This year, Luke and I are tying to commit to being a little bit greener than we were last year. We have a ton of ideas and a list of products we want to purchase to help in that, but we’re trying to take it slow and staying within our budget. Still, you have to start somewhere, so here are six things on the top of our list, some of which we’ve already started, some of which we’re planning to start this month.
BUYING & STORING FOOD WITH LESS PLASTIC
In November, our grocery store moved to a new, bigger location and I think it’s so fantastic that I actually look forward to going to the grocery store every weekend. (It kind of reminds me of a Super Target, except it’s at least 60% groceries. Maybe 70%.) With their new location came some other awesome changes, including Smart Shop and more loose vegetables. With Smart Shop, we can use our loyalty card to check out a handheld scanner before we start shopping. We’re able to scan and bag all of our groceries as we go through the store and then quickly check out at a kiosk. Since we have reusable bags (all stores charge 5p for bags in the UK), we skip the plastic bags in the produce section since they immediately become trash at home. Maybe it’s the idea of loose produce rolling around in your shopping cart that makes people bag their produce in extra bags, but it’s nice to have the option to skip that step. Unfortunately, they still package a lot of the produce (like apples in plastic bags or cucumbers in shrink wrap), but it’s getting better!
At home, we’ve made a concerted effort to move away from using one-use plastic baggies. We’ve built up quite a collection of quality reusable storage containers to store left overs, including things like 1/2 of an onion or other produce we used to just toss in a plastic baggie. We try to only use plastic bags when we’re freezing things like pasta sauce or dumpling filling that we want to freeze flat in order to maximise freezer space. Or when the sneak popcorn into the cinema. But even then, we’ve started reusing those bags since it’s just popcorn and we go often enough.
Reusable bags are getting increasingly popular and available at most grocery stores and even some shops. If it’s not an option for you to bag as you shop, invest in some cotton produce bags, like this set of 7.
STORING FOOD MORE EFFICIENTLY
I’ve never for one minute given any thought into how to best store different foods until I was responsible for my own grocery shopping and cooking. Since we’re trying to cut down on all waste, but especially food waste, that means doing a lot of research into the best methods to store different types of foods.
Did you know that mushrooms should be kept in the fridge in a brown paper bag? Our store now has “mushroom bags” next to the mushrooms in the store, and since we’ve started using it, our mushrooms have lasted d a y s longer than keeping them in the packaging they come in or transferring them to our own plastic storage container. It traps too much moisture in with the mushrooms and makes them go back a lot more quickly.
We’re also looking at getting a fresh herb keeper to extend the life of our herbs. Our grocery store only has one size available for most of the herbs and we often don’t use it all in one recipe and won’t use it again before it goes bad. Extending the life gives us more time to plan to use the rest in another recipe, which admittedly is another valid options. Along that same line, we want to try our hand at another herb garden this year. We didn’t have much luck last year when we tried to grow rosemary, basil, and coriander (cilantro). The basil did the best and we used it often, which was great. But this last summer was incredibly hot and we forgot to get someone to water our plants while we were away for nearly 2 weeks so our coriander got absolutely fried. It was yellow and dry when we got home and didn’t stand a chance at coming back.
MAKING OUR OWN NATURAL HOUSEHOLD CLEANER & ROOM SPRAY
This year, I bought some amber glass spray bottles and jars from Amazon to make our own household cleaners. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but I wanted to use what we had already purchased first. My reasons for doing this were two-fold: It reduces plastic waste by reusing the same bottles. (Not to mention they’re more aesthetically pleasing, something that we all look for in our cleaning supplies, right?) And it reduces the chemicals introduced to our house. It’s no secret we’ve been itching to get a kitten and a puppy and eventually we’ll have kids. All of those little creatures are going around putting their mouths on everything and we want them to be safe. We don’t want them touching or licking surfaces that I’ve just sprayed down with harmful chemicals. Come to think of it, the cat definitely wouldn’t do that because cats have more dignity than that.
I looked into a couple of different methods and found a fairly similar theme. I knew I wanted to stick with just a vinegar and water cleaner, but infusing the vinegars was key. Hence the jars. Here’s what I did:
Put 1/2 cup dry ingredients into a 16-ounce (490ml) preserving jar. I did the following mixtures:
orange lemon thyme (peel from 1 lemon, peel from 1/2 orange, springs of thyme)
lavender sage (1/4 cup dried lavender buds, leaves of sage)
orange cinnamon clove (peel from 1 1/2 orange, 2 Tbsp whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks—although I used 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon because we couldn’t find any sticks)
lavender (1/2 cup dried lavender buds)
Fill with distilled white vinegar. In the States, distilled white vinegar should be readily available, but there’s no such thing in the UK. After some research, I discovered that the closest would be distilled white pickling vinegar. The key is the 5-7% acidity and the brand I found had 6% acidity.
Sit in a sunny spot (window sill is best) for 7-14 days. I opted for the full two weeks to allow for a deeper infusion.
Mix in a spray bottle at a 1:4 ratio with distilled water. Of course it depends on how big your bottle is, but the ratio is important. For every 1 part infused vinegar, add 4 parts distilled water. If you don’t have a purifier or filter for water, simply boil water and let it cool to room temperature before mixing.
Optional: Add a few drops of essential oil to enhance the scent. I use Young Living Essential Oils (though I recently bought a large bottle of lavender oil from Cotswold Lavender). They have cinnamon bark, clove, lavender, lemon, orange, sage, and thyme oils available.
Our vinegars will be ready to use this Sunday and I can’t wait! From everything I’ve read, these should easily replace your all-purpose and glass cleaners (and you’ll never want to go back!). However, do not use a vinegar-based cleaning solution on marble. It will erode the stone. Since we don’t have marble counter tops, I didn’t do any research into a natural alternative.
We also decided to make our own fabric and room spray, inspired by my Instagram friend Megan’s recent post. Add 30-40 drops each of two oils (she uses orange and bergamot) to distilled water. Again, use the amber glass spray bottles, which protect the contents from damaging UV rays. (If you’re storing them in a dark place, like in the cabinet under the sink, it should be fine in a clear glass bottle.
INVESTING IN MULTI-USE ITEMS
A few months ago, we bought a four-pack of microfiber cloths to use in our kitchen in place of paper towels. I was thinking about it this week and realised we’ve cut way down on the volume of paper towels we have used over the last few months. I wish I had exact numbers, but I didn’t think to keep track of it. Still, using the same cloth for a couple of days is a big difference than using a handful of paper towels to wipe down the counters after every meal.
Over the holidays, we bought some metal straws and a straw brush to start using more. I’m trying to remember to ask to not get a plastic straw when we’re out and instead use ours, but it’s a new habit that I need to build to. I recommend this set of 8 straws because it includes 4 straight and 4 bent, plus 2 straw brushes and a bag. We only have 4 bent straws and had to buy a brush separately and I do wish we had straight straws because they would be easier to travel with.
Luke got me a stainless steel water bottle in my stocking to replace a 5 year old Nalgene that definitely needed to be replaced a lot earlier. I really didn’t want to get another plastic bottle, but this does have a plastic lid.
I also currently have Keepcups and stainless steel lunchboxes in my Amazon cart waiting for purchase. However, it doesn’t make sense to replace a plastic item that you can continue to use and would have no other purpose for. So we’re going to wait to buy both items. We both have good non-plastic to-go cups and our plastic containers are holding up well to store left overs and pack lunches for now. We just won’t replace them with more plastic.
SWITCHING TO BIODEGRADABLE PRODUCTS & AWAY FROM PAPER PRODUCTS
We’re trying to cut down on our waste in a lot of ways and one of the easiest is to switch to biodegradable products. Instead of plastic toothbrushes, buy bamboo toothbrushes. Instead of plastic q-tips, buy bamboo cotton buds. Instead of sponges, buy bamboo brushes. Switching from plastic to bamboo is possible for a lot of household options. And while it might be slightly more expensive, it’s worth investing in our environment.
We’re also trying to use fewer paper products. I mentioned above we’ve made the switch from paper towels to microfiber cloths, which has made a noticeable difference already. I also made a new grocery store template to use after going through a whole note pad just for grocery lists. I laminated it at work and use dry erase markers on it. I punched a hole in the corner and added a ring to it so I could hang it up on a hook in the kitchen. If you want to use it, you can download a copy:
To be honest, I’ve been kicking myself for months for not doing this sooner. We throw away a lot of food scraps that could become compost. When you throw food away, it goes to a landfill where it rots and produces methane gas. The nutrients of the food are never able to return to the earth. The amount of wasted food is absolutely staggering and the percentage that is actually composted is a mere blimp on the radar. We certainly want to take responsibility for our food waste and do our part to help decrease the damage a banana peel tied in a plastic bag is doing to our earth.
We’re definitely not experts at any of this stuff, but we’re committed to making these changes in our household this year. My hope is that by this time next year, we’ve decreased the amount of plastic we use drastically, we’ve decreased our food waste, and made other substantial changes in our lifestyle to help our environment. It’s absolutely a learning process and we need to do more research on all of these things. But we’re taking the first steps and pledging to be better and that’s what matters today.
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