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The List: 7 Smart Replacements For Single-Use Plastics

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These reusable replacements for single-use plastic will reduce your reliance on disposables such as straws, plastic wrap, and even cotton swabs.

You’ve probably heard quite a bit about single-use plastics recently, especially with the news that the United Kingdom has plans in the works to ban these types of disposables. The UK is onto something, which hopefully will make its way across the pond. After all, the statistics about plastic straws alone are sobering: Americans use around 500 million straws a day, most of which don’t end up getting recycled but do end up posing a threat to wildlife and our environment.

And while we as a nation have been working hard to cut down on our use of plastic bags, there’s still more work we can do on that front.

Do you want to reduce your reliance on single-use plastics, but don’t know where to start? You’re in luck! I’ve put together this little guide to some easy and inexpensive swaps you can make to cut down on your use of disposable plastics at home and while you’re out and about.

1. Straws

Straws are one of the most prevalent trash items found in the ocean, and they’re usually unnecessary, unless one has a medical condition. For sipping in the car, though, they do have their place. And for that situation, you can invest in a reusable straw that you keep in your car or your purse. I’m partial to a set that comes in a little pouch with its own cleaning brush, but if you don’t like the feel of metal, try silicone straws instead.

2. Plastic Wrap

Cling wrap and other plastic wrap is not recyclable, but it sure is helpful for keeping food fresh and contained. Wean yourself off the roll of Saran with reusable options, such as BioBags, which are compostable and made of plant-derived resin, or Bee’s Wrap, a flexible wrap made of organic cotton coated in beeswax.

3. Grocery Bags

The best reusable shopping bag is the one you have with you. For that reason, I like bags that fold up small enough to carry in a purse, clip onto a keychain, or stuff in a back pocket. Be sure to seek out shopping bags that are sturdily made and can be machine washed so that you’ll get years of use out of them.

4. Cotton Swabs

Plastic cotton swabs are on the UK’s list of single-use plastics to be banned. While cotton swabs that have paper sticks, such as Q-Tips, are biodegradable and can be composted, the ones with plastic sticks are not even recyclable. A far better option is a reusable earwax removal tool, such as the Utility Tip, a plastic tool that can be used over and over again, and then is completely recyclable when no longer needed. The Oto-Scoop is another effective and reusable option.

5. Feminine Products

Applicators and wrappers can quickly add up in the trashcan, although tampons themselves and cardboard applicators are actually compostable. A waste-reducing alternative during that time of the month is a menstrual cup, such as the silicone Divacup. It’s a way to cut down on the estimated 250-300 pounds of feminine hygiene-related waste that the average woman disposes of in her lifetime, little of which is recyclable.

6. Water Bottles

As with reusable shopping bags, a water bottle isn’t much use if it’s not with you when you need it. A flexible water bottle, such as the silicone Baiji Bottles, can be rolled up and kept in the car or in a backpack until the time comes for them to be filled.

7. Produce Bags

I try to avoid using produce bags unless I’m buying small items like green beans or berries, which need to be corralled in a sack. And although my supermarket uses biodegradable produce bags, I know these seemingly green bags actually need to be processed in an industrial composting facility in order to meet their biodegradable claim. A set of mesh produce bags is ideal for really cutting back on plastic use at the supermarket. I like organic cotton bags that even have the tare weight printed on the label so they can be used when buying bulk goods like dried beans.

I plan to gradually incorporate these substitutions into my life so that the process of shifting to a lifestyle without single-use plastic is manageable and painless. Won’t you join me?

In what ways are you trying to cut down on single-use plastic? Share your goals in the comments.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Diane M. 14 hours ago
    I grew up drinking with paper straws, and was disappointed when McDonalds USA declined to go back to paper straws. Thank you for pointing us to a source of silicon straws which we can carry with us. I have a 32-oz. water jug complete with flexible straw, but when I forget to bring it with me to chemo, they bring me bottles of water. I try to ask for a cup of water with ice, no straw, but often they pop a straw in it. Yesterday I was dismayed to see they were pouring bottled water into my cup. I will continue the battle to gently educate my nurses.
  • Jeremiah Z. 19 hours ago
    produce bags are needed because carts and especially conveyer belt are absolutely filthy (covered with bacteria, yeast, mold, staph, coliforms, blood, etc..)
  • David S. 2 days ago
    As someone that does have a medical condition that prevents them from drinking like a normal person, (cervical lamenectomy with titanium rods, C2-T1), I have to use a straw with most cups/glasses unless I want to look like I'm exaggerating trying to get every last drop of liquid from the cup. I use the same straw until it splits or otherwise becomes unusable, so a straw can last me months . I wash it regularly with a pipe cleaner, but now that you have given me other options, I can stop using them altogether.
  • James B. 2 days ago
    I try to shop at a store that gives a rebate if I bring my own bags. That way, they are no longer "single use" bags.
  • Mark M. 2 days ago
    Cotton swabs like Q-tips aren't recommended for earwax removal, are they?
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