“We see straws as an important education opportunity, but really they're just the tip of the wasteberg," said Ecology Center executive director Martin Borque.
Plastic Free July inspired us to put together a glossary of solutions to the most common and pervasive plastics in our daily lives. We've lived without plastic before, and we can do it again! With our collective knowledge, we can get back to a simpler and more satisfying lifestyle, free of harmful plastic.
This glossary is not finished! Please comment or email your plastic-free solutions.
Eating at home
- Utensils: Switch to metal, wood or bamboo varieties over plastic ones.
- Straws: Reusable straws come in stainless steel, glass, and bamboo varieties, which help to cut down on the estimated 500 million single-use straws Americans use per day!
- Cookware with teflon: Don’t let the metal appearance of teflon fool you, it’s still a plastic coating and made with chemicals we don’t want in our food or our environment. Instead opt for cast iron, stainless steel or copper. These are better options and can often be found second hand, making them more affordable and creating less waste. They also last longer than non-stick pans and can be brought back to life even if they’ve been burnt or rusted.
Plastic drink pitchers: Instead, opt for glass, stainless steel or bamboo fiber jugs and pitchers. Save money and purchase second hand. Glass is very easy to find second hand (especially at antique shops).
- Drinking Cups: Say goodbye to the red plastic, and try some stainless steel or bamboo fibre ones.
- Plastic coffee brewer: There are lots of plastic-free options for making coffee at home, from french presses to an old fashioned percolator (again, second hand stores and Ebay are your best friend!). You can even learn to filter your own by hand!
- Plastic food containers: There are lots of alternative to plastic containers for leftovers and food storage, and our personal favorites are homemade. Our fav way to store leftovers; use your existing container, bowl, plate or pot and cover with a reusable bowl cover.
- Citrus juicer: Squeezing orange and lemon juice is a favorite pastime, and you can find steel or wood juicers in second hand stores, or check out your local canning supply store.
- Plastic cutting board: Plastic cutting boards seem convenient and durable, but over time the plastic will wear down and fragment into your food and they are not easily recyclable. Wood and bamboo versions are a simple and effective way to replace plastic. They’re a lot of options out there for sustainably harvesting and ethically made cutting boards, and they can be composted or repurposed at the end of their life.
- Ice cube trays: Stainless steel ice cube trays or ones composed of recycled material are great alternatives to the easily cracked plastic ones.
- Serving Utensils: From a pizza serving utensil to salad tongs, metal or wood are easier to clean, plus they're more durable and long lasting than plastic.
- Plastic wine corks: Synthetic corks have been developed for some time, but the original natural cork ones have yet to be replaced due to their oxidizing properties. Choose wine with true cork! If you're not sure if its real cork, ask the wine clerk at your local grocery store, they'll be able to help.
- Plastic sandwich bags: Cloth based alternatives are easy to clean and last years compared to plastic bags. Reusable snack and sandwich bags can be machine washed or simply turned inside out and wiped clean.
- Single-use produce or takeout bags: Keep a handful of reusable bags in your car or bag so you can say 'no, thank you' to single-use plastic bags. We love our bento bags for produce and dry bulk goods because they have the weight of the bag (TARE) on the tag for easy checkout. They're also great for picking up to-go orders at your favorite restaurant.
- Cling wrap: Bowl covers or Beeswax food wraps are the perfect replacement for plastic cling film. There are vegan options for the wax food wraps that also warm up with the touch of your hand and mold to your container. Our bowl covers are size adjustable and come with a waterproof PUL or Unbleached Cotton lining. Sandwich wraps are another vegan alternative that's super versatile for wrapping odd size/shaped things like pizza slices or burritos.
- Paper napkins/Paper towels: 'Aren't they made from paper' you ask? Yes, but paper towels and napkins are almost always packaged in plastic. Napkins disposability also makes them grossly unnecessary, so alternatives like UNpaper® are perfect. A 24-pack of Marley’s Monsters UNpaper® towels can replace up to three rolls of generic paper towels for a typical household per week.
- Takeout containers: Practice bringing reusable containers when going out to eat and inform your server in advance. Notice we said 'inform' your server not 'ask.' Kindly and confidently give them your container, whether you're getting food to-go or bringing home leftovers. Stainless steel lunch boxes, glass containers or even wide mouth jars are perfect for this because they're affordable and widely available (have we mentioned second hand stores are awesome?). Reusable snack bags and sandwich wraps are a great lightweight option for taking food to-go.
- Plastic or paper dishes: Think ahead to any event where you regularly buy disposable plates and opt for a wooden or bamboo set instead. Or, if you have a dishwasher (or helpful party guests), use your existing dishware, or invest in a durable second hand set just for parties.
- Plastic straws: There’s a variety of swaps for straws; glass, bamboo or silicon are great for those who don’t like the feel of metal. Make sure you have a travel pouch so you remember to bring them and have a place for dirty straws.
- Grocery bags: Paper or plastic, they consume natural resources, so choose a reusable cloth bag and keep it on hand (on the doorknob, in your car or bag) for grocery runs or everyday errands.
- Produce and bulk bags: Cloth bags, especially the ones that have the TARE weight on the tag like our bento bags and versatile string bags are all great alternatives to single-use plastic bags.
- Water bottles: The number of disposable bottles that end up in our oceans is staggering, so invest in a lightweight metal water bottle and keep it on you or nearby. Most public and private spaces will let you fill up without issue.
- Hand/body/face soap: Most soap containers are no longer curbside recyclable, which is a big reason for switching to sustainable packaging. Avoiding unnecessary chemicals is a bonus. We love cleansing bars for face and body soap. This one is made with vegan all-natural ingredients and can easily melt down into a liquid soap if you're used to liquid cleansers. For hand soap, we prefer homemade because you can use existing containers and it's super affordable. Add 3-4 tbsp castile soap, 1 tsp fractionated coconut oil and 10 drops of essential oil for scent to your soap dispenser and fill the rest of the way with water.
- Lotion: Try making your own and storing it in glass instead of plastic bottles. It's easier than you think and pretty affordable. Not into DIY? Opt for handmade moisturizers or body butters packaged in glass jars.
- Dish soap: Have you tried using a dishwashing soap block? It works just as well as leading brands. Because it's concentrated you end up using less, making it last longer than liquid soap. Just apply your washable sponge or dish brush directly to the block and wash dishes like normal. For a dishwater, just place the block in the sink and run warm water over it for 5-10 seconds.
- Household cleaners: Avoiding the chemicals in cleaning products is almost as difficult as avoiding the plastic bottles they come in. Luckily more refill shops are popping up, so you can fill your own containers with things like all-purpose cleaners and soap. You can also make your own in a glass spray bottle. Pinterest has a wealth of DIY recipes that are easy and affordable.
- Shaving cream: We love using our multi-purpose Body Food as a shaving cream. If you're on a budget, or just trying to use what you already have, try coconut oil. It's easy to find in reusable/recyclable glass jars and works great for shaving.
- Shampoo and conditioner: Shampoo and conditioner bars are awesome. No wasteful bottles, they're widely available for different hair types and there are tons of DIY recipes! We're partial to Meow Meow Tweet's shampoo bar because it's made with all natural vegan ingredients, doesn't strip your hair of moisture (which means you'll need less conditioner) and smells AMAZING.
- Hair spray: There are a few brands that offer hairspray in recyclable aluminum cans, but did you know making your own hairspray is super easy? Ditch harmful aerosol and try our fav DIY recipes here. Most recipes are 3 ingredients or less and they're probably already in your home!
- Salves or promades/other hair products: Opt for products packaged in metal, glass or compostable paper tubes. Again, there are a lot of great recipes out there if you're down to try a little DIY. Another waste-reducing option is to look for multi-purpose products. We love Urban Oreganics' Body Food as an all natural deep conditioning hair treatment or for taming flyaways.
- Travel toiletries: Toothbrushes, deodorant, and hairbrushes are all essential to having a clean and healthy trip. Try bamboo toothbrushes, hair brushes or combs. You can also save money and ditch plastic by bringing shampoos/soaps from home in metal travel tins.
Home and kitchen
- Compost bin: Stainless steel countertop bins are great because they're easy to clean and durable, but there are bamboo fibers options that can be composted at the end of their life (usually commercially). You can find metal outdoor compost bins, but making your own may be more affordable and easier than you think. These DIY tutorials use materials like wood pallets, chicken wire and metal trash cans, offering step-by-step instructions.
- Plastic hanger: When it comes to coat hangers, second hand and post-consumer are the way to go. Bamboo, post-consumer cardboard, and wood are all great alternative materials.
- Garbage bags: Opt for compostable bags or oragami your own trash liners with old newspaper! Check out our Pinterest for quick and easy folding tutorials.
- Water filters: Most water filters have a plastic body and come in lots of excess plastic packaging. Some companies will let your return the old filter to be recycled, but they don’t accept the plastic packaging. Activated charcoal filters are a great alternative. They naturally purify, last up to 6 months (compared to 1 month for typical plastic bodied filters) and can be composted at home after use.
- Paper towels: Paper towels are notorious for coming wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Clean up spills and messes with our UNpaper® towels, a thin yet absorbent multi-purpose towel that can be reused for years. You can also make your own by cutting up an old tee shirt! The knit fabric on tee shirts won’t fray and therefore doesn’t require any sewing.
- Freezer Bags: Reuse old containers or mason jars instead. Glass jars are great because you can store liquids or solids and they're easy to find in canning good stores or second hand. For short term freezing, we've had great results freezing fruits and veggies with our reusable snack bags.
Clothing and accessories
- Phone case: Cork, flax and other plant-based phone cases are great because they are easily composted. We also love wood cases because they're unique, handmade and can also be composted at end of life. Check out our Pinterest for some of our favs.
- Sneakers: Look for shoes made of cork, upcycled rubber and natural fibers like linen, cotton and flax. We're intrigued by Native Shoes' "Plant Shoe" which is 100% biodegradable and plant-based.
- Swimsuits: It's hard to find truly plastic-free swimsuits because a lot of eco-friendly brands use upcycled plastics and polyester. However, natural fiber swimsuits do exist, and they're not all hand crocheted one pieces from the 70's (if that's what you're into, vintage and second hand are the best way to find a unique and eco-friendly swimsuit). Here are some Ocean Friendly swimsuit resources we've found.
- Underwear: Synthetic fibers like polyester, rayon and modal are very common materials for underwear, but besides being bad for your health (synthetic fibers are not very breathable, and we all need airflow down there), they shed microplastics in the wash. Opt for natural fibers like organic cotton, silk, linen/cotton blends, hemp and bamboo. We've collected some goodies and resources here.
- Hair Ties: We love these plant-based biodegradable hair ties from Kooshoo. Since there are few plastic free options for hair-ties, try getting creative and repurposing tights or socks into new hair accessories. Checkout these easy upcycling tutorials.
- Glasses: Glasses made with natural materials like wood or bamboo are the way to go. A lot of bamboo and wood glasses are made with upcycled plastic, so seek out all-wood or metal and wood frames if you can, like these from TAKEMOTO. If you have an eye doctor you like, ask them to help you find a pair that's best for you and the planet.
- Sunglasses: Like regular glasses, bamboo or wood designs are widely available, but it may be difficult to find sunglasses that are totally plastic-free. We like these plant-based glasses from Pela because they're 100% biodegradable and they have a comprehensive take-back program so they take care of recycling the plastic lenses. Like their website says, "closed loop manufacturing is a thing."
- Synthetic fibers: Choose natural fibers when you can. Synthetic fibers are often made from petrochemicals and shed microplastics into our water whenever we wash them. Our favorite natural fibers include; organic cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp and burlap.
Laundry and cleaning
- Laundry detergent: Choose a limited ingredient detergent that comes in reusable/refillable containers or biodegradable packaging, like Urban Organics’ laundry soap made exclusively for our shop.
- Fabric softener: Make your own recipe with epsom salts and your favorite essential oils in a mason jar and avoid all the artificial chemicals in store-bought brands. Pinterest is a great resource for easy recipes and honest reviews.
- Dryer sheets: Wool dryer balls are a great alternative. Save on drying time and even add your own essential oils. Vegan? You can find dryer balls made from hemp or bamboo on Etsy, or you can make your own scented dryer sheets with our cloth wipes!
- Dishwasher detergent: Save the plastic container and make your own! Baking Soda will be your best friend and we've collected some easy recipes on our Pinterest. Or find a brand that packages without plastic, like Mama's Suds (coming soon to the shop!).
- Dish Soap: Ditch the liquid in plastic bottles and opt for a Dishwashing block. Ours is super concentrated (i.e. long lasting), effective, plastic AND palm oil free.
- Sponges: For a more sustainable and better quality sponge try finding one made of recycled and/or compostable materials like our washable ones.
- Swiffer pads: Did you know that our UNpaper® towels fit on most single-use dust mop heads perfectly? You're welcome!
- Plastic gloves: One of the challenges of going plastic free is finding swaps for products that use plastic for sanitation or sterilization. Some gloves claim to be made from post-consumer materials, but it's usually no more than 20% and they're still single-use. When it doubt, think reusable. If you have to use gloves, invest in a single reusable pair that will last for years, rather than hundreds ending up in the landfill. Disinfect with a DIY spray and air dry.
- Bed sheets: Microfiber sheets are made with synthetic materials, so they can't be composted and they'll shed microplastics in your wash. Choose linen, organic cotton or bamboo sheets for the ultimate breathable & eco-friendly experience. If price is detering you, think of it as an investment in your sleep and the environment. Also, don't throw old bed sheets away! Upcycle them into tote bags, movie projector screens, napkins and more.
- Toothpaste: Luckily, there are many natural, effective and plastic free alternatives to toothpaste! From tooth powder or chewable tabs in glass containers, to sea salt toothpaste in aluminum tubes, making the switch to plastic-free toothpaste is totally painless. Get the same minty fresh clean without excess packaging.
- Mouthwash: Check out our fav DIY mouthwash recipes here! Use your own containers, personalize ingredients and make new batches as needed.
- Disposable razors: Safety razors may be intimidating, but the learning curve is quick and you’ll be able to recycle the blades. Plus they’re better for sensitive skin and WAY more affordable in the long run (blades for a standard razor range from $15-25 for a 4-pack, safety razor blades are less than $10 for a 10-100 blades). Do some research and find one that's perfect for you.
- Sunscreen: Choose a brand that is packaged in easily refillable or recyclable containers like aluminum or glass. Some sunscreens come in metal tins, which are easy to repurpose or recycle.
- Bandages: Bamboo bandages are a great alternative to plastic ones. The fibres are made from a fast-growing resource, and the bandages are 100% biodegradable so you can even compost them at home!
- Plastic toothbrush: Our bamboo toothbrushes are awesome because everything from the handle, packaging and bristles are plant-based. Although the bristles are not 100% biodegradable (they're made from 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon) the manufacturer, Brush with Bamboo, provides you with instructions on how to properly recycle or dispose of the bristles.
- Shower Curtain: Try fabric curtains made from natural fibers like cotton, hemp or bamboo. You'll have more style options than plastic curtains (you can even upcycle old sheets into new curtains), and don’t forget not showering every day can reduce water use. That’s what dry shampoo is for! Plus, using less water will save you a boatload on your utility bill.
- Nail Polish Remover: Substitute lemongrass essential oil and devote a few facial rounds to use with it (they will stain, but can be reused for years). Simply dab each nail with the oil, let sit for 10 seconds and go over again then wash your facial rounds in a mesh bag.
Baby and mama
- Nursing pads: Disposable nursing pads may feel like the only option given how they end up, but washable ones like ours are great swaps too.
- Diapers: Countless chemicals are used in the creation of disposable diapers, in addition to making up a distressing percentage of landfill waste. Switching to cloth diapers if you have the time is a decision that will save you and the planet a lot.
- Baby wipes: The polymer used to make baby wipes isn’t immediately obvious, but the United Kingdom has already taken steps to reduce their production. Luckily there are some eco-conscious options, including DIY recipes online. Make your own wet Cloth Wipes or use them dry with a spray bottle. We like using Cloth Wipe Bits for a simple solution that can be made in seconds.
- Pacifiers: Natural rubber makes for a great pacifier swap
- Baby toys: Finding non-plastic toys isn’t that hard, but the real challenge is being able to make them from scratch out of wood that won’t flake or splinter.
- Bottles: Have you seen the glass ones? Just make sure that they’re supervised while in use.
Food and Beverage
- Yogurt containers: DIY yogurt recipes are easy to find on Pinterest and you can store them in wide mouth canning jars.
- Condiments: Stores like Whole Foods and Market of Choice are offering bulk sauces and oils, so fill up in bulk with your own containers when you can. For the rest, experiment in the kitchen and make your own in glass containers. Homemade mayo is surprisingly easy to whip up in a food processor and you can customize flavors (hello sriracha mayo!). If you can't make your own, opt for condiments in recyclable glass containers.
- Energy bars: Even if you're not into food prepping, you should give homemade granola bars a shot. They're easy, fun, yummy and much more affordable. Most recipes take 15-20 minutes and don't even require an oven.
- Candy: Don't fret! You can still indulge in gummy candy and chocolate goodness, just buy in bulk! Checkout the bulk section of your grocery store to save money and ditch plastic wrappers.
- Bread in sleeve: Buy bread fresh from a bakery and bring your own bag! Or make your own. Make it fun and have a breadmaking party with friends so that everyone walks away with fresh bread for the week.
- Milk jugs: Glass milk bottles like the ones the milkman used to deliver are coming back, and some companies and grocery stores have a significant bottle deposit that goes towards your next purchase. Look into this to see if any supermarket in your area offers it, and if not, reach out to them and ask for it! Another plastic free option is making your own plant-based milk from almonds or cashews. There are lots of simple recipes and all you need is a cheesecloth or nut milk bag. If that seems like too much work, stainless steel gadgets like the Almond Cow make delicious nut milk in seconds.
- Cereal bags: Buying cereal in bulk and storing long-term in glass works wonderfully. For short term cereal storing, opt for cloth bags like the Bento Bags or Snack Bags.
- Wrapped cheese: Get cheese from the deli at your grocery store. Bring your own container and kindly tell the clerk to drop it in (most places can't take your container for sanitary reasons) after they've weighed it.
- Coffee filters: Reusable coffee filters are the best! Fabric filters are widely available, just make sure to get one made from organic cotton or another pesticide free fabric. You can even find stainless steel reusable filters for Keurig coffee makers.
- Tea bags: Bulk tea is often more affordable and you can customize flavors. Reusable tea satchels are awesome and easy to make, or look for stainless steel tea infusers at your local home goods or grocery store.
- Pet toys: Instead of plastic, opt for natural fiber toys. Your critters won’t notice the difference and you’ll save a few bucks while keeping plastic out of the landfill once your pup or cat eventually destroys it. From hemp rope toys, to organic cotton catnip toys, the options are endless. You can even make your own with scrap materials. Pinterest is a great resource for DIY pet toys.
- Plastic pet bowls: Opt for stainless steel or ceramic. Still easy to clean and durable, but easier if you don’t mind mismatched sets, checkout second hand stores for affordable and unique bowls to feed your fur babies.
- Doggy waste bags: There are compostable alternatives made from wood pulp and other natural fibers. A secondary alternative would be bags made from recycled plastics.
- Pet collars: there a wide variety of alternatives to plastic that range from hemp, upcycled, and recycled dog collars.
- Bath & Body: Toothbrushes, deodorant, and hairbrushes are all essential to having a clean and healthy trip, and all of them have sustainable alternatives that are just as mobile. Try bamboo toothbrushes and deodorant packaged in cardboard tubes.
- Plastic lighters: Use refillable ones. There’s always wooden matches as well.
- Laundry bag: Our wet bags are a great replacement for plastic bags for laundry on-the-go.
- Batteries: Rechargeable versions will last a lot longer and won’t end up in the trash like so many other electronic products.
- Scissors: Choose metal all the way! We’ve even found some kid’s metal scissors too. (www.nienhuis.com)
- Tape: Try out water activated packing tape for shipping boxes by EcoEnclose or Washi tape for smaller craft projects.
- Stapler: Would you believe there’s an eco-stapler that binds papers without metal staples, but with paper bindings? If that’s too much for you there’s always bamboo backed staplers.
- Plastic pen: Replace plastic pens with Wheat grass pens or Recycled water bottle pens.
- Ruler: Choose wood or metal.
- Junk mail: There are many opt-out websites and apps that can help with this. Some are available for a low fee and some are free. You can also call each company you are receiving mail from and unsubscribe.
- Notebook: Notebooks made of paper that has recycled content and without plastic binding are ideal.
Wrapping paper: Recycle some newspaper, fabric scraps or use a Bento Bag.
- Tape dispenser: Find a wooden dispenser and fill it with washi tape.
This is just the beginning of our glossary and is a work in progress. If you have a suggestion, please let us know and email firstname.lastname@example.org