Perhaps this is your first attempt - "testing the waters," if you will, at switching to reusable products.
Or, maybe you've tried it, and it didn't go so well.
I've been there, and have some tips for you - especially if you have no idea where to start!
The first step to success at any venture, in my humble opinion, is to know your purpose.
Why do you want to switch to reusable products?
Is it to save money?
To save the planet?
To get back to The Good Ole Days?
All three? Great! (An equally-great fourth reason could be to stick it to The Man).
Whichever reason(s) you have, keep them in mind as we go forward!
The second step - don't lose me, here - is to leave perfectionism behind.
I know, I know, easier said than done.
You'll have much better results, and less stress, if you allow yourself some grace when you "mess up."
Or if you don't consider them "mess-ups" at all, and instead prioritize a lifestyle change over some unattainable goal. But I digress, for now.
Now that we have a little foundation to work with, here are a few options if you don't know where to start - in no particular order.
First, the obvious "start small."
Pick one area, or disposable item, you could replace.
I recommend something you won't have to remember to bring with you, so something you can use at home first.
For me, this first step was Reusable Cotton Rounds. They're used in place of the disposable cotton rounds or cotton pads for makeup remover, facial toner, etc.
They went on the bathroom counter, in the same container as my previous disposables that I used every day. I hung the mesh washing bag over the cabinet door handle, and tossed it right in the laundry basket when it was time to wash towels.
Easy peasy. No remembering to bring them anywhere, or having to get anyone else in the house on-board with it.
Another small step was to use a metal straw for my morning iced coffee.
Now, honestly I didn't use a plastic straw for this at home, ever... but it helped get in the habit of using and washing metal or other types of reusable straws.
I focused on just using them at home, before trying to carry them with me and use them at restaurants and such. (Granted, I live where plastic straws are not banned or restricted yet in any way, and I have the physical ability to drink from a strawless cup - so this exercise may be more helpful for some).
For the more analytically-minded and strong-willed among us, you may want to start where you can make the biggest impact.
If that's you, I would recommend taking a look at your daily routine. At which points in your day do you use disposables?
Then, look at which disposables you use the most. Maybe it's paper towels, or, maybe it's plastic razors, disposable coffee cups, or tissues.
Pick one that you could start transitioning to a reusable option.
You may even consider quitting reusables cold-turkey. I can't stop you, of course, but let's not create even more waste by throwing out all of the unused disposables in your house... At least give them away or switch to the reusable once you've exhausted them first.
Whichever method you choose - the "start-small", or the "big-impact" - the next step will be to research alternatives.
Pick a reusable counterpart to the disposable item - keeping in mind how easy it is to wash and maintain, how much it costs, and how appealing it is!
If you get something hard to use, expensive, and ugly - are you really going to use it?
No, it'll just sit in the cupboard, silently judging you as you keep using disposables.
There are so many great reusable options at all price points - so you may start off with a cheaper option at first, then upgrade later on.
Or, you may realize some things are worth the investment, as I did.
Example here - several years ago, I wanted to switch to a non-plastic razor.
There are options for "recycled" handles and such, but still plastic, and certainly not cheaper. The leading (as far as I'm aware) stainless steel 3-blade razor would've been well over $100 with the refills, case, and stand.
Now, if this razor was as good as everyone said, and if it's a buy-it-for-life thing, then the cost per use would be very low since razor blades are inexpensive, and I'm not a particularly hairy human anyways.
But, I decided to go for the low-entry-cost option, which was a butterfly style one-blade razor, all-in less than $50.
It had such a learning curve, I watched tutorials on how to use it... and let's just say my shins and ankles kindly suggested I try something else. (My husband uses it for his face now without issue, so it just wasn't the right one for me).
I ended up with the fancier 3-blade, and it was well worth it. I'm still on the original box of blades, and it's been cheaper in the long run than using disposable razor cartridges - despite the sticker shock. It'll probably last the rest of my life if I don't accidentally leave it behind on my travels!
(Side note about reusable / "safety" razors: If you fly with your razor, the blades must be kept in your checked bag, they are not permitted in a carry-on since they're easy to remove.)
An advanced-level criteria that you may not be considering yet at this point in your journey is end-of-life options for the reusable product.
Case in point: aforementioned razor company will take back their blades for recycling if you don't have a metal recycler in your area that will accept them.
Even though a lot of reusables will last indefinitely with proper care, some will need to be retired and replaced after some time.
Is the product recyclable or biodegradable, or is it made of synthetics?
Metals are the safest bet, and actually one of the easiest materials to recycle. But as far as textile or other products, watch for synthetics!
If you are unsure of the materials of a product, or if it can be recycled, composted, or returned to the company - just ask! A lot of smaller businesses will have this information proudly displayed on their packaging and/or website.
All of our (Cruelty-Free Stitchery's) NonPaper products - Cotton Rounds, Cloth Wipes, NonPaper Towels - are 100% plant-based, made with just cotton fabric and tencel cellulose thread. This means they can be composted and will naturally biodegrade. (And they won't release microplastics during washing or after disposal). More on our sustainability here.
Just a few weeks ago, I noticed one of the low-price retailers (yes, the W one), was also selling "reusable paper towels." Of course I had to check them out because this is a new competitor! I flipped over the package, and it said 50% cotton, 50% polyester. Not biodegradable or even recyclable. Not cool.
Watch for is those "looks plastic but is supposedly biodegradable/compostable" materials.
I could make a separate post on these entirely, but essentially you want to read the fine print.
I've seen shipping mailers, phone cases, disposable dishes and cutlery, even reusable coffee cups and water bottles made from these kinds of materials - of which there are many, some better than others.
While they are not necessarily making false claims - if you look into it, they may only be compostable in industrial facilities, not your backyard. Only a handful of these facilities exist, and I'd bet at least a nickel that you don't live near one.
Oh, and maybe the worst part is they get confused for actual plastics, and end up contaminating the already-clogged recycling stream.
It sure is fun being a conscious consumer! (sarcasm)
Overwhelmed? You're not alone!
Also, sorry if I contributed to that, but I prefer to be thorough, rather than "sunshine and rainbows"...
Remember your purpose.
We all know there's not a giant "UNDO" button on the plastic pollution and carbon emissions in the world.
It didn't all happen overnight, although a lot of it happens every night... ok I'll stop for real.
So remember your purpose, and remember that you don't have to be perfect.
You don't have to fit all of your trash for the year in one mason jar, unless you want to. It's just not the world we live in.
Sure it'd be nice if things like unpackaged, fresh foods and bulk ingredients and water bottle refilling stations and heck, even public transit or recycling services, were easily available to everyone - but they're just not.
Maybe you have a limited income and/or a disability that means you have no choice but to use certain disposable things - that's okay!
Do what you can, with the resources and abilities you have.
And if those resources and abilities are not consistent? That's okay too!
Washing and reusing NonPaper Towels one day, and having to use paper towels or leftover fast food napkins the next because you just can't do laundry - that's still something.
We seem to have developed this collective, but individually-directed, guilt and shame over disposable products. Yet they're still heavily ingrained into societal norms - AND they're actually not even the majority source of ocean plastic pollution! (Spoiler alert: it's fishing gear).
Don't beat yourself up or quit entirely if you start to feel that creeping guilt or the little voices (in your head or from someone else's) that you're not making a difference or not doing enough.
I mean seriously, we can point fingers at each other until the cows come home, but this is just a miniscule part of an astronomical problem.
Switching to reusables and thus lowering the economic demand for unnecessary disposable synthetic products is one of the best things we can do individually - and it's actually working!
Thank you for staying informed, and thank you for joining our little family of Imperfect Environmentalists!
(I assume if you read this far, you're interested in more - so join our email list below if you haven't already so you'll be notified of new blog posts like this one).