Resource Guides, Zero Waste Living

Making the Case for Eco-Friendly Reusables (during a time they’re the enemy)

In the era of COVID-19, we’ve been seeing a lot of headlines and regulations against reusable items. Coffee shops not accepting reusable mugs, bulk bins being shut down, retailers not accepting reusable bags. And for good reason: the COVID-19 virus is scary and with it being super contagious, no one wants to take any chances. 

In light of these new regulations, many environmentalists and those with eco-anxiety are worried that this means the end of reusables, and an increase in single-use products. 

Both concerns are valid, and neither should be dismissed. For me, it drives home the importance of utilizing what we can at home, and focusing on other ways we can bring sustainability into our lives. 

The time of COVID-19 and self-isolation or quarantine has been a way for my family and I to find out what we truly need and use, and I think others are starting to realize the same. Without the convenience of being able to run out to the store for something, or order an item online and have it arrive on our doorstep in two days, we have to think about what we truly need and if we can get by with something at home. 

Use everyday items to use as seed starters!

When I talk about reusables, this is what I mean. Sure, there are some things you can buy, some necessary, some maybe not as much, but the biggest and best way to be sustainable is to use what you already have at home. 

This post is divided up into two sections. The first will talk about reusables and why I think they’re still important. The second part encourages us during this time to look beyond the reusables for other ways we can support the low waste movement (at the end of the post.)

First, here are four reasons why reusables are still important:

We are not in the clear of the climate crisis

I know, you’ve probably seen all of the statistics that have come out about how the earth is repairing itself. But it’s extremely important to remember that many, many people have had to die for that. What it shows me is that our consumption habits are a huge part of the climate crisis, and that’s it. I’m not celebrating because this came at a huge price, and one that I think we can all agree is not one we’d like to continue with. 

So that’s partly where reusables come in (particularly using what we have at home versus buying new.) Once we come out of this, we’re still going to have to focus on tackling the climate crisis. How that will look on the other side is anyone’s guess…but it is still there and we still have work to do. 

And while reusables aren’t the end of the equation or fight, they are a piece – and an introduction for many into the work. 

Related post: 10 Ways to Fight Climate Change

Single socks? Make a dryer ball!

Reusables help save you money

I know, I know – you’re going to tell me that reusables are expensive and have a steep up front cost. And for some items, you’re 100% correct. No sugar coating here. I get that buying reusables in order to be “zero waste” is a huge privilege and one that not everyone has. But I’m a huge fan of using things you already have on hand to turn them into reusables. This not only saves money, it also helps you reduce clutter (whether it’s a physical item you weren’t using, or clutter in the form of having to figure out how to properly dispose of it OR it ending up in a landfill.) 

My family and I have saved over $1200 a year by switching common household items to reusables, and yes, we did buy some upfront, but many we didn’t (our reusable tissues have all been made from items we had laying around our house, for example.) 

Here’s more about the things we’ve done to save over $100 a month (that’s $1200 a year.)

how to declutter your bathroom counter

Store out of pads/tampons/(insert hot item here?) No worries!

I’m all about reducing – especially when it comes to the amount of decisions I have to make in a day, or things I have to keep track of. This becomes especially useful in managing my anxiety, OR, if I am feeling particularly anxious and I just can’t make another decision to save my life. Have you ever been there?

Part of the allure of reusables for me was to reduce the amount of shopping, decision making, and things to keep track of. It also helped reduce clutter. For example, I used to have an entire bathroom shelf with boxes of tampons and pads. Now? I have one small bag that holds all my period needs. 

Now that we’re in COVID time, I’ve heard of cases of tampons and pads being out of stock. It’s really driven home my gratitude for all the reusables I’ve switched to. 

Again – I know this may not be a good time to be buying certain items for everyone. But, if you have the means and have been thinking about doing so, this may be a perfect time. Or, get creative and do some DIY projects at home. 

Some bigger things you can start to replace are:

  • Menstrual products

  • Bidet

  • Cloth ‘unpaper’ towels

  • Cloth napkins

  • Compost

  • Garden (grow a vegetable garden or your own herbs)

Support small businesses

In the case that you do have to buy reusables, it can be a great opportunity to support small businesses – which as we know during this time is super important. There are many great small businesses that make and/or sell reusable products. While I do try and use as much as I can from my home, there are certain things I buy if I am able – mostly toiletries and certain cleaning products. 

If you’re looking to make a reusable purchase, I would recommend checking out some small businesses in your area, local Etsy shops, Tiny Yellow Bungalow (a woman-owned zero waste shop), Hippie Haven (a woman-owned zero waste shop and body item maker), or Tare Market (a woman-owned zero waste shop – Minnesota’s first one.)  

We’ve now reached the second part of this post where I will give some quick ideas on how to support your community even if you can’t bring your own mug to the coffee shop, use your own jars at the bulk bin, or bring your own reusable bags while shopping. 

Stained or ripped t-shirt? Make a no-sew t-shirt bag!

Here are some ways you can look beyond the reusable items and expand your low waste, sustainable living even more:

  • Get involved in your community: Sure, you may not be able to get together to clean up litter, volunteer or other group-oriented activities. But you can share vegetable seeds or grow extra plants to give to neighbors, for example. 

  • Volunteer: Ok – so I just said you may not be able to volunteer, at least not in the group sense. But you can volunteer to get food or other household goods for neighbors, or you can offer to help a local restaurant or store set up/manage their website (using your expert website skills.) These are specific examples of course, but take some tip to think about how you can give back and I’m sure you can come up with something. 

  • Donate: If you’re in a financial position to do so, now can be a great time to show support to an organization that aligns with your values. And if you’re not? Sharing content on social media, liking, and commenting can also be great non-monetary ways to support. 

  • Research and vote: A lot of primaries are happening during this time (whether they’re in person or via mail is to be determined), so now can be a great time to take some time and research local and national candidates. Of course, at the time of this post, we have a huge election in November! 

  • Start a seed library, free little pantry, or free little library: Now could be a great time to start a “free” something and encourage the circular economy as people are limited to their homes. I started a seed library this year and it has become an asset to my community. It cost me about $15 and a couple hours max of my time. And I didn’t even use anything fancy – I just upcycled an old mailbox using some paint I already had on hand. 

  • Declutter and give stuff away for free: Using this time to declutter? Try selling items for cheap or simply giving items away to those who may need them but don’t have a job or are on limited income. 

  • Do easy DIYs and save the items for gifts or to give away in your community: If you head over to my Instagram, I’ve got tutorials on how to make DIY no-sew t-shirt bags, cute bunny stamps out of toilet paper tubes, and DIY sock dryer balls. These are super easy activities that are great to do with kids or by yourself. They all use things you already have at home and can make great reusables too! You can also extra and give them to friends/family/neighbors! Or, share you making them on social media and influence your friends/family/neighbors to make some for themselves.

To reiterate: I realize that this may not be a time where everyone can be investing in reusables (the ones where you can’t use things at home.) However, for some, you can start thinking about some things you can use up at home and turn into reusables. Or, use this time to think about how you can take your low waste living out into your community.

Have you made any swaps during this time of self-isolation? Or done anything in your community?

Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?

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[…] And here is some additional valuable advice on doing what you can to continue your zero waste lifestyle efforts, by one of my favorite bloggers, Laura at The Reduce Reuse Renew Blog. […]