Greening The Little Things: A Homemade + “Hack” Round-Up

July 11th, 2011 - filed under: The Farm » Home

Glass straws are one of my absolute favorite plastic replacements. Read more here.

This month we’ve made it our mission to finally find alternatives for some of the less conspicuous, but nevertheless wasteful, objects in our lives. For example, this whole idea was inspired by my desire to replace my paper coffee filters with something I could reuse. And just last week, I picked up a seriously awesome hemp filter that I’m loving! Other people suggested I switch to a French press or cold brew system, both great options.

There are a million ways that you can tweak your life to lessen your imprint on this Earth. The great thing about “going green” is that it’s a journey, not a destination, and we’re all walking on this path together. Each of us makes our little changes, at our own pace and as our life allows. And working together, keeping each other motivated, all those little alterations add up to an enormous impact!

Here are some other ideas:

Plastic Sandwich Bags
Make your own!
Buy pre-made to support a crafter

Plastic Tupperware
Dudes, it’s all about the repurposed glass jars.
Fancy glass! (this company uses recycled glass and manufactures in America, w00t!)

Kitchen Sponges
Make your own!
Grow your own? (!)

Plastic Water Bottles
I say, just re-use a glass mason jar. Easy and CHEAP!
Maybe you like something fancy? There’s a million billion options out there in glass, steel, and more. I couldn’t possibly list them all. However, I love glass and these are adorable!!!

“Java Jackets” For Hot Drinks
Make your own!

Menstrual Pads
Make your own!
Buy pre-made to support a crafter

Switch to Diva (or other menstrual cup)

Paper Towels As Napkins
Make your own!
Buy pre-made to support a crafter

Paper Towels As Cleaning Rags
Dudes, just cut up an old bath towel!
Buy pre-made to support a crafter

Plastic Take-Out Utensils
Replace with reusable

Take-Out Chopsticks
Replace with reusable

Take-Out Food Containers
Bring your own from home. Like these! Just tell the restaurant ahead of time, when you place your order. If this sounds crazy, just think about how far we’ve come with cloth grocery bags. Be a pioneer!

Plastic Straws
Replace with reusable

Wrapping Paper
Use newspaper, brown paper bags (you can draw or write on it for decoration), pieces of fabric, or a cloth bag.

Toilet Paper
Make your own cloth reusables! Sound crazy? I know, I know. Read this on how to get set up.

Single-Portion Foods
Stop buying those big bags full of tiny bags of chips or trail mix or whatever. Buy in bulk and pack it up yourself in reusable containers. Stop buying the individual yogurts or the single-serving soy milks. Buy the biggest container (or make your own!) and portion it out at home. Make your own trail mix. Make your own granola. Make your own Larabars. Buy loose leaf tea. You get the picture!


Clearly, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great jumping off point. Got something to add? Leave it in the comments!

Also, check out Oh my god I want, like, everything there. Hippy heaven!

  • Meghan

    This is exciting!

    Although today I caught myself buying garlic at trader joes just so I could have scrubbie-making materials. Considering that I usually buy garlic loose, I think that I took a step backwards in an attempt to be too crafty. Ooops.

  • zerowastelifestyle

    I love the way all the little things one does to be less wasteful all add up in the end-my biggest triumph has to be when I find ways to avoid plastic and therefore ways to steer away from petroleum dependency. My biggest issue is food packaging-why does everything come in plastic? Bring on the food co-op!

  • Kathryn B.

    Love the list! My mom loves the outdoors in the summer but it gets to cold here during the winter to be outside so she always compiles a winter list of DIY projects. She is so excited to add some of the above items to her sewing DIY projects.

  • Alexandra

    You always inspire me so much <3
    I was wondering if you had a recommendation for a good book about container gardening for complete newbies I am moving away to college and will have a little patio outside my studio that I want to use to grow stuff, I was thinking maybe you knew of something helpful! Thank you so much for writing this blog, you have helped me live a more inspired, mindful life.

  • Selina

    I love the ideas in this post! My biggies in the wastefulness department are plastic sandwich bags and not buying in bulk. It’s my husband’s fault with the bags; he’s the one who uses them and he flatly refuses to save his baggies. But all the blame for the other one is mine- I even belong to an organic/natural foods buying club but I hardly ever order anything because I just can’t seem to get over the seemingly “high” cost of buying bulk foods. At the co-op bulk section I don’t know what’s a deal and what’s not so I just skip it. Excuses, excuses.

  • Alina S

    I cannot recommend the Diva Cup enough!

    Also, I made a tea mug cozy the other day- it’s just the top of an old woolen sock, but I love it just the same :)

  • Steph

    Love the tea mug cozy! I just made a produce bag by sewing the bottom of a stained tank top closed. Dude, it already has built-in handles!

    I think we are worst at driving in the car to get the kid to sleep. Going to get the bikes and trailer in shape this week to stop that.

  • Kate

    I use a diva cup! Whoop! It’s definitely a change, but now, *tmi warning* I can really tell how tampons dry you out. I don’ think I’ll ever go back.

  • Erin U

    LOVE this article/post! I’ve been re-thinking ways to just stop using the usual disposable products and either rething or give up all together. Thanks for the encouragement Sayward! I’m giving up paper towels and sponges and permanently using old tshirts/towels for cleaning and making fabric napkins (hey, it worked for my mom and it can work for me too!) I’m also giving up Q-tips and disposable cottonballs for good, as well as going to mason jars for our drinking glasses and food storage (rather than purchasing tupperware type storage). Thank you for revisiting this idea periodically….we can always think of new ways to incorporate this idea!

  • Kathryn P.

    I’m out of the country right now, but as soon as I get back and and up to college to move into my new house (eeek! so excited!), there are two things on my list: diva cup and recycled plastic bottle mesh produce bags!

  • Jacqueline

    Found your blog & I love it! Adorable kid & tons of useful & insightful information.

    Ways I help reduce:

    -using cloth napkins
    -using cloth towels (it’s not such a big deal -once you get used to not having paper!)
    -buying in bulk
    -buying food at farmer’s markets
    -reusing glass (mostly salsa) jars for cups
    -not washing towels & clothes after every wear
    -not flushing the toilet after every pee
    -buying recycled toilet paper
    -giving our local farm or CSA back egg cartons
    -cutting down on trash by recycling & composting!
    -if we buy plastic containers at the store I wash them & use them in my classroom for recycled art projects or storage
    -making homemade versions of a lot of foods…kombucha, sour cream, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, popsicles, etc.
    -buying local milk in glass reusable jars
    -ball jars & Kleen kanteens for on the go
    -using a french press (best coffee ever!)
    -making homemade tea & brewing in a ball jar (instead of buying individual tea bags)
    -sun brewing tea

    Thanks again :)

  • Emily

    Really good list. Need to kick paper towels in a bad way..

    Re: the takeout thing- as someone who handles takeout orders at the restaurant where I work, I would recommend showing up to place your order with the container you want to take it home in, rather than calling in an order, as the food has to be in something while it waits for you and that’s likely to be a disposable container.
    NO ONE has ever brought in their own container to my workplace but we or any restaurant would be happy to accommodate this as it saves them money as well.

  • Meghan

    I remember trying to grow a dish cloth/sponge when I was a kid, but I don’t remember how that turned out. I’ll have to try it next season!

    Devils Advocate Time: I get how using reusable menstrual pads and diapers is super helpful. The disposable varieties are made of bleached nastiness and probably not very biodegradable plasticy bits. But unbleached paper towels or napkins? I dunno. Trees are a pretty damned renewable resource, and napkins don’t take up much landfill space… in fact, I don’t see any reason why not to just compost unbleached napkins or paper towels. Sure they take some resources in addition to trees to produce/distribute, but so to does upkeep of reusables place a demand on resources.

  • Kate

    @Meghan I think what’s hard to estimate is the impact of those items on renewable resources, like trees. It’s so hard to trace the supply chain accurately, which is a huge challenge in sustainability studies (which is why people dedicate entire PhD’s to the study of it!). Also, if you evaluate the impact of cutting, processing, transporting (to store) and transporting again (home) of a new product, vs the water & energy required to clean a reuseable one, it’s rare to find that the new product is a more efficient use of resources.

    As a sustainability major, I had to chime in! :) I applaud you for composting these things…for me, they would smell too much ‘like mom’ for my dogs to handle, and I would never have a compost pile to turn, because my dogs would be eating it all the time. :-P

  • miss ellie

    hey, i hope you don’t mind but i posted a link to the article on a post on the site Offbeat Homes. there was a discussion about alternatives to paper towels which i found just after reading this article. so don’t be surprised if you get an influx of readers :)

  • Sayward

    Great ideas everybody, keep ‘em coming!

    @ Alexandra – You know unfortunately, I don’t know of a container gardening book that’s particularly good. I mean, I’m sure there is one, I just don’t know what it is! I haven’t read any myself. Anybody else have any suggestions for good in-depth container gardening resources?

    For beginner-type stuff though, you have seen my articles about getting set-up container gardening, here on Bonzai, right?

    @ Meghan – Hmm, I guess for me, although trees are technically a renewable resource, the *rate* at which we are consuming them is certainly not sustainable. Therefor I try to decrease my consumption wherever I can (because there are definitely areas where I can’t). When I imagine a household goes through, say, a package of paper towels a week. Then multiply that by 52 weeks. Then multiply that by every household on the block, and then by every block in the city . . . I don’t think that’s an insignificant contribution to landfills at all!

    As Kate said, whenever I have seen thorough breakdowns of the energetic/input/output and all the numbers get crunched, it always comes out that homemade replacements are superior to store bought disposables, *even* when recycling/composting is factored in. I mean, just consider the shipping burden (petroleum) associated with delivering packages (wrapped in plastic) of paper towels to the grocery store each week. Each grocery store. Every week. Over and over. That’s just delivery alone. It all adds up so fast.

    So that’s just my thoughts. For me, it’s not difficult to use cloth – I actually have grown to *much* prefer it – so I do. I think Kate put it really well though – i understand it’s nuanced and a complicated situation.

    @ miss elie – Yay, I LOVE Offbeat Home! (and the whole Offbeat empire). Thanks for the link love!

  • @tishushu

    You nearly lost me a toilet paper, and I had never seen the linked post… But living in a female domination household (Me, my gf, and my teen daughter) I can really see how using those would help… I’m just not sure about using them when we solidly eliminate… But I truly love this list!

  • Sayward

    @ tishushu – I don’t use them for solids either! ;-)

  • Joselle

    Just a word on the Diva Cup for anyone with hand dexterity issues: I have issues with pain and stiffness in my right hand and found it difficult to remove the Diva Cup so I eventually had to stop using it. I’ve heard the Moon Cup (or some similar name) is better for people who have issues with hand dexterity.

  • Meghan

    Oh gosh. That is a lot of paper towels to go through in a week. Although yeah, that could be average? I dunno, my parents are pretty normal people (read: not especially green) and I don’t think they go through paper towels that frequently. I go through a roll about once every… 4-6 months. Perhaps if I were more average, this replacement would seem worthwhile. :-) One of the handful of things I use paper towels for is draining/blotting things like fried green tomatoes or fritters or other fried things that need a little degreasing after cooking. I fear cloth may be unsuitable for this purpose.

    You can have my pads, my diapers, my toilet paper, my tea bags (really, what really good quality tea comes in tea bags anyway?!?!)… but you can’t take my paper towels away from me! Here I draw the line!! ;-)

  • Kate

    @Meghan HA! We all have our weaknesses. I’m so busy I can be forgetful, and have forgotten reuseable cups, bags and other ‘re’s’ plenty of times, even though I try so hard to remember! I’ve given up plastic in the kitchen, my tampons, my pads, new clothes, meat, soon to be my car (in the works!)…but please, don’t take away my disposable paper towels for when the dogs shit diarrhea in the house. There are some things you just don’t want to clean. :)

    I just do want the way the *system* is looked at to change. In truth, if you buy your food ‘locally’, but drive to the store to get it, you’ve lost nearly ALL of your energy/carbon savings by driving to the store! There’s so many misconceptions, and they are hard to fix!

  • Alexandra

    @Sayward- I did see that thank you :) I am just one of those people that likes to read a book about every new project I’m starting haha.

  • http://BonzaiAphrodite Amberle

    @Alexandra-Try “Grow Great Grub” by Gayla Trail. You can find it on amazon. It is full of great information presented in a friendly way with great photos, fun recipes, and tips on types of plants to grow, companion planting, harvesting, and preserving. It’s great

  • Kelsey

    This is a great list! I want to get involved with this months mission. We already do a lot of the things on this list, but I’m sometimes really bad at remembering to bring the reusable containers when we go out places, so I think that is what I will work on.
    I get made fun of all the time at work for my drinking problem because I always drink out of reused glass jars. I think it’s just because they wish they were cool enough to do the same, haha.

  • Kate in SB

    This is a great list, thanks for compiling.

    One thing you’re missing: fabric hankies for nose blowing.

    I went to an antique store and bought myself some vintage hankies the other day. They are THE SHIT. Cute patterns, reusable, don’t fall apart when you really honk your nose, and if you leave it in your pocket when you do your laundry, awesome, now it’s clean.

    Probably make a fun sewing project, too.

  • Kelsey

    I love fabric hankies! I have a huge collection, some I have had since I was a kid. My boyfriend used to always carry a kleenex around with him, and would leave them in his pockets all the time. I made him a few personalized ones, and he made the switch.

  • Alexandra

    @Amberle- Thanks so much i appreciate it :)

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – This reminds me of my friend Tommy. His doctor asked him if he smoked, and he said yup! Then the doc asked how much? And Tommy said “usually 1 a day”. And the doctor was like, “Um . . . so you don’t smoke.” Ha!

    In other words, I think your paper towel consumption seems to be pretty well under control. ;-)

    @ Kate in SB – Yes! Hankies are great, I totally forgot!

  • Mallory

    Just a warning about the use of mason jars. Most mason jar lids have BPA in them so they aren’t great for use as water bottles because the water touches the lid a lot. It’s also best to store canned foods upright so that the food touches the lid as little as possible

  • fruitcup

    We use a french press for coffee, its so good! Then we compost the coffee grounds, OF COURSE :)