For the last several years, I’ve been attempting to reduce amount of waste we send to the local landfill. This started long before I decided I wanted to accelerate my path to financial freedom. Really it was borne out of a deep love of nature and our earth. What small things can I do to improve our collective situation?
The problem is truly bigger than me – we know that corporations and government need to drive change. In the meantime, I’m also going to change my own habits because it makes me feel good, is not that hard, and sets a positive example for M, the next generation.
Added fringe benefit of attempting to reduce waste? Saving money, thus helping to accelerate my journey to FIRE! Here’s a summary on what I’ve done so far that has helped contribute to my financial success.
Things I don’t have to buy anymore, or buy very rarely:
Plastic baggies. Replacement: We buy bagged milk (yes, it probably sounds weird if you are not from here), so I save, wash, and reuse the milk bags along with bread bags, tortilla bags, or other bag-like packaging. I also have several fabric reusable snack bags and reusable containers to reduce waste in lunches for me, M and Hubs. We’re not zero waste by any means yet in this area, but going in the right direction!
Paper napkins. Replacement: Cloth napkins.
Disposable Straws. Replacement: reusable straws. We bought the metal ones, but there are also silicone if you don’t like the feeling of metal in your mouth. Which is, apparently, a thing.
Plastic wrap. I DETEST plastic wrap. Not just because there are so many other options, but also because it’s evil and sticks only to itself. Replacement: Beeswax wraps, a plate on top of a bowl to keep food fresh in the fridge, or a plastic or glass container with a cover for leftovers. For beeswax wraps, we have some from Abeego, made in British Columbia, some from Bees Wrap made in Vermont, and one homemade version created by my friend using her own beeswax.
Aluminum foil & parchment. Replacement: My Silpat silicone mats are my heroes. I’ve had them for many years, and they wear very well! They have saved many a roll of foil/parchment. They are SO USEFUL. I really like the Silpat brand, but nowadays many other companies are making less expensive versions. All that said, we still use parchment or foil once in a blue moon, like maybe on the BBQ when we need to trap steam. I could probably come up with some alternative to that, I just need to think about what can handle the flames and trap the steam. Maybe an old pot with a tight lid and metal handle?
Plastic grocery bags (for those stores that charge). Replacement: Reusable grocery bags and mesh produce bags!
I totally love the mesh bags, because the cashier can see the produce stickers, and they are very lightweight.
Paper towels. We still use one now and then but it’s rare. Replacement: Old bed sheets cut into squares. Because we apparently run marathons in our sleep, we are occasionally wearing holes in our fitted sheets. once you have a spare sheet you no longer use, take one and cut it into uniform squares. Put them in a basket in the kitchen for mopping up spills. You can finish the edges if you wish – mine aren’t but probably need to be. I am not a sew-competent-individual, so my plan is just to use the iron-on sticky seam stuff to seal up the edges. Next time I might try pinking shears if I can find some!
2. Things that I buy in bulk or larger containers, thus reduce waste and save $$
- Yogurt (Or, I make my own – see #3 below)
- Cheese (did you know you can freeze cheese?)
- Farm box from local growers (bring your own bag). They offer veggies, fruit and eggs, pretty much package free! The egg carton is returned for reuse.
- Laundry soap
- Dish soap
- Dry goods at the local bulk store, which accepts reusable containers and gives you 20% off if you use them! (Disclaimer: not during a pandemic). In Canada, my main option is Bulk Barn, however for other countries you may need to do a bit of research to determine what is available in your area. Things I buy at the bulk store for a discounted price include:
- Baking supplies
- Rice, quinoa, couscous, bread crumbs
- Spices! The bulk store added bonus is that you can get only what you need (I’m looking at you, very old, giant bag of celery salt)
- Dried beans and lentils
- Movie snax for movie night
- Peanut butter, almond butter, honey, and other thick, liquid-y things
- Bar soap. My local bulk store sells Soap Works, which comes with zero packaging except the bar code sticker.
- Some cereals
- Soup base
- Some other stuff I’m probably forgetting. Like dried fruit!
3. Things I often make myself to minimize packaging and save $$
- Healthy muffins or “breakfast cookies“, placed in a reusable container. Om nom.
- Coffee (a daily occurrence because I’m addicted). The grinds come in a container unless I buy them at the bulk store, but it’s still way better than littering the world with stupid paper/wax/plastic non-recyclable coffee cups and stupid plastic lids. Sorry for the judgey-ness. Or AM I? This was made even easier when I scored a free 1.0 Keurig machine and reusable pods from my local Buy Nothing Project Facebook group. I got 3 types of free reusable pods with it; I’d say my favorite are the Keurig brand and the Greenco brand. My least favorite were the Cafe-Cup brand. After attempting to clean one, the mesh broke open after a few uses. The other 2 types seem much more sturdy.
- Homemade granola bars
- Applesauce and yogurt (in the Instant Pot!) Have I mentioned lately that I love my Instant Pot?
- Foaming hand soap. I buy regular liquid soap in bulk, mix it with 4 parts water, and then refill an old foaming soap dispenser. Works like a charm!
- Smoothie pouches for kids. You know, the kind that you buy at the grocery store and they’re usually $2 a pop for organic ones? I bought these refillable pouches, fill them with healthy smoothie I made myself, and pop a bunch in the freezer. Then they go in the lunchbox and are thawed by noon. The novelty of drinking from a pouch remains intact. Kids are weird.
- Bath Bombs. If you have children, you know they LOOOOOVEEEE bath bombs. But the ones you buy in the store are ridiculously priced, and contain a bunch of nasty chemicals. This is why M and I decided to try making our own! We used this Martha Stewart recipe, and it went…interestingly. To illustrate:
Clearly, I’m no Martha. I think we may have had an “extra moisture” problem during production. That said, the bath bombs still fizzed up fine after I chipped the dried mixture off the counter top and broke it into pieces. Good news is, I think I know where we went wrong so we’re going to give this another shot in the near future. #failbombs. (Update: we tried again with less liquid and they turned out perfectly, just like Martha’s!)
I really want to get into making my own laundry soap…I even have a tried and true recipe for this but it’s super hard to find the time to make everything. Harumph. So, buying in bulk is the next best thing. Also if I can source inexpensive nuts, I would like to try my hand at nut milk. My buddy makes this recipe from the Oh She Glows lady and allowed me to taste-test. Divine! Why are there not more hours in the day?
Now that this very long post is nearly over, I hope you found this list inspiring and / or useful to help save you some cash and some planet. Our attempts to reduce waste and reduce our environmental footprint is an ongoing process that we try to improve with small, incremental changes. Have you done anything else to reduce waste that also saved you some dough? Let me know in the comments so I can learn from your brilliance. Happy saving!
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