Friday, February 02, 2007

Ditch the Disposables

February's challenge is to Ditch the Disposables. Since my sister Stephanie sent me some real cloth hankies I've been thinking about how many disposable products there are:

  • Disposable hankies instead of cloth hankies
  • Disposable kitchen towels instead of washable cloths
  • Disposable nappies instead of terry nappies
  • Disposable baby wipes instead of wet cloths
  • Bath sponges that go really nasty after a while and need to be replaced instead of flannels that can be reused indefinitely
  • Dishwashing sponges and sponge cloths that have a short life compared to washable dishrags
  • Disposable tampons and sanitary towels instead of washable pads
  • Disposable kitchen wipes (and bathroom wipes and furniture wipes etc) instead of reusable cloths
  • Disposable dusters instead of reusable cloth dusters

You can probably think of more. The interesting thing about many of these is that they're great opportunities for recycling - I use old tea towels as washable cleaning cloths and old tshirts as dusters. You can potentially save a lot of money as well as conserving the planet's resources if you ditch the disposables.

I'm challenging readers to give up one disposable product and try the reusable version instead. I'm going to switch our bath sponges for flannels. I'm also going to investigate washable menstrual pads, and perhaps even make some myself. Let me know how you get on with this challenge, and also let me know the most ridiculous disposable product you can find. I've already found webites selling disposable underwear, a disposable dress, and a disposable wedding dress. Can you beat that?


Lesley said...

We already re-use out of time things as dusters. We are still using baby nappies (top quality at the time) some thirty two years after they were last used for the job they were intended for. They are the best polishers ever!
I confess to using kitchen paper though. but i then compost it along with everything else organic, but non-dairy. eg I wrap eggshells in it and then crush them (saves my hands). I reckon when they mix in with the compost, they eventually protect my plants from slugs.
I'll use LESS of the paper, but cannot promise to reject it totally

Steph in Roker said...

I'll have to have a think about what disposable stuff I use. We've just stocked up on baby wipes, but if I use them for bums only and not sticky fingers & faces they'll last a lot longer. Then I could swap to flannells.
Were'nt you saving up the plastic-string bags that nectarines & satsumas come in to use them as pan scourers before recycling them. The old 'resuse, then recycle' idea? I know baby wipes survive the washing machine, so I suppose I could put them in a cloth bag after use (unless very soiled) and wash then re-use them. That's an idea. Okay I'll do that.
All this saving the planet gets my brain working. I need a lie down now.

Steph said...

On a different but recurring subject, I had to persuade, and I mean really persuade after 4 'no thankyou's' a lady not to give me a plastic bag for somebooks I'd bought. And this was in a LOCAL CHARITY SHOP. I thought she'd be more aware, but there you go.
Imust say that it's easier to persuade cashiers not to bag stuff if I take my own bag in with me for items, rather than carrying purchases out in my arms.
I told you about the time that I didn't have a bag, so I ended up with the security guy escorting me out with my purchases as the cashir thought she'd get in trouble for not bagging stuff, even though I had a receipt!!!! Get a grip.

Anonymous said...

Thought this might interest you!!

keth said...

I'm glad someone else pointed out about the mooncup - i don't use it myself yet (when trying for a baby its a bad idea to introduce foreign objects to that area, i use sanitary towels, but post baby i will switch to the mooncup)..

but about the hankies... having had a cold just in the last few days i did some research (for something else entirely) and stumbled across the fact that scientists recommend you *don't* use material hankies, but disposable paper ones, because with material hankies the gunk, viruses and bacteria hang around on the material, and you run the risk of re-introducing infection. dunno about anyone else but i don't like having a cold that much.

having said all that: paper hankies could (in theory) be composted, and certainly material hankies would do just fine when you're not fighting an infection (i.e. to mop up tears or clean your glasses and the million and one other uses we use hankies - paper or otherwise - for).

i don't use disposable cleaning stuff anyway, i wash (and iron) all my dusters and cleaning rags, about the only thing i do throw away in that area is kitchen scourers, the sponges with the green rough side. hm. i suppose i should identify a greener alternative of those. oh and toilet paper too. i don't think i'd be able to convert OH to using flannels instead of looroll to wipe his bum though..

i'll give it a go with the sponges!

Moonwaves said...

I've been following this INEBG thread ( )with interest and have promised myself to read it from the beginning this weekend and make a note of the different suppliers. I'd like to try the mooncup but am a bit squeamish about it yet. Could definitely consider reusable sanitary towels and pantyliners.

Facewipes are one thing I do use but I've reduced my use of them a good bit and probably won't bother buying any more when I finish what I've got.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Disposable hubbies? grin

Linz said...

I've used a mooncup since before Jack was born and would happily recommend them. And I've used washable pads for two years now and am equally happy except the poppers have gone a bit corroded.

I have so much of the disposable stuff around but don't intend buying more. I got various offers ages ago and am still using them up. Then it's dusters etc all the way.

But tissues I find hurt my nose less. And we're using dispos at night with Jack because he was getting too many rashes with overnight cloth. I'm going to give cloth another go for nights, then when we can I'm going to get rid of the nappies. The airing cupboard will look very empty!

I will start composting my kitchen roll, too.

Vashti said...

Um. Back when Everyone Used Cloth Hankies[tm], the public health advice was to soak them in disinfectant before washing them. Is there any reason this wouldn't work?

Plus, the last advice I saw for cloth nappies was simply to wash them at 60C; if it works for nappies, presumably it would work for hankies too.

Personally, I reckon there's far too much hysteria about this sort of thing - unless you're in the middle of a cholera outbreak, or working in a hospital, simple soap and water should be absolutely fine. The goal is reduction, not elimination. The latest thing I saw was a disinfectant spray to use on surfaces when out and about to "avoid colds and flu" - *honestly*!

...uh, for the challenge, I have a torn old brushed cotton sheet which I want to cut up and hem into reuseable cloths for the kitchen. Every time I use a paper towel I hear the Co-op's office paper screaming.

Squeaky Clean McBurro said...

How about toilet paper? The Romans used a sponge on a stick :-D

They also used powdered mouse brains for toothpaste, though.

Steph in Roker said...

Burro, don't you have a rat problem. Would rat brains work as tooth paste too?

keth said...

Vashti - I quite agree with you re: the washing thing, that if a 60* wash will get cloth nappies clean they'll certainly kill bugs in a hankie! No, the problem with hankies when you've a cold stems more from reusing it *at the time* and reintroducing bacteria into the nose and making your cold last longer: combined with blowing too hard it can force bacteria up into the sinuses or something like that, and thats where the problem lies. Ah-ha, i found it:
hope that helps.

Emma Jane said...

I come from a hanky family, and I only ever use a material hanky. I use material dusters for 2 reasons, no waste, I have had them all in a carrier under the sink for years, and because disposable products are so darn expensive, and surrounded in packaging. And we grew up with flannels, and now my children have a stack of them, which go into the wash periodically, but I don't iron them!! Kitchen roll goes onto the compost heap, and at the moment, all post which isn't important, including envelopes, is being shredded and stored to use as a mulch on the allotment when I start planting out in spring.
We live in such a throw away society and I loath waste. Hubby is as bad. Things are stored for recycling at home, in the garden or on the allotment.

Allotment Lady said...

We used to do all those things naturally years ago - nice to hear all the measures you are taking.

If we all do our bit, it really will make a difference

Goaty McBurro said...

Nope - tales of rats and Burros are wholly unfounded. Now flesh eating goats, on the other hand...

Vashti said...

Keth - so, in fact, the thing to do would seem to be to have enough cloth hankies that you can safely use them only once and then wash a whole heap at once? (some people used to have hundreds of the things!) One hot wash with many hankies, rather than continually making new tissues.

I went and looked for research this evening and did find mention (but not the text or abstract) of a 1994 paper that discussed this - but it was on the webpage of the Tissue Symposium so I had to go and get my salt cellar. :(

I did find a paper about how lower washing temperatures are progressively less effective at killing bacteria (not surprising) - but we don't live in a sterile world, and again, it's all very well if you're in a hospital...

Playing the "act as if" game, what if we didn't have a constant supply of paper tissues or washing machines? How would we handle this? I suspect we'd go back to giving things like hankies and nappies a damn good boiling, before hanging them in sunlight to dry. (Or we could just all go EC and eliminate nappies altogether.)

It may not be the optimal hospital-safe solution, but compared to everyone wiping their noses on their hands or sleeves...

ps I *love* my mooncup - but don't let it boil dry on the stove! I just had to buy another one. *blue* They're a little tricky to get the hang of at first, but sooo worthwhile. And fun! And they reduce cramps!

Kelly said...

Hi Mel
First time posting, hope I get it right! I use washable sanitary towels, some of which I made from fleece (for lighter days) and some of which I got years ago from a lady who makes and sells them on ebay. I have about 8 and have never yet run out. They're great in my opinion.
Kelly xx

(Steph's friend)

kethry said...

Vashti -

hmmmm. i suppose it would be the way forward (hundreds of hankies which get used once and then washed). for now though, with *this* cold, i'm sticking to loo roll, if only because i don't have anywhere near enough material hankies, i think we have 5 between us. And OH uses them. lol. However, i do have a sewing machine, so i shall root around for an old sheet, cut that up and make lots of hankies out of that. then wash those at higher temperatures - which i'm quite happy to do, in fact, when we have kids, i'm planning to use reuseables rather than disposable nappies.

The "Act as if" game is quite a good one. I shall have to ask myself that question more often. (I'm new to all this.) I suspect the way forward in this case would be a compromise: with a bad cold, using the hankie for maybe half a day then chucking it in the wash. or when it gets full. i think its the "reusing the same hankie for 7 days prospect" that makes people go a bit green. LOL. me included. thats about as bad as wiping on sleeves..

re: replacing the kitchen sponge, i went shopping yesterday and found a sort of scouring cloth from Wilkinsons, which was only 69p for 3. they're kind of rough, stiff cloths, which should do for scrubbing stuck on bits of food. (also got a brush to help with that). I don't know if they're washable, will have to give it a go. I do know microfibre cloths are washable, just don't wash em with fabric conditioner in or it'll destroy the "microfibre" bit. but MFCs are fantastic for things like dusting, and using with stardrops for cleaning bathroom/kitchen tiles. They come up really clean and sparkling.

kethry said...

re: mooncup, as already said, i don't use one at the moment, but I suppose i should investigate reuseable sanitary towels. hm. i do plan to though, once i've either had a baby or given up on the baby quest (we've been trying for a while and undergone investigatory fertility stuff).

one last thought on disposables which is a bit yeuch - read on at your own risk. I belong to a moneysaving board as well, which has a whole board devoted to what they call "old style living", basically, trying to live as your grandparents would've done, reusing and saving money. Their emphasis is on saving money rather than being green, but a lot of people have feet in both camps. And we're pretty shameless when it comes to discussing things - as this thread testifies, .

basically suggests using flannels and water to clean up a no 1, i suppose you could for a number 2 as well (no worse than nappies) but how many would go that far?

just a thought. hmm. i feel another blog coming on..

Steph in Roker said...

Hiya Kethry, funny you should mention wees and poos - our toilet blocked yesterday for a few hours so we were using a bucket. When I sloshed out the bucket it occurred to me that only 2 generations ago we'd be used to that (using chamber pots through the night if the lavvy is outside down the yard) and yet nowerdays I'd have had to turn away friends & family from visiting rather than asking them to use a bucket. Out perception of basic functions has changed a heck of a lot over the last 50 or so years probably.

amy Mel's cousin said...

Sorry Mel, but i think the disposables are far more useful for busy people, and for more hygienic. I wouldn’t dream of using washable sanitary towels, partly because its time consuming having to clean them and a bit “minging” having to look at them while washing.
Sorry not for me!

kethry said...

steph, you're absolutely right, in fact, i just got done blogging about the subject (and i quoted you, hope you don't mind), i was just wondering out loud though - i wonder how long it will be before we regard flushing used toilet paper down the loo with similar distaste as we do now with the idea of chamber pots?

Vashti said...

*warning: girlsquick*

I started out buying a few cloth pads, which I was very happy with (I had near-constant light bleeding for years, and commercial pads were really expensive, even before the environmental issues - plus the plastic was abrasive and the cloth pads were soft), then I moved up to a mooncup when it was pointed out to me that it didn't do any harm to wear one for light bleeding, unlike a tampon.

So like all of this, it was a gradual progression - you start off making small, easy changes that you're happy with and can live with, and over time you introduce another change, then another...

Re. pan scourers - I grew up using those plastic ones you buy and then throw away for plates, and having a proper dishcloth on hand for wiping surfaces. Despite this, it never occurred to me that those little green pads are actually designed to disintegrate over time! I thought it was just natural wear and tear... The solution I chose was to knit up some small dishcloths from cheap acrylic wool. They work just as well as plastic scourers or "bought" dishcloths, and can just be thrown in the washing machine with the rest of the cloths (or boiled, etc, as previously discussed). If you knit already, this is a really good use for swatches.

I've also tried using old, torn flannels as toilet cleaning cloths., rather than buying and throwing out disposable cloths. Again, they get a hot wash and are then fine to reuse - or at least, nobody's died yet. :) You wouldn't want to do this for anything really horrible, but if you clean your toilet often enough it's not going to be a problem.

I am disturbed by the extra use of the washing machine for cleaning cloths ("what if everyone did this?"), but essentially it's the cloth-vs-disposables argument over again, and I do think that manufacture and landfill is worse than cleaning and reusing.

Lesley said...

I think I am quite a few years older than most of your visitors, hence, in my student days one of my holiday jobs was as a 'Chambermaid/waitress' in a hotel. there were no en-suite facilities in those days, just a bedside cabinet with a chamber pot inside. The first job (forgive the pun) in each room I cleaned each morning was to empty the pot. This involved covering it loosly with a duster or cloth and parading it along heaven knows how many corridors to the loo to flush it down, then into the bathroom to wash it out (usually in the bath! but I don't think the guests knew that!)
In answer to Kethry's point about flushing away used loo paper, in some European countries, it is already a 'No-No' There is a usually smelly bucket beside the loos with dire warnings of the likelihood of blockages if loo.
paper is flushed. Not too bad if they are emptied regularly.... Don't know what they do with it all though? I know of yachting friends who used to row ashore, dig a hole in the sand, burn the paper, then cover the ashes with sand

Steph in Roker said...

I get the comment about 'what if everyone was washing cloths-hankies, but I'll just be sticking them in with my usual laundry wash of clothes, rather than having a separate wash cycle. However, I'm sure that the small difference they may make wouls still be less than the manufacturing, transportation & disposalof disposable cleaning cloths.
I've spent a lovely morning making a tissue box out of cardbord I'd saved,and covering it in some old cloth I had froma patchwork project. The PVA is drying, and I'm happily sewing more hankies. I had a streaming nose all Friday, very sore abovemy lip as a result Sat am, then the cold has dried up a bit, and my lip is fine & I've usedmy cloth hankies throughout. in addition, I smile when I use them because they're made of the cloth or my daughters outgrown clothes.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good ideas on this thread. Brand new to composting but I'm doing my best.

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