Mr M and I produce very little non-recyclable waste, typically less than one small bag per week, which mostly contains pet food packaging, as well as a small bag of Dante’s spent litter.* Our waste, rather than the cat’s, might consist of a couple of plastic food wrappers, some greasy aluminium foil, a meat bone once in a blue moon or maybe some hair dye paraphernalia (reluctantly, a weakness of mine). Careful food shopping in proper independent shops avoids a lot of waste. So does being ruthlessly honest about what household products we actually need.
If advertisers and marketers are to be believed, we need a different product for every room and every type of dirt. This is a new phenomenon and utter nonsense!
Most cleaning jobs requires one or more of the following simple ingredients: a gentle degreasant, a mild acid and/or an abrasive. And of course, some elbow grease. Anything in a spray bottle that claims to be a wonder cleaner is instantly suspect (but keep the bottles to fill with useful products).
There are many recipes available on the Internet for greener, packaging-light cleaning products but the following simple ones work fine for me:
- a liquid soap, that I buy in refillable bottles. I buy the thickest version and dilute it for different purposes: washing dishes, cleaning the sinks and shower, mopping the floor…;
- for non-greasy cleaning, like a quick wipe of the counter tops or washing glasses, a mixture of water and vinegar usually does the trick; and
- for stubborn grease and tea stains I use borax (or borax substitute in Europe) or soda crystals. Just leave the powder to steep in boiling water and once it’s cool enough to handle, scrub the object with an abrasive cloth or scrubbing brush. A pair of washing up gloves come in handy here (or in my case, the gloves left over from dyeing my hair).
Slashing the range of cleaning products I use is one way of avoiding unnecessary waste. Another is to use certain waste products for cleaning.
- If you have spent lemon or lime segments, vigorously scrub sinks and taps with them and rinse them with water. The citric acid and slightly abrasive pith degrease surfaces and lift limescale far more effectively than anything in a spray bottle!
- Brew up spent tea leaves (bags) again and use the mildly astringent liquid and an old teeshirt to polish mirrors.
- If you cannot buy loose fruit and end up with those plastic string bags, collect them and turn them into scourers. Simply scrunch them up and stitch a few together – no need for fancy needlework skills! Then use them to scrub burnt pans.
- Speaking of cleaning tools, there really is no need to buy dishcloths as most of us have enough fabric in our homes to make our own. I usually cut up old tea towels or worn out teeshirts. (Jersey also makes excellent dusters.) Or if you have yarn leftover at the end of a knitting projects, try your hand at knitting a washcloth, just as Jackie does. In fact, these cloths are a good way to practise new knitting skills.
- Keep old newspaper for cleaning windows. Spray some vinegar on the window panes and scrub them with scrunched up newspaper using a circular motion. Your windows will be spotless, with none of the stripes that a plastic squeegee leaves.
- As part of our food recycling system we have a bokashi bin (as well as a compost heap) so we can compost protein and cooked food waste like fish skins, small bones, any meat scraps or stale bread (if there are any!) as well as vegetable peelings and tops. The process produces a liquid by-product that smells pretty noxious but is full of beneficial enzymes. I either dilute it and use it to feed houseplants or pour it down the plug hole as a drain cleaner. Talk about useful waste!
Obviously, I ultimately throw these home-made products away but not before I have squeezed every last drop of utility out of them. Also by making my own products from ‘waste’, I avoid buying new items, saving further waste and a few pounds too.
Please do share any suggestion you have about how to turn waste into a cleaning product using the comments box below.
Since writing this post, I have learnt that the formidable @jackiemania has started to knit her own hand towels as well as her wash clothes in her effort to achieve the quality product she used to know. This may not seem like a waste issue but as quality is inextricably linked to waste, it most definitely is. I wish more of us were like this lady in our pursuit of quality in the simple products to ensure a lifetime of pleasure as well as a lot less waste!
This is one of a series of posts written in the context of Zero Waste Week, which advocate a two-pronged approach to reducing waste by avoiding waste at the point of purchase but also by recognising the abundance of wasted resources that we have at our fingertips.
* As non-drivers with a meat-light diet, Dante accounts for a large chunk of our carbon footprint but we would not be without our loveable feline companion!
** Photo taken from DriPak Ltd.