You have probably heard this before: plastics can be bad. Surely, plastics have revolutionized human life, making space travel possible, creating life-saving medical devices, and more. Unfortunately, our current culture of over consumption and waste has yielded many plastics that now have a lifespan of mere minutes or hours (like plastic bags and food wrappers), but that can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Although single-use plastics may seem convenient and cheap, they can have many detrimental effects on the environment, wildlife, and human health. Did you know there is even a vortex of all our plastic garbage in the North Pacific Ocean called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
When considering purchasing any item, it is important to think of the entire life cycle of a product – resource extraction, production, distribution and circulation, consumption, collection, disposal, and proliferation. The life cycle of a product can provide insight into the entirety of its environmental impacts. For example, at the resource extraction level, fossil fuels are needed to create plastics. The extraction process of fossil fuels is known to generate air and water pollution, can lead to disastrous spills, can cause health issues, and more. So even at the beginning of its life cycle, plastic is not sustainable – not to mention the other levels of its life cycle!
And although you may think that you are helping by recycling your plastic, it may not be getting recycled at all! This is why it is best to follow that simple rule that we all learned in elementary school: reduce, reuse, (and recycle). For those pesky plastics that seem impossible to reduce or reuse, we have compiled a list of their alternatives:
In Your Bathroom:
- Floss: Yes, even those of us who wish to have a shiny smile run the risk of harming our planet. Luckily, there are a plethora of eco-friendly flosses out there or DIY your own using upcycled silk or hemp thread from old textiles.
- Band Aids: Band aids are made from petroleum-based materials, making their production less-than eco-friendly. Because they are made from industrial chemicals, they cannot biodegrade. Here are eco-friendly band aids alternatives. You can also use fabric bandages or DIY natural bandages from SCOBY!
- Single-Use Wet Wipes and Makeup Wipes: Not only do wet wipes and makeup wipes contain plastic, but they can also cause drainage blockages when flushed down the toilet! There are many reusable makeup remover pads and eco-friendly wet wipes available online. But, to minimize your ecological footprint even further, try swapping out single-use wipes with water and an upcycled rag that you can reuse.
- Menstrual Products: Unfortunately, the ecological impact of sanitary products is astounding! Luckily, people are recognizing the impacts of menstrual products – there are many eco-friendly alternatives, from reusable pads, to menstrual cups, to applicator-free tampons, and period underwear. Here is a list of alternatives to plastic-packed pads and tampons.
- Disposable Razors: Tons of disposable razors end up in the landfill every year. The best alternative to disposable razors is high-quality razors made from materials like brass or stainless steel, that can be reused and only require removable blades.
- Hygiene Products: Many of our hygiene products (like liquid soaps, shampoos, and conditioners) come in big, bulky, plastic containers. Fortunately, there are many alternatives that come package free! Check out our local Farmers’ Market for handmade soaps and beauty products! Brands like Package Free Shop and Lush make package free shampoos, conditioners, and deodorant bars, as well as other hygiene products.
- Laundry Detergent: Even laundry detergent comes in big, bulky, plastic containers! Luckily, having good smelling clothes does not have to negatively impact the planet, because there are lots of package-free laundry detergents and some Farmers’ Market vendors also sell alternatives!
In Your Kitchen:
- Cling Wrap and Ziploc Bags: Ziploc bags and cling wrap are usually seen as essentials for proper food storage. However, a simple alternative is to use reusable containers or beeswax wrap, which can be reused over and over again! There are often vendors that sell beeswax wrap at our local Farmers’ Market. There are also many Canadian Brands of beeswax wrap like Nature Bee.
- Coffee Filters and Tea Bags: If you are a caffeine addict, a simple swap to these plastic items are any type of reusable coffee filters and tea infusers. For all you coffee lovers out there, try to stay away from K-cups and disposable coffee pods, since they are not actually recyclable!
- Plastic Tape: If you are shipping a parcel, crafting, or repairing items around your house, just know that the scotch tape that you are using is made from plastic. Thankfully, there are many eco-friendly tape brands out there that use plant-derived ingredients, paper, and starch.
- Balloons: Sadly, even these fun party decorations are just floating plastics that are terrible for the environment. Swap plastic balloons for latex balloons or other party decorations, like reusable banners or pinwheels.
- Produce Bags: If you head to the Farmers’ Market or grocery store anytime soon, try to skip the plastic produce bag! If you still want to opt for a produce bag, try out a reusable produce bag (try thrifting some first)!
Our plastic problem may seem overwhelming at times, but just know that you can make a difference! We often prioritize convenience over durability and consideration of long-term impacts, but it is time to change this once and for all.
Just know that you do not have to buy fancy and expensive sustainable products, like bento boxes, to be eco-friendly – you can also use what you have and upcycle! Always implement sustainable swaps that you will stick to, to make it easier for yourself. It is also important to remember to finish using the items you already have, like your bottled shampoo, before switching to alternatives, like shampoo bars. Also, be sure to watch out for greenwashing! The solution is in our hands: reduce our use of plastics.