Low waste living can seem intimdating to a beginner – you have to start thinking about your carbon footprint, where your clothes are made, what they’re made of, plastic free packaging, food waste, greenhouse gases, water waste (is your head spinning yet?). As a result, the whole concept of a conscious lifestyle can get overwhelming very quickly and between greenwashing and fake news, how do you even know what’s truly eco-friendly and what isn’t? To help eliminate the grey area in green living, I’ve rounded up my top 10 easy low waste swaps. Which one are you going to make first?
1) Cotton Balls / DIY Cotton Rounds
This is probably the easiest, cheapest, you-have-no-excuse-not-to-do-it swaps. Yes, cut up t-shirt squares sitting on your counter isn’t exactly aesthetic, but it is 100% less wasteful than buying cotton balls to remove your makeup, nail polish, dead skin, shame, etc. Just grab an old t-shirt (if you don’t have a free one from work, a sports team, a summer camp, your ex-boyfriend’s mom’s sister who thought you’d love a Nickelback concert tee, I want to know more about your ability to avoid the ubiquity that is oversized cotton t-shirts), cut it in to 1 inch squares and store in your bathroom (old candle holders work great as containers). Once used, wash with the rest of your towels and ta-da! Brand new.
*If you do want something more aesthetic you can buy reusable cotton rounds like these from Package Free Shop.
2) Plastic Bags / Reusable Bags
This is green living 101. Before heading to the grocery store grab every free tote bag you’ve ever received from an employer, a charity, a concert, a museum or Lululemon. If you have somehow drifted through life without ever receiving a free promotional tote, then ask your friends or family members if they have any extras because buying a new one should be a last resort. The manufacturing of cotton requires more water and contributes to more air pollutants than the manufacturing of a plastic bag. As a result, cotton tote bags need to be used thousands of times before they’re considered more environmentally sound than their plastic counterparts. If you do find yourself using plastic bags, save them (don’t throw them in your recycling bin) and take them to a Target or another location that recycles number 2 plastic.
3) Plastic Water Bottles / Reusable Water Bottles
Ok so everything I said about grocery bags, same thing applies here. Avoid plastic bottles whenever you can, opting for a reusable option (again, I bet you’ve been given plenty of free promotional water bottles). If you do need to purchase one, try out one of these conscious options.
4) Plastic Bottle Hand Soap / Blueland Hand Soap
Instead of repeatedly buying conventional hand soap in a plastic container, try bar soap or Blueland hand soap. The company sends you “forever bottles” that you can use (spoiler alert) forever. The cleaning product itself comes as quarter-sized tablet that dissolves in water and the packaging is 100% compostable, which is just about as low waste as you can get.
5) Plastic Toothbrush / Bamboo Toothbrush
Nearly all standard plastic toothbrushes are not recyclable because they’re made of a combination of plastic that is nearly impossible to break apart. Also, because of their small size, they’re likely to get stuck in standard recycling machinery. An alternative option is a Bamboo toothbrush. Equally as effective as whatever your dentist gives you, but instead of tossing it in the trash at the end of its life, you can remove the bristles with pliers and then compost the handle.
6) Throwing Away Food Scraps / Composting
Food does not break down properly in landfills. Let me say that again for the people in the back. FOOD DOES NOT BREAK DOWN PROPERLY IN LANDFILLS. Food (or any other organic matter) lacks the necessary light and oxygen to break down in a landfill. Instead it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that that is 27 times more destructive than carbon (making this one of the most important and impactful low waste swaps you can make). So instead of throwing away your food scraps, compost them — you can either start your own backyard compost pile, or subscribe to the many compost collection services across the country (unfortunately most do charge a fee, so if you’re unable to afford a monthly compost collection check out these other creative ways to utilize food scraps).
7) Sponges / Bamboo Scrubbers
I’m just gonna say it: sponges are disgusting. On top of being a breeding ground for bacteria, they are made of plastic and often come wrapped in it too. I cannot speak more highly of Zefiro’s bamboo pot brush. The handle and head are made from sustainable bamboo and once the head gets unsightly you can pop it off, throw it in the compost bin and purchase a new one.
8) Tea Bags / Loose Leaf Tea
A conventional plastic tea bag can shed billions of microplastic particles into your relaxing morning beverage– yuck. Additionally, when you throw that tea bag away you’re adding more plastic waste to the landfill and the tea leaves won’t be able to break down properly since the landfill won’t provide them with the correct conditions to do so. Swap for loose leaf tea that you can steep using a diffuser. My favorite brand is Arbor Teas. They’re a Michigan based brand that sells organic, fair trade tea in compostable packaging.
9) Conventional Toilet Paper / Bamboo & Recycled Toilet Paper
Most major toilet paper brands are made from 100% virgin forest fibers. So when you flush conventional toilet paper down the drain you’re flushing away a tree. In fact, worldwide, the equivalent of ~27,000 trees per day get flushed into our sewer system as toilet paper, which as you can imagine contributes to some pretty serious deforestation. Toilet paper made from bamboo or recycled materials is an easy low waste alternative. For instance, utilizing recycled materials is much less water and energy intensive, while the rate at which bamboo regenerates makes it a much more sustainable option. For a recycled option I recommend checking out Who Gives a Crap and for bamboo options I recommend No. 2 or Reel.
10) Plastic Straws / Reusable Straws
Aaand for the last of our easy low waste swaps, we have straws! Many plastic straws are disposed of improperly and end up in the ocean where they breakdown into microplastics and infect our marine life. Easiest way to prevent this — just ask for no straw when you eat (or order) out. If you do need a straw try one of these reusable ones.