our homes are full of waste paper products

Maybe we all recycle, but is that enough? This post takes a look at reusables and other solutions that are catapulting society into a future free of waste. Check out this mix of shocking and not-so-shocking alternatives to 5 items you may think you cannot live without.


1. Waste No Trees on Toilet Paper

I recently got kind of fired up about how difficult it is to find recycled toilet paper at any of the stores near my house. Are we really unable to find an alternative to chopping down trees and turning them directly into butt wipes in 2015?! Paper can be recycled 7 times, so it’s a real waste to go from tree to toilet directly, but entrepreneur Miki Agrawal advocates one step further – we should follow India and Europe’s lead and use bidets instead of mounds of Koch brothers products. Did you know that some folks, for example in India, consider soap and water to be a much more hygienic alternative to toilet paper?

2. Neither Paper nor Plastic – Bring Your Own Bag 

avoid paper or plastic waste with reusable bags

ChicoBag RePETE recycled reusable bag

This one is so easy! I was in Philadelphia’s City Council chambers when they heardarguments for and against banning plastic bags in 2009. Change is hard, I’ll admit that. The plastic bag manufacturers will need a new business model, and everyone – including low-income folks who face many barriers – will need to somehow procure and remember to bring reusable bags or baskets to the store. But single-use bags are convenience items that we just don’t need, and with a little kick in the tuchus from a benevolent government, people can and will get their hands on some reusable bags and get into the habit of using them. Seattle has banned plastic bags and has a 5-cent fee on paper, and you hardly ever hear grumbling about it.

People who prefer to pay the $0.05 buy the paper bags and their family members give them away to needier folks through their local Buy Nothing group. A stroll through any farmer’s market will probably score you a few low-quality reusable bags, which have become popular promotional items. And if you can afford to buy nice ones like the sturdy, washable reuseit.com EarthTotes that I’ve had for more than 5 years – and remember to get them back into your car or bag after each use – you’ll hardly ever think about this problem again. Add a collapsible ChicoBag or similar to your purse, and your problems are over.  

3. Keep Clean without Soap or Body Wash

contamination freePerhaps you’ve heard of problems with microbeads (just banned by Congress) or pondered how to reduce your use of soap and shampoo as you planned a greywater system to take shower water out to your garden in dry summer months. Well, thefolks at Mother Dirt are now working on products that will keep colonies of helpful ammonia-eating bacteria on your skin so that you’ll reduce B.O. the natural way and eliminate the need for daily soapings. In fact, once you’ve cultivated the right biome, you’ll want to avoid scrubbing it off. This is a stretch goal for our family – we’re working up the nerve to try it. But we had good success bathing our baby / little boy just with warm water most of the time. Babies get sticky with food residue, snot, and diaper-related substances, but their body odor is super sweet. A little soaking in warm water always did the trick for ours, and avoiding soaps helped keep his eczema at bay. The salmon spirits are thanking us for that much – I can feel it.


4. Go Diaper Free

We’re talking baby diapers here (adult diapers are another story). As far as baby diapers go these days, maybe I should call them baby/toddler/pre-schooler, possibly even kindergartener diapers? It’s pretty hard to go 100% diaper free and keep living in the USA, but I really think most parents could pretty easily cut their diaper waste in half. Reusable cloth diapers are nice, but keeping them clean entails a lot of water waste and soap, too. Elimination Communication helps you tune into your baby/toddler’s elimination needs using strategies from societies that don’t have diapers. Once you’re on the same wavelength, you can “catch” lots of your kids’ waste in the toilet or other appropriate place or receptacle, leading to way fewer diapers. When kids are tuned into their bodily needs and are used to eliminating on the toilet, they are easier to potty train, too, so you can save a year’s worth or more by ditching the diapers at an earlier age. While the average age of potty training is now around 3, it was 18-24 months just a couple of generations ago. And there’s no reason it can’t be again.

5. Stop Using Disposable Feminine Hygiene Products

reusable menstrual cupWe’ve come a long way from the days when I first ordered cloth pads from some sewing maven online who sent me a hand drawn zine with my order. The jars of vinegar and intense scrubbing didn’t work out for me, so I gave up on cloth pads. But I’m definitely a fan of reusable alternatives like The Keeper and Diva Cup, and now Agrawal’s THINX underwear is here to complement them.

If you’ve read this far, you are not afraid to get your hands (and other body parts) a little dirty, which is great! If we’re going to live in harmony with our planet, we’ll have to come to terms with the fact that we are animals and should be able to survive without wasting huge amounts of processed paper and other substances every day. The alternatives mentioned here will all be covered in more depth in this blog, so stay tuned!

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