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Yesterday’s consumables and their packaging

Posted by on Tuesday 17 May 2011 in frugal, green, zero waste | 15 comments

Last week, I saw this post over at Not Dabbling In Normal as part of Real Clean month over there – Xan had listed every cleaning product she’d used before 7am – noting any packaging involved and the presence of synthetic chemicals where applicable. She does a lot of cleaning before 7am!

I thought it was a really interesting exercise because it’s so easy to become blind to the things we do/use on a daily basis – and you can’t take steps to cut back from an environmental/chemical-reduction or frugal point of view until you know what you’re using. I couldn’t repeat the exercise exactly (because I’m not generally awake by 7am let alone having done any cleaning!) so I decided to track all the consumables I personally use/waste I produce during the day, so see where I can make changes.

Yesterday was a slightly unusual day – I went to the theatre in the evening (so I didn’t have a proper meal and wore a little make-up — very unusual for me!) and I didn’t actually do any cleaning/laundry except for washing some cutlery at lunchtime. I’m going to repeat this exercise offline on random different days over the next fortnight to hopefully get fuller picture – then I’ll use that information to cut down. I can already see some areas where I could easily reduce our contact with synthetic chemicals and packaging (eg, make liquid hand soap, use a washable dish cloth, make more of our own cakes/sweet treats, and reassess my face “cleansing” routine).

All the consumables/waste I produced yesterday

In order of use – grouped together where applicable to make it easier to read and I’ve only listed things the first time they were used.

Things in bold and italics were single-use items, immediately heading to landfill. Things in italics were multiple-use/bulk-bought items that would eventually even up in landfill when the pack/bottle was finished.

Everything is shop-bought unless specified otherwise.

  • Toilet paper – 100% post-consumer recycled paper, plastic wrapper (recyclable), cardboard roll inner (reuse/recycle/compost)
  • Shampoo – chemicals a go go, plastic bottle (recyclable)
  • Conditioner – chemicals a go go, plastic bottle (recyclable)
  • Soap (homemade) – 100% olive oil soap, no packaging*
  • Toothpaste – chemicals a go go, plastic tube (possible reuse), cardboard box (recycle)
  • Antiperspirant – chemicals a go go, metal aerosol (recyclable in many areas apparently but not here); plastic lid
  • Breakfast cereal – cardboard box (reuse/recycle/compost), plastic bag (reuse/recycle)
  • Milk – plastic bottle (recyclable)
  • Tea – tea bag (probably not compostable), cardboard box (recycle/compost)
  • Sugar – paper bag (recycle/compost)
  • Liquid (hand) soap – chemicals a go go, plastic bottle (recycle?)
  • Washing up liquid – chemicals a go go, giant plastic bottle (we bulk bought it … about five years ago!) (recycle)
  • Dish sponge – plastic foam, plastic film packaging on pack
  • Eggs (homegrown) – egg shells (compostable)
  • Mayonnaise – glass jar (reuse/recycle), metal lid (reuse/recycle)
  • Curry powder – plastic bag
  • Bread (homemade) – no packaging**
  • Butter – plastic tub
  • Slice of Angel cake – plastic wrapper
  • Orange squash – plastic bottle (reuse/recycle)
  • Face powder, applied with foam sponge – plastic container, plastic foam sponge
  • Mascara – plastic tube
  • Bus ticket – paper (recycle)
  • Theatre ticket*** – card (recycle)
  • Cheese – plastic zip-lock bag (possible reuse)
  • Chorizo – plastic sleeve
  • Olives – glass jar (reuse/recycle), metal lid (reuse/recycle)
  • Nivea cleanser & moisturising cream – chemicals a go go, plastic bottle (recyclable)
  • Cotton wool pad – cotton wool, plastic bag
  • Witch stick – 16% witch hazel, 84% chemicals a go go, plastic tube, cardboard box (recyclable)

* Packaging related to making soap: olive oil = plastic bottle (recycle); caustic soda = plastic bottle (recycle?); cling film on top of moulds = cardboard box (recycle), cling film

** Packaging related to making bread: flour = paper bag (recycle/compost); yeast = cardboard box (recycle/compost), plastic sachet; salt = plastic bottle (recycle)

*** I went to see Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” at Bingley Little Theatre. It was good :)

Have you tracked your usage in a similar way? Did you find it useful or pointlessly introspective? ;)

Got any suggestions of other things I could replace with greener/more frugal items? ;)


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Kim

    Fantastic post!

    I just thought i would highlight that tea bags are in fact recyclable. So that can be crossed off your landfill list too!

    • louisa

      Um, well, actually, it seems to depend on the teabag – these days a lot are made from synthetic materials so they don’t compost down. (Alice in Blogland did some research into it a few years ago.) We do generally drop our teabags in our compost bin but I hesitate to call them truly compostable as I might be fishing little polyester sacks out of the compost when I use it.

  2. Hazel

    I’d like to use loose tea for all sorts of reasons, but DH and I drink different types, so it’s easier to dunk teabags in mugs.
    I compost our teabags, and although I knew they may be partly synthetic, I haven’t noticed bits of mesh in the compost, But then I may be too busy fishing out bits of knicker elastic…

    I haven’t done a record like this, but I think it would be interesting. I keep meaning to keep one too of what we bin, to see if we can reduce our waste any further. Must have a go!

    • louisa

      And I thought I fished strange things out of our compost… ;)

      Inspired by this tea-bag discussion, I’m doing an update of Alice’s research for Recycle This – I’ll cross-post the results here once everyone gets back to me.

  3. bookstorebabe

    I had a friend make me a few little muslin reusable teabags. They have a string with a bead on the end, to hang outside the cup.I haven’t had a chance to try them yet. But I work next to a health food store with tons of different kinds of loose tea, where one can buy as little or as much as you like. They don’t mind if you bring in your own containers instead of using the provided baggies. Really need to stop by there soon.
    And the bags inside boxes of cereal? It’s much heavier than the wax paper on a roll one buys, and you know it’s food grade. Use it to wrap sandwiches, if you don’t want to mess with bringing a container home, and don’t want to use a plastic baggie. I was cooking and freezing food for later, discovered I was low on packaging. I just happened to have emptied a box of cereal that morning, so I slid some cooked chicken inside, then wrapped it up tightly with the last of the tinfoil. Or if you don’t care to reuse it, I think it’s compostable.
    When my daughter read that wax paper was biodegradable, she insisted on us never buying cling film again. And we’ve managed without it just fine. I do tend to save more disposable plastic food containers for reuse now.

  4. damnthebroccoli

    We buy loose tea and get rid of the bag altogether. If you look at the full process this gets rid of a lot of energy from the chain and doesn’t come with extra packaging as all tea bags seem to be double wrapped these days. Also you can then just put the tea leaves in the compost without worry. Also you buy mayonaisse but you have access to your own eggs, why not try making your own as you need it. It’s a little tricky but well worth it.

    On the subject of soap making, a damp towel will work as well as cling film so you could reduce that as well.

    Shampoos and Conditioners and soaps are almost identical chemically speaking, if you analyse them you will find very little difference and most of the chemicals jsut make your hair LOOK nice, not actually make it nice. If you make your own soap then you can make a dual purpose one that washes hair and body very easily, m’Lady does just this. Also she conditions with things like vinegar and bicarb of soda as well. If you can get down to one or two things that you can buy in bulk then packaging will be less per unit volume. This is the same for all things. Bigger packs use less packaging by volume, it’s a simple law of physics so if you want less packaging by the biggest pack of something you can afford without wasting any. There’s no point saving packaging if you waste produce.

    I feel a blog about this particular one coming up. Keep an eye out.

  5. Su

    Well I tried this yesaterday. I didn’t go down the ‘bad chemicals’ route, just the waste I produce, which breaks down into the following:-
    1) Non-recyclable stuff that goes straight to landfill –
    Prescription medication blister packs (x3)
    Toothpaste tube
    Poly wrapper for cheese
    Poly wrapper for bulk bought cat food tins
    Crisp packet (love token from partner! not something I buy)
    Poly wrapper from toilet roll pack
    From this group (apart from the crisp packet) I can’t really see where I might reduce my rubbish.

    2) Stuff that I will re-use, but I’m probably only delaying its journey to landfill –
    Spool from sewing thread
    Poly bag from bulk bought (3kg) pasta
    Wrapper from a pat of butter
    Of this group, I can only think that the toothbrush is a possibility. I believe that it is possible to buy compostable wooden ones, but I have no idea where to look or go.

    Louisa, might I suggest mineral make up? I really like it. Yes, it’s very expensive BUT it’s all natural, doesn’t have a shelf life (unlike foundations), has an SPF of about 15 and is applied with a brush, which if looked after should last a lifetime. I also like the fact that I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask.
    My other suggestions would be a) get a milkperson and b) buy yeast in the little tins. I also knit my own dishcloths,because
    it reminds me just how much work goes into producing them. Because they’re so cheap we think they are disposable.

  6. Shoestring

    Really interesting and thought-provoking post!

  7. Layla @ A Green and Simple Life

    I started a while ago looking at everything we use after reading ‘What’s in this Stuff?’ by Pat Thomas (You can no longer get this book, but she has written some other ones)

    This morning so far …

    Toilet paper (unbleached and made from post consumer waste)

    Soap (Oliva – made from Greek olive oil) (cardboard package can be composted)

    Shampoo and conditioner – Lavera natural and organic skin care but is in quite small plastic bottles

    Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste – no artificial flavourings or colourings etc

    Put some washing in – used Ecover powder and white vinegar for fabric conditioner

    Made tea and coffee (the tea is Clipper which does have biodegradable bags, and the coffee is Traidcraft but only comes in smallish jars, and milk out of a plastic carton)

    Made packed lunch for husband – using homemade bread, and butter with paper packaging but tuna out of a small tin, and mayo out of a jar.

    However, a lot of this is more expensive than standard stuff and you can’t get a lot of it from the supermarket – how can people be persuaded to use less chemicals if it’s difficult to get the products?

    And a memorable quote from when I was explaining to someone that I was trying to avoid toxic chemicals … “but they wouldn’t be allowed to sell these products of they were harmful”

  8. louisa

    Hi guys, thanks for your comments!

    bookstorebabe we’ve got a little metal ball thing for using with loose tea but it’s a bit of a pain for making more than one cup at a time. We should probably try going back to using a pot and strainer again…

    I do reuse the plastic bags from inside cereal packs (they’re plastic-plastic here, not wax paper) – as freezer bags (with a clippy thing) and cut into squares instead of wax paper circles on the top of preserves. I’ve just got too many in store at the moment…!

    damnthebroccoli Making mayo is on my list of things to try very soon – not sure we’ll be able to make it whenever we need it but certainly could do it some of the time. I don’t mind the glass jar “wastage” from mayo though – they tend to get reused here for preserves etc than go to recycling.

    We do bulk buy nearly all our toiletries/cleaning products – I buy big bottles of shampoo & conditioner which last me months and months, but I would like to cut down on them. I’m going to try a no-poo trial over the summer – and even if I don’t quite manage no-poo, I’ve noticed that I can go low-poo quite easily – if I wash my hair frequently, it needs washing again frequently if you know what I mean. I’m also going to try using eggs and other things (like beer) instead of a chemical conditioner, and homegrown herbal rinses. This summer – when I can hide at home if things are gruesome – will be my testing time!

    Su – thanks for the mineral make-up recommendation — I’ll look into it next time I need some.

    We’ve swapped to buying yeast in tins usually (I heart the little tins – so cute!) but I found some old packets which need using up. I am going to explore getting a milk person but only use a couple of pints a week so I don’t know if they’ll be interested in such a small order.

    Crocheting dishcloths is on my to-do list for exactly the reason you’ve mentioned – I’m just on the look out for some cheap cotton to make them with!

    Layla Good point – I think some supermarkets are getting wise to the money to be made stocking natural products but even still, the expense will prevent a lot of people making the change.

    Frightening quote!

  9. Su

    I only get 3 pints of milk a week from my milkman, 1 pint each on Monday, Wednesday & Friday. He is perfectly happy to deliver such a small order since he is already delivering in the district.

  10. Joddle

    argh! It’s horrible being confronted with everything we use and waste in a long list like that :(

  11. HouseCat

    My dad used to use teabags as mulching in the raspberry beds.
    You can rip them open and compost the tea in them, but the paper bags take forever to rot. I don’t know what they do to it, but it rots even slower than shreddings.
    I get organic spices from the health food shop, but they still come in plastic sachets. I wish they came in paper sachets or similar, or in bulk tubs to dispense out into bring-your-own-jars like is done with rices, grains, etc. I have lots of little air-tight spice jars purpose bought because then they are all the same size and I can store more in the cupboard! We do re-use a lot of glass jars, but for other things (my other half tried to turn one into an olive-oil burning lamp, with mixed success) and what we don’t re-use we we put in the glass bank, or in the case of larger jars with lids, give to charity. People will pay more for jars than what came in them! I know this because I have bought old coffee jars (again, if all my jars are the same type, I can stack and store easier) in charity shops for more than the original coffee cost.

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