Many of us are looking for ways to reduce the trash we produce and our impact on the environment. While it’s always been important to me, as a mom of two young children it’s even more so now. I want my children and (gulp!) future grandchildren to be able to experience and love the natural world like I do. So in that spirit and in celebration of Earth Day, I’ve put together this list of 13 ways you can replace disposable and landfill-bound products for their greener and healthier cloth counterparts. Over the long run, when you’re not buying disposable products over and over again, these cloth alternatives are almost always easier on the pocketbook too.
Follow along and let me know which cloth alternatives you’ve already adopted or would consider adopting.
1. Cloth Diapers
I am a self-confessed fluff addict, for many reasons. Cloth diapers create less trash and reduce your impact on the environment. Disposable diapers take up to 500 years to biodegrade, compared to 6 months for cloth. One cloth diaper can replace more than 250 disposable diapers!
Cloth diapers are healthier for your baby. It’s just not that great of an idea to leave dioxin (a known carcinogen) and sodium polyacrylate (those blue absorbent crystals inside the diaper) up against your baby’s genital area 24 hours a day for the first 2 or 3 years of her life. Plus disposable diapers have been found to off gas certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are implicated in asthma.
Cloth diapers are definitely cheaper. Depending on which cloth diapering system you use, you can pay as little as $300 for prefolds and covers (or even less if you buy secondhand or make your own from upcycled materials) or as much as $1400 for a stash of premium, sized All-In-One or pocket diapers. Even with the cost of extra laundry, it’s still significantly cheaper than 2-3 years of disposable diapers which costs parents an average of $2500. Plus you can reuse cloth diapers for subsequent babies and/or sell them when you’re done which will recoup some of the initial costs. And oh yeah, cloth diapers are just so much cuter than a paper diaper!
Read more: 12 Ways to Get Cheap or Free Diapers
2. Cloth Wipes
Cloth wipes just go with cloth diapers. If you’re already cloth diapering, it’s takes almost no extra effort to use cloth wipes as well. I use cheap baby washcloths ($6 for 12) available at any big box store. Some people buy cleaning solutions or mix their own to wet the wipes with, but I usually just use water. The cloth “grabs” the mess better than any disposable wipe. Just throw the wipes in your diaper pail with your diapers and wash as usual.
Wet bags are another must-have diapering accessory. Use a wet bag to carry dirty diapers or soiled clothes. When your baby outgrows the diaper stage, use them in place of a disposable plastic bag to hold wet clothes, swimsuits, or any other wet/dirty items. Wet bags come in many sizes and configurations, and they’ll last you long past your cloth diapering days!
4.Cloth Grocery Bags
Many cities and some countries have plastic bag bans in place because of how wasteful, toxic, and damaging to the environment they are. Single use plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to break down, and they kill wildlife and block drains. Here in Canada, our largest city of Toronto was set to ban them as of January 1, 2013, but reversed the decision at the last minute. In the U.S., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland have banned plastic bags, and Los Angeles recently joined their ranks. Cloth bags are a better alternative. Just remember to wash them once in a while, especially if you’ve carried your meat home in them.
5. Cloth Nursing Pads
I had the distinct misfortune to need nursing pads for a good year and a half after giving birth, both times. That’s a lot of disposable pads and money in the trash! Over the last four years I’ve used many different types of cloth nursing pads – cotton, hemp, bamboo, and backed with fleece or PUL. Forget crinkly, clammy, and expensive paper nursing pads. Cloth is a lot more comfortable and doesn’t stick to you when you leak.
6. Cloth Menstrual Pads
If you’re already cloth diapering, “mama cloth”, or reusable cloth menstrual pads, are often the next step. There are some really adorable cloth pads out there in all different materials, prints, and absorbencies. Cloth is softer and more comfortable!
7. Unpaper Towels
These replace – you guessed it: paper towels! The coolest unpaper towels fasten together with snaps along their edges and wind up in a roll just like their paper counterparts. Use these for wiping your kitchen table and counters, drying your hands, cleaning the fridge, etc.
8. Cloth Napkins
Let’s face it, cloth napkins (or serviettes) are just classier than scratchy paper napkins. I bought 40 of these fun napkins on Etsy and we use them at every meal, dry for me and wet for my girls. They’re great for wiping sticky faces and hands at dinner because they don’t fall apart like paper napkins. And once everyone is done eating, they do double duty for wiping down the table and high chair.
Back in the olden days, you wouldn’t be caught dead without your lace handkerchief. But you know, they don’t have to be the old-fashioned scratchy linen and lace handkerchiefs like your Great Aunt Mildred used to carry. Try a minky handkerchief for the softest blow ever. Your nose will thank you!
10. Reusable Snack and Lunch Bags
Think about how many plastic sandwich bags are floating around in the ocean and buried in landfills. How about an assortment of reusable bags instead? These come in snap, Velcro, or zippered varieties and in any print you can imagine. Dirty? Just throw them in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry.
11. Reusable Mop Pads
Disposable mop pads are a waste of resources and money. Try a mop with a reusable microfiber pad. These pads velcro onto the mop head and go through the washing machine when you’re done. And if you’re really don’t want to part with your Swiffer, check out Etsy for reusable mop pads that fit your Swiffer head perfectly.
Remember the rag bag your mother or maybe your grandmother kept under the sink? Reuse old towels, sweatshirts, prefold diapers, or any other worn out fabric to clean, wipe up spills, or dust the windowsills. An old T-shirt works great for cleaning windows and mirrors without leaving any lint. Here’s a peek into my rag drawer (I usually have more – it’s laundry day!).
13. Family Cloth
And now we come to the end of my list and to family cloth. Family cloth is kind of the last frontier when it comes to cloth alternatives. If you’ve never heard the term before, “family cloth” is a warm and fuzzy euphemism for reusable toilet paper. That’s right, cloth wipes for adults. I’ll tell you right now we haven’t quite evolved to this point, but this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention.
As a cloth diapering mama, I see the logic behind this. Proponents say it’s gentler and doesn’t leave little bits of paper on your delicate areas. In case you were wondering, many people using family cloth still use disposable toilet paper for #2, but switching to cloth even just for pee saves a whole lot of trees, water, and energy required to manufacture TP.
How many of these changes have you adopted or do you plan to adopt? What else do you do to reduce your footprint?