Saying Goodbye to Single Use Items

by Katy on October 30, 2011 · 89 comments

You know what annoys me? Single use items marketed as green choices. When really, the true eco-choice is to choose items that can be used over and over again. Examples?

Paper Towels — Sure, you can buy the recycled paper option, or you can just use rags made from cut up old T-shirts. I employ this option for washing windows, the bathroom, spills from the floor, etc. I simply wash them when I do a load of towels/cloth napkins.  The only task that does not lend itself to reusable rag-age is wiping the oil on my cast irons pans. For this, I use restaurant paper napkins that seem to sneak themselves into our house.

Tampons/Pads — I started using a Moon Cup three years ago, and have not had a moment of regret. These reusable silicone menstrual cups seemingly last forever, and only need to be emptied and reinserted a couple times per day. I have fewer messes than when I used tampons and I love not having to worry whether or not I’m stocked up on supplies. If I had to estimate how much I’ve saved over the past three years, I would estimate at least a million dollars. Since my initial cost was around $25, this is not bad. I highly recommend that you snip off the horrible pokey stick, otherwise this product is great. I do know that many people use and like the Diva Cup, which seems to be pretty much the same product. Both names annoy me, but the “Diva Cup” name annoys me more. I am an old-school feminist, and the whole “celebrate your Diva” thing just rubs me the wrong way.

If you did your internet searches through Swagbucks, then you could be earning $5 Amazon gift cards, which would then pay for your menstrual cup. I am usually not a fan of Amazon, as I prefer to support local businesses, but sometimes they’re worth it.

Paper Napkins — Put together a collection of cloth napkins and then start using them. You don’t have to buy them brand new, and you certainly don’t have to make them yourself. Cloth napkins are super easy to find at garage sales, thrift shops and your grandmother’s linen cupboard. My only advice is to wash them separately from your clothing so as not to put grease stains on your nice clothes. Put them in your kid’s school lunches as well as your work lunch. Huge no brainer.

Individual Spice Jars— I have been using the same baby food jars for spices since I had babies. (I got them from a friend, as I refused to buy baby food.) Buying spices in bulk is a huge money saver, as well a packaging saver. You can even bring your jars to the register to get weighed before adding the exact amount that you are buying.

Grocery and Produce Bags — Most people who are trying to live an eco-friendly lifestyle already bring their own bags to the store, but bringing your own produce bags is not routine for many. I bought my reusable mesh bags at The Dollar Tree, and they were actually in the automotive section as car organizers. (??) And at four-for-a-dollar, there was absolutely no sticker shock. They weigh almost nothing, so they’re perfect.

Can you think of any single use items that I’ve left off this list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather October 30, 2011 at 11:13 am

…at least a million dollars.

Love it.


socalgal October 30, 2011 at 11:18 am

Nice advice, I luv the green mesh bags from Dollar Tree!


Amy @ feathered Friendsy October 30, 2011 at 11:36 am

I have gotten rid of all uni-taskers from my kitchen and am so thrilled by it. The only exception is the can opener but that’s ok.

I switched to a Libman mop so I can reuse the heads after washing them and I used to be a die-hard swiffer gal. Also switched to reusable food storage from ziplock bags and got a couch that doubles as storage AND a full sized bed for guests. That’s all I can readily think of, although I’m sure there’s more….


Darcy October 30, 2011 at 11:51 am

Love your list!. I’ll add another task that does not lend itself to cloth “paper towels” and that’s cleaning up cat yack (aka hairballs). Once I’ve picked up one of those wet, messy blobs I just want to throw it away and not have to wash the rag!

Quesion on the Moon Cup. How in the world do you deal with it at work? I know that you work outside the home and work medical shifts, so that’s either ten or twelve hours, right? Do you just empty the thing in the sink in front of everyone in the ladies room? I regularly work ten hour workdays in a large, busy office complex. There are about 100 of us on the floor sharing two restrooms with four stalls/two sinks each…..I am almost never alone in there. There’s a lot I’ll do in the name of frugality, but empytying and washing my Moon Cup in front of my co-workers is not one of them!


Katy October 30, 2011 at 1:15 pm

You empty it into the toilet, and if the bathroom is a single room, you rinse it in the sink. Otherwise, you can just wipe it out with t.p. Then you wash your hands REALLY WELL.



Katy October 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Also, if what I’m wiping up is too gross for words, then I just toss the rag.



Bonnie October 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I’m on my 13th year with a Keeper cup (also hate the Diva name!) and I can’t endorse it enthusiastically enough. The first one lasted 11 years; the second has already paid for itself more than twice by my math.

Without getting into TMI, I could easily leave it in place for a 10-hour workday during most of my cycle. Your mileage may vary! Check out detailed info on the FAQ page at


Laurie Jones November 2, 2011 at 3:33 am

Dump it in the toilet. I used one when I was younger (I am menopausal now.) I would carry a wet washcloth (in a plastic bag) – you can use over and over again). I would wipe off the cup and my hands before going out to wash them with soap and water. That way you can reinsert and wash up a bit before going back out into the sink area. I loved mine. It worked really well and I was a heavy bleeder.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 11:59 am

Sandwich bags and lunch bags. Why not just use reusable containers and cloth bags? They’re so cheap from garage sales, even if some of them don’t make it home, it’s not a big deal. Or you can say “You forgot your lunch box, now I don’t have enough containers, so I don’t have enough for your treat” this morning.

With reusable grocery bags, I hate it how people think they need to buy a new bag specifically made to be a shopping bag. Why not use bags you already have sitting around the house, or that can be found in abundance at thrift stores? If it happens to be a “shopping bag,” fine; if not, who cares?

Q-tips: I know they say not to use them, but if you feel you must, you can always cover a Q-tip with a hanky, and reuse indefinitely.

Dental floss: reuse. One 5-yard sample of Glide can last for years. Glide is better the 50th time than most dental floss is the first time.

Toilet paper: Google “family cloth.” No worse than using cloth diapers. Good use for old t-shirts.

Toothbrushes: this one I have no answer for. There is the recyclable variety, but is there any good substitute?


Megg October 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Yes! We (well, I) use “family cloth” though I just call it cloth wipes. They’re awesome!


Rubymay1029 October 31, 2011 at 3:59 am

You should probably wipe down your Glide with alcohol after you rinse it off, or you run the risk of pushing bacteria up into your gums. That wouldn’t be cool.


Lisa October 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I haven’t tried moon cups (but have heard great things) since I too am in the “office bathroom situation”Darcy describe. Instead I use Glad Rags and put them in a plastic baggies in my purse. They are so absorbent, I don’t usually need to change them during the day anyways.


Lindean November 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I use Glad Rags, too, and LOVE them. The overnight pads (though seemingly enormous when you first look at them) were perfect for use post-partum as well! I was shocked at how much plastic crap came home with me from the hospital when I had my daughter!


Megg October 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I switched to cloth pads (I don’t do tampons!) about 5 years ago and I have never looked back. I love those things. On the rare occasions that I have used disposables (usually when I’m away because it’s just too much to deal with cloth pads when I’m away) I feel so dirty and gross.
It’s pretty much convinced me that I will cloth diaper because if I don’t like the sticky, plastic around my lady parts, then I don’t want to subject my kids to it!

I also use cloth wipes. I got these about 5 years ago too and I think I bought 30 for $30 on ebay, of all places. I could have made my own, but lets face it, I wasn’t that money conscious back then. Anyway, I may have lost a few in the past 5 years, but I still use them now. I only use them for, ahem, number 1, but that alone saves us a lot on TP.

I never thought about buying spices in bulk, but the next time I do have to buy a spice I will try that!


Samantha October 30, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Diapers! I don’t care if you’re buying 7th generation disposables, they’re still disposables. Same with G diapers. Diapers and wipes are expensive and wasteful.

I would like to completely eliminate paper towels (we only use about a roll every few months), but I still use them for cat messes, I can’t bring myself to wash those cloths, icky! I suppose that I could use old t-shirts for that purpose and throw the old rag out too and not buy paper towels.

I’m looking for a solution to garbage bags…. right now I’m thinking of maybe making garbage can liners out of PUL and then they could be washed and reused. Any other ideas?


Kathryn November 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Is PUL like the material used for reusable diaper-pail liners? Because that’s what I was thinking of as a good substituted for trash bags. I know the large bags I had when I was cloth diapering would probably have fit our kitchen trash can, and they were certainly sturdy (and waterproof) enough to hold trash.


katie chaffee November 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I haven’t replaced the trashcan liners (I do use biodegradable), but I use a diaper pail liner for my recyclables. I also know people who just don’t use a pail liner and dump it out and rinse if needed.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm

For garbage bags, if you live somewhere there’s a bottle deposit, you can go to the bottle return area and get the discarded garbage bags people throw in the bins there. There are so many, you can be particular and snag only really clean, decent ones.

Another thing you can do is ask at your favorite thrift store, when you go in to drop off donations. Many people bring their clothes in trash bags, and the workers normally just dump them.

For the paper towels, asking at your favorite thrift store for rag-quality t-shirts would certainly be successful. You can use them once for your cat hair, then throw them into the compost bin. When I volunteer at the thrift store, I throw so many t-shirts into the rag bin, it’s not even funny. If someone came in asking for them, I’d show ’em the bin and say “Have at it!” Of course, this idea would work best at an independent thrift store, as bigger ones like Goodwill or Salvation Army might do off-site sorting, or might simply be too bureaucratic.

Another paper towel idea: If you use paper towel in public restrooms for hand-drying, tuck the used paper towel into your pocket, then take it home and throw it under your kitchen sink. When you want a paper towel for a dirty job, use it, then compost.


Ellie October 31, 2011 at 9:48 am

Regarding bigger thrift stores –
I heard somewhere that the big thrift stores (Goodwill and Salvation Army) bundle rag-quality clothes and sell them in bulk as rags to whatever industries there are that use lots of rags. (I was told that this is the reason why Goodwill stresses that donations in “any condition” are welcome.) I guess this means that even if consumers can’t get rags from them, the rags are at least going somewhere to be used for something…


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

For me, it’s all the single-serving food, like what’s handed out at Halloween. There’s also party supplies, like balloons, tableware, and some decorations. Office supplies such as paper, staples, rubber bands, etc. are often used a single time.

I’m intrigued by these menstrual cups, but have a silicone allergy (can’t use silicone contacts), so I wonder if this will even work for me. As for things like family cloth and paper towels, it comes down to sanitation for me. I use paper towels to dry my hands right before eating, but will use cloth at other times and use cloth for cleaning. At least paper towels CAN be made from recycled paper and CAN be composted, so that helps. We did do cloth diapers, but it still grosses me out to think of all the poo running through the washer…and thus, the one time I will allow bleach for the ick factor!

Oh yeah, and those single use cleaning supplies, like Swiffer, Lysol wipes, etc.


Kate October 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

There’s a menstrual cup called the Keeper that’s made out of natural rubber that might work for you.


Katy October 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Thanks. I put off buying a menstrual cup for years because they used to only be made from latex, which I’m allergic to. Glad to know they’re still around.



JS November 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm

There’s also a brand called Meluna from Germany that’s made out of TPE (thermoplastic elasomer).


Kate October 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I use cloth wipes for my baby, made out of some receiving blankets I cut up, and I also use them for me for ‘kleenex’ and they are SO much easier on your nose!!
We use cloth towels for cleaning in addition to cloth napkins like you described.
Unfortunately I haven’t yet found a reusable sandwich bag that keeps my sandwich from drying out otherwise I’d love to go that route.


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Kate- We use those divided plastic containers (#5 plastic), and they work well for keep The Hub’s sandwich with his sides. There are even some great stainless steel or glass divided containers too that are surprisingly sleek 🙂


Annie Jones October 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm

About the little stem thingy on the menstrual cups…you can also turn the entire cup inside out. It works just as as well and whole cup is a little shorter, which is helpful for some of us. And yes, I just wipe it out well when it’s not convenient or appropriate to take it to the sink. Also…with careful timing, you wouldn’t even have to deal with it at work most days. It doesn’t have to be emptied/changed nearly as often as tampons or pads.


Trish October 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I was thinking about your last post, the secretly frugal, and then this post – I do frugal things, but my first concern is to have as little negative impact on the environment. and these things often turn out to be frugal as well. I know I am not the first to recognize this, but maybe more people will do environmental things fi they realize they can save money. what about the secret environmentally friendly things I do – like empty my vacuum cleaner into my compost – it’s all dust and dog hair. I live in the country,and when I have food waste I don’t want to compost (the dogs will fight over it, etc) I drive down a quiet road and dump it in a ditch. this way at least it doesn’t take up space in a landfill.


FrancesVettergreenVisualArtist October 30, 2011 at 10:24 pm

In the national parks near where I live they are actively discouraging people from dropping biodegradable waste on the roadside. Apparently the food attracts wildlife to the road, where the animals are often done in by traffic.

No more apple cores out the window…


Linda October 31, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I still throw my apple cores, banana peels, etc out the window of my car. It’s the only thing I will throw out the window. I figure the animals could use the snack.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I love that we can discuss things like menstrual cups and “family cloth” here and no one freaks out.


Elaine October 31, 2011 at 8:26 am

Actually, I am, but you can’t see me so you don’t know.

I just really happy I don’t need to worry about menstrual cups any more (hurray), and there’s no way I will use family cloths.

You all go ahead, though. I do a lot of the other things.


Pollyanna October 31, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m with Elaine here — although this is the first I’ve heard of menstrual cups (where have I been?), I am past that (ditto on the hurray and adding a woo hoo) – and draw the line at giving up t.p.!


Megan November 1, 2011 at 5:03 am

I gotta say this eeks me out, but the alternative isn’t any better! Think about all that mess in the landfill- ewww! I did google moon cup, and am intrigued!


Barb October 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Hmm, I’ll ad the vacuum cleaner bag-now that I have a bagless, I love it. Unfortunately while I do occasionally use hankies in te house, I feel the need for traditonal kleenex to cut down on germs. I’m post menaupausal but was making my own pads before they made them most places to sell.


Jinger October 30, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I do buy paper towels…for the express purpose of cleaning up dog vomit and for wiping out my cast iron pan. I might buy one roll every 2 months. For everything else, I use worn out dish towels. My dishcloths are hand knit by me. I don’t even buy Kleenex anymore unless I have a bad cold…toilet paper suffices on a day to day basis.


AnnDenee October 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Concerning trash bags? Do you really need to line your trash can? I stopped lining mine a couple years ago. I empty (burn) my trash a couple times each week and wipe the can out every time.
I know the local trash pick-up company requires 1 big bag of trash that contains all the little trash bags from your house. If yours does too, then why double bag? Just dump your trash cans straight in the big bag.


Samantha October 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

The only garbage can in the house we line is the kitchen garbage. I’m not a germaphobe but it seems gross to throw table scraps and packaging from meat in a garbage can without a liner. Our garbage collection is by automated bins so we don’t use large bags in the can.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Can you compost the veggie scraps, and freeze the meat scraps and packaging to throw away all at once on trash day? (If your freezer is as full as mine, it wouldn’t work, but this might work for some people).


Katy October 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I line my kitchen garbage with plastic grocery bags which although we never get them from shopping still seem to enter our home. (Usually from soccer stuff being dropped off.) However, when we’re out of those, I just use a paper grocery bag, which also seem to enter our home.



Samantha October 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I think my husband would think I’d officially lost my mind if I started freezing scraps lol We do compost as much as we can.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Can you cook up the scraps and save then for someone with a pet?

Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

My husband sometimes wonders about me, too. He says I’m obsessed. I’m not obsessed, though; this sort of thing is just second nature to me, and I really don’t have to think about it that much.

marianne October 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm

love love love my diva cup. im good for 12 hrs but thats me. i love not having to carry an extra, worry about leaking, or the smell. *shudder*
i also use the mesh lingerie bag to put my produce in from the store. not only does it keep from using a wasteful little plastic bag, but i see the lightbulb go off in everyones head when they see me using it!
i stopped using dryer sheets in my dryer (still use the dryer! sorry katy)
a small thing is to use a gum pick to floss with every morning. no more floss strings sticking out of the trash can.


Cathy Simon October 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is using silicone muffin cup liners when baking instead of greasing the pans aerosol spray or using the single use paper muffin cups usually made from virgin paper. I think they cost me $5.99 at Winners….and they also double for a colorful safe toy for my toddler who is fascinated by them!


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary October 31, 2011 at 5:41 am

I *love* my silicone muffin cups. They were a gift, so I have no idea how expensive they were. One of the best gifts EVER. They are easy to clean and so far they seem nearly infinitely reusable.

I don’t use them as “liners”. I just put them on a flat cookie sheet and fill them with muffin batter. No oil, no spray, no paper, nothing. Love it.


Linda October 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I don’t use paper cupcake or muffin liners. I just wipe with oil and they slide out.


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary November 2, 2011 at 6:51 am

I got tired of trying to clean my muffin tins. I had to use a fair amount of oil to grease them, and then lots of elbow grease (and water) to clean them. With the silicone ones, it’s an easy wipe and rise, and they are clean.

The best part is that now I make muffins far more often, and the kids have a great, healthy snack for after school whenever they want it.


misha November 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm

We have a regular size (12) and a jumbo (6) silicone muffin trays and they are awesome. we also use them to freeze individual servings of soup or sauce – i freeze the tray, the stuff just pops right out, and then i bag them. the trays wash up easily. Making my own menstrual pads has been on my todo list, but now I think I might invest in one of those poorly named thingys.

Christina October 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I haven’t tried a menstrual cup yet but am going to look into it after reading all this great feedback.
I remember being very annoyed at seeing a bag of individually wrapped snack packets of ‘organic’ baby carrots. Talk about missing the point. I don’t like single use tea bags. I prefer to by tea loose and use a strainer. I need to be more disciplined about doing this at work though.


Jennifer October 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thank you, thank you for addressing the Moon cup issue. My friends and I have been skirting around this for awhile now, none of us actually taking the, err…plunge. I only have one question…….can’t get around the intense personal nature of this question, what about arobic activity? Does it stay in place during that?? Sloshing factor??? (Can’t believe I just asked that, but it is something I really have been wondering about!)
I am right on board with the other issues you touched on! These purchases are such a waste, why not wipe your face on a dollar bill and trash it?


Stacy S October 31, 2011 at 3:49 am

I use a Diva Cup (which I love) and I’ve been swimming and running around with the dog and even done pilates occasionally (when I actually exercise…). No problems at all. Half the time I forget it’s my time of the month when it’s in – it’s just great! Can’t endorse it enough…


Carla October 31, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I have used a cup since 1995, first a keeper, and now a diva cup. I love the keeper more because it was natural rubber, but could not find it anymore where I live and I hate paying for shipping. So in the last 16 years I have done all sorts of activities with it, biking, running, long walks, working different jobs, travelled throughout lots of countries and I can tell you there is no sloshing! I have never felt any sloshing, if you do, then the cup would probably not be in place correctly. If your period is heavy, the cup may leak a bit, but I find this is rare. The neat thing about using the cup is that you get to know your flow better. Once you use it for a couple of months you will likely get to know when you are having a heavy period and adjust your dumping times accordingly.

The cup can take a bit of time to get use to, you have to find the spot where when you insert it it creates a vacuum and you can’t feel it. If you can feel it, then it’s inserted incorrectly, go back and try again. I find that it works best when the rim is moist, I sort of squeeze it then insert and once in, I twist it about a turn to make sure there is a seal. Also, best to cut the stick to the smallest length you can manage, it is supposed to be there to help you take it out, but I find them too long and to take it out, I just squeeze on both sides to release the vacuum and pull it out.

As for cleaning it in busy washrooms, what I do is this: If I know the washroom is busy before getting into the stall, I grab two paper towels, and wet one of these. Once in the stall, once I empty the cup into the toilet, I use the wet towel to clean the cup. Then use the dry one to dry it a bit. Although you always want to leave the rim moist to facilitate the entry. Once you’re all ready, wrap the wet towel with the dry one and dump it into the paper towel receptacle, no one will notice.


JS November 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I have a menstrual cup, and I have done dance classes, swimming, soccer, and softball, and traveled on an airplane with mine. ZERO leakage and zero trouble! I guess there could be some “sloshing”, but given that you cannot feel the cup when it’s inside you, you would not be able to feel any blood moving around either. (And I personally empty mine just before such activities anyway; just personal preference).
I encourage you to give it a try! I’ve used mine for a year and a half and will never use disposables again!


Jennifer October 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Oh, I forgot to mention hankies. I rarely buy facial tissues anymore. We all use hankies that I made from flannel left over from one of my sewing projects. I will buy some if I know we have company coming, as I shudder to thing what most folks would do if I handed them a hankie!!

I did read one blog where they use the “family cloth”, read reusable tp, personally, that is taking it a bit far, even for me!!


Katy October 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I use hankies as well, and have a box of kleenex that I put out for houseguests.



Katie October 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I love my Divacup, even though I do not love the name “Divacup”. 🙂 I handle emptying mine at the office the same way Katy describes.

There is a great Livejournal community ( for people with questions about menstrual cups. Even if you don’t have a Livejournal account, you can still search the archives and read their awesome FAQ. I think they are the best resource out there for trying to figure out which brand of cup might work best for you – they have a lot of comparative information, including measurements and information on buying from overseas!


dustimc October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I have a question about paper towels. And I’m totally serious. We’re from the south and we fry occasionally. I always use paper towels to absorb excess grease. Is there something else I can use? I don’t relish the thought of greasing up my washing machine with oily cloths.


Katy October 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm

When I make bacon I set it on paper bags afterwards, which is what my mother always did.



dustimc October 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Cool. Thanks!


Practical Parsimony October 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I am from the South. I tear off just what I need from a paper bag and use that to drain grease from fried food.

My friend used her newspaper to drain bacon…how gross. You could put newspaper under the paper bag if you think the grease soaks through a single layer of paper bag.

“Family cloth” sound a little too communal to me, so I refuse to use the term. I say, “cloth tp.” I use old wash clothes of my own, wash cloths from the thrift store and yard sales. I keep a basket of napkins that creep into the house one at a time and use those for #2, but will use a washcloth. I used cloth diapers on three babies, so my little poo smear is much less than the load a baby leaves after a poo.

If a person wants a clean towel to dry on in the kitchen before eating or cooking, a drawerful of dish towels works. I buy those second hand, too, mostly new and never used. Most have their tags on them. I am single and go through about 6 dishtowels and dishcloths each day.

I discovered that drying my hands or dishes using a dish cloth instead of the larger towel means I can get more used items in the washer. Sometimes I dry my hands in the bathroom on a washcloth and hang it in the little ring for later use.

Every jar that comes into the house is saved. I use the plastic Miracle Whip jar to hold cornmeal for my hens. A quart jar is easier to handle that a larger container. The Kraft Shredded Parmesan cheese in the shaker is my favorite. So, the shaker is used to apply diatomaceous earth to hen poo on the porch and in their pen. It is easy to handle. Spaghetti jars with the rubber ring in the top get reused for leftovers and for staple storage–beans, rice. Canning jars do not sit idle when emptied. I put the whole inner package of Confectioner’s sugar and brown sugar into the wide-mouth quart jars.

A large glass pimiento jar holds five dehydrated bell peppers. A small glass pimiento jar holds one dehydrated red pepper to send to my daughter.

A glass Smuckers jar holds dehydrated apples. Spaghetti jar holds a dehydrated honeydew.

Large, 12 lb baking soda goes into plastic pb jars, except for the glass jar of baking soda in the cupboard.

One-use jars, plastic or glass get a second chance at my house.


Karen October 30, 2011 at 10:47 pm

I buy two rolls of paper towels a year. I use them over newspaper when draining fried things, but am considering getting the roll ends of newsprint (unprinted) that our local papers sell cheaply. I keep a small supply of rags that are stained or torn for cleaning up things I don’t want to wash like pet accidents, shoe polish (yes, they last longer and look better) and mystery blobs. We have a huge stack of hankies and one box of paper tissue that’s about four years old. I haven’t got reuseable produce bags yet, grew most of it over the summer, but will be making bags from leftover sheer curtain fabric soon.

The single use stuff that makes me nuts are those facial cleansing cloths, disposable razors and those paper towels advertised shown on a bathroom towel rack. Then there are the muffin mixes that come in a shaker can to mix, eyeglass cleaning wipes in foil packages and plastic dosage cups with OTC cold and flu season meds, and foil cooking bags.

When I had kids in (cloth) diapers, I sloshed them off in the toilet so there weren’t any solids to speak of to go through the washer. When women had to do laundry by hand and without rubber gloves they used something to scrape the residue off. I have heard stories about butter knives that did not see table action being repurposed.


Jo October 31, 2011 at 3:55 am

I’d add batteries (use rechargeable) and drinking straws (I know of glass, stainless steel, and I’m sure there are other kinds).
Also, I just discovered you can get battery adaptors that convert AA or AAA to C or D so if like me you have a supply of AAs and AAAs and the charger for those sizes, but also need a size C battery, with the adaptors you can use your existing batteries and charger.


Mindy October 31, 2011 at 7:16 am

You have no idea how happy I am to hear of someone else who didn’t buy baby food. I was starting to think I was a freak. We went through two kids without a single jar of baby food and our third will be here in February and will be “deprived” of it as well.


Megan November 1, 2011 at 5:15 am

Nope, you’re not the only one!

The only time that I fed my child “real” babyfood, (LOL) was when we flew cross country and there was no way to take mine with me, and the food we were consuming certainly wasn’t child worthy (take out, catered, etc). I about gagged when I fed him the goo out of the little plastic squares. ICK!

Everyone thought it sounded like so much work. I thought it was so easy and so cheap! I bought the little hand grinder/strainer, which I found useful right away (and it was handy for travel), and I did splurge on a mini food processor/chopper, but that’s on it’s last leg now because I use it 2-3 times/day- and I’m not making baby food. A new one is on my wish list for baby items.

I froze it in muffin tins and stored it in *shame* Ziploc bags. Daycare had no problems with it, and I knew what he was eating. I would highly recommend doing it yourself!


Kris October 31, 2011 at 9:08 am

Question for Katy and her readers,

Anyone use those reusable/washable furnace filters?? I think someone had mentioned them on this blog at one point and I investigated the option at my hardware store. They carry them but I’m not sure how well they work or if people find cleaning them to be a hassle and the staff at the hardware store seemed shocked that I was even considering a reusable furnace filter. (“But you can get disposable ones that are much cheaper AND you don’t have to worry about cleaning them!!”)

Anybody have experience with them??


Elaine November 1, 2011 at 7:25 am

I have the reusable kind, in the cold air return in the ceiling. I hate it. It’s a real problem getting it in and out of the vent opening, and I forget about cleaning it often enough. It’s some kind of fabric in a plastic frame, and I think it’s a bit too big. I got it up above the rim of the opening, and now I can’t get it out. Last month, I vacuumed it, which I’m sure didn’t clean it very well. I guess I’ll have to get the furnace guy out here (it needs cleaning anyway).

Cleaning the filter itself is not bad, though. I spray it with Scrubbing Bubbles (in the bathtub), wait about 10 minutes, then rinse it like crazy. I leave it propped up until it’s dry. I don’t know what kind of home made cleaner would work on it.

I have allergies and really would really prefer a disposable filter.


misha November 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

i use a reuseable filter. it is basically a plastic frame with one corner not connected. the frame holds a ridgid plastic mesh sandwich of 3 plastic screens that do a decent job of filtering. i have been using one for years. i clean it about once a month during the heavy use months. i have it as a repeating event in my calendar so i don’t forget. it probably does not work as well as a single use one, but i know TONS of folks who forget to change theirs and it needs to be changed at least once a month during heavy use. Mine is old and i bought the least expensive one i could find. eventually i will look for a better one. overall I am very happy with it.


Cheryl October 31, 2011 at 9:21 am

We do use paper towels for draining bacon and foods fried in oil. But we save these towels and stuff them inside to tubes to use as fire starters. We have also wrapped them into the middle of rolls of newspapers to make homemade Duraflames!


Dooley October 31, 2011 at 10:22 am

Coffee Filters:
I use a french press filled with hot water from my tea kettle. Easier, takes up less room, tastes better (IMO) and is less wasteful. I also have tea spoons, balls, and cup inserts for loose leaf tea but am working on using up the single-use bags I already have (mostly left behind by old roommates).

If you must use a sponge, when it gets gross just microwave it or run it through the dishwasher. Other than that, I just moved and didn’t have new sponges when I realized there was no reason to not just use launderable wash cloths. (Not a realization to most, but I’m new to this.)

Produce Bags:
Save the mesh bags that onions or utensils come in, and make sure the bottom is tied securely. Or as mentioned above, use mesh lingerie bags that you likely already have.

Disposable Baking Pans or Pie Pans:
Ugh. Just ugh. Seriously, people.

Saran Wrap:
I have a set of Pyrex baking dishes with snap on lids that I can reuse indefinitely. I don’t have to dirty a plastic storage container or cover it with saran wrap to stick it in the fridge, and to reheat I can just pull it out of the fridge and take the plastic lid off.

Lysol Wipes:
I’ve gone through a series of three roommates obsessed with these. I hate the disposable nature, the caustic chemicals, and the fact that every time I’ve used Lysol I’ve broken out in rashes. I really don’t understand why people don’t just use rags with vinegar and baking soda, or natural antibiotic or enzymatic spray cleaners if that doesn’t seem like enough. Cheaper, easier, and you’re not going to feel sick from inhaling the fumes.

I’m still working on converting to a lot of the other things commenters have mentioned above, but I LOVE the idea of using old receiving blankets cut up into handkerchiefs. Most of my family (small town Iowa farmers) still use their old ones but I’ve found any new kerchiefs you can buy to be way too rough. Genius.

As far as the concern about germy hand towels, traditionally I think dish towels are supposed to be swapped out daily. If you’re concerned about germs do that, and don’t hang them under your cabinet next to your kitchen garbage (my mother does that and it seriously grosses me out). In theory, after you wash your hands they should be clean, so the towel is really just picking up water anyway.

Regarding trash bin stench, I’ve found that natural Enzymatic cleaners like Biokleen seem to do a great job. 🙂


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary November 2, 2011 at 7:06 am

I second the “ugh!” for disposable pans. Seriously, why, why, why?
In my community, we often cook/bake for others who are for some reason in need. People would bring these meals in disposable containers, so that the recipient wouldn’t be obligated to return the pan. But I solved that problem. I buy pans at the thrift store for next to nothing, which I then use when I am making something that will be given to someone else. They get a MUCH nicer pan than the disposable kind, and can re-use it themselves or give it back to the thrift store.


dustimc October 31, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Oh, yeah. Plastic ice cream pails make great storage for everything- bulk food, small toys, we have a pail of nuts and bolts. Also, our family and several friends don’t wrap presents. We reuse gift bags over and over. It’s become a challenge to see how many times we can use a bag.


Lori October 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I don’t buy gift wrap any more. There is always a used gift bag lying around begging to be re-used. Or I use an old map or old newspaper. Or wrap a bandana around it and tie it with a ribbon!

And I don’t buy paper napkins either. I have accumulated lots of bandanas, so those are our napkins!


AshleyJean October 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Cotton Balls: I remove my eyemake-up and nail polish with sturdy, reusable cotton rounds. With 30 in a box you can was in the baggie once a month. I swear they last forever!


Lisa October 31, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Katy – curious as to what you scoop your kitty litter into? I use small plastic bags for the nightly cleaning and then they go into a garbage bag. I’m trying to figure out how to cut down on this waste, but drawing a blank.


Katy October 31, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I use bread bags, and I only scoop it 2-3 times per week. It’s in an out of the way location, plus I have two boxes which are filled with the clumping stuff. I have tried to use earth friendly litter, but my cats peed out of the box, so this was a very short experiment.



Lisa November 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Thanks Katy. I do use bread bags, freezer bags etc. when they are around too, but we also have a dog and small plastic bags for wastes seem to be in demand at my house unfortunately. I did switch the litter to the wheat clumping kind and had no issues with the cats using luckily. I just wish my city’s composting program accepted pet waste, but they do not. I know of other city’s where they do?!


misha November 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I have 2 cats and a dog. We don’t get the plastic grocery bags shopping for groceries, but a fair amount comes into the house. I use a old dog food bag (big paper kind) to hold any bag that i can use to line a regular size mop bucket. every 3 days or so I line a bucket with one bag, then go scoop out the 2 litter boxes. I then proceed out to the yard and using either a bread bag or one latex glove I pick up the poop. I drop the tied bag off in the outside trash. I use the clumping litter from aldi’s. Eventually, I hope to be able to switch the litter out for a non clay clumping and dig a hole outside and start composting the poop myself. We have dumpsters in our alley. My outside trash is just a big plastic 33 gallon thing. I only need to take it to the dumpster once a month or so, but I won’t kid you – the stench in that thing is totally gross.


Madeline November 1, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Before I was more “green” and frugal,I bought a swiffer. Now, I had a friend give me 4 washable knitted cloths to use over the mop head ,instead of the disposable cloths.And I cut a hole into the swiffer chemical cleaner bottle, filled it with water and vinegar, and capped it with an old wine cork.Now my swiffer is “green!”

I have never heard of family cloths.I used a keeper cup when I needed one (menopause now! yippee no more periods..!) No problems with handling,rinsing,etc.But can someone tell me how you handle a “family cloth” instead of toilet paper? I am a wee bit grossed out.. buy hey,I am open minded!

I use cloth napkins, but never thought of making my own “hankies..” Great idea!

love this post!


Tonia November 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I have a reusable furnace filter from Home Depot for approx $40 cnd. Every month or so I spray it down with the hose until I can see the original color again, takes approx 5 min plus drying time. Other than rinsing it out, I don’t find any difference than the basic disposible one I used to buy, and it’s cheaper.


Suzanne November 2, 2011 at 9:01 am

Solution for you cast iron pans. I bought a silicone pastry brush. I use it to rub my cast iron pan with oil. You can actually push down pretty hard on the thing an get it into all the nooks and crannies. I bought a pack of two at Dollar Tree a while ago.


Katy November 2, 2011 at 9:21 am

Wow, thank you! I have a silicone pastry brush, which I will dedicate to this job!



Kathryn November 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm

We use cloth napkins as well, but I seem to have trouble getting them completely clean. After a few months, they start to feel sort of stiff and smell stale and greasy, even though I wash them frequently. Is it because I’m using 100% cotton? Or is there some trick to washing them?


Katy November 3, 2011 at 1:08 am

I try to avoid putting the napkins through the dryer, as it seems to rancid-ify the oil stains. Also, I just make sure I have a ton of napkins so that they don’t have to be washed all that often.



Jade July 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I use rags instead of toilet paper to wipe pee when I use the toilet. I just put the rags in a bag and after a while wash in hot. I started using these rags to see how far I could go living eco. It wasn’t too hard to do. I actually don’t use the toilet when I pee. I pee in a bucket and once a day dilute it with water and fertilize my yard. I’m healthy and not on any meds, pee is sterile and has lots of nitrogen and phosphorous. Plants love it.


Emily September 26, 2015 at 8:52 am

I have a compact, foldable set of reusable fork/spoon/knife chopsticks so that I don’t have to use disposable forks, etc.


Betty Winslow September 26, 2015 at 1:39 pm

I’m wondering what elderly folks who are incontinent could use instead of the disposable pads and briefs, to keep their clothes and surroundings dry and themselves odorfree. My dad went through a ton of the disposables and it cost a fortune.


Linda M October 27, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Betty….I haven’t tried them but read there are “loo-pads”…I believe that is the name that are sold on places like Etsy that are good for incontinence. Perhaps there are underwear that would accomplish the same on there. As I said, I just read about it.


Laura October 28, 2017 at 11:33 am

Great topic! Hankies – still have to buy tissues for my mum still (she thinks they are the greatest invention ever) but after she goes, that’s it I will never buy another box. My absolute pet peeve is the tissue that gets onto the clothes in the wash. I love real cotton hankies, and top up my supply when needed from eBay, buying vintage ones – sometimes still in their gift boxes (if buying used gives anyone the erk factor). And even the “used” ones have mostly spent their lives in the top drawer being too pretty/good to use . When I have a cold I turn to my late dad’s collection of larger ones – beautiful pure cotton and kind on the nose. Plus they remind me of him 🙂


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