How “Green” is Too Green?

The average American will throw away 600 times their own body weight in waste over their lifetime.

As I’ve written before, environmentalism and minimalism can easily go hand in hand, especially if you take a minsumerist view instead of the typical consumerist way of life in this country.  However, I have noticed that everyone has their line.  Some people will be eco-friendly up to a point, because convenience is worth it to them on some things.  Many people don’t know about the environmental impact their actions (and purchases) have on the environment.  Some don’t even realize the economic impact on their personal finances. How much MONEY will you save by switching to something reusable if you don’t have to buy a new one every so often?

Take disposables for example.

In my daily life, I’ve been noticing the disposable items around my home and workplace.  It seems that everything is made of plastic and paper (and Styrofoam, eek!).  There’s all this plastic stuff we just throw away and stop thinking about because it’s gone from our lives, never considering that it can take over a thousand years to degrade in a landfill.  Also, note that plastic is not biodegradable, but it will degrade into toxic chemicals that can pollute our groundwater and air.

The more I learn about plastics and the impact of disposable items in my life, the less I depend on them.  Thinking about my leftovers that I packed in a plastic container has me worried about chemicals leaching into my food.  Next time I’ll remember to pack in Pyrex.

I’ve been doing some research on the commonly-tossed things in my life, and here are some small substitutions that I or anyone else can make to save something going into the garbage to spend a long long time in a landfill.

Kitchen scraps: It has been estimated that Americans throw away 12-40% of the food they buy.  Oh my goodness.  First off, reduce the amount you buy in the first place by planning meals and buying items with a long shelf life. Also reduce your dependence on imports by growing your own produce or buying locally with the seasons.  Reuse leftovers, either as the same meal or turn them into something else — freeze bread to make stuffing or bread crumbs when you need them, make leftover mashed potatoes into pierogies or potato pancakes, etc.  And “recycle” most of your food scraps by composting, either in a vermicompost bin with worms or an outdoor compost pile.

Beverage and food containers: Bottled drinks are a gross waste of your money, and you would immediately save some green by going green and brewing your own iced tea or putting your tap water into a reusable water bottle or travel cup. Reduce your purchasing of prepackaged drinks and to-go items in disposable packaging. Reuse glass jars and bottles for other purposes (paint them to make a simple vase, for example, or use wide-mouth jars to store dry goods in the kitchen). Recycle what you cannot reuse.

Bath and beauty products: Shampoo, conditioner, hair products, lotion, body wash… full of chemicals in a disposable plastic package.  Reduce your purchase of these items by making your own (and keeping in them in those handy repurposed glass jars we talked about) or by buying natural products made without the chemicals. Reuse bottles if possible.  Recycle as you use them up.  It only takes a minute to rinse them out for the recycle bin.

Dental hygiene products: Did you know there are biodegradable toothbrushes? Yeah, me either. There are also sticks you can chew on that apparently clean your teeth.  I’m still using an evil plastic toothbrush but when I replace it (soon, it’s getting to be that time), I will look into natural and biodegradable alternatives instead of sticking plastic and more plastic in my mouth and into the Earth when I am done.  There is also vegan floss in a paperboard container, which you can compost or recycle.  I currently use the little plastic floss-picks, which are very convenient, but I care enough about the planet to learn how to floss properly again.
Update: Though plastic, this toothbrush comes with a prepaid mailer for recycling and is made from recycled yogurt cups. .

Menstrual products: Here is where the line is for many people.  Tampons and pads are bad for your body (chemicals, plastics, bleaching, GM cotton) and bad for the environment (so much waste in packaging and in disposal), but thinking about reusable menstrual gear makes a lot of people run for the nearest convenience store to stock up on disposables, just in case a revolution takes place.  If it’s not too far across your line (or maybe your line is further away, in which case, I offer you this Internet high five: *high five!*), I encourage you to consider a silicone menstrual cup and/or washable cloth pads.  If you’re curious about cloth pads, you can get a free one from Party In My Pants Pads.

Paper goods: Cloth napkins, dish towels instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs instead of tissues.  These are all pretty easy substitutions.  But I’m going to get reeeeeally close to that line again and mention REUSABLE TOILET PAPER.  Over your line? Ew! Within your line: High five.  It’s currently over my line and I use toilet paper made from recycled paper.  If you’re interested in cloth toilet paper, maybe start with just number-one and still use paper for number-two.  That’s how I would personally start if I was going to go down the path of cloth wipes (which I do plan to use for babies, with cloth diapers, so who knows where my line will end up?)

Lots of these reusable and eco-friendly (non-plastic) options get me excited, but some make me want to sing Meatloaf songs to the planet.  I would do anything for love, Earth… but I won’t do that. At this point in time.  I’m an eco-work in progress.

Do you invest in reusable materials? Where is your line?

22 thoughts on “How “Green” is Too Green?

  1. I have an eco-friendly toothbrush and I gotta say I love it. BUT it still incorporates plastic. It comes with a packet and as soon as I am done, I drop it in my all expenses paid shipping package, drop it in the mail, and send it off to be recycled. It’s a beautiful and simple thing

  2. Great post! I’ve been thinking about that line lately, and how it can slowly shift. When I first heard of the Diva cup I said NO WAY, NEVER. Now… ok I’m still not there, but I’m considering it. I’ve done pretty well changing out my bath/beauty/cleaning products to ones with non-toxic chemicals, but the plastic packaging is still not ideal.

    1. I’m with you on the plastic packaging. I use baking soda (recyclable paperboard box, no problem) and vinegar (plastic or glass bottle) for almost all cleaning needs, including washing my hair and face! At least if I’m only buying one thing in a plastic container, it’s better than buying a bunch of plastic for different cleaners, right? Reduce!

      Also, regarding the menstrual cups, I tried one and found I actually preferred it to tampons. That might be TMI for my family and friends reading the comments, but hey, I opened up that particular can of worms so I may as well follow up with my experiences. I use a Lunette cup and I’ve never had any massive spillage issue upon removing it, which seems to be everyone’s biggest fear about it.

  3. Hmm… I am beginning to think that I have not found my line yet…certainly not put off by the potential ‘yuck’ factor!

    Kitchen scraps- I try not to throw anything into the ‘landfill’ bin- if it is not compostable, I can usually find an animal (cats, our chickens are dustbins, my paretn’s dog will eat cooked meat trimmings)

    Beverage and food containers- most of the plastic is recyclable, but I feel that l could do better at buying things with no packaging in the first place…more cooking from scratch and buying from farmer’s market I think!

    Bath and beauty products- currently buying Lush products, because I like their no/minimal/reusable packaging thing and animal testing policy; I’d like to make more of my own stuff though- a future project!

    Dental hygiene- I currently have an electric toothbrush that I have had for years. When the heads run out for that, I am tempted to buy these: Not bad price wise, but does shipping them to the UK from Australia cancel out the good of no plastic?! Have some of those floss stick things to use up too.

    Feminine hygiene products- have been using the Mooncup (basically the same as a Diva cup) since about 2005/6; in the last couple of years have started using reusuable pads too. Would never go back! If I have children they will have reusuable nappies.

    Toilet paper- have used 100% recycled for years, and have never heard of reusable…but now quite tempted to make my own with second hand fabric…would probably keep toilet paper around though so guests didn’t have to join in!

  4. I have made quite a few of the changes you mentioned. The only paper product in my house is 100% recycled toilet paper, but am looking for ways to eliminate that (except for guests). I use vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide for all my cleaning needs including my hair and face. I purchased a keeper (similar to the diva cup only gum rubber) ten years ago after a reaction to tampons, and would never go back. I no longer buy laundry detergent, but do still use oxy-powder from Seventh Generation (just wish it didn’t come in plastic). I am still seeking a natural alternative for a toothbrush, the recyclable ones sound great, but then I hear plastic can be recycled only once, so what do they do with it after that?

    1. I didn’t know plastic could only be recycled once… I will have to look into that! The toothbrushes I linked to are already made of recycled plastic, so maybe it can be recycled a few times, I don’t know! I have seen bamboo ones too, or try to find a biodegradable “plant plastic” one, perhaps?

      1. I know that’s the problem, we don’t know enough about the recycling process and have to rely on trust in the companies we deal with. I will let you know what I decide on and if I found something new. For now I extend the life of my toothbrush by soaking it in hydrogen peroxide weekly then rinsing to kill any bacteria.

  5. Darn you, Trader Joe’s, and your delightfully illustrated plastic packaging on your inexpensive toilet paper… I’m torn. Pun intended. The only “bulk” toilet paper I’ve seen is the nasty 1-ply, scratchy, bleached crap (another pun intended!) that I find on office supply websites. I’ve been saving all the TP plastic packaging for quite a few months now… does anyone else tend to hoard eco-toxic items when you have no clue what to do with them? Anyway, this is a good list. Diva Cup is awesome, though I’ve had a couple leaks. Maybe my booty sways side to side too much, I don’t know. And reusable TP? Interesting… do you know anyone who uses a bidet?

    1. I do not know anyone who uses a bidet, though my sister had access to one when she was in Spain, much to my amusement. I don’t hoard the toxic products, I throw them away 😦 I would like to get to a place where I am not consuming anything bad for the environment but I figure at least a massive dent is better than nothing in my consumption of “stuff.” Right? Maybe? It’s so hard because everything is plastic 😦

  6. This is an issue that I haven’t been thinking about enough lately, thank you for writing about it!

    We’ve been using the same cloth shopping bags for years now and also have three reusable(and easily washable) cloth bags for fruit. I use a Lunette mooncup which I’ve had for three or maybe four years now; I find it easy enough to use and great in every way (did you know you can also clean it in boiling water?). Cosmetics and shampoo and stuff aren’t a problem in our house, since we use items with little packaging – except for our toothbrushes which are regular plastic ones.I try to incorporate reusable items wherever possible, but the thing I feel really bad about is the amount of plastic wrapping when it comes to food. Partly it’s a convenience issue and partly laziness; a good farmer’s market wouldn’t be too hard to find and go to and that would already reduce plastic use a lot…And sprouting isn’t hard at all if you make a habit out it. I guess that’s the most difficult part: break out of old habits and get into more sustainable ones instead.

    1. That really is the hardest part, just breaking the habit. I just told my mother I would do her dishes for every time she uses canvas bags at the store instead of plastic. It kills me when she comes home with 20+ plastic bags every weekend!!

  7. I’ve been looking at less wasteful options for living, and you’ve opened my eyes up to ideas I didn’t realise existed.

    Thank you for that.

    I’m new here, and look forward to reading more of your work

  8. I switched a while ago to bamboo toothbrushes – after they are used up with the teeth, then they become household cleaning helpers for those crevices around tiles/taps etc. THEN they continue their useful life as they become great markers in the garden for seeds I’ve planted etc. Just as cost effective as ‘normal’ toothbrushes if not better. I buy a box of 12, so don’t have to worry about them for a year at least. I just checked the website – $36 for a box of 12, + $12- international freight.

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