Making use of soap ends

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I stopped buying liquid soap many years ago. Liquid soap normally comes in plastic containers, and even if you buy refill packs, this generates a lot of plastic. Further, I have always found that I used far too much liquid soap and thus went through a lot of it. I have been using bar soap exclusively for several years and make sure I buy it package free. My favourite bar soap is Savon de Marseille. I use the 300g bar for personal use, and a 1kg bar in the kitchen for washing dishes; I simply swipe my wooden dish brush along the surface of the soap and clean the dishes with it.

Once the soap bars have reduced to nubs, or ends, I cut them with a knife and melt them in boiling water, thus making liquid soap. The Ikg bar of soap in the kitchen is too bulky to use as hand soap, so I fill the stainless steel SmartBar below with my DIY liquid soap. This container helps remove any food odours such as garlic, as well.

 

 

I use the DIY liquid soap as an all-purpose cleaner by diluting it with tap water in a spray bottle. I find this method works just as well as commercial all-purpose cleaners I used to buy.

Old-fashioned bar soap is an effective and low-impact way of cleaning both your body and your home.  Using the soap ends means that nothing goes to waste.

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Davids Toothpaste

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Standard toothpaste tubes generate a lot of waste, since they are not recyclable in most jurisdictions. On the other hand, all the fluoride toothpastes on the market come in plastic tubes, and I’m not about to give up fluoride, as its positive effect on dental health has been long studied and documented. The alternative I prefer to pursue is to use my fluoride toothpaste twice a day (morning and evening), and a less wasteful toothpaste during the remainder of the day (I brush my teeth after every meal). I tried the DIY route, but was concerned about the high concentration of baking soda, which I find too abrasive for my gums and teeth. Further, buying three or more products to make one is hardly what I call efficient, and generates its own level of waste.

I like Lush’s Toothy Tabs for travelling purposes, since they don’t count towards liquids in your carry on. Unfortunately, the tabs come in a plastic container; they used to come in a cardboard box, but Lush found that the tabs would become mushy after a while.

I have just purchased Davids toothpaste, which comes in an aluminium container. You can cut the container in half and clean it out before putting it in the recycling bin; I would much rather recycle aluminium than plastic. The toothpaste comes with a key to help you roll up the tube from the bottom. This toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride, so it’s my “in-beween” toothpaste. The toothpaste cleans well, and the tube is a large size. My only concern is the inability to buy future tubes without the key. I think it would make more sense for the company to sell the key separately to eliminate the need to buy one with every new tube, as this generates waste. The key is made of aluminium as well, so it can be recycled, but reducing the need to recycle would be much better.

 

Rethinking cleaning cloths

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I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about cleaning cloths. I have not used disposable cloths, including paper towels, for about twenty years now, so why should I be thinking about them now? There is a growing awareness, I believe, of the negative side effects of using cloth bags and cleaning cloths, namely, what happens once it’s time to discard them? Recycling facilities do not yet handle textiles, at least not in my part of the world, which has a very sophisticated recycling program. Although we buy fabric cloths with good intentions, and particularly in our quest to avoid using disposable products, how much thought do we give (I’m certainly speaking for myself here) about what happens to these cloths when it’s time to part with them? This question arose this week during my 30-Day Minimalism Game, where I decided it was time to get rid of some cotton cleaning cloths that had become too stained and nasty to keep. The problem: How do I dispose of them? I can’t give them to a charity, and they wouldn’t be of much use to animal shelters, for example, as the cloths are simply too worn out. The only option left was to dispose of them in the garbage. This gave me pause, especially as I noted that I would need to do this again with a few of my other cloths that are getting old. In my quest to more sustainable, am I generating too much waste? There are a number of studies that suggest that cotton bags and cloths may have a much larger carbon footprint than we might think, e.g., 1, 2, and 3.

I have no intention of giving up my cloth shopping and produce bags, as they last a long time and, unlike cleaning cloths, do not get stained and worn down as quickly. I have decided, however, to no longer buy any more cotton cleaning cloths (I would’t touch microfibre with a barge pole, let alone bare hands. I hate that dry, raspy feeling). I will use what I have, of course, until they fall apart, but I will replace them with a more sustainable option, namely, biodegradable cloths. I have used these cloths before, and I liked them very much, but stopped using them once I discovered a stash of cotton cleaning cloths in my mum’s cupboard that needed a good home. Biodegradable cloths are made from cellulose and wood fibres; they last for quite a long time, and can be placed in the compost at the end of their life. Examples follow below:

Mabu Cloths: These Canadian products are a classic and have been around for many years. I’ve used them many times. These products are a cult favourite amongst many people. As with most biodegradable cloths, they are very stiff when dry, but become soft once wet.

Skoy: This Swedish company makes cellulose cloths, which are compostable, as well as scrubbies, which are not. I use the scrubbies every day to help remove stuck on food, to clean the ceramic stove top, and so forth. The scrubbies are made from cotton. The cloths are thin and stiff, but soften easily when wet.

Ten & Co: Another Swedish cellulose cloth; although I don’t think it’s as well known as Skoy, this company gets slightly better reviews, and is on my list to try next.

 

Thirty-day minimalism game

Although I have done two major decluttering purges of my home in the past year,  I wanted to try the 30-day minimalism game suggested by Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – aka, The Minimalists. In this game, for each day, you get rid of the same number of items as the number of the day, e.g., one item on day 1, two items on day 2, and so forth. Unlike my larger decluttering exercises, in the game, very small things can count; for example yesterday (Day 8), one of the items I got rid of was an old hair tie. It might get progressively harder as I add days, since I have already divested my home of so many items. This game is a good way of maintaining a clutter-free home, as it tends to focus on smaller items.  Since I don’t have a car,  I put all the items I intend to give to the charity shop in one place, then wait until I have a car rental. I’m careful to avoid simply putting everything in the garbage bins, as this is not exactly a sustainable option. This game is a really good way of keeping on track of your possessions, especially if you do it 2 or 3 times a year. I have suggested this game to some friends who wish to declutter, but are overwhelmed at the prospect of doing so, especially if they have never done it before. Because the game uses incremental steps, it’s a gentle way to learn how to declutter. People often have such a hard time letting go of items, especially if they have spent a lot of money on something (even though they don’t use it), or think that one day they might use it (which is hardly ever the case). I attach sentimental value to very few items, so I do find it easier to let go of them. Decluttering becomes easier the more that you do it, and you will find that sentiment plays a decreasing role in your decision-making process.

 

New dishwashing routine

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My dishwashing routine has changed over the years, as I experiment with more ways to make it more environmentally friendly. I have a dishwasher, which I use occasionally (more about that later), but on a daily basis, I prefer to hand wash my dishes.

In order to save water, I use a dish tub. A dish tub saves a lot of water, as it is just the size of the average dinner plate. Filling the tub uses far less water than if you were to fill the sink. I use the tub below, as it has its own drain, which makes it easy to empty.

I used to make my own dish soap by grating a bar of soap and dissolving it in water, with the addition of some washing soda. This method worked fine, but grating soap is tedious, and I’ve scraped rather a lot of skin in the process. I don’t buy regular dish soap, as I avoid using plastic if I can help it. I switched to using just a drop or two of my concentrated all-purpose cleaner, but I found that this created too much lather.

I have been using a much simpler method over the past two weeks and am very pleased with it. I keep a 1kg bar of Savon de Marseilles (I love this soap) by the sink, and simply run my wooden dish brush over the soap and clean the items directly. I always have this soap at hand, as it can be used in so many ways. The dishes come out very clean and do not need to be rinsed. I use the brush below; you can buy replacement bristle heads:

For the times I use the dishwasher, I use loose powdered dish soap that comes in a cardboard box. I don’t like using dish tabs since they often come in plastic containers, and I don’t find they clean as well as the loose soap.

Painter’s rags

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I discovered painter’s rags a few years ago when I painted my condo. Although I bought them initially to clean up paint messes and spills, I have found that they make excellent all-purpose cleaning cloths around the house. I use them also in lieu of paper towels, which comes particularly handy with a cat who has a sensitive stomach. I’ve used them also to apply polish to my silver trays and antiques. I like the fact that they are thin, but absorbent, and dry quickly. I cannot abide the dry, raspy texture of microfibre cloths, and much prefer to use these rags. Because the rags are thin and do not fray, it’s easy to cut them into smaller pieces. Since they are lint free, they are ideal for cleaning windows and mirrors. My rags have lasted for many years. It would be better, of course, to cut up old t-shirts, but since I don’t wear these garments, these rags are the next best thing.

Environmental footprint check-in: Cleaning, 2018

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The last post in my 2018 check-in will focus on household cleaning. My philosophy is to keep things as simple as possible and to use one product for different uses.  I use the wooden dish brush in the picture above to clean my dishes. I used to make my own all-purpose cleaner, but I found that I generated too much waste in doing so, and had to buy too many things. I now use a concentrated all-purpose cleaner to wash my dishes and clean all the bathroom and kitchen surfaces. You dilute a small amount with water, so this bottle lasts a very long time. I keep a spray cleaner in the kitchen and in both bathrooms. After every shower, I spray the tiles with the all-purpose cleaner and wipe down with this metal squeegee. I use the spray bottle to clean the toilets as well.  I will eventually buy this wooden toilet brush once my plastic one needs to be replaced. I use rags and flour sack towels to wipe down surfaces.

Because I live with two cats, I sweep the floors regularly with this dry mop, and vacuum once a week. I use this steamer weekly to clean all the floors; I have had it for five years and use only tap water. For a quick spot clean of floors, I use a DIY cleaner consisting of water, white vinegar, and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Because my cats are allowed to sit wherever they like, I invested in this hand-held Dyson vacuum cleaner for upholstery; it works like a charm on my carpeted stairs, as well. To refresh fabrics, I use a combination of water,  rubbing alcohol, and essential oil. I use a DIY dusting spray that combines water, vinegar, olive oil, and lemon essential oil for my wood furniture.

I use soapnuts that I buy from the bulk store to do laundry; once the soapnuts have lost their saponin, I place them in the compost bin. In the dryer, I use these cloth dryer sheets, which last about two years. I use clothes racks to air dry as much of my laundry as possible, barring sheets. My Turkish towels air dry overnight. Speaking of sheets, I use these made of bamboo; I would love to get linen sheets, but my bamboo sheets last for years, so it might be a long wait.   I handwash my lingerie and many items of clothing (e.g., dresses, cardigans, etc.) with a bar of Savon de Marseille.

As I hope I’ve shown, household cleaning does not require a lot of different products, nor do you need to buy a lot of items in plastic.