5 Easy Plastic Free Swaps that Don't Cost A Lot of $

Getting rid of disposable plastic doesn't have to cost a lot of money, or take a lot of time.  Here are five easy (and cheap) ways to ditch disposable plastic.

5 Easy Plastic Free Swaps That Don't Cost a Lot of Money

1. Ditch paper towels

Switching from paper towels to reusable dish cloths in the kitchen is a great way to reduce waste and save money.  Dish cloths clean better and last way longer.  Just throw them in the laundry when they're dirty, and you're good to go.

DIY: Cut up old towels into squares
BUY: Pack of 6 dish cloths - $3.99

2. Clean with vinegar and baking soda

Don't believe the marketing hype-you don't need a different cleaner for every surface of your home.  Vinegar and baking soda work wonders for household cleaning.  I keep a spray bottle of vinegar (half vinegar/half water) that I use to clean pretty much everything in our house.  Baking soda works great for surfaces that need a scrub--the toilet, stovetop, etc.

DIY: The Zero Waste Chef makes her own apple scrap vinegar!
BUY: 2 lb. box of baking soda - $1.29 | 16 oz. glass bottle of vinegar - $1.29

3. Swap out your shampoo and conditioner for a solid shampoo bar

Like cleaning products, we are constantly told how many different personal care products we need.  Ditch the plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles for a solid shampoo bar.  Reducing the amount of products you use is a big money saver.

BUY: Shampoo bar by Aquarian Bath - $7.50

4. Say no to produce bags

Let your produce go naked.  You don't need tiny plastic bags for your fruits and veggies at the grocery store.  They will be fine in your cart, I promise.

BUY: FREE!

5. Use mason jars to store and freeze food

You don't need plastic freezer bags to keep food fresh in the freezer.  Wide-mouth glass jars work just as well, if not better.  If you are freezing loose items (e.x., whole strawberries), freeze on a cookie sheet for a couple of hours first, and then pour into a jar.  If you are freezing liquid, leave a little bit of space at the top of the jar to allow the liquid to expand.  No more buying plastic baggies!

DIY: Save wide mouth jars from food items (tomato sauce, raw honey, etc.) to use in the freezer
BUY: 12 wide-mouth pint jars - $10.99

Most of these things you can DIY or find locally (except maybe the shampoo bars)--I added links for price info.

Happy Plastic Free July!

This is my FIFTH Plastic Free July!  Four years ago, in 2013, I decided to participate in my first Plastic Free July, and for the first time, really started to think about the trash I produced on a regular basis.

Whether you want to start small, or make big changes, there are plenty of ways to reduce your disposable plastic footprint this month.

Avoiding Plastic On the Go | Cellist Goes Green

On the go

I keep these in my tote bag at all times to avoid unwanted surprise plastic when I'm out and about.

Water bottle
Stay hydrated everyone!

Cloth napkin
Good for using as a napkin, or wrapping baked goods from the store. Or when someone brings food to work, and you don't want to use a plastic plate.

Metal spork
This has helped me avoid so many plastic utensils.  Get one here.

Tiny, collapsible shopping bag
I plan my shopping trips to the bulk store, but if I have to pick up broccoli or peaches quickly at the local grocery store, I keep this with me to avoid paper or plastic bags.

Stainless steel tiffin
Good for bringing homemade lunches to work, or bringing restaurant leftovers home.  Find one here.

Other ways I avoid plastic on the go:

Say no to plastic straws.
Whenever I'm eating out, I always ask for no straw.  If you really like drinking from straws, you can also bring your own glass or stainless one.

Drink my coffee or tea in the cafe.
I usually have my morning tea or coffee at home, or if I'm in a rush I will pour it into a stainless steel thermos, but sometimes I'll grab coffee or tea with my husband or friends out.  For those times, I would rather linger in the cafe with a real mug.


To read last year's Plastic Free July posts (I blogged every day!), click here: Plastic Free July 2016

This post includes affiliate links to Life Without Plastic, a company whose mission of providing ethical, plastic-free products I fully support.

6 ways to help zero waste in your community

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.  When you live in a suburban, slightly conservative area, how do you bring zero waste to people's attention?  How do you participate in your area's environmental community?  How can you find like-minded people near you?  Although it is difficult to make national environmental changes, there is a lot to be done in our local communities that can make a difference.

6 ways to help zero waste in your community | Cellist Goes Green

1. Pick up trash

Make it a point to pick up trash when you go on walks or bike rides.  Check local Facebook pages and groups to see if their is a community clean up you can join.  Organize a local cleanup with friends.

2. Shop at your local farmers market

Supporting your local farmers market is super important.  Even in our suburban area, we have an awesome organic farmer who comes to our farmers market.  The more business the farmers market gets, the more it is likely to expand its offerings and attract more farmers and vendors.

3. Add local bulk stores to the Bulk App

Help out other people in your area who are looking for zero waste solutions.  Add any local stores that offer bulk in your area to the Bulk App.  (And they don't have to be just bulk grocery stores--a looseleaf tea place that lets you bring your own containers, a brewery that allows you to refill growlers, etc. can all be added.)

4. Get involved

What environmental programs does your community offer?  A community garden?  Composting?  Find out, and participate!  Does your town or city have an environmental commission?  Go to any public meetings.  Get informed about the environmental issues going on in your area.

5. Find out what your town recycles

Reycling isn't the solution, but sometimes there are items that can't be found in bulk locally.  (For me, that's bulk liquids and baking soda).  Check what your community actually accepts for recycling.  You many be surprised what is (and isn't) recycled.  Recycling is a business, and recyclable items that don't have a high enough value are often not recycled.  Our county doesn't recycle aluminum foil or chipboard (the material cereal boxes and baking soda boxes are made of).  I have to compost my baking soda boxes.  Just because you put it out on the curb for recycling doesn't mean it's going to get recycled.  Share this information with friends and family.  "Hey, did you know our town doesn't recycle ______ ?"

You can usually find this information on your town or county's website.

6. Find other zero wasters near you

Sometimes being committed to zero waste can feel like a lonely endeavor, especially if you are not living in a major city or an environmentally minded community.  Search Facebook for zero waste groups in your local community.  If there are none, make one and share with friends and local community groups.

How have you found ways to help zero waste in your community?  Have you found other like-minded people nearby?

2016 in review

2016: A Year in Review | Cellist Goes Green

I can't say that I'm unhappy 2016 is coming to a close.  Many of us in the United States are very concerned about the current political climate.  However, I think it is important for those of us who can to continue to make sustainable choices in our everyday lives and to model these choices in our communities.  Our individual actions matter, and ultimately make us stronger together.  Now is not the time to give up!

Onto the blog...

Notable 2016 blog events

This year, I joined the Zero Waste Blogger's Network!

 

This year I also decided to make the switch to another blogging platform, and I'm still very happy with the change! (I hope you are, too!)

And finally, I found a way to recycle my cello strings!

2016's popular posts

 

For this year's Plastic Free July, I did a blog post everyday!

Wishing everyone a very happy, healthy 2017!  I will be back very soon with some new posts!

The only ingredient you need to use in your dishwasher detergent

 
The ONLY ingredient you need for homemade dishwasher detergent | Cellist Goes Green
 

After trying several different recipes for homemade dishwasher detergent, I was left feeling frustrated by my sort-of-clean dishes, and the multiple ingredients (and time) needed for making these recipes.  If you do a quick search on Pinterest, most results for homemade dishwasher detergents call for a mix of washing soda, borax, salt and citric acid.  Lots of ingredients for a less than reliable result.  Our flatware particularly was coming out less than clean.

I continued to search for a solution, and stumbled onto a very interesting article from Little House in the Suburbs.  The author did some research into ingredients used in commercial dishwasher detergents.  Several interesting points were made, including the fact that salt reacts with stainless steel, which is probably why my flatware was not getting clean. 

 
The ONLY ingredient you need for homemade dishwasher detergent | Cellist Goes Green
 

So what do I use in my dishwasher now?  Washing soda.  That's it.  It gets the dishes AND silverware clean.  I don't need multiple ingredients, and I already have washing soda around because I use it to make laundry soap.  I throw some vinegar in the rinse compartment, and that's it.  A much simpler solution!

What does everyone else use in their dishwasher?  Has anyone else had problems finding a reliable recipe for dishwasher detergent?

How to support the environment even when the government won't

I have struggled to write this post.  Many of us woke up yesterday feeling disheartened and fearful for the future.  I was unsure whether or not to use this space to speak up, but I think it is important for our voices to come together.

For the next four years, many of the environmental protections put in place in our country will be in jeopardy.  While this is certainly a terrible thing, it is a fact now, and we must not let it discourage us from doing what we can to protect the environment.

How to support the environment after the election

1. Donate to and support environmental defense organizations

There are several environmental organizations that fight for environmental legislation and protections.  We need to support them, as they are even more important now.  If you live near a large city, look for volunteer opportunities.

Earth Justice
Sierra Club
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund
5 Gyres
Plastic Pollution Coalition

2. Make changes in your own life

I think this is the biggest and most effective thing we can all do.  All is not lost.  We must continue to lead by example and make environmentally conscious decisions in our everyday lives.  Leading by example is the best way to effect change in our families and communities.

If you are already making conscious decisions in your life, continue to do so, and look for more ways to support the environment in your everyday actions.

  • Bring your own reusables--grocery bags, water bottle, cutlery, coffee mug.
  • Reduce the amount of disposable packaging you purchase, and look for alternatives (more whole foods, farmers markets, buying in bulk, etc.)
  • Look for alternatives for your commute to work: walking, biking, carpooling.  Even if it's only one day a week.
  • Shop less.  Shop locally.  Support small businesses.
  • Buy used.
  • Plant a garden.

3. Talk to people about the environment and climate change

Now is not the time to remain silent.  Engage in conversation with family in friends about why the environment is important to you.  Go to state and national parks.  Discuss climate change, and the consensus among scientists.  Listen to people's concerns so they listen to you.  Read books about climate change and lend them out when you are done.  Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert are two good places to start.

And finally, we need to support those whose voices were not heard and will not be heard for at least the next four years: women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, religious and ethnic minorities.

Jezebel has a great post about organizations you can support that stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable.  We must also support these people in our own lives and communities.

We must stand together to support peace, love, tolerance and togetherness.

DIY Laundry Detergent

I have been using soap nuts to do our laundry since we stopped using disposable plastic in 2013, but I have been wanting to give homemade laundry soap a try.  Whenever I've used the homemade, natural bar soap I buy to remove stains or pretreat really dirty stuff, it has always worked amazingly well.  (It's the same soap we use to wash the dishes!)  So I decided it was time to start using it for all of our laundry.

Homemade two-ingredient laundry detergent: A zero waste, plastic free option | Cellist Goes Green

If you search "homemade laundry detergent" on Pinterest, you will get about a million and a half different recipes, many of which require several ingredients.  And then there's the whole borax controversy (borax does seem to be relatively safe, you just don't want to ingest it).  I wanted something simple and effective, so I picked the two ingredients I thought would be most important and experimented with the ratios a little bit until I got something I liked.  And it works!

Homemade two-ingredient laundry detergent: A zero waste, plastic free option | Cellist Goes Green

Two-Ingredient Laundry Soap

Ingredients
2 cups washing soda
1 bar of natural bar soap

Instructions

  1. Grate the bar of soap
  2. Measure out the washing soda and mix with the bar soap shavings
  3. Put mixture in jar

That's it!  I use about 1/4 of a cup in each load.


FAQ

Will it work in my HE washer?
Disclaimer-my top-loading washing machine is from 1998.  I looked up the serial number.  I have no plans to upgrade, and I'm hoping we can celebrate its 20th birthday soon. :)  So I can't really offer any first hand advice here. 

That being said, if you do some googling, most of the homemade detergent recipes say they are safe for HE machines, you just have to use less.

What kind of soap should I use?
I use a handmade soap from Barclay Soap Co on Etsy.  It has very few ingredients, all of which are natural.  It has done very well cutting grease when I wash dishes, and I've found it to be much more effective than Dr. Bronner's.  Look for a soap without synthetic ingredients (especially synthetic fragrance).  And look for one that's not formulated to be super-moisturizing (that's great for you, but not at getting dirt off your clothes).

What is the difference between washing soda and baking soda?
You can actually make washing soda from baking soda!  They are closely related, but washing soda is a stronger ingredient and should not be ingested.  Dr. Karen S. Lee has a great post about it here.  And while it shouldn't be ingested, EWG gives it an "A" as a safe cleaning product.

I'm having a hard time finding washing soda
Sometimes washing soda can be hard to find locally (you can make your own from baking soda!).  I did manage to find it at a local grocery store, and another local hardware store will have it shipped to the store if you order it online.  I would call ahead. 

Also, this message board thread suggests you call the number for the washing soda (1-800-524-1328), and if you give them the UPC code (33200-03020) and your zip code, they will look up what local stores have sold it recently in your area. I called, and they were able to give me the information.

You can also find it on Amazon, but it costs a little more.

Why did you switch from soap nuts to homemade laundry soap?
I liked using soap nuts, and they did work well.  But I've been really impressed by how great the natural bar soap I've been using works when I've used it to hand wash or pre-treat clothes.

I also already order the bar soap in bulk on Etsy for washing dishes, and I can find the washing soda locally, so it is one less thing I have to order online.  (I could not find soap nuts locally).  So that means less packaging from shipping.


Recycle your strings

Recycele your musical instrument strings | Cellist Goes Green

I was on Facebook, and noticed a post from Plastic Pollution Coalition talking about a program by D'Addario and Terracycle to recycle strings from musical instruments.  The timing was perfect, because I was just about to replace the top two strings on my cello.

You can find a limited number of local events held by music stores here, or D'Addario will send you a free shipping label so you can send them your strings to recycle.  All you need to do is sign up on their website.  Once you're signed in, just click on "recycle" at the top of the page.  You can earn points for sending in strings for recycling, either to use to buy D'Addario strings, or if you don't use that brand, you can use the points to go towards helping school music programs.  If you teach in a school, or if you have a music store, you can also send a request for a collection bin.

I was so excited to find out about this program!  Strings don't last forever (for me, no more than 6 months to a year before they stop responding well), and I've always been stuck throwing them in the trash.  So glad there is finally a solution!


Zero Waste Bloggers Network

I am proud to announce I am now a member of the Zero Waste Bloggers Network!

The Zero Waste Bloggers Network, founded by Inge of GRüNISH, is an organization committed to creating a community for zero waste bloggers, promoting the zero waste movement and raising awareness about environmental issues.  If you are looking to find other zero waste bloggers, or find out more about the zero waste movement, head over to the Zero Waste Bloggers Network site.


Lunch without the waste

Lunch at school or the office doesn't have to be wasteful, and full of disposable plastic packaging.  If you or your child are going back to school soon, or you just want to change up your lunchtime routine at the office, here are some ways to cut out disposable packaging and make sure you have a homemade lunch.

Lunch without the waste: How to reduce disposable packaging, and pack a nutritious lunch everyday | Cellist Goes Green

Pack your own lunch.

If you bring your own lunch, not only are you avoiding the disposable plastic waste from takeout or the cafeteria, you are ensuring you are eating real, nourishing food.  I usually pack myself a salad of quinoa with some veggies, avocado and beans, and throw in a piece of fruit, maybe some almonds.  For me, it's easier if I usually pack the same thing daily, so I don't have to think about it, but there are plenty of ways to add variation to your lunch while sticking to the same basic formula.

Grain: quinoa/brown rice/barley
Bean: chickpeas/black beans/navy beans/pinto beans
Veggies: green peppers/zucchini/cherry tomatoes/carrots/celery
Greens: spinach/kale/chard/romaine
Dressing: apple cider vinegar/EV olive oil with balsamic vinegar and mustard
Extras: avocado/cheese/chia seeds

Plan ahead.

It is no fun scrambling in the morning before work to try to find something to bring for lunch.  I've been there, and what that usually means is getting stuck with just a piece of fruit for lunch, or eating out and getting stuck with packaging you don't want. 

As I said, I like to stick with a similar lunch each day, which makes things easier.  On Sunday evening, I will cook about 3 cups of dried quinoa, which is enough for my husband and I during the week.  I will do the same thing with dried beans or chickpeas--I'll soak a bunch on Saturday night, and cook them on Sunday evening so they're ready for the week.  That way all that's left to do in the morning is cut up a couple of veggies and throw in some greens.

This is really the most important thing, because you can have all of the containers and lunch boxes you like, but they won't do you any good if you don't actually make lunch!

Use glass or stainless steel containers and utensils.

Say no to plastic baggies and take out containers!  It's best to avoid storing and reheating food in plastic, so use a glass or stainless steel container to hold your food instead.  After I broke one of my glass Pyrex containers using it to take my lunch to work, I decided to invest in a stainless steel lunch container.  It works really well, and seems like it will last a long time.  I use a mini one for nuts, and you could also use it for cut up fruit.  I really like that the latches are easy to open--they're definitely easy enough for even a young child to use.  You can bring a spoon or fork from home, or get a set of travel utensils or a stainless steel folding spork.  I also throw in a cloth napkin from home, and I bring my glass water bottle.

We also use wool-insulated lunch bags (they also have an orange one) from Life Without Plastic.  They keep food at the right temperature, and they don't contain any plastic or other harmful materials.  According to a 2012 report, 75% of popular children's back to school items contained phthalates (which have been banned in children's toys since 2008).  One lunchbox from the study contained phthalates "over 29 times the allowable limit."

Take your compost home.

Banana peels, apple cores, and orange peels don't belong in the garbage.  Take them home in your lunch container to put in the compost!  (Unless you are lucky enough to have a school or workplace which composts food waste!)


This post includes affiliate links to Life Without Plastic, a company whose mission and values I fully support.  As always, I recommend trying to buy used or use what you have first, and as a second choice looking for products from a company who makes ethical and sustainable products.


Back to school without the waste

Back to School without the Waste | Cellist Goes Green

I loved back to school shopping as a kid.  There was something about having new pens, and clean paper that made me excited for another school year.

But all of that new stuff creates a lot of waste.

So here are some ideas to cut down on some of the new stuff, and when you can't, some ideas for replacing some of the plastic with natural materials.

Use what you have.

If you are a student: go through your supplies from last year, and find what can be used again.  Do your pens have most of the ink left?  Use them.  Is your binder in good shape?  Use it again.  Did you only use a quarter of that notebook?  Rip out the pages you used, and keep the blank ones.

If you are a parent: go through your child's supplies from last year.  Find what is usable, and present it in a way that makes it fun and cleaned up.  Gather up pens and pencils (make sure pens have ink, and pencils are sharp).  Tear out the used pages from last year's notebooks, and empty out binders.  Tie up everything with a ribbon or some twine. 

If you have kids who are used to a big back to school shopping trip, try replacing it with a fun activity before school starts--a camping trip, roller skating, a trip to an amusement park or the city, anything they would enjoy.

When you need to buy new, try for natural materials.

If you or your child needs something new, try to look for supplies made of natural materials.  That way, when they reach the end of their life, they can be composted.

Instead of plastic binders, many of which are made of PVC, try a binder made of recycled cardboard.
Instead of plastic mechanical pencils, try wooden pencils which are FSC-certified.
Instead of buying a plastic pencil pouch, find one on Etsy.  (I use this one for knitting supplies, and I like this one and this one).
Instead of plastic highlighters, try highlighter pencils.
Instead of plastic backpacks, get a backpack made from natural materials.  Smaller one for younger kids / Larger one for adults or high school students
Use paper bags to make book covers instead of using the ones made of plastic at the store.  Video how-to here.


This post includes affiliate links to Life Without Plastic, a company whose mission and values I fully support.  As always, I recommend trying to buy used or use what you have first, and as a second choice looking for products from a company who makes ethical and sustainable products.


Plastic Free July Day 31

Plastic Free July Day 31: Finding Community | Cellist Goes Green

I have enjoyed sharing my Plastic Free July with you this year!  I hope everyone had a successful and fun month.

For this post, I wanted to talk about finding community online (and off) in the zero waste/plastic-free community.  If you don't live in a major city, sometimes it can be hard to find other plastic-free/zero wasters nearby.

On social media, try searching the following tags:

#plasticfree
#plasticfreejuly
#zerowaste

Bea Johnson of The Zero Waste Home hosts a forum on her website, with sections covering a wide variety of topics.

Search for a local group on Meetup.com.  You can also look for groups under "Community and Environment."

Join a group on Facebook.  You could try Journey to Zero Waste or Zero Waste Heroes.

Find some awesome blogs online:

My Plastic Free Life
Zero Waste Home
The Zero Waste Chef
Paris to Go
Litterless

Treading My Own Path
The Rogue Ginger

Trash is for Tossers
Zero Waste Nerd
Going Zero Waste

 


Plastic Free July Day 30

Plastic Free July Day 30: Storing food without plastic | Cellist Goes Green

Plastic-free food storage doesn't have to be a headache.  Here are some simple ways to get the disposable plastic out of your kitchen.

This post includes affiliate links.

Replace plastic storage containers with mason jars, glass Pyrex, or other glass or stainless steel containers.

Chemicals present in plastic can leach into your food, especially when heated up, so don't feel bad about ditching the plastic takeout containers you have been hoarding.  Mason jars are a great affordable way to store food in the fridge and freezer.  I bought some glass Pyrex containers (with plastic lids) early on in my plastic-free journey that work pretty well, too.  Life Without Plastic also sells some glass storage containers that don't use any plastic in them at all--they are glass with a stainless steel lid.

You don't need plastic wrap or ziploc bags.

Ziploc bags are not the only way to prevent freezer burn, despite what the advertising tells you.  A well-sealed glass container does the job just fine.  I usually freeze food in my Pyrex containers, but if you're using a mason jar, try using a widemouth one, and leave plenty of space at the top.

I really have not missed plastic wrap or plastic storage containers once since I've made the switch--glass containers and jars have worked very well for me.  Glass or stainless is healthier for you and lasts longer (creating less waste).


If you aren't familiar with Plastic Free July, take a look at this post.  Basically, it's a month-long challenge to reduce the amount of disposable plastic you use.  It's a great starting point if you just want to give cutting out disposable plastic a try.
 
My first Plastic Free July was in 2013(!), and this month I'd like to highlight some of the things I do to reduce my plastic use, and some struggles.  Many things are part of my routine at this point (buying in bulk, refusing plastic silverware, etc.), but I am not perfect, and I always find this challenge to be a good time to refocus and look at what trash I am actually producing. 


Plastic Free July Day 29

Plastic Free July Day 29: Liquid Castile Soap in Glass | Cellist Goes Green

I use bar soap to wash my hands in the bathroom, but I still like using liquid hand soap in the kitchen.  I use liquid castile soap diluted with water in a foaming soap pump.  You may be lucky to have liquid castile soap in bulk near you, or if you use a lot of it, you could buy the largest container available to cut down on packaging.  There is one company I have found which sells castile soap in glass bottles.  You can find it here.


If you aren't familiar with Plastic Free July, take a look at this post.  Basically, it's a month-long challenge to reduce the amount of disposable plastic you use.  It's a great starting point if you just want to give cutting out disposable plastic a try.
 
My first Plastic Free July was in 2013(!), and this month I'd like to highlight some of the things I do to reduce my plastic use, and some struggles.  Many things are part of my routine at this point (buying in bulk, refusing plastic silverware, etc.), but I am not perfect, and I always find this challenge to be a good time to refocus and look at what trash I am actually producing.