Natu Collective: 8 Simple and Delightful Swaps to Start Your Sustainability Journey

Tiffany was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and currently resides in Seattle, WA. She enjoys marveling at nature, like rock formations and balanced ecosystems, and uses her curiosity to fuel her learning of how land came to be and the people who rely on it. Tiffany is currently completing her certificate in Sustainability & Sustainable Business from UCLA Extensions and hopes to work for positive social and environmental impact. 

When I was growing up, my cousins would call me “tree hugger”. I wanted to make sure all their soda cans were recycled and would take their cans home to recycle them myself! I embraced being a little different because it felt like the right thing to do. (Also in Hawaii, if you brought these directly to a recycling center, you’d receive 5 cents for each can—score!). I was the family member who, when I found shampoo/conditioner bottles in the bathroom trash, would run into the living room shouting, “Hey! We’re supposed to clean this out and put this in the recycling bin, not the trash!”.

I continued to be aware of my packaging waste going into adulthood. But when I got married in 2019 and saw HOW MUCH STUFF two people can quickly go through, I took that opportunity to dream up new household processes. I started looking into how I could reduce my waste by making waste-conscious decisions at home.

The 8 swaps Tiffany loves to share

I highly recommend trying some of these if you’re wondering where to start. These are listed in the order I made the swap to show you what this process can look like (none of these are affiliate links). I aimed to do better instead of trying to be perfect, which made the decisions more fun. Each swap was made by first recognizing, then researching, and finally acting!

1. Paper napkins/towels → Cloth napkins

I shamefully rarely use napkins when I eat, but my husband is a much cleaner eater and uses one each time. My stash of free napkins from eating out quickly diminished and I found myself regularly buying napkins and paper towels. Since it was a new expense, it was the perfect opportunity to research alternatives.

We switched to cloth napkins from Marley’s Monsters’ “UNPAPER towels/napkins” and enjoy using them because they have cute prints that make me feel like I’m at a fun picnic. They’re cheaper in the long run and also easy to clean — we have about 30 and I just toss this into our towel load each week. (We still use paper towels for raw meat.)

If cloth napkins aren’t for you, try switching to paper towels that are FSC certified (meaning they’re coming from responsibly managed forests) and BPI certified compostable (this certification ensures true compostability — because paper towels are often bleached, they’re not always compostable, even if the brand says it is)

2. “Regular” grocery shopping → Zero-waste grocery shopping

A few years ago, I started bringing my own produce bags so I didn’t have constantly peel the plastic ones at the store just to throw them away later. (Some grocery stores are allowing these again, hooray!). I was excited to learn I learned I could shop using my stash of empty glass and plastic containers!

My friend introduced me to Scoop Marketplace, a zero-waste store in Seattle that sells kitchen and bathroom products. I enjoy bringing my empty spice containers for refills instead of buying new ones. And for those spices I only need a small amount of, I could just buy as much as I needed!

3. One cotton swab/day → Reusable swab

In my childhood home, we never ran out of Q-tips. I grew up with the habit of using one to clean and dry my ears after each shower. It felt wasteful to constantly throw this in the trash after 20 seconds of use, so I was trying to find an alternative for a while.

I found Last Swab which is supposed to last 1,000 uses. I now use this about once/week, so it should last 19 years!!?! I like that it’s easy to wash and carry in my travel bag. I also like that the container is made from recycled ocean plastic!

4. “Regular” toilet paper → Bamboo toilet paper

During the summer of the pandemic, toilet paper was out of stock in many places. We had about a 2 month supply left, so it was an opportunity to rethink how we purchased this.

We switched to bamboo toilet paper from Hello Bippy and learned that bamboo grows faster and uses less water than trees. (Who Gives a Crap is also a great option — they’re a certified B Corp that donates 50% of profits to help build toilets for people, which is important for preventing diseases!).

If bamboo isn’t for you, look for post-consumer recycled toilet paper, which is still protecting our tree supply.

5. Disposable sanitary pads Reusable cotton liners

Disposable pads were the first product that made me think about how we handle our waste. As a teenager learning to do my monthly chore, I couldn’t wrap my head around the image of the pile of pads I would produce over my lifetime. (My body will decompose, but all the pads I’ve used will still be around?!)

I finally gathered the energy and courage to make the switch in 2020 by purchasing a set of 10 of Period Aisle’s reusable pads, which lasts me one cycle with a wash in between. Their pads and underwear can be rinsed and then washed with a normal load of laundry. I also think they’re more comfortable and protective than regular pads. (Pst, they’re also a B Corp!)

If you need to continue using disposable pads, look for brands using organic cotton to protect both your and our soil’s health.

6. Plastic floss → compostable floss

As I was going through reducing plastic in different parts of my life, it finally occurred to me that floss was plastic and there were now better options available. The tiny plastic containers floss comes in may not be recyclable —read Leticia’s post about how size matters.

Floss can also be made of commercially compostable materials, like bamboo! They’re also coming in creative reusable containers with refill options and minimal packaging. I now keep a cup in our bathroom to collect the floss, and throw that in our compost bin on garbage day!

7. Plastic phone cases →  Biodegradable phone cases

My husband was replacing his phone case and I’m so proud of him for looking for better options! Pela phone cases are compostable (made with Flaxstic which is a compostable biopolymer) and can break down in your home compost in about 9 months to a year.

My favorite part is their business model that closes the waste loop for your old phone case as well. They include an envelope for your to send your old plastic phone case to them so they can process it into a new compostable phone case!

8. Eating meat every day → Eating less meat

The first thing each student does in my Sustainability program is take a carbon footprint test. I learned that 20% of my household’s carbon footprint comes from food, specifically because we’re used to eating meat everyday.

Since food patterns is bigger habit to overcome, we’re not cutting meat but reducing it. We try to eat meatless meals 2 days per week, which has been a fun opportunity to learn new recipes and try new local seasonal vegetables Washington has to offer. My favorite meatless meal to make and eat are different vegetable soups — I love bringing the flavors of each vegetable together.

*What is a B Corp?

I’ve mentioned B Corp companies multiple times because I love sharing about them! B Corps are businesses that have legally committed to using their profit for purpose, and consider their environmental and social impact in their operations. They are only certified if they meet the highest standards. Look for the B the next time you purchase something!

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