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When most people think about cleaning, the most convenient method often involves buying a myriad of commercial cleaners, each designed for a specific purpose, and then using them as directed.
While that may be somewhat productive, it also creates a lot of waste. Though this high-waste lifestyle seems to be good for us for now, the reality is that it’s not sustainable, neither for the environment nor for humanity.
The high carbon footprint created by such wasteful living strips the earth of valuable resources and only escalates environmental problems.
For instance, even some of the most straightforward cleaning products contain organic compounds—sometimes unstable ones—that create fumes that irritate your eyes and nose, and contribute to environmental problems like smog.
These VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are very common. The result of the smog produced by these compounds is an adverse effect on air quality. Poor air quality leads to difficulty breathing, which is no fun for anyone.
Additionally, much of our solid waste is produced from non-recyclable, non-degradable packaging materials, especially packaging for household cleaners. These plastic containers get buried in landfills and create plastic pollution in the environment! They also contribute to hazardous materials requiring special transport and disposal, which creates even more waste through carbon emissions and energy consumption.
Another way we are failing as a society is the massive waste that results from liquid cleaning products. This waste is drained into large bodies of water. Though some of the ingredients disintegrate, others either maintain themselves or react to form a compound that’s even more dangerous. These chemicals then enter our food chain and pollute everything they come into contact with.
It’s time for us all to learn more about how things impact the world around us. Only then can we work to change our ways and move toward living a more sustainable, less wasteful lifestyle. By doing so, we can contribute to creating a stable and habitable planet, and hopefully leave behind a thriving legacy for future generations.
7 Tips for Cleaning with Minimal Waste
While it may take some adjustment, you can indeed clean without being overly wasteful. If you aren’t sure where to start, below are some great tips to help you get that ball rolling. Implement a few, or even better, try all of them and you will be well on your way to more sustainable living.
1. Skip Those Single Use Cleaning Items
Many of you may not even think about or fully realize how much plastic waste is created simply by using cleaning products or tools that are marketed as single use. Convenient to be sure, but not great for the planet. To remedy this and cut down excess waste, skip the single use plastic products you can only use once and instead search for longer-lasting, multi-use replacements.
2. Use Cleaning Items You Already Have
When you decide it’s time to go green, there’s no need to discard those cleaning items you already have, even if they aren’t sustainable. After all, that just contributes to additional waste, which is what we’re trying to avoid. So, even if something is made of say, plastic… use it as long it’s viable. Once the items have served their time and are no longer usable, you discard them and replace them with sustainable, alternative items.
3. Invest in Quality Reusable Cleaning Products
There are plenty of multi-use cleaning products and tools out there, but not all of them are created equal. Going the cheaper route can seem tempting, but if you’re really committing to a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s so much better to invest in quality sustainable cleaning products. Even multi-use products will eventually need replacing, but if you commit to buying quality items, many of them will last much longer than expected.
4. Create DIY Cleaning Items
Sometimes, you just have to look around the house and get creative. Many of you likely already have things on hand that you can use to clean and maintain your home, without buying more “stuff.” You can DIY your own all-purpose cleaner by using a simple mixture of water and vinegar, or water and castile soap. You can also swap your paper towels and single-use mop pads with old rags, pieces of cloth, and towels. Heck, you can even use some old t-shirts that have served their time as mop material!
5. Opt for Compostable Materials
When you start buying new cleaning items, carefully read the labels and look for things made from compostable materials. Of course, it’s a bonus if the packaging of the product is also compostable!
6. Choose Recyclable Packaging
Remember that most conventional cleaners are packaged in plastic and are not biodegradable. Unfortunately, you might have to do some digging to find cleaning items made from and packaged in recyclable materials, but it’s like scoring sustainable gold when you do!
7. Consider Buying Second-Hand Cleaning Tools
As to those handy cleaning tools you use, like your vacuum cleaner, new doesn’t necessarily mean the best. Sturdy, durable, and reusable tools can also be found second-hand and in great condition. Consider hunting around for gently used items before you shop for something new. In doing so, you’re stretching the sustainability factor just a tiny bit further.
Additional Home Sustainability Hacks
Now that you’ve got some ideas for getting started with sustainable cleaning, we thought we’d share some of our favorite high waste for low waste item swaps to help reduce plastic pollution.
Again, you can try a few of these or implement them all, but every swap is a step toward less waste and a more sustainable lifestyle.
Reuse Glass Jars for Storage
Arguably one of our favorite swaps is to repurpose glass jars from grocery items like sauces and condiments. Glass jars can be used for storing spices, storing DIY cleaning solutions, storing the silverware, storing leftovers, or heck, even storing pennies in the penny jar to save up for date night!
Swap Your Paper Towels for Fabrics
Switch out your paper towels and instead use cloth rags. You can buy new ones, or cut up and make your own from old shirts or towels for bonus points. That one swap alone will cut down on your waste exponentially.
Ditch Saran Wrap for Silicone Stretch Lids
Though saran wrap works wonders and may be a fan favorite for many, it’s still a non-degradable, single-use plastic packaging, which means ideally it should be replaced with an option that’s more environmentally-friendly. One potential alternative is silicone stretch lids.
While silicone may not be a fully sustainable material, these lids stretch and fit just as well as plastic wrap, yet they last significantly longer. So the long-lasting factor alone makes them a much better option.
Replace Ziploc Bags with Silicone Bags
Again, even though the material silicone might not be as sustainable as one might like, the real benefit is that it is both long-lasting and reusable. Since plastic ziploc bags are commonly used to store almost any and everything, replacing them with reusable silicone bags can work just as well.
Use Fabric Bags Instead of Plastic Bags
Grocery shopping, clothes shopping, any kind of shopping really can be made more sustainable by using reusable shopping bags instead of a plastic bag to tote your haul and reduce plastic consumption. Many stores sell some form of fabric bag, so we recommend buying a few. You can keep some stashed at home and some in your car so you’re ready when you shop at the grocery store. You don’t need fancy bags either. Just bags that are sturdy enough to hold your purchases.
Skip the Packaged Produce
You can choose fresh produce without packaging to greatly reduce packaging waste and plastic trash. Additionally, buying in bulk can also help reduce waste when packaging is unavoidable.
Shop for Bulk-Sized Items
When you buy things like soaps, dish detergents, shampoos, and laundry detergents in bulk-size, you can use them to simply refill containers you already have instead of accumulating more plastic products.
Revamp Your Makeup Removal Process
You can swap out makeup removal wipes and cotton buds and instead use microfiber cloths for reusable fabric pads. You could even cut a larger cloth down into smaller sizes just for makeup removal.
Choose Sustainable Cleaning Brushes
Look for cleaning brushes made from things like wood, bamboo, cotton, and other natural, biodegradable materials.
Invest in a Quality Vacuum Cleaner
A good vacuum is a home cleaning essential. Look for one with a lifetime warranty to help ensure it’s a single purchase and increase the sustainability factor.
DIY Your Own Cleaners
You can easily make your own cleaning solutions using natural products like vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and even salt. Use a refillable glass spray bottle or store them in your recycled jars for extra brownie points. You can also invest in all natural cleaning products, easily available at your local grocery store.
Pass on Dryer Sheets
Sure, they smell good. But probably best to skip them, as they may emit volatile organic compounds, especially when combined with scented laundry detergent. Try replacing them with dryer balls to reduce drying time, and add a few drops of essential oils for natural fragrance.
Living a successfully sustainable lifestyle starts with baby steps and looking for sustainable cleaning products is an excellent launchpad. It’s only up from there!