After the shocking wake-up call of the documentary Blue Planet, more and more people are waking up to the unsustainable way humans are living. In fact, 97% of climate scientists agree we are facing a global warming emergency. But there’s hope for our planet. If we all do our part to make ourselves a little bit greener, then we can drastically reduce the issues our planet is facing. In this post, you’ll discover some easy swaps to eco-friendly products you can make today to do your part.
Creating a Sustainable Future
If you ask people why they think we need to become more environmentally friendly as a society, you’ll hear a variety of answers. Some want to stop the mass extinction of hundreds of endangered species. Others want to clean the oceans of the millions of tons of plastic.
But in a recent survey by sustainable earth, the number one reason given for changing our ways was to make sure that future generations had just that – a future.
Now, you may ask what difference can we make as individuals? And there are indeed just 20 firms responsible for a third of all carbon emissions today. But the choices we make as individuals in our day to day life do play a part in forging a sustainable future.
If as a collective we all made some simple lifestyle changes, those small impacts can start to add up and make a difference. It causes the government and large corporations to sit up and take notice. These changes can be as simple as swapping one product on your next trip to the supermarket, choosing a responsible eco-friendly company over an oil-guzzling conglomerate, or simply reusing that coffee cup.
There are many cheap and easy ways that we as individuals can make a change for the better. Below, we will explore some of the different ways we can make a sustainable future possible for the next generation.
The Problem with Disposable and Single-use Products
First of all, what are single-use products and why are they such a problem? These are products intended for one use and one use only. They are usually made of plastic and are a huge cause for concern.
Examples of single-use products include:
- Drink bottles
- Food containers and packaging
- Shopping bags
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee cups and lids
Originally created to make our lives easier, these single-use items are wreaking havoc on our environment. It can take thousands of years for a single plastic bag to degrade. Now, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic clogging our oceans. And this issue isn’t going away. As the plastic degrades or breaks down, it leaches chemicals into the waterways and air, causing untold issues scientists are still trying to measure.
This pervasive problem is spreading to every corner of the planet. Alarming new studies have even found microplastics deep in the arctic snow. Scientists now believe we will be labeled the age of plastic.
Luckily, we are waking up to this issue and changing our ways. Every day, new and innovative solutions are found to reduce our reliance on plastic. Giving us eco-friendly alternatives that will help save our planet.
Let’s take a look at some eco-friendly alternatives to the most damaging single-use plastic items. By making the easy swap to these eco-friendly products, you’ll drastically reduce your reliance on single-use plastic.
Eco-Friendly Products You Can Start Using Today
Americans use 100 billion plastic bags every single year. And only 1% of these bags are ever returned for recycling. The rest end up in landfills or washed into our waterways.
Luckily, switching to reusable bags is the easiest plastic swap you can make and it comes with a set of benefits.
In the long run, using reusable bags is more cost-effective. Many stores are introducing charges for single-use plastic bags to encourage people to bring their own. What’s more, many stores are scrapping single-use plastic bags altogether.
Reusable bags also help to save on resources. To produce the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year, it takes a staggering 12 million barrels of oil. This is having an immediate effect on the environment as fossil fuels contribute to global warming.
These planet-friendly alternatives also help to de-clutter your house, are more reliable and more durable. Meaning you won’t have to worry your bags are going to break if you overload them. Plus, with so many designs and styles to choose from, it’s easy to find beautiful bags that show off your personality.
Finally, by using reusable bags you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you are not contributing towards the growing state of our environment. A single set of reusable bags could save up to 20,000 single-use bags being disposed of over a lifetime.
Steel or Bamboo Straws
Plastic straws are a buzzword in many bars and cafes today. It’s estimated that 500 million straws are used in the US every day. You might have seen the shocking footage of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nostril.
As a result, many eco-conscious establishments are moving away from plastic and are trying to use paper straws instead. Although this is a step in the right direction, these single-use alternatives actually take more energy and resources to make than plastic.
Instead, by investing in your own straw made from metal or bamboo you can help the environment and help us push away from our dependence on single-use plastic.
There are many benefits to investing in a reusable straw. First of all, they are safer and easier to use. Stainless steel straws are easy to clean and stay rigid without the risk that they may break, like bamboo or glass straws. This means they are great to give to adults and children alike and can be used and transported with ease and without fear of damage.
They are easy to clean and maintain. Stainless steel straws are dishwasher safe and will often come with a little brush, allowing you to deep clean the inside if the need arises. Because they are yours you also have the added benefit of knowing that they are clean and no one has touched the straw you are using.
What’s more, they are easily transported and look beautiful. Many have designs engraved on them or come in vibrant colors. Making them look a lot more elegant that sipping from a plastic or paper straw. They are lightweight and durable as well-meaning they can be stored and transported with ease.
Finally, the greatest benefit of all is that they are eco-friendly. This is another easy eco-friendly swap you can make today to help do your part for the planet.
As a society, we love to use food wraps. It’s a convenient way to keep our sandwiches fresh and our food covered. One study estimated that in a 6-month period, Americans use 10 million boxes of plastic food wrap.
The bad news is this plastic film is adding to the mounting plastic pollution crisis. The good news is there is a great eco-friendly alternative.
Beeswax wraps are coverings made by combining beeswax and a natural cloth like cotton or hemp. These have antifungal and antibacterial properties as well as keeping the food inside moist. Something that plastic wraps simply cannot do. Because the wraps act as a natural barrier like a fruit’s skin, they also offer the food inside more protection.
They can be used to cover food such as cheese, sandwiches, and uncovered bowls of food. All you have to do is use your hands to mold the wrap to whatever it is you are wrapping and it will naturally cling just like the plastic alternative.
Beeswax wraps can be washed and reused again and again. Then, once they reach the end of their life, they are biodegradable, meaning that they can be composted or disposed of ethically.
These innovative alternatives to plastic wrap are great for the environment as they can drastically reduce waste of plastic or foil wrappings. Also, because they save a great deal of wasted product, they will also save you money in the long run.
Have you ever thought about what your sponges are made from? You guessed it – plastic. Microplastics from sponges come off every time you clean the dishes and are washed straight down the drain. These then have a direct line to our waterways and oceans, contributing to the trillions of microplastics floating in the seas.
An easy way to stop this problem is by switching to plant-based sponges. These natural alternatives are just as good as the plastic ones (if not better) without impacting on the environment.
As with all sponges, they vary in size and texture so you will need to find one that suits your needs:
- Cellulose sponges are soft and easy to find online. They are great for cleaning surfaces and washing dishes.
- Loofahs are dried out with a spongy texture and are great for exfoliating skin. They also make a great replacement for scourers.
- Sea sponges are super soft and really absorbent making them great for cleaning up spills or washing cars.
- Silicon sponges are durable and recyclable. Perfect for those looking for something a little more hard-wearing.
Silicon aside, these sponges will all biodegrade over time and as long as they are untreated, they will leave no mark on the environment. They are just as cheap and readily available as plastic sponges which is a bonus and they are extremely versatile. They can do all the jobs your regular sponge does, so there is no reason not to switch really.
Reusable Coffee Cups and Lids
One of the most talked-about single-use plastic items currently on the market is the coffee cup. This is in part due to the incredible volume that we go through daily as a population. In fact, 16 billion coffee cups are used and disposed of each year. Because they are made from mixed materials they are not widely recycled, meaning they are thrown away and dumped in landfills.
In this case, there is an easy, cost-effective alternative – reusable coffee cups. Perhaps the best part is they don’t have to break the budget with the cheapest being around the $5 mark. Of course, there are more expensive options with heatproof walls, gorgeous designs, and flexible silicone lids.
There are also some great benefits to reusable coffee cups. Firstly, they will be cost-effective in the long run. Many coffee places will actually charge you less for using your own reusable cup as an incentive to ditch the plastic.
Because they are made out of durable materials such as stainless steel, bamboo or even glass, they are far better at keeping your coffee warm for longer as well as being more customizable. The bamboo ones are fairly cheap and come in a whole host of patterns. This makes your coffee drinking experience far more stylish. The stainless-steel ones are effective for the outdoors, are durable and often have a handle, meaning no need for a heatproof sleeve and no burnt fingers.
Reusable cups usually have a silicon lid too, meaning that there is no plastic involved. It also means that the whole cup is dishwasher safe and easy to clean, as well as lightweight and durable.
Finally, the most important benefit of all is that they are eco-friendly. You can have a sense of satisfaction knowing that you are helping to keep the environment safe and reducing single-use product usage.
Biodegradable Cotton Buds
These tiny plastic sticks wreak havoc on wildlife as well as your ears. In fact, the UK has plans to ban the sale of plastic cotton swabs by 2020. Now that the world is waking up to the issue these cause, we need to find alternatives.
There are now many brands that make compostable, paper-based earbuds and also bamboo earbuds. These also have all-natural cotton on the bud themselves.
These are far better for the environment than traditional ones are because they will degrade quickly without damaging wildlife. The plastic counterparts have been found as a major cause of the fatberg issue that has plagued major cities sewers. Because the paper versions biodegrade, they will not pose such a threat.
They are comparable in price to traditional ones and as this trend rises, it will likely bring the cost down even more as brands are forced to compete.
Recycled Toilet Paper
Hold on a sec, toilet paper isn’t plastic, is it? No, actually toilet paper is just that – paper. It biodegrades when it’s flushed away and doesn’t contribute to the plastic crisis.
But toilet paper is still a major cause of the climate crisis because thousands of trees are cut down yearly to meet the demand for toilet roll. 84 million rolls of toilet paper are used in the US every single day. What’s more, with the focus on plastic pollution getting stronger, fewer and fewer companies are concerned with finding recycled alternatives to toilet roll. We need to shift the focus and find alternatives to this growing issue.
While toilet roll is a necessity that many can’t go without, we do need to change our habits when it comes to buying toilet paper.
Once again, there is a simple switch you can make to help save the planet. That is, recycled toilet paper. While you may be slightly put off by the thought of second-hand toilet paper, the paper itself is actually recycled from post-consumer waste such as old textbooks or office waste paper.
So what are the benefits? Well firstly, it’s readily available, you’ll find it in most major supermarkets and online. Plus, it’s no more expensive than regular toilet paper is either, in some cases it may even be cheaper, depending on where you shop and what you purchase already.
It is so much better for the environment than the alternative. Recycled paper means that not only are fewer trees cut down to fuel the demand but also thousands of species homes and natural habitats are left intact. The recycled toilet paper also uses far less energy to make as well – 50% less energy in its creation and 90% less water. This means that there are far fewer fossil fuels going into the atmosphere than with regular paper.
Finally, you’ll be surprised how similar it feels to regular toilet paper. You won’t even notice you have made a change for the better.
This might seem like a no brainer. Most of us don’t throw away our utensils after they have been used once, right? But how many times have you used a plastic set of cutlery when you’re at a cafe or used takeaway containers?
Reusable dishware uses far less energy and resources over its lifetime as well as leaving a far smaller footprint on the environment.
There are numerous benefits as well. It’s far cheaper in the long run to both individuals and companies to use reusable products as opposed to throw-away items. You can save thousands of plastic containers ending up in the environment by taking reusable containers to supermarkets to fill rather than using pre-packaged products. Even restaurants and other food and drink establishments would find less cost in reusable products to single-use ones.
They are dishwasher safe as well-meaning that they are durable and easy to clean without the harmful chemicals leaking into your food.
It is also healthier for you. The number of chemicals that go into the plastic production process means that they will invariably leach into your food. Opting for glass, silicone, or bamboo products that are reusable is a much better alternative.
Reusable Makeup Pads
These pose a similar issue to the use of cotton swabs. Makeup pads clog up drains, landfills or worse, the oceans. Most store-bought makeup pads are actually made with plastic, meaning they don’t break down naturally.
There are some great alternatives on the market to replace the ones you currently use. They are reusable and washable and made from a bamboo cloth fiber that is eco-friendly. Because they are washable, they are essentially a zero-waste product and are currently top sellers on Amazon.
They are easy to use and are more environmentally conscious than single-use pads. They are also usually a little larger than regular pads meaning that you can do more with less before needing to wash them. They are compatible with makeup removers as well such as micellar water.
They are easy to clean and can be hand washed or put into the washing machine in a mesh bag. They are also good for your skin because they are gentler than regular pads and also do not contain any chemicals or bleaching agents, which many single-use pads do. This is much better for you and the environment.
Reusable Water Bottles
Globally, humans use 1 million plastic bottles every minute. It’s easy to think that plastic bottles aren’t an issue because they are recycled. But perhaps a more shocking fact is around 91% of all plastic isn’t recycled. Instead, it is incinerated, sent to landfill, or washed into our oceans.
Thankfully, we are waking up to the problem of plastic bottles. The public is demanding corporations and governments make significant changes to current policies. But while plastic producing companies have a pivotal role to play, we as individuals can help to direct them by changing our habits.
There are many benefits when it comes to switching to reusable drinks containers. The biggest is obviously the environmental impact that the industry has. By using reusable water or drink bottles, you can help stop thousands of plastic bottles ending up in landfills or the ocean.
Another benefit is the cost savings for you, especially if you have a larger family. With more and more cities installing drinking fountains and cafes filling up bottles for free, you can save a chunk of change on buying water bottles by taking your own and refilling.
Reusable water bottles that are not made from plastic are also healthier for you and the environment. A lot of fossil fuel goes into the production of plastic, increasing the amount of greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere. The less plastic we use the fewer gases that are released.
Not only that but research shows plastic bottles can harbor harmful bacteria. As the bottles break down, bacteria find its way into the micro-tears and cracks of the bottle, eventually finding its way into your system.
A great advantage of stainless steel or glass reusable bottles is that they are easy to transport around as they are generally lightweight. They are durable, really easy to clean, and they will also be able to go into the dishwasher. It’s a no-brainer!
What Can Companies Do?
It’s important we all make these easy swaps to more environmentally alternatives. But there is also so much that companies can do to make a difference.
Let’s take a look at what some companies are doing to lead the way in fighting climate change.
This is Google’s parent company and has recently taken the number one spot of publicly traded companies making clean energy a priority. This company is fully powered by renewable energy.
We’ve already seen the huge impact plastic bottles are having on the environment. But water company Evian are doing their part to rectify it. By 2025, they aim to use 100% recycled water bottles. Most water bottle companies use only 7-8% recycled plastic, so this is a huge statement by the water giant. Hopefully, many others will follow suit.
This billion-dollar company is beginning to make strides to fight the war on plastic and climate change. In the UK, they’ve pledged to remove all plastic toys from happy meals, saving 320 tons of plastic each year. They’ve also reported that by 2025, all packaging (including straws) will be sourced from recycled, renewable, or sustainable sources.
This company has already stopped using plastic straws on its flights in response to the plastic crisis. But now they are also phasing out single-use plastics in their lounges around the world. Their new initiative will save over 32 tonnes of plastic each year.
IKEA has been at the forefront of environmental policy of all retail stores for years. In 2008, IKEA removed single-use plastic bags from their stores with great success. Now, they aim to use only renewable or recycled materials in the entire store by 2030. That means all products available at IKEA, from sofas to kid’s toys, will be made with 100% recycled or renewable materials. This is a massive statement to make and hopefully will encourage other major retailers to follow suit.
Supply and Demand
At the end of the day, all major companies are driven by profit. And although many companies are making strides to help the environment, much more could still be done. It is up to us as consumers to show major retailers and corporations that there is a thriving market for environmentally friendly alternatives.
If more people made eco-friendly switches, there would be a larger market for these products and more companies would get on board. It’s now our job to use our buying power wisely and invest in companies that are doing the most to fight the climate crisis.
Where Are We Heading?
If we don’t make significant changes, it’s tough to see a bright future ahead of us if we continue on this unsustainable trend. We are polluting the ocean and the air and killing wildlife with our throw-away culture.
The good news is that we are not beyond saving yet and it really couldn’t be any easier to make a positive change for ourselves and the planet.
When it all seems a little overwhelming and like you can’t make a difference, remember this famous quote from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”