My family of 16 uses the smallest trash bin that the City of Austin offers.
Well, to be fair, 12 of our family members are pets. But as people with pets know, there’s soiled cage bedding, paper towels from house accidents, catbox litter, etc to be thrown out, so I think pets count every bit as much as humans.
How do we do it?
I owe it all to my past experience living in an eco-friendly couhousing community. It’s where I learned many of my “secrets”.
1) Use re-usable containers for lunches, including reusable sandwich baggies when possible.
ETSY has so many adorable cloth sandwich bags that close with velcro or zippers. You can toss them in the washer or you can hand wash them in the kitchen sink with the dishes.
2) Use cloth rags for cleaning…have a designated stack for pets that you don’t want mixing with your kitchen stuff. We use old prefold diapers, old towels, washcloths, etc.
3) Use cloth paper towels. This is our newest change. We bought some cloth “paper” towels from ETSY that snap together and fit on a paper towel holder. We use these ONLY for kitchen cleanup.
4) Use cloth baby wipes. Also from ETSY, but easy enough to sew yourself if you’re more patient at sewing than I am. We use these for pee diaper changes and for face and hand cleanup after meals. You can make up a spray bottle with water and a tiny amount of castile soap and spray the wipes when you’re ready to use them. This has cut down significantly on all the waste that comes with disposable wipes.
5) Use cloth diapers if/when you can. I used to own a cloth diaper store before cloth diapers were as popular as they are now. I used them from when my daughter was 6 months (when I first fell in love with cloth diapers) until she was out of diapers, and I never looked back at disposables. Never, that is, until I had a baby who was born sickly with several GI issues. Then I sold my cloth diapers and never went back. It was unfortunate but we can’t be perfect all the time, and this I was willing to give on. Thankfully she is now in undies and so diapers are a non-issue at this point, but I do plan on going back to cloth next time.
6) Use fleece bedding for caged pets. We have eight, yes EIGHT guinea pigs. I’m kind of a sucker for sad Craigslist stories. Anyway, not only is fleece kinder on their little feet, it’s better for their respiratory systems, it’s less messy, it’s much cheaper in the long run, it’s cuter, and it means less waste. I love it. I’d rather throw things in the washer than in the trash, and it just adds two loads a week of wash for my 8 pigs.
7) Buy your food in bulk. Instead of buying prepackaged foods, go to the Bulk section at your local healthfood store and put foods in their recyclable paper bags, or better yet, bring your own glass jars to fill up. Remember to weigh the jars first and write down the weight for the cashier so they can subtract it…no one wants to pay for the weight of a glass jar. Labels are important here, especially for spices. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone home, put a spice away, and then later wondered what on earth I purchased. Some spices smell very similar! Best to label the jar at the store so you won’t forget. Buying in bulk saves you tons of money, too.
8) Use cloth menstrual products. Disposable products have tons of chemicals in them, are smelly (they actually are what make your blood smell “gross,” not the blood itself!), and are so bad for the environment. Again, ETSY is your friend. I always prefer to support someone’s small business on ETSY than buy from a larger company that sells in the grocery stores. They have cuter design options, too. Just do an ETSY search for “cloth menstrual pads” and you’ll find amazing prints, anything from flowers to skulls to superheroes and guitars. Not only are these good for the environment, they will save you money in the long run, and many women notice less cramping when they make the switch.
9) Make food from scratch instead of buying individually wrapped processed foods. Things like Twinkies, granola bars, fruit strips, cereals, etc all have wrappers that can’t be recycled. Instead of buying them, make up a batch yourself. Do it with your kids as a fun family project. The bonus here is that food from scratch is free of preservatives, dyes, etc, which means it’s going to be healthier for your kids.
10) Use your recycling bin! Make sure you don’t throw anything in the trash that can be recycled.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have tips to share!