For the first time ever I set a New Year's Resolution that stuck! At the start of 2018 I set out to reduce our amount of household waste. Over the course of the year we've made small but consistent changes in what we use on a daily basis that has resulted in our garbage AND recycling bins being filled half as much as they had been a year ago. We also ended up saving money and it simplified shopping. We've only just begun. It hasn't happened all at once, and we found things that work for the majority in my household (the toothpaste wasn't a unanimous success but more on that later).
Would you like to reduce, simplify, save money and save our beautiful earth home that is so deserving of our care and attention? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1. Don't try to do it all at once. Begin in one area of your house, or one area of life and take a look around to see what you might change out for something reusable rather than disposable or you may be able to eliminate a waste completely. This is by far my favorite change out of the year: Soap Nuts! Let me explain: my husband would joke that I had a laundry detergent problem. I have really sensitive skin and we have four people living in the house so I always needed to have a sensitive skin laundry detergent on hand. It was not cheap, so when I saw it on sale I would stock up. This resulted in many bottles added to the recycling bin. Then I learned about soap nuts. I purchased a 1 pound bag for $9 from a trusted company. As you can see the bag is still half full so I have plenty for 2019! Do they work? For us, yes. They are gentle on my skin but these little things suds up like you can't believe! The nuts themselves have a slight vinegar smell but the clothes have no detectable scent after wash. I put some in a little muslin bag, toss it in the wash with the clothes. After I hang the little bag to dry between loads. You know to replace the nuts when they really start to fall apart. This one change has made a huge difference. What is the one item in your household that you find yourself buying frequently that creates a lot of waste? There most likely is a less wasteful, less costly substitute.
2. Are there more sustainable items that are also more healthful for you to use?
I started thinking about what we have been putting in our mouths and against our skin. Did I really want to be putting plastic in my mouth all of the time? The most obvious room in the house that this showed up was the bathroom. Toothbrushes were switched out for bamboo with charcoal bristles. Bamboo toothbrushes are antimicrobial. I also use a refillable glass dental floss container with natural silk floss rather than synthetic. The packaging to replace the floss is much less than buying a new plastic box of floss and I've found the natural floss lasts longer than the synthetic.
3. Shop local, handcrafted and bring your own bag. Handcrafted items often have less packaging, plus fewer ingredients so you know a lot of waste didn't go into making the product. Look for natural ingredients, better for health and the environment. I love going to the farmer's markets in the summer where I can get natural shave bars, shampoo bars (no more shampoo bottles) and soaps that are better for my family's skin and hair. This is another laundry soap situation where I do try to stock up so I won't have to order online when markets aren't as frequent (try to reduce shipping waste) or I look to local shops who sell items from my favorite local craftsmen. I bring my cloth bag and fill it up with local goodness.
4. Make your own. Now this one might not be the way to go for everyone but many household items can be easily made, work just as well if not better as store-bought items that can have harmful chemicals and end up being much less costly and less packaging waste. Most of my cleaning products are made from these simple ingredients: vinegar, water, baking soda and essential oils. Our household spray cleaner that I use on just about everything (windows to toilets) is made from 1/4 cup vinegar, 3 cups water and 1 cap full of thieves cleaner (you may also use straight up essential oils that have antibacterial properties). If you don't like the smell of vinegar you can switch out for witch hazel. Another make your own cleaner is a scrub which has eliminated my need for steel wool pads or harsh chemical scrubs and I actually have to do very little scrubbing. I use 1 cup baking soda, just a splash of coconut oil (fractionated) and another splash of thieves cleaner (again other essential oils may be substituted. Our water leaves orange stains on sinks, tubs and even on our dishes (another may not be right for everyone but I actually use this as our dish detergent, it also eliminates any soap residue that we don't want on utensils, glasses, etc. Stuck on food comes off really easily too!)
5. Are there any daily use items that you can buy in bulk with minimal packaging?
While bulk may not always be an option due to initial expense there may be some items where it's worthwhile, saving money in the long run.
The red cloths pictured above are hospital grade and can be found online. Inexpensive for a package of 100 and they serve as our napkins. I have some set aside for only cleaning purposes. They wash up very well (I add thieves cleaner to this load) and we have greatly reduced our use of paper towels. Another bulk purchase for our household has been coffee. I found a brand we like with little packaging that keeps it fresh and I only have to purchase about once every three months! There are also some natural health food stores and food co-ops that sell in bulk and you can bring in your own reusable jars and bags to eliminate wasteful packaging altogether.
So what about that toothpaste? This is one that my husband and kids don't use so much, so we do purchase tubed toothpaste (not as frequently as we once did). Ultimately changes need to work for everyone in the household. These ingredients will sound familiar: I made whitening toothpaste from baking soda, coconut oil and essential oils of clove and peppermint. I put a little on my bamboo brush and smile big knowing that I am doing my little part to help take care of this beautiful earth home.
Will you join me in a 2019 resolution? "I resolve to live respectfully, mindfully and be a caretaker of this beautiful place I call home: my body, my house, the earth."
This post just grazed the surface, there are so many other ways to create less waste.
Some resources for you:
* www.peacefloweressentials.com Victoria Boccalatte was an inspiration for me as I began to explore Zero Waste. Along with her blog she also offers classes locally.