Category Archives: Budget Environmentalism

10 Obnoxious Disposable Products You Don’t Need

10 Obnoxious Disposable Products You Don't Need

Using disposable products for cleaning around the home has become commonplace. It’s as though the fear of germs not only extends to using antibacterials in just about all soaps, but to using all cleaning materials just once to ensure that the germs don’t stick around at all. But frankly, a lot of these disposable products are obnoxious and wasteful.

I’ve written before about ways to avoid plastic, but there are many more disposable products you should consider whether or not you need to continue using them.

Paper Towels

Paper towels have been used in the kitchen for a while now. It’s hard for many people to picture their kitchen without them – they’re probably one of the most popular disposable products around. But you really and truly can live without them.

Get a few more kitchen towels. Microfiber ones work great for cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. If you aren’t concerned with appearances, you can also tear up old bathroom towels for cleaning rags.

Paper towels are easy. I’ll give them that. But so are kitchen towels once you get used to reaching for them rather than paper. Toss them in the laundry when they get dirty and they’ll be ready for use again the next time you do laundry.

Paper Napkins

Sure, it’s easy to toss some paper napkins on the table so that the kids have some way to handle the inevitable mess. Know what? They do that pretty darn well with cloth napkins too. And cloth napkins can handle bigger messes.

I don’t know about your kids, but with mine that can be a huge plus. They’d use a huge wad of paper napkins to clean a mess that one cloth napkin or hand towel could handle.

Facial Tissues

You can go through a ton of facial tissues such as Kleenex when you’re sick. On those days you may not care much about disposable products or waste, but there are better options out there.

A good handkerchief is a great option. They’re much easier on your nose than facial tissue in my experience. We have some old burp cloths that are super soft and work well when someone has a cold.

Swiffer

Whatever happened to a plain old broom? Are a broom and dustpan really that hard to use?

And when it comes to mopping, I love my steam mop. No cleaning chemicals required, and the microfiber pads are washable and reusable. It’s so easy my kids do the mopping for me. Until I made it a regular chore they’d even argue over whose turn it was to mop.

If you own a Swiffer already, just stop using the disposable cloths you have to buy for it and attach a washcloth or microfiber cloth to it for your cleaning routine. It will do the job well enough and you can just toss them in the laundry when you’re done. No need to replace it just because you’re trying to be more eco friendly. You can spray your floor with vinegar rather than use their cleaning liquid.

Disposable Diapers

Okay, I’ll grant that in some situations you’re going to need to use disposable diapers unless you’re the most determined cloth diaper parent around. Lots of people who use cloth diapers don’t like to deal with them for travel, where carrying them around and washing them is a bit more effort.

And I’ll grant that most daycares won’t deal with cloth diapers either. So I understand that some people do indeed need disposable diapers.

But if you can fit them into your lifestyle, cloth diapers are so much nicer to use than disposables. Just an extra load of laundry washed with a little extra care. In return, you get reduced odds of diaper rash and improved odds that your child will potty train at a younger age. Plus all the money saved.

To make this more energy efficient, line dry the diapers when possible. The sun will help bleach out many of the stains, which is an added bonus.

Don’t forget the cloth wipes. You’ll be washing the diapers anyhow!

Plastic Grocery Bags

This is one of the most challenging items in my experience. It’s not always easy to remember to grab your reusable bags when you’re heading out to the store. Plus you’re using something you had to buy, while plastic grocery bags are currently free.

Have you ever noticed how fast the damn things add up in your kitchen? It’s ridiculous.

While many grocery stores have recycle bins for plastic grocery bags, the simple truth about any plastic is that it’s not all that recyclable at this time. Plus rather few plastic grocery bags actually get recycled.

In California and some other places now, stores don’t give free plastic grocery bags anymore. You have to bring your own or pay for a reusable one. It’s amazing how fast the habit to bring your bag improves when you have to buy a bag if you don’t bring one. It only costs a dime, but most don’t want to have to pay that for every bag they use.

You can buy some very nice reusable shopping bags that will be much better than the reusable plastic ones the store will sell so cheaply. They often hold more, which is both good and bad. You don’t have to carry so many bags, but sometimes they get too heavy for comfort.

Plastic Water Bottles

Plastic water bottles are everywhere these days! When you consider what you’re paying for bottled water, it’s pretty absurd in comparison to what tap water costs.

Stainless steel water bottles are so much nicer. I’ve used mine for years. I prefer the insulated models so that I don’t need to worry about condensation. It also means I can leave it in the car and come back to a drink that is still cold. They come out cheaper than plastic water bottles over time.

They’re also great for kids in their school lunches. I’ve tried so many drink bottles for my kids, and the stainless steel ones are the only ones that survive. Kids tend to throw lunch boxes and drink bottles around when they’re done with them for the school day. I’ll see dents in their drink bottles, but no breaks.

Disposable Dishes

Paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic silverware are incredibly useful when you have company over, but also incredibly wasteful.

You have alternatives. You can borrow dishes from family for special events where you need more dishes, or you can get inexpensive reusable dishes. If you absolutely must use plastic cups, have a Sharpie pen out so people can mark their cups. This way they don’t have to get a new cup when they aren’t certain which is theirs.

Dryer Sheets

I have to admit, I have never understood dryer sheets. I’ve never even used them. It has never seemed to me that they would make a significant difference in my laundry.

If you need to use something, try wool dryer balls or simply put a drop or two of an essential oil on a cloth and throw it into your dryer. The effect should be much the same.

Single Serve Coffee Pods

I am not a coffee drinker, so it’s easy for me to look down on single serve coffee pods, although I do understand the convenience. It can be nice making just a single cup of coffee in the morning when that’s all you really want. The waste from the pods, however, is awful.

If you love your Keurig or whatever brand you have, check out reusable coffee pods as an alternative. That way you can keep using your machines, have your convenient single serve coffee and reduce waste at the same time.

There are plenty more disposable products that people use that they don’t really need. While you don’t need to make all these changes to be more eco friendly, it may not hurt to make a few changes. Which disposable products drive you nuts?

11 Tutorials to Make Repurposed Shopping Bags

 

11 Tutorials to Make Repurposed Shopping Bags

California recently became the first state to pass a plastic bag ban. It goes into effect for grocery stores, pharmacies and other food retailers July 1, 2015. It should reduce that particular kind of litter, but it does have its problems. I’ve seen some comment that it will increase water waste, as reusable bags should be washed regularly for health reasons, but I don’t think that will be a significant issue – goes in with the rest of the laundry and unless you’re washing a lot of bags isn’t going to cause a new load to be done.

But I’m not a fan of most of the reusable bags you see for sale at stores. They’re often just a heavier plastic and don’t last all that well from what I hear. I think it’s much better to find ways to repurpose things you already have to make shopping bags. The cloth ones are my favorites, as they’re more washable, so you don’t have to worry about germs growing in your bags.

Sewing

1. Quick Fix Grocery Bag Tutorial

This one uses an old t-shirt, scissors and a sewing machine. Very simple and light. You can skip the holes if you want, of course.

2. Vintage Pillowcase Grocery Tote Tutorial

Got old pillowcases hanging around? You can make them into grocery totes easily. Includes a PDF for you to download.

3. Umbrella Tote Bag

Finally something to do with a broken umbrella. This sounds really wonderful with kids in the house – umbrellas never seem to last that long with them.

4. Sweater Bag Tutorial

Here’s a use for your old sweaters you just don’t wear anymore. Really not all that different from making a bag out of old t-shirts.

5. Recycled Denim Shopping Bag

Old denim is wonderful for shopping bags; it’s just so sturdy. These bags can hold your heavier groceries well and take a long time to wear out.

No-Sew

6. No-Sew T-Shirt Bag Tutorial

Got some old t-shirts around this house? They can make some pretty nice shopping bags and you don’t even have to sew them. This tutorial makes it really easy.

7. No-Sew Tote Bag From a Pillowcase

This one takes a pillowcase and a long strip of fabric to make a very simple bag.

Upcycled Plastic & Trash

8. Plarn Shopping Bag

This is a way to upcycle any old plastic shopping bags you have still hanging around. If you have a variety of colors, you can even make it look a little nicer. You aren’t getting away from plastic with this one, but at least you’re reusing it..

9. Grocery Bag Tote

This project has you ironing plastic grocery bags together to make a stronger tote. Some sewing required as well.

10. DIY Chicken Feed Sack Tote

This should work with just about any heavy weight pet food sack, not just chicken feed bags. Take a look at the bags your pet food comes in and see if any could be made into a tote.

11. Recycled Juice Pouch Bag

This tutorial has you sewing the bags together – others use hot glue. Either way, these are very easy to make.

5 Habits That Make You Less Eco Friendly

5 Habits That Make You Less Eco Friendly

We all have those habits we wish we could break. If you’re trying to be more eco friendly in your daily life, there are probably a number of things you would like to change, but just haven’t managed to yet. Here are some bad habits you may want to work on changing so you can be more eco friendly.

Bad Habit #1 – Forgetting Reusable Shopping Bags

For many of us, it’s easy to forget to put the reusable shopping bags in the car or where we’ll grab them before heading out to shop. If single use plastic shopping bags haven’t been banned in your area, that means you get more of those thin shopping bags that pile up so fast.

To get past this bad habit, come up with a way to remember to bring your reusable bags along for shopping. Get into the habit of putting them someplace easy to see when you’re going shopping.

Consider giving yourself a penalty when you forget your bags, such as having to drop a quarter into a jar for every non reusable bag you bring into the house, kind of like a swear jar.

Bad Habit #2 – Paper Towels

Paper towels are really convenient for cleaning up some messes, and they can be advertised as being more sanitary than cloth towels or sponges being used over and over again. Frankly, that depends on how often you change or clean your cloth towels and sponges, as there are ways to handle the germ issues in those. Paper towels, being single use items, are rarely the right choice.

Bad Habit #3 – Bottled Water

Don’t buy bottles of water when you’re on the go – bring your own in a reusable water bottle. Mine is stainless steel. It’s a few years old and still going strong. It’s easy to carry when I go somewhere – I chose an insulated bottle so that my drink stays cold even if I leave it in the car for a while.

Bad Habit #4 – Lights On During The Day

When you can, don’t turn the lights on in your home during the day. Open the blinds or curtains and get a little natural light in. Of course, if it’s too hot out, you may be better off with closed curtains so you don’t let the heat in and need to run the air conditioner.

Bad Habit #5 – Over Reliance On The Heater Or Air Conditioner

There’s no need to keep your home a steady temperature all year. Learn to enjoy a wider range of temperatures indoors and you can use your heater and air conditioner much less throughout the year. Wear warmer clothes indoors during the winter rather than heat the entire house, and use fans to keep cooler for less in summer.

Don’t forget to take advantage of your programmable thermostat if you have one. You don’t need to heat or cool your house so much when you aren’t home, and you may want cooler temperatures when you’re sleeping than when you’re awake – not to mention that, weather permitting, you may be able to open windows at night to cool things down after a hot day.

How Can You Stop Making Impulse Purchases?

Lots of us enjoy shopping. All the shiny new pretties are tempting. The problem is that most times we don’t need those impulse items. All those extra purchases aren’t doing the environment any favors, not to mention personal finances and the general clutter that builds in our homes. How can you stop making impulse purchases?

How Can You Stop Making Impulse Purchases?Wait

Deciding to wait on impulse purchases cuts down on most of them. Give yourself some time away from that tempting item before you buy it. It helps. Out of sight, out of mind for one thing, but also you can often think past the “ooh, neat!” factor and figure out if you really need the item. Most times you really don’t.

Do You Want It or Need It?

Really think about whether you want or need the item. We all get some things we want more than we need, but it’s best to keep that under control. Odds are good that there’s something you need more.

What Are Your Alternatives?

That impulse item may not be the best buy for your needs even if you come to realize you need it. If you’re going to buy, make sure you’re really buying the right item.

Stay Within Your Budget

Don’t let impulse items mess up your budget. If they aren’t in your budget, don’t buy. Make sure you’re getting a good deal, both in price and quality. Cheap junk is always cheap junk, no matter how cheap it is.

Think Long Term

In the long run, is this a purchase you will enjoy? This is a thought that can stop many impulse purchases if you give it enough time to take hold.

It’s especially true with clothes. Just think how fast trendy clothes go out of style. It makes far more sense to buy clothes that will look good for years, not just several months.

Think Green

Consider whether you’re making an environmentally friendly purchase, and if not, if there are alternatives which would do better in that sense. Think about how the product was made. Think about where waste from your purchase will go, from the packaging to the item itself when it wears out.

You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap!) Book Review

I was sent a copy of You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel to review on this site. It’s about simplifying your life to a much greater degree than most people, and the satisfaction she found by doing so. She and her husband had a tiny, 128 square foot home built for them after going through various stages of cutting down on the stuff they owned, and really enjoy their new lifestyle.

Obviously, a house that small isn’t for everyone. But going for small houses doesn’t have to mean you choose one of the extremely small ones – you have to consider your family. But even if you want to simplify your life to a lesser degree, this book has some useful ideas. A small house for my family would have to be somewhat larger to accommodate our three kids, but could still be significantly smaller than the place we’re renting now.


Tammy and her husband did all this in stages. She recommends various programs, such as the 100 Thing Challenge, to help you get rid of a lot of the excess in your life. She also points out that getting rid of things and learning to make do with less is a huge help in getting rid of debt.

Tammy and her husband also go without cars. They ride their bikes most places, or use a Zipcar or public transportation for greater distances. This is a part I really enjoyed, even though my family isn’t at a point where going down to even 1 car would work very well. We’ve done the one car thing, and it worked for a number of years, but given the poor public transportation where I live, and other issues, it won’t happen again for a while. Which is a pity, because I really enjoyed it and the money saved was really helpful.

There’s also a reminder to give of your time, not just money and things. Volunteering is a wonderful way to bring some extra meaning to your life and to make you grateful for what you have.

Many readers will also enjoy the personal stories shared in this book, not just by Tammy, but from other people who have simplified their lives.

Perhaps most important, Tammy emphasizes the benefits your personal relationships can gain from a simplified life. In my family, electronics aren’t allowed at the dinner table, but they can certainly get in the way of everyday interaction at other times, yet we have fewer gadgets than a lot of people I know. Going for a more simple life can also include a commitment to spend more time actually paying attention to those around you, not just being physically there.

What’s really wonderful about this book is that simplifying isn’t made out to be some complex process. It’s broken down into steps that you might picture yourself doing if you’re so inclined. Habits can be changed, but it’s not easy to change a bunch of them at once. Changing them over time is far easier. There’s no expectation that you’re going to go straight for a small house, but there are many tips for a variety of ways to simplify your lifestyle.