Yesterday’s blog post was about switching out a single use product for a reusable option. Today we are looking at ideas to ‘Switch a plastic product you use for a more sustainable option’ which was our fourth Zero Waste New Year’s Resolution idea. Substituting the use of products like plastic straws, bottled water, cling wrap, zip lock bags, disposable plastic cutlery and plastic bags with plastic free items can fit into both of these goals.
For the love of plastic
Did you know that 50% of all plastic was made in the last 13 years? That’s insane right?!
Humans have come to love plastic for it’s durability and how cost effective it is to produce in comparison to many other resources. Unfortunately, although humans love plastic, the planet doesn’t. Only 9% of plastic is actually recycled, with 12% being incinerated, and 79% ending up in landfill to degrade. Plastic eventually degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics; these microplastics are detrimental for marine life who can mistake them for food. Plastic is a useful resource for some products, but for others it is unnecessary and can be replaced by more sustainable and environmentally friendly options.
Easy to source plastic free alternatives
Below we’ve outlined some plastic products most people use which are easy to find good plastic free alternatives for. Check out the comments of this Facebook post for recommendations of where to buy these alternatives locally in Bendigo.
Plastic product: Toothbrushes
Plastic free alternative: Bamboo toothbrushes
Plastic toothbrushes are going to be in landfill for longer than you’re going to be on this earth. It’s easy to make a switch to a more sustainable option though!
Before you throw your current toothbrush in landfill, considering keeping it for cleaning other things in your home. Toothbrushes are very handy for cleaning around taps and in between tiles and I’m sure a myriad of other things too!
Bamboo toothbrushes are the best option because they are biodegradable. You can get them with soft or hard bristles and they last for several months (at which point you should be disposing of any toothbrush for hygiene reasons). You can find some bamboo toothbrushes with boar hair or biodegradable nylon however these are less common. Most of the bamboo toothbrushes on the market do not have biodegradable bristles but that’s a huge improvement compared to an entire plastic toothbrush. We saw off the bristle end and put it in our rubbish bin and put the bamboo handle in the Organics bin.
Plastic product: Plastic bags for fruit, vegetables & bulk nuts
Plastic free alternatives: Reusable produce bags
The plastic bags in the produce section of the supermarket or your favourite fruit and veg shop are just as damaging as plastic grocery bags. Yes, you can Redcycle them but it’s actually easy to avoid them altogether by planning ahead. You can buy or DIY a reusable alternative to put your produce in.
You can use any type of bag as a produce bag. You could reuse plastic bags you already have or you can buy or DIY an alternative.
I was gifted some Onya reusable produce bags from my friend Robyn. They are great and if you’re not the DIY type then I can recommend them. They are clear mesh material made from recycled plastic bottles and they come with a small pouch that you stuff them back into.
You could also repurpose laundry lingerie bags, or use these netting sleeves from Bunnings.
Cotton produce bags are another option and are something you can purchase or make yourself if you can sew. I made some bags using a tight weave cotton that I had in my fabric for putting nuts and lollies in when I buy them (mesh produce bags were basically a sieve of salt and sugar!).
I purchased a curtain from the op shop and sewed my own. I got 5 bags for $2.
Plastic product: Synthetic sponges, scrubbing brushes & cleansing puffs/mesh loofahs
Plastic free alternatives: Cotton dishcloths, natural brushes, luffa sponges and sea sponges
Did you know that most household sponges are made from plastic? You can purchase natural cellulose fibre sponges, but chances are pretty high that you’re using a plastic sponge that’s going to end up in landfill as they can’t be recycled. You’re probably also using a plastic scrubbing brush in your kitchen and maybe a cleaning puff/loofah also made from plastic.
If you do have plastic cleaning products keep using them until they are no good. We used to reuse old kitchen sponges for other types of cleaning e.g. bathroom, toilet or outdoors. Reusing them is better than throwing them out but eventually they will end up in landfill. It’s best to purchase your next cleaning products made from natural materials that are compostable or biodegradable, or repurpose something you already have.
Alternatives for the kitchen
If you’re looking for an alternative that is similar to what you currently use, then look for natural cellulose options. When looking at what they’re made of, avoid anything with ‘poly’ in it as this usually indicates plastic. You want something that is either 100% biodegradable or compostable.
Other options for buying alternatives include cloths, scourers and brushes made plant fibres. You can purchase these alternatives from a variety of different places but you may need to venture away from the supermarket to get good quality and 100% biodegradable.
The photo below from Gippsland Unwrapped shows a great example of how you can repurpose a cotton bath towel many times before it is no longer of use.
When bath towels become so worn they rip when I dry my back, I make them into tea towels or face washers (they make the best tea towels), then they progress into dish cloths that can be washed and reused until they're so manky they belong in the compost. At this point the natural fibres can easily be pulled apart to speed up decay. And so the cycle back to the soil in which new cotton can grow has been completed. #zerowastehome
I purchased these cotton crochet dishcloths below from the opshop for $1 each. You could DIY these or ask a friend who crochets or knits to make you some. If made from cotton or wool, these can be composted at their end of their life.
I picked up these crochet dishcloths from @vinniesvictoria on Chapel St in Bendigo today. $1 each, easy to wash and they can be composted at the end of their life because cotton is a natural material. Most commercial sponges are made from foamed plastic polymers and can not be recycled or composted after use, meaning they go straight to landfill. I've been using microfibre cloths for years which I wash and reuse but I won't be purchasing any more. Microfibre breaks down in water eventually causing the same issues for marine life as microbeads do. The best advice is to reuse what you have until they are no longer usable and then look to purchase more sustainable options. I don't crochet so I'm thankful that someone else had the skills to make these. There were several more dishcloths at the Vinnies store today if anyone is interested in purchasing some.
Alternatives for the bathroom
Crochet bath scrubs would be a great alternative to the plastic mesh ‘loofahs’ that many people use. Again, DIY them yourself or ask a friend to or find somewhere to purchase one. You can also purchase natural exfoliating products and other products sponges and brushes made from natural materials for the bathroom. It’s probably easier to find natural beauty cleaning products than it is kitchen ones.
Grow your own sponges and luffas
Another option is to grow your own loofah/luffa sponge which is what I’m currently doing. Loofah and luffa are the same thing; I tend to use luffa for the natural kind and loofah for its plastic imitation. Many people think that natural luffa comes from the sea but luffa is actually part of the cucumber family. The luffa sponge is the flesh of the luffa gourd. The gourd is peeled and the inside dried out to then be used as a sponge. Luffa sponges can be used in both the kitchen, bathroom and for other types of cleaning. You can purchase luffa sponges and luffa products. We’ve planted some and hope to have lots to harvest in a couple of months so watch this space!
Other plastic free alternatives
Most homes these days are full of plastic. Ours is. We’ve only been on this ZW journey for a couple of years and we have many plastic products in our home that are still useful. We do at times still buy plastic products for various reasons. We dispose of these appropriately when they are no longer of use to us and replace them with plastic free alternatives like the ones mentioned in this post.
Other ideas for plastic products in your home that you could replace: Plastic razors, cotton buds (the sticks are plastic), hairbrushes, plastic containers and clothes and linens made from synthetic fabrics.
These are some of the products that get used for extended periods of time that you could replace but there are also plenty of single use plastic products that you could switch out too. Check out our blog post from yesterday for more information on switching to reusable products.
A note about switching…
Don’t throw out perfectly good resources. If your plastic toothbrush and sponges are still usable, then continue to use them until they don’t fit that purpose and then repurpose them for other cleaning tasks until they reach the end of their life. It is more wasteful to stop using plastic items and send them to landfill (or even for recycling), than it is to use them until they are unusable! Only replace items when they cease being useful (or safe… please don’t hold onto to bacteria ridden sponges just to save the planet!).