6 Ways to Avoid Using Paper and Plastic in Your Home

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6 ways to avoid paper and plastic

This is a guest post by Hilary Kimes Bernstein of Accidentally Green

While I worked my way through college, being a grocery store cashier was one of my many jobs. Plastic grocery bags had just become popular, and “Paper or plastic?” was a question I could repeat in my sleep.

Now that I’m a wife and mother, I’m trying to make healthy and frugal choices in my home – and I try to avoid using paper and plastic.

Here are six of the easiest ways I avoid using them:

1. Cloth napkins

When my firstborn was old enough to scoot around my kitchen and tear into our pile of paper napkins, I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to waste money or paper – plus, the tiny shreds were time-consuming to clean up.

I made the switch to cloth napkins and have never looked back. I started with a dozen cloth napkins my husband and I received as a wedding gift, but have added to my stash over the years. (The frugal side of me loves finding cloth napkins at bargain prices.) I love that they wear well – they’re sturdy for dabbing food off of faces or wiping off sticky hands. And after they’re washed and dried, they look like new.

2. Dish cloths

I’ve always used kitchen towels, but within the past couple years I’ve started using dish cloths, too. My husband and mom had influenced me to stick with disposable scrubbers and sponges, but after being disgusted at the thought of germs, I bought a pack of dish cloths. I love using them. It’s so easy to wash a sink full of dishes with them, clean up messy countertops and tables, then stick them in a load of laundry so they can be reused.

I’ve noticed a paper towel commercial has tried to discredit dish cloths by claiming they’re covered in germs– that would be true if they were reused and rarely washed. Just be sure to wash and dry them after each batch of dishes, and you’ll have a clean, cheap, and reusable solution.

3. Reusable glass containers

After investing in a couple sets of reusable glass containers, I’ve virtually eliminated using plastic wrap or aluminum foil. I used to depend on the disposable containers to cover leftovers. Originally I bought the glass containers so I could throw away every plastic container in my kitchen in an attempt to get BPA out of my home.

Now that I’m exclusively using glass containers, I also save glass food jars and bottles. The shapes and sizes can be a little odd, but they’re free. And I’ve found they’re perfect for storing homemade dressings, soups, and sauces.

4. Mama Cloth

I never, ever gave a second thought to disposable feminine hygiene products until I was working on my blog, Accidentally Green. My readers’ endorsements of reusable feminine hygiene products prompted me to try Mama Cloth – and I’ve never looked back.

5. Cloth diapers

My children were cloth diapered since they were tiny infants – and except for some unexpectedly busy and chaotic moments in our lives, we tried to cloth diaper as much as possible. With all of the different varieties of cloth diapers that are available, many really are as easy to use as disposable diapers. Surprisingly, the laundering process isn’t disgusting. (I promise.) The environmental benefits are huge – you’re not adding tons of diapers to landfills.

6. Handkerchiefs

For generations, people wiped drippy noses with handkerchiefs – I knew I needed to try, too. During cold and flu season my family still uses paper tissues if we’re frequently blowing our stuffy noses. But for sniffles or a good cry, I love using handkerchiefs because they’re so gentle. And I adore my late grandmother’s hankies, because they’re so pretty and old-fashioned.

Your turn

What ways have you reduced paper and plastic use in your home?

Hilary has written about many other simple, affordable, and healthy choices her family has incorporated into their daily lives in her new eBook, Accidentally Green.

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  1. I have switched my food storage to glass containers and I love it. I also switch whatever comes in bags etc. to glass containers and crocks when they come in the house, before they go into the pantry. I have switched to dishcloths and towels. I switched from plastic bottles of water to home delivery of water (we can’t afford to replumb our house so this is an alternative for us), and use stainless steel bottles for on the go. I have lots of fabric and a serger and making up napkins and tablecloths, etc. is not that difficult. I can make a large number of napkins for little money. I hadn’t thought about that for handkerchiefs (I grew up in the age of handkerchiefs), but I could also do that for those. I get cleaning cloths similar to diapers in bulk and buy microfiber cloths in bulk when I find a good deal. I keep a wastebasket in the kitchen to catch used cloths etc. so they can be cleaned without a hassle.

    I am trying to make incontinence pads for normal use, reserving store-purchased ones for bad days or illness. I have researched it a lot and have procured the things I need to start making them. I will save a lot of money and this will be easier on the landfill. Women in my grandmother’s generation didn’t have the luxury of all these things.

    I have started making most of our cleaning products and insecticides. We have switched to soap nuts for cleaning our clothes and we use the soap by the company to wash our hair. We love the products.

    I have stopped subscribing to magazines and the newspaper. We use our Kindles for books and have stopped buying books. We do all we can in this regard.

    I am making sandwich bags out of fabric with zippers. You can purchase zippers on line in bulk. I am also making trash catch all bags for the car out of fabric. I have made durable washable tote bags for groceries that are easily cleaned. I have made more changes and will continue to do so for our health and for the environment.

  2. Great post! We do all of those things except 4 and 5 – past that stage and don’t have children. I found it so easy to switch to all of those especially the handkerchiefs. I love pulling one out of my pocket or purse, and I’ve purchased so many cloth napkins from thrift store I have got to stop!!

  3. I’ve been wanting to switch to Mama Cloth, but I haven’t done it yet. I always thought it sounded a bit repulsive. But I started using cloth diapers on my daughter, and I realized using Mama Cloth wouldn’t be worse than cloth diapers. Plus, I don’t think I would have to do any additional laundry since I can wash the diapers and the Mama Cloth together. It’s something I’ve been thinking about . . .

  4. I wondered what you do with dirty dish cloths until wash time. I tried this method and found that mildew developed on my cloths in between the time they were used and washed. Any suggestions?

    1. Jenny, once our dish cloths are in need of changing, I spread them out over the edge of our laundry sink (or oven handle) until dry and then store them in a bucket or bag until wash day. The key for me is that the cloths must be completely dry before I store them otherwise mildew results. I also launder them separately (along with my dish towels/cloth napkins) in hot, hot water with vinegar in the rinse. If they are stinky or extra dirty, I often will soak them in baking soda beforehand as well.

    2. I spread my wrung out dishcloth over the side of my laundry basket in the laundry room until it’s dry. I find if I leave them in the kitchen someone will invariably use it again.

  5. In addition to all of the above I got a Moon cup and we installed bidets in both bathrooms. The only paper I still buy (other than tp for my bidet hating teenager) is paper towels, tissues for sick days and parchment paper which I reuse as much as possible. I am having a hard time letting go of the paper towels…
    I invested in a bunch of glass pyrex storage and Eco lunch boxes to eliminate the plastic as well. It took a few years but now we barely ever use the last remaining plastic containers and haven’t bought any new ones (ziploc etc) for a few years.
    It is a fun challenge that feels good when you accomplish it. I will start working on paper towel reduction strategies next year, for now I am miles above where I came from. 🙂

  6. I used cloth diapers with my sons, though not for green reasons. I figured I would rather have cloth on my but rather than paper, plus cloth, even with diaper service costs the same or less!
    I have wanted to use cloth napkins but am concerned about stains, especially with colored ones. I do laundry once a week and i dont want to have to scrub/treat/soak on a daily basis, but I don’t want dingy looking napkins either.

    1. We have found the perfect cloth napkin colors to be chocolate brown and light grey. Also to clean out bad stains, I usually just add 1 cup of borax to a HOT load of wash water and let it go in the cycle. But hubby usually tries to get the stain at least rinsed in cold water right after dinner.

  7. I invested in Mama Cloth during my last pregnancy and almost couldn’t wait to give birth just so I could try it out. I love it! So much better than scratchy disposables (and cheaper!)
    We do most of these except cloth napkins and handkerchiefs. I would love to find some cloth napkins though, I think I’m going to have to go thrifting and make the switch.
    The other thing we do is Family Cloth. Just one step up from cloth diapers and Mama Cloth. I cut up a bunch of old t-shirts into squares and keep them in a pretty basket on the back of the toilet. Then I have a covered waste basket next to the toilet that they go in when they’ve been used. Just toss them in the wash with the cloth diapers! Our sink is right next to our toilet so you can just lean over and dampen one – a much cleaner feeling than dry toilet paper! I read an article somewhere that said we would never clean a baby’s poopy bum with dry toilet paper, so why do we try to clean our own? Much more hygienic to use a wet cloth 🙂

  8. I have taken to using pieces of fabric to use in the bathroom. Not for the bad stuff but they are so much softer then TP. What I am looking for is something to freeze things in other than ziplock bags. I want to get all the air out so there isn`t any freezer burn but can`t seem to find anything. I do wash and bleach the bags and reuse then and then recycle them so it`s not all bad. Any ideas.

  9. I am with you all the way. Though we are past the diapering at our house but we did cloth diaper when they were at that stage. I do also used the Diva Cup along with cloth pads. It is so nice to have less to add to the landfill and save money too!

  10. I started with glass, but when I had children, I switched plastic, now i am making the move back to glass.
    How do we dispose of the plastic? Isnt it bad for the land fills?
    I stopped buying bottled water, and bought a filter system and reusable metal bottles, but isnt the metal bad also? Or is it ok as long as it is not aluminum and lead?

  11. I’m with you with all of those except number 4 (Mama cloth), although I do choose products that have the least packaging I have not been brave enough to go green in that way. I’m actually more concerned about the “icky” factor about this than cloth diapers funnily enough.

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