The Best Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Single-use Plastic

By Melanie Manard of The Conscious Insider

Why We Need Alternatives to Single-use Plastic

Since the 1950s, the production of single-use plastics has exploded. According to the Environmental Protection Agency over 36 million tons of plastic are generated in the US every year. Single-use plastics are used for packaging, medical devices, disposable utensils, water bottles, and much more. They have been incredibly valuable in some sectors such as the health sector to ensure sterility and cleanliness.

Unfortunately, they are not biodegradable and can take hundreds if not thousands of years to decompose. And when they finally degrade, they only break into tiny plastic pieces called microplastics. Microplastics are nearly impossible to clean up due to their size and pollute our soil and water. It’s estimated that about 11 million metric tons of plastic are discarded every year in the oceans according to a study in Science. Furthermore, the UN Environment Programme calculated that microplastic pollution in soils is 23 times worse than in the oceans.

The Best Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Single-use Plastic: A view of flowering plants at the beach and the blue sky over the ocean

For the first time, earlier this year, a study discovered microplastics in human blood. More precisely PET, polystyrene, and polyethylene. These plastics are respectively used to produce water bottles, packaging, and plastic bags.

To address this matter, some countries have already implemented some new laws to curb the behavior of the consumers. Since 2021, the European Union banned the sale of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, cups, cutlery, cotton swabs, and straws. The Australian government is currently working on creating the same ban by 2023.

Reducing your daily use of plastic doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many ways we can easily change the way we consume and lessen our environmental impact.

Here are some tips on how you can cut down your plastic consumption on a daily basis.

4 Types of Plastic That We Can Avoid

1. Plastic Bags

Plastic bags represent one of the worst plastic pollutions on earth. According to The World Counts, we produce 5 trillion plastic bags every year. A plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to decompose in nature and less than 1% of them are recycled. This plastic pollution has devastating effects on marine life, soil and could harm the health of humans.

Luckily, you can easily switch from conventional plastic bags to more sustainable options.

Eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags:

  • Reusable Cotton Tote Bag is a widely popular option to replace conventional plastic bags. Tote bags are durable, stylish, and functional. They are often made of cotton or other sturdy materials and you can use them to carry items such as books or groceries.
  • Paper Bags are a great option as they are biodegradable and made from sustainable materials. They are usually used for groceries and other goods.
  • Bio Plastic Bags, unlike traditional plastic bags, are plastic-free and created from renewable materials such as sugarcane and corn. They are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
girls at beach with cotton bags
Organic cotton bags make a perfect alternative

2. Bottles, Coffee Cups, and Other Drinkware

Millions of plastic bottles, disposable coffee cups, or plastic cups are used and discarded each day. The EPA estimates that 30% of the plastic bottles produced are recycled. Coffee cups are not recyclable. They are made with multi-layers and materials and therefore require a special factory and techniques to process them.

In 2018 Starbucks, one of the biggest consumers of single-use plastic cups (about 6 billion cups per year), decided to address the issue. The brand partnered with Closed Loop to develop a recyclable and compostable cup.

We found some sustainable options to reduce your environmental impact while staying hydrated.

Eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic bottles and cups:

  • Reusable Water Bottle. Stainless steel bottles are a very popular and sustainable alternative to single-use plastic bottles. Due to the durability of the material, the bottle can be reused over and over again without losing its quality. Stainless steel is non-toxic, doesn’t leach chemicals, and can be recycled for an unlimited amount of time.
  • Reusable Cup. If you bring your own reusable cup to your favorite coffee shop, they’ll be happy to fill it in for you. Some places reward you if you do. Starbucks will grant its members a 50% discount when you bring your reusable clean cup. These gestures could help drastically reduce plastic pollution.
Compostable Coffee Cups A Step Towards Sustainability
Compostable coffee cups are another alternative

3. Packaging, Cutlery, and Straws

By 2032, you won’t be able to purchase single-use plastic products in the American national parks and some other public lands. This announcement was made in mid-2022 to protect the land and water and ensure the conservation of wildlife.

Changes have already happened in bars and restaurants. Many of them have now banned plastic straws.

Eco-friendly alternatives to single-use cutleries and straws:

  • Bamboo and Wood Cutlery. Bamboo is a great alternative to plastic as it’s a renewable sustainable resource. The material is durable and biodegradable. Wood is very similar to bamboo and makes stylish and popular kitchen utensils.
  • Metal and bamboo straws. As mentioned before, stainless steel straws are a great alternative to plastic and perfect for beverage zipping.

Eco-friendly alternatives to single-use packaging:

  • Glass. Glass containers are a great option to safely store your food. It’s a natural and recyclable material that can be reused many times without losing its quality or releasing toxic chemicals.
  • Recycled plastic is obtained from post-consumer plastic waste. When buying recycled plastic packaging, you help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills.
bamboo cutlery
Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash

4. Personal Care and Beauty

The beauty industry is responsible for a meaningful part of the plastic pollution as many personal care and cosmetic products are packaged in plastic bottles, plastic tubes, or plastic containers.

However, in recent years and due to the rising popularity of ethical and clean beauty, many companies are now switching to sustainable recyclable alternatives to plastic.

Here are some plastic-free, effective and sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products for personal care and beauty products.

Eco-friendly alternatives to single-use beauty and personal care products:

  • Shampoo and Soap Bars. Solid shampoo is more eco-friendly than liquid shampoo, as it doesn’t require packaging and can be shipped without the use of plastic bottles. It’s a plastic-free alternative that also lasts longer than regular bottled shampoo.
  • Refillable Perfume Bottle. Many brands now offer the possibility to refill your perfume when it is finished. One of the first was the perfume Alien by Thierry Mugler but you can also find refillable bottles at Le Labo, Joe Malone, Chanel, or Diptyque.
  • Wood stick cotton swabs, bamboo toothbrushes, and stainless steel razors. These items are inexpensive popular eco-friendly alternatives for single-use plastic and a great way to reduce daily your impact on the environment.
Foamie shampoo bar
Shampoo bars like the one by Foamie are a great way to avoid plastic in the bathroom

Melanie Manard: a woman smiling

About the Author

Melanie Manard is the founder of The Conscious Insider, a digital platform for sustainable and ethical lifestyle. You can usually find her reading, cooking or riding her bike.