Have you ever stopped and wondered about how much waste you produce? I’ll be honest, I hadn’t, not really. I mean, we’re conscious recyclers and we have a compost heap going in the bottom of our garden. I use a washing line for a good chunk of the year, use energy saving light bulbs and am conscious of electricals being plugged in unnecessarily. Surely that’s enough, right?
Wrong, I’m not even close, barely scratching the surface. We have made quite a few changes however and though we will never be zero waste, we have definitely reduced it.
I did touch on a lot of the points I am mentioning here in a previous post, but I want to share the things that we implemented, what worked and what didn’t, for us. Hopefully, it will inspire some of you and I would hope that you, in turn, will share your ‘green’ ideas with me.
Think! This may seem like a strange one, but it isn’t. Think about absolutely every decision you make when it comes to ‘stuff’. You have something to go in the bin, ask yourself can it be of some use elsewhere? Can some or part of it be recycled? Can it be composted?
You want to buy something new, ask yourself, is it really ‘needed’? Will it be of use? Will it bring you joy?
The children need a new drink bottle for school. Can I buy a longer lasting one, that is kinder to the environment?
The lid for that storage container is missing, you’re going to toss it, ask yourself; can it be used for something else?
I’m sure you get a general idea. As Winnie the Pooh said, ‘think, think, think’.
Kitchen The kitchen is a haven for waste. Plastic, food wrap, scraps, leftovers, pots, jars etc.
If you have space available to you, start a compost heap. This where all leftover food and veg peelings can go. We’ve had one going for a couple of years, it’s just been there. Now, we’re taking it seriously. Turning it regularly, getting it ready to cover down for winter. Whilst it’s covered we will start another. The covered heap should leave us with lovely compost for the garden in Springtime and we shall repeat the process with the second compost heap next winter.
When possible, buy loose fruit and veg. When I can I go to the farm shop here, bring my cotton bag and buy what I need loose. It can be quite disheartening when going to a supermarket, almost everything is wrapped in plastic, but for many reasons, it’s often our only option between family commitments, work etc. In an ideal world, supermarkets would go back to basics, I live in hope.
Stop buying cling film! I haven’t purchased cling film in months. Instead, I invested in some beeswax wraps. I bought mine on Etsy, you could, however, see if you can source some locally. I have since learned that Anja from Cré-Zero Waste sells some from her stall in the Bullring Market, Wexford. So when I need some more I will go there. Beeswax wraps wrap easily around bowls etc, molding itself from the heat of your hands! Alternatively, if you’re storing a bowl of food in the fridge, put a side plate over it.
Re-purpose items. Cut up old towels and use them as cloths for dusting, cleaning, wiping down etc. Old clothes that aren’t suitable for the charity shop can be cut up and used as napkins. I cut up some slightly smaller to use as tissues too but my children were having none of that so I’ve been using them to mop up spills etc. (I stopped buying kitchen towel a long time ago too!)
Keep jars! Jam jars, coffee jars, coconut oil jars etc. Keep them and use them for freezing (just keep the lid off until the contents are frozen), use them for storing hummus, pesto and other condiments in the fridge. Jars are great for homemade muesli, granola, overnight oats and so many other things.
Minimise cleaning supplies. When you were growing up can you recall a press with a myriad of cleaning supplies? Antibacterial wipes, floor cleaner, surface cleaner, sink cleaner, bathroom cleaner, kitchen cleaner, oven cleaner; I could go on and on. We didn’t have anything like the cleaners on offer now. More often than not, hot soapy water and a little bit of elbow grease did the job. In recent times I have stopped buying anti-this and multi-that cleaners. I have a good supply of bread soda, white vinegar and the odd drop of essential oil. My sink sparkles, my appliances are regularly washed and my surfaces are clean. It costs less, is kinder to the environment and kinder to us. I’m not sure how healthy it is to be breathing in all of these cleaners we’re spraying our homes with.
Bathroom The plastic toothbrushes we brush our teeth with every morning and night will still be sitting on a landfill site long after we (and our teeth!) have departed our lovely planet. The next time you need to replace your toothbrush, perhaps you’d consider a bamboo one, which will decompose naturally on your compost heap when you’re finished with it.
I no longer buy soap in dispensers, though I do still have one in the ensuite bathroom. I bulk buy when special offers are on so it’s taken a while to be finished with those. I have gone back to basics and introduced my children to the humble bar of soap. As with everything else, these are made only of natural ingredients. They’re working a treat at the sinks, are kind to skin and are zero waste. For showering, the children couldn’t take to the soap bars, though to be fair to them they did give them a good try. Not everything will work for everyone and that is perfectly okay.
As you will see in the photo below, I also invested in a shampoo bar. It just wasn’t for me, our water is extremely hard, I hated the feel of it on my hair and after a few weeks, my thin hair was even thinner. I am reverting back to my usual shampoo, happy in the knowledge that I gave it a good chance.
I have very sensitive skin, it responds much better to natural products. Sometimes I make my own face wash. This is super easy to make and I would make it more often if my food processor weren’t on its last legs and I am doing my best to preserve its life at the moment!
So, with that in mind, more often than not I use, and love, Bia Beauty facial products. The facial wash, as with all of the products, is made up of natural ingredients and is supplied in a glass jar. I have been reusing the jars to make my own candles.
Recently I have made my own deodorant. It’s working a real treat and lasts ages. I will share the recipe for that in a later post. My daughter has used it too, though my husband wasn’t a fan!
Cloth Sanitary Pads are a great alternative to the super-duper, ultra, ultra ones in the supermarket. I have found them so much kinder to the skin, result in less pain, are more comfortable, save a lot of money and of course, produce no waste. A moon cup is another alternative if you are investigating the natural management of your menstrual cycle.
Elsewhere in the home
I don’t use furniture polish, haven’t done in many years. A damp cloth is more effective and cleaner to use, in my opinion, than polish.
Back at the start of July, I invested in a laundry product called Terra Wash from Only Natural in Wexford. Terra Wash, a small bag of magnesium bullets that you pop in the machine with your laundry, promises 365 washes and is a fraction of the cost of regular detergent. I’m delighted to report it’s still working a treat. My small boy, in particular, has really tested it! I do still use fabric softener and I put a small amount of detergent in with my whites & heavily soiled coloured items I’ve bought detergent once in five months since buying the Terra Wash, my laundry bill for the year has reduced massively as a result of using it.
We’re slowly but surely replacing the shopping bags with cotton/canvas alternatives. I always bring bags when I go out meaning I can always refuse even a paper bag.
Repurposing items gives a new lease of life to something that may otherwise end up in the bin. I recently took down curtains that had been in my sitting room for 12 years. They were faded in places from the sun so would be impossible for a charity shop to sell on. I cut them up, used the fabric to recover my kitchen chairs and felt quite chuffed with myself.
I should point out, I’m not going to get rid of things just for the sake of getting rid of them or because they are not necessarily the most sustainable option. Unless an item is past the point of being usable and cannot be used elsewhere, it will continue to serve a purpose. For example, my sons’ lunch box needs replacing, so does the one my husband uses. However, the one my husband has is fine for sandwiches and fruit (just not anything liquid as the beetroot stain on the car seat is evidence of) so my husband will get a new, more sustainable lunch box, most likely a stainless steel one. In the meantime, my sons’ lunch box despite being broken will continue to be used for storing small bits & pieces in the shed where it will only be sitting on a shelf and not fecked around a schoolyard!
Reducing waste & becoming more sustainable is a journey. It can’t happen overnight. Going through your cupboards and binning all your plastic contributes to a situation and defeats the purpose. As I mentioned, use everything until it genuinely cannot be used anymore. Adopt Bea Johnson’s 5 r’s. Once you start to make small changes, they’ll become second nature and you may well find your way of thinking changes.
Following zero waste/eco-conscious accounts on Instagram for inspiration, joining the Zero Waste Ireland group on Facebook will motivate you too and is something I would highly recommend doing.
Finally and something that I feel is very important to mention is this. Don’t force your ideas onto others, including and most especially those you live with. I admit I was very ‘gung-ho’ initially and it was unfair, now I am much more open. Some things will work, some won’t. It’s also imperative that it doesn’t affect our weekly budget. ‘Cleaner’ eco-friendly products are more expensive so it’s necessary to weigh up the financial impact on our family first. In most instances, the changes I have made have been sustainable for us (eg laundry, candles) this may not always be the case and may not be the case for everyone. Do what works for you and your family and remember, if we all make small changes, collectively we can make a big difference.
Disclaimer: I was not asked to mention any of the services/products named in this post.