As you all know (or can see from our hiking blog), we love to get outside and enjoy our beautiful Earth. We feel so fortunate that we have been able to see some of natures wonders, and hope that people can continue to experience these wonders for generations to come. Consequently, we have worked hard over the years to reduce our waste and do our part to slow global warming and the growth of our landfills. In celebration of Earth Day, here are some ways we have reduced waste in our household (and some other ideas, too). Let me know in the comments if you have other ideas for reducing waste, as there are always ways to live greener.
In the Kitchen
1. Cloth Napkins: I always thought cloth napkins look pretty, but were too expensive to be practical for day-to-day use. Then a friend pointed out that thrift stores like goodwill often have nice cloth napkins for super cheap. I stocked up and haven’t looked back! If you want something on the more absorbent side, try flannel napkins, which you can easily make or buy in cute prints from shops on Etsy. We use flannel napkins as bibs and wipes for Sprout. They work great!
2. Unpaper Towel: I think paper towels may be one of the biggest sources of waste in many households (I have no statistics on this, though), but they are so easy to ditch! You can buy pretty “Unpaper Towels” on Esty that snap together in a roll, but I am not patient enough to snap together a bunch of towels, so instead we just use flour sack towels (you can buy them at Walmart, Amazon, or nearly anywhere) and toss them in the draw when clean.
3. Dish Cloths: All the talk of germs in sponges peeved me out, so we replaced our sponges with dish clothes. I found some great ones with a rough side at TJ Maxx and also got some of these from Amazon. Added bonus, we aren’t throwing away a sponge every few weeks/month. We replace the dish cloth daily (or more frequently if necessary) and just toss the old one in the wet bag to get washed.
4. Bowl Covers: These may be my favorite items for reducing waste because they are cute and so practical. The covers easily fit over bowls and eliminate the need to fight with plastic wrap. I made a bunch for friends and family this year. Let me know if you are interested in learning how to make some for yourself!
****TIP: Hang a small wet bag in your kitchen for all your dirty kitchen cloth (towels, napkins, wipes, etc), this makes it easy to collect when it comes to laundry and keeps the dirty cloth out of sight.
5. Buy in bulk: If you can cut down the amount of packaging you get with your items, you manage to cut down even more waste. We buy soap in large containers and then refill reusable soap dispensers. The same can be done for many cleaning products. For food, many grocery stores have a bulk section where you can buy dry goods and pay by weight. I’m not sure if they will let you use reusable bags for this, but even the plastic bags that they have for weighing will cut down on packaging waste.
6. Buy local/have a garden: I would love to have a garden, but we currently live in an apartment where it just isn’t possible. Instead, we buy what we can at the local farmers market in the Spring/Summer. It is a nice family outing and also helps to cut down on waste produced from transporting food across the country or around the world.
7. Compost: I can’t wait until we have a house where we can garden and compost our wast. Food decomposes fairly quickly, but many compostable items are unable to decompose in landfills. Compost also provides rich nutrients for your plants, saving you from having to buy nutrients and fertilizer for your garden or landscaping.
On the Go
8. Ditch ziplock bags: Use food storage containers and reusable snack bags for lunch and snacks on the go. We use mainly use Snapware Pyrex food storage containers for leftovers, freeing food for later meals, and for my lunches (Costco carries a set of these, for those of you with a Costco membership.). I also love our Wean Green containers that we bought for Sprout’s baby food (but didn’t end up using for that purpose), but they are a bit on the expensive side. Both of these are durable, oven safe (great for repeating food with out dirtying a second container), leak proof and easy to close (I have had issues with cracks and difficulty closing other glass containers, but these brands are both great).
Seriously, how cute are these snack bags/wrap?
9. Cloth shopping bags: This is such an easy way to reduce waste. U.S. families go through so many bags each year and all you need to do is replace those bags with a few canvas bags and you are good to go. Use different colored bags so you have certain bags designated for meats vs veggies (to avoid contamination) and wash them periodically. Added bonus: Less likely to break and send your food flying.
10. Reusable water bottles: Each week American’s buy enough disposable plastic water bottles to circle the earth 5 times! That is a lot of waste! Replace your disposable water bottles with reusable bottles will help cut down on that waste.
11. Reusable Coffee/Tea Mug: Depending on your coffee consumption, reusable mugs can reduce the amount of cups thrown out each day by quite a bit. Added bonus, a good mug can be tossed in your purse without spilling when you need your hands free and keeps your coffee warm for longer. Whether you make your coffee at home or buy it from a coffee shop, bring your own mug with you. We love these in our house.
Baby and Parenting
12. Reusable Breast Pads: Whether or not you choose to breastfeed (though breastfeeding will also reduce waste), you will likely leak and need some form of breast pads. The disposable ones are itchy and smell when you leak. These breast pads worked really well to contain leaks, and are soft as well! Like with most things, you can also make your own or shop on Etsy.
13. Cloth Diapers: It is no secret that babies go through a ton of cloth diapers. Not only do these diapers end up in the landfills, where they will sit for an estimated 250 to 500 years before decomposing, but they also use more water and energy to produce than cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are far easier to use and wash than many think and can save you thousands of dollars. Check out my post on cloth diapering on a budget (~$300 from birth to potty trained and can be used for more than one child). If you want more information on cloth diapering, I’m happy to share more, just let me know in the comments.
Added bonus: Cute bum, money savings, fewer leaks, and less diaper rash!
14. Cloth Wipes: Whether or not you choose to use cloth diapers, you can still use cloth wipes. Just add some water and wipe (you can use them dry too, if you want). You can make them from flannel, buy some cute ones from Etsy, or others from Amazon. Just make sure you have a wet bag to throw the dirty wipes in.
15. Family Cloth: I’ll admit that we are not likely to take this step, but this is the same as cloth wipes, but for the whole family. The average person uses 50lbs of toilet paper each year, so this can certainly help reduce waste for those who are brave enough to try it!
16. Cloth Menstrual Pads/Menstrual Cups: According to these article, women spend between $60 and $120 a year on tampons, pads, and panty liners, contributing to over 62,000 lbs of waste over a woman’s lifetime. In reality, that waste is small compared to the waste produced by other sources on this list (diapers, disposable water bottles, etc.), but reducing where we can matters. Cloth pads and menstrual cups are two options for reducing menstrual product waste. Cloth pads are far softer than disposable, both cloth pads and menstrual cups have less of an odor than disposable, and some people even claim that switching to cloth and menstrual cups helped to reduce cramping (and here too. I have no idea if this is true or not). There are a lot of choices out there, so if you want to try out a menstrual cup, check out these two quizzes (quiz 1 and quiz 2), they may help you decide what will work best for your body and flow (but no promises). Tip: Bring a small wet bag with you when you are out to place your dirty pad in.