You’re a busy (working) parent, right? With family going a million different directions, shopping, cooking, cleaning, homework, sports, preteen or terrible-twos, trying to put even more pressure on yourself to meet some kind of low-waste living standard can feel like too much. Don’t be discouraged! You can still do what’s right for the environment in some small, easy and attainable ways – and every little bit counts. We’ve all got to lean-in on this one, because, well – it’s our only home. And, it’s a legacy we leave our children. Instead of going down the rabbit hole of a bunch of glamorous social media accounts that make it look like DIY-ing Every. Darn. Thing. Is actually attainable, I’ve put together this list of ways you can get started today. Some might stretch your habit-building muscles a bit, but you’ve got this.
Bar soaps instead of liquid soaps
One of the most straightforward and most satisfying changes you can make is to ditch plastic bottles of soap for bars. Everything from dish soap to hair conditioner comes in a bar soap these days. Beautiful, lovely-smelling and practical bars of soap. Like trying any new type of shampoo, it might take a few tries before you find the right fit for your dry/frizzy/thinning hairs, but there's one out there. Kids can totally handle a bar soap in the bathroom, too. It's just like old times. A big block of olive oil kitchen soap is a satisfying swap for the kitchen. Use it with a wooden and natural bristle scrub brush, and you can avoid disposable sponges full of plastic microfibers. Win-win.
Switch to plastic-free and tree-free toilet paper
The average four-person US household goes through 100 lbs of TP a year! Most of that is from virgin-forest in Canada, vital ecosystems we need to combat global warming. Swap to recycled bum-wipes or go the extra mile and find a bamboo kind you like. Bonus if you can get it without plastic packaging. We use Who Gives a Crap in our house.
Shop in bulk
From Winco to your local food co-op, bulk shopping is all around us, for all budgets. It just takes getting in the habit of seeking out what you might need here first, before hitting the aisles for a prepackaged version. Bring your own reusable bag or jar – that's the waste-reduction point. For shops that insist on plastic, just wash and re-use your existing plastic bags over (and over and over) again. Picking up new plastic bags every time defeats the purpose.
Make your own
If you have the time and inclination, making meals, cleaning supplies, and toiletries from scratch goes a long way to reducing unnecessary waste. At first, it might seem overwhelming, but it's interesting to discover what things actually aren't that hard, or don't take as much time as you would expect. Hummus, for example, is super quick and easy. So is pesto. Homemade waffles might take a bit more time but double your recipe on the weekend, so you have "freezer waffles" for the week. See “Green cleaning” and “Natural beauty swaps” below for other easy and fast DIY ideas.
Your great-grandma had it right when she wrapped her greens in a damp dishtowel in the fridge. Go ahead, throw that produce in your shopping basket naked. When you get home, keep it fresh by wrapping it in a damp cloth, treating it like a bouquet of flowers and putting it upright in water, or wrapping it in some beeswax wrap.
Plastic-free tea and coffee
It's easy-peasy to use your own container or re-use a coffee bag (they're not recyclable) for whole bean coffee at the grocery store, or any coffee shop. Switch to a French Press or re-usable filter for an even more low-waste caffeine experience. Tea drinkers have it a bit tougher. Most tea pages contain plastic, and if the teabag happens to be compostable, the sachet it's packaged in isn't. Switching to bulk tea is a pleasure, though. Luckily there are several tea shops in Portland supporting a bring-your-own approach, and finer grocers carry a bulk selection of teas. Like an herbal blend? Check the ingredients and then put it together yourself at any number of herb shops.
When what you have no longer works, opt for reusable, natural fiber dusters, brooms, scrubbies, and rags. Cleaning products are easy and fun to make yourself with low-impact, readily available ingredients like white vinegar (buy it in glass) and baking soda (in a box!)
Hit up your interwebs for some directions, or check some of the posts at @plasticfreemamma
Switch to washable instead of single-use
Paper napkins, paper towels, kitchen sponges, tissues, cotton balls – these are all things that can be replaced with a washable cloth version. Cloth napkins for kids?! You bet! They don’t have to be fancy. Just reusable.
Natural beauty swaps
Simplify your life, save money and be kind to your body and the planet with an all-natural beauty routine you can make yourself. Find easy toothpaste and mouthwash recipes that taste great over at @plasticfreemamma. Used coffee grounds make a great body scrub. There are tons of recipes out there that only require a few, easy to obtain ingredients. It will make getting ready in the morning so much easier.
Bring your own
Bring your own cup, and bags, and to-go containers. Unfortunately, swapping a paper bag for a plastic one comes with its own set of environmental impacts. Just like putting on your seat belt, you can create a habit around these waste-reducing steps. Many shops in PDX allow you to put bakery items, bulk food and produce in your own reusable bags and jars. Deli and meat counter items are trickier because of food safety rules, but to-go liquids like coffee are OK. Even if a container says, "recyclable" or "biodegradable" all to-go containers are headed to your trash can. Eat in, eat it all up, or bring your own container to throw uneaten food into instead of that doggie-bag. Portlanders throw out 50 million disposable coffee cups a year – that’s 3 million tons of waste just on to-go coffee!
Buy second hand first
The clothing industry, particularly fast-fashion and synthetic materials have a devastating effect on our environment. Since kids are growing through their clothes faster than the seasons, there isn't much reason to buy new and a million reasons not to buy cheap and disposable. Consignment and second-hand shops for children are everywhere and full of cute things. Plus, you can get some trade-in value while you're at it. Overall, STUFF is everywhere. Take a sec to see if what you need, anything you need, is available used first.
Buy this instead of that
Use what you have until it’s worn out. But when you do need to replace something, replace it with something that’s not plastic – if you can afford it. We love toothbrushes, wooden hairbrushes, plastic-free band-aids, plastic-free hair ties, natural bristle brooms and cleaning brushes, glass storage containers, and beeswax wraps.
Just say no to unnecessary plastic and packaging
Did you know, you don’t actually have to have the plastic covering your dry cleaning? Take a sec to discover where else in your life you can just say “no.”
Intentional living in Portland, OR
I take sustainability personally. Really personally. I use my voice to advocate for plastic-free and low-waste living by offering tips, tricks and hacks to busy families through my Instagram account @eco.emily.pdx. When I have something really long to say about something, I'll stick it here.