10 Eco-Friendly Product Swaps You’ll Barely Notice

Baby steps.

By Hannah Zahner
malibu beach dinner near the pier at the home of Shelley Klein Armistead, COO of Gjelina Group

It’s no secret that our less-than-sustainable choices affect our own health and that of the planet. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year, 50% of which is for single-use purposes—meaning it’s used for just a few moments, but is on the planet for several hundred years. And studies have shown that all that plastic storing our food, beauty products, and beyond is having adverse effects on our health. But did you know that there are a ton of eco-friendly product swaps that can make a huge difference?

That plastic grocery bag you tossed after its quick commute from the store to your home? Waste Management tells us that it’s one of 14 billion used in the U.S. each year.

I’m generally eco-conscious, but over the last year, I’ve really tried to be more thoughtful about the way my habits affect my wallet, health, and more broadly, the planet. Most of us are guilty of popping leftovers inside plastic bags, and often, a quick paper towel grab turns into ten. After all, what’s so hard about reaching for that glass food storage container or using the washable dishrag? It’s easy to think that making more sustainable choices will be expensive or a pain, but the reality is that once you’ve made the swaps and get in the habit of using them, it actually saves money. Plus, my favorite sustainable practice costs nothing at all—using what you already have.

As I’ve slowly made swaps for my once disposable items, I’ve seen that living a more sustainable lifestyle really doesn’t need to be overwhelming. There are small changes everyone can make! Read on for 10 accessible and easy eco-friendly product swaps you can make for a healthier home and planet.

1. Swap plastic baggies for snack containers or washable baggies.

This is one of my absolute favorite eco-friendly product swaps. There are so many reusable containers and baggies available now that you can really find one that fits your needs and aesthetics. Just the thought of how many plastic baggies I used for the entirety of my childhood lunches makes me want to shudder. Hundreds upon hundreds! This simple swap makes a huge impact on the environment. My current favorite reusable containers and baggies currently include bento boxes, Stasher bags, and glass snapware. Use for sandwiches, leftovers, veggies, and pretty much anything else you can think of!

2. Swap plastic wrap for beeswax wrap.

This one sounds kind of kooky at first, but hear me out. You can substitute anything you’d ordinarily store in plastic wrap or foil with reusable beeswax wrap. It’s my go-to for fancy cheeses and avocados. Only ate half an apple? Wrap it up in some beeswax wrap. It keeps food fresh and lasts for an insanely long time. You can even use it to keep bread from going stale. Pro-tip: Be sure to wash it in cold water, since hot water can cause the beeswax will become a bit gunky and lose its effectiveness. My go-to options are Bees Wrap, Navega Beeswax Wrap, and Lilybee Wrap.

3. Swap your to-go coffee cup with one you bring from home.

No one is asking you to kick your daily coffee habit here! But given the fact that plastic coffee lids go straight to a landfill and paper cups can’t be recycled once they’re dirty, a travel mug is the way to go. These days there are tons of cute options at a variety of price points, so it won’t break the bank to make this easy swap. Best of all, most coffee shops give you a lil discount when you bring your own mug. I have this sweet terrazzo mug from W&P Designs, but I also love the Yeti travel mug, and Swell option.

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4. Swap cotton balls for washable rounds to remove makeup and apply toners.

Washing one’s face at the end of the day can sometimes feel like the most harrowing of tasks, but it simply must be done! You might as well elevate the experience (while also being kind to the environment) by upgrading your everyday cotton balls and face wipes to washable rounds or towelettes. It’s gentle for your skin and great for the planet. I’m partial to these organic cotton pads in lieu of face wipes, sunny facial rounds, and simple cotton rounds.

5. Swap single-use cleaners for refillable, eco-friendly products.

We love the idea of refilling our cleaning bottles over and over. Check out brands like Branch Basics (my fave), Blueland, Public Goods, and Grove Collaborative. The great thing about refillable cleaning products is that you know exactly what’s in them when you use them. You don’t have to wonder if there is anything sneaking in without your knowledge that could be potentially harmful to the planet or your own health. And frankly, they’re just more aesthetically pleasing.

6. Swap plastic straws for bringing your own (or skipping one altogether).

Luckily, there seems to have been a pretty swift consensus in recent years that unless you are part of the disability community that requires the use of plastic straws, there’s really no need for them. That said, sometimes a drink just feels more special with a straw. Metal options are a great eco-friendly product swap, but there are silicone straws as well if you prefer. You can even get special metal straws for boba drinks. There’s really no excuse for this one!

7. Swap plastic water bottles and refill a reusable one.

Not only is a reusable water bottle great for the environment and your health, but it’s also a good way to encourage consistent hydration! I’m partial to these gorgeous bkr glass water bottles, and a Hydroflask is ideal for a hike or workouts, but this insulated Klean Kanteen is basically my emotional support water bottle. I use it for both cold and hot drinks, they stay fresh for hours.

kitchenaid refrigerator

8. Swap plastic bags at the grocery store for reusable canvas & produce bags.

I’m willing to bet that you’ve got a tote bag filled with 20 other tote bags somewhere in your house. If you’ve got a car then throw them in the trunk so they’re ready to go next time you hit the grocery store. If you’re a city-dweller, try to keep a few in an entryway closet, hanging on a door handle, or wherever you deposit your purse near the front door so you can remember to scoop one out on your way to the market. Plastic grocery bags are beyond toxic and they pile up quickly. Every brand carries totes these days, so you can go high fashion, rep your favorite museum or bookstore, and so much more. And don’t forget to bring your own produce bags as well!

9. Swap dryer sheets for dryer balls.

Some eco-friendly product swaps are more intuitive than others, and it definitely took me quite some time to realize the hazards of dryer sheets, both to myself and the environment. They can be responsible for eye irritation, allergic skin reactions, migraines, and asthma attacks. Not to mention the fact that since they’re single-use products, they’re as bad for the environment as they are for my bank account. Wool dryer balls last for literal years and give you pretty much all the benefits of dryer sheets without the toxicity. They even come in cute rainbow color options. They’re an affordable and easy investment to make.

10. Swap paper towels for recyclable bamboo towelettes or a washable dishrag.

Did you know of the existence of un-paper towels? This has been one of my favorite discoveries of the past year. These washable towels, usually made of microfiber or natural cotton, are a great alternative to paper towels. You can roll them up to resemble a paper towel roll, just without the wastefulness of a paper towel. You can even DIY it if you’re crafty. If you are really grossed out by the thought of using towels for certain kinds of messes, consider recyclable bamboo towels! They’re a more eco-conscious alternative than the generic paper towels found at most drugstores.

Do you have any favorite products that have made cutting down on waste a little easier?

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