To continue from last week’s post, I wanted to give a sort of run down about where we are now, and how we started trying to reduce the plastic waste in our lives.

We started very early on with switching out our food storage.  We, like a lot of people, had been using plastic baggies and cling wrap to keep food fresh in the fridge.  Originally, we needed nice storage containers for taking our lunches to work and invested in a set of Pyrex with snap lids.  We now use them for transporting lunches and for storing everything, including things that go into the freezer.  Herbs actually seem to last a bit longer in the snap lid Pyrex, which is a nice bonus.  We bought 4 boxes of zip-top sandwich bags at Costco about three or four years ago, and have only opened the first box.  We’re probably going to give away the other three boxes when we move, because we just haven’t found a use for the plastic sandwich bags.  We might use 2 a year at this point.

The second change was in cleaning products, although we still have work to do here.  We started changing over to more “natural” cleaning solutions mostly because of cost.  Vinegar, baking soda, and citrus will clean a lot in your house, and will do it for far less than the cost of commercially formulated cleaners.  I can’t tell you how much we’ve saved by using vinegar and baking soda for most things, but I can tell you that I bought two large bottles of vinegar two years ago, and we still have one left.  And plain white vinegar is really very cheap.  We use the following cleaners as standard around the house:

  • Vinegar with citrus peel and water as the multi-surface cleaner
  • Baking soda, dish soap, and the multi-surface cleaner for stainless steel
  • Lemons for cleaning the hard water spots off the shower hardware
  • Homemade granite cleaner with rubbing alcohol, essential oil, dish soap and water

However, even vinegar, especially in bulk, comes in large plastic (non-recyclable) bottles.  So does rubbing alcohol (used in our granite cleaner recipe as well as to make scented oil diffusers) and baking soda in bulk comes in a big plastic bag.  We’ve reused the original spray bottles a lot, after rinsing thoroughly, so we’ve cut down the number of bottles and sprayers we’ve purchased.  After the ones we have break, I’ll have to look for either a non-plastic spray bottle (do they exist??) or maybe just convert to putting the cleaning solution in a labeled glass bottle.  I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For cleaning rags we have some old worn out washcloths we got from a friend, and I’ve been (slowly) cutting up and hemming some rags made from a sheet we slept a hole through.  It turns out that a single sheet makes a ton of rags, so we’ll be going through those for years.  They’re not very absorbent so they’re not great for the kitchen, but they’re basically perfect for dusting.

The third big change was in our garbage system.  This has had some ups and downs.  Once we ran out of regular, plastic drawstring kitchen bags we switched to using a diaper pail liner.  We spent about $35 for two about two years ago.  I’m not honestly sure what we would have spent on plastic kitchen bags instead, but if you figure roughly 1.5 bags a week (we use roughly one a week, but sometimes we use more for cleaning or taking things to goodwill), that’s 78 bags a year.  Garbage bags appear to be $16.99 for 200 at Costco right now, so on a back of the envelope calculation, we’d have to use our reusable bags for around four years before we started to save money on using reusable garbage bags instead of plastic kitchen bags.

The upside is that we have kept between 78 and one-hundred-and-something plastic bags out of the landfill, so that’s a plus.  There are downsides though.  The bags aren’t nearly as leakproof as plastic bags, so unless you’re planning on taking the garbage out basically right away you really shouldn’t put wet things into the garbage.  In our hot weather, particularly in the summer, mold growth can also be a problem if you’re putting food scraps into the garbage.

Our solution to this problem has been to get compostable kitchen bags for wet garbage and food scraps.  Theoretically, they may be better than “biodegradable” plastic bags, because biodegradable just means that the plastic will break down into tiny pieces, whereas compostable means that it will actually return to a “natural” state, as in become a part of the soil.  However, functionally this doesn’t mean a whole lot since we don’t have composting at our place either, which means everything goes to the landfill where very little actually breaks down.

For dishes, we changed from regular sponges to silicone sponges we found at one of those fancy cooking stores at the mall (I can’t remember which).  In theory, they are slightly better for the environment because of how they break down, but frankly, I don’t really understand the science behind it.  I might end up just going to cotton dishcloths and a natural fiber scrubber once the sponges we have die, which will be at least a couple of years.

Next week, I’ll go over where we’ve made changes in bathroom supplies, and some upcoming changes we’re looking at.