Reducing waste without compromising oral hygiene

It may be a controversial topic, but in this post I am going to explore ditching toothpaste and commercial toothbrushes and tooth floss.

It’s all things oral hygiene, and I think you may be surprised by some of my recommendations.

Firstly, and perhaps least controversially, is to share with you how easy it was to switch from plastic-handled to bamboo-handled toothbrushes.

I signed myself and my husband up with toothcrush, and we receive 2 bamboo-handled toothbrushes every 2 months. Since we don’t tend to replace our brushes quite that frequently, we will be able to stockpile them and delay re-subscription for next year to save a little money. However, it’s a fairly cheap service. We are paying under $50 for the year, which works out to 12 toothbrushes. Roughly $4.15 per toothbrush.

While pregnant I told my dentist that the mint toothpaste was making me feel really ill. His response was to brush with just water, and said the action of brushing is more important than using toothpaste. This has given me the confidence to ditch commercial toothpastes altogether in favour of a homemade product, which I can’t really call a ‘paste’. I used the recipe available on Biome Eco Store’s website, (with the addition of cinnamon essential oil for taste) and, while it’s slightly more effort to get the product onto the brush and then into the mouth, the relief at no longer using toothpaste tubes (not to mention the questionable ingredients in them) seems worth it.

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It doesn’t taste like much while brushing (personally I don’t find it bad at all, as the strongest flavours are salt – from the bicarb – and coconut) but when you rinse your mouth out with water you can taste the essential oils and stevia and personally I think it’s much tastier than bought toothpaste. The texture is what takes getting used to. You can feel the slight grittiness cleaning your teeth, but other than that it sort of feels like brushing with water. And it doesn’t foam up like a commercial toothpaste (but think of what they put in there to make it do so!), so if you have what I am beginning to realise is a fairly common quirk and can’t feel clean without a lather, this may not be for you.

Noosa Basics makes a charcoal and candelilla wax tooth floss, which works just as well as the commercial brands, but has the added bonus of being completely compostable. It also comes in a cardboard box – the only part of the packaging that proves slightly difficult to recycle is the metal cutter, but as per a previous post, you can put this in a tin with your metal bottle lids and recycle in your council’s recycling bin.

Okay, so most people’s oral hygiene routine probably ends there. I haven’t yet explored mouth wash, though a quick online search has yielded multiple options for a simple homemade variety (remember that commercial brands use alcohol which can contribute to mouth and throat cancer – though I would never dream of convincing you to give up drinking alcohol so maybe the amount in mouthwash is negligible when compared with my wine consumption). But I do think it’s worth sharing one last product with you, that could replace mouth wash. It’s called a tongue scraper, and no, it’s not painful or particularly gross.

Although I haven’t yet used mine enough to see whether it makes a difference, the reviews I’ve seen online indicate that it is helpful not only in mitigating bad breath but also in preventing sickness. If I manage to find the time while looking after my 2-month-old I will use it more regularly over winter and repost to tell you my personal opinion on its efficacy.

So there you have it! A complete introduction to reducing waste and unwanted chemicals when it comes to oral hygiene.

Live better.

Recycling 101: It’s time to sweat the small stuff

In Adelaide, everyone knows that the large items like cardboard boxes and soft drink bottles and tins can be recycled in their household recycling wheelie bin (except for a housemate I once had who came from a country where apparently there is no such thing as recycling), but many of you may not yet be recycling your containers’ lids appropriately.

I think most people know that you shouldn’t leave the bottle tops on the bottles, as they fly off in the recycling process when the bottles are squashed and can cause damage. Nor should they be put loose into the wheelie bin, as they are too small to be collected and recycled. I have to admit though, I was guilty of just chucking in the lids loose for a couple of years before I knew about this.

So, this may mean that many of you are still disposing of your lids into the landfill bin. But did you realise it’s actually very easy to recycle plastic or metal lids?

The simple rule is to put like inside like.

Metal jar lids, beer or wine bottle tops and the tops of canned foods can be put inside a metal tin and then placed in your recycling. Admittedly, this does require a tin that has a sealable lid, such as a milo, instant coffee or milk powder tin.

Plastic lids go inside plastic. Recycle right’s website requests that they go inside a plastic bottle, such as a milk bottle or juice bottle. Then you keep the original lid and seal all the other plastic inside. While they prefer this method, I emailed them to ask whether it was also acceptable to use plastic takeaway containers and they said as long as the lid is secure that’s also fine. So when you have plastic lids too big to fit into the bottle, you can put them in a container instead.

You can also recycle other small pieces of plastic in the same way, such as bread tags and straws, which is probably the next big war we need to wage after plastic bags.

We keep containers for small plastics and small metals in the laundry cupboard. It takes just as much time for me to put these lids into the appropriate container as it would to put them in the bin because I have to go to the laundry for our bin anyway. If you are lucky enough to have space in your kitchen cupboard for a bin, you might be able to store your containers next to or above it.

Happy recycling!

One for the ladies: zero waste menstruation

To be fair, I probably have never had an entirely waste-free period, but only because of my need for chocolate! This post is for those of us with a menstrual cycle… or anyone else with a particular interest in learning more about women’s hygiene. A warning to the men who intend to read this. Please don’t continue reading if you can’t handle a frank discussion on uterine walls being shed and coming out of the vagina in the form of blood.

I’m going to skip the preamble today, aside from acknowledging that periods can be very messy. Especially when they come unexpectedly. Or when you are unprepared. Or when you have a heavy flow.

Suffice to say, one incident in high school (thank goodness I went to an all-girls school!) was enough for me to be permanently paranoid that my fertility is on show for the world to see whenever I have my period.

So, you can trust me to be honest when it comes to the coverage that the various waste-free options have to offer.

I delved into the world of waste-free periods about two years ago (though being pregnant has effectively made my trial 9 months shorter) and have first-hand experience in 2 of the 3 products I am going to talk about today.

The first thing I tried was a menstrual cup. Friends had recommended it, and I was just starting to get really serious about waste so I thought I would give it a go.

Initially, I was very disappointed. It leaked out the sides well before it was full and I couldn’t figure out why. I also had a little bit of pain and had to take it out and replace it a few times to get the right position. After researching online and re-reading the instructions, I realised I wasn’t inserting it completely correctly.

The menstrual cup probably took me a good 4 cycles until I was confident that I was using it properly, and after that, I found it highly effective. However, there was still the aforementioned issue of paranoia, and the occasional tendency for it to fill up when I was not able to empty, clean and reinsert it (for example in the middle of teaching a class full of students).

So, I had replaced tampons with a menstrual cup but I still felt the need to wear panty liners or pads as an extra precaution, and sometimes they were necessary. Therefore the next step was to try washable pads.

I’m not one to judge you if the idea of a washable pad makes you baulk. Truth be told, it’s not the pleasantest thing to clean. However, for me, the issue of disposable pads going to landfill was more of a catastrophe than having to wash my blood off a cloth surface.

While it’s been long enough that I am struggling to remember the sensation of walking around with no protection other than a disposable pad, I think the feeling of doing the same but with a cloth pad is comparable. You still get a bit of wetness, which is why I far prefer the menstrual cup as the primary means of protection, but if you’ve relied only on disposable pads I suspect this will be a fairly similar experience.

Both of these – the menstrual cup and cloth pads – come with a higher initial cost than their disposable counterparts so for your first period you will spend far more than what you normally would. Menstrual cups go for about $50 and cloth pads range from about $12-$25 each, depending on the size and brand. I needed to spend about $300 on my set of cloth pads when I first started to make sure I wouldn’t run out.

However, given that in Australia tampons and pads are still subject to the GST (while condoms and lubricant are not), perhaps it’s better to pay for these ‘luxury items’ far less frequently by opting for the reusable products, rather than submitting yourself to the sexist GST month in, month out.

While ultimately neither of these products will last forever, the reduction in waste sent to landfill over the lifespan of them is dramatic, even if you look at just one woman’s use.

Although I’ve not yet got the first-hand experience for the newest item on the zero-waste period market – period-proof underwear – I have several friends who’ve recommended them, so I will definitely use these when I get my period back again, probably still in conjunction with the menstrual cup.

I’ll do a follow-up to discuss the merits of all three options again when I have the insider’s knowledge.

So, now that I have discussed the ins and outs of eliminating single-use products from menstruation (aside from the chocolate, of course), I’m curious. Have I convinced anyone to give it a go?

If you’re still not convinced, let me leave you with two final thoughts (and coincidentally they form the core philosophy of this blog.

1: Living better is about small steps that you are ready to take to improve the way you live and how that impacts on the environment. So don’t feel that you need to go all out straight away. I took my time to wean off of disposable feminine hygiene products.

2: Revisit your primary motivation for making small changes in your lifestyle. If you examine your motivation and, like me, find that reducing waste is more important to you than the potential ‘ick factor’, you might have to re-evaluate your choice!

Trust me, while it may be weird at first, it doesn’t take long to get used to a new way of dealing with menstruation. Humans are incredibly adaptable!

The plastic bag war

The number of times I have juggled an armload of groceries to my car or stuffed items into my handbag and pockets is more a representation of my personal organisation than anything else. However, I refuse to accept plastic shopping bags, so I must live with the consequences of forgetting my reusable bags or doing an impromptu food shop on my way home with no spare bags in the car.

The first time I ever stuffed my pockets, a handbag and loaded the rest of my groceries straight back into the trolley was, believe it or not, at least 7 years before I gave up on plastic bags.

I was travelling in France with my boyfriend at the time and, while I can find no evidence that there was a plastic bag ban there in effect before 2016, for whatever reason, the supermarket we were shopping at had no plastic bags available. This event was well before I had even begun to think about my personal impact on the environment (and only a few months after becoming vegetarian), so my reaction to having to carry all my shopping without a bag was vastly different to how I react these days. I remember being quite miffed at the situation. Nevertheless, that day taught me that it is possible to shop without plastic bags.

Although I have just discovered that the majority of the ‘green’ bags you can purchase at the supermarket can be recycled in the REDcycle soft plastics program (see my last post for more info if you missed it!), when the commercial green bags I already have reach the end of their natural life span and get turned into furniture, I will use home-made cloth bags. For any handy sewers (that’s a funny homograph!) out there, I will be sure to post the instructions/pattern that I end up using, when I get up to making them.

So, there are a few things to mention when it comes to eliminating plastic bags from your regular food shop. I won’t be considering the ‘extra strong’ reuse-me-many-times plastic bags available at Coles and Woolworths (is that still called Safeway in the Eastern States?), as I don’t see it as much of an improvement as ultimately they won’t last as long as alternatives and end up causing problems in landfill anyway (though hopefully you are now going to recycle them instead).

Many people are already using the branded ‘green’ bags I mentioned earlier, and if that’s you, I encourage you to continue to do so until they are too broken to safely carry your goods. I have a mixture of these and cloth bags currently. I think the ideal way to buy groceries would be using string bags or home-made cloth bags (made from fabrics with natural fibres), as they are sure to last the longest and will break down most efficiently when they reach the end of their life span.  If this seems too tricky, especially if you walk to the supermarket, why not get a wheelie trolley? (I always wanted one!) Or, if you have cardboard boxes that would be about the right size, why not take them? Sure, you may get a few funny looks, but this will just mean more people will take notice and think about your motivations for what you’re doing.

Another thing I always do now is whenever someone offers me a plastic bag (or starts to put things in before I have even had a chance to brandish my alternative – this happens mostly in fashion stores) is make a comment other than just saying ‘no thanks’. It’s never rude, and even when someone forgets that I’ve just said to them ‘I’ll put that in my handbag/this bag please,’ I’m not rude. I simply say something like, ‘no bag, thanks. I don’t like using plastic bags.’

Usually, I get a neutral response (let’s face it, people working in retail have a lot of customers in one day), and some cashiers even say ‘well done,’ or something positive.

I think it’s just a little bonus to get someone else thinking about plastic bags. Who knows, maybe some of the people I’ve commented to have since changed their own habits?

The last thing (and probably the toughest challenge) I want to talk about when it comes to shopping plastic bag free is the fresh fruit and veg.

How nostalgic it is to think back to childhood when I would be so keen to get those little bags off the reel just for the joy of separating them at their perforated edges… and more recently, as an adult, the frustration of not being able to open the damned things in order to heap in my string beans, or whatever.

For items like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, garlic cloves and ginger knobs that are fairly tidy and that I usually only buy in ones or twos, I tend to leave them loose. Everything else goes in a bag – just not the ones the supermarket provide.

The best solution if you are handy with a sewing machine would be to make some mesh bags yourself. You may even be able to repurpose old netting or lace curtains to make them even more environmentally sound. Sew them into a pouch and attach some ribbon or fabric to tie them closed. Alternatively, there are a number of mesh produce bags available on the market now, and these work really well and are not that expensive. I think I paid about $20 for a pack of 12 Onya brand reusable produce bags and I’ve not yet needed to use them all in one shop. You’ll probably know how many you are likely to need.

The one disclaimer I need to make when it comes to using reusable produce bags is to be careful about then storing your items in the fridge. Please don’t use these bags to store your things in the fridge the way you may have done with the plastic bags. They are great for carrying but not as good for keeping things fresh. I only had to wash rotten string bean out of my bag once before finding an alternative method of storing my food once I got it home! (If you’re interested, my chosen method at the moment is the ‘Swag Bag’: a padded cloth bag that you dampen before filling with your veggies and putting it in the crisper.)

So, I hope you’ve found some new ideas to avoid plastic bags when shopping. Remember: try not to be embarrassed if you find yourself stuffing your pockets and handbag or reloading everything loose back into your trolley. The more people who see you doing it, the more likely you are to influence a positive change in someone else’s behaviour!

 

Live better.