Happy Earth Day! For some time I’ve been wanting to share more in depth about our low waste journey, so what better day to do so than today?
Disclaimer: The purpose of this post isn’t to educate on how many years it takes for certain materials to decompose, nor is it to go over the statistics of materials thrown into landfills. While these are good things to be informed on, these can be googled!
Here’s the gist of our story.
When we were still living in Northern Virginia we would frequent Tysons Corner Mall. Adjacent to the food court & theater was a sizable play area for children, which had a “Save the Planet” theme. I mention this because one certain floor area had the inscription: “start at home.”
Professionally as a sustainability strategist in the built environment, my work on small commercial interiors projects to large scale base buildings have only fueled me to respond to a more sustainable lifestyle on a personal level. Sustainability is such broad discipline, and after learning more than I could’ve imagined in the last five years alone, I thought: how can I make it applicable to my life, my family, and my home? I then proposed to my husband that we adopt certain practices to reduce our waste production as a family, among other things, and care more about our health by understanding what products we use and what they’re made up of. If I’m helping my clients, proposing strategies for making their spaces more sustainable and healthier from a well-being standpoint, why not on a personal level, too?
For some time I grew tired of the excess waste we would produce – whether it was an accumulation of cardboard packaging, plastic bags from grocery shopping, or the clutter of things we already owned – clothes, files, toys. Why? Because eventually those things end up in a landfill and can take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose. So finally, with the mix of my professional experience and this personal resolve to reduce waste berthed the beginning of our low waste journey over a year ago.
Down below is a list of some practices we have adopted here at home. I would be remiss not to mention first that adopting sustainable practices do not work under a “one size fits all” approach as every family and every situation varies (apartment in the city versus a detached single family home in the country, as just one example). In fact, before we seriously considered certain practices we discerned what made the most sense for us right now and what was most realistic. (One day maybe we’ll get those solar panels or purchase RECs, grow our own garden, own a Tesla (Jon) – we do live far from the city, ha! We’re dreaming big!)
Without further ado, here are some of the practices we have adopted. For ones with products mentioned, I added links for your convenience. Note: I am not affiliated or sponsored by any of these below.
- Reusable Kitchen Towels
(…though in the spirit of transparency, once Covid hit we bought paper towels specifically for disinfecting stuff from outside of the house and tossing straight in the trash.) Reusing towels has certainly one of the bigger challenges, and one my husband was less a fan of; I can understand why – especially with cleaning the bathroom. For washing, we simply toss in all the soiled towels in the laundry, hang ’em to dry, and voila, good as new. We use microfiber clothes for cleaning. The waffle Mieco towels (purchased from Amazon) we use are great for drying wet dishes or to use as napkins during dinner time. For cleaning the garage or cars, we use old t-shirts.
- Cleaning Supplies: Zero Waste + Non-Toxic Laundry and DIY Hand Soap
We officially switched over to non-toxic laundry detergent and love it! We had a scare almost two years ago with little Downy Unstoppables tablets. I had missed some that had fallen on the floor of the laundry room and thought Lucy may have ingested one. Whether she did or not (I don’t think so because she didn’t have a reaction), it was a wake-up call to get rid of anything in our home that is not safe, not just for kids but even for us. Thanks to the Urban Oreganics Laundry Detergent, I don’t have any fears anymore. Also, it had very little packaging which is also a plus and the wool dryer ball is also an excellent substitute for the dryer sheets. No more laundry waste from plastic bottles. The detergent and wool dryer ball are unscented so I put in 10-15 drops of Lavender Essential Oil right into the laundry as it fills up with water, and then another 5-10 drops again directly on the wool dryer ball. Our clothes smell fantastic and are just as soft.
Also I have been making our own hand soap. Too many times have we had to purchase new cleaning supplies, thus accumulating more plastic or glass bottles. Now I just reuse those bottles and make my go-to recipe in the same soap dispensers thanks to Clean Mama (linked above)!
- Stasher Bags
We use these in lieu of Ziploc bags and they are fantastic. We use them for storing the kids’ snacks when we go out and storing food in the fridge or freezer. They’re dishwasher safe and you can even sous vide with these. Can’t speak highly enough about these bags.
- Simple Ecology Starter Set
These bags have been a game changer for our grocery experience. Not only do we get bag credit at grocery stores (like at MOM’s Organic Market), but the muslin produce bags in particular help keep vegetables fresh when stored in the refrigerator much longer than a typical plastic bag. We have the Jute Tote and XL Canvas String Bag, 2 muslin produce bags, and 2 mesh produce bags so far and use other reusable totes we already have in our stash. When the set gets soiled we just toss them into the laundry as well and line dry them.
- Beeswax Wrap
- Silicone Straws (kids) and Stainless Steel with Silicone tips (us)
- Bulk Shopping
I go to MOM’s Organic Market in Waldorf, MD for this. Upon entering I take our Simple Ecology bags and other containers and dispense different oats, legumes, nuts, and/or granola that we’re in need of directly into them. It was intimidating at first, but I got the hang of it by the second time. All it is is getting the tare weight of the containers at the register, fill them up with what’s needed, and pay. Once I get home, for anything that was in a muslin produce bag I transfer into one of the glass jars we have. No package waste at all, and let me tell ya, it is a fantastic feeling.
- Supporting Local Farms
We love and appreciate our local farms so going to farmer’s markets or purchasing through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) has been our go-to when in season. For those local, we are big fans of Shlagel Farms (Waldorf, MD) and Hancock Family Farms (La Plata, MD). Also I think it’s important to mention that it’s fresh food directly from the farm to your home – no in-betweens. The great thing about Shlagel Farm’s CSA approach is that they don’t require an upfront annual subscription/payment, which we appreciate especially if we can’t commit to it as often as we’d like. We love these farms for their fresh produce, eggs, various berries (when in season), and wide assortment of meat & poultry. Plus, it entails very little product packaging waste. At most I would receive a cardboard box for all the produce, which is minimal (and it’s cardboard). Both have excellent customer service as well and I can’t speak highly enough. I would definitely recommend going this route for fresh groceries.
- Buy Secondhand Furniture
I first scavenge Facebook Marketplace and then other local groups online. Since owning our home we have been very intentional about what we purchase and stay within a rather modest budget depending on what piece of furniture it is that we need. In fact, the majority of the furniture on our first floor is secondhand – dining table, coffee table, morning room table, three-fourths of our dining chairs, counter stools, pew, telephone bench in foyer. You know furniture is made of good quality when it can last more than one user and is purchased for an unbeatable price.
- Avoid Fast Fashion
I think I may have only purchased less than 5 brand new clothes in the past 6-8 months. Like furniture, I try my best to be intentional about what I’m buying. If I’m considering new, I look into where it’s made and what’s made out of, if it’s good quality. It’s not about quantity for me as it was in years past. I’m totally an outfit repeater and hope to build a solid capsule in the near future. For clothes considered “new to me”, I follow a handful of online thrift shops, two of which are Ever Thrift and @GoodLifeThrift. Consignment stores are great, too! I was excited to find a new, local consignment shop in the area as well, called Clothes Mentor.
There are many more that I didn’t list (using a smart themostat, only using LED bulbs, blackout curtains/shades, etc.), but I’ll leave it at these 10 for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or if you want to share something that you have adopted and works great for you! Know that it’s never to late to begin – perhaps today is the day you can add something. Also, please don’t feel pressure that you need things to start this journey. Many practices can be done with what you already have. Reuse, reduce, recycle.
Finally, our low waste journey is not a perfect one, but I think what’s important as a household is that we’ve become much more intentional about materials, and cognizant of the lasting impact it can have after it’s removed from our home. Next time I hope to share more about our transition to becoming a low-toxic home as well, which is very much so interrelated to our low waste journey.
My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for nonviolence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection on the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.Pope Benedict XVI, Address, Welcoming Celebration by Young People for World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, July 17, 2008