By Liesl Clark
Using a vacuum cleaner in a (trying to get close to) zero waste home can be challenging, if you don’t have a bagless vacuum. Here’s what I’ve discovered over the years about reducing vacuum cleaning waste from my household:
Skip the Vacuum Cleaner Altogether? Now wait! Don’t stop reading because you think I’ve gone too far here. I can attest to the fact that in places where vacuum cleaners don’t exist, brooms can definitely do the trick! You just need a really great stiff broom for picking up the dirt. And, there’s no method better than taking your carpet outside and shaking it or beating it with a broom. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, I guess you’re out of luck, but a good stiff broom can do wonders.
I’ve had a few house cleaners help me in my day, and I’m always amazed to see how many of them choose to use the vacuum cleaner without first sweeping up the wooden floor. Broom and dustpan are the fastest route to frugal and zero waste floor-cleaning. I even have a cool collection of brooms I’ve gathered from all over the planet. In my travels to homes far from the conveniences of electricity and vacuums, I’ve witnessed the cleaning of rugs and carpets the old-fashioned-and-often-much-cleaner-way. Soft brooms sweep the often dirt floors, and stiff brooms are used to sweep the carpets. I’m amazed at how efficient they are so we use a broom on our carpets much of the time.
Outside, we have a game of trying to shake a carpet with a partner on the other end and see who gets shaken-off first.
Empty the Bag! We used to have a vacuum we loved, but it came with bags that fill up and must be thrown out….or do they? After accumulating a few full bags, tossing ’em, and buying more (they’re expensive!) I discovered it was almost as easy to empty them into our brush pile outside and reuse them! We’d reuse our bags at least 30 times. Emptying the vacuum cleaner bags is an opportunity my children fight over. It’s fun. Really. Especially when we find a long-lost (and favorite) plastic baby goat in there. Those little baubles that get sucked up by the vacuum are given a second life.
Now, a very ecologically-sound friend of mine says, “No, No! don’t empty those vacuum-cleaner bags because the dust and dirt in your home is toxic from the detritus that comes from your asbestos-bearing furniture or PVC and BPA-laden rugs.” I do respect her point, but I have to argue that our own dirt off our shoes is likely from the garden, our furniture is almost all made of natural materials, our home is recycled old timbers, and our carpets are antique natural-fiber carpets from Tibet and Egypt that we’ve bought from people we know, colored with vegetable dyes. I think we’re pretty safe. But this is not to say that everyone is safe to dump out their vacuumed dust into the environment. But aren’t our landfills part of our environment?
I often empty our vacuum cleaner dust into our compost bin, except we find myriad little plastic bits from art projects that I try to take out by hand and throw back into the art bin (truly.) If you think your home and furniture (including mattresses) are mostly plastic-free, the dump-out-your-vacuum-bag-contents method of frugal vacuuming might be for you.
Otherwise, there are bagless vacuums on the market these days. We’ve just acquired one, so our days of bag saving are over and we just dump our floor dust right into the compost. These days, it’s mostly dog and cat hair. I’d love to hear what you do with the dust and dirt from your home?
Please note: If you have allergies or a particular sensitivity to dust, wearing a handkerchief or just mask around your mouth and nose is advised. Another friend empties her vacuum particulates into a plastic bag first, and then dumps it into her compost, to prevent the dust particles from escaping into the air. Shaking out your vacuum cleaner bag is fun, especially when you know you’re defying the marketing department of your vacuum cleaner company. And, hey, you might find your lost wedding ring or favorite bauble for the effort.