Reducing your throwaway waste - updated with photos

8 January 2009
There are a few things Hanno and I do here that I know can't be managed by others who have less free time or space. I know some of you struggle to have the time for making soap or bread, some of you can't plant up a garden or keep chickens. But this idea today is something everyone can do. I've written about it before but it's worth a rerun because it needs reinforcing, to myself as much as anyone else, and not everyone reads the archives.

I reuse everything I can here, instead of throwing it "away" after one use. When I write "away" that means, relocating it to the landfill rubbish dump to decompose - that will take either weeks or many years, depending on what product it is. Throwing it "away" doesn't make it not exist, it simple removes the used product from your environment.

Net bags for buying vegetables, nuts and fruit. They're easy to make - it's just straight sewing.

I don't intend to drone on here about what you should be doing and to stop buying certain products, I'll leave that for your to decide. What I do want to do though, it to show you some alternatives and to encourage you to think about this huge problem.

One of the early swaps we did here was for handmade cloth napkins and another for cloth shopping totes. Both of these are easy to make, even for those new to sewing. We use our cloth napkins frequently, but not all the time. If the truth be told, my cloth napkins are what prompted this post. I realised I'd stopped using them every day, and have now left them on the kitchen table. Often it only takes a small change in your behaviour to make things easy and in full view, and you're back on track again. There are a number of links here to help you make a shopping tote. To make cloth napkins, simply machine or hand stitch the hems of appropriately sized squares of cotton or linen.

Did you know that it will take over a million years for a styrofoam cup to decompose? Or 550 million years from a disposable nappy/diaper to decompose? Other interesting, and horrifying, facts are here.

Speaking of nappies/diapers, Bel has written about cloth options as well as cloth menstrual pads and the Diva cup here. Bel's blogs are here and here. I hope to get some workshops happening for these at my work sewing circle this year.

Here is one way of storing leftover potato salad and two fish cakes (or whatever) in the fridge.

Getting back to the kitchen, let's think about reducing our need for plastic wrap. I have plastic wrap and aluminium foil here but I consciously avoid using it unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I also have snap lock bags here that I wash and reuse over and over again. You can avoid plastic wrap on leftovers by placing your food on a flat plate and covering it with an upturned bowl. Cheese will keep quite nicely it it's placed on a plate with a moist cotton cloth over it. You will need to rinse the cloth and replace it every couple of days. Jugs can be covered with a crocheted cover instead of plastic.

I use my aluminium foil to store celery, beans and carrots. By rinsing the vegetables, and wrapping them firmly in a piece of foil, celery will stay crisp for at least six weeks. I wash the foil between uses and reuse it. One piece usually lasts about four months.

Of course you all know about my obsession with knitted dishcloths. They are much better than the ones you buy at the supermarket that are used then "thrown away". Knitted dishcloths wipe and clean well and can be washed over and over again. One will last at least a couple of years. There are patterns for knitted dishcloths here and here and my favourite waffle weave pattern is one from Deb at Homespun Living, her pattern is here. I also clean with rags - I have a rag bag hanging in the laundry that is full of terry towelling squares. These squares are old towels that have passed their use by date and have been cut up to make rags. There is a post about rags and cleaning with them here.

I am sure there will be some good ideas for getting rid of disposables in the comments today and I'm looking forward to reading what you offer. Never believe that whatever you choose to do won't make a difference. It does. You are responsible for your own waste, and no one can reduce or stop your waste but you.


  1. Good morning Rhonda,

    Disposables have been my nemesis since I started on the road to a simpler life. I am in the process of teaching myself to sew (not so easy at 53) so that I can cut out paper serviettes.

    Gradually I've reduced consumption of paper towels, foils and cling film. I routinely wash and reuse plastic and foil, after a few months it makes sense.

    I've found focussing on one item at a time makes a reduction easier to achieve. Thanks for another thought provoking post. Rose

  2. Hi Rhonda,

    I keep my celery crisp by trimming it, cutting it up and putting in water in a tupperware type container. I refresh the water every few days - stays crispt and crunchy for ages - don't know exactly how long as it doesn't last more than a week.

    I am looking forward to everyone's ideas for reducing the throwaway. Excess packaging is one of my pet hates.

  3. Great post with some really useful and informative links! Thanks for these. And those are shocking facts in there about plastics. A good reminder.

    I used cloth nappies with my little girl when she was a baby, and I use all those menstrual alternatives, as well as crocheted jug covers, cloth napkins, handmade shopping bags et al. However, there are still areas I struggle with, and find it a challenge to completely eliminate plastics, (especially plastic wrap), and it's an area we're constantly trying to be vigilant about.

    I didn't know that about cheese btw! I'm definitely going to try that tip, and as a novice knitter, a knitted dishcloth should be very do-able too.

  4. I am trying todo this as much as possible myself.

  5. Hi, Rhonda!

    I have tried a whole range of cloth nappies in cotton, organic cotton, hemp and bamboo. In the end, my absolute favourites are the simple flats I made myself from double-sided bamboo terry. I cut extra large squares (70cm sides) and zigzagged the edges. They may not look fancy but they are super absorbent, easy to wash, dry quickly, MUCH softer than cotton and fastened with a snappy they will last my extra-large baby until he doesn't need them anymore - and then they will do for another baby... and another... I cover them with a handknitted wool soaker, or one cut from an old felted wool jumper. I had some smaller squares left over and I used these to make a stack of wipes (just wet add water, then throw in the wash with the nappies) and pads for myself.

    I don't want to hijack your comments but I also have a problem I am hoping you or your readers can advise on. The population in our street has tripled over recent years, and our annual summer rat invasion has brought with it a very unpleasant side effect - invisible itchy bity bugs (I think they must be some kind of lice). My toddler and baby are covered in bites (it's disturbing their sleep and making them very grumpy - not to mention the adults!). I am washing and vaccumming like a madwoman, since I don't want to use chemical insecticides in our house, but every time I think I've gotten them beat we have some hot humid weather and another lot hatch. The rats have been constant visitors in the 16 years I have lived here, but this is the first time they've brought their 'friends' with them. I am desperate for ideas that don't involve bombing the house with poison (obviously not an option, but the only solution I have found on the net so far).

  6. Hi Rhonda

    Conversely, a bowl of leftovers with a plate on top is also a good storage solution.

    A few years ago someone gave me a couple of glass, ovenproof dishes that have plastic lids. While lids cant go in the oven, they can go in the microwave and the whole lot can also go into the freezer.

    Unlike dishes covered in clingfilm, they can also be stacked.



  7. I am definitely with you regarding Deb's waffle knit dishcloth. I am not a great knitter but made this one just this week. It's a very easy knit and didn't take long at all.

  8. I'm intrigued by the idea of homemade menstrual products, but am wondering what the maintenance is? I live in an apartment and don't have access to a washing machine but once a week... how are people cleaning these?

  9. I just tried to add the photos again but Blogger still won't upload.

    Shelle, we use diatomaceous earth. It's a organic product - a fine powder - that we put on our chooks when they have lice, and on the dog and cat when they have fleas. It's even good for grain storage and has been approved by the EPA. We throw a few hand fulls into the chicken coop to keep the lice down in hot and humid weather. You should be able to buy it from your produce store or animal feed store. The only thing I can suggest for the rats is a good cat. A good mouser cat will set up house and wait for the rats and mice to come out at night. Our cat does this and she has caught a lot of mice and rats over the years. But try the DE, I think it will work.

  10. I'm Melissa and single Mama to one adopted daughter... I love your blog, please feel free to come visit mine, too.

    I use cloth diapers for my daughter, but I confess that I didn't make them myself... I bought them off of eBay. I've just started using cloth napkins again... I use plastic containers with lids, so I don't use plastic wrap or foil.

    Question - what is your Tuna loaf recipe? I saw that on an earlier post... is it like meatloaf?

    For my suggestions - I take real utensils for lunch, instead of using plastic (that won't even recycle)...gosh, all your alls' suggestions sound much better than my measly one! lol I do try to re-use boxes and packaging as much as I can.

    I freeze almost all my lunches in plastic containers, and hardly ever eat lunch out anymore. I usually make my lunch right after we've eaten dinner, while I'm putting the food away, so it is ready for me in the morning.

    I'm trying to figure out if I am going to attempt to grow my own tomatoes in pots this coming summer... the last time I attempted, it didn't go so well.


  11. Good post Rhonda. We're also slowly reducing our waste, and are doing pretty well on the disposable front. For leftovers in the freezer, we use reusable plastic containers, which have the added advantage of DH can just grab the leftovers in the morning and take them to work with him. We use this for cheese as well, although I might just give the wet cloth a go as we are always short of containers.

    I also use hankies instead of tissues, and this has helped us get our tissue use down from a box every couple of weeks (I have allergies) to one every couple of months (DH still prefers tissues). I also feel that my allergies have improved without all the chemicals in the tissues!

    We use reusable rags in the kitchen (cut from an old towel as well as knitted), and home made shopping bags. It's amazing how much you can get rid of once you start trying.

    My sister has just decided to use cloth nappies (I used cloth with my DD, now out of nappies), so I'm making her some out of my leftover nappy material. I'll probably do a post on them in a week or two once we sort out sizing and the like.

  12. Hi Rhonda,
    we store our celery, carrots and anything else that needs to stay crisp in a plastic container made by Decor. Its a long rectangle with a tray in the bottom to stop the veggies sitting in the inevitable condensation. They stay crisp for weeks this way.

    We use very little plastic wrap, the one place I still use it is on the kid's lunches for school. I haven't found an acceptable alternative as of yet.

    On another note - where do you buy DE. Our chooks have lice at the moment and dusting them with chemicals as we have done in the past does not appeal.


  13. I also use hankies, and always have a spare in my purse. I DO buy the plastic ziploc bags, but re-use them over and over, whenever possible. I have been making my own dishrags for a couple of years now, and gave some as gifts this Christmas, along with all of the ingredients for homemade laundry soap! I have made my own spray cleaner that I LOVE...even cleaned blueberry stains off my light countertop today. I use the clothesline as much as possible....even yesterday when it was 20 degrees F! There's so much more I can do, but we have begun the walk. To me, it's not so much a going "green" thing, as it is an economical thing. And usually the 'green" is the most economical!

  14. Hi Rhonda,

    I ask myself where I would put all my rubbish if nothing was to leave our block and the garbage man never came. This really influences our buying habits. It's not always successful but boy does it make us think !

  15. Hi Rhonda,

    Thanks for the many ideas. Plastic wrap has been one thing I am having a lot of trouble banning from my kitchen, so I welcome all ideas.
    On the subject of diotomacious earth, I don't know how it is in Australia, but here in the US it is important to specify "food grade DE"; other types, for pool filters and such, are easier found, but are NOT OK to put in food, or on or around pets. This "non food grade DE" contains chemicals which can be hazardous to health if ingested or breathed in.

    Thanks for all your great tips. Una

  16. This is just the reminder I needed (I'm afraid I started reading your post, and it reminded me to go put supper back in the I went down, threw it on a plate, and covered it in plastic wrap)! I totally know better, but haven't set my mind to making a change in the kitchen! The stats you posted should help me with that!
    And your tip for keeping celery fresh is great--I know it's not disposible free, but it's probably better than wasting celery all the time!
    I am, however, better in other areas. We don't use paper napkins or tissues, and I use cloth diapers on my daughter!
    To the "anonymous" poster asking about menstrual products-I'm sure they could be hand-washed, but it's not a job I'd want! I use and LOVE the Diva cup, and would totally recommend it to anyone interested!

  17. We use reusable everything here: diva cup, cloth napkins, rags, wrap-n-mats etc. I've recently rethought the paper towels however. We've stepped up our composting efforts and truth be told we have an overabundance of greens to browns even with using, leaves, spent hay, junk mail and old school papers from the kids, so we've started using paper towels for some things, like cleaning the glass door on the pellet stove and then tossing them into our compost bin. We don't go overboard, but my husband and my mother are releived that I have gone from zero paper towels to a secret stash hidden away for special things. I still refuse to buy tissues or paper napkins, but my family seem willing to deal with that now that I've relaxed with the paper towel issue.

  18. Lynda and Shelle, you can buy it here:

    Thanks for your comment, Una. It will serve as a warning for US readers. I believe, based on their spelling, both Lynda and Shelle are Australian.

  19. Hi Rhonda,
    There was some question about aluminum contributing to Alzheimers. Has that been proven one way or the other. Would tin foil be considered aluminum and is that still okay to put next to the celery? Thanks a lot. Nancy D.

  20. Hi again Rhonda. I know you are trying to avoid plastic as much as possible but there is a handy gadget my mother uses. They are reusable bowl covers - Lehmans sells them in the US.

    Lehmans is a great place to shop as they cater to the Amish and carry a lot of non-electric appliances and such.

    I think these would be easy to make as well.

  21. Ooops - one more thing. I learned to use salt and a lemon to polish silver when I worked at a private golf club. You cut a lemon in half, dip the cut edge in the salt and gently rub the tarnished silver. Rinse and no chemicals go down the drain. Use a fine salt and rub gently to avoid scratching.

  22. Nancy, tin foil is aluminium. According to the latest update on the site: "At present so little is known about
    the underlying cell changes in
    Alzheimer’s disease that definitive
    statements about the role of
    aluminium cannot be made with
    any certainty. However, the
    balance of evidence does not
    appear to support a specific role
    for aluminium in Alzheimer's

    Janet,yes, I know Lehmann's well. I'll take a look at your link. Thank you.

  23. Hi Rhonda,
    As we live in a unit, some things are a little harder to implement but one thing that I do is bury my peelings and any vege scraps in the garden, choosing a different spot each day. This is a cheats way of composting but seems to be fairly affective. One word of warning. The scraps must be dug in deep and covered well with soil to avoid animals digging them up and I do this everyday so as not to have to much in the one area. We are slowly implementing self sufficiency in our unit block. Some neighbours are keen others can't be bothered but we'll get there eventually. Plastic is a problem but we are working on that and use sealed containers where possible. I take my shopping trolley each time I go shopping and can load my goods straight into that at the checkout. I have really enjoy this post. I also made knitted face cloths for Christmas presents. I heard of one lady who knits tiny cotton squares for eye make up remover pads.
    Blessings Gail

  24. Hi Rhonda,

    Great post today. Thanks for the pattern links for the dishcloths.

  25. Hello all,

    Wow, I'm definitely not as good as some, but my pet hate is plastic shopping bags. I use the fabric ones you buy in the supermarket but as I'm not crafty enough to sew any fruit & vegie bags I have taken to just reusing the ones I have. I have a little cloth bag that I put them into after I store my vegies in the fridge then take this with me to the shops to use again. Not quite eliminating plastic, but a very easy way to reduce it!

  26. Hi Rhonda,

    what type of wool do you use for the dishclothes is any wool ok. I have a heap of 8 ply wool here at home.
    Cheers Donna.

  27. Wow - thanks HEAPS, Rhonda - I can't wait to try it! I found a site with a good explanation of how to use DE to combat mites and lice and why it works. I had only heard of it as an ingredient in kitty litter!

    You are right about the rat solution too - I hadn't made the connection but we lost both our cats last year, both diligent ratters, they died of old age - aged 19 and 24! We adopted a stray to replace them but she drastically shortened her life span by beheading 4 of our chooks. She left behind a kitten which we've kept, but he is more interested in chasing wildlife and the 2.5cm bell around his neck probably reduces his effectiveness against rodents :P

  28. Ideas for anyone wanting to reduce their throwaway waste:

    Reusable Nappies - use LESS water than disposables (think of the manufacturing stage and the simple maths of reusing a product)
    OzCloth nappies for all your questions, how to make your own, eco info etc (non-profit site)

    Hemp and bamboo scraps from sewing go in the worm farm or compost.

    Cloth Baby wipes - easy to make from reclaimed fabric, gentler on bums, pocket and environment. Keep some spare in the car with a bottle of water for easy cleanup of anything when you're out. Ditto to nursing pads - make your own or buy washable.

    No cling wrap or alfoil - Tupperware or glass/wood/metal - broken Tupperware is recycled.

    Diva cup here as well - woohoo! and no darn GST on 'luxury' items haha. Love never having to go down 'that' aisle.

    Mamapads for postpartum use (or reusable pads for anytime use). Again you can make your own and make them exactly how you like them - no belts or anything either - funky prints and a snap to use/care for.check here for info on use/make your own etc

    Washable swim pants - see the OzClothNappies link.

    Wetbags for storing wet nappies/clothes/bathers/apple cores while travelling etc - again make your own or purchase.

    as has been posted, make your own F&V bags instead of plastic, take/make your own cloth shopping bags etc.

    no bin liners/plastic bags - I just pop the bin in the rain for a rinse then tip the water on the garden or in summer, use reclaimed water to rinse it out.

    So there's some ideas to share, hope they're a help to someone, and one day when I learn to knit I'm going to have a go at the knitted dishcloth! (My DD1 knits better than me!)

    BusyWoman - so true!

  29. Terrific, I have been on this path for a while and needed the ideas for further avoidance of "disposables."


    Strawberry Girl

  30. I have my father's personal addition to "no bin liners/plastic bags" - he always puts paper (maybe more layers of paper, I'm not quite sure now) on the bottom of the bin, so that nothing sticks to it (the main reason for using bin liners). This is a great way to use all those ads that appear in our mailbox all the time. I know this isn't the perfect solution of having as little disposables as possible, but paper is definitely better than plastic bags and father often uses the ads to find cheap products he would have to buy anyway (like cats' food), so they're actually used twice. :D
    Mum also used to wash plastic bags for our school lunches together with dishes, so we were reusing them. After washing she always line-dried them. :-)
    We're not using paper towels. Paper napkins are used only for wrapping bread for travels. We're using paper tissues occasionally, mostly when a cold attacks the whole family and there's never enough of the fabric handkerchiefs (that I use all the time otherwise; sister has allergies, so she uses the paper ones more often).
    Oh, and tea bags (if you're using them) go into the compost! Without the tags, though; it turned out some of them are covered with plastic. Because the compost bin and normal trash bin are just next to each other in our kitchen, the practice of tearing away the tags and putting each item into one bin is fully automatical for me now. BTW, the use of the plastic on the tags could be totally ommitted if everyone did what we do: to be sure the tags don't go into the tea, we clip a small peg on them; its weight keeps them out of the kettle, no matter how hard you pour the water over the bags! Mum keeps a set of these small pegs in a shelf in the kitchen, to use on the tea bags and on opened packets of spices.

  31. Oh, I forgot! Cleaning reusable fabric menstruation pads: put them into a small bucket of cold water for several hours - that way most of the blood goes away and it's not such an ordeal to wash them in hand. But do it immediately after changing them, because otherwise it dries... ugh.
    And, Janet, thanks a lot for the tip for cleaning silverware! That's good to know if it was ever needed.

  32. I learnt a trci in Canada whilst there, of buying good quality shower caps and the using them to cover food in bowls or plates.

    You can reuse them again and again. turn them inside out to wash, then I hang them up on a cup/mug tree to dry.

    I have been doing this for nearly 6 months and I cant see that I am going to have to replace them for at least 2 years.

    Here in England, the take aways come in plastic tubs, like tupperware but thinner. I use these to freeze portions of food, that are just enough for the 2 of us. So no left overs will be thrown away. People at work collect them for me and give them to me. I have had to refuse them lately as I am still using the same ones over and over.

    Not in the same league as plastic, but I have recycled a pair of trousers, buy cutting the legs off and stuffing it full of shirts etc that were not good for rags.

    I sewed up one side and then on the other the end that already had a hem, I made a loop with ribbon, sewed on a button so that I could fold the end over and button it closed. Then I am able to take the stuffing out and wash the whole thing when it needs cleaning. I now have 2 new draft excluders. It featured on the coop as draft dodgers or some thing like that. It inspired me

  33. Hi Rhonda, thanks for the link to the Jerry Coleby site. It was informative. I appreciate it.

  34. I have consciously been trying to reduce my waste for months now. I've been setting myself the challenge of eliminating one thing each month. So far I'm rid of kitchen paper, 'disposable' feminine products, tissues and others. It hasn't been that hard, you just need to do it. I love your blog, hopefully by leading by example you will inspire many more people to think about each thing they use.

  35. Inspirational post. So glad you wrote this Rhonda. I get slack every now and then and then I read posts like this and it lifts me up and puts me on the right track again. I also only use glad wrap when I need to and cloth napkins and I bought paper towells for the first time inages but I felt this was okay as now I realyy treasure things (I used to be so easy come easy go) and I wanted to wrap up the decorations after Christmas..obviously this paper will be reused and reused. I also love knitting dishclothes and started quite a topic of converstaion last year at swimming lessons whipping out my needles..people were amazed there was such a thing! (education is everywhere unexpected after all and I was glad to be for once a teacher)
    I still love your posts Rhonda and enjoy the Co op too.
    Love crafty cherrry

  36. Hear, hear on the knitted dishcloths! Super easy to make, and I have knit them out of leftover string for cloths that wear like iron. When they fall apart, they go into the compost heap.

    we also bought a three-compartmented bin for the kitchen. one holds the rubbish, one holds the scraps for compost, and the other holds paper products that we burn in the fire (we heat our house via woodstove). We also recycle newspapers, glass bottles, and aluminium cans. When the bin is right there divided into categories for me, I am less tempted to throw things away.

    Moon cups/diva cups should be given to even young women when she starts menstruating. Wonderful invention, and I rinse mine in the sink with hot water and soap.

    Buying bulk food that you buy by the pound and bringing your own container to put it into is a great idea for reducing food packaging. We also have milk crates that we put in the car, and when we buy groceries, we load the good right into the trolley, and then it goes into the milk crates for transport home. No more plastic bags.

    Veg peelings, carrot tops, onion skins, all these can be saved and used to make vegetable broth for cooking.

    Rather than buy loads of plants from the garden centre, take cuttings and root them. Reuse those plastic pots...a good wash of them each year stops disease spread. Broken terracotta pots can be used to line the bottom of pots to promote drainage.

    Best wishes,

    Am of the bread

  37. Hello everybody,

    Tansy - Tanacetum vulgare - a herb, which easyly grows in the garden, is used here in Germany to avoid or get rid of fleas, bugs etc. on animals and pets, especially chicken.
    Hope it might be a helpful idea.
    Claudia, who will start to knit dishcloths

  38. Hi Rhonda

    I see that Kristy has added the Oz cloth nappies link, there is lots of info there for anyone wanting to look into using cloth nappies including where to buy and how to make your own. The australian Nappy Network is a not for profit group promoting the use of reusable nappies and are happy to help people find info etc is a good starting point for those intested in finding out more about reusable menstual products. I'll also add that late last year the Lunette cup became available in Australia and the Diva cup is expected to be available some time this year (some people prefer the silicon over rubber of the keeper)

  39. Hi Rhonda,

    Super links...I'm trying to teach myself to knit so can now try a dish cloth - I've been crocheting them up til now ;o Cheese storage on a covered plate works even better if the cotton cloth is moistened in vinegar. I was taught this by a lady farmer (in her 60's)farming in Missouri, USA. I don't often have much to add but this I have tried with success esp. in summer.

  40. Hi great post Rhonda. My husband travels a lot with his job, so I ask him to collect the shower caps they leave out in the bathroom at his hotels. They make great covers for bowls of food leftovers,and just rinse out. I don't use them in the microwave though as I doubt they are food safe, just cover the bowl with a plate. It is very hard to give up the glad wrap, and I also eagerly await any ideas for wrapping sandwiches for lunches. Regards Julia in Mackay.

  41. Great summary of some of the easy changes we can make to avoid disposable things! I have found many people use the disposable option only because they are not aware of the non-disposable option.

    I love making reuseable alternatives out of recycled materials...I see it as doubling the benefit! I cut up old towels to use in the kitchen as cleaning cloths (we used to go through so much paper towel!); I make cloth wipes and nappies from recycled towels and sheets; net bags for shopping and a fly cover for food from an old net curtain; wet bags for used nappies when travelling out of an old wool blanket (surprisingly damp and smell proof); shopping bags out of an old pair of jeans....

    Your lovely napkin pics have motivated me to make some napkins....

    Other disposables that can be avoided: razors (buy a non-disposable where just the blades can be replaced), breast pads (you can make your own from flannelette and towelling), Tea bags (buy leaves)...Tricia

  42. Hi Rhonda; excellent ideas, and many of them already applied here. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of reducing our waste!

  43. We've been using only cloth napkins for about 15 years now. The funny thing is, when people come to eat over and we give them a cloth napking, they think it's so special! Like we're treating them special! I've found plastic flexible 'lids' that are of various sizes with elastic around the outside that can be used in place of plastic wrap. I just wash and reuse it like a zip-lock bag. Actually, it's really like the material of a zip-lock bag. They're wonderful and I've used them for years!

  44. Great post! I am getting close to being paper-free with cloth napkins, crocheted kitchen cloths, menstrual pads ( look on the web for sewing ideas) and now, at least for me, family cloth to replace toilet paper. I just cut up some old t-shirts into squares.

    The feminine pads and family cloths go into a covered bucket next to the toilet. When it's time for the pads, I fill the bucket partway with water and a squirt of shampoo. I wash the pads and cloths with the really dirty laundry with extra washing soda, and keep kitchen cloths and napkins out of that load. I find that I have less irritation and more comfort with the cloth alternatives!

    I just got some soft dotted swiss to make myself some more hankies.

    I make and used cloth shopping totes from recycled pillowcases, and make and sell net veggie bags and bulk food bags in my Etsy shop.

    The plastic wrap is a bugaboo, but I don't seem to use much anyway. I have reusable containers, but do use zip top bags for freezing food flat to save space.

    I'm going to try your celery trick. I do use those "green" bags for fruits and veg, and they do seem to work, but celery is too tall.

    Thanks for more great ideas to try!

  45. First time visiting your site. Wow, how great is it, thank you. I wll be back to check all your previous posts.

  46. I started slowly, with 3 bins for recyling glass, tin cans and plastic. One grocery store uses paper sacks, I use those to store my newspaper until it can go to the recycle center. We don't use much aluminum or foil, but it goes into a barrel to be sold as scrap metal when the barrel is full. We use cloth napkins at the table, they can be washed easily so less waste there. I also started putting out one of my many kitchen towels and using it in place of paper towels for hand washing, etc. I used to use quite a few rolls of paper towels a month, now we are down to about 2 or 3 a month usually. I've quit buying paper table napkins completely, we are still working on the paper towel use. I don't use many plastic bags, but I do store my celery and carrots in them. I'm on the lookout for something glass or recyclable plastic I can use for them but I haven't found it yet. I've been thinking lately that we probably do use too much water, but I'm not sure how to reduce that. Hubby set up a rain barrel for me this year for my plant watering, I'm very happy with it.

  47. I have been cutting way down on my throw-aways too. I reuse my large plastic ziploc bags many times and have a special spot in the kitchen to hang them to dry. I keep glass jars to store leftovers and many other things in them, makes it really easy to see whats in there too so the food is less likely to go bad! I never was a big fan of paper towels, I like the cotton flour sack type towels to use instead, or other rags. I am currently trying to come up with some sort of bread box to keep my homemade bread in, still haven't found one. When my children were babies I used cloth diapers, that was way back in the 70's and 80's! Don't need them now, but I'm not so sure I could stomach reusable menstrual products. Kudos to those of you who can!!

  48. Instead of using a mesh bag for produce, (because I haven't gotten around to making any yet!), I just look around the grocery store until I find an empty box that looks the right size for what I plan on buying that day. It actually protects the produce I am buying better than a bag. I generally break down the cardboard boxes and later use them in lasagna gardening or composting, or any number of things around the house. Or as a last resort, our city does pick up cardboard and paper for recycling.

  49. I use cloth grocery bags, the Keeper for my periods, reusable containers for leftovers.

    Does anyone have any ideas for how to store meat in the freezer? When I buy meat I wrap in it plastic wrap in meal size portions, then freeze it. Is there something else I could use?

    And what kind of fabric should be used to make handkerchiefs?

    Donna - dishcloths should be made of cotton yarn.

  50. We use pre-folded diapers as menstrual pads. Fold them however you need them for thicker or thinner. Lycra panties hold them in place. To wash them: drop soiled "pads" in bucket of water with borax in it. Experiment to see how long it will "keep" until washing. Might depend on the temperatures. They can be rinsed before dropping into the bucket. On wash day, dump the whole bucket into the wash and run on a cold/lukewarm prewash cycle with a bit of bleach if you want and then wash normally. Line dry. Who cares if there are some stains left? They are still clean.

    RE: Grocery Bags....
    I've made some totes but mostly have bought cheap ones at yard sales and thrift stores.

    Rhonda, thanks for the idea about the net bags. I can make some of the those to take to the grocery store to put things in that need weighing instead of using their thin plastic bags in the produce dept. Some of our grocery stores rebate you a few cents per cloth bag used.

    We use cloth dinner napkins, rags for cleaning and save paper towels for rare occasions.

    Thanks to you, Rhonda, I make my own vinegar now and have started making my own soap to use for bathing, laundry, and dishes. I also use the baking soda wash and vinegar rinse for my hair. I have not used shampoo for about 7 months.

    We have chickens and goats so almost all kitchen scraps go there and we have dog for other scraps. :) Cats help with the mice and rats.

    We also use plates to cover dishes when we can.

    RE: Cheese....
    If you dampen the cloth around the cheese with white vinegar, mold will not grow on the cheese and the cheese will not be effected by the vinegar. We've done this for some time now and are very satisfied with the results.

  51. Thanks for the hint on storing celery, we don't have it often because I could never keep it crisp. Couldn't see the sense of buying it because most would go to waste.

  52. Great post! I'd love to try making the net veggie bags - is there a certain type of netting you use that seems to work best, or should I just check around at the fabric shop?

  53. I hate waste and try my hardest think of ways to reuse items. When my grandmother died, my aunt wanted to throw away all of her ratty towels (and she had a bunch!). I said no, I would take them. I cut the best parts out of them into big squares and sewed together big beach blankets. I had enough to make 7 large blankets and gave one to each family. They loved them and they looked so retro with the old towel patterns. Just another way to reuse something. I try not to use foil and cling film and use jars, etc. to store leftovers in. I wish I had used cloth diapers when my kids were babies but I wasn't on the "green" wagon yet. It's never to late to start. I love, love, love your blog! Thanks!

    Kristina in Nebraska

  54. Thought I'd share my lunchtime options. My husbands lunches usually get broken up into small reusable containers. If you get the right ones, you even put chips (crisps) in a container. A sandwich in a hard-sided container will never get smashed up either!

    For my lunches, I have sandwich wraps that unfold into small place mats. My mother got them for me from but they should be easy enough to make. Just a round of cloth and a round of liner with small pieces of velcro. They're very useful!

    I hardly ever throw anything away with my lunches any more. I make my own snack packs by buying larger sizes and breaking them into smaller containers myself and take my own silverware/cup/plate.

    Hope this helps someone else. Thanks for all of your wonderful ideas!

  55. I am inspired by those net bags. What a great idea, thank you.

  56. Thanks so much for this post. I've sort of fallen off the wagon lately between finishing a research project, finals, and going home for the holidays, but now thanks to your reminder I'm going to try to get back in the game.

  57. Hi,

    I didn't know about the cheese and bottle covers, but I've got to confess it will take me awhile to work up the courage. I've got an insect problem and even though the stuff would be safe in the fridge, I'm still squeamish!

    I use cloth grocery bags-although I didn't need to make or buy any, I'm always getting free tote bags for random things so I just use those. I've never bothered putting my fruit and veg into those little plastic bags, although if I had more than one to buy for it might start to be convenient to make up some.

    As far as lunches, foil, plastic wrap and baggies, I do use bags sometimes, but I've got this great little thing a friend gave me as a gift. Its a small cloth the size of a large napkin with a button on one corner and an elastic loop on the other, you can easily fold it around a sandwich or something similar and then toss it in the wash later. I usually take leftover, however-transported in tupperware and then heated in the bowl or plate I keep on my desk with utensils as well.

    My big thing, however, is to buy packaging with a purpose. If its not possible to avoid it, I try to buy things with the sturdiest box, jar, can or tin that I can use later. I frequently cover or paint things which i awesome for secreting away things in my not-so-private studio.

    By the way, Rhonda-I love your dishes/cannisters-esp. the napkin dish and the blue bowl! They have a beautiful but comfortable appearance.

    Schelle, as far as bites on children go, by all means try the DA, but you might also try ironing the clothing and sheets your children use as the high temperature may help to kill some of the eggs. When I lived in a much less developed area of the world we always joked about the "boil and bake" laundry where everything was either washed in hot enough water to render it tiny or baked with an iron that did a number on any elastic-but there was a reason behind that!

  58. I have one question about making the net bags for produce. Since our produce is weighed at the check stand will these bags make the produce weigh more than using the store's plastic bags would? I make my own scratchie pads for dish washing using nylon net or if someone can give me any, the plastic net bags some produce comes in. I use an old much used Tupperware type container to keep my food scraps in till I go out to the compost. This container was beyond food use but good for this use still. Another question I have is do we need to put an airtight cap on liquid in the refrigerator or will a cloth one be ok? Does a fridge need to work more if this humidity is left uncovered? I am not worried over spilling just if it will make my refrigerator work harder thus using more energy. Thankyou. Your blog has been so helpful. Jody

  59. Hi Rhonda

    I have a question about knitting dishclothes, I have started 2, and realized that the warn is not cotton does that matter? is all my knitting going to go to waste! Thanks for your inspirational tidbits!


  60. I was given some of the cotton knitted dishclothes. The darker colored ones or multicolored ones stayed looking the best. The ones in light solid colors got stained and I couldn't get the stains out. The stains don't hurt anything but astetically they look dirty. I don't like to use much bleach but it did not help anyway. Have you found the darker colored dish clothes keep better or is it just me? Jody

  61. Hi Jody, I've found the bright colours seem to be the best and stay new looking longer. The pale colours tend to fade fast. My favourites are bight colours with a splash of natural.

    Lindsay and Donna, cotton is much better than any other yarn. It is absorbent but dries well. Wool takes too long to dry and acrylic is not so absorbent. If you've started your knitting, finish one and see how you go with it. You only have to please yourself.

    Jody, the net bags weight almost nothing. If you're worried about this, ask the shop assistant weight a bag for you when you go to the shop. I've found they make little different to the weight. Just make sure you don't secure your bags with heavy cord.

    Canadian, you can buy "hankerchief linen", which is a very light, but hard wearing, linen. Or you could buy pure cotton.

    Thanks to everyone who added their information to this discussion. There are some wonderful links here now.

  62. Great Blog and thread!
    I would like to add a little about using washable maxi pads and soaking them in a menstrual pot!
    I bought some pads from and a menstrual soaking pot from mama and together they are great!
    I soak my pads after using them and then just dump everything in the wash-easy on me and the environment.
    I am not sure if anyone here used the diva cup but lunapads also sells them—well lets just say that between my pads and diva cup I have saved thousands of $$ over the past five years and I am sure even more from the dumps!
    I also know that if you write to lunapads they will give you a coupon code towards the first order—its’ well worth it!

  63. Seeing this inspired me to get myself in gear! We badly needed new cloth napkins as the ones we have are at the end of their usefulness. I took a large piece of fabric I'd been given a few years ago and cut it this morning ... viola, 36 new napkins read for me to stitch the edges.

  64. I minimise plastic bag use at the green-grocer's by simply not taking them except for small or squashy items. Most F&V is fairly robust. I have a box and an esky in the car to carry it. My ILs wrap all their garbage in newspaper and their bin is always clean. I have two towels in the kitchen and two matching piles in the linen press: towels in knit fabrics are for hands and woven ones are for dishes. To some previous posters: meat is better frozen in a sealed plastic bag than in wrap, to exclude air, which causes freezer burn. And wilted vegetables are fine to eat -- put them in stews and soups, not the bin!

  65. I have a particular problem which I need help with. Our newspaper is used to line the guinea pigs' cage, and would be great to put in the compost if I could shred it. I just can't figure out how. We're looking at broadsheet paper, 10 pages thick, stuck together with piggie wee and decorated with food scraps and piggie poos. Any ideas?

  66. Chookie, put the catcher on your lawn mower and run the mower over the paper. You might have to experiment with how many sheets at a time.

  67. i use any kind of bag i get from anywhere -- plastic, paper, old coffee bags, what have you -- to scoop cat poop into, so they get a second life.

    i still use paper towels, but really just for cleaning up cat messes ... anyone have an alternative for gross stuff that comes from both ends of a cat? i'd love to hear it. for other cleaning, i use reusable towels. haven't knitted my own yet, but plan to ...

    i can't wait to make my own laundry detergent when i get close to finishing up what i already have. i'm going to use heather's mixture idea from her blog Beauty that Moves.

  68. Karen,
    For cat messes, could you use a small dust pan and scraper of some sort to put the mess on the dust pan so it can be dumped in the toilet, then rinse/clean the equipment and put under the sink or somewhere for another time. Then, you can use rags to clean up the bit of residue, rinse out the rags and wash them or throw them away if it is bad enough. Or, just keep rags on hand that you can use once and throw away.

  69. Hello, every one, what a great listing of shared minds.

    One I see missing or at least mentioned just once is scrubbers out of netting. By simply stitching and back tacking a stack of squares.
    First run for washing dishes, then it is taken to washing trash cans and the like or pet dishes.
    I have a post on this that I will pull up from the archives.

    When doing dishes also consider the water usage.
    Fill the sink only 1/3 full wash the plastics, Rinse them over the 1/3 full sink, now it is 1/2 full Load the glassware and wash it. Now rinse it over the 1/2 full sink with very hot water as before.
    Now with the soap sink 3/4 full put in your pans and items to soak...walk away and let them soak.

    Water is our most precious resource.

    Our city for free we have a second bin to sort and clear out those items. Once the estate is clear of all items to be recycled starting fresh is much easier.

    All glass jars are used to share foods with widowed and aged neighbors. Paper bags if gained at the store are used to cover the counter tops when I grind my meats.
    They are cut open and then the bottom is used for a flat container for auto parts or craft projects like gluing.

    Never did like newspaper so I read online. I do not like them in the compose either. I had several given to me. Tried to shred them in a shredder to line the coop and make paper machae' with the kids. Just cant stand the smell of newsprint.
    News print blank though is great for the kids arts.

    Investing in the tools to "make your foods from the base elements"
    Thrift stores have all the wonderful tools of yesteryear, those things that are no longer "convenient" to the masses. In the US the stores often have a half price day of the month to hit them up. Aprons are a good find here for those of you still learning to sew. One mans trash can be our treasure. I also find good fabric here and use some clothes to cut up...wool is a good find.

    By thinking outside the box items can be used for other purposes. You must use care however when it comes to having contact with food.

    Aprons! save on laundry this saves on water, and soaps even the ware and tear of your clothing. On my side bar are some sites with free patterns.

    The Shower cap idea is also taken farther as you simply use the cloth idea, those large trays are what often takes the plastic wrap just due to size...make a large cover or two for this use. cut a form two inches larger and sew some "elastic bobbin thread" in your bobbin around the edges and button thread in the upper chase, knot off well. Washable.

    Hot water must be used with blood or soiled item to kill the e-coli.
    We are not made ill from our own but each person is ONLY immune to their own.

    use soil or sand to scrub with when out doors.

    Act like a poor man. Think like a sage and live like a king. Owe no man but to Love him.

  70. Just to be pedantic, it is 550 years for nappies to decompose, not 550 *million* years.

  71. Great ideas, Rhonda! My family of eight goes through a LOT of napkins each week. I looked through my fabric scraps and found several cotton pieces just perfect for sewing cloth napkins.

    They won't match, but at least we won't be using SO much paper!

  72. These are wonderful ideas! I love using fabric napkins, and once you start using them, going back to paper just feels ridiculous.

  73. Do you think the knitted dish cloths could be knitted bigger into bath for drying off after a bath?

    My mom gave me some knitted dish cloths and told me they are really affective...and they are.

    So, I was wondering if anyone has tried going a bit larger with it? Do you think it would be cost effective since towels can be as much as $8 each?

    (Sorry if you've all discussed this already)

    Working hard at

  74. I love the idea for the produce bags made of netting. I can't wait to make some!

  75. Rhonda,
    I know this is a very busy blog, but I was wondering if at some time you could please direct me to a pattern for the crotcheted cover (the one with the beads) if you should know of one?
    Thank you in advance,

  76. Canadian - a double layer of flanelette makes a wonderfully soft handkerchief.

    My family take sandwiches wrapped in fabric wraps. I make calico oil cloth for the inside and everyone chooses their own fabric for the outside. My son is starting school this year and they have a 'nude food' policy three days per week where no disposable food wrappings are allowed. I'm so pleased that the school community shares my family's commitment to this issue.

  77. A mental trick to help one "reduce, reuse, recycle:" think like a backpacker. On her back is everything needed for the next 4 days: water, clothes, home, food, utensils, tools, and other materials. Everything MUST have multiple uses, save even the scraps. Your earth is your backpack.

  78. Great post! We currently try to avoid all disposables. We use cloth napkins, rags to clean, etc... but I have two 'problems'. One is the fact that once we started using cloth shopping bags, I now have to purchase plastic garbage bags to line our trash can. I only have a small garden, but I guess I can still compost...
    Also, we eat bacon on occasion and I miss having paper towels in the house to lay the bacon on. What do you use??? Any thoughts? I just pretend I'm a pioneer and that aluminum foil, ziploc bags etc...don't exist!!! :)

  79. Hi Laura, when I cut up old towels to use as cleaning rags I keep a few of them for non-cleaning. I keep these separate. I use one of those terry cloths to drain anything that needs it. It just washes in the normal warm wash but sometimes I have to throw them out - to the worm farm.

  80. Hi Rhonda,
    I have cut down on the lunch wrappers for my child by using a stainless steel lunch box by Lunchbots. It fits a sandwich perfectly and you can also get stainless steel drink bottles. No more plastic! I freeze leftovers in glass pyrex containers as there is some concern about BPA in certain plastics leeching into the food. I only use glass to store food in the pantry and keep all glass bottles to reuse.

  81. When my sisters son was about 4 he asked why they recycled. She did an experiment with him that I thought was brilliant. Each time they had a full trash bag, instead of putting it out to be collected they put it in their back yard. In several weeks the yard was overflowing. He learned that this is what would happen to our earth if we didn't reuse and recycle. That lesson has stayed with me and think about it before I throw anything away.

  82. Great Blog !!! Over a two years ago I had to cut our budget so I started using larger wash clothes for napkins(due to thickness)and hand towels for daily use in the kitchen for wiping up messes. Saved me lots. About 4 months ago I to became addicted to homemade dish clothes I have been crocheting them for (Hobby busy work) I can't seem to stop making them :O) So it's ok if you have 4 dozen or so. Plus I crocheted T-Towels as well which keeps me busy too. I am glad you have gotten more creative I reuse plastic bottle (condiments come in) all the time and don't get my started on my mason jar usuage...


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