Last time I went to Quebec, I was pleasantly surprised to see how serious people were about recycling and avoiding unnecessary waste. While it was always something I found important, our apartment complex in Atlanta didn’t have any recycling options, and that was pretty much enough for me to not even think about changing my ways.
Our move to New York City, where recycling is everywhere made it a lot more accessible. On top of that, we were settling into a new apartment, the perfect opportunity to change our habits.
Now these little steps may not look like much and certainly aren’t perfect, but I feel so much better knowing that I am not sending anywhere near as much stuff to the landfill as I used to.
Cloth napkins and microfiber cloths to replace paper towels.
My husband was the king of hoarding paper towels all over the place. I would find them in his pants pockets, on his desk, on his night stand…and not knowing whether or not they were clean, I would end up throwing them all away. I had my issues too. I loved buying paper napkins that were adorable but completely useless, absorbing absolutely nothing. I also offend cleaned the bathroom with a ton of paper towels, rather than using anything re-usable.
Now that buying huge packs of paper towels isn’t as convenient (we don’t own a car and have very little storage space in our apartment), it seemed like the perfect time to switch.
Jeff already had a bunch of microfiber cloths that we never used. I made them easily accessible on the kitchen counter and they are now used for cleaning purposes (kitchen counter, bathroom, etc.). I also purchased a 12-pack of cloth napkins on Amazon (of course, the necessary quantity would vary based on the size of your household). At the end of the week, we throw all the napkins and cloths in the load of towel laundry and voilà!
Now, I won’t lie and say we don’t use any paper towels anymore. But we did make a point to make them less accessible and we rarely use them. A single roll used to last us a couple of weeks and will now last several months.
Find alternatives to plastic bags
The easy thing to do when you have half an onion left is to put it in a small ziploc bag that will be thrown away after you finally use that second half. At least, that’s what I used to do with any leftover produce. It’s so easy, yet so wasteful.
Lately, I have been making a point to find alternatives. I love keeping a variety of containers, which is not only a great way to store your meal prep, it’s also perfect to fit all the random little items that would normally call for a plastic bag. I also like using the fabric bags when bringing small snacks to work.
Homemade food to avoid the plastic waste (and it tastes better!).
When we started recycling, it make me realize how much plastic cups of yogurt we were throwing out each week. My husband and I both eat at least one yogurt a day and, sadly, the one we enjoy the most doesn’t come in a larger format that we could distribute in smaller containers at home.
Now grant it, I realize that not everyone has enough free time to make their own yogurt each week, but for us, this has been quite a change. With a gallon of milk and an Instant pot, I make about 15 servings of Greek yogurt. Not only do we save some money each time, it tastes better, I get to flavor it however I want, and I can use my beloved Bonne Maman jars and avoid sending so many cups to the recycling bin.
Each of these little steps involved the purchase of one or two items, but with the long term goal of avoiding constantly re-purchasing one-time-use items (ziploc bags, paper towels, individual yogurt cups…).
This little post might feel quite insignificant to some of you, and rather annoying to others. My point isn’t to make anyone feel bad about the way they do things, or to make you think I’m so special for doing this stuff.
What I’m really trying to show here is that it can be worth taking a look back at the way we do things and finding a few ways to reduce our waste. Your ways might be completely different from mine and that’s totally cool and normal. No two individuals have the same life, the same goals…but can we all at least take a few minutes to think about ways we can help Mother Nature a bit? I’m pretty sure we can all benefit from that.