Ditch the disposables!

Filed in Reuse by on January 5, 2010 33 Comments
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swap disposable products for reusable onesHow many disposable items do you use in your household?

In the past, we’ve used paper serviettes, paper plates, polystyrene cups, batteries, nappies and razors. I’m sure there are heaps of others that I’ve forgotten about.

I still use biros and the odd roll of kitchen towel, but most other disposable products have been ditched in favour of reusable options.

We use washable napkins (to be honest, they only come out for Christmas and Birthdays; the rest of the year Little Miss Green just has a damp flannel next to her when eating), I no longer buy disposable plates and cups – we use our regular crockery if we’re entertaining. We’ve switched to rechargeable batteries, we used washable nappies for the last year of LMG being in nappies and Mr Green uses an electric razor. I still use a replacement head on my razor blades, but these last a couple of months before being replaced.

I try to use washable cloths instead of kitchen towel where possible and the other night I even fished out my fountain pen to see if I could try using it again! I used a toothbrush that only requires me to replace the head, instead of the whole item.

We can all help lower the amount of waste we throw into landfill by avoiding single use, disposable products. Which products have you switched for a reusable option and which ones do you find hard to give up?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (33)

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  1. Tim Rigby says:

    A really good article.
    I have been using my fountain pen a lot last year and even refil it from a bottle of ink, although the girl in WH Smiths didn’t know what I was on about.
    It’s even better if we can start using products that used to be other things such as glasses that used to be bottles etc.
    Doing an audit on what we use later 🙂

  2. Jane says:

    I use washable cloths where possible but still feel a little bit bad and sad about the lack of recycled kitchen roll I buy – since we all need to buy recycled to close the loop.

    We use loo roll instead of tissues so I guess we use more recycled loo roll!

    Don’t forget you can microwave (if you have one) WET flannels instead of boiling them. This is particularly useful if they have nowhere to dry in the bathroom and go musty quickly.

  3. Jane says:

    Congratulations on all your media interest. I’ve picked up some of it online. I was surprised to read that you were going to recycle your bin though. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It has character!

  4. Sharon says:

    Using cotton hankies instead of paper tissues is an easy swap, and I recently gave up cotton wool and now remove my make up either with a wet flannel and soap or a dry flannel and make up remover.

    I also use tupperware tubs in the kitchen instead of cling film or plastic bags. I recently found greaseproof sandwich bags in Aldi which can at least be recycled or composted.

  5. Sharon says:

    Just wanted to add that baby wet wipes are easily replaced by washable wipes. I use a load of cheap flannels. Sometimes I run them under the warm tap before using, sometimes I keep a few in a tupperware tub with water and a couple of drops of tea tree oil. I wash them with my nappies but if you don’t do washable nappies you can just chuck them in with your normal wash. (Unless they’re pooey when they will need a 60 degree wash really.)

    I have also ventured into washable sanitary pads and have been pleased with how comfy they are, and not at all icky!

  6. Layla says:

    Great to hear about all the efforts!
    I’ve educated my folks so much – and Mum still brings out paper napkins for guests! /sigh/
    (‘Oh they can be composted!’ /ugh/)

    Sharon, great to hear about the baby wipes! I was always uncomfortable about the amount of chemicals in these things, & it’s great to know ‘homemade’ alternatives work just as well! (Of course, ancient caveman didn’t have chammomile-scented wipes! What was I thinking??)

    I also vote for the bin to stay & not be recycled, it looks fab! 🙂
    Maybe just repurposed? Or donated to someone who still needs it? (Or to a bin museum or something? Imagine a world where ordinary bins could only be seen in museums?? /sigh!)

  7. Layla says:

    I’m very anti-disposables these days too, tried to avoid them before as well, had a fountain pen for years, it got broke and didn’t find a good one yet! Any brands recommended?

    (Occasionally still use a disposable razor, they seem to last forever though.. I wonder if the metal old-style ones can be recycled? Do you think I’d get odd looks if I rang up recyclers & ask? ;))

    And yes, cloth pads are very comfy!!
    Biros and occasional bit of paper towel might still get used too.. Found any eco/refillable biros?

  8. Sharon says:

    @Layla: My dh works for Staples and he says they sell gel biros which you can buy refills for, and they also sell the refills for parker ball pens. I suppose you still have to throw away the empty refill, but not the whole pen. He also sells ink cartridges, and it is also possible to get a refillable ink cartridge for a parker fountain pen (which you fill from a bottle of ink). Staples will specially order this for you.

  9. Pat says:

    I have a huge stash of rags that I use for wiping up spills. My DH however, uses paper towels which drives me crazy. My big one is Pam spray that I use for cooking. I hate throwing out those aerosol canisters. If anyone has any ideas to replace the spray I would appreciate it. I’ve ditched the disposables on pretty much everything else.

  10. Ben says:

    and if one MUST use disposables… please stay away from Styrofoam.

  11. sandy says:

    I don’t remeber the last time I bought kitchen towels, you soon get use to not having any. or cotton wool, I use old terry nappy off cuts (purchased from “pure nuff stuff”) recycled toilet paper. (Nouvile) Cotton napkins, getting a bit past their best now I have had them for about 15 years, time to turn them in to rags and buy some more. we both have fountain pens, they only thing we fall down on is razors. any ideas ?

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Tim Rigby: Hi Tim, good to see you – happy and abundant new year to you and Caroline. Funny the girl didn’t know about filling a fountain pen from a bottle of ink LOL! Did you actually manage to buy a bottle or can’t you get it anymore? This is what I need too.

    @Jane: Hi Jane, don’t believe all you read in the papers – I never once said I was going to recycle my bin – I have no idea who dreamt that up 😉

    @Sharon: Thanks for sharing all your fab ideas, Sharon; glad you’re getting on with the washable pads. I’ve not ventured into cloth hankies; I’m really struggling with the ick factor of that one – goodness knows why, but there we are …

    @Layla: Hi Layla, My fountain pen belonged to my Grandfather! I’m really looking forward to using it again. Not sure about eco biros; I’ve seen recycled ones, but I don’t know how you dispose of them after use 🙁

    @Pat: I’m not sure what Pam spray is – is it for spraying into a frying pan for stirfries or for putting into baking trays to prevent sticking? In either case could you use just regular cooking oil, such as olive oil and wipe it around the surface with a pastry brush? I think you need to ‘forget’ to buy kitchen towel and leave a nice pile of cloths on the side instead 😉

    @Ben: Thanks Ben; yes there are degrees of disposables and polystyrene is pretty much the worst material of the lot. At least paper plates can be composted.

    @sandy: I’m stuck on razors too. I’ve looked at a cut throat steel razor, but I’m too chicken to try it out! I think the old fashioned safety razors are all steel. I know John Costigane uses something like that; I’ll see if he picks up this comment.

  13. Karin says:

    Good to get us thinking about disposables. I’m wondering about using a fountain pen and am planning to buy some ink, but you can’t use it if you are in too much of a hurry as it will smudge if you don’t let it dry or even blot it first.

    I saw some compostable plates etc in Robert Dyas, so if anyone doesn’t trust their crockery will be safe and doesn’t want to add to land fill that would be worth checking out. That sort of thing is also available via the internet. I was considering it momentarily, but we didn’t have rowdy guests so our crockery was safe.

  14. laura says:

    Regarding the pens, where you need a biro there are some that now come with corn starch outers instead of the normal plastic so when they run out they can be put in the compost bin. Not sure about the centre bit with the ink, think they are still like the normal ones but at least it cuts down on the plastic used.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Karin: Hi Karin, it’s really weird I only ever used to use a fountain pen so I must have got on with it ok at one point in my life. Maybe we just rush too much now 😉 Compostable crockery is worth looking in to – thanks!

    @laura: Hi Laura 🙂 Ahhh, composting pens; what a great idea. I’ll look into those and find out about the ink barrel – thanks for the idea!

  16. Hazel says:

    I don’t buy wipes, kitchen roll, cling film etc and drive everyone else potty at village events by washing up the disposable glasses and crockery for the next event :o) When the children were babies theyw ere in washable nappies and I use cloth pads and a mooncup/keeper.
    However, I do use paper cup cases (I use silicone ones at home, but if they’re for other people I have to use paper. I compost mine, but not sure what people do with theirs…) DJH and I both have disposable razors, although the head on mine lasts for ages before I change it. I do use plastic bags in the kitchen when I have to, but they tend to be ones I’ve accquired with stuff in that I wash and reuse.
    The children have plastic tubs for lunch at school. (DS once went on a trip where they had to take a ‘special’ waste free lunch. He was so upset when I told him his would be exactly the same as normal!)
    We seem to breed disposable biros too. I don’t buy them, they just appear in the house.
    My big problem (and actually this applies to Christmas etc too) is well meaning relatives!
    My Mum buys things like diposable party ware (‘I thought DD2 would like this’) despite the fact I have a cupboard full of pink Ikea plates and cups perfect for a 6 year olds tea party. I could compost them, but they come wrapped in plastic or film.
    MIL is worse. She buys from cheap shops (so she can buy more for the same amount of money) so it soon breaks, and turns up with things like musical toothbrushes. Plastic toothbrushes that are supposed to play a tune while you brush, except they’re so cheap they jangle and cut out as soon as the child moves their hand! And don’t start me on her gift buying…
    I’ve tried telling them both about my waste reduction plan (they were impressed about your achievements- one takes the Mail and one takes the Mirror) but they seem to think ‘treating’ their Grandchildren or the fact it’s Christmas means it doesn’t count. Any suggestions? It’s driving me mad!!

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: Hi Hazel; I love the image of your washing up all those disposables – well done you! I too use paper cake cases when I make them for other people but not sure about that next year as they always come in an unmarked plastic case.
    I have no suggestions about well meaning friends and relatives; even when we ask for money they still seem to think they have to buy something as a ‘surprise’ or ‘to open on the day’ Sigh …
    You could start asking for books for the children I suppose 😉

  18. Hi Mrs Green,

    I bought some unbleached paper muffin cases in a cardboard box from Ethical Superstore. I think natural Collection do them as well.

    This might be your answer.


  19. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: Hi maisie; thanks for that – it’s brilliant and just what I’m looking for 🙂

  20. John Costigane says:

    @sandy: Sorry for the delay. Stainless steel razors, with modern hardened blades, are a challenge for those used to modern types of razor. The technique is slightly more difficult as movement is fixed. Having used the razor for many months, with no major cuts, they are safe to use if used carefully.

    The best advice is to have a period of using both types, gradually building confidence in the all metal type. Finishing the shave may be the last use of the plastic based razor. After that, it is history.

  21. jane says:

    @Pat: We have a plastic bottle from Lakeland that you can fill with oil and pump it up so it sprays oil into the pan. This might be what you need to replace the aerosol.

  22. Crystal says:

    @Pat: there are several companies that make refillable nonaerosol cans and bottles for cooking oil

  23. Breanna says:

    I have switched from using ziploc snack bags to reusable snack bags (www.reusablebags.com)
    I also use reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags.

    I switched from disposable pads and tampons to a lady cup, cloth panty liners, and cloth pads. (www.lunapads.com)

    I use real dishes and wash cloths in the kitchen instead of paper towels.

    They have wooden, compostable toothbrushes but they’re like 3 dollars a peice, opposed to a dollar at target (I’m a college student so I try to stay frugal) so I think I’ll get one with a replaceable head.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Breanna: Hi Breanna, thank you for taking time to comment. I’ve tidied up your comment as you were concerned you’d hit the wrong key – no worries!
    Thanks for sharing all that you are doing. I love how you show that this is easy; it just requires a little thought and change of purchasing habit.
    It can sometimes be hard to combine frugal and ethical, but on the other hand, you’ll be saving a lot on the disposable sanitary products and kitchen cloths, so it all evens out.
    How do you find using washable cloths in the kitchen compared to the convenience of kitchen towel?

  25. Lyndsie says:

    I have started a blog on this topic (http://what-going-green-means-to-me.blogspot.com/) and have been trying really hard to use my reusable plastic cold drink cup for ToGo purchases. I also use reusable bags, cloth towels instead of paper (for everything except soaking up bacon grease and cleaning up cat barf – though I’ve started collecting rags for the latter.) We still have some disposable plates and cups and straws that we’re trying to get rid of, but once those are gone we’re not going to buy any more. And disposable napkins we still use, but I’m looking into changing to cloth napkins soon (they look better too!!). I’m sure there’s other stuff but that’s all I can think of right now. Though my blog will have more as I do more. =)
    Oh, and I recycle as much as I can too.

  26. Mrs Green says:

    @Lyndsie: Hey Lyndsie, you’re doing brilliantly and it’s great you’ve started a blog to share your experiences. I hear you on the car barf, I used to keep kitchen towel in purely for that purpose LOL! I did switch to newspaper in the end though and then burned the lot …

  27. Edwin says:

    Some good tips there Mrs. Green – Thanks. I swtiched from kitchen towels to clothes, and use my reusable aluminium bottle rather than loads of single-use plastic bottles.

  28. Mrs Green says:

    @Edwin: Hello Edwin, welcome to the site. Sounds like you are well on track with ditching some of your disposables 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  29. Carolyn says:

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to sing the virtues of a mooncup instead of tampons/pads. Incase you don’t know about it it’s a silicone cup. I’m in my 20s and will never need a tampon again. Much more natural than tampons which contain bleach and other chemicals and certainly less wasteful!

  30. Mrs Green says:

    @Carolyn: Hi Carolyn, good to see you and thanks for the mention of the mooncup. We have a lot of mooncup converts here 😀 As well as the great environmental / health benefits, just think of the money you are saving! Yipee!

  31. somethingrandom says:


    I’ve found a totally cool replacement for stupid Pam Cooking spray. The main ingredient in Pam that keeps the food from sticking to the surface is lecithin. So what I did was order food grade organic liquid lecithin from online. (I think you can use it as an emulsifier for balm making.) You spray (I use a Misto) oil as you would Pam onto the pan, let it heat up a little, then pick up an itty bitty portion of the lecithin (it’s very viscous) with a spoon and rub the spoon all over the surface. Let the oil with the lecithin heat a little more and then swish the mixture on the pan to evenly coat the surface. And voila, you’ve just made non-stick spray, well sort of. The best thing is that it works really, really well. And you don’t have to use a whole lot. I don’t recommend melting too much cause then the food tastes funny. I bought like an 8 oz. tub a year and a half ago and am yet to put a dent in it. I think the tub costs only $12.00, which is pretty cheap considering I would go through Pam pretty quickly and a canister costs about $3.50 or so. Anyway, the website I bought it from was mountainroseherbs.com.

  32. Andi says:

    Pampered Chef and probably Bed Bath and Beyond have a spray pump that you refill with store bought olive oil and spray so you don’t have to use Pam. Pampered Chef also sells these small brown squares that scrub pans really well so you don’t need brillos or any disposable scrubbers and don’t have to have Teflon or non-stick pots and pans. Finally, we use old cloth diapers as towels for spills and such around the house rather than paper towels.

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