One thing that happens naturally when you begin homesteading or trying to be more self-sufficient is you start noticing all the things you buy and all the things you throw away. How often do you take out a bag of trash? What if you had little or no trash? What if you lived without buying paper or plastic or chemical anything? What if you became less of a consumer? That would be awesome, yet, it’s not easy to jump in all at once. So, the process of removing waste from your life begins with one thing. Choose one thing – either one product or one packaging or one item and find a better way!
Here’s some ideas to get you started…
How about removing paper towels from your life? Paper towels, in the U.S., result in 554 million TONS of trash every year. Not only is there waste from the paper towel itself, and the obvious tree loss, but what about the pollution from the factories who make them, the gas and oil from the trucks who transport them, the plastics from the wrapping, more gas for you to drive to the store, and the garbage man to haul them away after use? That’s a whole-lotta bad wasted resources just so you can wipe up a little spill on the counter.
Try washable rags. I’m sure you have some old towels, t-shirts, sheets, etc., that you don’t use. Cut them into wash-cloth-size rags and place them in a cute container on the counter where your paper towels now sit. After you use one, throw it in a small basket or box near the washer. Start today using washable rags. It will instantly change your habits and you will find you reduce your paper towel consumption drastically without even trying. When we started, we used about a roll of paper towels every couple weeks, and we instantly cut that to one roll about every 4-6 months. 24 rolls per year down to 2. That’s a good start.
Most kitchen packaging is now made from recycled materials, but what about all that plastic in your bathroom? Ugh. That’s a hard one, but we’re up for the challenge! Here’s a start. Try shampoo and conditioner BARS. A bar is between $5-$12 (look on Etsy for chemical-free ones) and you get about 80 washes from it. That’s the same as THREE bottles of shampoo. When you’re done with your bar, there’s no plastic bottle to put in the landfill.
Same with lotion. You can use Lotion Bars instead of plastic bottles. Same with toothpaste. You can make your own toothpaste … and deodorant … and laundry soap … and dish washing detergent. All of these homemade items can reduce your plastic waste by an amazing amount, and you can get your head out of the idea that it’s only a worthy product if it has a brand name that’s been beaten into your brain since the day you were born.
What about plastic storage bags? That’s a tough one as I am the queen of storing the garden harvest in freezer bags. You know what else stores in the freezer? Ball canning jars! Yep, they are freezable and washable. Instead of using disposable lids, make a one-time purchase of reusable lids. You don’t need “canning” lids as you aren’t canning, just freezing.
One thing we can all do to cut waste is to buy in bulk. If you use dried black beans or rice or flour, buy the largest bag instead of the smallest. Or better yet, go to bulk foods and use your own packaging. Store your dry grocery items in reusable jars instead of Ziploc bags. That old mayo jar will hold beans just fine.
How many times do you wrap up left overs or that last slice of pizza? I’m sure you can come up with a reusable, sustainable way to do that without paper or aluminum foil or disposable plastic wrap. Maybe it’s time to invest in some Tupperware?
Let’s move on to bigger thoughts! How about Christmas wrapping paper? That’s a bunch of money and a bunch of waste, but it’s so pretty to have all those presents under the tree. Have you heard of the Japanese art of Furoshiki??? Google that! Your life is about to change. You’re welcome.
Do you put your yard waste in a bag on the curb? Ugh. Stop. Start a compost pile. It’s super easy. Use those great micro-organisms to fertilize your plants, your trees, your flower beds. And for goodness sake, don’t give away your yard waste and then BUY some chemical fertilizer in a bag. (Yes, another bag.)
Speaking of compost, stop throwing away your kitchen scraps. Everything that came from the earth (except meat) can go into your compost pile. Everything including food scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, paper, cotton. Anything that came from the earth will go back to the earth, even your old blue jeans, although I’d make some nice washable rags or a Furoshiki wrap out of those. Oh, it’s all starting to make sense now. Sorry, I got sidetracked there. Back to compost. The only reason we say no meat in your compost is that it attracts scavengers and is prone to rotting, neither of which you want in your compost.
So, now that you’re thinking about different things you can do to cut your waste and reuse what you have, what will you focus on this week? Pick one thing. It will get you thinking about better ways to live, just like the old blue jeans statement above. It snowballs. It’ll become a habit or even a game to find cool ways to make changes, to be more sustainable, to be less of a consumer, to use what you have, to make less trips to the store. Not everything works for everyone, but you can certainly find something that works for you. At the very least, go cut up some rags.