I’ve been battling plastic in our house for a few years now. It started with the number of half-empty water bottles four kids could leave strewn about the house (and rolling around my SUV). The other thing that killed me was the wasted flavored waters like Propel that were opened and never finished—so much money just being poured down the drain.
I initially tried to make the rule that at home, everyone had to get a glass and fill it with filtered water from the fridge and the bottled water was solely for transport. Alas, the siren song of those plastic water bottles in the garage proved too strong and I was the only one following it. So I bought everyone a distinctive, reusable 16 ounce water bottle from S’well for Christmas a few years ago and simply stopped buying any bottle water. It was astoundingly easy to make the switch. I found that I could buy Propel flavor packets to add to the water bottles and as someone who hates the non-taste of water, I was saved. The only drawbacks were an occasional line at the fridge to fill the bottles before school and some family members who started collections of drinking glasses on their bedside tables. My kids have upgraded to huge 32 ounce Hydroflasks, but I still rely on my bottle that fits in the car cupholder.
I love sparkling mineral water with dinner (and wine!) and as I transitioned away from plastic, I made sure to only buy mineral water in glass bottles. Then, my recycling company stopped accepting glass and designated all glass as garbage. They cited the lack of market for recycled glass—apparently it is easier and cheaper to make new glass than recycle. I debated whether to invest in a SodaStream Sparkling Water maker. I was unsure if I really loved the carbonation or the taste of the minerals in my San Pellegrino. The models I looked at were in the $120 range and I sat on the fence forever, and then I scored during a housewares reset of my local Wegman’s grocery store when I found a basic SodaStream set on clearance for an amazing $14.92!!! I like it (not love, but i feel the virtue out of not tossing bottles in the trash outweighs the meh flavor,) although, I haven’t had to replace the CO2 bottle yet.
After the hubbub about sea turtles and straws, I immediately switched to stainless steel straws. And, after a stomach-churning realization that the dishwasher doesn’t always get the straws clean, I also invested in straw cleaning brushes. It takes two seconds to give the straws a quick swipe with the brush and then put in dishwasher.
I’ve had reusable grocery bags for years. Beyond their environmental impact, I loved that they held more items and that meant fewer trips from the car to the kitchen. I didn’t love that I remembered them only after I was standing in the checkout line. They were either in my car or hanging in the garage. Then I made the commitment that if I forgot the bags, I would buy reusable bags in the grocery line. Since that promise to myself, I probably spent $10 on bags and I bring my bags so often that we’ve run out of the plastic grocery bags that seem breed in the pantry. I also will tuck a muslin tote in my purse for small purchases elsewhere—perfect for bookstores and drug stores!
To cut down on plastic in the pantry, I switched to paper sandwich bags for sandwiches, stainless steel Lunch Bots for crushable snacks, re-usable silicone bags for other items, and Bee’s Wrap re-usable wrap for well, wrapping food. I love everything, except the silicone bags. The bottom of the bags have a fold that retains water so it’s kind of a pain to dry one way and then turn the bag inside out to dry again. I’ve found that mason jars work as well for storing food and are super easy to clean (and dry!) in the dishwasher. I confess that I still use plastic bags and wrap if I’m storing raw meat, but it is so much less than before!
My other mission was to break our addition to paper products. We went through so many paper towels, mostly because it was easy—-I bought them in bulk and there was always a fresh roll waiting. I found reusable paper towels on Amazon and fell in love with them. The first set I bought for cleaning up were so thick and felt so nice with cheerful stitching, that I gave them duty as our new kitchen napkins. The next sets I purchased were single-ply material and perform better than a paper towel. Again, raw meat makes me pull out the paper towels and Clorox wipes, but I’ve been able to reset my Amazon subscription for paper towels from monthly to every 3 months, and I often skip a delivery! As someone who often feels overwhelmed with how much I have to do, using cloth napkins and towels hasn’t increased my laundry burden–the load of dishtowels I was already washing is a little bigger. I found the same thing with ditching the paper plates—in my head I thought using paper plates for sandwiches or when the kids have pizza with friends was a huge time-saver, but really it literally takes two seconds to put plates in the dishwasher!
Lessening our reliance on plastics in the bathroom is our ongoing project. My kids switched to bamboo toothbrushes and I use an electric toothbrush with a replaceable head. The girls have wholeheartedly switched to shampoo bars and soap bars in stead of liquid formulations in plastic bottles. I haven’t found a bar that I’ve been willing to trust my colored, high-lighted, low-lighted and smudged hair to–who knew it was so much work to have brown hair! I do suck it up and buy the 1000ml Oribe Gold Lust shampoo and conditioner so at least I’m using fewer plastic bottles. For shaving, I use a razor with a replaceable head and a bag refill of L’Occitane shower oil. For me, getting greener in the shower is still a work in progress.
As we are feeling the first taste of winter, my most unpopular green initiative will be the topic of family discussion until spring. I keep our thermostats set to 68 degrees. My barefoot, t-shirted children will complain that it is FREEZING in our house. I tell them to put on a sweatshirt and slippers and quit hating the Earth. Do you have any tips for a greener house?