One way that my family has maintained lower grocery and household spending over the last year is by reducing the number of disposable items we purchase and then throw away. By seeking options that are reusable, we are also reducing our impact on the environment.
Here are a few of my ideas for reducing, reusing or recycling some of the most commonly purchased disposable household items. Although reducing the use of these disposables may require replacing them by purchasing a more expensive reusable alternative, the cost of the reusable item will often be paid for in a few short months as you reuse it over and over and avoid buying the disposable version.
Reduce: Use reusable plastic picnic plates instead. These can be purchased inexpensively through many retailers and will quickly pay for themselves when used to replace paper plates. If you choose to use melamine plates, you might want to read this crash course on melamine by Safe Mama first. The article also has a link to their cheat sheet for safer dishware. Choosing to purchase plastic is not exactly an eco-friendly choice, but, in my mind, using a reusable product is a better option than tossing a disposable one, and reusable plastic plates will quickly work out to be the less expensive option as well.
Recycle: Unless it’s coated with plastic, you should be able to recycle paper plates along with cardboard.
Paper lunch bags
Reduce: Instead of carrying a lunch to work in a paper bag, why not use a reusable lunch tote instead? There are many cute and functional options available at a variety of retailers and online sites including Ribbon Spool and Etsy.
Reuse: If you do decide to use a paper bag, instead of throwing it away you can fold it up, keep it and use it again the next day. In my experience, it takes several weeks before it will completely wear out.
Recycle: Once they reach the end of their lives, paper lunch bags can be recycled along with mixed paper.
Reduce: Instead of storing food items in open-air containers that will require plastic wrap to stay fresh, choose containers with lids. Both plastic storage containers and glass storage containers often come with lids. You can also save and reuse plastic take out containers issued by some restaurants. We’ve found the Noodles & Company’s takeout containers to be the perfect size for storing a lunch-sized portion of a meal to take to work the next day.
Recycle: A few recycling programs accept plastic wrap. Check with your local recycling station about what recyclables they will take. None of the programs in my area take plastic wrap and I’ve never been successful in reusing it so we try to avoid using it.
Reduce: Recently, I learned a great way to reduce our consumption of waxed paper. We use waxed paper mainly to roll a pie crust or to separate food items so they won’t stick together. Michelle at Leaving Excess passed along this wonderful tip: use the packages from inside cereal boxes instead! It’s easy to rip the bag apart at the seams and then cut it into rectangles. Thanks to this tip I don’t think I’ll ever have to buy waxed paper again.
Reduce: Reduce the number of plastic baggies used by replacing them with reusable plastic or glass storage containers or cloth baggies. Several Etsy sellers offer small cloth bags that are lined with a waterproof fabric so that they can serve the same purpose as a plastic bag. I store snack-sized portions of my daughter’s favorite snacks in her Snack Trap (the best toddler invention ever) or little plastic cups like these.
Reuse: Rinsing and reusing plastic bags is a tried and true method for saving money and reducing waste. To skip this step, if I empty a plastic bag that I’ve used to store baked goods in the freezer, I pop it back in the freezer, crumbs and all and pull it back out when I’m baking again to refill it. Another helpful trick is to write the date and item on a piece of scrap paper and place that inside the bag instead of writing with a permanent marker on the outside and then having to cross it out to reuse the bag.
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