This article was originally published on grayhencottage.com
Chances are you’ve been spending a lot more time at home lately, like most of us. With the end of the world seemingly eminent… a global pandemic, raging wildfires, rising sea temperatures and sea levels… maybe now is the time to make a change. Better late than never.
Maybe you’re looking for some changes around the house that can reduce your waste and carbon footprint, that won’t take up much of your time, and won’t need a big initial investment.
These are a few of the eco-friendly and sustainable choices our family has made over the past year, and some of the impacts they’ve had around our home.
*This isn’t a guide for you or your family to live by, just some things to consider that can help save a few bucks as well as contribute to making the world a little better.
“Super original idea,” you may be thinking, sarcastically. Just hang on. You may already do this, and so did our family. It wasn’t until we moved into our new home, however, that we really began to pay attention to recycling. During the move, we stumbled across a list of acceptable items to recycle and were surprised to see how much more we could be recycling. Paper products, in particular, are something that we hadn’t recycled much prior to looking at this list. Items like junk mail, envelopes, magazines, folders, books, dry food boxes, and post-it notes can all be recycled. Check with your local recycling center or waste collection company to see what additional items you could be recycling. We also learned that plastics are not as recyclable as most of us have been led to believe and have been trying to eliminate as much plastic for our lives as possible.
Another recent change that we’ve made since moving into our new home has been composting. From our kitchen we have been collecting the unused bits of fruits and vegetables, any spoiled produce, and our used coffee grounds and (unbleached) filters. In addition to the kitchen scraps, we’ve been adding green and brown material from our yard and garden. Lawn clippings, leaves, chicken manure, and a host of other materials have made their way into our compost bin. For more about composting, check out this Beginners Guide.
Why it matters
Recycling paper and composting organic material is more important than you may think. Paper and other organic products (food scraps) that make it to landfills will decompose on their own, however most waste sent to landfills is compacted and then buried. This creates anaerobic conditions in which that organic matter will begin to decompose and produce methane gas. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is very efficient at trapping heat. According to the EPA, methane emissions from landfills “are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 15.1% of these emissions in 2018.”
Other ways to reduce waste
Along with composting and recycling more, there are other ways in which our family has reduced the amount of waste we generate.
Reusable shopping bags. Bringing our own shopping bags when we go grocery shopping, including smaller mesh bags for produce means we aren’t bringing home even more plastic from the shopping bags that groceries are normally bagged in. If you have a lot of plastic film bags sitting around your house, they can still be recycled. Many grocery stores have an area where you can drop off your clean and empty plastic bags.
Reducing paper consumption. We’ve done this in several ways: instead of buying paper napkins regularly, we have switched to reusable cloth napkins. We also have significantly reduced our paper towel use and mainly use dish cloths, rags, and demoted kitchen towels for regular counter scrubbing, wiping messy faces, mopping up spills, etc. We still keep paper towels on hand, but only for animal messes or other similarly gross and unsanitary things.
Switch to Eco Products. By this, we don’t mean buy a jug of soap marketed as “greener,” but try making your own (we make our own laundry detergent) or buying cleaners in glass bottles that you refill. Bonus points for refills that don’t come in plastic packaging! We really like Meliora, which has soap flakes in cardboard canisters that you mix with water in a glass spray bottle. Do the same with personal care products: try switching to a shampoo bar, getting floss in a refillable glass container, change from plastic toothbrushes to more sustainable bamboo, and get a butterfly or safety razor - zero plastic pieces, and you only replace the blade.
Reusable bottles. Instead of purchasing plastic water bottles that get thrown out after each use, we’ve switched to getting insulated stainless-steel containers. In addition to reducing waste, they keep your drinks cooler longer than a plastic bottle. Do the same for coffee - make your own and use an insulated container to keep it hot, instead of getting your fix at the drive-thru in a disposable cup. And use a traditional coffee pot, not a keurig. ;)
Homemade cleaners. Don’t underestimate the power of vinegar. A mixture of 1 cup water and ¼ cup white distilled vinegar can replace store bought cleaners for many applications. Note: For added scent you can add a couple drops of essential oils to your water vinegar mixture. This will leave your home smelling great without the use of synthetic fragrances. In your bathroom and kitchen, use this mixture to clean your countertops, floors, sinks, showers mirrors, and fixtures.
If you’re curious about other ways to reduce waste, I recommend the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. We will try adopting a few more suggestions from it in the near future, such as:
Using vinegar for additional cleaning applications (I plan to follow up with another post about the versatility of vinegar and additional cleaning applications around your home)
Making our own dishwashing detergent
Switching to a dish soap bar and bamboo scrub brush instead of a plastic refillable wand and plastic jugs of blue liquid.
Getting rain barrels to collect water for our garden, which will reduce our water consumption. We want to repurpose barrels that lived out their original purpose and save them from going to the landfill.
Getting a soda stream for our sparkling water habit to reduce our aluminum can waste. We love “sparkly bubbles” (as our daughter calls it), but the cans really add up. We plan to get a soda stream with glass carafes instead of plastic ones, as we’re trying to reduce the amount of plastic that comes in contact with the things that enter our bodies.
This is not a comprehensive list, but hopefully gave you a few ideas for how you can start making your home and family more eco-friendly and even move toward more of a zero-waste lifestyle.