Plastic Free Alternatives for every room of the house + More
We all know the figures on plastic waste are bleak – a single plastic water bottle takes centuries to decompose, plastic bags strangle baby seals, and the industry has exaggerated the benefits of recycling in order to sell more plastics. We know governments need to be more aggressive in regulating the industry, and businesses need to take more responsibility. Many of us have adopted the mindset that until this happens, giving up plastic straws isn’t gonna be much help, so why bother?
But here’s the thing about small changes. When lots of people come together, and make small changes all at once, the impact can be extraordinary.
In 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz was working in local government in Perth, Australia, when she visited a city recycling facility. As she emptied her own recycling for collection that same night, she couldn’t get the image of the mountains of unrecyclable plastic waste she’d seen earlier out of her mind. Knowing, for the first time, where the contents of her bin were really going, she went to work the next day and said to her co-workers, “I’m going plastic free next month, who wants to join me?”
And that’s how Plastic Free July was born.
It started off with Rebecca and two of her colleagues eleven years ago. In 2021, 140 million people worldwide chose to participate in Plastic Free July. Together, those folks chose to refuse 301 million single-use plastic items that month, totaling 2.1 million tons of avoided plastic waste. The opportunity to be a part of the movement is back, and we encourage any and all to sign up and take the challenge for Plastic Free July.
When Rebecca and her colleagues first went plastic free, they didn’t have all the answers. They did, however, have some ideas – and so do we. Going plastic free will open your eyes as to how pervasive plastic is in our everyday lives, so here are some hacks for navigating the coming month without it.
How to be Plastic Free ON THE GO
Okay, these are the easiest and most basic switches, and many of you may have already adopted these habits, but just in case, here are our fave tips for going plastic-free on the go.
If you haven’t switched to a reusable water bottle yet, it’s time. The rising popularity of stainless steel bottles, not least because of their ability to keep our drinks cool for hours, means there are multiple options to choose from. We especially like the ones from Takeya because of their built-in straws. See our next tip for more musings on straws.
Plastic straws have kind of become enemy number one. Anyone remember when all the cafés replaced plastic straws with the compostable ones that disintegrated in your drink halfway through? While we admire the initiative, those weren’t great. It was a good jumping off point though, and companies have since engineered some really great alternatives to the plastic straw – like this metal one from PPC for only $3.
Like the water bottle, if you’re still using single use plastic bags every time you buy food, make the switch now. Most grocery stores have reusable shopping bags available for purchase, so it’s a one time investment and a simple matter of remembering to bring them on your food runs. Or pick up a bag from local favorite aNY bag –a reusable bag MADE from weaving together single use plastic bags. Pretty meta in the non-Facebook way.
Plastic Free in the BATHROOM
Usually the smallest room in the house, the bathroom generally holds the most plastic per square foot. It’s malleability and low production cost make it the go-to material for everything from cleansers to dental floss. Turns out there’s a sustainable alternative for every bathroom staple you can think of.
SOAP / BODY WASH
This is a very easy fix. Not only do bar soaps eliminate plastic, they also tend to contain fewer ingredients than body soaps or gels. Typically, they don’t need preservatives to keep them shelf-stable either, which means they don’t contain the parabens that we often find in the bottled versions. We’re long time fans of Alder New York, and their fragrance-free soap uses 1% glycolic acid and nourishing sea kelp to leave skin feeling refreshed, smooth, and hydrated.
A similar hack with similar benefits. Shampoo and conditioner bars are generally healthier for your hair than their liquid counterparts because they’re made without parabens, sulfates, phthalates, silicone, and synthetic fragrances. This means less damaging and less stripping your hair of its natural oils – an all too common trope with the stuff you find lining the pharmacy shelves. Ethique has one of the best selections of solid hair care out there, with vegan, fair trade options for fine, curly, oily, and dried-out locks.
The beauty industry has taken advantage of the importance we place on skincare, and pressed upon us the need for cleansers, serums, toners, creams, moisturizers, exfoliators, sheet masks, and anything else they can package up in little plastic containers and sell to us. The truth is, it’s not that complicated. Industry vet Mike Indursky – former CEO of Bliss, CMO of Burt’s Bees – started No Kill favorite HEAR ME RAW in response to all the industry BS. The lineup offers a comprehensive 4-step skin care regimen that comes in glass containers with replaceable pods.
Deodorant is another plastic product we use every day without thinking twice. Every now and then, we hear about folks switching over to DIY deodorant recipes – baking soda + tea tree oil, for instance, or lemon juice.
2 billion razors are thrown out every year. Change these numbers by using a safety razor. We recommend this rose gold one from Eco Roots – it offers a close shave, not to mention the vintage-y aesthetic feel it’ll lend to your shower routine (we’re suckers for that). Pair it with a package free shave soap and you have a match made in heaven.
Over the span of a lifetime, the average menstruator throws out somewhere between 5 -15,000 pads and/or tampons. The waste is starting to wear down on us, and amid the great tampon shortage, a lot of people are making the switch to reusable products, like the diva cup or period underwear like these ones from Thinx. Your body, your choice (and while we’re here, we’d like to give a gigantic F YOU to SCOTUS).
Plastic Free DENTAL
*** It’s always a good idea to check with your dentist first before making any changes to your oral health routine. It’s definitely okay to refuse the free plastic products they offer you at the end of your visit, so we recommend starting with that. Once you’ve gotten the green light to make some changes, here are our picks for going plastic free in your oral hygiene routine.
You’ve probably seen the bamboo toothbrush pop up on your feed at some point. The beauty of bamboo, the cleaning power of natural bristles and the affordability – you can’t go wrong! Life Without Plastic offers a completely compostable bamboo toothbrush with bristles made from boar hair. Their boar bristles are ethically sourced as a by-product of the meat industry — if not used in this way, they would be discarded as waste.
Toothpaste doesn’t need to be complicated. If you choose not to use fluoride in your toothpaste, then it’s as easy as using baking soda on your toothbrush. You can also find tons of DIY toothpaste recipes online if you’re looking to add flavors or make a paste.
Like the deodorant dilemma, if you’re more comfortable getting it from the experts, Nelson Natural’s has perfected plastic-free toothpaste and offers a refill program as part of their dedication to sustainability.
Flossing is a habit we all have to get into, but nylon floss is super harmful to the planet (sea animals get stuck in the nylon and it’s nearly impossible for them to get free of it) and also is covered in perfuoroalkyl, which has been linked to cancer and heart disease. So it’s time everyone made the switch to silk floss. If you’re vegan and don’t like the idea of using silk floss, Dental Lace’s impressive inventory includes plant-based floss as well. You can find all the goods in their gorgeous sea glass inspired containers – fancy, we know.
Fun fact: Listerine was created in 1879, and first used as a surgical antiseptic, then as a FLOOR CLEANER. Now we rinse our mouths with it. Ummm. There’s gotta be a better way. Oil pulling with coconut oil (we like Dr. Bronner’s Organic Fair Trade Coconut Oil) is a great alternative that claims to get rid of excess bacteria, promote gum health and also whiten the teeth. Mouthwash tablets are also a great option – Byhumankind offers an array of refillable flavors made from all natural, ethical ingredients.
*** If you still want to use your electric toothbrush or have some old plastic brushes past their prime, consider mailing them to TerraCycle for recycling. They also accept floss containers, toothpaste tubes, and nylon bristles as part of their program with Colgate.
Going Plastic free In the KITCHEN
The kitchen is another room in the house that sees a lot of plastic. We’ve rounded up the usual suspects and come up with some alternatives we’re pretty psyched about.
Saran Wrap (cling film for our British friends) does a good job at keeping half-eaten foods fresh. Know what it doesn’t do a good job at? Decomposing – the material takes 450 years to break down. Consider wrapping your leftovers in beeswax coated cloth instead – equally effective, this reusable Beeswrap one comes in a variety of prints, meaning it’s not only more sustainable than its sticky plastic counterpart, but also, way prettier.
Technically, most plastic zipper storage bags are recyclable. However, since they are considered a plastic film, they clog the machinery at city recycling facilities, meaning unless you’re willing to do the extra lifting, these bags aren’t getting recycled. Considering the average American family goes through 500+ of them a year, that’s a lot of garbage. Leak-proof and dishwasher / microwave / freezer safe, silicone bags are a legit substitute. You can find them at Zero Waste Outlet for 19.99 for a pack of 3.
The convenience of Keurig and Nespresso means the rise in single-use, throwaway plastic coffee pucks. And although these companies claim you can recycle them, we’re calling this out as greenwashing – most community recycling programs are NOT equipped to handle these pods, and they end up getting incinerated, thereby poisoning the air, water, and soil. Instead of contributing to this trend for the sake of saving five minutes, we recommend you embrace the ritual of brewing your own coffee in the morning – you may find it to be quite soothing. Here’s our list of plastic-free options – whatever type of coffee drinker you are.
For a good old fashioned cup of coffee, the best method to prevent waste is the French press. We like Bodum’s BRAZIL coffee maker, which has a reusable filter and easily washable pot and can make a small to larger amount of coffee, so extra coffee doesn’t go to waste.
More of an espresso drinker? The stovetop Bialetti Moka is a tried-and-true favorite – every Italian person we know swears by it. Like the French press, the Moka is zero-plastic and easy to use – fill the bottom with water, fill the middle with espresso grinds, and wait for the bubbles to sound.
Right, it’s summer, and you probably want to drink iced coffee. Instead of ordering that single-use cup of cold brew at your local café on the regular, try investing in an at-home brew bundle. Sustainability hero Explorer Cold Brew (they offset their emissions and have eliminated virtually all plastic packaging) provides all the tools to craft the perfect coffee at home, complete with brewing instructions customizable to your caffeine needs. Also they have chai – just saying.
OTHER HACKS to Help Ditch Plastic
SHOP LOCALLY (AND RETURN ANY CONTAINERS THAT YOU CAN)
Shopping locally and supporting your community is ALWAYS preferable. Bigger brand stores tend to use more plastic packaging than that of smaller and local shops – this is especially true with grocery shopping (clam shells, anyone?) Treat yourself to the goods at your local farmers market – there’s no excess packaging, and the food tastes better anyway.
REQUEST ZERO PLASTIC PACKAGING WHEN ORDERING ONLINE
A lot of companies offer zero waste sustainable packaging. Especially during the pandemic, the popularity of online shopping meant more packaging and more environmental destruction. So, although No Kill urges everyone to shop locally (see above), if you do need to order something online it is crucial to request zero plastic packaging.
GET OFF MAILING LISTS
Not only can they be ridiculously annoying, but the paper and plastic waste generated with mailing lists is a huge waste. If you would like to be on a mailing list, just register online.
Think we missed something? Let us know your hacks for going plastic free – we’d love to hear from you!
-By Steph Lawson