There’s nothing quite like sitting on the floor of your living room, post major move, trying to put together a piece of furniture that seems like it will never, ever, work. And what makes it even worse is the commonly touted (yet clearly untrue) idea that doing it yourself (DIYing) is easy and straightforward. At Finch, we’re strong believers that DIY can be easy – and that it should be good for people and the planet, too. If we’re going to put in the extra effort, then it should be more sustainable, right? We’ve pulled together three DIY products you can make at home that we swear by…so that you can test your skills at becoming one of those crafties that doesn’t cry while building a desk.
Our More Sustainable DIY Alternatives:
#1 Multipurpose Cleaner: Baking soda and vinegar
#2 Lip Balm: Shea Butter
#3 Grocery Bag: Reusable Crochet Tote
Friendly Reminder: As always, using something you already own is always the best option when it comes to sustainability. If you already own multipurpose cleaners, flower pots, lip balms, and grocery bags – use them up. The resources and materials used to make them have already been spent – so keep these products in use until you need a replacement. And, when you do, look to these lower-impact options to get your craft on and keep your conscience clear.
#1 Need a Multipurpose Cleaner? Try Baking Soda and Vinegar
So, how can you make a homemade cleaning product? Most of us may be familiar with the 7th-grade science experiment: baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar. Well, you can use that same mixture to get clean. It’s a versatile and easy DIY project – use different concentrations of baking soda and vinegar depending on what you’re cleaning and how, hmmm, dirty it is. For a general, multi-purpose cleaning solution mix:
- 1 ⅔ cups baking soda
- ½ cup of water
- 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
For a stronger solution, use less water and more vinegar.
Alkalies are a common ingredient in household cleaners because they help to remove oily dirt. They range in strength from mild mixtures to stronger mixtures, like trisodium phosphate, one of the most common alkalies in household cleaners. It’s important to know that trisodium phosphate and other phosphates can cause eutrophication, which is the mineral over-enrichment of bodies of water. This can be a natural process that develops aquatic ecosystems, but it can also be an indication of nutrient imbalances as a result of pollution. While algal bloom – a result of eutrophication – might sound beautiful, it can be harmful to aquatic life and can contaminate drinking sources.
On the other hand, baking soda and pure acetic acid (vinegar), according to their OSHA Material Data Safety Sheet (which lists the hazardous ingredients of a product), can alter the pH of aquatic environments of soil, harming the planet and wildlife, but only in very high quantities – aka not from cleaning your kitchen table. Baking soda and vinegar as a cleaning agent is also actually extremely effective – this mixture can neutralize tons of stinky and staining substances while also killing germs and pathogens, like salmonella. This is one instance where homemade cleaning products take the win.
#2 Need Lip Balm? Try Shea Butter
How about a KISS? Get your mind out of the gutter! We’re talking about Keeping It Simple, Stupid. When it comes to your lips, you don’t need too much to keep those suckers plump and moisturized. Instead of products that contain palm oil (which can have some serious environmental implications), feel good about opting for shea butter. Yes… just shea butter. This DIY is a little bit of a cheat because it’s such minimal effort.
Okay, we’re going to be honest here – Shea is a mixed bag… but we're basically pro-shea. Shea butter comes from nuts that grow on karité trees in Guinea, Senegal, Uganda, and South Sudan. Shea has been used for millennia in African countries as a personal care product and has only recently (in the past 60 years), through colonialism and exploitation, gained popularity outside the continent. For centuries, it has been called “women’s gold” because it provides employment to millions of women across Africa. Shea butter is versatile in cooking and cosmetics and, in the last decade, has become popular for its effective moisturizing properties. It is estimated that shea butter exports from West Africa bring in between $90 to $200 million a year. We’re all about supporting this trade.
Shea doesn’t have the same negative environmental impacts from fertilizer use and land use as alternative vegetable oils (cough, cough, palm oil). Unfortunately, in comparison to palm oil, shea is expensive due to its small production scale. If this alternative to palm oil reached a scalable capacity, then it likely wouldn’t be without the same negative environmental and social impacts associated with palm oil. A bummer, we know. With the agricultural systems we have now, shea is only an alternative on a small, niche scale.
#3 Need a Grocery Bag? Try a Reusable Crochet Tote
Plastic bags are so out – reusable bags and (with the rise of stuck-in-the-house boredom brought on by the pandemic) crocheting are so in. But, not all reusable bags are made the same. Feeling crafty and trendy and in the market to drop the environmental impact of your shopping sprees? All you need are your fingers, organic cotton yarn, some spare time, and this handy-dandy tutorial to crochet your own reusable tote!
Plastic bags need to be reused more than three times to offset their carbon footprint. A slightly thicker polypropylene bag needs to be reused more than ten times. And, the cotton tote would need to be reused more than 100 times to offset its carbon cost. Our resident scientist did some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations when he went to his neighborhood corner store this week. He went six times and each time declined a plastic bag. By the end of the week, refusing the plastic bag had saved the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as driving his car ~31.3 miles. Whoa! So, if you can’t go bag free, instead of using any of these options, consider making your own tote bag with organic cotton yarn.
So… why organic cotton? In an LCA looking at the differences between organic cotton and conventional cotton, the Textile Exchange found that organic cotton is 46% less harmful to global warming, creates 70% less acidification of land and water, the potential for soil erosion drops 26%, surface, and groundwater use falls 91%, and the demand for energy can drop by as much as 62%. That’s a big booyah if we’ve ever seen one.
Have other DIY projects that you swear by? Leave us a comment below on some crafts you love that actually work.