@Home Hacks

Welcome to UMBC’s @Home Hacks! Here we share some simple DIY tips and tricks for you to try out! We’re always looking for new ideas to showcase – so if you have one please share it with us on email or social media!

Reducing your personal waste can seem overwhelming, but it is important to take it one step at a time. One of the easiest ways to start is by making your own cleaning supplies. These simple recipes will not only reduce the plastic waste your household creates, but will also help you save money and help the indoor air quality of your home. Zero-waste is the common term used to describe habits or practices that reduce waste overall. These DIY recipes use significantly less packaging and plastic overall, but depending on where you live can impact the access you have to these products in bulk or package free.

The recipes below were chosen because they contain a few ingredients that can be found at most common grocery stores. There are hundreds of these recipes online, which can be explored if you feel inclined. Since we are still amid a global pandemic, we encourage you to be mindful of making extra trips to stores for very specific ingredients.

Basic Ingredients DIY Cleaning

Most at-home DIY cleaning supplies require the same 4 ingredients that can be found at most grocery or big-box stores. Instead of having 15 different cleaners all cluttered in a cabinet, it is simplified to a few base ingredients.

  1. White Distilled Vinegar
  2. Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
  3. Essential Oil (scent of your choosing)
  4. Baking Soda

If you want to expand your DIY to dishwashing and laundry, recipes may call for washing soda, which is sometimes at big-box stores or you can make it yourself! As mentioned above all these ingredients do come in some sort of packing, unless you live near a specialty store with a large package free section. However, like mentioned above by switching over to these all natural recipes you will still be saving hundreds of plastic bottles from being used.

DIY Cleaning Supplies Recipes

All-Purpose Cleaner

All-Purpose Cleaner (for non-stone surfaces):

  • 1 part warm water
  • 1 part white vinegar
  • Optional: 25-30 drops of essential oil to help with the vinegar smell

All-Purpose Cleaner (for stone surfaces):

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of Dr. Bonner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Tub/Shower Scrub Cleaner


  • ¾ cups of baking soda
  • 2-3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Castille soap

Use Instructions:

Once you have mixed all your ingredients together, get a reusable rag to spread the solution in the tub, on the shower floor, or wall tiles. Let it sit for about 10 mins then wash away the excess solution with water.

Floor Cleaner

This floor cleaner is safe for all hardwoods and can be used for most surfaces in your home (avoid applying on granite or marble). It is a little stronger than the above mentioned all-purpose cleaner. By all means, you could double up and use this as your main all-purpose cleaner as well.


  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • 2-3 drops dish soap
  • 25-30 drops essential oil
Simple Dishwasher Detergent 


  • 3 drops of liquid dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Kosher salt
Toilet Bowl Cleaner


  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of essential oil


Mix the vinegar and essential oil and place it in a spray bottle. Spray the inside and toilet seat with the solution. Let it sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle the baking soda in the toilet bowl and scrub. Wipe down the seat and outer rim of the bowl.

Additional Zero-Waste Cleaning Tips

  • Paper towels can sometimes be hard to come by and expensive during a pandemic. Ditch the paper towels and use reusable cloths to wipe down surfaces.
  • Repurpose that one fuzzy sock without a match into a reusable microfiber Swiffer pad.
  • When creating DIY cleaners that need spray bottles, repurpose your old store-bought cleaner spray bottles. Do not buy new spray bottles unless absolutely necessary.

Make a jam (Berries & Other Citrus Fruits)

This is a great way to repurpose berries and other fruits you may have not had time to eat. You can make a jar of jam in less than one hour, and your fruits won’t go to waste!

Make some tasty bread (Fruits & Vegetables)

One common quarantine skill many have learned is how to make bread from scratch. We all know that brown bananas can be repurposed into delicious banana bread. However, there are other fruits/veggies you can make bread with:

Freeze the fruit for smoothies

Make a salad dressing (Fruit & Veggies)

Making an at home salad dressing can prevent you from wasting food and generating packaging waste. Just simply place the fruit/veggies in the blender with some olive oil, vinegar, herbs, and seasoning.

Make fruit leather

This is especially fruit that is past the stage of eating raw because they are so over ripe. All you have to do is blend it up and you don’t even need a dehydrator! Follow this link to find out how you can make homemade fruit roll-up!


During the pandemic is essential to the health and safety of everyone, and especially frontline workers, to limit the number of trips to the store. Hauling two-weeks worth of food can lead to potential food waste. It can be difficult to decide how much food to purchase and groceries are more expensive than ever. So we have compiled some tips and tricks to extend the shelflife of your produce.

Room Temp vs. Fridge:

  • Citrus-Based Fruits: These fruits last longer in the refrigerator (2-week shelf life), but it may reduce the juiciness of the fruit. To prevent a loss in flavor or vitality you can remove the fruit out of the fridge and wait for it to become room temperature.
  • Apples: Keep your apples whole and in a crisper drawer if possible.
Room Temperature:
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Tomato
  • Basil
  • Mangoes

Separate Produce When Possible

Some produce emits ethylene gas, which causes produce around it to ripen quicker. Fruits and vegetables are categorized into 3 groups: ethylene produces, ethylene sensitive, and not ethylene sensitive. It is important to separate ethylene sensitive produce from ethylene producers. The USDA has created a list of these two types of produce.

Storing Herbs

It is frustrating having to buy herbs for one recipe, and within a few days they go bad. All herbs should be stored in the refrigerator in water. As mentioned above basil is the exception, and should not be placed in the fridge but on the countertop in water like a vase of flowers.

Best Storage Practices for Different Produce Items

  • When buying a large portion make sure to keep a few avocados in the fridge. The cold temperature will prevent them from ripening too quickly.
  • If an avocado is overripe and might turn brown the next day, place it in the fridge to prevent over-ripening.
  • When using only half an avocado make sure to store in a resealable container with the pit. For extra protection squeeze a little lime or lemon juice on it.

Just like the herbs, it is actually best to place asparagus in a jar of water. As you would a new bouquet of flowers, make sure to cut the ends off the asparagus before placing them in water.

Carrots & Celery

Cut the carrots and celery into sticks and place them in a jar. Add water until the jar is filled. Then seal it and place it in the fridge.


The best practice is to remove from the produce bag and wrap in a reusable cloth towel, then place it in the fridge. Keeping them in plastic increases moisture and makes the cukes slimy.

Greens (Spinach, Kale, & Bok Choy)

Wash, dry, and separate on a reusable cloth towel. Then roll the towel and place it in the refrigerator.


Give berries a vinegar bath before placing them in the fridge. The bath should be 1 part vinegar and 5 parts water. The mixture is very diluted so your berries don’t taste like pickles. Once washed, dry them off and place in a container with a cloth.


Most of the time mushrooms, unfortunately, come in plastic containers. Leaving them in these containers causes them to capture moisture and get slimy faster. To solve that problem, either place your mushrooms in a reusable cloth bag or a paper bag to provide aeration.


Something can only be sustainable if it is accessible to all. This sustainability month we are partnering with Retriever Essentials to bring you recipes that are sustainable and made from common items you can find in the food pantry. Below are some recipes for food that are very tasty is we do say so ourselves. The title of each meal is linked to a web page with full recipe. Be on the lookout on our Instagram page (@sustainableumbc) in October every Monday for our recipe videos! For more low cost recipes go to Budget Bytes or Good & Cheap cookbook.

Retriever Essential’s services are available to all students, faculty and staff of the university. To find out more about how to access these services during COVID19 operations visit the Retriever Essentials webpage.

Tuscan White Bean Pasta with Tomatoes & Spinach
Pantry ingredients:
  • 8 oz. linguine or fettuccine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes (can replace with canned crushed tomatoes)
  • Ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 15oz. can cannellini beans
Items not in the pantry:
  • 4 oz. of spinach (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • Shredded parmesan

Grilled Veggie Burger:
Pantry ingredients:
  • ½ cup of whole grain brown rice (can replace with other type of grain like quinoa)
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 ¼ panko bread crumbs (can also make your own bread crumbs)
  • 4 tbsp ketchup
  • Burger buns
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • Add extra seasoning to taste
Items you can skip:
  • Diced onions

Veggie Chili:
Pantry Ingredients:
Items you can skip:
  • Bell peppers
  • Onion
  • Fresh cilantro

Roasted Tomato and Cannellini Bean Pasta:
Pantry Ingredients:
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can roasted tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Vegetable Quinoa Soup:
Pantry Ingredients:
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • Sliced jalapeños
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups of cooked black beans or 1 can (15 ounces) black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • Cayenne (for heat, flavor to taste)
  • Ground black pepper
Items you can skip:
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Onion
  • Fresh cilantro

Why Compost Now?

We are amidst a global pandemic where most of our food is being prepared ourselves. The majority of our waste is being generated in our homes and not on campus. Unfortunately, unlike The Commons, most of us do not have access to an organic waste pick-up. Composting at home is a great solution to reduce the volume of waste we produce. Beyond waste reduction, there are many other great benefits to composting at home:

Lowers your carbon footprint

Around 20-30% of the material we throw out in the United States is organic waste. Organics sent to the landfill decompose and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

You are protecting air-quality and communities in Baltimore

The Wheelabrator in Baltimore City is the 10th largest trash incinerator in the country and accounts for 36%of all air pollution in Baltimore City. We as citizens can help with our personal actions by producing less waste to fuel the incinerator.

Your new quarantine garden will thrive

Compost is full of nutrients and is great for plants, gardens, and lawns. Amending soil with compost enhances the growth of all plant life.

You are helping save the bay

Using nutrient full compost on your lawn and garden will lead to less dependence on chemical fertilizers that are harmful to the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s a fun rewarding experience you can share with the kids!

Composting is an empowering practice in a time when many things feel out of our control. It is a great way to teach your family about waste, soil science, sustainable solutions, and self-reliance.

How To Get Started

Step 1: Pick the best compost option for you & set up your operation

There are multiple options for composting at home. The best option for your household will be dependent on factors such as space, type and amount of organic waste you produce, and upkeep.

Use the table below to decide which option is best for you, each option has a link to a page with more information on that composting method.


Where do you live?

What organic waste will you be composting?

Mostly Kitchen Scraps Kitchen Scraps/Yard Waste Mostly Yard Waste
Urban (no outdoor space) Vermicomposting
Urban/Suburban (some outdoor space) Vermicomposting or Compost Tumbler Compost Tumbler
Suburban (access to a yard) Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Enclosed Bin or Open Compost Pile
Rural (access to yard) Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Open Compost Pile, Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Open Compost Pile or Multiple Enclosed Bins


Step 2: Feed your compost

What to Place in Your Compost:

Composting directly at home is very different from sending organic waste to an industrial composting facility (like we do in The Commons at UMBC). No matter if you are backyard composting or vermicomposting, below is a printable graphic on what to place in your bin!

Browns vs. Greens

In the above graphic, there is a delineation between organic waste: greens & browns. This is common terminology used to distinguish between organic waste that is wet and high in nitrogen (greens) and dry and high in carbon (browns).

A compost pile is a living ecosystem made up of microorganisms. Happy and healthy microbes are essential because they are breaking down the organic material.


  • Nitrogen dense organic matter
  • Provides nutrients for microbes to build their bodies and reproduce


  • Carbon dense organic matter
  • Provides energy for microbes that help break down organic matter
  • Assists in airflow
  • Maintains structural integrity of pile and prevents compaction and suffocation of microbes

Usually, your compost should contain equal parts greens to browns. For vermicomposting you should have 70% browns to 30% greens. Below are some additional tips to maintain a healthy nitrogen to carbon ratio:

  • Whenever you add kitchen scraps or grass clipping make sure to mix in dry high-carbon material as well.
  • Store carbon-rich browns ahead of time. They can be hard to obtain in the summer and store easily.
    • Fall leaves
    • Non-Glossy shredded paper (shredded paper cannot be recycled in single stream recycling)
  • Yard waste, dead leaves, and woody material should be cut or chopped into small pieces
  • Store your kitchen scraps in an enclosed bin in your kitchen. That way you only have to feed your compost once a week.

Step 3: Aerate your compost

Microbes thrive in environments with lots of air. It is important that we mix our compost pile at least once a week before we feed it new materials. Below is a list of gardening tools you can use to aerate your compost:

  • Compost crank
  • Spade fork
  • Wing dinger
  • Pitchfork

Step 4: Check the moisture of your compost

The greens of your compost will add moisture and your browns will absorb that water. The ideal moisture content of your compost should resemble a wrung-out sponge. It should be moist but not soggy.

If your compost is dry you can add water to it to help with moisture. If you have an open compost pile it can become dry from sun and heat.

Step 5: Monitor & troubleshoot problems with your compost

Composting is a learning process and there can be a couple of hiccups along the way. Below are some troubleshooting guides for composting & vermicomposting:

Step 6: Use the Finished Product!

How to know your compost is done?
  • Even in color or texture
  • Earthy in smell
  • Not too moist
How to use your compost?
  • Add it as a soil amendment to existing garden beds or new
  • Use 2 inches of compost as mulch around landscape plants
  • Sprinkle ½ an inch of compost over your lawn
  • Make compost tea to water plants
  • Incorporate into your potting soil: 1-part compost 2-parts of potting soil

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘When in doubt, recycle it!’ This practice is called ‘wishful recycling’ and it is actually incredibly harmful for the environment and your local material recovery facility (MRF). Wishful recycling can actually contaminate recycling streams and is causing tons of recycling to be sent to the landfill. In order to understand why this is harmful and how to recycle correctly, we need to understand what actually happens to the items we place in our blue bins.

How Recycling Works

Recycling laws are different and recycling in general will look different everywhere in the world. Below is a diagram outlining commonly how single stream recycling works in the US. The diagram is from Charles County, MD, and actually matches what happens to our single stream recycling at UMBC.

The material recovery facility (MRF) at step 3 of the recycling process, sorts the material and sells it to be reprocessed. They decide what can and cannot be recycled based on what materials they can sell to buyers. Buyers are looking for clean bales with very little contamination (i.e. materials they cannot easily reprocessed and sold).

Recently, recycling markets have fallen due to high contamination levels in the single stream recycling coming from the US and European countries. In response, material recovery facilities have been cracking down on contamination and what items they will accept. If a truck load of recyclables comes to a MRF and it is highly contaminated, the whole load could be sent to the landfill.

How to Recycle Correctly

Check with Your Local Municipality

Your local municipality most likely has a contract with the waste hauler and MRF. Those entities will work with the local government to disseminate recycling information. The information usually lives on your local government’s Department of Public Works website.

Do NOT Place Plastic Bags in Single-Stream 

No matter where you live in the US you should NEVER place a plastic bag into a single stream recycling bin. This includes grocery bags, bubble wrap, flexible plastic packaging, saran wrap, and zip lock bags. These items get caught in the machinery used at MRF’s and can cause breakdowns and even worker injuries.

Other Items that Should Not be Placed in Your Recycling Bin

This a full list of common items that cannot be recycled anywhere. Items in green can be composted at the Commons on campus.


  • Paper Towels
  • Paper Plates
  • Tissues
  • Paper Cups
  • Receipts


  • Greasy Pizza Box
  • Juice and Milk Cartons
  • Pringles Cans

Plastic (even with recycling symbol):

  • Solo Cups
  • Plastic Bags and Films (find out the location of the TREX plastic film recycling bins on campus)
  • Chip Bags
  • Styrofoam
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Plastic Straws

*Recycling rules vary, so again check with your local municipality

What are Plastic Identification Codes?

Have you ever wondered what the number with the recycling symbol on plastics is for? That symbol is the Plastic Identification Code of a product, and identifies the type of plastic resin a product is made of. The code was created, so reprocessing facilities could easily separate resins and locate which items could be recycled again. It is important to note that this code does not automatically mean something is recyclable. Often times municipalities only accept plastics #1, #2, or #5 (less common). Check your local recycling laws to see what type of plastics are accepted in your area.

If you have any questions about recycling on campus please contact us at sustainability@umbc.edu & take our Waste 101 Quiz to test your sorting knowledge!