Reducing Plastic in Our Home

If you hadn’t heard this month is #PlasticFreeJuly.

Caring for the environment became important to me a couple of years ago as I considered how much waste our family produces. I didn’t understand too much about recycling but I knew I wanted to do my part to protect and nurture creation. Yet, the green world of “zero waste” and all things “eco-friendly” appeared to be intimidating and downright inconvenient.

#PlasticFreeJuly sounds impossible. And maybe it is at the moment! But what if — in these final days of July, or the following months — we work to slowly reduce our plastic consumption and work towards #PlasticFreeFridays or #PlasticFreeWeekends?

As a follow up to this post, here are some small steps where we’re learning to reduce unnecessary plastic or waste:

Alternatives for Food Storage

For the fridge or freezer: We’re getting better using glass food storage containers regularly, including reusing glass jars for lunches or longer freezer storage. (Here’s a few tips on freezing food in glass jars.) By freezing leftover food items we’ve been able to cut down our food waste.

For the leftovers: My dear friend sent me a pack of bees wax wraps and they’ve replaced my plastic wrap use! (I still have the same small box of plastic wrap that I bought a few months after getting married almost three years ago! What?!)

If you still have plastic tupperware, don’t throw it away! That would defeat the point of producing less waste. If you choose to store your food in non-plastic containers, try finding other ways to use the tupperware around your home. I use them for organizing smaller tools or screws.

Choosing Less Plastic Waste

In the produce aisle: While shopping for groceries, specifically produce, I try to steer clear of items wrapped in plastic that are available plastic-free, even if at another store. Sometimes I use a compostable bag or cloth bag and other times I skip the produce bag altogether.

In your Amazon order: Did you know you can reduce the extra packaging in your Amazon orders? Find the how-to here.

In your gift wrapping: I recently used an old J.Crew bag for a gift bag. I took a moment to recreate it by arranging a fun collage of left over scrapbook paper and magazines over the brand name.

In the laundry: I’m sure you’ve heard about water waste? I try to remember to turn off the water while I brush my teeth or scrub dishes. (I’m working on it, I promise!) I’m also learning about micro plastics in our regular laundry cycles. These tiny plastic fibers are washed into our water sources. I haven’t made much progress in this area, but it’s on the list.

Soap & Household Cleaners

For the floor: Once I ran out of disposable Swiffer Sweeper cloths we created our own reusable cloths from an old towel. Aaron cut the towel in similarly sized squares and tada! An effective, reusable, and eco-friendly solution!

For everywhere else: We’ve used bar soaps or good old fashioned white vinegar and baking soda to clean up in the shower or around the house. A glass bottle can also allow you to mix your own cleaners with concentrated cleaners. (Here’s a great guide to natural/non-toxic alternatives for household cleaners.)

Care for the Environment as a Christian Responsibility

I’m still learning everyday. I still buy plastic, I’m still intimidated by composting in our apartment, and I often “forget” to do things I know I should. Reducing waste and consumption is arguably better than recycling. And with one step at a time, it’s not too difficult and has a meaningful impact upon our earthly home.

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

Wendell Berry

In my own experience, Christians haven’t been fond of climate change or even keeping track of their earthly footprint. There’s a few reasons for this, I suppose. Some believe it’s merely political, others believe the “end times” won’t allow for the earth to survive anyway, and even more have yet to consider the issue in the first place. Especially in the US, our society is highly individualistic, materialistic and consumerist. More often than not, our faith (theologically and practically) mirror these traits.

If you’re still on the fence about your role in caring for the environment, or creation care or “ecojustice” as some like to say, this article may offer you a few points and scriptures to consider.

How have your habits and routines been impacted by creation care?

For the Low-Waste Beginner

“Zero waste” goals are filled with good intentions, but they can also be glazed with privilege or affluence. (Here’s a helpful article.) We don’t have gold coins spilling from our pockets, but even as a one-income family we do have access to a variety of resources that others may not have. My hope is to encourage each other to be thoughtful in how and what we consume as we aim to lessen the amount of waste we contribute to this planet.

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Reducing waste keeps our environment clean and our ecosystem healthy. (Photo: Massimiliano Latella)

As beginners ourselves, here’s what we’ve worked on in the last year.

Exploring Ways to Reduce

Essential Bathroom Swaps

  • Shampoo. We’ve swapped our shampoo bottles for bars! I thought the bar wouldn’t give me enough product or lather to really clean my thick hair, but I was wrong. I love it! I’ve been using this one for almost a year and a half. Aaron likes this one.
  • Body wash. These bars from Whole Foods are the bomb. When they go on sale, be sure to stock up!
  • Face wash. Aaron likes this stuff and this bar.
  • Toothbrushes & toothpaste. Bamboo toothbrushes have also been a hit. Did you know you can chew toothpaste? Aaron’s used these in the past, warning — these are a tad spendy. (I’ve seen others make their own toothpaste, but that’s a dare devil move if you ask me.)

Selecting Different Forms of Protein

The commercial processing of red meat uses lots of water and land in a way that isn’t sustainable. (Read more.) This wasn’t super difficult as we hardly eat any beef. Some might also say that going vegan is even better on the environment. We’re not quite ready for that.

Supporting Sustainable Companies and Organizations

There are so many small and big business that can help you reduce your footprint. From big bulk stores to your neighborhood health and wellness store — you have options!

  • Have you heard of this zero-waste grocery delivery service??
  • We are also huge fans of the Buy Nothing Project. I’ve been able to find all sorts of things for free through my local Buy Nothing Facebook page. It helps us save money and also reduces the amount of packaging usually associated with brand new purchases.

Discovering What We Can Reuse

Alternatives in the Kitchen

  • Food storage. I save most glass jars and use them for either food storage, like tupperware, or other types of organization. I recently purchased these containers for lunches and leftovers.
  • Water bottles. Aaron gave me this glass one a few years ago and still use it everyday. I prefer this lid.
  • Straws. Glass straws are pretty and easy to use. And better yet, many times you don’t really need the straw.
  • Cloth napkins. I haven’t purchased paper napkins in years and we’ve barely touched paper towels. Cloth napkins are really easy to make yourself or find.

Shopping Smarter

  • I try to avoid plastic packaging if possible, especially around produce. Reusable produce bags are a simple way to cut back on plastic. If necessary, some super markets offer compostable produce bags.
  • We also use fun larger reusable grocery bags, which makes the one-trip mission easier since the bags are stronger and usually more comfortable to carry. Even choosing paper over plastic is a smart move!

Learning How to Recycle

  • Recycling the right things: There are all different types of plastics and paper. Some you can stick in the recycle bin, others you can’t! Here’s a helpful breakdown.
  • Buying second hand and donating clothing: I’ve donated and shopped at thrift stores, but I recently learned you could recycle those old bras for a great cause! I sent mine here.

Future Goals for our Low-Waste Life

  • Composting. I’m not sure how to attempt composting in our small apartment, but I’m up for trying if anyone has suggestions?
  • Water filter. Our friends have a Berkey water filter. They love it. Right now we have a Brita pitcher, which involves constant filter replacement. We don’t have a ton of space to spare, so we’ll look back into this once we move.
  • Other important bathroom swaps.  Someday we’ll swap our cotton swabs, moisturizers, and other bathroom essentials out for products that are more easily compostable and without plastic containers.
  • Beeswax food wraps. These are a great alternative to saran wrap. I don’t use plastic wrap a ton anyways, but I think it might be fun to try these (or make them!)

These changes don’t happen overnight, nor are they always consistent habits. Small steps in the right direction are key.

Do you have any goals like these? I’d love to hear what has or hasn’t worked for you!

Exploring a Zero Waste Lifestyle

4 nor’easters later, March has come to an end.

Spring is in the air and I’ve begun to purge my life of all things unused. Including the four inches of length that left my head of hair this afternoon! It’s made me think about everything else I have.

Have you heard of living with zero waste? Essentially, it’s shaping your life in such a way where you produce minimal trash. I first heard of this movement last year when I saw this video. It seemed extreme at first, but the more I thought about it, the more attainable it became. This coincided with a Christian ethics course that has me especially motivated this semester. From packaging, food scraps, and other waste – I produce so much trash!

I wouldn’t call zero-waste living minimalism, although I suppose it could be. Reducing the trash in my life provides an opportunity for sustainable living! As with most anything, to begin one must start with small steps: refuse your plastic straw, being mindful of paper resources, choose second hand first then shop ethically for new clothing, exchanging a ziplock for a reusable dish or bag, bringing your own grocery bags to the store, and exchanging plastic for glass where applicable.

The products you purchase and use, for the bathroom to the hall closet, impact more than just your individual home. In a cultural obsessed with instant gratification and fast fashion, it’s important that we not only steward our financial resources well, but also all our natural, earthly ones too. “Sustainability” isn’t meant for only a certain audience or “green” group – it’s meant to include and benefit all who call Earth home.

Shop small or local and buy in bulk if possible. Online selection has expanded in recent years making it easier and more affordable for us to find sustainable products (toothbrushes, lunch boxes, produce bags, etc.) on sites like Grove or ThriveMarket.

Helpful Zero-Waste Resources

Do you have favorite resources for zero-waste living or waste-reducing products?