In honor of Earth Day, the Allegheny CleanWays crew thought we would share some of our favorite eco-friendly household products, and a little lesson on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and guilt-free personal waste reduction.
In the weeks surrounding Earth Day, we all start to hear more about what we as individuals should be doing to reduce our negative impact on the planet. We plug our data into ‘carbon footprint’ calculators, separate our #5 plastics from our #2’s, learn how to up-cycle household items to prevent waste; all the small changes that can add up to greater benefits for the environment. It is true that we can make positive changes to create less waste in our own lives, and should be encouraged to do so in ways that don’t cause a strain on our free time, budgets, or mental health. There are often challenges involved in doing the ‘right thing’. Eco-friendly products can be more expensive and less accessible than regular consumer products. Disposal of hazardous products, like electronics, also pose cost and access challenges. As humans, we can’t blame each other for doing what we can and consuming what we’re provided to sustain ourselves and, hopefully, flourish. The people who should be losing sleep or bending over backwards to prevent climate change and reduce waste? Producers.
The companies that make the products that we, in turn, bear the guilt and burden of turning into waste (such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Sony, Michelin, Chevron) are the names we can call out around Earth Day. We should demand that they make big changes to their production and consumption habits, instead of your neighbor who buys water in plastic bottles or your family member who uses paper towels. Corporations that produce single-use plastics, electronics, and petroleum-based products are all happy to see us consumers point fingers at one another.
Later in this post, we’ll be suggesting home products that those of us at Allegheny CleanWays use and enjoy, which have helped us in our personal efforts to reduce waste. It’s important to note that the fight against climate change and waste does not have a single solution. Many changes must be made to protect the planet, and none of us are under the assumption that our toothpaste choice is going to fix everything. But it certainly doesn’t hurt!
It’s important for us all to be mindful of avoiding blaming or shaming others, be alert to resisting greenwashing, and only making changes in our own consumption that we are comfortable with financially. Fretting over which eco-friendly hand soap to buy shouldn’t consume our thoughts, nor should it distract us from the worthy fight: Extended Producer Responsibility!
From the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (www.oecd.org): “Extended Producer Responsibility is a concept where manufacturers and importers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life-cycle, including upstream impacts inherent in the selection of materials for the products, impacts from manufacturers’ production process itself, and downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products. Producers accept their responsibility when designing their products to minimize life-cycle environmental impacts, and when accepting legal, physical or socio-economic responsibility for environmental impacts that cannot be eliminated by design.” Just as we all exist in a society which conditions us to be responsible for the impacts of our actions and choices, so too should large corporations. It can be tough to break away from a mindset in which we all view one another as wasteful, or litterbugs, or lazy, but it’s extremely valuable to think about what could be possible if the companies that make our trash were held responsible for that trash’s full life cycle.
Now, with that context in mind, we at Allegheny CleanWays are still mindful of what we consume. We clean up trash, after all, and are inherently mindful of where our own trash comes from. Without further ado, here’s some of the tried-and-true products that we’ve enjoyed and have kept our trash bins from filling up.
Fillaree: I’ve been using Fillaree dish soap for a couple years and have really enjoyed avoiding plastic bottles dishwashing liquid. Fillaree sends you a bottle of soap to refill your container at home, then you send the bottle back in a pre-paid envelope to be re-used. The dish soap is great! It works well, and has zero unnecessary packaging frills. They have containers for sale on the website, but I just use a glass mason jar (found in the trash!) with a dispenser lid. A subscription to Fillaree to receive dish soap has helped me reduce my plastic consumption, and I feel good about not giving my money to greenwashing soap companies.
Who Gives a Crap: What a relief it was at the start of the pandemic, during the great toilet paper shortage, to have a massive box of 100% recycled toilet paper at home! Their products are plastic-free, made from recycled or sustainable fibers (like bamboo), and boast carbon-neutral shipping. It’s good toilet paper, too!
Bite Toothpaste: The hunt for ‘zero-waste’ toothpaste was a long journey, and I finally settled on Bite. The dry toothpaste ‘bits’ are great and arrive in a re-useable jar. My favorite thing about this product is that I can order refills that arrive in compostable packaging, so I’m not collecting endless glass jars. I haven’t tried their other products, but I’m pleased with the toothpaste and extra pleased to avoid the plastic tubes!
Humankind Deodorant: The greatest challenge yet in my personal waste-reduction efforts was a deodorant product that’s natural, sustainable, and actually works. I clean up trash for a living, I smell bad. I have truly tested this product to the limits. Humankind offers refillable deodorant dispensers and refills that are made mostly with biodegradable paper. There’s still a little plastic involved, but a great deal less than the average commercial deodorant. I can’t stress enough that as the perfect test subject for a product which is meant to keep you from stinking, this product works.
Happy Earth Day,
DumpBuster Dani , Land-based Cleanup Coordinator
P.S. From Our Developmemt Director, Amy
BLUELAND Hand Soap and Household Cleaners: When I started the search to replace my household cleaners and hand soap, I had a long list of standards for the new producer to meet including: no plastic, renewable biological ingredients, ecofriendly packaging/shipping, no animal testing, and just a generally “good” company.
BLUELAND is a Certified B Corporation. According to B Labs’ website, a “B Corporation” is “a business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” Along with a number of other certifications, BLUELAND is Cradle to Cradle certified. “The Cradle to Cradle® design concept is inspired by nature: The aim is not only to minimize negative influences but also to leave a positive ecological footprint. As a result, products, processes, buildings and cities will emerge which are safe for humans, healthy for the environment and successful for business.”
Blueland’s tablets allowed me to replace my current soap and cleaners without purchasing any new containers or bottles. I was able to reuse bottles from my hand soap and cleaners by just rinsing them thoroughly refilling with water, and dropping in the tablets. (I did use a little Goo Gone to remove the old labels to prevent confusion!) Once the paper pouches of dishwasher & laundry detergent tablets were opened, I reused empty tea canisters to store the loose tablets. The cleaning products work great, and my family loves the mild scents available in foaming hand soap. I ordered enough refills to maintain my house for an entire year, which limited the impact of shipping the products. I highly recommend these products!
P.P.S. From our Executive Director, Myrna
White vinegar (in a glass bottle to eliminate plastic) and common baking soda are great all-around cleaners and disinfectants. Vinegar’s acidic nature helps cut through grease and grime and (especially important in Western PA) soften hard water. It also kills bacteria. Just mix 1 part vinegar to one part water and use it on most (not all!) surfaces. Of course, these properties also make it great to add to your laundry. Vinegar helps kills bacteria, deodorize, and acts as a fabric softener. Baking soda has many similar cleaning powers. It works great on grease and grime – just sprinkle on a damp cloth to scrub your tub or bathroom sink – and is also a great deodorizer. Just leave a box open in your refrigerator, sprinkle some in your trash can, or add to your laundry to take away odors (it also enhances the cleaning power of your laundry detergent). There are so many uses for distilled white vinegar and baking soda in and around your house and they’re cheap, easy to find, and aren’t harmful to the environment or irritating to people with allergies. A winning combo for any home.