The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 18, 2011

Is It Possible to Reduce Home Care Plastic Waste?

I’ve been with my family in Maryland since Thursday.  It was meant to be a happy trip to celebrate my and my mom’s birthdays, but in the last two weeks, my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease has progressed to the point that she can no longer even speak to us.  We can’t tell if she knows who we are anymore.  My heart is breaking, and all I know is that I want to be near her as much as I can this year.

Mostly my attitude this weekend’s been “screw the plastic.”  Not for myself.  I’m still refusing single use disposables for me.  But when it comes to all the plastic necessary to take care of my mom (disposable diapers, wipes, medicine bottles, pads, creams, gloves, etc), I just can’t go there.  It just doesn’t seem important in the scheme of things.

But then again, what if everyone with a sick loved one felt that way?  Mountains of plastic trash are generated in home care, and those mountains are only going to get larger as the population ages.  Are there less wasteful methods?  Fortunately, My Plastic-free Life reader Ashely has thought about these questions and wrote about what she could do to reduce the waste generated from taking care of her grandmother.

Ashley took the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge in November and collected her caregiving-related plastic waste.  One thing she’s trying is switching to reusable cloth bed pads.  Please check out her tally.

home care plastic waste

I’m wondering if any of you have experience caring for an ill person and taken steps to mitigate your waste while effectively managing their health.  What suggestions do you have to reduce the disposables?  I want to hear from you because I’m just a bit too emotional to get into the subject right now.


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12 years ago

Sorry that you are having to learn about this all at once. Since you’ve been so diligent in giving up plastic and are now feeling bad about using plastic convenience products for your mother….. I will “take up your slack”. I have only made a halfhearted effort to reduce my plastic consumption in the last two years. I’m gonna get SERIOUS about it now after reading your info. Don’t feel guilty. Make it easy on yourself – you’ve got a serious situation and it’s not going to get better. I will make a sincere effort to quit buying disposable plastic.

My grandmothers both died with Alzheimers. My father-in-law is end stage dementia and he lives with us now. Both my parents are in early-middle stages. I know my time will be here before too much longer.

Talk with your family & decide on end-of-life issues. Better to discuss it ahead of time and try to be prepared than decide in a rush in a fury of emotions. Life support vs a natural death. I don’t say this to upset you but each of us will pass on one day & being prepared is a much better path than making a life/death decision in a split second. Being a nurse almost 20 yrs has made this clear to me.

If there’s anything I can help with, I’d be glad to. I understand what a tough time this is. Hugs to you. Prayers for you & your family.

Anna Bryant
12 years ago

Lots of good ideas, but…using cloth diapers…when you don’t have a washing machine….won’t work. Most laundromats post signs to prohibit such. I have a need to use diapers myself….and do not have a washer. So I’ll keep using disposables. As for wipes…I use them…washer again…but always use flush-able…but don’t flush….had a plumber tell me that is bad…as he replaced my toilet..if you use disposables…use wipes. If you have difficulty reaching….there are tools for this….don’t try to use toilet paper with these…much to frustrating.

As for the RX problem….the Fed’s have fixed that…can’t refill … cross contamination. This is the time where repurposes is the best bet. Standard RX bottles work well for crafting….they have tight caps…even easy open…and are great for those small items like beads and colors that kind of thing. But you only have so much small stuff and I’m not into just stuff….I like stuff with a purpose.

12 years ago

Just came back to say I’m thinking about you, Beth. Dealing with adults with dementia is really difficult and greivous, I hope you’re getting a lot of care and support yourself.

12 years ago

I was thinking along the same lines when I donated blood this week. The whole process is plastic with the exception of the needle and everything is thrown away, much of it in bins marked with the bio-waste symbol. I wonder if any is recycled?

12 years ago

Look into Nature Baby Care products for wipes, they are compostable and come in non-plastic packaging – made out of chalk I think

12 years ago

For the record, I’m probably in the “don’t worry about eh plastic in times like these” camp, but I still think it’s very important that you are sticking to you guns for yourself.

In any case, your story about your mom reminded me of an interview I heard with this author the other day. her mom also had Alzheimers and she wrote a graphic novel about it. It sounded very good. I don’t think it has a website, but just google Tangles and Graphic Novel.

Sabrina Lutes
12 years ago

Hello Beth,
I wont make this long, and maybe it’s a repeat…
But o-wool, has amazing bed liners. My toddler can stand and pee on the bed without it leaking into the mattress or having to continue wiping up nasty plastic. It dries instantly and doesn’t stink. They have puddle pads also. This would be way more comfortable. And probably more healthy than plastic.

Heather from New Zealand
12 years ago

Two final thoughts:

1. Don’t be too guided by what you would do if you were involved in the care of a baby, rather than your mum. The situations are less similar than they might seem. Adults are much bigger than babies so there’s much more laundry involved; the time they may need care for can be much longer; the emotional energy you have is much less as you are dealing with grief rather than the hope that comes with a new baby. So doing the same thing as you would with a baby is much much harder with an adult.

2. In terms of switching to washable items, I’d try wet wipes first as the cloth ones are so much nicer than disposables and they don’t generate much laundry. Then I’d try bed pads as they involve throwing out so much plastic and they don”t make enormous amounts of laundry as they can be used a few times before washing (NB don’t fill the washing machine as full as you would normally when there’s a bed pad in it as they’re stiff and need a bit of room). Only if that proved copeable would I try the diapers.

–Heather :-)

Heather from New Zealand
12 years ago


I am myself an adult who is largely bedbound so have some care needs in common with your mum. I am not incontinent but am often unable to get up to go to the bathroom so use a bedpan. I protect my sheets with a washable bed mat (I use one from these people
, who are local to me, but you probably can find something similar close to you). They also sell adult cloth diapers – maybe you can find those, too, now that you know they exist. I wash the mat when it gets smelly but it can go through many minor accidents before that is necessary. If it smells bad and no one has the energy to put it in the wash then we give it a good solid sprinkle with baking soda (rubbing it into the mat) and the smell goes away :-) I find two mats are enough for me so long as we are fairly prompt about washing the first one when the second goes into use, but you may need more depending on how soiled they get and how frequently laundry can be done.

To clean my hands and other ‘messes’ I keep an airtight box next to my bed with folded and pre-wetted wet wipes in it. Anything with a good lid made of non-rusting material would be suitable. The wipes are made from cut up thin towels and are *way* more comfortable to use than the disposables I used to use. They also smell nicer – I couldn’t find unscented commercial disposables and the perfume always bothered me. I cut the cloths about 15 x 25cm and I have 20 of them in the box. I wet a batch of 20 in a mix of 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon shampoo or liquid handsoap and 1/2 tablespoon vinegar (which is antifungal and stops them going ‘off’ if you leave them sitting around a while). A batch of wetted wipes like this can sit around in the summer for at least a month without problems so you can make up as big a batch as is convenient to your schedule without worrying about fungus growing on them or anything. Unless they’re super-soiled I just put them in with our regular laundry which is a cold wash followed by line drying and they’ve always come back clean.

So if your mum’s carers were able to use wet wipes like that, reusable bed mats and reusable diapers then that would certainly reduce the plastic useage.

However, please be aware that going this way will increase the workload of caring for your mum, possibly quite significantly, because of all the extra laundry. We keep supplies of disposables around for those times when making extra laundry is just too hard and, if your family goes this way, I would certainly advise you to do the same!

We also return my medicine bottles to the chemist for refilling (with mixed success) and I make some of my creams myself (just simple stuff for dry lips/skin and a balm that I spread on my chest when I’m fluey). We can’t do anything too complicated as there’s already plenty of work that comes with my illness, but these are things we have found to be within our capacity.

Please be kind to yourself. This kind of plastic is very much *not* ‘low-hanging fruit’. It may be the kind of use that the planet can afford for us to carry on with, so long as all the other less important ones are stopped.

–Heather :-)

12 years ago

oh, um I guess we should still say that you have to be willing to stick your hand in the toilet to rinse off really messy diapers and wipes–the washing machine won’t be able to do it all. I personally find disposable plastic much more disgusting than sticking my hand into my own relatively clean toilet. ; )

12 years ago

Beth, I am so sorry about your mom. I hope you get lots of good time with her this year.

I have not taken care of adults yet, but I have several children, and want to echo what people are saying about disposable wipes. I made my own from old T-shirts–PERFECT!!!! I use them for “family cloth” too–I just keep a box of the clean cloths on the back of the toilet for convenience, and have a little tub (old big plastic yoghurt container) down by the trash can to hold the used ones, which I then throw in with the cloth diapers when I wash those. The cloth wipes, with just water alone, work SO much better than store-bought wipes!

Since you are using old T-shirts, you can choose dark colors so there won’t be unsightly stains. ; ) I also have some cloths I made from a light color T-shirt that I used for tissues! Better than a handkerchief while I am at home, since I use it once and then toss it into the clothes hamper.

The benefits of using old T-shirts for wipes:
1) no hemming needed, and the edges won’t fray! (just make them a little larger than you think you will need, about the size of two toilet paper squares/a store baby wipe, because the edges will roll a tiny bit and I found if they are smaller they are not as effective and are bound to get lost in the washing machine)
2) really soft
3) when damp, the fabric texture “grips” poo so much better than a store-bought wipe
4) giving new life to something you might have been tempted to throw away

Also, there is a website that sells adult sized reusable cloth diapers! unfortunately is going out of business, but I am still sharing the link because there might be some great deals there! The diapers do have a PUL lining, to make them waterproof, which I assume is some kind of plastic, and the part that touches the skin is likely synthetic, to help wick moisture away from the skin. So, it is still plastic. BUT how much better to cut down on all the single-use plastic diapers!

(last I saw, the company also was selling wet bags, for holding used diapers and wipes, and they also used to make women’s sanitary products–all made by hand by a family here in the US, in their home. : )

12 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about your Mum Beth. My Nan has dementia, but this is your Mum which I know must be heartbreaking.

When I visited my Nan I noticed all the plastic, a cup for each patient for each set of drugs, maybe 3 times a day. I once saw them stocking up the nappies & was amazed how many they get through. But then I felt so bad for even noticing or considering plastic, the carers are so busy doing an extremely difficult job. It felt as if maybe I was spoilt & didn’t have any thing more “real” to worry about. I decided best not to think about it, there are easier plastics to avoid & concentrate on. But then again, your right, everyone is thinking like that. My Nan’s home is private & expensive, maybe they should take on extra staff instead of thinking about the bottom line so much, then maybe there would be time to rinse glasses for drugs, saving thousands of cups. But I don’t even live in the same country, it’s hard enough for me to know I can no longer have any contact with my Nan, I’m not gunna worry about the cups & other plastics. My little head can’t take it & neither can yours, leave it for now, concentrate on your Mum & doing what you can for her, your doing enough in every other area already. Your not a superhero (though you are!) your human. In time you may be able to think about this & others can help you out, but take this slowly or you won’t be able to give as much energy to your Mum, you only have so much.

Take care Beth.

12 years ago

Beth, I am sorry about your mom. I hope you get to spend a lot of time with her.

Yeah, it’s ironic but so much plastic use is from healthcare. Most of mine generates from my medical needs. I use an injectable medication once a day in single use pre-filled syringes. I could reduce plastic use slightly by switching to filling my own but that would mean preservatives in the medication and I’m allergic (wouldn’t want them anyway). For oral meds I get them in a 90 day supply (largest allowed) but it’s all plastic bottles.

Another big plastic use is oxygen tubing. It’s all PVC. Nasty smelly stuff. You can wash it to a point but it’s not safe to reuse it for too long. You can buy reusable, washable, stainless steel tubing but it’s insanely expensive and you’d need two sets so you can use a dry one while washing the other. Plus you’d still need plastic for the face mask or nasal canula (there are ceramic face masks but they are very heavy and uncomfortable and fragile and don’t work in all applications).

Some friends of mine are going through this where one of them has been hospitalized a lot and is now at home receiving 24/7 care. The plastic use is through the roof. They are trying to cut down on it with washable bed protectors and stuff like that but it’s hard. Keep in mind that someone has to actually wash them and when you’re disabled yourself and caretaking your spouse/etc, doing extra loads of laundry might be more than you can handle.

Here is my butt wipe recipe (used on my daughter when she was an infant and it works very well): put a few drops tea tree oil and 1 tablespoon jojoba oil in an 8oz container with a flip top. Fill container with witch hazel. Plain witch hazel works fine too. Shake briefly before each use. I cut up an old pair of sweatpants and stored the pieces in a diaper wipe container (the type shaped like a storage chest).

I disagree with those who say to just use toilet paper. Do use the paper for the first pass or three but finish up with something wet. Remember, someone who is being caretaked doesn’t get to shower every day and if you don’t clean well it itches and the person is miserable.

Also it’s a myth that better absorption is better for the person wearing the diaper. Those chemicals are awful for the skin and poop still sticks to the skin and pee does some too. That’s where the idea that “diaper rash” is normal for babies came from, because so many are stuck in disposables. Disposable diapers are “better” for the caretaker. You don’t have to (you think) change the person as often. This is not a benefit; it is a curse.

12 years ago

Beth, I’m sorry for the pain you’re going through. I have nothing to add but sending you love and good wishes.

mrs spock
12 years ago

I am a nurse, and we used cloth “chucks”, or bed pads at the last hospital I worked at. The skin care gurus did not like someone sitting on a plastic liner all day, as it was not as breathable for the skin.

I cloth diaper my son, and i often see cloth diapers for adults sold on ebay. I would warn you, though, that they do not wick away moisture as well as disposables, and moist skin is a huge contributor to skin breakdown and bedsores. A frail older adult is much less likely to be active than a child, and your mother is less likely to be making those constant small adjustments for comfort that we all do, and more likely to be at risk for skin breakdown. Cloth also is not going to have odor blocking for urinary incontinence. Even though when I worked ICU, we didn’t diapers folks at all, just let them go in the bed, I’m not sure that can translate into a home setting. Gloves- if you feel comfortable going without, since she is your own mother, you might be able to, but I’m not sure there is a decent substitute. Perhaps several pairs of kitchen gloves you rotate, and use once before sanitizing thoroughly? People who self-catheterize or who have long-term trachs often reuse the same piece of equipments, just sanitizing with a half peroxide and half saline solution.

One thing I believe you can get rid of easily is the disposable wipes. They just don’t work as well as a nice terry cloth wash cloth. In the hospital, I often abandoned those in favor of a nice basin of warm water and a mild soap like Dove. You can connect a sprayer to the toilet very easily to rinse out stool-covered wipes in the toilet. Wash them on hot and they will be sanitized.

Tiffany Norton
12 years ago

Oh Beth. I came over here to tell you some happy news, and see this… My heart is full of empathy for you. I am in the screw-it camp. Take care of your mother. There are plenty of good uses for plastic, and this is certainly worth it. Sure you can cloth diaper, and cloth wipe, (in fact, if you are interested, I will send you some for free, in plastic-free packaging and everything), but the bottom line is that you can’t worry about this right now… IMHO…

But on a brighter note, my 8 year old son is doing a project in school based on your web site and the work you have done. AND it was totally his own idea – I wasn’t even aware of it until he started talking to me about your cat litter bags (he came across in his own research!). I had mentioned being a reader of your blog, but he internalized this all on his own, and sought to learn more all by himself, and share it with his peers. How wonderful is that? (-:

12 years ago

May you and your family find all the support that is needed to see each of you and your mother through these trying times.

12 years ago

Beth, I am thinking of you and your family and I know how hard this is. I had my Dad at home with me for about two months before he passed away and I can give you at least one helpful suggestion. For pads to protect the mattress, I cut up an old white vinyl shower curtain and an old quilted mattress pad/cover, sewed a piece of each together and voila! I had four waterproof, washable, reusable protectors for the bed – and saved a bunch of $$.) I imagine an old terrycloth towel would work instead of a mattress pad.) And I’m still using them – to protect the car seats when I go to the beach.

12 years ago

I too have recently come across a challenge that has to do with care of an individual, but not an elder. In May, if everything goes well, I will become the adoptive mom of a newborn. Of course I will be using cloth diaper and cloth wipes, but as an adoptive mother I face the additional challenge of breast feeding a child that is not biologically mine. I am excited that I can induce breast feeding, but what I am not excited about is the plastic required.

1. Breast pump – not just an aoptive parents issue – so perhaps there are better alternatives out there that I don’t know of yet. Most seem to be mostly plastic. But I haven’t done too much research yet.
2. Supplement Device – this is a devise that contains formula, previously pumped breast milk, or donated breast milk – that attaches to a tube that then get aligned with your nipple. Most often used by mothers who are adopting or mothers who have had to take a break from breastfeeding and want to start again. Since almost all adoptive parents attempting to breastfeed are not able to provide 110% of babies breastmilk needs through breastfeeding, they must supplement. It is also important, particularly for parents whose children wouldn’t have much time on the breast otherwise, to provide as much opportunity for baby to suckle the nipple. In turn it hopefully stimulates more milk production.

Anyway, the devices for supplementing are almost entirely plastic. Which worries me even more, since the breast milk is warm and having it contained and directly fed to a newborn might increase the amount of plastic chemicals the infant injests. Also, while there seems to be a way to make these contraptions – homemade ones are more likely to fail overtime, would still need a tube made of a plyable material, and apparently some of the positive contents of breastmilk adhere to glass and would therefor not get to the baby? Surely with the amount of glass baby bottles coming on market though, there is more research on this?

Well, lots more research to be done – and some time to do it before I have to start producing milk – but anyone who has aswers, I would love to hear them.

And best wishes to all of you who are caring for people of all ages.

12 years ago

I’m of two minds about this one.

On the one hand, I would say that the real problem is the vast quantities of plastic we generate in our daily lives without a second thought, not the plastic that comes in special situations. Plastic water bottles because we don’t think to bring our own, plastic bags because we don’t think to bring our own, plastic food wrap and plastic cutlery and all that stuff. If we target the “convenience plastic”, we’ll get the most bang for our buck, because most of it is fairly unnecessary.

On the other hand, you make a good point about a lot of people being in special situations. It does all add up.

For now, I’m keeping you and your family in my thoughts. I hope you find some solutions that work for you, in your own time, as you’re ready.

Denise Yribarren
12 years ago


I am so sorry that you have to experience watching the declining health of your mom. I had a similar experience with my mom; all I can really remember how tired I was at the time.

But one thing I did for ecology was to buy an assortment of different colors of wash clothes. I even looked for florals. The way I could avoid disposable wipies and I looked forward to the various colors. I suppose I could have made the wash clothes but at the time, I could only concentrate on caring for my mom and getting dinner on the table for the rest of my family.

I will pray for your mom but even more, I will pray for your spirits and hope you can still spot the little miracles of life. It is a tough road; hang in there.


12 years ago

I agree that you– Beth– need not dwell on the plastics at this point. Focus on being with your mom…

But, on the note of plastics… I just read this article about a landfill in Hawaii that was in the Surfrider Newsletter… thought the timing was… hmmm… spot on.

12 years ago

I know exactly what you mean here, my mother has been in and out of the hospital since maybe september and it’s absolutely overwhelming how much waste is involved. I feel that same “why does it matter what I’m doing when they’re throwing out this much plastic every day” mentality. I try to think about what I would do if I were the patient (I think I would piss off all the staff and get myself neglected), but my mother hasn’t made any commitment to being plastic free, so who am I to complain about her plastic-usage, and it’s not like I’m in charge of her care (even when she was home, I was at the bottom of the care-taking hierarchy).

but if you actually do have some say in what products to use for home-care, I would definitely say cloth diapering/wipes (and I’m sure you can buy adult diapers rather than making them yourself, contact a company that makes babies’ diapers and ask if they know anyone that makes them for adults, they might even make them for you.). also the washable bed pads are effective, easy to wash, and cheap/easy to get. use the largest bottle you can get of things like lotion (I still want to try making my own lotion) and over-the-counter pills (and avoid the kind that are individually wrapped in tabs), reusable ice packs (rather than the chemical reactive kind), and reusable straws, if needed. I’ve been wondering about reusable glass syringes– in combination with a sterilization machine.

what I want to know is whether it’s possible to convince hospitals (and nursing facilities) to reduce their plastic waste (in areas where it’s actually doable with proper sterilization- like reusable isolation gowns, reusable medication cups, reusable bedpans & washbins, reusable lids for their dishes, real silverware, reusable cups for things like jello). the only way to do it is to prove to them that it would save them money, and I don’t have the resources to do such a thing, all I can think is to tell them to hire a “green consultant,” but would they bother? I assume all their plastic gets incinerated and I think they are the right venue for things like thermal depolymerization, or the bacteria that breaks down plastic under the right conditions, even bioplastics with proper composting, assuming these things produce less emissions than incineration and would kill any infectious diseases mixed in with the waste.

sorry to hear about your mother :(

12 years ago

Beth, others have given you good advice already so all I can say is how I sympathize with you and your mom. You’ll be in my prayers.

12 years ago

My heart goes out to you. I’ve had several close friends who have lost parents to Alzheimer’s and I know how devastating it can be.

I think I’m sort of in the “screw the plastic” camp here. You need to take care of your mother and yourself. That being said, if a cloth diapering system would make her more comfortable (having your rear wrapped in plastic sounds like not a lot of fun to me) it might be worth it. In terms of gloves, you can get laytex gloves rather than vinyl, although my stepmom, who is an allergist, says it’s irresponsible to use laytex when you don’t have to because exposure increases the possibility of allergic reactions. So who knows…

I really think you should put the people above the plastic here though.

Sending positive energy through the universe for you…

Kay Pere
12 years ago

My heart goes out to you and your family. It’s good that you’re being gentle with yourself. I don’t have any answers, only hugs to send. Thinking of you.

12 years ago

Hi Beth, I am a nurses’ aide in a geriatric home and have been since 1985. While we now use disposables (a real blessing on such a grand scale for the workers), when I first started at the ripe old age of 15, we used cotton diapers. We had to make them up for each round and if they lasted one hour, we were lucky (disposables can go for a good 5 hours or more depending upon the individual). Anyway, they were made up with a rectangle of cotton flannel, a rectangle of plastic, another rectangle of cotton, and finally a rectangle folded in thirds down the middle. Fold long edges in towards the middle and fold in half. Secured on individual with diaper pins. The clients needed changing every hour, and products like A&D ointment were used to combat redness….which is caused by the burning of the skin by direct contact with urine. Disposables should not have a lot of this due to the miracle of absorption which keeps the urine from settling on the skin. For stool, we were required to rinse and then wash…I remember having hours of rinsing to do. On the bed were “drawsheets”, which can be purchased at a pharmacy…I cannot say if they contain plastic…but it sure helps to keep your couch or chair clean.

Wipes are not needed. Toilet paper can always be used to wipe up the worst…and just use face cloths. Pick a colour you don’t use…and then there is no need to feel squeemish. Soap and water is all that is needed. Done when necessary, the individual will smell clean and the scent of bodily fluids will not remain.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions…specifics are easier and way shorter response time. By the way, both my parents are aging. dad diagnosed with Alzheimers and undiagnosed, but my mom may now too. Only child here to care for them. i do understand :)

Love and blessings,

12 years ago

One thought is yes, of course cloth diapers, but please don’t use flannel and rubber. Cloth has come a long long way baby. I teach cloth diapering classes and we have a lot of lovely materials to choose from.
I would def. use cloth wipes, get a wipe warmer and then you always have a nice moist warm cloth to wipe faces, hands or bottoms with.

Another thought is this, the plastic gloves, depending on what you are using them for, if they are just to protect your own hands, they can be washed hung to dry and reused hundreds of times. I used to be a hair stylist and the glove I wore was just so my hands didn’t get stained from the color, not to protect the client from me or vice versa. So I used that glove for maybe 6 months before needing another one.

I’m sorry about your moms deteriorating health. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
I think getting rid of plastics is even more important, because who knows what kind of diseases these help to make or flare up, even more important to be vigilant.

12 years ago

Beth, my thoughts are with you. I can only imagine how difficult and emotional this must be.

Sandi Ratch
12 years ago


First off, I’m sorry about your mom. It is not an easy thing that you are doing.

I’ve often wondered about the amount of waste comes out of hospitals. And when I do think about it, it makes my worry about buying things made of plastic seem really ridiculous. On a very realistic level, I don’t think our plastic consumption (on a world-wide level) is going to be reduced dramatically until we are forced to do so (either it becomes over-prices because of the drop in oil production, or our society collapses to such an extent that we no longer can produce and distribute such things).

However, I think it’s still important for people to lead by example. So thanks for what you do. But don’t worry about keeping up with it right now. You have enough to deal with.


Sandi Ratch
12 years ago


First off, I’m sorry about your mom. It is not an easy thing that you are doing.

I’ve often wondered about the amount of waste comes out of hospitals. And when I do think about it, it makes my worry about buying things made of plastic seem really ridiculous. On a very realistic level, I don’t think our plastic consumption (on a world-wide level) is going to be reduced dramatically until we are forced to do so (either it becomes over-prices because of the drop in oil production, or our society collapses to such an extent that we no longer can produce and distribute such things).

However, I think it’s still important for people to lead by example. So thanks for what you do. But don’t worry about keeping up with it right now. You have enough to deal with.


Mike Lieberman
12 years ago

This is the kind of question that I’m always asking myself. When is single use plastic ok? When is it not? It’s always a tough one to answer.

Reenie R
12 years ago

From my many visits to nursing homes to visit relatives, friends, strangers longing for company, I saw that the elders that were bed and wheelchair bound, and even the ones in walkers, were like giant babies. They need help with everything, showering, dressing, hygiene, etc. Two things that I did were: 1) bought a bunch of different size color beach towels and edging and made large bibs for the residents that were not “institutional” and showed a little of their personality. Because even if you’re out of it, there may be a part of you that is aware of this TLC. Also, for one elder gentleman, I soaked his hands in a bowl of warm water with lavender essential oil. He had been a cook all his life and I told him to pamper his hard working hands. But this doesn’t get to the plastic. Large cloth diapers, where there is 24/7 care, would be great. But so many that I helped had horrible bottom sores from not getting help getting out of the bed and over to the bathroom. I think you can use almond oil on rashes and that is very nice. Purchase organic if you can afford it. The health care system is so much plastic. My prayers are with you, your mom, and your family.

Sharyn Dimmick
12 years ago

I’m sure no one wants to hear this or think it, but I remember there being a diaper pail in the downstairs bathroom when my brother was a baby. So, how about this: hire a seamstress to sew a goodly supply of cotton cloth (flannel? padded flannel? panties for your mother and then get, find, or make some rubber overgarments — it’s the old diapers and rubber pants routine on an adult scale.

You an other caregivers remove the diapers, clean up with homemade cotton wipes, leave soiled panties/diapers to soak in a pail with hot water and bleach. You dump the waste residue down your toilet which is meant to flush human waste and throw the rinsed panties, wipes, etc. into your washing machine. For extra stain-fighting and antiseptic qualities, you hang them on the line in the sun.

Does this sound like too much work? Maybe a diaper service offers cloth adult diapers and will launder them for you. This is a market niche waiting to be filled — entrepreneurs, are you out there? I personally feel a lot better if human waste enters the septic system than if it gets buried in landfills.

If someone tries this, let us know how it works out.

12 years ago

My thoughts are with you and your family. When we met in NYC last summer at the Green Soiree, we were talking about taking care of the elderly as you had just finished your trip across the country with your Dad and I was taking care of a dying neighbor.

And yes, the long term care or Home Care waste is nothing to sneeze at. The refillable med containers are curious as they should be, well, “refillable” if you bring in your old ones. Cloth diapers for adults? That shouldn’t be that hard to make. And they do have reusable bed pads so you don’t need to use disposables.

They are not perfect, but there are ways.

But yeah, in the overall scheme of things, you shouldn’t let this bother you but there are ways to reduce, painlessly. And who knows how long you’d need these items for. She might be deteriorating but she might be with you for a long time, still.


12 years ago

I’m sure it’s not the same as taking care of an older adult but having children can present some of the same issues. To echo other folks on the wipes…if you sew or know someone (absolutely has to be someone in the ward) – cut 8 in square pieces of flannel and either serge them or triple zigzag the edges. Then, I bought a box of baby wipes, used them up and am reusing the heck out of the container. Folded in half, the wipes fit perfect. Use a bit of baby soap and water to soak the wipes. They work so much better than store bought, little waste, and are easy to clean up. Can you reuse gloves that are rinsed in alcohol?

12 years ago

My thoughts are with you and your family.

To answer your question, there are some things that are reusable or have reusable options. Other things can be bought in bulk. If a caregiver is using a 1 time use item I know that you can find other options for purchasing. Buy the largest box/container you can find or write the company to see if there is another option. If you know you (or the person you are caring for) are going to need depends for years see if you can purchase a quantity packaged for bulk use? Watch craigslist and freecycle for non-new options (I know many people post things like depends on freecycle, unopened, b/c the person no longer needs them)
Then there are those things that will not get better w/o changes to policy/law (Rx bottles)

12 years ago

I am interested in this too. My son is JV diabetic. I love to be able to recycle some of his waste such as test strips, pods, etc. Any suggestions?

Condo Blues
12 years ago

Many moms I know make their own baby wipes with a stack of wash clothes soaking in a covered container of water and castile soap.

My dog had leg surgery and his care definitely increased our plastic tally. He had 5 prescriptions, a cone, and a clean reused IV bag to slip over his leg to keep it dry in the snow. I appreciate that my vet gave us a sterilized and reused cone and made the IV bootie out of something they would normally throw away. I returned the cone when we no longer needed it.

12 years ago

I’m so sorry about your mother. As a health care worker (geriatric occupational therapist!) I see way too much waste. But when staffing is low, I understand the difficulties. However, at home there is more you can do. One can ditch the wipes and opting for CLOTH baby wipes and a homemade solution. Not only do they clean BETTER but they’re softer and you’ll use fewer. I used them with my children when they were in cloth and just used water, but if you google cloth wipe solutions, you can find all sorts of good-smelling ideas. Gloves – I’m not sure there’s another option out there. At least most come in simple recyclable cardboard boxes. Washable pads for the bed are great, and they allow skin to breath better too. I’m pretty sure pharmacies are required to dispense meds into new containers to prevent cross-contamination. Too bad. Perhaps simply ordering MORE at a time would at least reduce how many bottles are used in a 6 month span. I wonder if free-clinic pharmacies can reuse cleaned out bottles with the label removed? Back in the day, people did use large flat pads instead of plastic adult diapers. Just a few thoughts and ideas….

I’m glad that you are able to visit your mother right now and my thoughts are with you and your family.

Kristie Evans
12 years ago

I’m familiar with the conflict. While I’m not doing home care for a parent, I had a similar revelation when my daughter was in the hospital with pneumonia a year ago. I had been doing my best to reduce plastic and waste six months prior to her illness, but when I found myself by her bedside for days worried sick, I honestly didn’t care about the amount of waste I was creating. Every day presents a similar conflict for me. One child has Asperger’s syndrome, and my other child has mild autism and dyslexia. Both children and I have multiple food allergies, gluten intolerance/celiac disease, asthma, and autoimmune disease. We are on medications, supplements, and special foods, and cost is a huge concern. Every day I need to balance my environmental concerns with health concerns, and my desire to give my children a “normal” life and a chance to fit in, when they have a neurological disorder and health conditions that make them stand out. We just need to do the best we can do with the situation we are given.

Home care is exhausting and heartbreaking, and usually falls on your lap quickly and without proper preparation. What I go through every day doesn’t compare to taking care of an elderly relative. I wish I had some good suggestions for you.

Thoughts and prayers for you and your family,

12 years ago

Sending you and your family lots of love and healing. <3

12 years ago

So strange… I literally just read Ashley’s post and thought to myself “How in the heck can she reduce that plastic??”

My first thought would be to ditch the baby wipes. My friend used to make her own baby wipes with paper towels. She would cut the roll in half and then make some kind of water/soap/oil solution to soak the paper towels in… can’t remember what she stored them in… maybe an old baby wipe container??

Also, the whole prescription bottle thing is strange. If you’re getting a refill of the exact same medication… I’m confused why they won’t refill it?? Save resources save $$. …. (not that it’s the same, but when our dogs need medication our vet always refills the bottles– pills or liquid…. and thanks us.)

I imagine that like anything… this will take a lot of rethinking… figuring out ways around the plastic are there… it’s just a matter of seeing the solution… right??