One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the last year is that everything you do has a ripple effect. When it comes to taking care of the planet, that's a good thing — if you stop purchasing paper towels, for example, that's one less tree that has to be cut down. As your new habits become routine, remember that what you're doing is making a difference, even if you can't see it right away. Everything adds up!
If you're ready to say goodbye forever to traditional paper towels, plastic wrap, and facial tissues, you're in luck — it's never been easier to scrap single-use products. Still, even if you're ready for a complete overhaul of your home and way of life, getting started might feel overwhelming. Making the switch to being as eco-friendly as possible takes time and planning. This guide aims to make the transition away from single-use products a little easier, explaining what products are out there, the problems they solve, and how they help the Earth.
What it is: A natural alternative to plastic wrap for food storage. Starting at $6.
How it works: These food wraps — made with certified organic cotton and coated with sustainably sourced beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin — are malleable and cling to bowls, plates, and casserole dishes. After they've been used to store food, wrap up leftovers, or pack lunches, just wash them in cool water with mild dish soap, and let them air dry. Bee's Wrap comes in multiple sizes, and the XXL roll can be trimmed to the size needed. With proper care, the wraps last for up to a year; you'll know it's time to replace them when they become thin and have trouble sticking, and at that point the wraps can be cut into strips and added to a compost pile or used as a fire starter. While Bee's Wrap works great with bread, cheese, fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables, they're not recommended for raw meat and fish and need to be kept away from heat.
Environmental impact: Since plastic wrap was first discovered by accident in a 1930s laboratory, it's evolved from being used to protect military planes from water to becoming a staple in kitchens around the world. It's estimated that in the first six months of 2019, nearly 80 million Americans went through at least one roll of plastic wrap. The problem is, plastic wrap is hard to recycle, can release the toxic chemical dioxin, and is increasingly polluting the world's oceans.
Review: My Top, Ultimate, No. 1 Kitchen Terror (isn't that a Gordon Ramsay show?) is plastic wrap. Because it's single-use, plastic wrap is so wasteful, and I've been wanting to find a way to replace it. Bee's Wrap has saved the day. I've used the bread wrap to save half a baguette, the small wrap to keep half a lime fresh, and the medium wrap to cover a bowl of mango. The mango and lime were in great shape the next day, and instead of turning into a giant crouton overnight, the bread kept its crunchy crust and soft inside. Just note, if you have multiple items wrapped up and can't remember what's what, these wraps aren't see through, so you will have to do a little unwrapping to see what's inside. The wraps keep their seal, the designs are fun and vibrant (I love the bears and bees pattern), and cleaning is a cinch — Bee's Wrap is a winner.
What it is: A reusable and sustainable alternative to cotton swabs. Comes in two styles: Basic and Beauty. $12
How it works: The flexible swab ends are made of a rubber-like material called TPE, while the durable rods are made of plastic reinforced with glass fiber. Both ends of the Basic style are the same, with a textured surface, but the Beauty style has a rounded end and a pointed end, for precise makeup application. To clean, just use soap and water. Each swab comes in a biodegradable, plant-based carrying case.
Environmental impact: Every year, trillions of single-use plastic products are thrown away, with too many making their way to our oceans. LastSwab replaces up to 1,000 cotton swabs, and is shipped in cardboard packages with the instructions printed on them.
Review: The Basic version just might be my new favorite thing. While the packaging contains a clear warning that you shouldn't stick it deep into your ears (with the gentle plea to "swab responsibly"), let me just say that IF you decide to put the ribbed swab end into your ear and give it a little twirl, it MAY or may not feel like you're getting an ear massage, and it MAY or may not be glorious. Also, the LastObject swabs are just so much sturdier than the typical cotton swab, which can bend easily. It takes only a few seconds to clean the swabs after use, and they look and feel good as new.
What it is: Ethique is the world's first full-range, zero-waste beauty brand. They make bodywash, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant bars, all without the plastic packaging. Prices start at $4.
How it works: These bars replace their liquid counterparts, and without all that extra plastic, you get more bang for your buck — the shampoo bar, for example, is the equivalent of three bottles of liquid shampoo. For those who aren't quite ready to embrace a bar-only shower experience, Ethique is also now offering concentrates, which you mix at home and pour into a container you already have. All of Ethique's ingredients are sustainably sourced and biodegradable.
Environmental impact: Every year, the world produces 300 million tons of plastic waste, and due to improper disposal and landfill runoff, 8 million tons end up in the ocean. More than 40 percent of total plastic use comes from product packaging, and It takes hundreds of years for plastic to even begin to degrade. Ethique does not use any plastic at all, and one of its shampoo bars has just 8 percent of the carbon footprint of the equivalent liquid product.
Review: As someone who has been using Bath & Body Works shower gel for years (middle school habits die hard, #pearberry4life), I unexpectedly fell in love with Ethique's Charcoal, Kaolin & Oatmeal bodywash bar. The flecks of oatmeal offered some light exfoliation, and the bar worked up a good lather, leaving my skin feeling squeaky clean in the shower and soft for the rest of the day — no dry skin here! The Pinkalicious shampoo bar, with its almost bubblegum-like scent, was also a hit. It lathered just like a traditional liquid shampoo, washed out easily, and didn't leave behind any residue or weigh my hair down. I am officially a bar believer.
What it is: A modern twist on the handkerchief and an alternative to single-use tissue packs. $24
How it works: Each LastTissue pack comes with six reusable handkerchiefs, made from organic cotton, and the dishwasher-safe cases are 100 percent silicone. To use, pull a tissue from the bottom of the case, and when you're done with it, put the tissue back at the top of the case. Keep pulling out tissues until you reach the marked tissue, signaling that they've all been used. Machine wash the tissues, air or tumble dry, and then repack the case. You can expect to have your LastTissue pack for years to come — each reusable tissue can withstand 520 machine washes.
Environmental impact: Every day, 51 million facial tissues are used in the United States, and every LastTissue pack replaces more than 3,100 of those single-use tissues. Most facial tissues are made from virgin pulp, which leaves forests degraded and destroys wildlife habitat. Annually, 26 million gallons of water are used in the U.S. to make tissue paper, and it takes three times more energy to produce facial tissues compared to reusable cotton tissues.
Review: Switching from paper facial tissues to reusable cotton tissues does take some getting used to — these are thicker, and while the handkerchiefs are soft, your nose will feel the difference. That being said, it's a quick and easy transition, and during allergy season, you'll be glad to have this sturdier product. The case is small, and hardly takes up any room in my purse, which is a good thing because I need to have room for the minimum of 10 lip glosses I must have on hand at any time.
Papaya reusable paper towels
What it is: A reusable paper towel. $18 for a one-time delivery of two cloths.
How it works: The Papaya reusable paper towel starts off looking and feeling slightly stiff, but as soon as you run it under water, it softens and can be used just like a traditional paper towel. When you're finished, wash it with soap and water and let it air dry (Papaya sends a little hook to put up), or throw it in the washing machine or the dishwasher's top rack. These cloths can be used with water and cleaning products. For those who want new ones sent on a regular basis, Papaya offers a Reusable Paper Towel Subscription, with customers putting together their own box of cloths, for delivery every two, three, or four months.
Environmental impact: More than 50,000 trees are chopped down every day to make single-use paper towels, which release methane gas (a leading cause of global warming) as they decompose. It takes 17 trees and more than 20,000 gallons of water to make one ton of paper towels, and when chlorine bleach is used as a brightener, it often seeps into the water and air. One Papaya reusable cloth replaces 17 rolls of traditional paper towels.
Review: Sorry to the Brawny man, but paper towels are right up there with plastic wrap for things I want out of my kitchen. Papaya checks off every box for what I'm looking for in a reusable paper towel — they are all-natural, anti-bacterial, compostable, 20 times more absorbent than regular paper towels, and last for around two to three months. Plus, their vibrant, artist-designed patterns brighten up the kitchen — I've been using the Squeeze the Day set, which features lemons and blossoms, and they make cleaning up spills a bit more cheery. One fear was that these might start smelling weird after awhile, but I've used them routinely for about two weeks, and they don't have even the slightest scent.
Kind laundry detergent sheets
What it is: An alternative to traditional laundry detergents that come in plastic jugs. $21.95 for 60 sheets.
How it works: These paper-thin laundry detergent sheets are pre-measured, with one sheet needed per load (although for extra cleaning power or for large loads, you can use two or three). The detergent sheets are made with just four plant-derived ingredients (five if you try the scented sheets), and are allergen-free and biodegradable. Kind uses 100 percent recyclable packaging, so it's a zero-waste product.
Environmental impact: In the U.S., almost 1 billion plastic laundry detergent jugs are thrown away annually, and less than 10 percent gets recycled. Plastic pollution hurts wildlife, with thousands of sea turtles, seals, and other marine mammals dying every year after eating plastic or getting caught in it.
Review: Anything that makes doing laundry easier is okay in my book, and that is exactly what Kind sheets do. The packages are lightweight, so the sheets are travel friendly, and you don't have to worry about lugging around a leaky plastic jug. There's a fragrance free version, but I tried the Ocean Breeze scent, which was lovely and mild — not at all overpowering. The best part? I didn't feel or see any leftover soap residue on my clothes.
What it is: An alternative to dog pee pads, made out of real bark. $37 per potty, as part of a monthly subscription.
How it works: The Bark Potty is an all-natural disposable pet potty that can be used inside or outdoors. The sustainably-sourced bark naturally neutralizes odors, draws liquid to the bottom of the potty, and repels moisture. There is a tray liner to prevent leaks and because the Bark Potty lasts for a month and is regularly replaced, you don't have to worry about cleaning it (although if there's any solid waste, you will want to pick that up pronto!). The potty's natural earthy smells will entice your pup, but there's also a pheromone spray. It's self-stable, and doesn't die or rot when stored. Don't worry about your dog kicking up bark — the potty has netting that is designed to keep the bark in place.
Environmental impact: Artificial grass is often used as a puppy potty solution, and in addition to being a beast to clean, it also emits volatile organic compounds that may have short- and long-term adverse health effects on animals and people. The Bark Potty replaces up to 60 pee pads a month and is recyclable.
Review: As the proud aunt and frequent babysitter of two dachshunds, Heidi and Henry, I understand that sometimes dogs with little bladders aren't quite fast enough to make it outside, making pee pads a must. While some dogs will quickly take to the Bark Potty, others will require a lot of training, as I learned from Henry. When he finally went on the Bark Potty, it worked exactly as described — I didn't smell anything and there were no leaks. I really like that this is a product that can help so many different dogs — older ones that can't hold it in as long, puppies being trained, apartment dwellers who can't go outside all the time. The potty is also just about three pounds, so you can move it around and easily toss it when the time comes.
What it is: A line of household and personal products made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients. Prices start at $4.95.
How it works: I tried several products, but two standouts are the orange zest dishwashing liquid and fruit and vegetable wash. Both are used just like their traditional counterparts, but are vegan, made with plant-based hypoallergenic ingredients, and safe for people with sensitive skin. Attitude products either come in recycled HDPE #2 plastic bottles or two-liter bulk refill boxes, an eco-friendly option that is also better for your bank account.
Environmental impact: For every product sold, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar store, Attitude plants a tree. The company has partnered with Eden Reforestation and One Tree Planted, and to date, has planted 1,004,475 trees in Madagascar, Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia, Mozambique, Honduras, Guatemala, Kenya, Canada, and the U.S. Additionally, Eden Reforestation hires local residents to grow, plant, and protect these trees, all while paying a fair wage. These trees clean the air, reduce global warming by absorbing CO2, and replenish the soil.
Review: I have always been a label reader, and I liked what I saw when it came time to check out the ingredients in Attitude's products. For instance, the dishwashing liquid contains green tea, which I now know is an antibacterial agent — learning is fun! The lower price point makes Attitude's products accessible to most people, without cutting corners on the final product — the dishwashing soap provided a deep clean and the fruit and vegetable wash ensured that the cucumbers I bought at the store didn't have that gross waxy taste that can ruin a meal.
What it is: An organic plant subscription box. Prices vary, depending on subscription. While this product doesn't replace any single-use items, it's the perfect gift to give yourself (or someone else) this Earth Day.
How it works: Succulents Box offers more than 300 varieties of succulents, delivered to customers via subscription boxes. You can also put together a specially curated box to send as a gift, and there are options for people looking specifically for niche items like pet-friendly succulents, indoor succulents, and hanging succulents.
Environmental impact: Succulents require little water, often just needing the slightest bit of attention every few weeks, and some, like aloe vera and the snake plant, purify the air and remove toxins from their environment. Taking care of succulents is also a stress reliever, providing a good outlet for people who enjoy gardening but don't necessarily have a green thumb.
Review: Prickly, gnarled, bumpy, or smooth, it doesn't matter — I am a sucker for succulents. They have personality and are the best way to add some low-effort pizazz to a desk, shelf, bookcase, or patio. The fun of a subscription box is having no idea what you're going to get, and I enjoyed unwrapping the four succulents that arrived (carefully packaged) on my doorstep. My succulents survived the journey, but Succulents Box thoughtfully provides instructions for people who might have to give their tiny treasures some TLC due to rough transit.