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Kitchen Swaps 12 Easy Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps A counter and cabinet with reusable wash cloths, beeswax wraps, and a glass spray bottle

12 Easy Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

The kitchen is the most wasteful room in the home. After all, our biggest trash bins are kept in the kitchen. Today we’re going to cut down on some of that waste by discussing various zero waste kitchen swaps to remove single use or plastic products in the kitchen. These swaps are easy to make and won’t cost much money. You’ll even save money over time by reusing a product instead of buying a new one over and over! For tips on reducing food waste, head over to this post to reduce kitchen waste even more!

1. Paper Towels

Many households go through paper towels like candy. Every spill is cleaned up with a few sheets. They’re used to dry or clean off hands and dishes, or cover food in the microwave. Switch to reusable alternatives instead.

Cloth towels are the easiest zero waste kitchen swap for paper towels. If you don’t have any, go out to the thrift store and pick up a few or make your own squares of terrycloth. Then hang them off handles or set out a little pile on the counter. After the dirty, just toss them in the wash.

If you’re very used to ripping off sheets, check out these “unpaper towels“. They are paper towel sized cloths you can either wrap together into a roll to stick on a paper towel holder. Same deal, just wash them after use.

2. Napkins

Similar to paper towels, most kitchens keep a stack of napkins at the ready. Switch out paper napkins with either cloth rags or cloth napkins. This napkin folds into a little snack bag too! I keep either a rag or cloth napkin in my lunch box and will bring one with me when I expect to eat while I’m out someplace. At home I just use a rag or towel.

3. Plastic Containers

Tupperware and other plastic containers are huge mainstays in most kitchens. Beyond being made from plastics that never break down, these containers can leech chemicals when heated. Many containers also lack in quality or durability.

So instead, switch to glass. While glass has its own environmental struggles (read about them here), glass is infinitely recyclable and inert so it poses no health issues.

Most glass containers still come with plastic snap-on lids, but we have these style containers from IKEA which have bamboo lids (with plastic gasket) (not affiliated). You can also use mason jars for food storage or just reuse other glass jars from pickles, pasta sauce, etc.

4. Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap makes me so mad because it’s so wasteful. You always end up using way more than necessary because it just sticks to itself, and it’s a one-and-done single use product. You really can’t reuse it if you wanted to.

Wax wraps are great zero waste kitchen swaps because you can mold them to fit the container you want and can rinse and reuse them many, many times. The most common is beeswax wraps, but for vegans, you can get soy wax wraps instead. You can use these wraps to cover containers or to wrap up a sandwich or snack to replace a plastic snack bag.

If you need to cover a plate, there are washable cloth covers, or for the free option, place a plate over the top of the bowl in the fridge. This option is good because them you can easily stack other things on top.

5. Snack Bags

While plastic snack/sandwich bags are reusable a couple times at best, they are far from as reusable as these reusable bags from (re)zip. We like them so much, we bought a second set.

There are also reusable cloth snack bags you can buy or make yourself to reduce the plastic in your kitchen since (re)zip bags are still plastic. Cloth bags, however, are obviously not water tight.

To get around both these issues, small glass jars offer the solution. These zero waste kitchen swaps are both plastic free and provide a water tight seal to prevent leaks. I’ve used little jam jars to hold berries so they don’t get smashed, and since they are small, the weight isn’t much of an issue.

6. Straws

I feel like most people aren’t constantly using plastic straws every time they have a drink at home, but they are common enough to need replacing.

Ditch the flimsy plastic and opt for metal, glass, or bamboo reusable straws instead. We have this set and often use them when we have smoothies, but sometimes I like to use them with glasses of ice water. They come with silicon toppers to protect sensitive teeth.

7. Dishware And Flatware

These may be more of a zero waste party swap than zero waste kitchen swaps, but there’s no need to use paper, styrofoam, or plastic plates and eating utensils.

While, yes, it is more convenient at parties to hand everyone things they can just throw into the trash, that’s a whole lot of waste. By swapping single use dishes and flatware for the real thing, you prevent multiple post-party trash bags and you’ll class up the party.

If you’re in the market for dishware or flatware, check your thrift store or online marketplace first. For parties and events, rent out real dishes. We did that for our sustainable wedding.

8. Cookware And Bakeware

Many pots and pans are coated in teflon to create a non-stick surface. Teflon is the trademarked name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and its fumes can cause harm to our health and the health of animals.

Switch to stainless steel, cast iron, or glass cookware instead. As always, check for secondhand pots, pans, and bakeware first. This goes for cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas as well.

9. Coffee And Tea

Our daily hot drinks can create a lot of waste. Single use paper coffee filters or individual K cups and tea bags (did you know many tea bags contain plastic?) can really pile up day after day.

If you have a coffee maker, keep using it. It’s always best to use what you have first. After using up your paper filters, switch to some reusable cloth coffee filters with a pour-over coffee maker. Instead of buying more disposable K cups, purchase a set of reusable cups and use your own flavors of coffee.

If you need a new coffee machine, consider a French press. They are metal and glass, and do not require filters. Search for one secondhand first, of course. That goes for traditional coffee machines too if you don’t want to go the French press route.

As for teas, use up your remaining bags and then switch to loose leaf teas. The tea bag gets replaced by a tea infuser which can be a little metal bulb or a fun silicon manatee that hangs on the edge of the mug.

10. Kitchen Appliances

There are a million kitchen gadgets and small appliances on the market, but many of these do one single task which could be easily accomplished by something you already own. For example, an apple slicer can’t do much else, but a knife does the job just as well (and is less scary to use in my opinion).

Think about what you actually need first. If you rarely use fresh garlic, do you really need a garlic crusher? Can something you already own do whatever job already? Look for tools with multiple uses instead of novelty one trick ponies. When you do go shopping for a kitchen appliance, look secondhand first.

11. Dish Soap

Some dish soaps are harmful to our health and the environment due to their ingredients, and they inevitably come in plastic bottles.

Many zero wasters have switched to Dr. Bronner’s castile soap which comes in many different scents. This soap is vegan and uses organic and fair trade ingredients. They’re plastic bottles are 100% post-consumer recycled content, although they also sell paper-wrapped bar soap.

You can buy a large jug and transfer it to a dispenser to lessen the total plastic packaging. Check your local zero waste shop of food co-op as they may offer bulk castile soap so you can refill your own containers.

12. Sponges And Brushes

That yellow and green sponge is an iconic dishwashing tool. These types of sponges are actually made of wood pulp, but foam sponges are made from plastic. You may also use plastic brushes or those brushes with a sponge on the end.

There are multiple zero waste kitchen swaps to replace your sponges and brushes. The first are wooden scrub brushes. I have one with plant-fiber bristles like this.  There are versions with longer handles where you just need to replace the head.

The next option is a wash rag you can hang to dry and wash when dirty to reuse again. You can also find cloth “unsponges” handmade on Etsy which are sponge-sized alternatives you can wash as well.

Conclusion

From food storage to cooking to eating to cleanup, these zero waste kitchen swaps will surely lighten your trash bag at the end of the week. Remember that it is best to use up what you have and looking for secondhand deals first. This way, you make the most of the resources we already have available instead of letting them go to waste. If you haven’t already, check out my post on reducing food waste for more zero waste kitchen tips.

Kitchen Swaps 12 Easy Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps A counter and cabinet with reusable wash cloths, beeswax wraps, and a glass spray bottle

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12 Surprising Benefits Of Simple Living A house plant and desk lamp on a white desk with a wooden clock on the grey wall

12 Surprising Benefits Of Simple Living

Introduction

Simple living means different things to different people. To some it just means reducing clutter; to others it means living a holistic and intentional life. I really like this definition from the Frugal Village: “making the most out of what you have and not letting anything go to waste.” To me, simple living is about being a responsible human and building a life based on the values, relationships, and activities that matter most to you.

While that in itself sounds great, some may still be hesitant. Isn’t “simple living” just another phrase for giving up a lot of things and making the bare minimum work? Yes, you are giving up some things, you aren’t giving up what truly matters to you. Need some more convincing? Here’s 12 surprising benefits of simple living you may not have thought of.

1. Less Clutter

Yes, this benefit isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising is how good you’ll feel with a clutter-free home. Without tons of things to take care of, you’ll spend less time cleaning, organizing, and remembering if you already have that thing or need to go out and buy one. You also won’t have to rush to clean up before guests stop by or feel embarrassed when they do unexpectedly.

2. More Space Inside

Less possessions means more floorspace. So long to the full shelves and storage solutions, the crowded garage, and the guest room that’s become a catch-all for extra stuff. Turn that extra space into something beneficial: a play space for the kids, an exercise area, a home office, or back into the guest room it was supposed to be.

3. You’ll Lose Things Less

Like I said, with less clutter around, you’ll have less to keep track of… and less places for things to hide from you. It will be harder for things to get lost or to remember what you own. Simple living will save you time, hassle, and potentially money because you won’t get frustrated looking for something just to give up and buy a replacement and find the original when you get home.

4. Less Stress

Just being around mess can cause you stress. It can be hard to relax when you’re stuck thinking about the kids’ toys strewn across the floor. When you cut out the clutter, you’ll be able to feel more at ease. Owning less makes it easier to stay organized and on top of things. Plus, you’ll have extra time to relax without wasting your weekends cleaning up.

Most people’s main stress trigger is work, but simple living also means spending more time with family rather than at work. Imagine how much better you’ll feel without working all those extra hours!

Simple living and slow living are very similar in that you take time to rest and use time intentionally on what makes you happy. By having time to take a break and removing extra items on your to-do list, you’ll be less stressed throughout the day.

5. Better Physical Health

Mental health and physical health are linked together. When you feel good, you’ll make better choices for your health. Where before, you may have felt too beat at the end of the day to exercise, now you may be more motivated. By choosing to walk places instead of driving to save on carbon emissions or live slower, you’re already exercising more than you used to.

Simple living usually extends into mealtime by eating a whole foods, organic diet, possibly with ingredients you grew yourself. Eating well along with exercise will also improve your physical health.

6. More Money

Simple living not only means getting rid of clutter. It also means keeping it out. People who live simply are not “keeping up with the Joneses” and buying the latest and greatest. Many stick to a budget, which is easier when you’re choosing to cut the fluff and make only necessary purchases. These practices will help you pay off debt and save up for other purchases (whether they are big purchases like a home or a fun vacation).

Need some extra help avoiding over-consumption? Check out my post on the subject here. While it’s specifically related to avoiding consumerism while going zero waste, it has loads of tips that apply here as well.

7. More Freedom

This next surprising benefit might need a bit of an explanation. Living simply means having a clearer schedule so it’ll be easier to say yes to impromptu get-togethers with friends or family. Less overtime hours at work and fewer chores at home will open up your calendar.

Many children are enrolled in multiple different activities, sports, or clubs. By paring down to one or two favorites, evenings and weekends won’t be a rush from place to place. Both you and they will have more freedom for other things even if that’s just doing nothing for a while to recharge.

8. Easier Decision-Making

This benefit ties in with more freedom. The week only has so many hours. It will be easier to schedule events and appointments and say yes to the things you really want to do instead of having to disappoint the other party.

Simple living reduces options but in a good way. You won’t struggle as much with choosing between things. Decisions based on your budget are easy to make. By keeping your priorities in line, decisions become easier too. For example, family first or buying only organic groceries or limiting the amount of work you take on are rules that basically make the decision for you.

9. Higher Confidence and Self-Esteem

Exercise has been shown to not only reduce stress but also increases self-esteem. When we feel good and look good, we’re more confident in social situations.

With simple living, sometimes you’ll have to speak up. One of the best ways to gain confidence is by doing. Practice makes perfect after all! It’ll be easier to say no to excess the more times you do it. When you have time to slow down and decide what really matters to you, you can make these decisions more confidently as well.

10. Increase Attention Span

Technology is great, but we’ve become addicts to extreme amounts of quick content. A study by Microsoft found our attention spans have reduced to just eight seconds! By cutting down on our screen time and preventing our kids from getting addicted to tech, we can raise that number back up.

Simple living activities are mainly focused on intentional reflection (journaling, meditation), connecting with nature (gardening, outdoor exercise), or attentive family time (playing games together, having meaningful conversations). None of these require a screen, and in fact, they’d be inhibited by including one.

11. Better Relationships

As I just mentioned, attentive family time is important for those simplifying their lifestyles. Taking time to have conversations with others helps build strong relationships. Fights will be less common with less chores, activities, and stress. I also mentioned having the freedom and time to meet with friends. You’ll be able to finally set dates for grabbing a coffee together instead of just saying you should sometime.

12. Teach Children Good Values

Children learn by example. By being brought up to live simply, they’ll be taught the importance of relationships instead of materials. You can teach them how to successfully keep a budget, eat a healthy diet, and be stewards of our planet. Since simple living includes self-sufficiency activities, you can also teach them valuable skills like cooking, gardening, or sewing (and have the time to do that in the first place!).

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s loads of benefits to living with less. You’ll have a clearer mind, more time and money, and better relationships. Simple living brings us back to our roots and what matters beyond possessions. What benefits have you found by simplifying your life? Let me know in the comments below!

12 Surprising Benefits Of Simple Living A house plant and desk lamp on a white desk with a wooden clock on the grey wall
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How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe Woman sorts through jeans and shirts to decide which garments to keep in her new closet

How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

Last week we discussed how the fast fashion industry is harming both people and the planet as well as the definitions and importance of ethical fashion, sustainable fashion and slow fashion. If you haven’t read that post yet, click here! Today you’ll learn how to transition your current closet to a sustainable wardrobe built on both secondhand and responsibly made garments.

Start With Your Current Wardrobe

Throwing out and starting over is the antithesis of zero waste. You can still work with what you have and build, replace, and swap over time.

Going Through Your Closet

Before you can make any plans for the future, you have to figure out exactly what you own. You may think you know, but I’ve surprised myself many times by actually looking through my dresser and closet and finding items I totally forgot I owned.

Try to answer these questions:

  • What do I actually wear on a regular basis?
  • What actually still fits me?
  • Which items have I never worn?
  • Which items do I need for special occasions? (Cocktail dress, heels, suit and tie, etc.)
  • Do I have duplicates of this item? (Meaning if you have three green t-shirts, you probably only need one.)
  • Which items are showing too much wear? (Stretched out, holes, etc.)
  • How many of each type of item do I need? (How many shirts, pants, socks, etc. could you comfortably live with?)

Answering these questions will help you split up your items into a few different piles:

  • Keep
  • Repair
  • Return
  • Get Rid Of

Put the Keep pile back into your closet or dresser. Repair garments yourself or find someone to do it for you (a tailor, a friend, Craigslist, etc.). Return items you have never worn and don’t plan to wear if possible.

Getting Rid Of Clothing

There are many ways to get rid of unwanted clothing, and you likely won’t have to throw any of it into the trash.

Unwearable Garments

If an item is too stained to wear or beyond repair, can it be used as a cleaning rag? Fabrics like cotton, linen, or other natural fibers make good cleaning rags. Cut the garment into squares and hem around the edges. Old socks are great because they work like mittens. They don’t need to look pretty; they’re for cleaning messes!

For fabrics that won’t do well, you can recycle them! Goodwill stores will take stained or worn out clothing and other fabric items for recycling. Click here to find you nearest Goodwill location.

Some brands like Patagonia (Patagonia only) and H&M (any brand) will take back clothing items for recycling or resale as well based on quality.

Friends And Family

For items that you just don’t need anymore, check if friends or family want them first. Host a clothing swap and encourage others to bring their unwanted items for exchange. Give hand-me-downs to siblings if you’ve outgrown items. By directly going providing clothing to its next owner, you save on the resources used in selling it yourself or donating to charity or a thrift shop.

Selling And Consigning

Reselling clothing secondhand has never been easier. There’s loads of websites/apps where posting a listing is as easy as snapping a picture. Here’s a quick list:

You can also always stop by a local consignment shop and consign there. This supports local businesses and reduces transportation emissions.

Donating

Lastly you can donate clothing to charities or thrift shops, but I do have to give you a warning about donating.

Charities that donate clothing to underdeveloped nations have caused some unforeseen problems. Kenya used to have a thriving garment industry while imported donated clothing was distributed for free. In the 1980s, thing changed.

Donated clothing began to be sold for cheap to undercut new garment prices, and the garment industry workforce has since declined by over 96%. In addition, when organizations send these garments overseas, they wrap them in giant plastic bundles like this.

I’m sure you’ve seen those big yellow bins in parking lots for Planet Aid, but this organization has been linked to the cult-like organization called the Teachers Group and little to none of your donations ever go to helping others. Instead, an investigation found donations get sold for personal use by members of the organization. Employees are forced to give up personal rights, salary, and all of their time to the will of the Teachers Group.

Wait It Out

As a final tip for paring down your wardrobe, if you’re hesitant to give things away, try this. Set aside your get rid of pile in a box or bag for a few weeks or a month. If you miss something, pull it out and keep it. Many times you’ll realize you never gave that bag a second thought, and it will be easier to let go.

Start Building A Sustainable Wardrobe

Let’s start transitioning that wardrobe into sustainable wardrobe. Sustainability and minimalism go hand and hand, especially when it comes to how much we own. I have a bunch of tips for prevent your closet from ballooning back to its original size as well as how to properly shop for replacement items.

Minimalist Wardrobe

Now that you’ve reduce the amount of items in your closet, how do you keep it that way? Many people love shopping and use retail therapy to deal with stress. It can be hard to quick those habits, but here are some tips.

Stop Impulse Buys

First, figure out what is causing you to shop or seek retail therapy. Is it stress, anxiety, or all those flashy sales emails? Work to combat emotional triggers (check out these tips on reducing stress and anxiety) and unsubscribe from email and mailing lists.

This tip can work for physical stores, but I think it works better online. Wait to make a purchase. After finding something you like, go home and spend a couple days thinking about if you actually want or need it. You can leave the wallet at home to remove temptation so all you can do is window shop.

When shopping online, go ahead and add items to your cart, but wait to check out. Don’t buy them right away. Let the cart sit for a few days before coming back and making a decision. (Bonus: some sites will send you a coupon code if you leave items in sitting in a cart!)

One In/One Out Rule

I like this tip because it not only prevents stocking back up on loads of clothing, but it also makes you think about both what you currently own and what you want to buy. The one in/one out rule means for every item you purchase, you must get rid of one. For example, if you want to buy a new shirt, be prepared to give up one you own (using the methods above to reduce waste of course).

This rule will prevent a lot of purchases because you are forced to take inventory of your current wardrobe. It will help limit you to purchases you actually need instead of just buying something new to buy something new.

You can also follow this rule in reverse. Once an item kicks the bucket, go out and find an ethical and sustainable replacement for it. This mirrors other aspects of transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle in which you get as much use out of what you own and slowly replace things over time with better options.

Capsule Wardrobes

One day I really hope to have a capsule wardrobe. Capsule wardrobes are highly limited wardrobes usually based on the season which contain a small number of versatile garments that can be used to create many different outfits.

Many capsule wardrobes consist of neutral tones because they are easier to match with everything, but in my opinion that’s kind of boring. Feel free to create a sustainable wardrobe around a specific palette of colors (like warm autumn shades) or use a single color as an accent found in multiple garments.

Wardrobes range widely in size, but based on guide online, 30-40 items seems to be average (although some wardrobes don’t include underwear, socks, and the like in that total). Check out this post by Candace from Just Posted to see how 28 items can create 60 different outfits.

Secondhand Sustainable Wardrobe

Shopping secondhand is the easier (and cheapest!) way to create a sustainable wardrobe. Some people are really turned off by “used” clothing, but there is absolutely no reason to be. Buying secondhand is great for our environment, and I think shopping in a thrift store is a better experience than a “normal” clothing store.

When secondhand shopping, keep in mind the quality of the items although the store is pretty good about only putting up things in good shape. Check for stains, holes, or other damage that may compromise an item. Also try to limit the amount of synthetic fabrics in your items to prevent shedding of microplastics in the wash.

Thrifting

Pretty much all the clothing I’ve bought in the past two years has been secondhand (the other portion is responsibly made). Being able to pop into the shop and find something new is great because you don’t need to worry about doing all that research into clothing brands.

In fact, I wrote an entire post on why everyone should be thrifting. Not only will you find a wider variety of clothing, but it’s already proved its worth so if there’s quality or fit issues, you’ll already know. Read the post for more reasons to thrift shop.

When buying secondhand clothing online through sites like Poshmark, you can see where the buyer is located to source clothing closest to you. This cuts down on transportation emissions (and you’ll get your items faster).

Clothing Swaps

In addition to buying clothing secondhand, you can be on the receiving end of someone else’s wardrobe transition. Accept items from others, and pick up a few new things from that clothing swap we talked about.

Clothing swaps fill in the desire for new things without needing to buy anything. You can keep your sustainable wardrobe looking fresh by swapping out just a few items every now and again. Swaps are also great for getting others involved in sustainability and they save items from going to waste.

New Sustainable Wardrobe

When you want to buy something new, make sure it’s not fast fashion. I discussed the problems with fast fashion in last week’s post as well as the alternatives: ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, and slow fashion. You can read the post here!

Here’s the aggregated list of good brands from that post:

When buying new items, I keep in mind a handful of requirements and questions. These are just what I follow. You can choose whatever you desire.

Requirements

  • Garments should be made from natural fibers (cotton, linen, lyocell, hemp, bamboo, leather, wool, alpaca, etc.) or recycled fibers (recycled polyester or recycled nylon).
  • They should be built to last multiple years, fit well, and feel comfortable.
  • They should avoid being part of a trend so they won’t go out of style.

Questions To Answer

  • What are the ethics of this brand? Are employees paid well and treated fairly?
  • Where are their factories located?
  • How transparent are they about their practices?
  • What is their commitment to sustainability? What programs do they run/participate in?
  • Do they give back to the community?

I do my research before making new purchases so I know I am buying from brands that are ethical and sustainable and so I can be proud to support their efforts.

Caring For Your Sustainable Wardrobe

Transitioning to slow and sustainable fashion doesn’t stop at what’s in the closet. You have to take care of those items to make them last as long as possible. By stretching the lifespans of items, you reduce how often you buy and how much you buy as well as saving on resources for new items.

Laundering

Washing and drying our clothing uses lots of water and electricity or gas. It also puts wear on our items by tumbling them around and scrubbing them against other garments.

Wash Less

Mom may have told you to make sure you wear new clean clothes every day, but in reality our clothes don’t usually dirty after a few hours of use. You can wear garments a few times before tossing them into the laundry bin, especially jeans and sweatshirts.

Here’s two different charts for reference (Chart 1 and Chart 2), but you can adjust based on your needs/wants. I wash my work jeans once a week and wear t-shirts a couple days before washing (I really only wear t-shirts at home and as pajamas).

Washing And Drying

When you do need to clean your clothing, take care to do it properly and conserve resources. Wash laundry only when you have a full load. Many washing machines also have a knob to adjust the size of the load so it knows how much water it needs to use.

Most items will clean just find in cold or warm water instead of hot so you can reduce energy use. You can also opt out of the dryer altogether and line dry your laundry. Here is a similar drying rack to what I have, and you can also string up a clothes line and use clothespins.

Be sure to read the tags to ensure you are properly washing items. Some garments should be hung up to dry or laid flat instead of going into the dryer. Others require a delicate wash cycle or handwashing. Be sure you know if and how items can be ironed. Here is a guide to reading all those laundry symbols so you can be a laundry pro.

Washing And Drying Aids

Now what do you use to clean your clothes? I’m talking about detergents, softeners, and dryer sheets. Liquid detergents are mostly water and come in plastic bottles. Better options are homemade detergent (click here for a recipe), detergent bought in from a bulk refill station, soap nuts, or powder detergent that comes in a cardboard box.

Softeners and scent boosters aren’t really necessary at all. I have never used these and see them as wasteful. If you want a scent boost, try this lavender dryer bag that also eliminates static. A more natural alternative to single use dryer sheets are wool dryer balls. They can be used for hundreds of washes!

To remove stains, try a stain stick or natural remedies. P.S. The sun is a good stain remover!

If you still wear synthetic clothing that can release microplastics in the wash, check out the Guppyfriend bag or the Coraball which will capture the tiny bits of plastic and prevent them from entering our waterways. You can read about the dangers of plastics in our oceans here.

Repair Your Wardrobe

Repair is the Xth R in Bea Johnson’s list of R’s for a zero waste life. We touched on it in the beginning, but repairing your clothes is a great way to extend the life of your garments. I’ve collected a few different ways you can mend you garments so you can choose the look you want.

Invisible Mending

This is the most common way to mend clothing: making it look like it was never mended. Invisible mending will match thread color and stitching will be hidden inside. Here are some tutorials:

Here are some photos of work I’ve done. I didn’t take before photos on most things, but I did get one of the jacket and a pair of jeans (see Patching And Other Repairs section for that after photo).

Visible Mending

I absolutely LOVE visible mending because your sustainable wardrobe becomes a talking piece. People will notice your repairs and ask about them. Now you have the opportunity to talk about why you choose to fix your clothing instead of tossing it out and buying new. You also get to modify your garments to be truly unique and match your style. Check out these tutorials:

Here are some photos of work I’ve done. The heart was sewn in the side seam of a pair of jeans at upper thigh level, and I just decided to use bright pink thread to sew up a small hole in my gloves.

Patching and Other Repairs

Sewing on patching can either be decently invisible or very visible, and it’s the easiest way to fix holes. All you have to do is cut a piece of fabric to size and stitch it on or you can buy easy iron-on patches.

I’ve also added some links to other sewing tutorials for things like buttons and zippers.

Here’s a comparison of a patch I did for my husband and one I did for myself. I went for a more invisible approach for my husband’s jeans, but still gave it a bit of flair. For my own patch, I wanted it to stand out a bit.

Conclusion

I know this was a lot of information, but this isn’t an overnight process. Transitioning to a sustainable wardrobe will take time, and I hope this guide will make it easier for you. Got any tips or want to suggest another clothing brand? Add it in the comments!

How To Transition To A Sustainable Wardrobe Woman sorts through jeans and shirts to decide which garments to keep in her new closet
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How To Go Green In Quarantine Little girl in butterfly cape is stuck inside waiting for quarantine to end

How To Go Green In Quarantine

Introduction

Earth Day is next week, but coronavirus has really put a damper on the holiday (despite doing great things for air pollution!). Park cleanups and other events have been cancelled, and social gathering restrictions mean we can’t protest for climate action. So how can you go green in quarantine?

I’ve come up with 35 different things you can do lower your footprint while stuck inside and dealing with the pandemic. Most of these tips are useful no matter what’s going on in the world, but I do have a short section on coronavirus-specific tips. Let’s get started!

Utilities

The first handful of tips to go green in quarantine are about utility usage, specifically water and electricity. You may have become more aware of your water and electricity use now that you are home all day instead of going to work. So let’s look at how you can reduce it.

1. Shower Less

One of the perks of staying home is there’s less of a reason to shower. Switching to every other day or even every third or fourth day will greatly reduce your water usage. If you still want to shower frequently or if you want to take it a step further, take shorter showers to reduce water use.

2. Shave Less

Another perk of the quarantine is not needing to shave as often. For men still working from home, perhaps this doesn’t apply as much, but for women, it can easily save water. While I support women not shaving and rarely shave except my armpits, I understand other women may enjoy a clean shave. Since you’re at home, no one’s going to see your legs though.

When you do choose to shave, conserve water. I have stopping shaving in the shower so water doesn’t just pour down the drain while I’m focusing on my legs. Instead I shave right afterwards and wet/rinse my legs by dumping cups of water on them.

3. Flush Less

A single flush on an average toilet uses 1.6 gallons. Assuming you live alone or with people who’ve agreed, flushing every two or three pees will save gallons of water per day. There’s the motto: When it’s yellow, let it mellow. When it’s brown, flush it down.

4. Install A Bidet

With the dumb toilet paper hoarding has come a rise in bidet use, which is an awesome way to go green in quarantine! We don’t have one because my husband doesn’t want to mess with the plumbing in our apartment, but we will get one when we buy a home.

Bidets cut down on toilet paper use, and in doing so, they reduce water use. How might this be if bidets use water? A single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to manufacture. With Americans using a roll a week, that’s a whole lot of water that could be saved by using a fraction of a gallon per bathroom break with a bidet.

5. Full Laundry Loads

To get the most use of the water you use to wash clothes, make sure you’re waiting until you have a full load. Since many people are now at home, you won’t be dirtying clothes as fast and won’t need fresh work clothing each day. Despite this, wait until you have a full basket before heading down to the washing machine.

6. Use Natural Lighting

While we can’t go outside too much, don’t close yourself off from the outside world. Open up your blinds or curtains during the day to let in the natural light. Not only will it save on lighting costs, but you’ll feel happier than sitting under a lamp, have a bit of a view, and stay in sync with the day (so you’re sleeping/awake cycle doesn’t get too far out of whack).

7. Use Cooler Water

In all of your water using activities, keep the water a bit colder. This means a cooler shower (doesn’t need to be a cold shower, just nudge the handle down a bit), running a cold wash for laundry, and using cooler water for washing dishes. If you own a home, you can also adjust your water heater’s max temperature to automatically have cooler water (even if it’s just a few degrees).

8. Turn Off Appliances And Electronics

Many electronics suck energy even when we aren’t using them. By unplugging them or turning off the power strip they are connected to, you save energy that was literally being wasted on absolutely nothing. For example, we keep our microwave unplugged except for the few minutes a day when we’re using it.

9. Reduce Electronics Use Overall

An even better way to reduce energy use from electronics is to not use them in the first place. Cut down on your social media surfing or Netflix binge watching sessions. Use that natural lights. Get into the habit of not using electronics in the hour before bedtime (this tip also allows for a higher production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, so you can fall asleep easier).

Shopping

Our shopping experience has changed a lot since before coronavirus; however, there are still plenty of ways to shop green in quarantine. A few of these tips will also help reduce your need to shop, therefore reducing your exposure to the public.

1. Reduce Number Of Purchases

First and foremost, reduce how much you’re buying. Luckily, the virus has kind of wiped out physical retail therapy, but there’s still the online market. Reduce the strain on Amazon employees and don’t be buying unnecessary items right now. Beyond that, be a good person and don’t hoard groceries, especially perishables which will likely end up in the trash before you have a chance to eat them.

2. Support Local Businesses

When you do shop, keep it local as much as possible. The owners and employees are your neighbors, and they really need your help during this time. If there’s a smaller grocery store or restaurant, try them first before going to the big name chains. Local businesses are way more likely to be led by people just trying to make a living and even give back to the community rather than by people putting profits above all else.

3. Support Zero Waste Online Shops

When shopping online, you should still try to support smaller businesses. I posted a list of 15 zero waste online shops that are still open during the pandemic (some on my original list had temporarily closed). Go green in quarantine by making your next purchases responsible ones, plastic free ones, and sustainable ones.

4. Put A Note On Your Amazon Account

If you do make purchases through Amazon, send their customer service an email requesting a note be made on your account asking to reduce packaging waste. All you need to do is email cs-reply@amazon.com from the email your Amazon account is linked to and request they add this note to your account:

“I have an Amazon account under name@email.com. I would like to put a note on my account letting packers know I would prefer as little packaging as possible, especially plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Thanks!”

5. Plan Grocery List To Reduce Trips

The last time my husband went grocery shopping, he stood in line for almost an hour before even being allowed inside. Don’t waste your time like that, so plan ahead. Create a full list of everything you’ll need for the next week or even two weeks so you won’t have to head back later because you missed something. When the store is out of an item, improvise and substitute instead of resigning yourself to the line of people standing six feet apart.

6. Shop Your Cabinets And Fridge First

This tip goes hand and hand with the grocery list. What ingredients do you have right now? Try planning a meal around them instead of having to buy a complete recipe. Check dates and use up items close to expiring, but remember: use by/best by dates are not safety dates and do not necessarily mean the product is bad to eat (EXCEPT baby formula, follow the dates for baby formula).

Food

Now that you’re back from the grocery store, let’s look at how to go green in quarantine with our diets.

1. Eat Less Animal Products

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to cut out animal products (meat, dairy, cheese, etc.). While you may not be inclined to go full vegan or even vegetarian, try incorporating meatless meals into your diet. Head over to my Pinterest board for a ton of recipes and advice for eating a plant-based diet.

2. Eat Leftovers To Reduce Food Waste

Food waste has always been a toughy for me. Make sure that a) you are keeping leftovers, even if it’s a small portion and b) you eat those leftovers before they become a carpet of mold. Keep leftovers in clear containers so you see what’s inside. Keep leftover containers toward the front of the fridge so they don’t get lost. Add a “leftover day” (or two) to your meal plan to ensure you eat them.

3. Meal Prep

Meal prepping is great for saving time on making lunches for work. But now that you’re at home, should you bother? Absolutely! By cooking a large amount at the beginning of the week instead of 7 separate times, you save on energy costs from cooking. Economies of scale exist in cooking so making a lot at once will use less energy than making the same amount over multiple days.

4. Drink Tap Water

Don’t buy bottled water. Period. Bottled water companies are just plastic bottle companies. Your tap water is safe to drink. If you are super concerned, get a water filter, but don’t keep buying single use plastic bottles.

Cleaning and Chores

Spring cleaning has taken a new meaning during the pandemic and become super important for our health.

1. Switch To Rags

While surfaces should be wiped down frequently, don’t waste paper towels on them. Collect a stash of cloth rags to do the trick instead. Use wash clothes or cut up old t-shirts and store them in a jar or bucket for easy use. When they’re dirty, throw them in the laundry and wash them.

2. DIY Cleaning Products

Make your own cleaning products to avoid harsh chemicals and to substitute when stores are out of stock. Hydrogen peroxide and alcohol (like rubbing alcohol or even vodka) can be used as an antiseptic to kill germs. Make sure you don’t mix the wrong chemicals.

DO NOT MIX THE FOLLOWING:

  • Bleach with vinegar (creates chlorine gas)
  • Bleach with ammonia (creates chloramine)
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol (creates chloroform)
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar (creates peracetic/peroxyacetic acid)

3. Hang Dry Laundry

We’ve talked about washing clothes in the utilities section, but what about drying them? Try hang drying and cut out every watt of electricity. You can hang outside or inside, although obviously outside is faster. The sun also provides a bleaching effect that helps with stains too!

4. Switch To Hankies

Similar to rags, switch from tissues to hankies. I’ve made some little squares out of old clothing. They are so much softer than tissues, and you can just throw them in the wash after use.

5. Declutter Home To Donate Items Later

Now that you’re home all the time, your house may be becoming a bit messy. Spend some time going room by room and decluttering useless items. Get rid of that stack of junk mail on the table, set aside clothing to donate, and figure out what items you just don’t need. Minimalism and zero waste are a frequent pair of lifestyles because both reduce unnecessary things and simplify our lives.

6. Repair Clothes And Other Items

One of the main R’s of zero waste is Repair. Take this extra time to add patches to clothing, sew on lost buttons, or fix other items around the home that need some love. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on just about anything. By repairing items, you lengthen their lifespan and save some money.

Working From Home and Paper Usage

Many people are now working from home instead of going to the office, which has been a huge adjustment for most. How can you go green in quarantine while in your home office?

1. Reduce Paper Usage

This is the biggy. If you don’t need to print something, don’t print it. Use double-sided printing when you do. If you need to add a signature to something, add a digital signature instead of printing, signing, and scanning. Recycle the paper you use after you’re through with it too!

2. Digital Day Planner And Notebook

This also helps cut down on paper usage. Switch from a paper calendar to one on your computer or phone. This also makes it easy when there’s changes so you don’t have a bunch of crossed out items. Switch to a digital notebook as well to take meeting notes (alternatively, reuse paper for notetaking, although this can get messy/disorganized). I use OneNote because it’s easy to organize and add tables, to do lists, and even draw stuff.

3. Switch To Paperless Billing

Cut down on paper even more by switching your accounts to paperless billing. This way you’ll receive emailed statements and bills instead of being mailed paper copies. It’s a super easy thing that’s usually just a click of a button or a phone call.

4. Reduce Junk Mail

Millions of pounds of junk mail are thrown out/recycled each year. Head over to optoutprescreen.com or DMAchoice.org, or contact companies directly to get yourself removed from mailing lists. In addition to physical junk mail, sift through your email inbox and unsubscribe from email lists to save the energy used to email you that promo.

Coronavirus Specific

Although I’ve mentioned coronavirus making a lot of the above changes easier or necessary, they can be adopted and used in perpetuity. The following, however, are a bit more specific to the pandemic quarantine.

1. DIY Cloth Masks

There is a worldwide shortage of PPE. The CDC has recommended everyone wear a mask, even if it is cloth. My town has implemented a mask policy where anyone outdoors must always be wearing one. So my husband and I sewed our own out of t-shirts. There are lots of tutorials online for various styles, but the key points are multiple fabric layers and a close fit around the nose, face, and chin. These masks can be washed and reused which avoids a single use product and isn’t reducing the masks hospital workers need.

2. Bag Ban Work Around

Many cities have lifted there bag bans due to health concerns. These bans prevented stores from provided plastic bags or installed a charge per bag on the customer and encouraged shoppers to bring their own reusables. Now reusable bags are not allowed. But you can still go green in quarantine and avoid store bags! To work around this, ask that groceries just be put bare into your cart. Once at your car, put them into your own bags.

3. Coffee At Home

You may still be tempted to head over to the Dunkin’ or Starbucks to grab your morning coffee. While previously it was possible to bring in your own cup to avoid single use, many cafes have suspended these policies for health reasons. Instead make your coffee at home to both avoid the public and a single use disposable cup/lid/straw/whatever.

4. Quarantine Birthdays

A lot of people are unfortunately having birthdays in quarantine. The good thing about not being able to have a party is not needing wasteful decorations. Call them or send an ecard instead of buying and sending a physical card. Gift them an experience instead of providing a physical gift. With the future unknown at the moment, hopefully a promise of tickets can stand in for actual event tickets.

5. Climate Strike Online

As I said in the introduction, Earth Day is right around the corner, but we can’t go outside. Thousands of people have found a unique way to go green in quarantine and shift the climate protests online. The hashtag #fridaysforfuture has been coupled with the new hashtag #climatestrikeonline. Post a photo of yourself with the sign you would’ve brought to a protest to spread the word digitally instead.

Fun

The last way to go green in quarantine is to spend your time wisely. It’s so easy to waste entire days playing video games or watching Netflix, but these use up a lot of energy (and aren’t too productive).

1. Low Impact Hobbies

I recently wrote an article on low impact hobbies that are easy to pick up, can be done inside and/or alone, and don’t tax the environment as much as other hobbies do. The list is organized by impact size from low to least and includes over 15 different hobbies. Go check it out!

Conclusion

Although our lives have changed and been slightly put on hold, we can all still go green in quarantine. This will pass, but it doesn’t need to be wasted time. Keep yourself busy working on transitioning your lifestyle to avoid the anxiety and depression coronavirus causes. Use this time wisely to start new habits that can continue once this is all over.

How To Go Green In Quarantine Little girl in butterfly cape is stuck inside waiting for quarantine to end
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Living With Non-Zero Waste People green garbage can filled with single use plastic trash

Living With Non-Zero Waste People

Introduction

Starting your low waste journey is exciting, but what happens if those around you disagree and push back on your new ideas? What if you still live with your parents/family members and have little control over many decisions? What if your roommates just don’t understand why you should bother recycling?

It’s okay to be the “green sheep”.

In this post, we’re going to discuss how to stay motivated living with others while dealing with judgement and the proper ways to encourage others to make more sustainable choices in their lives.

My Story

During College

When I started lowering my waste and living more sustainably, I was living alone at college. It was easier for me to start making changes in my life because no one was around to discourage me. However, when I moved back home and later moved in with my now-husband, things got much more difficult. And I still consider my parents and husband to be very open-minded about zero waste and know they have made changes because of me or of their own will.

In college, I switched to a nearly 100% vegan diet. When I moved back home, that wasn’t an option. My mom has pushed back on me becoming vegan for years and years. My husband also disagrees with me going vegan mostly because he enjoys sharing meals rather than both of us making our own each night.

After College

At college, I cut out granola bars. But when I came back home, I fell back into my old habits of relying on single-serve snack foods. I would bring two or three granola bars or other snacks to work, along with a yogurt or applesauce. It took me about a year to kick that habit again, but I still fall victim to snack foods from time to time.

My husband has no desire to be as zero waste as I would like to be. He is a bargain-hunter and usually does not like to buy things that have a cheaper alternative even if the more expensive item is better (local, package-free, organic, etc.). So we still buy a lot of packaged foods. We have a few bulk places somewhat nearby, but the costs are just too high for us. We buy at warehouse stores to get the large “bulk” options whenever possible, but to me, these sometimes are just more waste than buying multiple of an item because it’s just two or three normal items plastic-wrapped together.

That said, my husband has transitioned to a lower-meat diet (poultry only) and often will make vegan meals with me from one of our secondhand cookbooks. He is all for bar soap,  wants to get a bidet when we buy our own home, and wants to give low waste gifts for holidays. He has truly embraced thrift shopping and worked with me on our lower waste wedding. But still there are times when I get discouraged that he doesn’t agree.

The Hard Truth

The fact of the matter is you can’t change everyone’s mind about everything. It’s a hard thing to accept, but it is necessary for the happiness of both parties.

People may have many reasons for pushing back on change. Our world has become one of convenience. For example, it’s easier to go buy a coffee in a plastic cup on your way to work than it is make one yourself at home. It’s easier to take the plastic shopping bags from the store than it is to remember your reusable bags. Some people don’t want to give that up.

Maybe they just aren’t aware of the consequences of their actions. Maybe their vision of trash stops at the edge of the driveway where the garbage truck picks it up each week. Maybe they don’t know about unethical human rights violations with regards to the fast fashion industry.

They could also just be set in their ways. “We’ve always done it this way. I’m not changing now.” Or they could be bargain-hunters and refuse to pay more for better products when there’s a cheaper version on the next shelf. Whatever it is, they have their reasons, but there are many ways you can open a dialogue and compromise with them.

Compromise

Start simple and suggest the easiest swaps first. Don’t go all in pushing for composting when you haven’t even tackled proper recycling practices yet. Check out my post on 50 (Free!) Little Changes to get started. They cost no money (in fact, many save money), and most are very easy to adopt.

You can also go the “buy it once” route. Ask them to opt for energy-efficient appliances and switch to a renewable energy provider. Suggest they buy a glass product over a plastic one of similar price. Put a stop to junk mail using optoutprescreen.com and dmachoice.org. This way there is no upkeep and extra work involved to living more sustainably.

If they don’t want to go and buy their own products, offer to let them borrow yours. Say they are welcome to use your reusable containers or bags. Let them clean up using your DIY natural cleaners. Encourage them to put food scraps in your compost bin.

You can also offer to do the “dirty work” involved. All they need to do is put the food scraps in the bin; you’ll take the compost from there. You will launder the reusable cleaning rags and kitchen towels that replaced the paper towels. You will handle growing some veggies in the garden, and they can cook with them.

But if you’re still making no progress, sometimes it’s better to just move on.

Focus On You And Bigger Issues

Sometimes I need to have a talk with myself and remember that I am separate from my husband. His trash is not my trash. I can make swaps that he doesn’t (such as recently going No Poo). It’s okay. Just focus on what you can personally change.

While this includes doing more to lower your own footprint, you can also turn to activism. Join an environmental group, write to companies explaining your disagreement with their practices and suggesting changes, and vote in every election. One voice may not seem like much, but the aggregation of everyone’s single voice can cause big change.

In sum, don’t let others get you down. Reach out to the zero waste community in your area or online. We’ve all been there before. Advice and support are waiting for you.

Lead By Example

The best way to encourage others is to lead by example instead of being all preachy that you have seen the light. No one likes to feel lectured to and told they are wrong. No one likes a know-it-all. So instead of speaking from a “You’re causing more X to happen so stop and be more like me” point of view, speak from a “I do this thing because X is happening and it’s so easy to do” point of view.

You can also do small things like packing an extra fork, bag, or container for them to use when you go out together. It shows you care and that it took very little effort to bring along. Don’t force things on them; just offer.

Respect is a mutual concept. If it’s still a hard no, you just have to accept it. Go on living your life as a silent example for them anyway, but accept they may never come around to zero waste.

Resources

Educating others is a great way to encourage sustainable living. You can hop over to my Start Here section to find posts on getting started with reducing your impact on the planet and share those with others.

You can also use science and facts to explain the issues our planet is facing. Statistics, reports, and news articles are useful tools, but make sure to look for ones written in plain English (or whatever language you speak) so they aren’t just a wall of science-y text. You can also suggest they read some books on zero waste living and environmental problems. Check out my List of Must-Read Books on Sustainability.

Better yet, skip the reading altogether and watch a documentary together. There are docs on everything from food waste to wildlife to fashion. Read some quick blurbs about a handful of awesome documentaries on my List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries.

Finally, you yourself can also be a resource for others. Answer their questions. If you don’t know an answer, look it up and get back to them. Keep sharing information and leading by example, and they may start picking up on some of your habits.

Conclusion

How have you dealt with living with non-zero waste people? What tactics have you used to encourage others to act more responsibly? How do you stay motivated? Let us know in the comments!

Living With Non-Zero Waste People green garbage can filled with single use plastic trash
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How To Actually Use A Menstrual Cup reusable organicup against a painted blue background speckled with green leaves

How To (Actually) Use A Menstrual Cup

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

This post may be a bit TMI, but I’m a believer in de-stigmatizing periods, and I wish there was a post like this when I was deciding on a low waste period solution.

Before I bought my menstrual cup, I did a lot of research on what they are and how you use one. I watched videos and read the instructions on various companies’ websites, but nothing seemed to explain clearly enough how to use the darn thing. Eventually I bit the bullet and bought one.

I chose Organicup for a few reasons: there packaging is 100% paper, their cups are vegan, and they are not dyed. You can get one yourself here! They also have come out with a Mini version for teens or those who need a smaller size cup. What’s more, each cup comes with its own organic unbleached cotton storage pouch.

NOTE: This is NOT a paid advertisement. I have been using Organicup since 2018 and recommend them because of my positive experience.

Obviously, everyone’s bodies are different and what works for me may not work for you. The main takeaway should be menstrual cups should not be painful to insert, wear, or remove. If it is, ensure you are putting it in correctly otherwise maybe menstrual cups are not right for you. There are plenty of other options available including reusable pads, period-proof underwear, or even just applicator-free tampons and organic cotton disposable pads.

What Is A Menstrual Cup?

A menstrual cup is a low waste option for periods to replace disposable tampons and pads. Cups are made from medical-grade silicone so they are safe and flexible to insert. The blood collects in the cup portion, and the little stem helps in cup removal. The holes near the top of the cup help to create the seal.

The cup will form a seal against the vaginal walls and collect blood throughout the day/night. When I was trying to figure this all out, I thought they suctioned around the cervix. Totally not the case. The seal holds the cup in place and prevents leakage. This can be scary (how will I get it out?!), but don’t worry. Stay calm, and a good pinch of the cup should release the seal.

You can wear them for up to 12 hours although some people have claimed this long can start bacteria growth and suggest to wear it shorter. I wear mine for a max of 10 hours, usually less. The menstrual cup will hold the blood which you can dump into the toilet. Then you wash the cup and reinsert it. A single cup can last years, which cuts out hundreds of disposable tampons or pads.

Most menstrual cup brands have a pre-birth and post-birth sizing option. The pre-birth size is slightly smaller than the post-birth size. As I have said, Organicup also has a Mini cup that’s even smaller.

Worried about using a menstrual cup with an IUD? This study states there is no increased risk of IUD expulsion for women using a menstrual cup.

How To Insert A Menstrual Cup

First Time Prepwork

When you first receive your menstrual cup, you should boil it. Boil a pot of water on the stove that’s deep enough to fully submerge the cup. You do not want the cup to sit on the bottom of the pot as the high heat may deform the cup. Boil for 3-5 minutes, remove, and let dry and cool down.

You should do a dry practice run before your period to get comfortable with insertion and removal. There are two main methods recommended for insertion: the half fold and the punch down fold. The half fold is exactly what it sounds like, pinching and folding the cup in half. I use the punch down method because it creates a smaller initial insertion area as shown in the pictures below. For this fold, you push your finger down on the rim to press a portion of the cup inside itself.

The punch down fold for reusable menstrual cup insertion gives a smaller initial surface area
Punch down fold
The half fold for reusable menstrual cup insertion
Half fold

Insertion Process

I stand in a slightly squatted position for insertion. I pinch the cup with my index finger and thumb to hold it closed and push it inside. This usually involves bringing my fingers lower mid-insertion to ensure the cup fully enters the vagina. I then roll my thumb to one side to pull the wall of the cup to ensure it fully opens. It can get very frustrating when the cup refuses to open and you have to take it out, rinse (to clear the air holes), and try over and over. Rolling my thumb has been very helpful in making sure the cup opens, but it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Just remain patient.

You will feel the cup open and may here a “pop” sound. You should check with a finger around the bottom of the cup for dents indicating an improper seal. Using both your thumb and finger, you can twist the entire cup which sometimes will get it to open, but otherwise take it out and try again.

If the stem is too long and is uncomfortable, you can cut it (while not inserted) to a better length. To aid with insertion, you can also use a lubricant such as water or coconut oil. You should not be able to feel the cup while it’s inside of you.

What Next?

Many companies say their cups can be worn up to 12 hours, but there are some concerns about bacterial growth when the cup is left in for that long. Leave the cup in for as long as you are comfortable with, keeping under the 12 hour limit. I do not wear my cup overnight for this reason and because I just do not leak overnight so why bother?

Leaks can occur due to improper seals or positioning. I sometimes leak a little, but I think it is the blood that was below where the cup sits because it’s usually just a small bit shortly after insertion. Organicup recommends running your finger around the cup to remove this excess blood, and that has helped reduce my leakage.

Now you can exercise, swim, sleep, whatever! (Do not have vaginal sex while wearing the cup; that’s pretty much the only thing you can’t do.)

How To Remove A Menstrual Cup

When it comes time to remove my cup, I stand in the same position as for insertion. You should tense your abs to push the cup lower so you can reach it better. Personally, the stem of my cup will invariably get pushed against the vaginal wall so I use my finger to “loop” around the cup and re-center the stem.

Next I insert the same thumb and index finger used for insertion and gently tug the stem of the cup. Do NOT just pull the stem to remove your cup. The suction will not release that way, and it can hurt you. Gently tugging while tensing your abs will also bring the cup further down.

Once the cup is far enough down to reach it, you can squeeze the bottom to break the seal. Then twist and wiggle the cup back and forth while pulling it out. Keep the cup upright so as not to spill the blood. Finally I dump the contents into the toilet and wash the cup.

How To Clean A Menstrual Cup

During my period, I rinse the cup out with warm water and mild soap after each removal. You should be sure to clear the air holes. To do this, I repeatedly fill the cup with water, seal the top with my palm, and squeeze with my other hand to shoot water out the holes. Just be sure they aren’t aimed at you!

You can pat the cup dry before insertion. I will dry the cup for the first reinsertion attempt, but I usually don’t bother on subsequent attempts so the water aids with insertion. Then you can reinsert the cup following the steps above.

Once my period is over, I will boil the cup for 3-5 minutes using the same instructions as for the initial cleaning. This will kill bacteria remaining on the cup from use and ensure it is clean for next month. I use that funky spaghetti spoon when I boil my cup for several reasons: I can easily cradle the cup without it floating away thanks to the “fingers” creating a little barrier, I can put the stem through the center hole or support the cup from the inside using the “fingers”, and I can easily drain the cup out at the end because the “fingers” keep the cup in the spoon.

After boiling, let the cup dry and cool down, and then you can store it in its cute baggie for next month!

Conclusion

To repeat, everyone is different and has different methods, levels of comfort, and bodies. This post is my method for a low waste period and may not work for you.

Let me know if there’s something I didn’t address in this post! Where are you still confused?

How To Actually Use A Menstrual Cup reusable organicup against a painted blue background speckled with green leaves
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What Can I Recycle And Where outdoor blue recycling barrel with ‘Recycle Only’ placard

What Can I Recycle and Where?

Introduction

Contrary to popular belief, recycling isn’t the answer to solving our waste problem. There’s a reason it’s last in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan. But when you have to recycle, it can get confusing. What can I recycle in the first place? Where can I take things not accepted by my curbside pick-up? What do those numbers on my plastics mean? How can I make sure my recycling actually gets recycled?

When I started searching recycling in my area, all I could find was a short list of items and I didn’t understand what some of them included or excluded. So this post will contain plenty of pictures to be a more visual guide to recycling.

Paper

Paper is a very easy item to recycle, but not all paper can be recycled curbside.

CURBSIDE MAYBE RECYCLABLE TRASH
Printer Paper Newer Photo Paper Shredded Paper
Notebook Paper
(without binding)
Magazines Laminated Paper
Newspaper Mixed Paper Older Photo Paper
Cardboard and Paperboard  

Most paper items you use on a daily basis is recyclable. The equipment at the recycling plant is equipped to remove things like staples and paperclips so you don’t need to spend time doing that yourself.

Many people believe you can recycle shredded paper, but this is not the case. The pieces are too small and can clog and damage the equipment. A better use for shredded paper is adding it to your compost pile as browns. This goes for small paper scraps too.

Photographs may or may not be recyclable. Older photos were created using chemicals that contaminate the paper and make it unrecyclable. A way to test this is to tear the photo. If it tears in layers, the photo is old and contaminated. If it is cleanly tears like a magazine page, the photo isn’t contaminated with photographic chemicals. You should be able to recycle these newer photographs so long as your recycler/town accepts mixed paper.

Photo tear test for recycling
Photo tears like magazine paper so is a new photo that can be recycled with mixed paper

And what is mixed paper? Mixed paper is a paper grade encompassing things like mail, phone books, catalogs, and even sticky notes. Check with your town or recycler for these items.

Mixed paper with magazine envelopes and mail
Mixed Paper example

Metals

CURBSIDEELSEWHEREMAYBE RECYCLABLE
Soda Cans Scrap MetalsAluminum Foil
Canned Food CansSharpsGas/Propane Tanks
Pie TinsPaint Cans
(even if empty)
Baking Trays Aerosol Cans  

Most metals can be recycled. Metal cans, tins, and trays can be recycled curbside so long as you rinse them clean. Some states have deposits on beverage cans so you can return them to the store and get back the 5 or 10 cent deposit you paid at time of purchase. The cans will say which states have this type of program.

You can bring scrap metal to private scrap metal recycling companies who will pay you for your material. Nonferrous metals like copper and brass are much more valuable than steel or aluminum.

Do not throw sharps in with your recycling OR your trash. Needles and syringes should be properly disposed of at collection sites.

Paint cans are also not recyclable curbside even when empty. Paint is considered a hazardous material, and cans should be picked up on a household hazardous waste day or brought to a collection site. Aerosol cans are sometimes accepted curbside with other metal cans, but may be considered hazardous waste just like paint cans.

Aluminum foil is recyclable so long as it is cleaned off; however, very small bits are too small to recycle. Instead gather bits together in a ball for recycling. Helium and propane tanks are not recyclable curbside, but some metal scrap recyclers may take them.

Larger balls of aluminum foil can be recycled but small pieces cannot
The ball on the left is large enough to be recycled. The bit on the right is not.

Composites

TRASHMAYBE RECYCLABLE
CanistersCartons

Composites are multi-material items. Canisters are the Pringles and Planters peanut containers that are a mixture of metal and paperboard. These items cannot be recycled; however, there are many upcycling ideas for these items to be used for organization and storage.

Planters peanuts canister that cannot be recycled
Canister example

Cartons are paperboard with a plastic waxy coating on the inside to prevent liquid leaks. Many places do not accept them, but you can check by typing your zip code into this website, although I cannot vouch for its complete accuracy. For instance, my town’s site says it doesn’t accept cartons, but Recycle Carton’s database says it does. Calling your town or recycling company will provide the most accurate answer.

Almond milk carton made from composite material
Carton example

Plastics

Did you know the recycling symbol on plastic does NOT mean it is recyclable? You heard that right. The recycling symbol with a number inside just indicates the type of plastic, which may or may not be recyclable in your area. Now let’s take a look at what those numbers mean.

Easy to Recycle

#1 and #2 plastics, PETE and HDPE respectively, are the most recyclable types of plastic and nearly always accepted curbside. Disposable plastic bottles and containers are usually #1 plastic. Cereal bags, milk jugs, and butter tubs are #2 plastic. #2 plastic is usually opaque.

Many retail locations accept #4 plastics, or LDPE. These are your plastic shopping bags, bread bags, and produce bags. The store will have a drop-off bin near the entrance of the store, bottle return machines, or customer service desk. Be sure the items are clean and empty.

This bin can usually accept the following plastic items:

  • #2 and #4 plastics
  • Bread bags
  • Shopping and produce bags
  • Cereal bags and cracker wrappers
  • Plastic films
  • Air pillows and bubble wrap
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Sandwich/Ziploc bags
#2 HDPE plastic cereal bag recyclable at store dropoff
#2 Plastic example

Harder to Recycle

#3 plastics, vinyl and PVC, can rarely be recycled. Check out this directory for recycler locations in the US and Canada. Common PVC items include plastic shower curtains and plumbing pipes.

#5 plastics, polypropylene or PP, is often not recyclable curbside, but there are many programs like Preserve’s Gimme 5 program. Preserve recycles these plastic items into their bath and kitchen products. Yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, and “microwave-safe” plastic containers are all #5 plastics.

#5 PP polypropylene yoplait yogurt container that is harder to recycle
#5 Plastic example

#6 plastics, polysterene or PS, are the foamy plastics. Bring foam packing materials to UPS stores for reuse. Some areas will recycle #6 plastics or you can check this directory from the EPS Packaging Industrial Alliance.

#7 plastics are in the “everything else” category and are hard to recycle, but some places do accept them.

You can learn more about the health risks associated with these various types of plastic here.

Electronics

Electronics and batteries can be recycled at various hazardous waste facilities or drop-off locations, but I have often seen churches and other organizations hosting e-waste recycling days. There are also those cell phone recycling vending machines that you see in malls which will pay you to recycle your phone.

If the electronic is still in working condition, I highly suggest selling or donating it to extend its usable life before getting recycled.

Conclusion

There are a lot of rules on recycling, and because it differs from town to town, you must take special care to ensure you are doing it right. Check out Earth 911’s recycling resource to search for recycling locations in your area.

Properly sorting your recycling is more important than ever now that China, who used to buy most of the world’s recycling, have raised their standards. Contamination from non-recyclable items or even recyclable items mixed together will result in buyers rejecting the lot. This leaves countries to deal with their own waste so the lot is usually sent to landfill or incinerated because there aren’t enough capable local recycling facilities. Check out my post on China’s Recycling Ban to learn more!

What Can I Recycle And Where outdoor blue recycling barrel with ‘Recycle Only’ placard
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