One of this year’s goals was to minimize disposable plastic — or as Brad calls it, my War of Plastic Aggression. Knowing plastic is a petroleum product, I can’t help but think, “Seriously, we’re going to waste our dwindling reserves on disposable coffee stirrers and sporks?”
And it feels like it’s getting worse. My allergy spray is a perfect example, and I’ve ditched it in favor of neti-potting my brains out. When it was only available as a prescription, it came in a tiny glass vial topped with a tiny plastic nozzle and shipped in a small paper box. Now that it’s gone over-the-counter and needs eye-catching shelf space, the same amount of medicine comes in a bigger bottle with an enormous plastic nozzle, capped in a large, unrecyclable plastic sheath, and shipped in about 6″x 5″x 2″ of hard plastic.
What the wha?
European companies are held accountable for their products from cradle to grave, in a concept called Extended Producer Responsibility, which eventually reduced manufacturing and recovery costs as packaging got smaller. Maybe one day the U.S. will follow suit, but until then, we’ll have to make our voices heard with our dollars, so we’ll be cha-chinging our cash for essentials with the least amount of trash attached.
Hubby and I are never going to be perfect — I can’t hack Tylenol. And I’m sorry, No Impact Man, but I’m not giving up toilet paper. We’ll just have to agree that the bulk recycled-paper variety is an acceptable compromise, despite its shrink-wrap.
But we have made plenty of progress, especially when it comes to toiletries. In the past, I shied away from this side of DIY because I wrongly assumed it would be a time-consuming hassle. Some of these hacks literally take seconds, and even the more complicated ones like sunscreen can be done in twenty minutes. So don’t be afraid to give them a try, no matter how busy your schedule. Here’s a wrap-up of what has worked and where we still need to improve.
- Shampoo. Brad uses shampoo bars like these, but trying to lather the bar in my long hair was a tangled mess. Instead I followed the recommendation of a beautifully-tressed friend, who only washes with baking soda. Works like a charm. Cleans without stripping necessary oils, and my hair has never been healthier.
- Soap. Much discussion has taken place about the footprint of liquid vs. bar soaps. We switched to locally-sourced goat milk bars or these treats from Georgia Soap Company.
- Toothpaste. Still using our baking soda concoction (now with a dash of cinnamon, thanks to a suggestion from friend and blog reader Vic), and our dentist said at the last two visits, “Wow, keep doing whatever you’re doing.”
- Laundry detergent. Ever heard of soap nuts? These nuts contain saponin, a natural detergent that works as well as any of their unscented liquid counterparts. Just put a handful into a mesh lingerie bag and toss in the wash. After a few loads, the spent shells can go in the composter. For the two of us, one pound lasts about six months.
- Sunscreen. How do I love thee, Oinkment? Let me count the ways.
- Deodorant. This was the biggest surprise. Frankly, we expected to smell like stinky hippies after an hour, but one application got me through a 20-mile bike ride. Only downside — the recipe calls for shea butter, which is shipped from Africa in plastic, but one 8-ounce container should last a year, so it’s still a reduction in waste. Note, we add one teaspoon of beeswax for a smoother consistency and twice the lemon oil, since we both think shea butter smells funny.
- Hair gel & lip balm. Brad’s Wax Poetic Balm for Hair and Lips and Junk thickens hair and tastes lip-smacking good. Bonus.
- Lotion. When cooking up a batch of Oinkment, I set aside a jar of the oils before the zinc oxide goes in, and that’s what we use for everyday hand lotion.
- Prescriptions. Our pharmacy will reuse pill bottles, if we’re willing to wait while they refill. One more reason to stick with a small, local shop instead of the big, busy chains. And if we have to sip on a malted while we wait, that’s a price we’re willing to pay to save the planet.
- Club soda. Two words: met sparkle.
- Freezer containers. Our Craigslist chest freezer was a score, but it’s an organizational nightmare — a single pit of storage that’s too small for wire baskets and the like. Stacked mason jars would tump and break, so we’re temporarily stuck with plastic, if we want to store local berries for the winter. When it craps out, though, its replacement will be upright with lots of shelves, allowing for easily accessed glass jars.
- Vinegar. Looking forward to trying this recipe once the fall apples begin to appear at the farmer’s market.
- Contacts and solution. Screwed there, unfortunately, unless I want to go back to wearing sweaty, sliding eyeglasses outdoors. (First world problems.)
The environmental benefits of ditching extraneous plastics are great, but the most important takeaway is that it’s strangely empowering to find simple, natural alternatives for the household products we use everyday. Despite the claims on the back of Brad’s deodorant that Old Spice “contains odor-fighting ‘atomic robots’ that ‘shoot lasers’ at your ‘stench monsters’ and replace them with fresh, clean, masculine ‘scent elves‘”, you really only need a few common ingredients to stay clean and healthy. And the cost savings add up quickly, so maybe now I can afford one of these for the front yard.