A century ago, the concept of "disposable" didn't exist in the form that it does today. For the average consumer, most products were purchased with the intent of being used to their fullest, then reused in a new way before they were tossed in the trash.
Our grandparents brought their lunches to school and work using cheesecloth or wax paper instead of plastic bags. Milk bottles were drained then collected to be refilled and distributed again.
"We didn't have disposable things," said Janet Giacoppo, a Phoenix resident born in 1929. "We would do things like bring in our own mugs for coffee. We weren't really aware of it, that's just what we did."
Like the climate in which we find ourselves today, frugality concerning money and resources was a top priority in the 1940s and 50s. "We were trying to save money, so you didn't buy things that you could throw away," Giacoppo said. "It would be wasteful, in respect to spending money."
And items that we would consider disposable today were certainly present back then. The exception is that even "disposables" were reused. "You would always save your paper bags, for when you brought, say, lunch to work," she said. "You would reuse it until it didn't look good."
In times such as these, when we are becoming more aware of how, why and where we invest our financial resources, saying goodbye to throwaway purchases may just be the next big thing that keeps extra cash in your wallet.
The average American office worker goes through around 500 disposable cups over the course of 12 months. Americans even toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times.
Dishes, cups and utensils are some of the easiest items to lose on the disposable end. Why? Because, more likely than not, you already own reusable dishes and glassware. And if you're having a large crowd over for dinner party and don't have enough settings, there's nothing wrong with asking a neighbor for an extra set. Plus, you'll add a fun, mix n' match feel to your dishware.
Products to check out:
- I Am Not a Paper Cup - Synonymous with reuse in the real world, "I Am Not a Paper Cup" is a simple way to ditch your to-go coffee cup and save on waste. It's also insulated and comes with a silicone lid, keeping your coffee in place and piping hot.
- Preserve Tableware & Utensils - Made from 100 percent recycled materials, Preserve makes an entire line of dishes, cups and utensils that are sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of everyday use. They have two versions of their tableware, one for regular use in your home and one that more closely resembles the lighter make of disposables for easy transport. Both are dishwasher and microwave safe.
- To-Go Ware - If you're on the move and need to easily transport your food, skip throwaway containers and utensils and check out To-Go Ware's stackable stainless steel food carriers and their bamboo flatware sets.
Americans send about 3,000 tons of paper towels to the landfill every year. But what may be more in the forefront of your thoughts is how much you spend just to throw away this paper good. Let's say you bought an economy pack of paper towels and spent about $1 per roll. If your home goes through an average of two rolls per week, that's about $110 each year for something you'll just toss out and can't be recycled.
Before paper towels were popular, we cleaned up messes and wiped down our counters with rags and cloths instead. These options present more durable, reusable options and will quickly save you money over the lifetime of their use.
Products to check out:
- EcoTowl - The EcoTowl is a reusable, super-absorbent cloth made from natural materials. It can absorb 10 times its volume in liquids and is easily sanitized in the dishwasher when necessary. Also, it won't rip when a little elbow grease is required for tough-to-clean surfaces.
- Bamboo Dish Towels - Products made from bamboo offer an excellent, sustainable alternative to the slower-growing wood from which traditional paper towels are derived. This line also features pesticide-free bamboo and the towels do not require bleach or fabric softener to maintain their texture.
- Paper Towels With Recycled Content - If you just can't kick the habit, opt for paper towels that use recycled content and an environmentally friendly bleaching process. The National Resource Defense Council has a handy shoppers guide to help you purchase towels that have less of an environmental impact than their traditional counterparts.
While sandwiches and snack bags are recyclable in most plastic bag collections, buying something to throw it away doesn't always make the best ecological or financial sense. If a box of sandwich bags costs about $3.50 and lasts you a month (adding up to around $42 per year), you could spend the same amount and get a set of reusable bags that will last you for many more lunches.
Products to check out:
- Wrap-n-Mat - Got a picnic on the horizon or planning on eating your lunch outdoors? Wrap-n-Mat offers a cute alternative to disposable bags using snack and sandwich pouches that unfold to make place mats. Once you're done, wash the mat by hand and let it air dry.
- The Reusable Fresh Snack Pack - These packs offer the same ability to view your food inside as traditional baggies, but with a durable, reusable twist.
- The Plastic Bag Dryer - If you still like the look and feel of traditional plastic bags, don't use them just once. Simply wash your bags out and dry them on the rack. And once your bags can't be reused, make sure to recycle them.
Beyond the obvious disposables we've covered above, taking a look at other items around your house that may seem "cheaper" to throw away than repair is another way to ditch your disposable mentality. Even though your busted blender may be easily replaced with a new one, have you ever tried taking it apart to see what's wrong?
You may find that, rather than opting for the trash when items around your home stop performing at their peak, a quick tune-up or part replacement is all they need to be up-and-running again.
If you're not a whiz with the screwdriver or spark plugs, that's not a problem. There are fantastic resources around the Web that house easy how-to guides that explain general home repair. One that we particularly like is the Fix-it Club. It has hundreds of free guides that can help you repair anything from an amplifier or car radio to your electric cooktop stove and curling iron. Fix-it Club breaks down what can go wrong with your stuff, how to identify the problem and how to fix it.
Whether you're looking to save a little coin or simply reduce your impact, once you start investigating ways to make the most out of your stuff, you're sure to see your footprint shrink and your wallet expand.