Reducing Plastic Use

My last push for not wasting materials was prompted by the documentary Waste Land and led to a small collection of fountain pens and other refillable pens that has been serving me well. I have not thrown away a single pen, mechanical pencil, or highlighter since starting my reusable pen habit last school year, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m also much more organized now that I don’t think of my pens as disposable: I know exactly where each pen, pencil, and highlighter is at every moment. An added bonus is that the ink for these pens comes in glass bottles that are easily recycleable; I’m even thinking of asking Nathan of Noodler’s ink if he’d like me to send the empty bottles back to him for reuse. Of course, I haven’t reached the bottom of a bottle yet, so I’ll ask that question when I have some bottles to send.

Recently, I read the book Garbology by Edward Humes. That gave me another wake-up call about my plastic and other disposables use. Oh, I do the usual things like taking my own bags to the grocery store (including produce bags), buying the most concentrated cleaners in the largest containers, taking my own take-out containers for leftovers when I go out to eat (when I remember, that is), packing my lunch in reusable containers and always bringing real rather than disposable silverware along with a cloth napkin, cleaning with rags instead of paper towels (except for certain pet messes — sorry, world). I got comfortable with my little efforts, and I stopped looking for more to do.

But there is so much more. Here’s a list of what I’ve started and what I’m planning to do.

The most wasteful use of plastic in my home is in the shower, so I’ve taken efforts to change my habits.

Shampoo Bar: I have long hair and run through shampoo and conditioner bottles at a pretty rapid pace. Each of those leads to one more large piece of plastic in the recycle bin. Yes, recycling is all fine and dandy, but reducing is divine. I switched to J.R. Liggett’s Bar Shampoo (wrapped in paper) this week and couldn’t be happier. I’ve read horror stories on the internet about tangling and greasy hair during the transition, but so far I haven’t experienced anything but super soft hair*. I did use an apple cider vinegar rinse, though, so that may have mitigated some problems.

The apple cider vinegar, by the way, came in a large plastic jug, but I don’t feel guilty because my local Winco has ACV in bulk, so I can just being my empty jug down for a refill. That one plastic jug is likely to last me several years.

*I haven’t used it long enough to know whether or not that super soft hair is due to the shampoo itself or simply the switch; every time I switch shampoos, my hair feels super soft, and then after weeks and weeks, my hair grows accustomed to it and gets dull again. If that is the case with this shampoo, I’m not worried: there are plenty of varieties of bar shampoo out there, so I needn’t go back to plastic bottles.

Bar Soap: I don’t know when I switched from bar soap to the liquid body wash I’ve been using the past decade or so, but I think it had to do with my friends telling me about loofahs (more on this later). I tried one and was hooked, and thus increased my plastic consumption both with the body wash and the loofah that inevitably falls apart, starts stinking, or both. I’ve now switched to Out of Africa Pure Shea Butter Unscented Bar Soap. So far, it doesn’t dry out my skin, which is also decreasing my reliance on lotion. That, in turn, will save on plastic. (There’s probably a natural alternative to lotion out there, but I haven’t looked yet as my bottle is both full and rather neglected of late).

Shaving Puck and Brush: I don’t subscribe to those shaving gels or creams that are marketed towards women and cost eight times as much as a simple can of barbasol, but I do still buy that can of barbasol which is mostly metal with a plastic cap. I only shave with soap alone out of necessity when I travel, and I don’t much like it, so I’ve switched to Petal Pusher Fancies. Don’t be fooled — that puck is huge. It comes in its own tin, which I can reuse as I try out different brands that don’t have their own containers… if I ever run out of this, that is. Eventually, I’ll probably buy a different razor that only requires the metal blades themselves to be replaced (right now I’m using the Venus) and thus requires less material and packaging, but for now I’ve got about a year’s supply of replacement blades, so that’ll wait. Assuming I like my new razor, I’ll probably keep the Venus for travel.

Argon Oil: I use very little product and no make-up, but my hair tends towards frizz and static, so I’ve made a habit of using Bed Head, a brand which likes to flaunt its excessive plastic use. I’ve replaced this with a small glass bottle of 100% argon oil. One drop keeps all my hair frizz-free; two drops tame the static. That one little bottle will last longer than a large bottle of Bed Head, and it has no added chemicals to boot.

Outside of the bathroom, I’ve made a few changes, too:

Take-Out Containers and Cups: Like I said above, I’ve been pretty inconsistent about actually bringing these, but no more. I’m taking these with me every time I go out from now on, and so far I’ve held to that. When I go to Deaf chats at Starbucks now, I bring my own coffee mug with lid. If I go out somewhere that has disposable cups, utensils, and/or straws, I bring my own reusable ones (well, not the straw yet; I need to run down to Cost Plus and purchase them, but I’m doing that this morning, so it’ll be true by the time this is posted). My next task is going to be to be to see if I can get places that only use disposable plates (yes, you, pupusería) to put the food on a plate I provide them with. I’m not sure what the health code is on that, so I’m not too optimistic.

Silicone Mat: I bake a lot, so I’ve gone through a lot of foil. The silicone mat promises to last forever and be easy to clean. Also, nothing sticks. It’s pretty amazing.

Tying Platic Bags in Knots: I don’t accrue many plastic bags, but sometimes they sneak in. In fact, yesterday I went grocery shopping with my reusable bags, and somehow the bagger snuck two plastic bags into my reusable bags. One was holding one tiny item (Why? It wasn’t even food — I could almost understand had it been meat) and the other was stuffed into my bag for no reason. Needless to say, I was frustrated. But here’s what I learned from Garbology: tie those suckers into knots before recycling/disposing of them. Here’s why: the bags are so thin and light that they fly away when transported, putting birds and ocean creatures at risk, not to mention simply making for a dingy looking city with bags floating all over the place. The simple act of tying each bag into a knot makes it more likely that bag will make it where it’s supposed to go. Of course, ideally, no one would use single-use plastic bags at all, but if you get a couple hitchikers like I did, at least you know one Earth-positive step to take.


After Shower Cleaning Spray: I found a simple recipe for this online, and I can refill my current spray bottle once it runs out. That said, now that I’m using bar soap and bar shampoo, there’s not much in the way of soap scum to fight.

Sisal Wash Cloth: I grew up using washcloths and bar soaps. Then I switched, as I mentioned above. Now I’m switching back, but I miss the gentle exfoliating power of the loofah, so I’m going to try this out. It’s made of a natural fiber, is supposed to last a long time, and should do what I miss from the loofah. We’ll see. First I need to check around if I can get it locally; if not, I’ll order from Amazon.

HE Laundry Detergent: Recipes for this are all over the internet and don’t vary much. I was shocked that my grocery store didn’t carry any of the ingredients (Borax, washing soda, fels naptha or castille soap). I’m hoping my local Winco will come to the rescue. The only tough decision I have to make is: do I want a dry detergent or a liquid one? I’m leaning towards dry, but I’m afraid of clumping, so I think I’ll start with a small batch.

Wool Dryer Balls: I was going to make my own, reusable cloth dryer sheets, but then I saw these and thought they were even better. The environmental downside is that they ship from New Zealand, so I’m hoping to find a more local source for them. We air dry all our clothes (one benefit of our hot, dry climate), but we do use the dryer for towels, bed linens, and curtains, and I think these will help cut drying time and static.

Buying from Bulk Bins: I love everything about Winco except their produce section. Unfortunately, the quality of produce generally determines which grocery store I’ll shop at, so I don’t end up at Winco often. That has to change. I can get bulk gluten-free pasta, beans, rice, vinegar, and who knows what else there — all using my own containers. That’s too good a thing to pass up. Once my ankle heals, I can walk there, but until then, I can stop off on the way home from work and not use up any extra gas. Then I can go shopping at the other store with my husband for produce.

Saran Wrap Alternative: Most of the recipes on the internet are the same and involve coating tightly woven cotton fabric with beeswax. I’m going to get some pretty fat squares from my local SewVac, cut them into various sizes that would cover the containers in my house, and coat them. There are some limitations; they can’t be used on raw meat (because they can’t be washed in hot water) and they can’t be used in the microwave. I think I can just use my existing tupperware to solve the meat problem, and I only rarely use wrap when I heat something up in the microwave, so that shouldn’t be a problem either.

Liquid Hand Soap: Again, there are numerous recipes on the internet, and all of them are simple. I like foaming hand wash and already have a bottle for it, so I just have to wait until my current bottle runs out before I make my own batch. The other bottles in the house are just the regular pump kind, but that’s fine, too.

Dish Soap: Once again, I just have to wait until my current bottle runs out and then fill it with the home-made brand. Buying castille soap in bars instead of buying the liquid form in jugs saves plastic and gas as it’s lighter and smaller to ship. It also takes up less storage space. The soap can then be shredded/grated and melted in water for liquid soaps.

Dishwasher Detergent: I’m a little dubious about this, but it mostly uses ingredients I’ll already have on hand for the other recipes, so it’s worth a shot. Considering how many of the brand-name detergents disappoint me, I have little hope. Also, the detergents for dishwashers often come in cardboard boxes, so they’re less of an environmental concern to me. As a side note, I’ve been using white vinegar in lieu of Jet Dry for years, and that works wonderfully.

That’s it for now, but I’m open to other waste-saving suggestions!

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