In the spirit of Earth Day this month, I’m sharing 10 simple changes you can make to create a more eco-friendly environment in your home. Some of you might have done all these and then some, but for those of us who need a nudge in a new direction, here are some baby steps to pick and choose from, according to where you are on your environmental journey.
1. Replace paper towels with cloth dish towels, sponges, and rags.
It can seem daunting to discontinue paper towel use when you’re accustomed to grabbing one several times a day for all manner of cleaning projects. If the idea of going cold turkey scares you, keep a roll at hand but gradually increase the number of reusable options you have as well.
Here’s what we use in place of paper towels:
- For wiping hands and drying dishes, what else? — a stack of dish towels
- For general kitchen mess and wiping down counters, sinks, and tables, our dish sponge
- For bathroom and other household cleaning, dedicated microfiber cloths that get tossed in the laundry after use
- For dusting, other microfiber cloths or a feather duster (or pretend you don’t see it…dust…what dust?
- For grease, we pour the excess grease from a pan into a jar we keep in the fridge (we even reuse it for cooking), and if we need to soak the grease out of meat, we use rags from old t-shirts that we don’t mind getting stained
- For messy renovation and other projects, dedicated microfiber cloths for paints and other nasty chemicals
- For big spills, absorbent towels, and lots of ’em
- For wiping little faces and hands, soft flannel rags cut from an old sheet
- For picking up cat puke — all right, I admit it. I cheat and grab some toilet paper!
Other than that, we haven’t use paper towels in at least a couple years. You don’t need anything fancy to replace them, either — there are various unpaper brands that people swear by, but you can use whatever works well for you, including recycling old clothes and sheets into rags. If you’re concerned about cross-contamination across cleaning tasks, color-code your similar rags (green only for kitchen, blue only for bathroom, etc.), or choose different types of cloths for each application. Kids will enjoy helping you hem rags on the sewing machine (younger children can press the pedal for you), and it doesn’t matter if a rag isn’t sewn perfectly! If you have a variety of sizes and fabrics on hand, you’ll always feel like there’s just the right type of cloth substitute available to you.
2. Swap out paper napkins for cloth.
Swanky and simple!
3. Reuse your bags.
It’s becoming more normal to bring reusable bags to the store. In fact, where I live, they don’t have plastic bags anymore, and you have to pay for paper! Way to encourage us to remember to bring our canvas ones, huh? Figure out what kinds of bags you like, and then stash your reusable bags wherever you might need them: plenty in your car, one or more in a diaper or shoulder bag, a compact one in a purse or jacket pocket. You’ll find they’re more comfortable, roomier, and sturdier than the disposable kind, and you can find fun prints to suit your style.
4. Pack lunches and snacks sensibly.
For school or work lunches, go for a bento-style box in a cooler bag: lightweight, protective, and versatile. For snacks on the go, grab a reusable cloth snack bag or mini-container. For drinks, invest in your own favorite travel bottle or mug — I love a stainless-steel insulated water bottle — and bring along your own refillable refreshment.
5. Put away food in glass.
Forgo the plastic containers and wraps and invest in a set of long-lasting glass containers with lids. It’s easy to transfer food into them, they won’t leach weird chemicals into your food, and many brands can be reheated in a microwave. Liquids and other soupy items can go into mason jars if that’s easier, and you can find mason jars at thrift stores.
6. Green your period.
If you use menstrual products, consider switching to something reusable. It’s not as daunting as you may think, and I find a menstrual cup with backup cloth pads is just as reliable and so much more comfortable than anything disposable I used to use.
7. Consider your baby’s bum.
Cloth diapers can be as simple to use as disposables, and so much cuter and comfier and, over the long run, generally a money saver as well. If you have your own washer and dryer, you can wash most diapers on warm or cold and then just toss them in the dryer — really not that much more to think about than the usual laundry that accompanies having a kidlet or two. If you live in a rental or other place without your own washer, you’ll have to get more creative, but it is doable if you’re inspired!
8. Give family cloth a try.
Oh, I know — I was reluctant to give up toilet paper, too! But I’ve now been using family cloth for over two years and — gasp — I miss it when I’m on vacation. For those of you, like me, who need the baby-step version, I recommend embracing soft cloth wipes for #1 but keeping the toilet paper on hand for #2 (and adding a bidet seat attachment if you’re feeling particularly adventurous!). Grab a wet bag while you’re at it to have someplace to stash them before laundry day. If your wipes just have some urine on them, it’s perfectly fine to add them to any load of laundry, even cold-water washes. I’m not joking. It really is. I now have two years of experience with this.
9. Pamper your nose with hankies.
Flannel or linen handkerchiefs are so much softer and more absorbent than paper tissues. Plus, you’ll look kind of fancy when you whip one out! You can create your own from old shirts or sheets, or find a selection from WAHMs on Etsy. Hankies can also be tossed in with any laundry load.
10. Dry your laundry with wool.
Speaking of this new laundry, skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets and make your own wool dryer balls (or buy a few). Your laundry will still be soft, but you’ll skip the added chemicals and waste — win!
What reusable options does your family use? What haven’t you attempted yet?