The Five Rs of Environmentalism: Replace

As we continue our blog series on The Five Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replace, Refuse, we have focused this post on ways that you can replace items to minimize your impact on the environment.

A major way to reduce your overall impact on the environment is to consider items we throw away that could be replaced with reusable items. Before the mass production of paper products, we used cloth towels, napkins, and rags. Today, paper towels and napkins make up a huge percentage of paper items in our trash. Try a set of 7 kitchen towels—one for each day of the week. And, you can buy a set of dinner napkins for $17—about the same price as a 12-pack of Bounty paper towels. The napkins will last for years and dramatically reduce the volume of paper towels in the landfill.

Another common paper “sink” in the house is toilet tissue. I do NOT recommend using cloth instead of paper here! What you can do, though, is be a conscientious consumer of TP. Look at how many sheets there are per roll, how many rolls per container, and what it is made of. Post-consumer recycled content indicates that the paper is not wholly sourced from trees. For quite a while, I used TP containing 100% bamboo—hard to find and slightly more expensive than paper TP, but with a LOT less lint. Also, if you have kids, consider talking to them about how to be responsible with TP in terms of the number of sheets used, and not to throw it over trees for fun. And, ALWAYS recycle the cardboard tube at the center of the roll!

Some replacements can make a huge, unseen difference. For example, cloth diapers and plastic-free ladies’ sanitary products can prevent tremendous amounts of trash from ending up in landfills.

  • Using cloth diapers are useful but require forethought and perseverance to use exclusively. Some parents find that a hybrid solution—some cloth, some disposable—is a good, sustainable compromise.
  • Selecting chlorine-free diapers, while slightly more expensive than traditional disposable diapers, provide peace of mind and keep toxic plastics and chemicals away from your baby’s skin.
  • Switching ladies’ sanitary products from those with plastic applicators to those that use cardboard applicators or cotton instead of rayon can make a huge difference in the amount of trash being produced over a woman’s lifetime.
  • Or, ditch the applicator altogether, or switch to reusable menstrual cups or period panties to stop using pads and tampons at all.

Another huge source of plastic waste is shopping bags. They can often be recycled at grocery stores, but the best thing to do is replace these with reusable bags. While you can buy some great reusable bags that slip easily into a purse or pocket, many stores also offer them, and many companies use tote bags as promotional items.

Finally, most Americans take single-serving plastic containers for granted, and our single-serving tendencies are causing a plastic crisis around the world. Consider replacing single-serving containers by buying in bulk and separating items into reusable containers.

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