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52 Different Ways to Save $100 a Year: Eliminate Disposable Products {Week 9}

At the beginning of every week in 2013, I’ll be sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.

One way to save quite a bit of money each year — and send less trash to the landfills! — is to eliminate or greatly reduce the number of disposable products you use.

Here are some ideas of ways to eliminate or reduce paper products that many people purchase on a regular basis. If you purchase and use most of these on a monthly basis, I recommend just choosing one area to work on every month or two. Don’t try to eliminate all of the paper products all at once, just slowly reduce and eliminate them one by one.

And remember, what works for one family won’t necessarily work for another family. So if you try to eliminate one area and it’ just too hard, skip it and move onto another area. You can always go back and try again later.

Ziptop Plastic Bags

We do buy these, but we don’t buy them very often. I wash and re-use plastic bags as much as possible. If I use a plastic bag for storing flour or bread items in it, I just shake out the crumbs and store it in the freezer until I have more flour or bread items to refill it with.

Aluminum Foil

Most of my pans have plastic covers that I use in place of foil. When I do use foil, I try to re-use it if at all possible.

Learn how to make your own cloth napkins.

Small Trash Bags

We use the grocery store sacks, or none at all. In addition, unless the trash is really full, we’ll often just dump the trash can contents into the large trash dumpster and not remove the bag.

Paper Plates

Again, we occasionally use plastic plates, cups, and silverware, but rarely just for our family. We usually save plasticware to use when we have a large group of people over and it just makes it so much simpler. For every day use, it’s not a big deal to use normal non-disposable plates, cups, and silverware — especially now that we have a dishwasher and the kids can help with loading and unloading it! 🙂

Paper Towels

As I’ve blogged about before, we stopped buying paper towels a number of years ago and we realized we didn’t miss them. We use washcloths or old rags instead.

Homemade All-Natural Cleaning Wipes

Disposable Cleaning Products

I try not to use any disposable cleaning products — such as toilet cleaners or duster with replaceable disposable heads. It’s so much less money to just use a rang and cleaning solution. Plus, you don’t have to worry about remembering to buy replacements!

How Much Can You Save By Eliminating Disposable Products?

How much you save by eliminating or reducing your usage of disposable products is going to vary widely. But I’d wager to guess that most families spend around $2-3 per week on disposable products, if not more. So by eliminating most of them or greatly reducing your use of them, there’s going to be a very good chance that you’re going to save over $100 per year — if not more!

What disposable products have you eliminated from your home?

photo credit

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  • Melissa says:

    We’ve cut down on our paper towel use to about one roll a month now. However, the main reason I still buy it is to blot bacon. Any suggestions what to do in this case? If I had a solution to this, I think we could stop buying paper towel all together.

    • Katie says:

      One way to cut it down a lot is to use a turkey baster to “suck up” the grease and put it into an old tin can. I still use 1-2 paper towels at the end of all meat-cooking, but most of it goes into the can that way.

    • august says:

      Perhaps you should get one of those trays that hangs the bacon so it drips. Then you would eliminate a bunch without blotting at all.

    • Marie says:

      cook the bacon in the oven on a baking sheet with a cooling rack on it. The bacon gets nice and crispy and the cooling rack helps lift the bacon from the baking sheet and catches all the grease.

      • Stephanie says:

        Using the oven (instead of the microwave or stove) uses a lot more energy and would cost a lot more to cook your bacon that way.

      • Anna says:

        This is the way I cook bacon as well. It works so well, and I burn a lot less bacon in the oven then I did on the stove-top! Plus, I can pop the bacon in the oven and leave it to cook while I”m scrambling the eggs or making coffee… You get the idea. 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      Ask the bagger at the grocery store for paper bags instead of plastic & then you will have them to drain your fried food/ bacon on instead of paper towels

    • sarah says:

      I use newspaper to blot bacon and homemade taco shells.

  • Cathy says:

    We do buy paper towels but only normally use them for draining bacon or cleaning up a really icky mess, such as something from a sick pet. Mostly, we use old towels and rags. We primarily use cloth napkins, cloth for cleaning, cloth feminine products (and the Diva cup) for myself and oldest daughter, and cloth diapers back when we need those in our household (youngest just turned 3). Paper plates are a very rare happening here. I don’t see us getting rid of toilet paper anything soon, though, lol.

  • august says:

    I’ve been leaning towards using a Diva Cup, but right now that’s not an issue since I’m pregnant. We are using cloth diapers though, used ones actually. So hopefully that helps.

    We’ve pretty much eliminated paper towels all together, but styrofoam plates are impossible with my husband. I can’t find any paper plates that he likes enough and he refuses to glass plates every night.

    For storage (besides glass) I recomend the Ball Freezer Jars. I picked some up at WalMart and they are AMAZING! My toddler can open them, they’re cheap, I can store almost anything in them, they’re portable, and they’re BPA free. LOVE LOVE LOVE THEM!

  • NicoleW says:

    We switched over from paper towels to very cheap washcloths in the kitchen (that way I don’t care if they get stained with grease or anything else). We use cloth diapers and I am about to buy a meluna cup instead of using disposable pads. I love the suggestion of re-using the ziptop bags. I haven’t tried that unless it was just an immediate usage (like with storing cheese in the fridge).

  • Lynn says:

    I do daycare and have to have one use towels for the kids after they wash their hands. At first I bought the paper towels that are the half sheets but that didn’t stop the kids from taking 2, 3 or 4 sheets. It was ridiculous how many paper towels we were going through. So instead I started buying white wash cloths and just wash them when we are doing a load of towels. I feel this has saved us a lot of money and have cut down on wasting paper!

  • Laura says:

    We use cloth napkins, no paper towels, the kids have hankerchiefs, we still use tissues but not nearly as many. Paper plates are for parties only because even if I had enough dishes I have no where to store them.

  • I can’t wait to hear everyone’s ideas; I’m going to be taking notes!

    We’ve made a habit of using rags, cloth napkins, cloth diapers, & cloth baby/toddler wipes. I’ve made my own little cotton squares to use instead of paper towels, & I use a Keeper cup. Samples keep us in good supply of free medicines & other health & beauty items & our other items were all free after coupons. Our cleaning supplies are made with either borax, baking soda, or vinegar, & cost us next to nothing. I’ve had the same box of borax for years & it never seems to run out!

    In the kitchen, I use plastic shower caps from hotels (my family saves them for me) to cover bowls that don’t have lids, then wash & reuse again. Instead of wax paper I use a silpat, & I use silicone muffin wrappers instead of disposables. Though I to admit, washing the reusable muffin wrappers is a bit tedious. We only use disposable plates, etc. if we’re having a birthday party, or we have a new baby, & even then we’ve had the same package of plates for 7 years! I’ve also quit using an electric can opener, in favor of a manual, & I try to use the toaster oven instead of the large oven. Those choices have seriously made a difference in our utilities.

    I make our own laundry soap & fabric softener, & line dry inside in the winter, & out in the warmer months. We reuse plastic ice cream containers to store food in the freezer & reuse plastic takeout boxes, aluminum pie pans, & glass jars for food storage as well. Instead of buying vegetable stock I make it out of peelings & scraps in the crock-pot for free (yay!) & I use dried beans instead of canned.

    Our toddler’s art supplies are often junk mail stickers & recycled paper or newspaper & crayons, pens, & pencils given at local children’s events. We’ve also signed up for the Dolly Parton Imagination library, so never need to buy books for our girls. They go to our local library for toddler time every week, which includes stories, songs, snack, & a craft (Don’t you just love libraries?!) And we even have a bi-weekly in home pre-school lesson through our local school corporation FOR FREE!

    We buy used clothes, & I frequently will mend or cut our clothing to keep it growing with our family. Once something is worn through I still salvage buttons, elastic, & drawstrings, make rags, or sew flannel into cloth diaper doublers.

    We live a very rich & blessed life, that doesn’t cost a lot by always remembering the motto: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.” Those words have changed my life!


  • Joy says:

    We could never give up foil. It makes cleaning up baking pans so much easier and saves them from getting gunky. Plus, our town accepts clean foil with our recyclables. So we just rinse and recycle foil.

    • lineth says:

      you can actually spray pam on your pans and soak them for five minutes and your done. I had never used foil on my pans and it comes off really easy

  • Jen says:

    I think these are great ideas, but what about the cost of having to wash more (the water, electricity, etc.)?

    • Lana says:

      I find that the volume is so small that they can go in with my regular towel loads without even noticing. I do however do one extra load a week of cleaning rags and microfiber floor cleaning pads because they are really dirty and dusty. It is a small load so I think it is still a great savings.

    • Jen — I rarely reuse ziploc bags for just that reason.With sales and coupons, they rarely cost more than a penny a bag, even for the big ones. I think my time and hot water are worth more.

    • Billene says:

      I agree with you Jen. I think the cost of water and electricty would out weight the cost of a roll of paper towels. Our city just raised the sewer rates so, in my opinion the one dollar roll of paper towels that last about 2 weeks is the better deal.

      • Heather says:

        Some people use far more than that. I know some people that dry their hands on them, so they use about a roll a day.

  • Anna Ruth says:

    I cringe inwardly every time I grab a paper towl; however, my husband prefers them and I recognize that they are often more sanitary than cloth. I have considered using rags for tasks like cleaning our (glass) table and for the bathroom, but I wonder if the laundry bill would add up as we also prefer rags to be washed separately. Living in an apartment, we pay in quarters. I currently can stash the dirties for awhile before washing them, but using them regularly would add a chunk to the bill. Although I hate that wasteful feeling, I am not sure what, if anything, to do differently.

    • Vickie says:

      Use newspaper to clean glass, no lint or streaks!

    • I chuckled a little when I read your reply about cringing. I cringe when we eat at my in-laws because they only offer paper towels. It feels like we are using a ton because they don’t have a towel out either. 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      I second the suggestion to use newspapers on your glass table. I started cleaning our windows with newspapers instead of paper towels a couple years ago, and I will never go back. Even without the cost savings, there’s less lint left behind on the glass. Love it!

  • Jo Lynn says:

    A couple years ago we gave up paper towels and paper napkins and its made a difference in the budget. However this year I decided to use paper towels during flu season to dry my sons hands after washing them and I think it’s helped to keep him healthier this season. Come spring though paper towels will be scarce here again. I also got reusies to use in place of ziplock bags for certain items.

  • lineth says:

    Guaaoo Seen this post it is so refreshing, I thought I was the only wear person recycling the Ziploc bags. But my mom used to do it. And It was just naturally for me when I started my family to do it. Thank you

    • Stephanie says:

      I do it too- a package will last our family for months. My husband thought I was crazy and then agreed that most non medical plastic should never be single use (we have no choice for that and it cannot be recycled). We found that the gallon size freezer bags hold up best.

  • Jessica says:

    Maxipads! I use cloth mama pads instead.
    Reusable heating pad.
    I have a cloth diaper stash but my baby is still to skinny for them to fit right.
    Training pants for the toddler instead of pullups.
    Don’t use disposable utensils or plates.
    We do use paper towels, especially for cat messes. I will not wash rags with cat feces in my washing machine- gross!

    • Angela says:

      You will wash rags with human feces but not cat feces? I’m not sure I see the difference if you are cloth diapering.

      • Jessica says:

        Cats have different bacteria and parasites that can cause severe illness. If one of my kids has diarrhea, we use disposables.

  • Meredith says:

    We have pretty much eliminated all of those too except for two. I keep a roll of paper towels in case of cat vomit. I just can’t use a cloth rag for that. The smell is sometimes disgusting and I just pick it up and toss. Also, my mom insists on paper plates when the family visits us so we can all sit and socialize instead of washing dishes.

  • Llama Momma says:

    Sometimes I just need a day off from all the clean up…especially on a super busy night. So, I whip out the Aldi paper plates, and serve a meal from the freezer…done! It’s a small luxury, and it saves us from eating out on the random Tuesday night!

    But we’re all different! 🙂

  • SuAnne McBroom says:

    When I wanted to stop using so many paper towels and napkins, I wondered what to do about messes that were so bad that I wouldn’t want to wash the rag I cleaned them up with. My solution was to cut up some old T-shirts I was going to throw away and keep them handy. I use them to clean up the mess and then throw them away. At least they are being used again before I throw them away.
    We also use cloth napkins at the table and washable rags for as many things as possible, and I wash out my ziploc bags, too! Getting a good set of washable containers to store left-overs helps cut down on the use of ziploc bags, foil, etc.

    • Anita Hampl says:

      Yes, old T-shirt s are terrific for so much cleaning. I used to think that donating them to charity would be a better use for them . . .

      until I volunteered at a thrift shop and saw all the shirts that they rejected, due to stains or holes. They bagged the rejects and sold them in “bales” for cash to the ragman.

      Thanks for the reminder, SuAnne. Now to go clear out some teenagers’ dressers and find me some paper towel-replacements!

    • bberg says:

      We decided to use cloth napkins several years ago. I started looking and went to a rummage sale and it was $5.00 a bag. My daughter found a couple items for her daughter and I found cloth napkins of every color and design. Love them!

  • Doreen says:

    I agree about using paper towels to blot greasy foods and that is about my only use for paper towels, but my mama used to use paper bags, just cut them to the size of your plate or pan and put them on the bottom. Put the greasy food on top and let the grease soak right into the paper. It works well too and when I have paper bags I use them for this instead of using paper towels.
    Paper plates, disposable cups, etc. are almost unheard of in our house and we don’t even miss them. I do keep a very small supply of them that we use when we go on trips. We take along our homepacked meals and serve them up on paper plates (if it is something that needs a plate) Saves a lot of money over eating out and the paper plates make clean up lots easier.
    Instead of using Saran wrap to cover bowls, my grandmother would buy a cheap clear plastic shower curtain liner, cut them in various size circles, etc. to fit the shape of her dishes and sew elastic around the edge. Then she would have washable/ reusable and very sturdy bowl covers. I have some that someone gave me that are a thinner plastic and though they are not as sturdy as Grandma’s, I still really like them. Easy to use (except for getting them dry after you wash them) and saves money too!

    • Doreen says:

      Oh, you do want to be careful that the shower curtain liner is not treated to be anti mold etc. usually the very cheap ones are ok. Also, you do not want to heat the food with this plastic over the top.

      • Meredith says:

        Doreen! Thank you for the paper bag idea! How had I not come up with that already on my own! I served breakfast for supper the other night 😉 and was wishing there was something I could use for blotting bacon other than paper towels. I will do this from now on!!

  • Ashlee says:

    How do your rags not get moldy? Mine, especially ones used for cleaning up food and drink messes get moldy or mildewy despite rinsing well. We can only do laundry once a week (no W/D in our apartment) so I’m not sure how to make this work for me.

    • Lana says:

      I use a small basket the has holes/slits on the sides from Dollar Tree to allow for air circulation. If I have something wet I drape it over the side so it can dry. I put a bit (1/4 cup) of borax in my rags load to kill mold and that helps keep the rags from getting moldy quickly when that are wet. I did not clean up milk with a rag when my kids were growing up because no matter how well I rinsed the cloth it would be really stinky by the next day. I only wash my rags once a week and it is not a problem.

    • I wash my rags with bleach on a sanitary (super hot) cycle.

  • Heather says:

    I had been nagging people for years (mainly my husband) to use less paper towels. It didn’t work even though rags were in reach in a lower cupboard. Then I finally started doing what my mother did, and put the paper towel roll in an upper cabinet. That has resulted in drastically less usage, without me having to say a word.
    A roll may last a few months. Mainly we use them for bacon (rarely eaten), puke messes, and potty accidents. Having to open a cupboard makes people think twice.

    Packing lunch for 3 kids, I found that I was plowing through the ziplocs. I bought Easy Lunchboxes containers, and I love them. They have paid for themselves in less than a year.

    Also for school lunches: I got tired of buying plastic spoons and forks. Walmart has cheap stainless for 94 cents for a 4 pack of spoons or forks. Cheap enough that if one gets thrown out it won’t be a big loss – less than a quarter each!

  • I just want to say I’m loving this series, in fact I think it’s my favorite series you’ve done since I’ve been following your blog!
    I usually re-use ziploc bags too, but another option I like, especially for snacks is re-usable cloth bags that people make and sell.

  • Tammy says:

    My MIL bought a package of paper towels for me at Sam’s Club, and they lasted 3 years! 🙂 I don’t use paper towels that often, but I do admit it is nice to have them for those yucky jobs!

    I made napkins, and don’t buy paper. I do occasionally buy cheap paper plates and use those during very busy times. I don’t have a dishwasher so sometimes a few less dishes is worth it.

  • Katy C says:

    I recently switched to Norwex which has significantly decreased my paper towel usage ($50). Yes, it was an initial investment, but I’m also using less cleaning products. I also invested in a steam cleaner ($130, but will Lord willing, last for years and I can let friends borrow it which can be a way of being helpful!), again, another initial investment, but we were going through tons of spot carpet cleaner (5 bottles in less than 6 months!, $8 a bottle) between a potty training toddler (who takes his poopy pullups off and then sits on the carpet (!!!???!) and two dogs who have been bringing in lots of southern clay (inspite the wiping down of paws…). I also invested in glass storage containers ($12.99 for small rectangle size, $12.99 for 3 circle small size, all with plastic lids) because we were having to replace our plastic ones every couple of years due to build up and deterioration. And lastly, I invested in a set of glass canning jars ($9.99 for a set of 12 ) that can freeze that have worked so much better than plastic bags and store nicely in both the fridge and the freezer and I can microwave without transferring to another container. I’ve decreased buying/reusing many items in the house because of these changes.

  • Katy C says:

    Oh, and forgot to mention we used cloth diapers, and outside of pull-ups at night, church and when going on playdates, we use just regular underwear for potty training 🙂 (The cloth diapers alone has already saved us several hundreds of dollars (even after water/detergent usage) and will with the second baby we have on the way!

  • We’ve cut way, way down on paper over the years. For our family I’ve even made reusable cloth tissues out of old white T-shirts (as well as more standard handkerchiefs). I keep regular paper disposable ones for guests and if we’re sick and I get really behind on laundry, but otherwise it’s not a big deal at all to wash a few cloth tissues in with the regular cloths. And now my three year old can put them away. 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    For cleaning, I use rags from old t-shirts, microfiber towels, and newspaper for cleaning mirrors and windows. I use many homemade cleaners, just cleaned my shower yesterday with a spray bottle filled with heated vinegar and dish soap. Worked like a charm to remove soap scub. I use a steamer on the tile floors, no cleaning solution required.

    We almost never use paper plates, only for picnics or birthday parties. We also don’t buy bottled water, and instead use a thermos with filtered water from our fridge.

    I doubt I will ever get to a point where I wash ziploc bags, not sure of the cost saved versus the cost of water. Paper napkins is a problem for us, I may tackle that when our stockpile runs out.

  • We use cloth diapers, which has saved a ton of money, especially since we bought them used to begin with. Here’s our method:

    We still use disposable at night and when we’re traveling because it’s worth the cost for the convenience, but we even got our daycare provider to use the cloth.

  • ashley says:

    I cut old (clean) t-shirts into squares with pinking shears to use as cloth napkins. It’s a good way to reuse an unwearable shirt, and if the napkins get all stained up, I am ok with tossing them b/c I didn’t invest a lot of time in sewing them. I don’t use them for company b/c they are not that lovely, but they do the job for family. (I saw this idea online a few years ago but I don’t remember where, so I am unable to give credit. Not original to me!)

    • Em says:

      I LOVE this. I have been thinking of making my own napkins and although I own a sewing machine I have not used it in years and was not looking forward to the task. I even have the fabric. I will ask to borrow my moms pinking shears and try your method! THANK YOU!!!!

  • If my Hubby didn’t insist on paper towels, I wouldn’t buy them. Because he’s the only one who uses them, we’ve had a roll last for as long as 5 months, so I guess it’s not so bad! We use cloth napkins at the table (he does take paper ones to work, because he said using a cloth napkin at work would be ‘weird’ – I cut my losses on that since he is taking lunch from home and saving tons that way!!), cloth rags for cleaning and dusting, etc. I do have one pkg. of paper plates I had to buy for a craft project for Daughter, and I will use those if I’m taking cookies or something to a sick friend, so they don’t have to worry about returning a plate. Our own paper consumables at home are kleenex (though Daughter and I have both said we’d try hankies), TP, paper napkins for Hubby’s lunch and that occasional roll of paper towel.

  • Heather says:

    Cloth diapers and wipes also make a big difference as well as feminine products and reusable nursing pads (homemade ones made with flannel and fleece are SO much nice than disposable ones anyway – there are lots of tutorials around for them). I’ve also been considering switching to flannel instead of buying kleenex.

  • I recently wrote on how we clean our windows (no paper towels and no spray cleaner) for just pennies here:

    We use rags in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

    I use real plates and cups for parties and family gatherings.

    I LOVE using cloth napkins. I use dark ones so that I don’t have to spray them with stain remover. They are also a cotton/poly blend, which keeps them from wrinkling. The children fold them, so it’s not more laundry for me; from the age of 2 they can fold them.

    I only use trash bags for my kitchen trash; everything else gets put right in the cans. The cans do have to be washed sometimes, but since I don’t do a lot of shopping, I don’t have bags for the others (plus when I do shop I use my reusable bags because two places give me credit for every bag–Target is .05 a bag and Winco is .06 a bag).

    I use aluminum foil to tent a turkey (I cook a turkey once a month). I use paper towels for draining potatoes or fried zucchini. They last a long time that way. I don’t have a large number of paper bags to use, so paper towels work well for these.

    • Em says:

      I do the same thing with my garbage cans through out the house. My youngest has the job to collect the cans on garbage night and we empty them into the city bag. My oldest takes it to the road.

      If I forget my reusable bags, I keep the plastic ones from the store to use when a child is sick to line the garbage can by their bed. I use the paper ones for returnable pop cans and also if I break something glass. The broken glass will not cut the garbage bag through the paper bag.

  • Kate says:

    Small squares cut from old t-shirts or flannel pajamas can be used like cotten rounds to remove make up and then thrown in with a regular wash. If you want to get fancy, there are several types of reusable cotton fleece rounds sold online.

    I’ve been using a bar of shave soap on my legs since last summer and I love it. Far less packaging than a metal and plastic can, and it looks like the same bar will last at least two years.

    You can refill travel-sized toiletry bottles from full-sized ones rather than buying new each trip. Some people also squirt a few days’ worth of toothpaste into a washed prescription bottle or sample-size jar rather than buy a travel-size tube, though I have not yet tried this myself.

  • kathie says:

    Napkins! I replaced napkins years ago. I have built up my cloth napkin stash over time with holiday clearance napkins. When I do buy paper napkins, they are holiday clearance and we use them when we pack our lunches for trips. It is kind of fun to pull out Christmas napkins while we are sweating at the zoo in the summer.

  • Amy says:

    Please note that a bag full of disposable items for a family who has just had a baby is invaluable! That will leave them more time for rest and bonding than more laundry and dishes. 🙂

  • Donna says:

    We save at least $60 a year by buying less paper towels. My dh still wants them here for when he turns into the fry-cook, but I keep homemade napkins on the table and on his recliner 😉 ..The fabric was given to me so they didn’t cost me anything to make. You can also make them from scraps of old clothes or sheets.

    I buy paper plates once a year, at Christmas. And that’s mainly because there’s more eating than plates at my house, so we run out!

    I’ve taught the teens how to stretch the use of razors by proper cleaning. They will last for months this way.

    I keep all plastic containers that food comes in and reuse. Yogurt, sour cream, etc containers are all reused for the freezer, pet dishes, leftovers, dips, etc. The plastic bags from breads, tortillas, etc are all kept and reused.

    There are a couple of foods that I make that require parchment paper. That’s my priciest disposable item so when I’m blessed enough to have it, I will make up multiple batches using one piece of the paper over and over until it’s uhm- roasted 🙂

    Boxes and newsprint are often toys, compost, and fire starters. Why waste them either!
    (We have a mock fire pit in our yard that makes for lots of fun for the kids- and dh.) When my children were very young, I often kept a big cardboard box in my pantry full of small empty egg cartons, cereal boxes, lidded containers, etc and that was my toddlers favorite toys!

    Here’s a post I did some time ago with more:

    Love all the ideas!

  • Jenn says:

    So, I know I am going to be the odd one out, but i just thought i’d mention that we are in a stage of life where disposable is soo much better and cheaper for us. I have to do all our laundry at the laundromat, and with 2 toddlers, it can be HARD to find times to go there. So, cloth napkins, feminine products, diapers, etc. are just not an option right now. I do use cloth dish towels, because we don’t have a dishwasher either, and we would waste tons of paper towels using them to dry dishes. I also use real plates and silverware, but I have been toying with the idea of paper plates for the kids to cut down on hand washing so many dishes.

    That said, I do love the ideas posted here. I anticipate our situation changing in the next year or two and will happily switch to cloth napkins, etc at that point. For now, though, we are saving money, time, and sanity by using disposable. Last week my kids had the stomach flu and I spent over $40 (and 6 hours!) washing and rewashing bedding and towels at the laundromat!

    • Siné says:

      My family was in a similar situation before we moved to our current living space. It is great that you are doing what makes sense for you and your family right now!

  • Siné says:

    We stopped using paper towels when I kept forgetting to buy them (even thought they were on my list!) a couple of summers ago. We use rags, washcloths, and cloth diapers from when I was a baby that my mom passed along to me. I also find that the microfiber newborn inserts that we never used from my son’s cloth diapers work wonders as dust cloths. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper.

    Some products that my family uses instead of disposables that weren’t mentioned are cloth diapers and mama cloth (cloth pads). Also when I have breastfeeding babies I use cloth nursing pads instead of disposable. They had a larger upfront cost than most things that replace disposables, but in the end they have saved us a lot of money.

    We have found that by not using disposable products, we can manage to eat organic fruits, vegetables, and dairy all the time with out screwing up our budget.

  • Stephanie H says:

    Great post!
    I found a great clearance sale at Bed Bath Beyond about 6 months ago and paid less than $5 per set of cloth napkins. I bought a bunch since it was cheaper than buying fabric. It has worked out really well to have cloth. I just roll them up and stick them in my napkin holder on the table.

    I have been cutting down on paper towels (like some of you, it’s my husband’s fault I haven’t completely gotten rid of it). But my cousin and I were talking and decided to get together to make a couple rolls with cloth that snap together in place of paper towels. Can’t wait to try that next month.

    I am actually planning a big birthday party for both my kids (unbirthday party…) and I am seriously considering buying a set of table cloths and napkins specifically for parties so I don’t have to spend the money on disposable every time. My kids are still little and I have MANY more parties in my future. 😉

    I also wash ziplocks inside out unless they had raw meat in them. I prefer to send my kids to school with sandwich keepers and reusable bags, but somethings should not be put in them. I made a set of sandwich size and snack size bags out of fun fabric with a nylon lining and velcrow closure for my kids last year, and they work great!

    I also make all my own cleaning products and have a designated container for “cleaning wipes” that I made with a soap/vinegar solution on cut up T-shirts. Don’t really miss the expensive clorox wipes.

    I save all of the old clothing in a bag for projects like that or other sewing things. I reuse nicer fabric for kid clothing, or use old T-shirts and flannel as quilting batting & rags. I am also planning on cutting up a couple shirts to use for tissue squares or hankies to get out of buying Kleenex. (I have projects a mile long!)

  • Vee says:

    Most of you really disdain the use of paper towels, but I want to remind you that every case is different. My significant other went through three plus years of chemotherapy and so had little or no resistance to germs etc. Neither of us even caught a cold during that time. I think it was the use of paper towels and Purel at home. We also used the wipes at grocery stores on the shopping cart handles. I did make sure to stock up on the best buys I could find and usually managed to pay only 50-60 cents per roll. I would recommend thinking about this if you have a lot of colds in your home.

  • lyss says:

    Most of these I don’t use either. I’ve always used grocery store plastic bags for my bathroom trash cans, too. Our city just banned them, so I suppose soon I will have to either buy small bags or maybe I will just go without and wash the cans more often. Typically all that gets tossed in the bathrooms are tissues…and pullups right now. And no, I’m not planning on giving up disposable kleenex. To each his own, but I’d rather toss my germs. : )

    • Crystal says:

      Why did your city ban them? Very interesting.

      • Kate says:

        Hi Crystal! Warning: this is LONG.

        Especially on the West Coast, the environmental issues surrounding plastic bags have been getting a lot of attention over the past few years. First, they’re usually made from virgin (often imported) oil. Because they’re so lightweight, they can easily blow away from garbage cans and trucks and cause problems: clogging storm drains, which is expensive for the city to fix; general litter and getting stuck in trees; clogging small waterways and messing up their ecosystems; and getting eaten by both land and sea animals (most famously sea turtles) who often die because their stomachs fill up with plastic. (Sea animals eat all sorts of plastic trash besides bags — if you haven’t heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch it’s definitely worth looking up — especially the part about how the small bits of plastic soak up all sorts of pollutants from sea water and get eaten by fish that get eaten by other fish that get eaten by humans who are thus exposed to the toxins.) Plastic bags also can’t be put in with regular household recycling because they clog up the machines.

        In response to these problems, some towns and cities have either banned or started taxing plastic bags at most businesses. DC enacted a tax a few years ago and puts the funds towards cleaning up the Anacostia River. Ireland enacted a country-wide tax in 2002; both places saw dramatic reductions in plastic bag use. Obviously some people switched to paper bags, which have their own environmental issues, but it almost certainly pushed others to get more in the habit of bringing their own bags, or just not taking one if they’re only buying one or two items. San Francisco tried to institute a tax, but the plastic lobby pushed through a state-wide ban on plastic-bag taxes, so the city responded by banning stores from giving out plastic bags at all. Personally I prefer taxes to bans, because it means that people can still get the plastic bag if it’s worth 5 or 10 cents to them, and the money can go towards cleaning up bag litter rather than having it paid for out of the city’s general funds.

        I try really hard to remember my washable reusable bags these days, and to use them at places beyond just grocery stores. Some were free tote bags from events and others I made out of scrap fabric and old pillowcases. I throw them in with sheet and towel washes so I’m not using extra water or energy to clean them. I do still use old plastic bags for my small trash cans, and if I ever run out I’ll be okay with buying the minimum number I need since I figure a full trash bag is much less likely to blow away and cause problems than an empty one. I don’t have pets at the moment, but I’ve seen suggestions to save bread, chip, and cereal bags for litter-box cleaning or poop-scooping, and it sounds like that would work well.

        In addition to magazine and newspaper articles, my source for most of this information is Beth Terry’s blog myplasticfreelife and her book _Plastic-Free_. She’s done lots of research on plastic and although her own approach (try to stop using disposable plastic altogether) is pretty extreme, her writing is entertaining and informative, particularly her earlier blog entries where she describes her successes and failures at finding alternatives. I’ve adopted several of her suggestions in my own life.

      • lyss says:

        We don’t live near the ocean, but, yes, the single-use plastic bag ban is for enviromental reasons. Our city (austin, tx) is pushing towards “zero waste”, and since the thin bags can’t be recycled with other recycleables, they’re now not allowed to be offered at stores. Stores can choose to offer paper bags(with handles), or plastic bags that are so-many-millimeters thick. Or they can only offer reusable ones for purchase. I just bring my own. Not really a big deal to me. I need to make myself some more soon, though. I love my fabric bags…they can get tossed in the wash! They say you really need to wash reusable grocery bags often, but how are you supposed to wash those stiff plasticky ones?!

  • j k says:

    Our family uses cloth napkins instead of paper and when they get raggy and gross, I use them as wiping cloth. My daughter uses them to clean tables and wipe messes. When we have guests over, we use the nice clean ones that I tuck away for special use. I often find cloth napkins on clearance for super cheap at Kohls and stock up whenever they are about $1 or less. I also make my own semi homemade cleaning sprays.

    • Jenica says:

      Blotting the bacon/sausage is my main reason for buying paper towels. Other than that I only use them for the occasional puke/poop accident. My husband on the other hand uses them a lot. I really liked the suggestion of putting them in the cupboard! I might try that and put a basket of rags where they used to be. But I still don’t know what to use to blot grease. Someone said paper bags, but we rarely get those. We have used our cloth napkins before but the grease never seems to come out!

      Other than that, we buy TP, some tissues and feminine products. I can’t stand pads and so use tampons right now – but I probably need to look into a diva cup. And I have three girls so one day the disposeable feminine products will become a biger cost issue!

      Everything for my kids’ lunch boxes is reuseable, they even take a cloth napkin. We have 1-2 bags of trash a week for a family of five, though our recycle can is always overflowing. I make most of my cleaning producs and use rags. We only buy disposeable plates/cups/napkins, etc. for birthday parties – so three times per year. I use cloth grocery bags until I need more small trash bags, then I’ll get the plastic sacks for a trip or two and use those to line my cans. I try to repair/mend as much as I can. I used cloth diapers & wipes when my kids needed them. I potty trained them using underwear and not pull-ups. I don’t use dryer sheets.

      I know there is so much more I could do, though!

  • Cricket says:

    I’ve found inexpensive, dishwasher safe plastic dishes to use instead of paper. Cutting out disposables goes quite a bit further than just the things you buy intending to throw out. Our society throws out so many items that could be reused for something else instead of having to buy yet another item
    Oh, and I’d highly recommend red cloth napkins to hide all the miscellaneous stains 😉

  • Heather says:

    We don’t use very many ziplock bags but I do wash them so a box will last forever. Also we use rags so we by no more than one roll of paper towels a month (for cleaning bathroom only) and I make all our cleaners.

  • Ruth says:

    We have gradually eliminated nearly all of the disposable products in our house. I have noticed a drastic difference in my monthly expenditures. Instead of $50-100 per month, we can get by with only $40 or even less for household products.

    1) We don’t use ziplock bags. Instead we pack our sandwiches in reusable sandwich containers. I use the Sistema brand.

    2) I don’t use plastic wrap. Instead, I use bowls and containers with snap on lids. It creates less spills, also!

    3) We don’t use toilet paper. Instead, we use a water bidet system paired with family cloth. We do keep toilet paper around for guest, though.

    4) I don’t use paper towels. I just keep a variety of rags and towels on hand.

    5) We don’t use tissues or paper napkins

    6) For feminine products, I use the Diva Cup and cloth pads.

    7) We don’t buy paper plates, cups, etc.

    8) We do composting, incineration, and recycling to reduce the amount of trash bags that we need. We live in the country and have a burn barrel.

    The recycling method that I use requires two trash bags a month, but that’s a drastic reduction from the 12 or so trash bags that we used to use per month.

    It’s pretty awesome to be in the grocery store and be able to just skip past products that I used to buy. It’s also awesome to be able to have more money in our monthly budget.

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