Recently our little community quit the curbside recycling program in outlying areas which is where my family and I reside. This was due to lack of use as it was not required by law to participate outside of city limits and the new ban China has put on the United States on sending our recycling overseas to them. This was not great news for my family as we have not fully gone zero waste and still buy some plastic products, cardboard, and cans. After some brainstorming on what we would do now as a family we came up with a solution. We still plan to recycle but we will divide it into types such as: aluminum, tin, glass, cardboard, and plastic. We save our tin and aluminum and turn it into a local recycler for cash. Our cardboard will sometimes be used for our compost or be taken to a local recycler if we have an abundance. Whatever plastic we may have I will put into a family members curbside recycling in town. I do try to avoid plastic as much as possible, even more so now, and while grocery shopping I opt for items in glass bottles that I can recycle later. Sorting your recycling is slightly more work but its now part of our routine and we love doing our part to help the planet. This is an easy task for kids to do for a chore and we let tem keep the money when we turn our cans in, so they enjoy helping!
Here is a great family friendly zero waste switch, dryer balls! Awhile ago we stopped using dryer sheets and started using wool dryer balls instead. I throw 6 in with a full load of laundry and usually add a few drops of essential oils to each ball for fresh smelling laundry. Each of my kids love throwing them into the dryer, adding the scents, and finding the balls in the completed laundry. Sometimes it’s a real puzzle to find all the balls when they tend to get stuck in a pocket or pant leg. The only downside to these are they are a bit noisy in the dryer tumbling around. If you have laundry close to your living area it can be quite annoying. In the winter I also noticed a lot more static cling in my clothes which I tamed by wetting the balls before putting them in the dryer. All in all this is an easy, cost effective switch that we will always stick with!
One of my favorite zero waste switches has been swapping paper napkins to cloth napkins. I love having a semi-nice table set every night for dinner and the cloth napkins really make it feel so much nicer. They go so much further than paper napkins too. We can typically reuse the same set for two dinners in a row. I bought mine from Home Goods so they were fairly inexpensive and I had a lot of options in which to choose from. I try to choose a thicker set because they seem to hold their shape better and don’t wrinkle as much. Though staining can be an issue, I try to always use the same set for pasta night. This is also an easy DIY project if you are a sewer and a great way to reuse old fabric is to turn them into napkins.
Did you know glass can take 1,000 to a million years to decompose in a landfill? That eyeopening fact is what got me started on my zero waste journey. Before that I had done curbside recycling which was relatively new in our area but never thought twice about glass. I actually didn't think I used that much to make a difference but now we fill a very large trash can full about every three months. The best part is the local company that collects the glass breaks it down into cullet which is then made into insulation. The company gives an insulation donation to communities that participate and our local Habitat for Humanity has been our usual recipient. I love when a simple change can make a big impact.
My grandfather passed away almost two years ago and one thing I really wanted of his was his handkerchiefs. My intent was to use the squares as part of a quilt I wanted to have made in remembrance of him. I used the few I needed and the rest sat in a bag for years until just recently. One of these terribly cold snowy days I ran out of Kleenex's because I think my kids have been sick almost every day this winter and grabbed the hankies. My kids thought it was the silliest thing ever. I felt like Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail", which is one of my favorite movies, " You've never seen a handkerchief before? It's a Kleenex you don't throw away." Well my kids were not impressed to say the least and everyone in my family makes fun of me, husband included. But the handkerchiefs have been put to good use again and we are creating less waste. I also think they are softer on noses than tissues with the constant wiping which is a great mom win. After some time my family is use to the hankies and another new norm.
When you shop for produce do you put everything into its own plastic bag or let them roam freely in the cart? I was an avid bag user keeping everything nice and neat in my cart. Me being totally clueless didn't realize there was another option until I came across reusable produce bags. They are durable netted bags that are see through enough for your cashier and breathable for your produce. If you are an avid produce bagger like me these are a must!
My daughter recently started taking her lunch to school and I quickly noticed how many plastic baggies we were going through. It was endless amounts of one time use bags and I really needed a better solution. We purchased the Stasher silicone bags and wow what a great product! With so many sizes available they are perfect for lots of storage beyond school lunches. Stasher bags claim to last a lifetime and are dishwasher safe which is my favorite part.
I have never been a fan of using foil or plastic wrap. The feel of aluminum foil gives me the heeby-jeebies and plastic wrap is one of the most frustrating kitchen tools. Once we ran out of the two, we said, "see-ya" and never looked back. Plastic is not recyclable and when thrown away, like most plastics, will take hundreds of years to decompose. Foil will not decompose but is recyclable, though recycling can be very tricky. Most places you would take aluminum cans will not accept foil, especially if it's a food product, so you would need to look into your local recycling options. BUT wait I have easier and safer options. We started using beeswax sheets for most food coverings. I really love these and find them to be pretty comparable to cling wrap. They wash with just soap and cold water and once they outlive there use throw them in your compost pile. I make a lot of homemade pizza dough and bread and have had great success with the cling. Another great non-plastic option I love is silicone cling lids. They are super versatile and fit almost any kitchen dish. The only time we use foil is for covering a dish in the oven or on the grill. My very simple solution to this is when needing foil for the oven simply place a baking sheet over your dish , bottom up, and it works perfectly as a heat guard! Then we switched to a grill basket for our veggies in the grill.
Starting zero waste seemed very daunting at first, my family and I have completely surrounded ourselves with plastics. With kids especially it seemed too hard of a task to start, so we started small. We switched our toothbrushes from the typical plastic brush to a bamboo toothbrush. Almost 50 million pounds of plastic toothbrushes make it to the landfill every year. All of that plastic will then take over 1,000 years to decompose! Can you believe that? Every toothbrush you have ever used is still on this earth. We made the switch to bamboo and we aren’t going back! The brush feels great on my teeth and my husband has made the same comment. Though I did get some grief from my girls for not purchasing cool character brushes. One of them I believe said, “Why are we using this weird wood toothbrush?” After explaining the benefits and using them for over a year, I haven’t had any more complaints. Plus most brands have colored bristles for a fun incentive for kids. The bamboo toothbrushes have great up-cycling options once you are finished or either compost the handle or throw them in the trash and they will decompose in the landfill.