Waste not, want not – or so the saying goes! While I admit I’m not the greenest gal out there, I’m very inspired by Lara Murray: mom of two, teacher and enthusiastic waste-reducer. I was thrilled when Lara agreed to share some of her tips for wasting less with This Mom Loves readers! (Disclosure: she’s also a Norwex rep, and you’ll hear about a few of her recommended products along with tons of other great advice.)


I can remember being in elementary school, some 30 years ago, when I first heard the buzz about recycling.   We had a school assembly introducing it and they taught us a song, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle….”. We sang it over and over in the chorus, and I can only remember one added line that said, “or watch the world go down the drain.” Hmm…..

Children are always eager to care for the earth, as I feel that they are truly the humans who are closest to it and spend the most quality time with it. As an elementary school teacher I watch my students become passionate every April around Earth Day about saving the bees, cleaning up litter, and creating a more efficient world that keeps the earth at the forefront of their minds. As adults, we may not always be as eager.

Our curbside garbage and recycling collection (though super convenient – I’m not complaining) makes it easy for us to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to our waste management.  What if we didn’t have this convenience and we were forced to store our own garbage in our backyard?  How would that look to you in one week? Two weeks? One month? One year?  

The song that I learned during my Elementary School days was missing the most critical of the “R’s”, and truly needs the 4th and most important one to be “REFUSE”.  Recycling is effective if done correctly (as misplaced items can contaminate a bag of recycling and cause the contents to end up in the trash), but we can really make a positive impact on our Earth by simply refusing the products that are one-time use, and swapping them with more sustainable options.  This will also drastically change what you are adding to your weekly curbside waste program, and can even save you money. Small, simple changes can really make a huge impact and jumpstart a more earth-friendly mindset as you begin to notice what other changes you can make!

Here are a few impactful changes you can make right now:

  • Reusable water bottles seem like the obvious one.  Reusable plastic water bottles are convenient and have become more popular in recent years. However, there are also so many incredible options out there for aluminum water bottles that will keep your drinks ice cold, or piping hot! The composition of the plastic in water bottles changes based on their exposure to heat and cold and plastic particles can get into the water.  Just for that reason, a reusable stainless steel bottle is best.

  • Reusable grocery bags work best when they are remembered and not left in the car! {Lara – was this comment directed towards me?!} They hold more and stand up better than plastic bags, and you are not using them just for the ride home!
  • Silicone lids and beeswax wraps are an amazing alternative to non-recyclable plastic wrap.  Beeswax wrap is so easy to use and you can purchase some cute fabric patterns or even DIY with leftover scraps of fabric!  They are becoming more readily available and I have purchased them at the health food store and the hardware store!  (Plus beeswax smells amazing!) Silicone lids are also a very convenient way to cover food and will wash up in the dishwasher.  They are super easy to cover and uncover foods for your outdoor dining too when you want to keep insects out!  Norwex sells amazing silicone lids that are also oven safe to 460 degrees, so they are great for replacing tin foil when baking, and keep food hot for quite some time after removing it from the oven – awesome for pot lucks or large family dinners!
  • Reusable produce bags offer an awesome alternative to the single use bags offered in the grocery store.  These mesh bags can be washed and reused for all of your produce.  You bring your produce home and wash it before consumption anyway, so do you really need that plastic barrier? Another way to reduce the extra packaging when you are grocery shopping is to think about the way things in the produce department are packaged and choose stores who offer items in a more bulk “choose your own” way.  Does your zucchini or broccoli really need to be on a Styrofoam tray covered in plastic wrap?? Looking for produce bags? Norwex has those too, or this is another item that you could DIY!
  • Bento box lunch containers offer the ability to pack litterless lunches every day! Check out Yumbox or PlanetBox for amazing wash and reuse containers.  The added bonus to these is that they force you to think “outside the box” (no pun intended!) a bit when it comes to packing snacks for you or your kids.  Rather than opening a box and tossing a cellophane-covered snack into a lunch bag, these containers channel you into the right direction for healthy eating.  Homemade granola bars are as easy to make as Rice Krispie treats, and save on tossing out wrappers and the boxes that school snacks are packaged in. (I figured that my family of 4 was recycling at least 54 granola bar boxes per school year which also equalled 432 shiny foil wrappers being tossed in the garbage).
  • Reusable containers or travel mugs are also a great thing to bring with you when you dine out.  Rather than getting your restaurant left-overs packed up in Styrofoam or non-recyclable plastic, bring your own container to take home what you can enjoy for lunch tomorrow! Side note: did you know that Styrofoam has a predicted decomposition rate of almost 400 years? More of a reason to simply refuse it!
  • #refusethestraw Plastic straws are not only harmful to animals, but they are very difficult to break down.  Paper straws can be purchased at the Dollar Store or at any party planning store.  I always keep a package of them in my glove box for drive thru stops.  If you find paper straws are awkward to use (some young children find them challenging because they collapse) then there are also options in stainless steel (offered by Norwex) as well as bamboo. These are more rigid and stand up in drinks when used for an extended amount of time.  Plastic cutlery is another item that cannot be recycled, and is used for a very short amount of time and then just tossed in the trash.  Bamboo travel cutlery that comes in its own case is an awesome option and can be found on the Well.ca website.  Or you can just simply pack a set from your silverware at home and wash them after use.  {Note from Kate: I have the Norwex stainless steel straws and they were a great purchase!}

  • Containers that you already have at home can be useful again once cleaned up.  Hand soap containers can be used to easily create your own foaming hand soap from 3 or 4 simple ingredients (I like that you can add your favourite essential oil blend to your soap mixture for an awesome smell).  Glass jars or plastic storage containers can be washed and are now accepted at Bulk Barn to use instead of their provided plastic bags and containers.  Be sure to have them weighed by the cashier before you fill them.  Buying items in bulk is also a great way to save money! On my last trip to get ingredients for making granola bars I bought a jar of honey for a fraction of what I would have paid at the grocery store! Saving money and saving the Earth is ALWAYS a win-win!

  • Reducing your single use paper product consumption is also extremely impactful, so don’t limit yourself to reducing just plastic.  Did you know that 51,000+ trees are cut down daily for North America’s paper towel habit? And that 3.000 tons of paper towel waste is created every day?  Cleaning your home and messes with high quality microfiber that can be washed and reused rather than reaching for sprays and paper towel can save you lots of money, and some of those trees from being cut down.  The last time I purchased paper towel I paid $1 a roll at a store that promises to roll back prices, and couldn’t believe that I was just going to use it and throw it in the trash.  This is literally throwing money away.  I don’t use much paper towel (mostly just for bacon grease and dog messes) as I am a reusable microfiber user.  Norwex offers the best microfiber on the market that can also remove 99.9% of contaminants from your surfaces.  Now that we are in Spring Cleaning mode they also have the best cloth for cleaning your windows and polishing your shiny surfaces – the window cloth will save so many paper towels and leave your windows and mirrors with a lint-free, streak-free shine every time! {Note from Kate: the window cloth is my favourite Norwex product!} Some other products to check out that will replace the use of paper towel are the kitchen cloths and towels, the counter cloths, and napkins.
  • Amazing swaps for disposable hygiene products are easily found too!  Companies like Knix and Thinx have created underwear (they also sell bras and tanks) that are great for catching leaks.  These companies are also extremely generous in how they do business.  If you have to return something because it doesn’t fit properly, Knix will ask you to donate it to a woman’s shelter or a friend in need, rather than pay to send it back to the company.  Then they will send you the size you require.  A product called the Diva Cup is also gaining popularity as a reusable alternative to feminine hygiene products. 

Some other things to think about as we move into party season, wedding season and planting season:

  • Creating a birthday party loot bag can be a great time to think outside the box.  Rather than a trip to the dollar store to purchase plastic items that usually have a limited life span before going into the trash, think of ways that you can gift something more sustainable.  Spring birthday parties can have a take-away gift of a clay pot and package of seeds, and in the fall a nice idea would be to send the kids away with a pumpkin that they can carve with their families. I have also been to parties where the goody bag consists of a couple of homemade cookies and a $5 gift card to Chapters.
  • When giving a gift for a shower or birthday, try to find a way to be creative with your gift wrapping!  You can host a waste-free party and watch guests get creative with tea towels, towels and storage containers to wrap up the gifts!
  • Planting flowers adds lots of colour and joy to spring and is something to look forward to this time of year, but a lot of resources go into the growing and shipping of flowers, and the plastic cell packs once used cannot be recycled.  Growing your own perennials from seed is very easy and can be done in ice cream cones, toilet paper rolls or egg cartons, all of which will biodegrade.  If you have an abundance you can always share with your friends!

All of these ideas may seem like they require extra planning and resources, but once you have your systems in place it will be smooth sailing! For those of you who are parents, grandparents, or maybe even pet parents, there was a time when you had to plan and pack a bag to be prepared to leave the house, and you did it!  Many of these options are portable and can simply slip into your purse for when you need of them.  Each small step can make a huge impact – which one will you choose to make a start?

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