Disposables and Ever Afters – On Minimalism and the Environment

Replacing your disposables and single use items with items that last, if not a lifetime, then at least a few years, is a great, minimalist striving. It will allow you to minimise the sheer number of items in your home, since owning a single, long lasting item means you’ll need no stock of disposables. It also minimises the need to go to the store to refill your stock. Our latest, and perhaps most treasured, addition is a linen dish cloth. Now, before you throw out your regular dish cloth and buy a brand new linen one, let me tell you what we used to do – because it does go quite a long way, as far as saving money and the environment is concerned. You really needn’t buy anything new or pricey.

We used to buy regular Wettex cloths, and let’s face it – when it comes to disposable ones, that particular brand is far superior to all others. I was under the impression that we both tried to keep them fresh for as long as possible, but it turned out Kristoffer’s cloth game was on a level of its own. “Did you change this cloth recently, or did we actually use it for eight months? It’s still not smelly at all, but it’s a bit worn out”, I said to my dear husband one day, realising I myself had not changed it in a very long time. “Well, of course it’s still fresh!” he exclaimed, and then went on to tell me his daily and weekly cloth routine. Oh, yes – daily and weekly. Every night, after wiping the stove and the countertops for the last time (keeping the kitchen spotless is Kristoffer’s chore, while I tend to the bathroom) he evidently massages some washing up liquid into the cloth, rinses it thoroughly, squeezes it real good and hangs it up to dry. That keeps it from going stale. Once or twice a week, he also boils it on the stove to eliminate germs. Every month, we wash it in the washing machine – of this, I was aware, since I’m the one doing most of our laundry. As it turns out, this will make any old Wettex cloth last for up to a year. Ours was ragged and worn, but perfectly sanitary, thanks to my pedant husband .

Image result for linen dish cloth
This is the kind of linen cloth we bought, from Växbo lin in Sweden. There are plenty of brands. 

When the poor, disposable cloth was at the brink of disintegration, we thought we’d find an even more sustainable option. We bought a linen one that may very well last a lifetime. In addition to being a fine cloth, and far better looking than our old one, it turns out to be great for removing stains and dirt, since its structure is rather coarse. This, as it happens, eliminates our need to use a disposable sponge while cleaning the kitchen. In one go, we’ve eliminated two disposable products from our shopping list. The linen cloth was about 10 euros, so it’s no immediate money saver, given our previously sparse Wettex consumption. Nevertheless, it’s a rewarding, minimalist experiment. I’m attracted to the idea of never again having to buy another disposable dish cloth – perhaps, never again, any dish cloth at all. It is the definition of a mundane example, but do take a moment to consider what this may entail on the bigger scheme of things. How many other household items, or items in general, would be possible to never again put on your grocery list, refill, buy and store?

The next household-related project, then, is to find an alternative to plastic, disposable dish brushes. There are several on the market, but my concern is that buying an expensive, ever so hippy-looking one, on the internet, will have greater environmental impact than just buying a cheap one at the nearby grocery store.

That’s right: on a structural level, the less money you spend, the better for the environment. It may seem very eco friendly to spend 10 euros on a wooden, sustainable dish brush, but it will have less of an impact to buy a plastic one for 1 euro. Every cent you put into the economic system adds to consumption and economic growth, spurring the use of fuel, raw materials and so on. Let me put it this way: the hippy-dippy product may, in itself, be far better for the environment than a cheaper, non-hipster one, but the money you spend on it will be out of your control in an instant – someone will increase their standard of living, buy a new car, go on a shopping spree, take a flight to Thailand and what not, if you decide to spend that extra money, putting it in motion and into a system that relies on constant growth. This is why keeping your old, cheap Wettex cloth may well be more environmentally friendly than buying a new, linen one.

By: Emmie

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