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Three Easy Zero Waste Household Alternatives (and the Disposable Products You Never Need to Buy Again)

Aspiring to have a zero waste household can be a daunting task, but starting with a few easy switches can provide the momentum you need to get going. Here are three changes I made in my own home to reduce my use of disposable products. I find I don’t even miss the original wasteful products, and I definitely don’t miss spending money on them.

Stop using saran wrap and plastic sandwich bags

Beeswax wraps never cease to impress me as (a far better) alternative to plastic wrap. Use them over bowls of leftovers, wrapped around half-used fruits and veg in the fridge, or even in the place of plastic sandwich bags for packing snacks. They are durable, moldable and never cause you to fight with an infuriatingly tangled roll of saran wrap. A gentle wash with cold water will keep them reusable for a long time. I’ve had some for two years. If you do accidentally wash them in hot water (like I’ve done) or they otherwise outlive their stickiness, you can simply extend their life by using rubber bands to hold them in place over dishes or around any food item. 

If you’re not in the market to buy something new, other great alternatives for storing and packing food include Tupperware-style containers, jars (even those reused from products like pasta sauce), and containers from grocery items like yogurt (yes those items you’re feeling guilty for continuing to buy because they have plastic packaging— don’t beat yourself up, just reuse the containers!). These types of containers also work well for freezing food (make sure to leave a little room between the food and the lid to allow for expansion) and for purchasing bulk groceries at stores like the Tare Shop.

Give up paper towels and napkins

This might seem daunting if you used paper towels for as many functions as I did, but here is a breakdown of how I removed them from my house:

  • I switched to cloth napkins for meals. You can buy cloth napkins new, buy them lightly used and wash them well (napkins used once for weddings are frequently on Kijiji), or even make your own with some basic sewing skills.
    • I made rags from old clothing to use for cleaning up messes. I throw these in the wash with the cloth napkins, dish towels and dish cloths (unless they’ve been used to wipe up something toxic). 
    • I used to always use paper towel to dry produce after washing it, but now I just use a clean dish towel.
    • Newspaper with a spray bottle of just water is a better alternative for washing glass than paper towel and Windex. Really, I swear. I work for a museum and newspaper and water is actually the standard for cleaning glass in museums— less streaks and less chemicals. 

Say No to Dryer sheets

I switched to wool dryer balls years ago and have never gone back to dryer sheets. The balls help reduce static, keep clothes from clumping together, and work well to “re-fluff” items like comforters and down jackets. And they are very long-lasting—I’ve had the same three dryer balls for over four years. 

But what about that great dryer sheet smell? Try sprinkling a few drops of essential oils on the dryer balls before using them. To be honest, the challenge for me with giving up dryer sheets wasn’t what to use in the dryer, it was what to do about the fact that I had always put dryer sheets with my seasonal clothes when storing them in chests/bins for the summer or winter. So I cut up an old white cotton shirt into squares that are about 6×6 inches. Then I put them in a sealed mason jar with a couple dozen drops of essential oils. They work great in chests and bins to keep the musty smell out of stored clothes, and I’ve also used them in the dryer and to freshen up stinky shoes. When they’ve served their purpose, I just throw them in the wash and then add them back to the jar with some fresh drops of oil. 

These are just suggestions, but the main idea I hope to share is that, doing a few household tasks with zero waste alternatives successfully is a better start than trying to do everything fully zero waste at once, and will ultimately lead to a lower waste lifestyle overall. 

Katie Tanner is the Museum & Communications Coordinator at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. An English graduate from Dalhousie University, she was born and raised in the Annapolis Valley but has been a Haligonian for over a decade. She enjoys travelling and doing her part to take care of the planet. 

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