Here is a list of 8 items that I no longer purchase on a regular basis. Why? I wish I could say that my decision was solely based on an environmentally friendly mindset, but it wasn’t. Truthfully, I just got tired of spending money on stuff that is designed to be thrown out. Doesn’t that mean that we are actually throwing money out? I firmly believe that some disposable products are a necessity (like diapers and facial tissues), but I do feel better about using these since I pass on the following 8 items.
1. Trash bags: Start reusing those plastic handle bags you get everywhere. Start by using them to line your small wastebaskets. Stop using your Diaper Genie and its’ expensive refill bags. Use plastic grocery bags for dirty diapers and throw them you’re your outside garbage bins a couple of times a day. Buy or make a sleeve with a hanger to store the bags in and loop it over the door handle in the baby’s room to keep your supply out of site and out of the reach of curious little hands. Put one out on the counter when you are preparing a meal and fill it with the trash you generate while making the meal and while cleaning up from dinner, tie it closed and throw it into your outside trash can at the end of dinner.
2. Paper towels: The brands that work well at mopping up spills are expensive, and the inexpensive brands don’t work well, so you end up using more, which in the long run will cost you more. Buy some bar towels to use in the kitchen, use newspaper to clean the windows (less lint and streaks too!), cut up old sheets or cotton t-shirts for house cleaning purposes.
3. Memo / To Do Pads: Give your kids a project to do while you’re preparing dinner or they are watching TV. Find a small cardboard box and let them decorate it with paint and stickers then, with safety scissors, let them cut up all the junk mail you receive daily into sheets that fit into the box. Store your box near the phone or the fridge with a pen for taking down phone messages or making grocery lists.
4. Paper napkins: Trade paper napkins for cloth ones and run them through the wash along with the other laundry. If you have little ones in the house you might find it better to use fingertip towels instead of traditional cloth napkins because they are more absorbent, cover a larger area and come in lots of colors that hide stains. Keep a basket or box handy in the kitchen to store any paper napkins you get with take out food, and put them in lunch boxes for meals eaten outside of the house. (Note: most schools, day care centers and offices have napkins and disposable silverware available in their cafeterias and break rooms for student / employee use so don’t duplicate efforts). I will buy paper napkins when I am having a family gathering, and if there are any leftover we will use them at meals until they are gone.
5. Paper / Styrofoam Plates and Plastic Utensils: They create additional trash, they are bad for the environment and they are expensive. Why do you have cabinents full of dishes and drawers full of silverware if you aren’t going to use them? Buy them for parties, use any extras after the party and then go back to washing your own dinnerware.
6. Plastic Wrap: let’s face it, most brands really don’t work that well in the first place. Use covered plastic storage containers instead. If you have a limited amount of Rubbermaid / Tupperware, start saving food containers like Cool – Whip bowls and deli containers. (Note: although this kind of containers is fine to store last night’s leftovers in the fridge, many of them are not microwave safe and can melt or leak chemicals into your food. Do not microwave food in anything that is not marked “Microwave safe”. Some containers are not dishwasher safe either, and may lose their shape or even melt, check carefully before washing).
7. Individual Serving Packages: Sure they are convenient, but you pay a high economic and environmental cost for that convenience. Buy full size containers of snacks and juices and divide them into smaller containers at home. This is another project that little ones can help with when you get home from the grocery store. Younger children can simply put a handful of pretzels into each container, while older kids can read the label to determine how many servings are in the bag and then divide them out into separate containers.
8. Zip – Top Bags: There is no reason why the family can’t take their daily sandwich in a sandwich container and bring it home at the end of the day. Similarly, snack food can also be packed in small plastic containers, and some types of food actually do better packed this way (like cookies, which can easily crumble in a zip top bag if something heavy is placed on top of it).
I wouldn’t suggest trying all these changes at once. Pick one and try it out for a month, then gradually add more into your household’s routine. Within no time you’ll probably find other products that you can live without.