Top swaps of the year

These two years have been eventful, exciting and sometimes frustrating. Going zero waste was certainly no glittering success. Despite my efforts to obtain as many items as possible in bulk, I still couldn’t avoid:

  • bottles of oil and vinegar, coffee bags and jars of spices that I couldn’t find in bulk
  • cat litter and food bags, both reused as trash containers
  • two bottles of essential oil, for toothpaste, and their three layers of packaging (plastic wrap, cardboard box and synthetic cushion)
  • the infamous thirty or so plastic bags that wrapped up the kilo of clay I had ordered online ten months ago
  • student paperwork, though I used scrap paper and dematerialized my classes as much as I could

I learned to compromise and not guilt trip if I went to a restaurant where chopsticks were wrapped in plastic, or when I ordered a drink that the waiter forgot to serve in a glass cup and without the straw.

There were a few permanent swaps, however, that proved extremely easy and life-changing.

First, the dreaded sponge.

sponge vs cloth

As I mentioned almost a year ago, these have basically become irrelevant in the kitchen. They are germ hotels and have to be thrown away after three months. The cloth, on the other hand, lasts at least eight months, can be disinfected in boiling water and washed over and over. I feel I made a decent trade-off in sanitation. Recipe for home-made cleaning liquid (baking soda and savon de Marseille) coming soon!!!


Second, conventional shampoo.

shampoo vs sodiium bicarbonate

This is more of a personal swap, since we are all endowed with contrasting capillary characteristics. A year ago I would shampoo every two days, inducing my scalp to produce more compensation grease. Sodium bicarbonate changed everything: I bought around two kilos at the market for 2 euros last September, which have lasted me until now. I only shampoo every four days now, and I rinse diluted cider vinegar (which I also use for house cleaning), then cold water. If it starts greasing up after three days, I’ll wash with hot water and rinse with cold. Again, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all but it’s worth a try.


Third, straws.

straw vs bamboo

Plastic straws are irrelevant. I can think of no other word. They can only be used once, are hardly ever recycled and cause seemingly endless problems if they land in the ocean. Riley’s aunt very sweetly offered me a bunch of twenty bamboo straws for Christmas, which are perfect whenever cocktails or smoothies are in order. You need a thin brush to clean them. In cafes, I try to point out gently but systematically that I don’t want a straw, successfully 99% of the time.


Face scrubs

scrubs vs towel

I have no idea what to do with these. One of them I inherited from another expat, the other I purchased almost two years ago. Their micro-plastic beads scrape off my skin, and, when disposed of, they are almost impossible to recapture. The very basic replacement I opted for, the cloth, has been fantastic. It befuddles me that what we could do with a two-euro piece of fabric in ten seconds every day and cold water, we would try to replicate with a tube of chemicals. I mostly saved money on this one, since exfoliating products usually cost between four and five euros a tube.


The bread bag

bread bag

The trip to my local baker is a commando operation: usually the cashier puts on a single-use glove (for justified hygiene reasons) to fetch the bread and drop it in a paper bag, so I need to snatch it by myself and put it directly into this sturdy, duck-patterned bag that belonged to my grandmother –and make the cashier laugh on that occasion. The fabric is thick enough to preserve moisture and my bread keeps for at least five days. Since I buy around two loaves every week, this swap probably enabled me to avoid around a hundred paper bags.


Paper towels


As a cleaning Terminator, I used to love and consume paper towels immoderately. My mother had to constantly remind me not to take one to clean the table or wipe my mouth during dinner for example (praise be to Her). When we came back to France last June, we picked up two napkins (from my grandmother, again) and around fifteen fabric handkerchiefs that have virtually served us the whole year. We also bought long strips of cotton fabric and cut them out into big squares, you wouldn’t tell the difference. We probably saved around twenty rolls of paper towels and goodness knows how many paper tissues.

Among my other favorites I’d include the straight razor, which I could never stop raving about, the bamboo toothbrushes and all the nut (peanut, cashew, almond) and seed (sesame, pumpkin) butter recipes that spared be jars of the industrial stuff.


Before, I had always tried to opt for reusable bottles, cups, bags and food containers. Transitioning to drastic waste reduction compelled me to make those changes systematic and try out the new, easy, aforementioned swaps. They helped us become more resourceful and efficient in the way we ran our apartment, our work and our timetables in general. At the end of the day, decluttering isn’t work anymore, it simplifies the picture.


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