There are so many reasons to switch away from disposable products and switch to reusable product options. Not only does switching to more reusable products save you a lot of money in the long run, but switching away from disposables is one of the best ways to reduce waste and lower your environmental impact.
When did we become such a disposable society?
The earth is around 4.5 billion years old. It has been said that humans in our current form have been on this planet for around 200,000 years and civilizations as we understand them today formed over 5,000 years ago. Out of all the time we have been on this planet, we didn’t become the “Throw Away Society” we are today until after 1960 when the use of plastic in everyday items started to make its way into the mainstream. Companies figured out, “Why sell products that were meant to be used over and over again when it was much more profitable to sell items that could easily be thrown away and replaced?” With plastic being an inexpensive option that was becoming readily available, it made the idea of using something once and then throwing it out a popular choice for most business models and “disposable living” started being marked to us as the new way of life in the coming decades.
The impact of all these disposable products:
It’s sad that we have been able to do such significant damage to this planet in such a short amount of time. Our oceans are now filled with plastic, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii is predicted to have at least 79 thousand tons of plastic. This article gives a visual example of what all the plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways actually looks like. The main problem with plastic is that it doesn’t just go away. Plastic is estimated to have a life cycle averaging 500 years and because plastic doesn’t actually biodegrade it photodegrades (meaning it just breaks down into smaller pieces referred to as micro-plastics). Almost every single piece of plastic ever manufactured or used still exists on this planet in one form or another. It is estimated by the year 2050 that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
Plastic is actually an amazing substance that has so many beneficial uses and has helped with advancements in many areas of society. Considering how long it takes to break down, and the fact that it is made from non-renewable resources like oil and fossil fuel, should we really be using plastic for disposable products?
In addition to plastic, paper goods, are commonly used as disposable items. The benefits of paper over plastic is that trees are a renewable resource and they biodegrade. However, the number of trees cut down for paper goods is astonishing. Around 4 billion a year and the world consumption of paper has grown 400 percent in the last 40 years. Considering trees are one the most valuable resources on our planet because they help to keep our air clean and combat climate change, don’t we want to keep more around? Paper has a lot more problems through than just cutting down trees. The manufacturing process of paper goods causes more pollution and consumes more energy and water than plastic.
So to answer the age old question paper vs plastic? How about neither.
The solution to this problem:
The solution on an individual level is relatively easy: replace more of your disposable products with reusable alternatives to reduce waste. You may not be able to replace everything right away and that’s ok. Start where you can and add more when you are able. To make this transition easier for you, I composed a list of reusable product replacements for the most common disposable products broken down by section:
- On The Go
- In The Kitchen
- In The Bathroom
- While Cleaning
- In The Office
To view the items I recommend just click the links under each section. Some recommendations include pictures you can click on as well. This post contains affiliate links but that does not change the price to you. All recommendations are based on my personal use or research on the best replacement options. All links are through Amazon (easy to shop), or Etsy (great place to support small businesses and find handmade items). You may already be able to find replacements for several of these items around your house, or you might find other replacements you like better (check second hand options as well). The most important thing is to pick items that you will actually use and reuse.
Recommendations for disposable product replacements:
On The Go
It’s sad that disposable versions of these products get used on average for 20 minutes or less and will be on this planet much longer than any of us. Getting into the habit of carrying these items with you or having them in your car by creating your own reusable car kit is one of the best ways to reduce waste.
- Water Bottle – Here is a list of what I consider to be some of the best healthiest reusable water bottle options.
- Coffee Cup – For a list of great reusable travel mug options check out this post. Some coffee shops even offer a discount when you use bring your own reusable cup.
- Utensil Set –There are many reusable cutlery options to choose from. Some sets include chopsticks, others are made from bamboo or to keep it really light you can solve 99% of your on the go eating needs by just carrying a compact spork.
- Straws –Straws are not a necessity and easy to refuse but if you love drinking out of straws consider keeping a reusable stainless steel straw with your utensil set.
- Shopping Bags – I personally love these ChicoBags as they are lightweight, very high quality and compact. This less expensive reusable bag set also looks like a good option. It’s easy to keep a couple in your purse and car so you are never without them. If you prefer to keep your reusable shopping bags grouped together, most people love these BagPodz. If you prefer more personalized totes Etsy has these great options.
- Produce Bags –Carry your own produce bags as well . There are some great options like these ones made from organic cotton muslin or this set which includes multiple sizes and both muslin and mesh bags.
- Produce Bags –Carry your own produce bags as well . There are some great options like these ones made from organic cotton muslin or this set which includes multiple sizes and both muslin and mesh bags.
- Takeout Containers – When dinning at a restaurant, bring your own container for leftovers as opposed to using theirs. Some great options for carrying your own containers are glass containers, stainless steel containers, or collapsible silicone containers.
In the Kitchen
Most waste in a household is produced in the kitchen, besides food waste which can be composted here are some other ways to reduce waste in the kitchen.
- Coffee Filters – Using a french press is a great way to go for coffee aficionados that would like to reduce waste as they don’t require a use of a filter. If you prefer to use a coffee pot with regular filters they have great ones mad out of organic hemp in a cone or regular shape depending on your machine. If Keurig is your machine of choice they do make reusable K-Cups as Keurig’s little plastic pods have been shown to be incredibly detrimental to the environment.
- Tea Bags – By brewing loose leaf tea via a tea infuser not only will you cut down on waste but you will also improve taste. Not all tea bags are biodegradable in fact some contain plastic and other nasty chemicals you do not want to be drinking. Simple solution buy loose leaf tea and use a tea infuser like this one that can be placed in a mug or my personal preference a snap ball tea infuser.
- Straws – If you also like drinking out of straws at home I personally love these Hummingbird Glass Straws as they are made out of very strong borosilicate glass and resist breaking. If you prefer a fun kid friendly option these silicone straws are great and come in fun colors.
- Napkins- Paper napkins can easily be replaced with cloth napkins these are a great option that come in multiple color choices or consider this organic cloth napkin alternative known as paper-less towels. Etsy is also a great place to look for cloth napkins and unpaper towels as well for kitchen use.
- Food Storage Bags – These reusable silicone food storage bags are great for fridge and freezer storage and I love these Nordic By Nature sandwich and snack bags as they have a multitude of uses and different designs to pick from. Both options are dishwasher safe.
- Plastic Wrap – There are so many alternatives for plastic wrap. These silicone stretch lid covers are great. If you are looking for something that you can wrap around any dish or food item, these reusable Bee’s Wrap’s are a good choice.
- Aluminum Foil for Cooking – There are legitimate concerns about the safety of using aluminum foil in cooking as it can contaminate food. There are safer, better, and less wasteful options available. When it comes to baking potatoes, foil is not needed. Just rub them with a high heat oil and poke a few times, making deep holes with a fork so they don’t explode. For the grill you can replace foil with grill baskets and/or cedar grilling planks. When baking pies you can replace foil with a silicone pie crust shield. If you are someone who likes to make foil packet dinners, check out these mini stainless steel dutch ovens from Cuisinart for a similar effect.
- Parchment Paper – When it comes to easy cleanup of pans and to keep items from sticking, parchment paper still reigns king. These silicone baking mats are a wonderful alternative to the disposable version and come in different sizes.
- Muffin Liners – You can also get reusable silicone muffin liners that come both in both standard sized muffin liners and mini muffin liners.
- Food Packaging – If you have bulk bins for things like nuts, seeds, or grains at your local grocery stores you can save lot of food packaging by bringing your own bag or jars and filling them up (they can subtract the weight). You can also save food packaging by making more items at home and storing them in your own jars. Some great examples are nut milks just need a blender and nut milk bag. Another easy item to make at home is vegetable broth.
In the Bathroom
Everyday hygiene is also responsible for producing a lot of waste and there are so many zero waste alternatives.
- Tissue – Disposable tissues have not always been the norm. People used to proudly carry around and use reusable handkerchiefs. So why not go old school and pick up a set of handkerchiefs like this 4 pack available on Amazon or these reusable tissue options on Etsy.
- Cotton Rounds – You can replace your cotton round and ball use with an alternative option. This is a great 12 pack of bamboo reusable rounds available on Amazon but my favorite place to shop for these is on Etsy as they have so many cute handmade options available. The only thing I don’t recommend reusable cotton rounds for is removing nail polish.
- Makeup Remover Wipes – My personal favorite waste-free way to remove makeup is the Oil Cleansing Method. For another waste free alternative that only requires water and does a brilliant job of removing all your makeup, check our these reusable makeup remover cloths.
- Cotton Swabs – Cotton swabs have many uses but cleaning your ears should not be one of them. People claim using cotton swabs can damage your hearing and although there are reusable ear cleaners, I think those types of instruments are best left to the doctors office. For a safer way to clean your ears at home, just use a reusable tissue and your finger to gently trace around the exterior of your ears, being careful not to go into the actual ear canal. Another common use for cotton swabs is for cleaning up makeup smudges, but you can use a reusable and washable sponge tip applicator for makeup mistakes as well. If you absolutely can’t ditch the cotton swabs, make sure you use ones made without any plastic like the Q-Tip brand swabs or preferably organic cotton swabs which can also be composted.
- Razors – So much waste is generated from people using disposable razors when you really should just be replacing the head, so at the very least use a razor with a reusable handle. For an even more waste-free option, consider a safety razor as the blades are inexpensive and can be recycled as scrap metal with no plastic waste.
- Toothbrush – Unfortunately there are no completely reusable options when it comes to toothbrushes but the best option is to choose toothbrushes where you only have to replace the head like this one from Terradent or this option from RADIUS where the body is even made out of up-cycled materials. Another less waste option is using a bamboo toothbrush where all but the bristles can be composted.
- Floss – The only true reusable form of flossing is using a water flosser but you can get biodgradable floss by Dental Lace in a refillable container.
- Personal Care Products – Packaging for personal care items is reusable when you make more of your own DIY beauty and personal care products.
- Menstrual Products – You may or may not be familiar with reusable menstrual products like the menstrual cup, reusable pads and panty liners. I will be doing a full post on this topic soon and although at first they may take some getting used to, they have far more benefits than just reducing waste most people who use them would also refer to them as life changing and wish they would have known about them sooner.
- Toilet Paper- Most people, myself included, may not be ready for a reusable toilet paper. However it is not as gross as it sounds. I think this YouTube video does a good job explaining it. Basically, instead of toilet paper you are using a bidet type sprayer and reusable cloths that need to be kept separate from the rest of your cloths and laundered exceptionally well. If reusable toilet paper still does not sound like your thing, there are more sustainable alternatives. The company who gives a crap offers toilet paper made out of recycled paper or bamboo.
- For Babies – Because I am no expert, here is an article done by Mama Natural on Cloth Diapering 101. Switching to cloth diapers and reusable baby wipes can not only save a ton of waste and money, but are also healthier for your baby.
- For Pets – Even pet waste comes with reusable options like these reusable pee pad’s or reusable pet waste bags. Not ready to go reusable when bagging your pets waste? At least go for more earth friendly options like these ones made out of cornstarch that are biodegradable.
There are so many waste free alternatives when it comes to your cleaning routine. My book Easy Green Cleaning discussed most of these options in more depth. A complete list of green cleaning resources can be found here.
- Paper Towels – When it comes to cleaning I still recommend microfiber cloths as a waste reducing alternative to paper towels due to their effectiveness but you do need to be aware that washing microfiber cloths or any synthetic fabrics can shed polluting microfibers into our waterways so it is important to use a GuppyFriend washing bag or washing machine discharge filter when washing synthetic fabrics. If you prefer to stay away from microfiber you could try bar mop cleaning towels or just cut up old towels or t-shirts.
- Cleaning Products – Check out Easy Green Cleaning for cleaning recipes like this All-Purpose Rosemary Lavender Cleaner that can be made in reusable packaging like these glass spray bottles.
- Scouring Pads – I love scouring pads for extra abrasion and was so excited to find this reusable scouring pad from Skoy which works amazingly well and is top rack dishwasher safe.
- Sponges – If you have read my book you will no I am not a fan of sponges because their cellulose material makes them the perfect breading ground for harmful bacteria. If you are not ready to ditch the sponge then check out these machine washable reusable sponges on Etsy.
- Cleaning Erasers – A reusable option is just dip a wet microfiber cloth in some baking soda and scrub away. The results are just as magical as the disposable erasers you see in stores.
- Dryer Sheets – Dryer sheets can be replaced with reusable dryer balls. Wool dryer balls can even scent your laundry if you add a few drops of your favorite essential oils.
- Floor Cleaning Pads: The disposable version of floor cleaning pads cost the average family around $200 a year. You can add a microfiber cloth which can be used wet or dry to the bottom of your current floor cleaner that uses disposable pads. Or purchase a flat head mop with reusable wet and dry floor pads as a replacement.
- Pet Hair/Lint Removers – There are plenty of reusable options for lint removal as well I recommend a reusable pet hair mitt for removing pet hair from furniture and these reusable lint removers for lint and pet hair removal from clothes. A natural lint brush is also a good alternative.
- Trash Bags – Using reusable trash bags may be the last of your priorities as it was not something I was personally considering until I thought about it more. Now that I use a container in my freezer for food waste till I can take it to a compost and have reduced waste in general by using more reusable products. I realized switching to reusable trash bags would not be that hard or gross. These options are all washable and there are different sizes available. For lawn cleanup or larger collection bins there are these reusable trash can liners from Green-Ease. For indoor trash cans, diaper pails or even recycling bins there are these ones from Plant Wise available in large for taller kitchen cans or small. What I decided to do personally is use some of those options in my recycling bins and opted for these reusable nylon shopping bags to hang in areas where I do accumulate some trash.
In the Office
The best way to reduce waste in the office is to go as paperless as possible by utilizing the digital resources that are so abundantly available in this day and age. Here are a few other ways you can reduce waste in the office.
- Pens – Americans throw away 1.6 billion disposable pens every year. There are far less wasteful pen options such as a refillable fountain pen or a ballpoint pen version where you just refill the ink.
- Sticky Notes/Notebooks – No mater how paperless you go sometimes you just need to jot down a note. Reusable options include these Writey dry erase peel and stick notes or for more in-depth handwritten note taking check out this Reusable Wirebound Smart Notebook that comes with a water erasable pen.
- Ink Cartridges – You can purchase refillable ink cartridges and refillable ink for many different printer brands. Considering each new cartridge takes almost a gallon of oil to produce it is no wonder those little things cost so much. Using the refill method will help you save money as well. Make sure to recycle any ink cartridge once it is past its useful life.
These are the items that I did not feel fit well in any category but felt were still important to include.
- Party Supplies – If you ever entertain consider purchasing reusable party supplies like plates, cups and utensils that you have enough of to use with larger groups. For my last big get together I purchased a stack of ceramic plates at the dollar store and a couple boxes of stemless wineglasses, in addition to using my own silverware and cloth napkins it turned out to be a pretty low waste event. The bonus is I now can share these items with local friends and family so they don’t always resort to disposable options. If you start the night with an empty dishwasher cleanup is still a breeze as you are just adding items to the dishwasher instead of the trash can. If throwing outdoor events or parties with children is more your thing consider stalking up on reusable plastic party supplies like these cups, plates and utensils.
- Gift Wrapping – Most gift wrapping is difficult to recycle. Things like gift bags and bows can and should be reused multiple times. There are also reusable wrapping paper and gift bag options as well. Even better consider giving experience gifts no wrapping required.
Hope you enjoyed this post and got some good ideas on ways you can reduce waste by switching more of your disposable products with reusable alternatives. Please comment below and don’t forget to help spread the message by sharing this post!
-Elizabeth Hemmings, author of Easy Green Cleaning
If you enjoyed this post you will probably also enjoy Healthy Earth Habits: Easy Things You Can Do to Preserve Our Planet.
Leave a Reply