Would you look at that…
The schedule ducks are still standing where I left them last week!
Let’s add some plastic ducks to the lineup. Or more accurately, some plastic-free ones.
During the lockdown summer of 2020 I was, like many people, spending just way too much time on social media. For whatever reason, posts by Surfrider Association and Plastic Free July grabbed my attention. So my response to lockdown was to bake sourdough bread and go as plastic-free, waste reduced and eco-friendly as we could afford to go. I learned more about soap than I ever really cared to think about.
Nobody is perfect. Eco can be expensive. No one expects us to all be perfectly green with zero carbon footprint overnight. It’s a matter of doing what you can with what you can afford and what you have on hand. Anything is better than nothing. Even if the changes made in each household are microscopic compared to the whole problem, all those microscopic bits add up to something. At least I’ll go to my microplastic contaminated grave knowing I did the best I could to keep the human.
The biggest AH-HA moment came when I finally got it through my over-enthusiastic skull that it all doesn’t have to all be done at once. There is one, very simple, painless trick to the whole thing.
Natural attrition and replacement AKA buy better next time.
What’s done is done. The plastic things you’ve bought are all proverbial horses already out of the proverbial barn. There’s nothing to be done about the stuff that has already been manufactured, transported, bought and half used. But you can do something about the stuff you haven’t bought yet. At some point, the things you use will be used up and need replenished. Whenever stuff gets to the point where you would be re-stocking it anyway, don’t just buy the same old thing all over again -replace it with something that meets your goal of eliminating single use plastic or environmentally friendly manufacture or what have you.
Or better still replace that one thing that is about to run out with something that will eventually replace several things too.
I then proceeded to ignore that excellent advice.
I have a very sensitive skin crew around here. The whole buy better thing is easy…testing for sensitivity first adds a level of difficulty. It’s hard to make this stuff cost effective in small test amounts and free or low cost samples were not a thing during lockdown. But I had the time to go in circles, do the math, re-learn the chemistry, become a full on Dr. Bronner’s stan and try new things BEFORE the known and trusted products ran out so I could still replace the tried-and-true products if the experimental one didn’t work out – despite supply delays.
Actually, it was a pretty good trick, come to think about it.
Here are some of the swaps, changes and buy-betters that have worked for us. I hope it gives you some ideas, but you have to do your own homework. I do encourage you to be more aware of the things you buy…the things you choose to continue and the things you choose to change.
Standard issue disclaimer: I got paid exactly squat-diddly zip zero nothing for any of this. I bought everything with our own hard earned money, and what follows is me spouting my honest opinion (you all know how I love to spout that!) Although if Dr. Bronners is interested in sending samples or hiring me for a little internet fangirling, I’m open to the idea.
Here is what I’ve done so far. I’m still looking for alternatives that are color safe and actually work for laundry and carpet stain removers. Those ‘oxy’ products I like come in recyclable tubs and refillable bottles, but they get a big fat F from the Environmental Working Group (which is a great resource for all of this, btw) So was Dr. Bronners.com. I was a fan by the time I finished browsing the site. Hats off to the Surfrider Foundation, Plastic Free July, and all of the other ocean protecting resources out there.
These are the products I’ve found helpful with a primary goal of eliminating as much single use plastic as possible, a secondary goal of using products with a little environmental impact as possible, all as affordably as possible all which also contributes to overall waste reduction. It’s enough to make your plastic reduction duck’s lil’ heads spin. But they aren’t as chaotic as the schedule duck once you get used to them.
- Sal Suds: dishes, laundry, component of window cleaner, bathroom cleaner (100% post consumer, zero new plastic bottle replaces four new-plastic bottles)
- Paper wrapped castile soap bar: shower gel, shampoo, shave gel (zero plastic bar replaces two new-plastic bottles and one non-recyclable tube)
- Liquid castile soap: foaming hand soap (100% post consumer, zero new plastic bottle plus refillable foaming dispenser replaces 16 – 8oz foaming hand soap bottles)
- Steam mop for floors: zero plastic. We opted for renewable electricity supplier which adds extra cost to using the appliance, but floor cleaning has essentially zero plastic/carbon footprint with a steamer.
- Reusable shopping bags. Replaces plastic for no plastic. Been doing THAT one for YEARS
- Unavoidable single use plastic film: bread bags ets – recycled. It’s not closed loop so far as I know, but its better than letting it go to a landfill.
- Citric acid powder: used in bathroom cleaner, BONUS get food grade and use it in fruit salad, candy, cheese making. (Resealable bag, minimal plastic)
- Baking soda: used in bathroom cleaning and as a hair pre-rinse so castile bar works better in hard water (paper board box, zero plastic)
- Apple cider vinegar hair rinse (glass bottle replaces plastic hair conditioner bottle)
- This won’t work for everyone: cassia obovata plant powder in resealable bag replaces box hair color with non-recyclable plastics, non-fair-trade palm oils. Dark hair won’t pick up light golden blonde color from cassia. Great conditioner, but can’t lighten hair AT ALL. But it is a fantastic conditioner for anyone plus blends greys for medium and lighter blondes.
- Tankless hot water heater. It uses a bit extra water to heat or keep water heated for dish cleaning and showers, but it saves oodles of natural gas by not keeping water constantly hot on reserve.
- SCIENCE!! This one isn’t for everyone, but Force of Nature is, in my geeky opinion the absolute shizznit for kitchen surfaces. It cleans, yes, but more importantly it KILLS GERMS like bleach without trashing your clothes if it splashes or drips. And stuff like that ALWAYS splashes or drips at some point. A small plastic ampule replaces kitchen surface cleaner bottles and the metal spray can of antibacterial/antiviral spray that starts with an L . Spray and wipe dry to sanitize any water-safe surface except natural stone. Electrolysis unit is a front loaded expense, and ampules for refills are around a $1.20 ish to make a 12 oz bottle (depending on your subscription and shipping choices.)
Natural, environmentally safe, low plastic and low waste has more than monetary costs. It takes an investment of time and effort, too. Here’s what I’m doing by task instead of by product.
Dishes: We live in an old house with neither the space nor the plumbing for a dishwasher. I’m it. It’s all hand washing all of the time. I tried the Blue Land powder which worked fine and was plastic free but not cost effective at roughly $10 per month. Sal suds is roughly $3 per month by using 2-3 Tbs ($0.20 per Tbs) per week in a Full Circle “bubble up dispenser” with a plastic free dish brush. (I do NOT envy the folks who have the job of making sissal fiber brushes…those things are serious bristles!) Closed loop, 100% post consumer bottle of Sal Suds replaces new plastic albeit recyclable dish detergent bottle.
Laundry: 1-2 Tbs (20-40 cents) of Sal Suds per load in a HE washer works brilliantly, is well tolerated by the sensitive skins and smells great thanks to the spruce oil in it. I seldom used fabric softener anyway because of fragrance sensitivities. If anything at all, I use a rare fragrance free dryer sheet only in winter when static is high.
Windows: Squeegees is not just a fun word to say, it is really the thing for windows inside and out. This is one of the jobs where you have to work a little for your green-ness. Instead of one new plastic bottle with the ammonia based blue stuff, you have to use two bottles, a squeegee, some rags, and maximum effort…
No, wait – that’s that superhero movie
But it does take an extra step. First clean the glass with a *dilute* solution of Sal Suds (for the love of all that is good, follow directions. Sucking in a fine mist of detergent and spruce oil is, well, bad.) Spray it, squeegee it, wipe it. Then follow up with a spray of citric acid powder in water (about 2 tsp powder per cup of water is the same as half-strength lemon juice) and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Boom. Windows just as nice as the blue stuff.
Tub, bathroom sink and shower: We have moderately hard water, so the bar castile soap leaves scum BIG TIME. This is a two stepper too. It works pretty much like windows, except instead of the squeegee you need a scrub brush (or one of those nylon scrubbies if you have a touchy fiberglass surface. The handful of nylon is worth it. At least scrubbies are multi use) This also re-purposes the silicon powder container from the blueland dish powder experiment.
I mixed half DRY citric acid powder and DRY baking soda in the DRY container. Unless you are making a volcano for the science fair, you want this step to be and stay thoroughly DRY. Sprinkle this mixture directly on the worst areas of soap scum and on your brush/scrubbie. Spray the scrubbie and the area to be cleaned with the all-purpose sal suds dilution (same as for windows). The sprinkled powder will fizz and go all science fair on you, but that’s ok. Clean with the scrubbie adding powder as needed. Rinse well. Follow up with a coating of Force of Nature cleaner/disinfectant. If you are feeling extra Martha Stewart about it you can wipe it all dry with a clean cloth. I let the Force of Nature step air dry because – germs.
Toilet: I’m still working on the giant batch of citric acid based cleaner disposo brushes I’ve been using for years. I’m good with that because it is already paper brushes plastic free & biodegradable. When it runs out, I plan to sprinkle the citric acid and soda powder in the bowl, let it sit for 15-30 minutes while I give Instagram a scroll, brush, flush and done.
Floors: We chose an all wind renewable electric generation supplier. It costs a little more per KwH, but that is the green cost of cleaning the floor with the vacuum cleaner or the steam mop with a washable reusable cloth cover. Both are pretty much just electricity and water at work.
Dusting: I’m still using up some of those fluffy duster things. I haven’t figured a non-sneeze inducing alternative that traps dust as well as they do plus the handle reaches the ceiling fan. The washable cloth alternatives I’ve tried so far, including old cloth diapers, just don’t cut it as well. This is where the “nobody’s perfect” part comes in.
Garbage bags: Required by the township, can’t do anything about that. Plus need a clean one to brine the Thanksgiving Turkey every year anyway. Sorry Earth.
Coffee: this is new. Don’t know how well it will work or how long it will last. Instant. Instant Bustello exprsso to be exact. No plastic, no spent gournds, Just a recyclable glass jar and hot fresh cup whenever we want.
If you have any questions or suggestions – I’ve opened comments for this post. Happy to hear your thoughts. I’ll answer in the blog – because content. Any spam or inappropriate comments will be obliterated & blocked, so don’t be shy. It’s a friendly energy here. *
*Same thing over at TaoCraft Tarot. It’s a more active blog so stop by and say hi sometime.