- Reusable straws (with scrub brush): they come in stainless steel, silicon, glass, or bamboo
- Rechargeable batteries with a charger. Solar options are available too.
- Swedish dishcloths: get several for different household uses. Also makes a great house gift.
- Set of cloth napkins: for meals at home or to take along with lunch.
- Bamboo utensil set: comes in a holder that clips to a backpack. Great for the student in your life!
- Reusable shopping bags: many stores and organizations sell them
- Set of cloth reusable gift bags: make them yourself out of fun fabric scraps
- Waxed cotton food wraps: they come in lots of fun designs.
Use this time of gift giving to encourage the use of reusable items instead of their disposable, single-use counterparts. Invest in durable items that will last a long time. You can find lots of examples in past aFewSteps green tips:
We all have stuff lying around our houses that we never used or used very little. Vases, decorative bowls, pitchers, picture frames, clocks may have collected a little dust but may otherwise be in great shape, maybe even still look new. Consider the friends and family you shop for – maybe you know someone would love to have that item and would get more use out of it than you have been getting. This holiday season, reduce your purchases of new things by making an agreement with like-minded friends and family members with whom you exchange gifts to go shopping in your house. Find appreciative new homes for things you don’t need and give thoughtful gifts without using extra resources.
Photo by Ravi Shah, Flickr
Reduce food waste during the holidays: plan post-holiday menus to use up leftover meals and ingredients
It can be hard to estimate how much food to prepare for your holiday gathering. Earth911.com estimates that 30-40% of the food grown in the U.S. is wasted. That means that you might end up with leftover dishes and unused ingredients. After the evening of the big dinner, plan catch-up meals to use up that extra food. Serve turkey salad on dinner roles for lunch. Make dishes that use the ingredients you have on hand; for example, cooked meats and vegetables can be mixed into a casserole. Lightly steam leftover fresh vegetables and toss with pesto over pasta. Don’t forget to put reusable containers on your holiday shopping list so you can send some of the leftovers home with your guests.
Photo by AVID Vines, Flickr
Plastic bags and curbside recycling don’t mix! Both plastic bags used to contain recyclables and those that are tossed into recycling bins are problematic for recyclers.
Single-stream curbside programs rely on mechanical sorting of recyclables. The business model for recyclers depends, in turn, on keeping the machinery running efficiently. Plastic bags slow things down in two ways:
Most supermarkets collect plastic bags for recycling, so returning them to the store where you got them is a good option. Alternatively, try to cut down on the number of plastic bags you use in the first place. When running errands, take along a reusable shopping bag instead!
Use washcloths instead of wet wipes, which wreak havoc on the environment, city sewers, and even human health
Wet wipes have been labeled “the biggest villain of 2015” by The Guardian. These disposable wipes, which are essentially an instant soapy washcloth that doesn’t require rinsing, promises to disinfect, and gets tossed after use, have become extremely popular – too popular, in fact.
Parents carry baby wipes in their diaper bags and use them for diaper changes and emergency cleanups. Many adults stock so-called ‘flushable’ wipes in their bathrooms for better cleaning than what they get with ordinary toilet paper. Hospital staff and classroom teachers frequently wipe down surfaces with antibacterial wipes. Travelers stock their bags with wipes for emergency hand cleaning.
They’re everywhere, so it should come as no surprise that the wet wipes sector in the United Kingdom alone is worth a whopping £500 million a year, or roughly US $778 million. But there are several big problems behind this widespread obsession with wet wipes.
First: The environmental havoc wreaked by their ubiquitous presence
Just because wet wipes are technically ‘disposable’ doesn’t mean they magically disintegrate; instead, they are simply shuffled off somewhere else, out of sight, where they proceed to wreak environmental havoc.
Most contain plastic fibers that are not biodegradable. When the wipes make their way into the ocean, they get ingested by sea creatures, such as turtles, who mistake them for jellyfish and eventually die. (The same thing happens with plastic bags.)
“When marine wildlife eats that plastic, which they quite often do, it just stays in the stomach of the animal and quite often they just die of starvation,” says Charlotte Coombs of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
The wipes wash up on beaches all around the world. A 2014 estimate from the MCS says there are approximately 35 wipes per kilometer of beach in Britain – a 50% increase from 2013.
Second: The disgusting results of flushing wipes down the toilet
Many users erroneously choose to flush wipes down the toilet, clogging and causing it to overflow. The Guardian reports that New York City has spent $18 million on “wipe-related equipment problems” in the past five years, and residents of Kent, a city in the UK, were dumping an estimated 2,000 tons of wet wipes into sewers.
When wipes clog city sewers, overflow occurs, or, at the very least, a serious blockage made from accumulating fat. “In 2013 a lump of congealed fat the size of a bus was found in sewers beneath London.” Yuck. So much for convenience.
Third: The nasty toxic chemicals contained in the wipes are best avoided
Several years ago, Reuters reported that wipes cause rashes in uncomfortable places. A Mayo Clinic report cited the experience of one man, a postman, who “had a rash around his anus so painful that he couldn’t walk for months… It wasn’t until he stopped using Kimberly-Clark’s Cottonelle moist wipes, some of which contain MCI [methylchloroisothiazolinone, a chemical of concern], that the problem cleared up.”
Baby wipes contain preservatives and fragrances that should not come into contact with human skin, particularly that of infants and small children. (See the Environmental Working Group's report on the hidden hazards of antibacterial wipes.)
Fourth: The spread of bacteria
When hospital staff use the same wipe to clean multiple surfaces, they succeed only in spreading the bacteria further, rather than eliminating it. Researchers from Cardiff University found that wet wipes have great variability when it comes to killing bacteria and was more frequently spread across all consecutive surfaces. Sounds like good old soap and water would be a much better alternative.
Fortunately, the solution for personal wipes is simple.
Ditch the disposables. Make your own wet wipes from pieces of flannel cloth or baby washcloths. Mix up an easy cleansing liquid: 4 cups boiled and cooled water, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, and a few drops essential oil, if desired. Store in a spritz bottle in the bathroom for convenient use.
Alternatively, stack the cloths in a baby wipe warmer, douse in the above liquid, and keep close to the toilet or change table.
Or, just use a bar of soap and a regular washcloth.