We are in the middle of a pandemic right now and I really don't think I can make an original toilet paper joke to start this off. Except that hopefully - if this has taught us anything - we really aren't ready to take care of ourselves on our own, we kind of have to hoard bum wipes in order to feel comfortable staying at home for a bunch of time. The joke is kind of on us; this whole toilet paper panic is the weirdest human tendency that's taken over in this whole thing. It's like we needed a weird phenomenon like that (other than Joe Exotic) happen to make memes about to help us get through this with a few laughs.
But don't worry. This is not a post that is going to tell you about ditching toilet paper. I can hear you sighing with relief, I know you have at least four years of this stuff in your basement, right?!
Anyway, the whole zero waste thing seems like a big fad right now and I am really happy that it's getting out there. But I have to admit, it is nothing new. I am actually just trying to do what my grandparents were so much better at, and to be honest, knowing that is such a huge motivator for me. The concept of zero waste is just that you don't start the waste cycle as frequently, as often, or you slow it down by making something take longer to reach production to their final state (and ensuring it's death is pretty safe for the environment). The goal is to try to already use what exists, instead of grabbing something new all of the time. If you check out your garbage can or mentally note what you're putting in there most often, you get a sense of where you could make an improvement. And, it's a lot of paper, eh?
Truly, I love not having to buy big blocks of Kleenex boxes and paper towel that fill up the cart on one swoop anymore. Does anybody really like that? If you have to bring small children to Costco, and then fit it all in your vehicle, and then bring it inside and store it in your home, remember to buy it again and spend money buying it again, and then remembering to restock it in your own home, and then spend time taking the garbage out more frequently and then drive said garbage to the dump (a reality here in Harlowe, and our local area), what is the point?! I'm not physically cutting down all of these trees, and shipping them to production and shipping paper to the stores and wrapping them in a plastic package, but I can't ignore that this happens now, and it's not really making my life easier, or the environment any better. Canadian forests are managed really well, and we do buy logs for heating our home, but do you really know where the trees were that were cut down? There's such a big piece of this whole paper product cycle that feels like we've drank some Koolaid and they don't want us to wake up to the idea that this isn't better for us at all, it's not actually that convenient, but it keeps us spending money over and over again. Sheesh.
Alright, I'll get on with it. Here's how we swapped some disposable paper products in our home:
Babe Swaps - Cheeky Bits Wipes Solution
Having babies was a real game-changer for me. I think it is for so many. I know cloth diapering is tough for some people to access, and for us, we could cloth diaper our first and haven't been able to do it with our second. Our washing machine is HE and I found I couldn't remove the buildup in the diapers for the lack of rinsing. But still, a really great money (and paper) saver came in the form of swapping my cloth wipes. Even if you don't cloth diaper, keep reading for a few other ideas for these cloth wipes.
I first met Leah, the gal behind Cheeks Ahoy, at a little market fair near Peterborough and I ended up with a little jar of her cloth wipes solution. If I wanted wipes, I just needed to heat up my kettle, pop one of these little cubes she'd made into a mason or measuring bowl, let it dissolve in the hot water for a few minutes and then pour on my stack of wipes. At the time I was using Motherease diapers and wipes (another great Canadian company worth checking out), and these wipes are with me to this day, bein' useful. This little pot of cloth wipes cubes saved me so much money, and it really wasn't that much more work. The wipes were washed with the diapers, I folded them in half, stacked them up, and poured the solution on them. This was such an easy thing to do while being home with a baby, where you can't really get anything big done, but you can do little things like folding up a stack of wipes (a great thing to get your toddler to do, too) and heat up a kettle.
If you don't cloth diaper and aren't washing a load of sorta gross stuff already, you can always use your wipes halfway and you still save quite a bit of money. My sister gave me this idea - use a wet wipe for the big dirty dumps, and the cloth wipes for all the other wiping up. You might think this isn't worth the hassle, but you're usually changing your kid in one spot, and if you have changed your fair share of diaps, you know that this would cut your use in half at the very least. This doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing; doing it halfway is still such a difference, money and waste wise.
Another way that baby wipes get used a lot around here are in our diaper bag. Using the wipes solution works here, too. You can pop like twelve wipes in a mason jar after you soak them in the solution, and they are good to go for the day out or at the beach for wiping stuff up. If the mason jar option seems a little awkward to you (believe me, the fact that they are glass shouldn't scare you - these jars are super tough and I've never had one break in their regular use around here with toddlers), you can also bring a set of dry wipes (just hold together with an elastic) and have your cloth wipe solution in a little spray bottle. Spray on your wipe before cleaning up, or directly on little bums and hands. We always have a Litsie bag (a little wet bag) with us for clothes that have had a potty accident or wet bathing suits. If a wet bag is a little too much for you in starting out in swapping over your habits from a plastic bag, a compost bin liner bag is another idea; they are compact and large enough to fit little people pee pants, and you know it will biodegrade. It all helps; I'm not here to tell you I never used a disposable wipe, because that's not true. Mamas gotta do what we need to do, a little less waste is still better than nothing!
Cloth Wipes - "Family Cloth"
I know I mentioned at the start of this post that I wouldn't be harassing you about your toilet paper, but in case you're interested in how that works for some families, it's called "family cloth." While this may feel a little icky at first glance, many people start out with this at their cottage, where septic systems are sensitive to the build-up of paper that happens. Some families are already not flushing the paper and storing it in a bin to throw out later, so this is very similar to that route. It saves long term on purchasing toilet paper, removes any undesirable chemicals from coming in contact with sensitive areas (think the bleaches and softening agents in commercial toilet paper), and makes you a little better capable to handle shortages during a crisis, right?!
Cloth wipes can be used as TP also. Some families opt to just use it for the #1 wipes, and others for everything (with a possible rinse or holding of the dirty wipes in a wet solution bin prior to washing). It is recommended that if you follow this route, you wash these wipes alone, in a sanitizing mode or hot water with vinegar.
This one is a pretty common swap, but so easy to do. I started out using my old nursing pads, but Cheeks Ahoy makes cotton flannel rounds that are so much kinder on your delicate eye skin than rough paper. I was so excited to see that she has just recently made mesh bags for stashing them as you use them and then keeping them altogether through the wash. Genius!
Image via Little Green Shop
Alternatives to Paper Towel
We have a bin of our old cloth wipes and the excessive number of washcloths that we acquired at our baby shower in a bin in the kitchen. These clean faces all day long. We also have a bit of a rag bin with older tea towels and old burp cloths in it. These are used for spills and our Cuban mop and more. All of this was free, we just had to repurpose what we already had and weren't using elsewhere. Old t-shirts and worn-out onesies are also a good rag bin starter.
We also use Swedish dish cloths in our kitchen, and wipe counters all day with these guys. I love these so much and knew my shop would not be complete without them. These are beautiful, antibacterial, and make sensible gifts as well. They just pop into the composter when they reach their end of life.
Image via Ten and Co.
We have managed to ditch the paper towel in 95% of cases with our rag bin, kitchen cloth bin, and our Swedish cloths - and most of it was free. I'm still looking for something to use when draining bacon, so hit me up with your ideas if you've got them! This slow down in use has also made it easy to feel good spending two dollars more to get the recycled paper towel; look for undyed recycled options if you've got them handy, and that's still a good start.
Paper towel for cleaning was super easy to ditch with a set of cleaning cloths. I have no advice for you in this area other than to just try getting something that is visibly different from the rest of your cloths so you can easily deal with them at laundry folding time (if you plan to store elsewhere in a cleaning closet or something). I find having different cloths for different things helps me easily sort it during laundry time and keep a stock around the house where they need to be.
When picking out something to use for a cleaning cloth, try to steer away from fabrics that contain a heavy amount of plastic in it - these plastic fibres break off around your home and in your washing machine into micro plastic waste. This is why I've put Cheeks Ahoy paper towel alternatives in our shop - no plastics in these materials, and when they reach their end of life, they will biodegrade, and don't involve plastics in their manufacturing or composition.
Image via Cheeks Ahoy
With cleaning cloths I find I need about six to twelve cloths, depending on how into the cleaning I get - the bathroom uses a few more and we have two bathrooms.
Linen and cotton are awesome options here! The cotton flannel cloth wipes work just as great if you're looking for something less fancy and more "every day."
One of my most recent swaps was for our facial tissue. Now, really, you could probably make these. Or find some really beautiful embroidered hankies all over the place that were from years ago. But if you're not into that, you can try out the Cheeks Ahoy cloth wipes, which I did, and loved! The cotton flannel is so good on the skin, especially for little kids. I tried swapping them in my vehicle and at work first, which involved having two little Litsie bags to support this - a clean sack, and a dirty sack. I just bring the dirty sack inside and throw in the wash.
The next step was to swap the tissues in our kitchen, and then a month or so later when it was working, I did the same for our upstairs bathroom. It was actually pretty painless, and now our sons have something to "fold" and stack when I'm folding the rest of the laundry.
The Dirty Cloth Bin
The way we make this work is a little wire bin that houses the used cloths. We hang them on the side and then when they are dry (pretty much the next meal and cloth dump), we push them into the bin and hang our new ones on the side. Then, we just have to grab the bin when it's wash day.
Anyway, I don't think I will attempt another post that is on quite so big a topic all in one go! Hopefully there was something useful in there for you, let me know if you have any questions or ideas for me!