I read a quote recently that was along the lines of: “It’s better to have a lot of people making a few changes to produce less waste than a few people making a lot of changes.” It can be intimidating and terrifying when you hear about what’s happening to our environment, and it’s like, I can never do enough to make a difference. Or I want to help but I don’t want to make any huge, complicated lifestyle changes, so maybe I’ll just do nothing. I get it. I’ve felt the same way at time. But in our family we’ve made a commitment to do even the simplest things, because even a tiny difference is better than nothing.
All of the changes we’ve made to our own lifestyle habits are simple things that anyone can do. We’re exceptionally normal people, haha, as in we probably use/used all the same stuff that most Americans use, but with a few easy swaps we’re making a difference — and none of these swaps are making our lives more difficult, complicated or “weird.” Of course, we still have a lot of room for improvement, so it’s also a process we’re constantly trying to work on.
Ten simple swaps to a greener home:
- Swapping paper towels for reusable cloths — it is ridiculous how much we used to use paper towels and it’s a HUGE waste. But since we haven’t yet found a way to eliminate the need for them 100% (they’re still the only thing I want to reach for to clean cat puke, for example), we did the next best thing: we made them difficult to get to! We put the paper towels in the pantry, on a shelf that’s high and tough to reach. That way they aren’t out on the counter where it’s so easy to grab one (and it’s one less thing to clutter the counters). We bought a bunch of microfiber cloths that we keep under the kitchen sink and use to wipe down the counters, clean up spills, everything else we used to use paper towels for (except that cat puke). Now instead of going through a bunch of paper towels a day, we maybe use a couple a week.
- Swapping (some) baby wipes for soft microfiber cloths — Similarly, we’ve made a conscious effort to reduce the number of baby wipes we use, because omg we use SO MANY WIPES with two kids in diapers, two kids making messes at meals. We still want to use them at diaper changes and they’re more convenient when we’re out and about, but we can definitely make a switch at mealtimes at home. We bought some really nice, soft microfiber cloths that we use only for cleaning the kids’ hands and faces, so we know they’re separate from the cloths we use to clean the counters.
- Swapping dryer sheets for natural wool dryer balls — dryer sheets are GROSS. I used to get so mad at how I’d find them everywhere, because they’d fall out of the laundry basket without me noticing, float around, the dog would chew on them, they’d get lost under the bed… Plus, they are full of really nasty toxic chemicals, which soak into your clothes and then into your skin. I don’t want that junk on me and I definitely don’t want that junk on my kids! And the worst part: they’re so unnecessary. We’ve been told we need them by clever marketers, but do we really? We switched to organic wool dryer balls, which serve the same purpose, but with no chemicals. Sure they don’t have fancy scents (you can spray them with essential oils but I never have) and sometimes our laundry is a bit more staticky, but I’d rather a little static than a carcinogen on my clothes. (Dryer balls are also supposed to make laundry dry faster, but we have the world’s worst dryer so I can’t tell the difference, tbh.)
- Swapping “regular” toilet paper for recycled toilet paper — is recycled toilet paper super soft and cushy? Nope. Does it matter? Nope. It’s totally fine, it gets the job done, and the boreal forest didn’t get destroyed to wipe our rear ends. Easy peasy.
- Swapping plastic sandwich bags for reusable silicone bags — I recently bought some Stasher reusable silicone bags at Target (I couldn’t find a link to them online) to replace plastic baggies. They’re a little on the pricey side, especially if you need a bunch, but they’re awesome. They’re freezable, microwavable, dishwasher safe… you can even cook with them! My goal is to build up a collection so that we can eventually phase out plastic bags completely, but for now I have three silicone bags in small, medium and large, which we reach for first, and then use plastic baggies when we need to.
- Swapping plastic wrap for reusable beeswax sheets — plastic wrap is another one of those things that is tough to get rid of because it’s just so handy, but we made the switch to beeswax a few months ago. Now, honestly, the beeswax doesn’t work quite as well as plastic wrap. It’s really hard/impossible to get a super tight seal, but we don’t really mind. It’s good enough for leftovers overnight or wrapping up a block of gouda to put in the fridge, and best of all: no waste. Each sheet can be used, rinsed, and reused indefinitely. I wouldn’t want to rely on beeswax for transporting chili in the car! But for normal everyday use, it’s a good swap.
- Swapping parchment paper/tin foil for a silpat baking mat — This one is a no-brainer!! We used to put tin foil or parchment paper on baking sheets all the time, and that’s so wasteful. Silpat baking mats are reusable, washable and only $8 at Target. Done done and done.
- Swapping plastic straws for reusable bamboo straws — Of course plastic straws are the enemy du jour right now, so this is an obvious swap. We have a few different kinds of reusable straws at home, but I personally like our collection of organic reusable bamboo straws that come in both regular size and wider widths that are perfect for smoothies. They do have a bit of a “woody” taste, which Andy doesn’t like, but it doesn’t bother me or the kids. I like that these straws are natural and sustainable.
- Swapping plastic for glass storage containers — we have a few cheapy plastic storage containers, but we always try to use glass instead. Some plastic storage options (especially the ones that you would often get from a deli or take out) are full of toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that are known to leach out into your food — GROSS! Glass containers don’t have any harmful chemicals, and they don’t get stained when you put spaghetti in them.
- Swapping single-use coffee pods for compostable coffee pods — We don’t own a coffee maker at home (we love our vitamix mochas!), but we needed one for our vacation rental and decided to buy a Keurig so that we can offer a variety of flavors and not have to worry about everyone’s varying tastes. (Oh but of course we got a Keurig that can make lattes because we need our mochas!) Keurig pods are notoriously wasteful and non-recyclable, though, which was a big concern of ours. However, we discovered a company that makes compostable coffee pods for Keurig machines. Honestly we haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but I’m really hopeful that they taste decent and work well.
So those are ten of the ways that we’ve committed to making better decisions for the environment and for our family’s health, and again, we’re far from perfect but just trying to do what we can. These are all really simple swaps that anyone can do. The more people who decide to make even one or two small changes, the bigger the impact on the environment.
What are some ways that you are reducing your waste and living greener? Let us know in the comments if you have any more tips and tricks!!