the biggest difference, (because honestly not many people achieve this). The true difference will be in more people making small changes.
If there are items I did not cover, you can totally ask how we handle them and I would be more than happy to answer all your questions!