One of the best ways I’ve found to save money (and our planet!) is to stop buying things that have no other purpose than to be thrown away. When I really think about it, it makes me angry that a company would market something and make me feel like I need to buy it just to trash it after a few minutes of use. I decided not to play that game anymore. And not only do I have more money in my pocket, I feel better about not making so much trash. Granted, some paper products can be composted, but we have limited compost space in our tiny “yard” behind our house, and have to be really careful about filling it up faster than the stuff can break down.
Anyway, here are some tips if you’re interested in cutting back on your paper trash.
Keep an eye on all the disposable stuff you throw away. For any one-time-use item, there’s always a reusable option. Paper towels, tissues, sponges, swiffer pads, diapers, wipes, feminine products, toilet paper, the list keeps going. What do you spend money on that you just throw away?
You probably noticed in my list here, that with every item further on the list the “grossness factor” seems to go up. I know you’re thinking it: I don’t want to re-use THAT! Don’t think about it. Start with something you CAN do, like using rags instead of paper towels. When you tackle that, you’ll be ready for the next one.
I’m onto reusing things I never thought I’d be able to transition to, and it’s really not a big deal. Just keep focusing on the money you’ll save and the good you’ll do for our planet. Think of it this way: I estimated saving about $200 a year by using rags instead of tissues. If someone just walked up to you in the street and gave you $200 you wouldn’t say “Thanks, but I’d like to send this to Proctor & Gamble, because they need it more than I do” would you? No way! But that’s what we do every time we buy something just to throw it away.
Ok, now onto suggestions for actually making the switch:
I don’t have kids, so I can’t comment on cloth diapers or reusable wipes, but I do have some suggestions for replacing other kinds of paper products.
Doing laundry: I’ve been doing a separate load of rags/reusables (with the water level set appropriately to a lower setting), just to keep this stuff separate from my clothes and such. It works out pretty well. I also have a few of those mesh zippered bags to keep some stuff separate. Like I’ll put all my toilet paper squares in a bag so they’ll all stay together. It also helps to use specific types of fabrics or colors for each purpose. Not that I don’t trust my washer, but I don’t want to clean my counter or wipe my nose with one of my toilet paper rags. Each kind of rag in my house is a different kind of fabric, so I know quickly which is which.
All-purpose rags. Just about anything goes for replacing paper towels. I use old t-shirt scraps because I have so many of them, but you could use just about anything. Old clothing with holes in it, old wash cloths, cut up towels, get creative. What kinds of fabric items do you have but not use anymore?
Glass cleaning rags. Certain kinds of fabric leaves lint on glass and mirrors, but old sweatshirt pieces work really well for this. I keep a separate pile in the rag bin just for these types of rags.
Tissues. As one who gets lots of colds, has allergies, and in general almost always has a runny nose from something, I’ve found rags are actually gentler on my skin than tissues. And I certainly don’t miss having to buy the expensive lotion-infused paper ones anymore! Flannel (or any other soft fabric) works nicely for this purpose (think old worn out pajama pants…).I cut up a few old pillows to use the stuffing for a sewing project and ended up saving the outer fabric for these types of rags. They’re also white, so they don’t look so odd when I pull one out of my purse or coat pocket. Speaking of traveling with these, I also don’t miss the little paper “flakes” that would end up all over the inside of my purse, or the mess that would end up in the washer or dryer when disposable tissues accidentally went through. At home, I just fold them up and keep them in the same old tissue box I used to use. It works out really well!
Sponges. Ok, not a paper product, but these things are still unnecessary. A few years ago, my sister crocheted me (I know, everyone in my family crochets but me!) a set of reusable sponges from yarn. They work really well for doing dishes, and when they start to smell bad (or even before that), just toss them in the wash and they’re good as new again! Mine look really old and faded, but they’ve been really effective. I imagine you could use strips of fabric rags instead of yarn to crochet with and that would work just as well.
Dryer Sheets: Again, not a paper product, but there’s still a reusable option. Check out my posting on laundry for the specifics.
Swiffer pads. I actually don’t have my swiffer anymore, but when I did, I quickly got tired of constantly replacing the disposable pads. A few rags and some clothes pins or rubber bands will do the trick just fine!
Toilet paper. I just switched to using these this past week, so I’m still in “prototype mode.” But after using pieces of nice, soft, thick microfiber, using paper sounds totally barbaric now. I don’t want to totally get rid of all my toilet paper, as I’d still like to have some as an option when we have guests, but I found quickly that if it’s on the spindle, I’ll use it out of habit. So I found a way to hang a basket of rags where the roll used to be and moved the extra paper roll to the back of the toilet. I also placed a small bucket right under the basket for the used pieces. When it comes time for laundry day, here comes the need for that mesh zippered bag I was talking about earlier. Put the bag over the bucket, turn it upside down and dump all the rags into the bag. Zip it closed and toss it in the washer. No touching necessary! Please excuse the ugliness of my prototype contraption in this picture…..I wanted to make sure it works before worrying about having it match my bathroom.
Feminine products. You knew this one was coming, ladies. That’s a lot of trash every month, and too much for me to ignore on here. I got a pattern from my sister for making reusable pads (which I really like), and recently started using a divacup. For this one though, I’ve got enough to say for a separate posting, which gives you some time to get started on these other things first, before having to worry about tackling this one ;). In the mean time, check out divacup’s website if you’re interested in more info, and be relieved in knowing that I switched to reusables three months ago, and I didn’t die from being grossed out. In some ways, its actually LESS gross. More on this later.
What ways have you found to reduce paper product use?