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Making small changes to the products you use in your home is one way to make a daily impact on the environment and often your budget. Of course, not every re-usable product works as well as it's mass produced disposable counterpart. We've tried out a whole lot of gear over the years, and at this point we don't use a whole lot of dispoable products in our everyday lives. There are still some things we have not been able to replace effectively, like garbage bags or freezer food storage bags, but on the whole I feel like we do a pretty good job of keeping things sustainable around here.
I'm fairly thrifty by nature, so when we decide to purchase re-usable products for our home I need to know that I'm making a sound investment. I know that a lot of you feel the same way, and that blindly buying trendy products isn't the best way to save resources in the long run. After all, what good is a re-usable water bottle if it ends up in the land fill?
My number one piece of advice for buying re-usable products is to invest in products that are either extremely simple or extremely durable. That doesn't always mean going for the most expensive product. For example, mason jars are fairly cheap, built to last, and can serve a huge variety of purposes around the house.
A few months ago I signed up for Mighty Fix, a monthly subscription service from Mighty Nest that delivers a new re-usable product for you to try every month. The subscription is super affordable at just $10 a month, and often delivers a product that retails for well over the price of the subscription. I've found this to be a pretty awesome deal. For example, last week I received Bee's Wrap. I have been curious about the product, but too nervous to spend the money on trying it out. The month before I received three wool dryer balls - one of my favorite home products and definitely worth more than 10 bucks.
Deal Alert: If you'd like to give Mighty Fix a try, use one of the following links to to get a discount on your first month's subscription and the chance to choose the first product you'll receive:
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 with promo code DRYERFIX2016 and get 3 Dryer Balls as your first mont
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
- Try the MightyFix for only $5 and get an exclusive Lifefactory Water bottle as your first month with promo code BOTTLEFIX2016
When it comes to stocking my house with eco-friendly and re-usable products, there are a few key factors that I always keep in mind.
- Is it practical? Will this gadget or gizmo actually help out around our house or will it become just one more piece of clutter in an already chaotic whirlwind of family life?
- Is it affordable? The truth is that you can find a re-usable solution for almost any disposable product, but is the initial investment a good one? Do you spend enough on the disposable version to justify the expense of replacing it with something more permanent?
- Is it built to last? Durability is a HUGE thing to consider while shopping for re-usable products. If the product can't stand up to the abuse of consistent use than it just ends up being a very fancy (and often expensive) disposable.
- Does it work? Let's face it. The convenience industry has done a very good job of making things that get the job done quickly and easily. If a re-usable solution doesn't actually work, it's not really a solution at all - just an expensive headache!
Now that we've covered my expectations for a great re-usable product, let's get down to business. The following gadgets, gizmos, and gear are my very favorite things to use in place of disposable products.
Stuff for the Home
Dryer Balls - These little balls of felted wool are pure magic. They replace the need for fabric softener or dryer sheets, and are completely natural. You can even scent them with a drop or two of essential oil before starting the dryer to give your laundry a happy, healthy aroma.
Microfiber Dust Cloths - Paper towels are stupid expensive, and they don't even work all that well. Do yourself a favor and buy a set of 2 - 4 microfiber cleaning cloths the next time you run out of paper towel. They work even better than paper and are as good as new after a quick trip through the laundry.
Dish Towels - Same deal. Get yourself a big old pile of inexpensive dish towels and use them to dry spills on the floor, clean up messy counter tops, even dry dishes now and then. You really, really don't need paper towels (or at least not so many). I promise.
Newspaper Seedling Potter - If you like to garden, this little gadget is a great buy. It helps you fold old newspaper (and junk mail flyers) into seedling pots! The paper dissolves shortly after being planted so you don't even have to worry about popping the little cuties out of their shell when it's time to put them in the ground.
Paper Shopping Bags - We keep a stash of paper shopping bags handy for collecting recyclables in our home. When collection day comes we can empty the bags into our bin and toss them along with the rest if they've become slimy or stinky. They also make great scrap paper for craft projects, food photos, and even baking paper in a pinch.
Stuff for the Kitchen
Bee's Wrap - I just started using this stuff and am in love! I tried making my own once upon a time and was less than impressed with the result. These folks have somehow cracked the code though, and developed a great alternative to plastic wrap for everyday use.
Deal Alert: Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
Silicone Bowl Covers - Another awesome alternative to plastic wrap, these silicone covers suction down to fit a variety of bowl sizes. It doesn't help much if you are trying to cover a square casserole, but if you have an abundance of round serving and prep bowls these are pretty cool. They do feel a bit spendy - but you may find that you don't need all that many in your stash to replace occasional plastic wrap usage.
Glass Food Storage Containers - Hands down, the best investment I have made in my kitchen. For some reason, even the nicest plastic food storage containers I buy eventually crack apart or disappear. I'm pretty sure there is a special spot in the Bermuda Triangle just for Gladware. I purchased two sets of Pyrex food storage containers two years ago and am yet to lose a single piece. (Knock on wood.) That was definitely money well spent.
Grocery Bags - Here in Austin we have a ban on plastic shopping bags so re-usable totes are pretty essential. Even before that law passed we had a good-sized stash going. I feel like I'm showered with re-usable totes pretty regularly, but there are only a handful that I actually cherish. My sturdy canvas totes are the cream of my grocery bag crop and are never-ever lent out or left behind like their shoddy polyester brethren. I also keep a tiny folded shopping bag in my purse on the regular. That helps save me in those dippy times that I inevitably forget to bring one of my million totes to the store.
Snack Bags - While I don't use these little bags as much as I expected to, they do come in handy whenever I need to collect goldfish crackers or stash a sandwich in something more portable (and less breakable)
Snack / Lunch Containers - While I definitely prefer glass to plastic when it comes to food storage, I am not quite ready to trust my toddler with a glass lunch box. Stainless steel boxes have caught my eye, but I am yet to come to terms with spending that much on a lunch box. For now, my little C packs his PB&J in small Sistema containers.
Silicone Baking Mats - Another superhero in my kitchen, my Silpat mats have been put through their paces. While my Mom guards her Silpats from savory endeavors (hers are just used for baking sweets) I use mine for just about everything. After about six years of vigorous use they are a little grimy, and they have a slice here and there, but overall are going strong. These will replace aluminum foil over your pans while cooking savory foods and can also replace parchment paper for most baked goods. And if you buy a good brand, they will last a very very long time.
Cloth Napkins - Not only will you be saving trees from becoming tissue paper, you will get to feel fancy at every meal! Cloth napkins are a simple addition that will make any kitchen feel just a bit more cozy and environmentally conscious. If the price of cloth napkins seems ridiculous or intimidating, try building your stash at thrift stores or even making your own!
Mason Jars, Lids, and Adapters - Mason jars are an essential (even if hopelessly trendy) part of a sustainable kitchen. They can be used as food storage, drink cups, vessels for homemade bath and body products, and of course, pickling and preserving. Their versatility is increased with the help of re-usable plastic lids, drink adapters, and some helpful DIY mason jar hacks.
Cloth Diapers - Cloth Diapering is probably the biggest opportunity for new parents to save money. Investing in a high quality set of cloth diapers may feel expensive while making the initial purchase, but it can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. Plus, you'll be keeping a small mountain of plastic from ending up in the landfill. Thanks to the COHI Cloth Network you can do even more for greater good while investing in cloth diapers. COHI helps mamas and babies in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Read their story here - and have some tissues handy.
Cloth Baby Wipes - Another big money saver and something that is really not very inconvenient if you are already cloth diapering. You can make your own cloth baby wipes very easily, or buy them in bundles to use again and again.
Milk Freezer Trays - Plastic pouches can be a big saver for freezing expressed breastmilk, but they are not always a necessity. Re-usable ice cube trays allow you to freeze the milk and then save the cubes in any container you like. This method may not, however, be preferable if you are donating to a milk bank or trying to keep track of a high volume of milk, keep your frozen milk separated by pump, etc. There are definitely times when the little disposable baggies can be the better choice.
Re-usable Food Pouches - I don't know if it is all little children, or just mine, but kids love food in pouches. I love being able to hand him something he can enjoy without a lot of mess, but I really don't love the idea of throwing away pouch after pouch. The waste factor really bugs me. Luckily, there are tons of options for reusable pouches. I have tried a few different kinds, and while I would prefer to love the pouches made from silicone, they don't go over as well with my son (or with my patience) as the plastic types.