Sunday, June 14, 2015

Greener Alternatives to Wet Wipes

By Wong Ee Lynn
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Disposable, single-use wet wipes are so convenient and ubiquitous that most people find them hard to give up, especially when travelling or after outdoor adventures that leaves one covered in dirt that has to be removed before one can enter a vehicle or building. However, the Marine Conservation Society reported in 2014 that wet wipes flushed down toilets resulted in clogged sewers and an increase in beach and river litter. Also, wet wipes, including those marketed as 'flushable', are wasteful and polluting, as are most disposable items that are not reusable or recyclable.
Here are some ideas on how to reduce (or completely give up!) the use of disposable wet wipes, how to make your own reusable wipes and how to make less wasteful baby wipes:
1. Stop purchasing and using disposable floor-cleaning wipes and kitchen or bathroom wipes. Cloth and microfibre cleaning cloths, cleaning rags and washable microfibre mopping pads are durable, inexpensive, reusable and much kinder to Mother Earth. Use them together with non-toxic biodegradable cleaning solutions such as white vinegar, castille soap, Murphy oil soap or any liquid organic cleaning agent. When the cleaning cloths are dirty, give them a little scrub in the bathroom or kitchen sink and dump them into the washing machine, where they will take up hardly any space in a full load of laundry. If you are travelling, cut up a few pieces of rags out of old t-shirts or towels and bring a little bottle of cleaning solution with you. Even in a campsite or budget hotel, you will be able to dampen the rag with a little water and cleaning solution and clean up after yourself. Throw the rag away if you really can't rewash and reuse it.
2. Instead of buying facial wipes or makeup remover wipes, use olive oil or any gentle facial wash solution to clean your face with water. Pat your face dry with a towel or piece of flannel. Although some may argue that this method uses water, manufacturing, packaging and transporting makeup remover wet wipes uses a lot more water, fuel and resources! Also, you should use a basin while washing your face and turn off the tap when you are soaping and scrubbing, so you won't need to use more water than is necessary. When travelling, pack a little makeup remover in a small tube, jar or spritz bottle and put it in an airline-approved resealable waterproof pouch to get it past flight safety checks.
3. Ditch antibacterial wipes altogether. The excessive use of disinfectants and antibacterial agents can contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and lead to antibiotics becoming less effective. Soap and water is good enough a cleaning agent.
4. Wipe down dirty outdoor clothes and shoes with a rag before putting the said clothes into a bag to bring home for washing.
1.  Keep a few microfibre or terrycloth handkerchiefs or face towels in your backpack, car or entryway of your house. Prior to messy activities and trips, fill a spray bottle with water and a few drops of tea tree (antifungal and antibacterial), citronella (mosquito repellent), lavender (antibacterial) or peppermint (calming and deodorising) essential oil. You might want to refrigerate the spray bottle or add a few ice cubes to the spray before taking it along with you for a trip or activity. To clean up, spritz the mixture of water and essential oils onto the abovementioned face towels and clean yourself up with it. Put the dirty face towels into a plastic bag or carry-all to bring home for washing.
2. Alternatively, pre-dampen or soak the handkerchiefs or terrycloth face towels in a solution of water and essential oils. Put them into a freezable watertight/airtight container and freeze or refrigerate them overnight. Take the container of chilled cleaning cloths with you along on your trip or activity and hand one to each participant to clean themselves up with. Bring the container and dirty/used cloths home in a bag for washing.
1. The best alternative to disposable baby wipes is always to wash with water and a mild baby soap, and pat your baby's bottom dry with a towel or soft cloth.
2. The second best alternative (because it requires a little more washing) is to use old unbleached cotton diapers as washable wipes. Mix a solution of one part baby shampoo and 3-4 parts water in a spray bottle. Moisten the cotton diaper with the spray solution and use it during diaper changes.
3. If travelling or if  you have no other choice but to use disposables (e.g. in the event of illness and infections), make your own disposable baby wipes using compostable/biodegradable paper kitchen towels. Buy thick, good
quality paper kitchen towels that will not tear easily. Cut the roll in half, width-wise, using a sharp knife. For every half-roll of kitchen towels, you will need:
- 1 cup of water;
- 1 tablespoon of mild, preferably organic, baby soap or shampoo; and
- 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of olive oil or baby oil, preferably plant-based and organic.
Mix the liquid ingredients together.
Put the paper towels in an airtight, watertight container (e.g. an old baby wipes bin, perhaps?) and pour half the mixed liquid over the paper towels. Let the mixture soak through for approximately 10 minutes. Turn the roll of paper towels upside down, pour the remaining half of the solution over the paper towels and allow it to sit for another 10 minutes.
Pull out the centre cardboard core and put the lid on the container. Your homemade baby wipes are now ready for use. Ensure that the wipes are disposed of with rubbish instead of flushed down the toilet, where it can clog up the plumbing.
For pet waste, spilled paint and other household 'accidents', use a sheet of old newspaper folded over and dampened with a little water. Wet newspaper picks up and is able to absorb a surprising amount of liquid. Use a second sheet of newspaper dampened with water and a little white vinegar or other non-toxic household cleaning solution to clean up the spot. Newspapers are compostable and biodegradable and thus will cause less harm in landfills than bleached, antibacterial and packaged wet wipes.

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