You probably didn’t notice because things were a wee bit crazy, but I did not post last week. The post is written, but it’s not relevant at the moment. It is about kicking the single-use plastic grocery bag habit. I stopped using shopping bags from the store five years ago and last year I also cut out plastic veggie bags. But with the current social distancing needs, I’ve switched to Instacart and store pickups, so I get it the way they pack it, and they pack it with a whole lot of plastic. (I am going to try to make up for this lapse by offering a giveaway at the end of this post.)
The result of grocery pickups is that I’ve brought more plastic bags into the house in the last five days than I have in the last five years. Honestly, I have been having a hard time with this change, because plastic never biodegrades and micro-pieces of plastic are already being found in our food and water supplies. For me, living low-waste is really about my mindset, and it has shifted enough that plastic bags just aren’t parve items to me anymore. But was it worth the risk to go into a store so I could avoid plastic? Rabbi Yisroel Glick, in a video about responsibility versus faith in the age of coronavirus, really clarified my thinking on the question. He asked the question, “Where do we draw the line between feeling secure in our faith in the creator versus taking responsibility?” and pointed out that you shouldn’t mistake negligence for faith. So, instead of heading out with my cloth bags and mesh produce bags and relying on HaShem to keep me safe, I am doing the hishtadlus that is my responsibility, even if that means a temporary bump in single-use plastic bags. (I’m saving all the plastic bags to take to the recycling bin in front of my grocery store the next time I go out. Most curbside recycling programs don’t accept plastic bags, but a recycling box should be easy to find outside many grocery stores.)
Even with the limitations of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, there is always some way to move in the direction of lower waste. Since paper products are a hot commodity, you can make your supply last longer by using reusable tissues for things like wiping up a spot of toothpaste, blowing your nose, or wiping off makeup. Just use it and throw it in the laundry. Each reusable tissue you use is one less that goes in a landfill or sewer system. Sometimes it seems like such a small thing that it isn’t worth doing, but I come back to the knowledge that if we make a pischu shel machat, an opening the size of a needle, HaShem responds exponentially.
All you’ll need is an old shirt or other knit garment and a container. Some zero-waste blogs and books will send you out to buy microfiber cloths and a fancy glass jar to do this project, but it’s far less expensive and has less impact on the planet to reuse things you already have in your house, and the greenest product is always the one you already own.
Currently, I have three reusable tissue jars: one in my room, one in our full bath, and one in my son’s room. (Getting buy-in from kids can be hard; I offered to make a jar for all three of my kids’ rooms, but only one took me up on the offer.) For the jars, I am using a mason jar I don’t have a lid for, a horseradish jar, and a jar that I bought when it was full of olives. (You could use any kind of container: a small basket, a lucite you aren’t using, even an empty cardboard tissue box.) I cleaned the jars out and removed the labels with little Goof Off* and elbow grease. [Update September 2020: I’ve found you can remove labels–most of the time–warming the label up using a hair dryer and peeling it off. A combination of equal parts coconut oil and baking soda will remove the remaining adhesive. I let the mixture sit on the bottle for a few minutes and then remove using a bamboo scraper.]
For the “tissues,” I cut squares of about 4.5” by 4.5” inches. Then they just go in the jar one after the other. My preferred tissues are made from pea bee & jae shells (the modal ones) after the elastic has gone out in the neck or it’s stained or otherwise no longer acceptable as clothing, but any soft knit would work. I usually cut a square out of a cardboard box and use that as a guide to make each tissue roughly the right size and a square. If you are handy with scissors, you might not need that, but my craft skills do not involve the ability to cut a straight line. The finished project is quite lovely, I think.
When I make a batch of reusable tissues, I just slice the sleeves open to throw onto my schmatta shelf, but sleeves can have other uses. A few years ago I was really wanting a soap pouch I could keep in the shower for holding those small slivers of soap bars that no one wants to use because they are too easy to drop or those tiny bars from hotels. You can buy these washcloth pouches on Amazon, but I was hoping to find a lower-waste option. After letting the concept percolate for a bit, I stumbled on the idea that a knit shirt sleeve could be perfect for the job and could be easy to make even for someone of my limited sewing skills. I call it a Soap Sleeve (absolutely not trademarked in any way), and it’s a soap holder/washcloth combo.
Start by deciding how long you want your soap sleeve to be, measuring from the wrist, then add about two inches to that length. Cut the sleeve with fabric scissors or pinking shears. Then, move the scissors about ¾” down from the top of the sleeve and cut it most but not all of the way across. That will be your hanging hook. Flip the sleeve inside out and sew the wrist opening shut. I use the wrist seam as my sewing guide and sew the sleeve closed with a whip stitch, making two passes the width of the sleeve. Slide your soap in, and you are good to go. I think the next time I make one of these, I will sew a button on the sleeve to loop the hook around so it can attach to a shelf or shower bar. [Update September 2020: When my first Soap Sleeve wore out, I didn’t have time to sew, so I simply tied a knot in the bottom of the sleeve. It looks nice and it took seconds. I also made the tying strip at the top to make it a bit sturdier.]
Speaking of reusing shirts, earlier this week, I ran out of disinfecting wipes and since I didn’t plan on placing a store pickup order for a few days and even then I couldn’t be sure the store would have disinfecting wipes in stock, so I figured I was going to have to make some myself. I went back to the old schmatta shelf and pulled out three of my husband’s white t-shirts that had clearly seen better days. It took about a shirt and a half to fill up my empty disinfecting wipe container. Then I mixed a cup of 70% rubbing alcohol (lower percentages may not kill coronavirus) with two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid and poured it into the container. (You could put a few drops of essential oil in to make it smell nice if you wanted to.) I shook the container well to make sure the wipes were wet. They are working great!
And now the giveaway! I have three things on offer, on a first-come, first-served basis. All you have to do is mention this blog’s address (www.lowwastefrum.com) and one thing you like about the blog or that you have put into practice from the blog. Post a link to your social media post in the comments below.
The first three people who respond can pick from
- A cream-colored Soap Sleeve made to your desired length.
- A grey-colored Soap Sleeve made to your desired length.
- One container of homemade disinfecting wipes (only available to Cleveland readers).
Until next week,
PS: As I was writing this, I thought of another possible use for shirtsleeves, but I won’t recommend anything in my blog that I haven’t tried myself. Comment below if you want me to tell you the idea with the caveat that I make no guarantees it will work.
* Note: I receive a small commission if you buy items I recommend by clicking on the link.