Change the World Wednesday: Single Use

I’ve missed the last two weeks of challenges from Reduce Footprints. I couldn’t miss another and this week’s challenge is a good one as it ties in to the yearly challenge of Plastic-free July.


If you missed the last two weeks of challenges you can still join in. It’s never too late to tackle greening an area of your life.  Gray water Is the one I need to work on the most.  I am good about reusing water left by guests in glasses half drunk but collecting the water from dishes or showers is a bit harder. The other challenge, discovering nature, isn’t hard at all, there is so much to enjoy in nature.


This week we tackle single use or disposable items:

This week, avoid the use of any single-use or disposable items. This includes paper towels, paper plates & cups, plastic utensils, plastic water bottles, aluminum cooking trays, etc. Instead, make the effort to use real plates, towels, etc. The idea is to eliminate waste.


OR …

If you’ve already eliminated ALL single-use and disposable items, please reduce other waste. For example, plan meals this week so that no food is wasted. Before tossing an item out, try reusing it or offer it on Freecycle. The goal is to achieve zero waste this week.

We live in a disposable society.
It’s easier to throw things out than to fix them.
We even give it a name – we call it recycling.
– Neil LaBute


Do I use single use plastic or any other single use items? The answer is no, unless you count toilet paper.  Are we really so busy we can’t wash a few dishes for the planet?  Many people think disposable is convenient, but when you factor in the time you spend purchasing these items you could have washed the dishes.

Dishes, Pans and serving utensils

Are you planning a large get-together and need more dishes than you have for your family?

  • Consider borrowing what you will need from friends and family
  • Ask guest to bring their own place settings
  • Search Freecycle for dishes and serving utensils and keep them boxed up for those special occasions when they will be needed
  • Flea markets tend to have lots of dishes available. I found a woman who sold individual place settings for a dollar each and purchased four for holidays.

The typical disposable plastic fork or spoon is made from petroleum and estimates are that it can take somewhere between 10 and 100 years to decompose.  And of course when it is decomposing it’s releasing toxic substances into the soil and groundwater. (source)

Paper towels and napkins


napkins for children

Disposable napkins are flimsy in addition to being wasteful.  Any one who has, or had, small children knows it takes quite a few paper napkins to clean up a spill.  Cloth napkins are so easy to come by or make.  I have made napkins from the following;

  • old sheets and worn pillow cases
  • t-shirts (along with jersey sheets this fabric won’t fray so it’s perfect for those who don’t sew)
  • Dresses and men’s dress shirts
  • a child’s favorite piece of clothing they have outgrown
  • If you want really simple, head to the bathroom for wash cloths. When done simply wash and replace



I recently made over 100 napkins for $.50 to give to my adult children (two of the fabrics are pictured above).  The young children love cloth napkins as they feel special and enjoy picking out which napkin design they want to use for that meal. My son and his wife held a large gathering and set out the varied fabrics I had made into napkins for them. Guests commented on how nice it was not to have paper.

 Plastic or vinyl table cloths

Sure it’s nice to have a table cloth on the picnic table that sits outdoors in all kinds of weather but there are alternatives to disposable tablecloths. Here are some Ideas I have used:

  • Sheets
  • A pretty quilt
  • A throw blanket
  • Curtain panels (I usually have a set for winter and one for summer so one is clean and ready to use)
  • Pillow cases as a placemat instead of a table cloth
  • Towels.  These are thick enough to catch most spills before they end up in your lap a Beach towel is perfect because of it’s larger size.

Your traditional plastic tablecloth might be toxic to guests (source)

What about glassware

I don’t know about you, but I hate drinking out of plastic and those paper or Styrofoam cups are even worse. Before your next get-together search your home for items you can repurpose as drinking cups, better yet start collecting a few containers now to be prepared. The following work exceptionally well and will be greatly appreciated, (plus if you have an assortment guests will know which glass is theirs and you won’t have a bunch of plastic cups sitting around half full because your guests forgot which was theirs and got another one)

  • Mason jars
  • Glass containers from Peanut butter, salsa etc
  • I have a snapple bottle a guest brought and was going to throw in the trash along with a Starbucks cappuccino bottle.  These are grabbed first by guests because they have lids which keep the bugs out.
  • If you still purchase single use containers of yogurt instead of tossing these they can be used for young children who don’t need a large cup and won’t break.
  • If you are really talented, collect beer and or wine bottles and cut them to make decorative cups.  You can search online for the directions on how to cut glass.
  • When all else fails, who says what you drink out of needs to be a glass?  Drag out your coffee cups.

At a time when money is tighter than ever and the amount of trash we produce as a society it’s time to rethink disposables.


Are you willing to give up disposables? Will you be joining myself and numerous others for Plastic-Free july?



29 thoughts on “Change the World Wednesday: Single Use

  1. Hi Lois,
    Thanks for another great post, full of helpful ideas! Disposables are not really a big culture in the places I’ve lived recently – luckily they’re expensive. However, recently I’ve started seeing people use a few paper plates and napkins when they come to the beach. So when I take the dogs for a walk I wear gloves and pick up the litter, at least it helps a little.
    Like you I HATE drinking out of paper or plastic cups. I re-use peanut butter jars for all sorts of things but hadn’t thought of them as drinking glasses – great idea for my next picnic, thanks!


    • Hi Clare, I hate seeing the litter left behind at the beaches. We have trash cans all over but so many are too lazy to pick up after themselves. Thanks for cleaning your beaches. I wish more people would move away from disposables of all kinds. I see it as a bigger hassle than it’s worth. I mean you have to remember to buy them, have bags ready for people to toss their garbage in etc. Why not just do a load of dishes?

      Glass peanut butter jars are great and about as versatile as mason jars. ;-)


  2. We do many of these things already (e.g. cloth napkins and real dishes, etc.), but I’m trying to get my husband more on board with the “zero waste” idea. And, like someone else mentioned, we’re in the process of using up and wearing out some plastic stuff before replacing it with better stuff.


    • Christy, the hardest part for me is not bringing in more plastic when I need to shop at the grocery store. Today I bought apples and there were no loose ones available. First week of Plastic free and already one bag came home with me.


  3. Oh wouldn’t that be great to be plastic free…. .. Loved reading all your ideas here Lois.. And it is so easy to forget and buy something for single use.. I nearly bought some paper napkins for a BBQ on Summer Solstice as I invited family, then I remembered I had some material ones I once bought with a tablecloth from abroad that had never been used in a cupboard.. The comments I got back from family made my choice more worth while as it got them thinking about using material napkins again too.. :-)
    So thank you for the ‘Ripple Effect’ Lois.. xxx :-D
    Love Sue


    • It’s so funny how guests react to being offered cloth napkins, isn’t it? Some remark that it brings back memories of grandparent’s homes or holidays when the good linens were brought out. But it does seem to spark the idea to incorporate them into their lives as a result.

      I bet your family loved the beautiful napkins you offered.


  4. As always, I love your resourcefulness, and your creativity : ) I bought a glass cutter tool once for cutting glass bottles, and it worked well, but you need to be able to file the glass down to make it safe. The cheapest option was to use some kind of paper, but you have to be careful not to inhale tiny shards of glass. In the end it got too complicated, and I sold the cutter on eBay.

    Jam jars are quite trendy these days – quite a lot of cafes serve smoothies ans juices in them. Sadly, often accompanied by a straw > : (


    • A friend showed me how to use a dremel attachment to file down the glass so it is safe. I found a green beer bottle on the street and carried it home to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out.

      I forgot about jam jars. When my boys were little we had a company that put cartoon characters on the glass as a collectable. We had quite a few that I later passed on to someone else with smaller children.


  5. I’ve been trying to be better about all the things you mentioned. It’s so easy to do the convenient. Whenever I entertain, even if it is a big crowd, I use real dishes but I have to admit I di use paper napkins – never thought about making napkins out of leftover material – what a great idea..


    • I don’t buy napkins as I just head to the thrift shop and find a few nice tops or a woman’s housecoat and cut them up. I have a thrift shop that charges $.25 per item of clothing so I can make a lot for a small investment.

      The thing is it’s hard to make a lot of changes all at once, I took things one at a time making the first a habit before adding another.


  6. If I use platic ware at work for lunch I bring it home, wash it and use it until it no longer. I do love the idea about napkins, and I actually never thought of it. We use and wash towels, why not napkins.


    • You will love using cloth napkins. A meal feels special when you do and being small they take up so little room in the laundry.

      I love hearing people say they bring home and wash their plastics. If we have them the best thing to do is keep using them for as long as we can.


  7. While I am not plastic free, there are some things that I am doing. As for picnics, I was lucky that years ago my neighbor gave me 20 plates from a MacDonalds give away. (He worked there.) While they are plastic, they wear well and I have used them for years for picnics. Also, I do have plastic table cloths for picnics. However, I just throw them in the washer and they turn out fine. I have used them over and over for many years. As for plastic silverware, I do have some of that we’ve collected from various places and we just wash it and use again.( However, I did buy some decent metal silverware several years ago for my in-laws anniversary party at a very good price at Costco. Now we have a lot of “good” silverware that you use at picnics and other occasions.)

    The point of these few examples is that we all have plastic in our lives–either that we acquired long ago or maybe recently. We just need to be smart with it’s usage and reusage.


    • Lynn, you make a very good point. Unless you have someone who likes plastic you can hand yours down too you are better off using what you have then throwing it away. The goal is to bring no new plastic into our lives and you are doing very good at that.


  8. Not much plastic at all at my house, since I have been working on that for years. I can still do better, however–I’ve gotten lazy about making my own yogurt and have been buying the big containers. Plastic, of course. So it’s back to tracking down the local organic milk, making yogurt (not difficult or time-consuming, either), and then I can make yogurt cheese as well.
    Thanks for the poke!


    • Cynthia, like you I have eliminated most plastic over the years. The biggest exception would be my food saver that uses plastic bag for freezing my food.

      I’ve never made yogurt but I’m sure home made tastes better and you can control what ingredients you use.


  9. I’d looove to be plastic free! My only dilemma is how to get my family’s cooperation?
    I have reduced my few times a year ( four to five) disposable meals to nearly zero.
    I pack my own knives, forks, cups… for holidays & wash anything that is disposable five to six times but have decided that if I ever need it in the future, I’ll make sure it’ll be paper plates & not plastic.
    That is the after effects of having seen the documentary “bag it” :)
    May I ask how you protect your good tablecloths when you set a table?
    I buy every two years a hard transparent plastic one but now I see I’ll have to find a solution to it!


    • I should have been more specific about Plastic-free July. In the month of July the goal is to bring no new plastic into your home or use any disposable plastics when out, such a straw at a restaurant.

      I’ve never been a fan of paper plates, they are so flimsy. Even if you can keep the plate balanced enough not to spill food wet foods will leak through. You are the second person recently who mentioned Bag It changing the way you see plastics.

      I’m not sure how to get your family to accept the same goals you have, but if you don’t have disposables around the house they would have to get used to using real dishes.

      My good tablecloths? I don’t have any. ;-) Seriously I am too laid back to fuss with fancy tablecloths. My grandmother used to have a cotton topper that was slightly smaller than her good tablecloths that she would drape over the good one, where you could still see the edges hanging off the top of the table, then after a meal just clear the topper and had a pretty table still, no messes.


      • Brilliant idea for the tablecloth cover thanks!
        I never use disposables in the year, it was rather the easy way out for holidays…
        That is not too hard to change with a bit of an effort what is difficult now that I think of it is when I buy my organic tofu, tempeh,seitan… all these macrobiotic proteins that are wrapped in plastic… the organic soy yogurt I buy once a week too. I did get recipes for yogurt from (a brilliant blogger by the way!) but I still need to check out if I can find all the ingredients…
        Any other ideas for these proteins? Oh! I can think of one… I could better go to a smaller nature shop who does it herself she might have the solution, you see just writing to you about it brings a chain of solutions ;)
        If you have any other suggestion I’d appreciate that too!


        • Yes, I adore Lindsay!! I have pretty much given up on soy yogurt and tofu. I get most of my proteins from nuts, seeds and beans. You may want to check amazon, I know they carry self stable tofu that may not have as much plastic as I believe the packages I looked at had paper containers like a bar of soap, but don’t know what the inner wrapper is like.

          Can you get your tempeh and seitan from bulk food (such as a whole foods store) where you can bring your own containers?


          • Never heard of ” self stable tofu ” do you means a dehydrated tofu which you have to soak back in water for consumption?
            Does that not take away its nutrients?
            Nuts are too heavy for my system, I tried them a few times with no success.
            Yes, I’ll try & see if I can buy it (unwrapped) in bulk by a small nature shop versus the nature supermarket.
            Thanks for the tips!


          • Sorry that was a typo, it’s shelf stable. Have you tried soaking your nuts before eating them? I hear that unlocks the proteins so we can absorb the nutrients better and makes it easier to digest.


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