Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Waste Factor: Disposables

One of the things I am currently working on is reducing the amount of waste my family creates. I have decided it is completely irresponsible as a citizen of this earth to send my family's waste to a landfill, to become someone else's problem (namely, our children and our grand-children).

One of the many wonderful benefits of being kinder to the Earth, is that it often saves us money as well!

As our lives become busier and busier, companies monopolize on that, and sell us products that make our lives easier and more convenient. More often than not, those items are disposable. Ironically, by spending money on these things, you actually have to work MORE in order to pay for them, which means we have LESS time, and thus creates more of a dependency on disposable, convenient products!! Clearly, the convenience factor is a fallacy, designed to make us poorer and big companies richer, as I am beginning to see more and more as I move through this process.

I first started this exercise in order to find ways to trim our budget. As a single-income family, we needed to live within our means, so I was trying to think of various ways to cut back. I started making a list of all of the things we bought, and then subsequently threw away. The list looked something like this:

Swiffer cloths
Paper towels
Toilet Paper

I then sat down and calculated how much we were spending on this stuff. I can't remember the exact figure, but it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $250.00/month. That works out to $3000.00 per year!! To think of what better things we had to spend that money on!! Not to mention I was ashamed of throwing these things "away". (Remembering that when we throw things "away", they really don't go "away", they go to a place).

I began to realize that although I believed these things were "necessities", it was actually the big companies that were making me feel that way. Commercials for Pampers and Huggies abound - any GOOD mother would keep her baby dry and happy in a disposable! Bounty, the quicker picker-upper! Cottony-soft toilet paper! Have a happy period with Always! Be a goddess when you use Venus razors! Swiffer gives cleaning a whole new meaning! Who are we kidding? By making our lives "easier", we were making these companies richer.

DIAPERS AND WIPES: One of the first changes I made was switching to cloth diapers and wipes. I could hardly wait to dispose of the disposables! I can't begin to tell you how good it felt to lovingly put a cloth diaper on my baby's bum for the first time. To lovingly wash those diapers, rather than throw them away with disgust. Oddly, it made me feel closer to my baby, and a little tiny bit closer to our planet. Once I did that, there was no turning back - I knew I was on the right path!

PADS AND TAMPONS: Now that I was using cloth diapers, it seemed kind of strange to continue using disposable pads and tampons for myself. After all, they were made by the same companies that make the diapers, and contain the same toxins, and are also filling up our landfills. I decided to purchase a Diva Cup. I also started reading up on cloth pads - and much to my surprise, thousands of women were already using them! What the heck did I think people did before disposable ones were invented?? So I searched around on the internet, and found numerous free patterns for sewing cloth pads. I decided to go ahead and try to make one - and not surprisingly, I loved it!
I made it out of flannel, and it was so much softer and nicer than plastic and paper. Go figure. I plan on making several more of these. What's better is that they're actually free when you make them out of old clothes and towels you have around the house. It's the ultimate in recycling!

SWIFFER CLOTHS AND PAPER TOWELS: For cleaning, I stopped purchasing swiffer cloths, and only use paper towels in the most extreme cases - like for cleaning up cat messes! Although I suppose I could use newspaper or something instead... hmmm... looks like another change is coming! For everything else I use rags and microfibre cloths. In any case, we buy the President's Choice Green paper towels (made of post-consumer recycled paper), and then compost it when we've used it, so it is not ending up in a landfill. However, it is still consumption, and still supports a disposable mind-set. I'll have to re-examine this one!

KLEENEX: This one is tricky, and something we are still using. I have allergies, and probably blow my nose a hundred times a day. I know that I am giving the facial tissue companies a lot of our hard-earned money. My husband says no way is he using a hankie. I'm thinking that since I am the one who goes through most of the kleenex, it would probably make a huge difference if I started using hankies myself. Change begins with ourselves, so by setting an example, maybe others will think it's not so "weird".

TOILET PAPER: Yes, we still use it. However, I am not entirely opposed to not using it. After all, I'm using nice, soft cloth wipes on my baby's bum. Why give myself any less respect? Even if the rest of my family refuses, I suppose there is no reason I can't do it. I'm not quite there yet, but perhaps in the near future... Again, we use President's Choice Green toilet paper... but could we do without it?

RAZORS: I stopped using disposable razors, which I have used every day of my life for 20 years. To think of all the razors I sent to a landfill. Oh well, I can't undo the past, but I can change the future. I switched to a permanent razor, where I only change the blade, and I only change it about once every 2 weeks. Better still, I find myself wondering if I need one at all. Is there a better alternative? Waxing? Nothing at all?

Q-TIPS: Really, come on. Why do we use these? To dig wax out of our ears that's actually supposed to be there? Can we wash them with a wash cloth like we do any other body part? Do you suppose the fact that they exist makes us think they are a necessity? We used our last Q-tip this week, and it will not be going on the list.

NAPKINS: We didn't use them much anyway, but one in awhile I would get them out. We got some perfectly lovely cloth napkins as wedding gifts that were sitting, unused, in a drawer. I decided to get them out and use them! It makes me feel special to sit down at dinner with my cloth napkin every night. :)

BATTERIES: Anyone with children ought to own shares in Duracell. Sometimes I wonder if the battery companies are sponsoring the toy companies who make battery-operated toys! I have put my foot down, and will only use rechargeable batteries. But wait. Again, is there a better alternative? How about avoiding battery-operated things to begin with? Is this a necessity or another get-a-company-rich scheme?

I can see that I've come a long way, but I know there is still more I could do in this area! Our goal is to have no garbage going to a landfill. We are currently down to one small, kitchen-sized garbage bag every two weeks. Babysteps!


  1. I love your posts about cloth diapers. I am really inspired and would love to read more about how you wash, etc. your diapers. I know to you that may seem like a no-brainer, but to those of us who have never used a cloth diaper, it's all very foreign. I actually had someone loan me some prefolds and a cover, but I tried one and it leaked all over. I'm sure I just didn't put it on right, but it discouraged me and I didn't try again. I love the diapers you made! You're amazing.

    I also agree with you about cutting down on waste. I stopped using paper napkins about a year ago and just use cloth. It's so much better. I also never buy paper towels anymore--I just use whatever dish towel or rag I have around.

  2. Carolyn,

    I'm SO glad that my post has inspired you. :) Each and every one of us can make a difference - no matter how small.

    I'm definitely planning a post on my cloth diapering system - and it is definitely NOT a no-brainer! I spent weeks reading a gazillion websites about cloth diapering trying to sort it all out. And I stalked our local cloth diapering shop trying to get all the information I needed before making the initial investment. The type of cloth diapers you choose is really a personal decision, and there are so many different options! I was lucky enough that The Cape Breton Baby Company (where I bought most of my diapers) offered a $20.00 two week diaper trial, where she basically loaned me one of every single type of diaper and let me try them all out for two weeks to see which I liked best. I ended up going with Fuzzi Bunz, because although they were pricier, they seemed like the most convenient choice, and they were practically bullet-proof in terms of leaks. Now that I've gotten more comfortable with cloth diapering in general, I'm feeling a little more adventurous in terms of trying out different systems - including making my own.

    Something that I suggested to a friend of mine, who was interested in cloth, but a little nervous - is start with ONE. Buy or make ONE cloth diaper. It can be free if you make it yourself, or at the very most, cost $20.00 for something like a Fuzzi Bunz (or anywhere in between, depending on which type of diaper you choose). Even using ONE cloth diaper a day would keep 30 disposables out of a landfill each month - that's 360 diapers a year - multiply that by 3 for the number of years your child will be in diapers, and that's 1080 diapers you've kept out of a landfill. With disposables averaging about 25 cents per diaper, that's $270.00 you've kept in your pocket just by using ONE cloth diaper a day. Obviously the effect multiplies with each additional cloth diaper you would use in a day. :)

    Anyway, I don't want to overwhelm you - but I'm glad you're inspired, and I will do a post on my current system. :)

    Take care!

  3. I love this post. I am trying to do several of these things myself. I also use cloth diapers and have recently begun using cloth wipes. I will try your wet wipes trick. I just use a water spray bottle and dry cloth wipes right now. Thank you!

  4. Hi extraordinary,

    Thanks for stoping by, and thanks for the mention on your blog! Hope the wipes trick works for you. I used to wet them individually as well, but I find this way much more efficient.

    Have a nice day!


  5. Great article! You've got some really great ideas here. We are currently doing many of these things, although we're still using pullups and diaper wipes. We're just starting to potty train (he's 4 and very stubborn about using the potty!). I'd hate to invest in diapers at this point, but do have him in underwear during the day and pullups at night. I really could do with out the wipes though, so I might see about making some cloth ones. Once he out grows them, I guess we could used them instead of tp (GRIN!).

    I've been using cloth pads for some time and love them. BTW, what pattern did you use for the one pictured on your blog? I've made the Hillbilly housewife pattern before and like them okay, except they need to be a bit longer in the back. I may try altering the pattern and see what I can come up with.

    We haven't bought paper towels or napkins in years. I use cloth for all of these. WE also make many of our own cleaning supplies. I mostly use vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. We've also begun making many of our own personal care items like deodorant and toothpaste. I enjoy doing it and it saves so much money!

  6. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for commenting!
    For the pad, I actually didn't use a pattern, I just free-handed it. (I folded a piece of paper into quarters, traced what I thought a pad should look like, cut it out, and folded it out, and had a pad pattern. :) I've actually since modified it, I found the separate wings to be a bit leaky. You can see my new style here:

    I tried the Hillbilly Housewife pattern as well (that was my first pad), but wasn't a huge fan either. It's a good starting point, though.

    As for the pull-ups, here is some food for thought:

    My daughter was also daytime potty trained when I decided to switch both of them to cloth. I bought 3 cloth pull-ups, at a cost of about $20.00 a piece, which means I wash them every 3rd day (with the diapers, but you could easily do them with a load of towels, or whatever). The way I saw it was, I was spending $20.00 on a bag of pull-ups, which I think we would go through in about 2 weeks (if memory serves me correctly!). So in 6 weeks, the 3 pull-ups paid for themselves, and anything after that was a bonus. And since I have another baby, I knew he would use them eventually. Anyway, just something to think about - it's different to buy 3 pull-ups than it is a whole stash of diapers!

    That's so great that you make your own personal care products! It's something I haven't tried yet, but it's definitely on my list of things to do. I've been making my own cleaners for awhile now, and I love them - my house smells edible when I'm done cleaning. :)

    I'd be very interested in hearing how you make your personal care products!