Easy Sustainable Switches

Meadow with white and pink flowers

Routine enables us to breeze through our days with very little effort and thought. This might sound like a bad thing but without it we’d waste time over daily deliberations on when to have our first coffee, where to have our first coffee, how to have our first coffee. What a waste of brain power. We have to short-circuit these decisions to free up time and brain power for idle contemplation of the more important questions in life, like when / where / how to have the first cake of the day!

In this article I’ve listed easy sustainable switches that you can make with very little change to your routine.

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Routine makes like easier, smoother, more efficient. It also makes change much harder. When you want to do something differently you have to mentally stop the automatic behaviour, switch gears, alter the direction and travel consciously down a new path that is unfamiliar and time-consuming at first. When I think back to when I started my Zero Waste journey I mostly remember the stress. Two years on, I struggle to remember the exact source of that stress, after all sustainable living is often about simplifying things and slowing things down. Recently I was reminded.

Having the kids at home for the summer holidays throws my normal routine completely out of balance. Instead of smoothly flowing through my day I’m having to work out how to buy package-free goods without making a specific journey to the stores, which sort of defeats the purpose. Some days I failed miserably and just gave up under the burden of over-scheduled to-do lists and disgruntled children.

The argument for sustainable living is really one for conscious living but I think it’s unrealistic to expect people to be ‘on’ 24/7, it’s just too exhausting and too time-consuming. I find it much easier to choose one new habit a week, whether it’s remembering to bring a reusable bag / cup to the shops or work, or cycling instead of driving. Choose one thing and aim to do it every time you have the opportunity. It’ll soon become automatic and your brain will be freed up to take on a new habit. But most importantly be patient and kind to yourself. Change is hard, change takes time. Perfection is a mirage, we can only make the best choice that’s available to us today and sometimes that choice isn’t mediocre at best. Roll with it. It’s still better than not trying at all.

So routine change is hard but you know what’s easy? Switches! They require little or no brain power and are instant. It’s why Instagram is full of photos of them and eco retailers are constantly touting them. Here’s my favs;

Paper Tape instead of Sellotape. Using this allows you to put packages straight into the compost bin or recycling bin without having to remove plastic packing tape first. The best price for brown paper tape that I’ve found is from Ecoland in D7.

Wooden Dish brush with Plant Bristles for Plastic Dish Brush. Having used these for two years I wholeheartedly recommend them. In my experience they work far better than plastic dish brushes and can be composted at the end of their life. Dish brushes with wooden heads are available widely but check they have agave bristles and not plastic. Again I think Ecoland in Dublin 7 offer the best priced wooden washing-up brush with agave bristles.

Rags for Kitchen Paper. Using virgin materials to wipe up spills in the kitchen is the equivalent of putting your money in the bin. I do use kitchen paper occasions to wipe up fat but otherwise it’s rags all the way, which just get washed with the next wash. And if you’re particularly house proud you could edge your prettiest looking rags!

Bar of Soap for Liquid Soap. I make my own liquid soap to use in the kitchen, because I find it easier to use than bar soap in this location. Otherwise it’s bars of soap. Not only do they last way longer than bottles of liquid soap, they’re much cheaper and depending on the brand you buy give a lovely fragrance to the room. I like Palm Free soap made in Clare, which is sold widely in Ireland for about €2.75.

Tupperware for Cling Film. I found cling film to be the easiest thing to give up. So much so I’m not sure why I ever used it. If I need to store food I either put it in a jar, Tupperware, in a bowl with either a plate or a tea-towel over it.

Lidded Roasting Tin for Tinfoil. I really struggled to find a way to roast meat without tinfoil, especially since Ireland has stopped collecting it for recycling in 2018. After a bit of research online I heard about lidded roasting tins and found an enamel lidded roasting tin from Argos for only €18. Enamelled metal has had powdered glass fused onto it at high temperature so is chemically inert and non-stick without having any of the health risks association with non-stick coatings. I would have preferred to have bought a higher-end version but this was all I could find and after a year of use it’s still going strong.

Butter and Flour for Baking Paper. I don’t line my cake tins anymore and have found that a layer of butter with flour on it to be more than enough to prevent sticking. To prevent things like meringues or macarons from sticking I have a reusable silicone sheet.

Vinegar Rinse for Conditioner. I’m still using liquid shampoo because i haven’t found a shampoo bar that suits me but I’ve been able to give up liquid conditioner thanks to vinegar. Just two tablespoons in a pint of water does the trick and saves me a fortune.  Any vinegar will do but the strength will determine how much to use, too little and you’ll have tangles, too much and you’ll be as greasy as a bag of chips. I use Aspalls organic cyder vinegar which costs less than €3 for 500ml.

Bicarbonate of Soda for Cream Cleaner (Cif). You’ll be surprised just how much this little guy will clean. We pretty much use it on anything that needs a bit of abrasive power. Just remember to wash it off or you’ll be left with a white powdery residue.

Vinegar for Glass Cleaners. Vinegar cuts through all grease and, along with a clean rag, is all you need to get your shiny surfaces gleaming.  Some people infuse their vinegar with the peels from citric fruits like lemons and oranges to give it a lovely smell. Contrary to what you might read online don’t mix it with bicarb unless you need the cleaning action of bubbles. The alkalinity of the Bicarb cancels out the acidity in vinegar making both impotent when it comes to cleaning.

Vinegar for Antibacterial Cleaners. Vinegar is antibacterial so is a great way to keep germs at bay without having to resort to synthetic cleaners.

Essential Oils for Synthetic Air Fresheners. I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to breathe in synthetic chemicals in their home but if like me you want to keep things smelling fresh naturally then a few drops of essential oils on a piece of fabric or wood is all you need. For Irish made ones check out Kotanical. They offer a recycling service for all essential oil bottles too. It’s worth noting that limonene which is naturally present in citrus fragrances converts to formaldehyde, a know carcinogen, when used indoors.


PS – This time in previous years i published Summer Activities to Do with Kids and Eco School Supplies

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

4 thoughts on “Easy Sustainable Switches

  1. Hello there, thanks a mil for your blogs which are gently nudging me to better ways. Below is something I’ve found super revolutionary for cleaning, and thought it might be of interest. Its little abrasive cloth made from 100% cotton – so I’m presuming I can chuck it in compost when done? – scrubs brilliantly but still ok for non stick pans. I use instead of a dish brush and have given up the little dish sponges I used to use. Brilliant in bathroom with a little baking soda/vinegar, or for any outside jobs too. I have a batch of them. I haven’t fully checked out the provenance, I just know I’m using way less cleaning stuff which I like. I got a batch from the Ballymaloe Kitchen shop as I haven’t seen anywhere else.


    thanks again and best, Anne



  2. Hi, your website is very informative. But you have no search engine to help locate things on your website quicker. Also, I’m trying to find out what companies sell dried goods eg nuts/seeds online but in your article on ‘where to buy’ it doesn’t mention these products. So, on the map, i’m having to go through each company to see if they deliver online. I live in Wicklow and a lot of these businesses only deliver around Dublin.


    1. Hi Bernie. Glad you like the website. There is a search function at the bottom of the page, but it’s not great. To move to a site with better searchability would cost me thousands and as this website doesn’t make me any money I can’t justify the investment. Regarding packaging free goods there’s Kelly’s in Wicklow town and I know Minimalist Grocery delivers Nationwide. Elaine


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