Zero waste, low waste, plastic free, minimalist. Whatever you want to call it, wastefulness is the place where many of us begin a journey into learning creating a more sustainable and mindful existence. In the past few years plastic has increasingly moved into mainstream conversation; we’re slowly waking up to the waves and waves of rubbish we’re producing, and we’re looking for alternatives. So if you’re a person seeking other options, or someone looking to take their low waste game to the next level, this list is for you.
Now, let me start with a disclaimer. Not everyone can choose these alternatives and that is fine. It’s ok to adopt less wasteful habits whilst also acknowledging that the zero/low waste movement often lends itself to prejudice and privilege. There are many barriers to access in the zero waste movement and the wider sustainable living world, and individual choices alone will not fix the waste problem (more on that here).
But, all that being said, if you are someone who has the ability and means to make more sustainable choices, why not give it a try? Below is an updated list of all the swaps, tips and tricks I could think of to help you get going.
Before you are tempted to start blindly getting rid of things to replace them with more sustainable alternatives/meet a certain aesthetic standard, please read my post on this here. It was initially written about a movement in fashion, but applies to just about any type of sustainable lifestyle choice. Instead of immediately throwing things away, try using what you already have until it truly reaches the end of its life, and then finding a more sustainable replacement.
At the same time, there are also single-use items that we buy regularly and often; these are usually the easiest place to begin when it comes to finding an eco-friendly alternative. Ultimately everything we utilise is going to have a different life span, but below are some options for what you could switch to when the time comes.
Don’t feel like you need to switch everything at once either. Choose one thing, give yourself a little time to adopt that habit, and then move onto the next. It’s going to be more achievable, more affordable, and a more sustainable long-term approach to change.
Everyone who gets a period has different bodies, experiences and needs, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option for period management and that’s ok! Good reusable options to consider include menstrual cups, reusable period pads, or period underwear (I personally know people who have used THINX or WUKA).
Alternatively, if you still need or want to use disposable products try and opt for organic, biodegradable options such as Grace & Green, which are also better for our health. You can also use DAME’s reusable tampon applicator if you have difficulties with tampon insertion.
Switch from traditional bottled shampoo to solid shampoo bars or refillable liquid shampoo/conditioner (my favourites are Hairy Jayne). Instead of traditional bottled shower gel use solid bars of soap, refillable shower gel (if you have access to a bulk or health food shop Faith in Nature have refill options), make your own body scrubs or make your own soap. You can also use plastic free soap bags or shower puffs, and a stainless steel safety razor.
For those who shave, you can find organic shaving oil packaged in glass.
For makeup, both Zao in the UK and Elate in the US/Canada carry refill options. You can also find bamboo make-up brushes.
For end of the day skincare try reusable make-up remover pads or a flannel.
Avoid products that contain microbeads, instead look for exfoliants that use jojoba, or beauty brands that are certified microplastic free.
Additional skincare products I would recommend are organic beard oil, powder cleanser (which lasts longer), skin exfoliant, and long-lasting facial oil.
Also, try making your own lip balm.
Ditch plastic, virgin paper and toxic dyes by opting for Who Gives A Crap toilet paper.
For deodorant, I recommend an alum bar or cacao pow deodorant.
You can now buy compostable plasters.
You can buy wooden hairbrushes/combs instead of plastic
And plastic-free hair ties also exist!
If you feel like making your own beauty products you can find multiple recipes online (including on this blog!), and you can buy ingredients online here.
- Ditch takeaway coffee cups for a reusable Ecoffee cup or WAKEcup.
- Switch plastic bottles to a reusable water bottle.
- When you go food shopping take reusable bags to carry your food, and use a zero waste shopping kit from BagMeFrankfurt for all your produce needs.
- If you live in London get your produce from Oddbox, who eliminate food waste at source.
- Or fight food waste by picking up surplus food in your neighbourhood using the OLIO app, or buying discounted food from stores at the end of the day using Too Good To Go app.
- If you want to start shopping at bulk shops don’t buy new containers for the aesthetic. Save jars and containers that you already have, and only buy new things that you really need.
- Watch Sustainably Vegan’s videos on how to bulk buy and how to avoid waste if you can’t bulk buy.
- Or buy zero waste groceries online with Zero Waste Club and Plastic Free Pantry.
- Instead of cling film try wax wraps, bento bags, or stasher bags to keep food fresh.
- Instead of plastic tupperware opt for stainless steel lunchboxes.
- Grab a set of reusable cutlery to carry with you so you can refuse single-use options.
- If you don’t need one ask for no straw, or bring your own stainless steel or bamboo version.
- There is a reusable coffee filter you can use at home, or opt for a french press.
- While you’re at it, switch from coffee pods and tea bags to coffee beans and loose leaf tea. If you already have a Nespresso machine, opt for ethical and compostable capsules instead.
- Switch to non-synthetic chewing gum (yes that’s a thing, regular chewing gum isn’t biodegradable).
- Instead of a plastic water filter use a charcoal filter.
- Have a go making your own zero waste milk or butter at home
- Compost your food scraps/food waste.
- Meal prep your food and try to cook through everything you have in your kitchen before doing more big shops, to avoid potential food waste.
- Replace kitchen roll with reusable tea towels or recycled plastic-free roll.
- Avoid shedding microfibres into the oceans by washing synthetic garments in a Guppyfriend washing bag.
- You can source refillable laundry liquid from most bulk stores. I prefer Bio-D, who list their stockists here. You also don’t need fabric softener at all!
- Bio-D have refillable washing up liquid and refillable liquid cleaning products too.
- For washing up you also can use compostable sponges, wooden bottle brushes and coconut husks as scrapers
- You can also make your own cleaning products with simple recipes containing a few ingredients.
I’m not going to write an extensive list, because that will take a very long time and I still wouldn’t find them all, but I did want to highlight a few of my favourites in the zero waste fashion world. If you aren’t buying secondhand, or from companies using recycled materials, then opt for organically grown natural materials (cotton, linen etc) that are dyed with non-toxic dyes, as these won’t shed plastics or release harmful chemicals into the environment.
Some particular zero waste favourites of mine, however, include:
- Underwear from Lara Intimates
- Slippers from Baabuk
- Bags from GRUNBAG
- Tights from Swedish Stockings (they’ll also take your old pairs to recycle!)
- Wallets from Green Banana Paper – they’re made from the leaves of banana trees and people can never believe it!
- Plastic-free phone cases from Pela
- Hair sticks from SAYA Designs
- Glasses from retrospecced
- Sunglasses from PALA (this pair is made with recycled acetate) or Peep Eyewear
- Jeans from MUD Jeans or Nudie Jeans (the latter offers repairs for life)
- Jewellery from Article 22, or other brands using recycled metals (more on why you should avoid virgin gold here)
- Secondhand precious jewellery/gems/engagement rings from DELGATTO/I do now I don’t
- Conventional glitter is usually made with PET plastic, however biodegradable glitter is pretty common these days, read more on that here.
- Plastic balloons, aside from ending up in landfill, can accidentally float away when filled with helium and can end up killing marine life, mammals and birds due to accidentally being eaten or entangling them. Skipping them altogether is your best option, but you can buy biodegradable ones, as well as compostable ribbon, if you really need. Fill them with air instead of helium, don’t release them into the air/outside spaces and make sure to dispose of them responsibly. They do biodegrade but it can take over four years, so cutting them into small pieces that can’t be choked on and keeping them in a personal compost bin (which animals can’t access) for a long period of time is the best disposal option. For less hassle so you can go for sustainable alternatives such as material/paper bunting, tissue pom poms or crepe paper streamers, to name a few.
- Wrap gifts in reusable cloth wrapping, Japanese style (more eco wrapping ideas can be found here and here)
- For all things baby: Acala has a baby and child section.
- For anyone who loves writing notes, Greenbook has a reusable notebook and refillable pen.
- Look into medical recyling: is there something you could give back that’s currently being wasted or sitting unused?
- Try buying your technology secondhand. I bought a secondhand phone and later discovered that iSmash (UK) are wonders for repairing phones when Apple might tell you there’s no hope. They replaced my battery for £40, which is much cheaper than a new phone.
- If they really can’t be used any more try and send soiled clothes and broken electronics to textile and electronic recycling, rather than putting them in the bin
Zero Waste and Systemic Change
- Read up on extended producer responsibility, and advocate for it.
- Learn more about the problems with plastic packaging and the alternatives so far.
- Read up on the best way to stop plastic getting into our oceans (hint: it’s regulating the commercial fishing industry) and advocate for it.
- Financially support organisations that are already on the ground doing the work. Check out what Waste Free Oceans are doing to fight plastic waste or Surfers Against Sewage, and go support them!
And if you’re looking for some extra help on getting started, I’m currently running a giveaway on Instagram where you can win a zero waste starter kit. You can enter here until Midnight Friday February 8th. Good luck!