Ever since the great lockdown of 2020, I’ve been snooping around the webbernet trying to do the grand calculation of household products – how to be as plastic free, affordable and environmentally friendly all in one go. If you can prioritize ONE goal in your household consumables makeover, it makes the whole thing easier. For me it was a three way tie between plastic reduction, environmental impact and cutting cost.
Add some sensitive skin family members to the mix, and the whole thing moves closer to calculus than I expected. I’m not a test lab. Each person and family has unique, individual needs. We all like and dislike different stuff. There are no large sample size controlled studies so the best I can offer is my own experience and what seems to work for us. LIke everything I do in this holistic lifestyle blog
You can ignore the whole mess, or maybe use it for inspiration to do a spring-cleaning makeover for yourself. As you research this stuff and do your own mind-boggling calculus, the Environmental Working Group is an invaluable resource. The Spruce, Wellness Mama, and wikihow were all useful sources in compiling this list.
All of these things decrease our overall plastic use. Recycling is inconsistent and inefficient as a whole in spite of our individual best efforts. Like everything with a holistic approach, the key is finding the root cause of things and aiming your help and interventions there. If we don’t use plastic in the first place, there is less need (or less profit motive) to produce new plastic in the first place. Less plastic made, less plastic used means less plastic contamination AND less energy footprint used to process the portion of plastic that does get effectively recycled.
I’ve tried to use inexpensive materials at every turn. Comparing unit prices and being a good shopper is important. Of course we always have to be on guard for “greenwashing” where marketers try to make products sound more environmentally friendly than they really are. It is up to you to find the best buy for the money and decide how any of this fits with your personal budget. I can’t do that part for you. Here is what works for us.
Here is what I’ve discovered by product. This website isn’t monetized, and I get nothing in return for the products mentioned. This is stuff I actually use and purchase for myself.
- Glass boston bottles: refillable, recyclable, and dark to protect natural solutions from sunlight. Standard neck size makes it easy to swap out the trigger spray cap when it breaks or wears out (and they always do)
- Re-purposed jars, especially glass ones for skin and hand creams
- Citric Acid Powder: Made from citrus fruit, citric acid powder takes less cupboard space and the containers use less plastic than those large jugs of vinegar. Some brands even come in paper based envelopes. You can use it anywhere you would use vinegar which means do NOT use it on stone or sensitive metals. Acid is acid. It is slightly more antimicrobial than vinegar plus it can be used for canning (if you do that) or making simple cheese (easier than you think) or to make sour candies (I haven’t tried this one – yet)
- Baking soda: mild abrasive, used in baking and cooking all the time (obviously, they don’t call it baking soda for nothing)
- Dishwasher rinse aid: One tiny plastic bottle takes the place of a dozen spray bottles of glass and surface cleaner. I use 1 Tbs per 2 cups of window cleaner. Not wonderful
- Dawn brand dish detergent: I don’t use it for daily dishes anymore. It comes in single use plastic bottles and get only a “C” from the Environmental Working Group but it excells at cleaning oil from kitchen containers and oil based food stains from clothing. I keep a small bottle around and use a drop here or there when extra grease cutting is needed
- Sal Suds by Dr Bronners: is a detergent so hard water isn’t an issue. Comes in 100% post consumer recycled plastic, and it only takes 1-2 Tbs (around 30 cents) per load of laundry making the cost easily equivalent to the large-jug brands and has a nice, clean spruce/pine scent. It even gets my husband’s workout clothes clean. I use a few drops in bottles of window/bathroom/surface cleaner.
- Rubbing Alcohol: not a high use item, comes in plastic bottles but usually a recyclable one. Handy to have on hand for removing ink marks, prep surfaces for adhesives.
- Castille Soap liquid: VERY environmentally safe and excellent for sensitive skin types. I’m a total stan for Dr. Bronner’s citrus. I use 2 oz by volume of soap in 6 oz of water in foamer dispensers for hand washing and as a shampoo. That same dilution can be used for shave and shower too, but a 50-50 dilution works better for that in my opinion. Like everything, this one is especially up to personal preference. It does create some hefty soap scum if you have hard water, but that is where the citric acid cleaner comes in handy.
- Dropps: power spray dish detergent is pricey but very effective. Before this I used Sal suds with a dish brush or diluted sal suds as a dish spray. The sal suds is irritating as a spray at dilutions that are effective on dirty dishes. The Drops spray works best when allowed to sit a few minutes, but there is a sweet spot time-wise. It isn’t as excellent if you let it set too long and start to dry / redeposit the food. Refills come in glass bottles, so they are truly plastic free. Not only is it effective, the scent is pleasant and it is non irritating if you happen to breath in while you are spraying your dishes I haven’t tried it yet, but they also have a new, concentrated liquid in glass refills…zero plasctic AND zero PVA. It is also pricey, but I may give it a try for effectiveness. If it is worth the cost trade off in effectiveness, then that is one more plastic bottle gone, even if it was a post consumer recycled one.
- Force of Nature cleaner / disinfectant: This is in the pricey but SO worth it category with the added bonus of hard science behind it and EPA registration. The electricity-zapped salt water and vinegar forms hypochlorous acid and sodium hydroxide which are proven germ killers. Safe and gentle I spray this sh*t on everything – high touch surfaces, bathroom surfaces, dish cloths and sponges, carpet refresh (test for colorfastness first) It doesn’t clean grease and surfaces as well as I’d hoped, BUT it is more than worth it as a safe, effective, sensitivity skin friendly disinfectant. The down side is the solution degrades after about a week BUT with the small counter top electrolysis unit, you can make fresh bottles as much as you need. I go through it
- Rubbing Alcohol: remove ink, remove oil from non porous surfaces to prep them for adhesive, ingredient in window/surface cleaner. Very inexpensive, comes in recyclable plastic bottles, low volume but very useful.
- Orange or lemon essential oil: Removes adhesive label goo like crazy, from glass especially , great to help maintain wooden cutting boards, wood spoons etc. Mildly disinfectant and can fragrance other cleaners.
- Coconut Oil: great for cooking, baking AND hair conditioner / skin cream I use it in coffee occasionally – more on that in another post
- Shae Butter: mix with coconut oil for skin and hair. Often comes in recylable glass jars. If you refill jars with your own shea butter and coconut oil blends, this can be a totally plastic free option.
- Welldental Toothpaste Tabs: alpha hydroxyapatite was initially studied as part of early NASA studies and has been the gold standard for cavity prevention in Japan for decades. It is increasingly studied and proven effective in the US with a treasure trove of studies on Pub Med (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33824661/ and more) Plastic free, tasty (yay cinnamon!), and more affordable than similar products that are heavily advertised on social media. Probably the biggest win of this whole plastic reduction project!
Stay tuned for my favorite recipes using these ingredients listed by task
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