Throwing Away Our Throwaway Culture: 10 Simple Swaps You Can Make
“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”
Throwing away our throwaway culture can seem too big a task to even think about, but there are some simple swaps that if we all did would make a huge dent in the amount of waste we produce. To celebrate zero waste week, we’ve identified some of the ten most common disposable items and found durable, reusable, BuyMeOnce alternatives!
1. Instead of plastic wrap, use beeswax cloths
This was a revelation. I didn’t expect to find something that could replace cling film so when I came across beeswax cloths I was thrilled and bought some at once. They were inspired by traditional food preserving techniques and they make my fridge look delightfully quaint. They mold nicely round anything you wish to cover. I took mine for a road test when I went out on my first “Zero Waste Shopping Trip” for some mince. My local butcher looked at me as if I was mad, but happily scooped the pound of mince into the wrap and was very impressed. They should last a year if you look after them. You wash them in cold water with gentle soap (hot water makes the beeswax melt).
Or make your own:
If you want to reuse some pretty organic cloth or old (thoroughly clean) bedding, this is a great project. Here’s how to do it:
- Cut your cloth into several different sizes. (Imagine what size plastic wrap you use regularly and make a few options for yourself.)
- Finish off the edges with a sewing machine if you want them to be super durable, although the wax should stop them from fraying.
- Lay out your cloth on a baking tray and grate some beeswax over it. ½ an ounce is about right.
- Put it in the oven at 185F - it will take around 5-10 minutes to melt.
- Once it’s just about melted, take it out and spread the wax with the back of a large spoon. (You can use a paintbrush but the wax may ruin it).
- Pop it back in the oven if it doesn’t melt straight away and add more wax if there are gaps.
- Hang it up to dry.
NB: Beeswax does smell of honey and if you don’t want it touching food particularly likely to take on a scent like cheese, use a plain piece of cloth between the item and the beeswax cloth.
2. Instead of sandwich bags, use silicone washable bags
Ziploc style bags are super useful. I won’t deny that I have used a fair few in my time. Alternatives have been few on the ground until the last year or two, but finally there seem to be a couple of brands who have taken on the challenge. I also think these might be a useful thing to take shopping with you for pieces of cheese or meat. (Mason jars are rather heavy to lug around with you if you’re trying to do zero waste shopping.) I’d like them to come in bigger sizes.
Stasher bags are made with food-grade silicone and can be popped into the dishwasher and reused for years. These are for small amounts of food at the moment, although I’m hoping they soon come out with a bigger size!
3. Instead of throwaway straws, use silicone or steel
Straws might be the kind of thing that most households can live without, but some people prefer them if they’re drinking from a can and they can be useful if you or someone you care for has trouble lifting a glass. We like that these straws come with a cleaning brush so they can be kept for years and years with proper care.
These silicone straws are particularly attractive, come in eco-friendly packaging and offer a money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
4. Instead of a takeaway coffee cup, use a thermos or Keepcup
Coffee cups are death to the environment because the vast majority can’t even be recycled. Their production (25 billion in the USA every year) is hugely wasteful too when we could each just carry one reusable cup. Pick the cup that’s right for you. If it’s important for you that it stays hot and you need to put it away in your bag, a thermos is perfect. Both Stanley and CamelBak come with a lifetime guarantee and great reviews.
A Stanley classic mug will keep you sipping for decades to come. It’s a nice size, dishwasher safe and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
CamelBak make this sleeker thermos which comes in several different colors (NB. Avoid the white one as it shows dirt.) It keeps drinks hot for four hours, can be opened with one hand and comes with the “Got your Bak” lifetime guarantee.
If you just want something that will give you that takeaway coffee feel without the eco-guilt, go for a Keepcup, which is designed especially to get the best taste out of your coffee. It’s designed to last for years if looked after, and the whole cup is also recyclable at the end of its lifecycle.
NB. You can’t chuck this kind of cup into your bag as it’s not leak-proof.
5. Instead of tissues, use washable hankies
The sellers of disposable tissues have managed to get us extremely squeamish about handkerchiefs, so piles and piles of disposable tissues and the packaging are now thrown out every minute. In fact using a handkerchief needn’t be unhygienic. An everyday handkerchief used for hay fever sneezes or wiping up messes isn’t a dangerous thing and can be added to the normal wash at the end of the day. Bamboo is wonderfully sustainable, strong, soft and naturally antibacterial which is why it is our hankie of choice!
I got these myself and have been using them for the last few months. What’s nice is that they get softer as you wash them. Smart and simple and very absorbent. I’m a convert.
BuyMeOnce Tip: Consider a hankie washbag
If you have a bad cold/flu and you’re out and about, bring a few hankies with you and pop them into a washbag once used; they can be put straight into a hot wash when home. They are your own germs, so you can’t infect yourself. To prevent infecting others when you have a bad cold, you should wash your hands regularly anyway. Hot water and soap is still the best way to get rid of germs.
Northern Travel Gear have created this simple but effective dual-compartment washbag. With a waterproof inner, the nylon construction means you won’t be having any thrills and spills. And yes – it is backed up by a no-quibble lifetime guarantee.
Bella and Bear offer a more fun, flowery alternative to the washbag world, but their offering doesn’t skimp on the quality either. Using leather backed with a layer of polyurethane, it’s water-resistant and super easy to clean. Definitely worth a look. This one is also guaranteed to last a lifetime and is super functional – way beyond just a hankie carrier.
5 (and a half): Instead of disposable face wipes, use washable bamboo rounds
I got a pack of these last week and think they’re great. The flannel side is lightly exfoliating and the fleece side is really nice for removing eye makeup. These are beautifully soft and nicely made. If you’re looking for a zero waste cleanser to use with them, I found that if I took a tin into my local Lush shop they would fill it with their heavenly Angels on Bare Skin Cleanser.
Handy hint: use reusable breastfeeding pads. These may not have been designed for the face, but they’re the right size and softness for removing makeup.
6. Instead of a disposable water bottle, use a BuyMeOnce bottle
It almost doesn’t need saying that water bottles are one of the biggest sources of plastic waste. Swap them for one of these bottles – they’re designed to last a lifetime and just think of all the waste you’ve just prevented!
Camelbak design their Chute bottle to withstand a lifetime of extremes, but with a design so classic we think this steel piece is equally suited to an everyday working life. Whatever the excursion may be, the Chute keeps your liquids cold and true to taste, while keeping itself in perfect unbreakable shape. Of course, should something go wrong, Camelbak back all their gear up with a lifetime guarantee.
I love Klean Canteen bottles because they’re plastic-free; they’re composed of bamboo, stainless steel and food-grade silicone. They’re also ruggedly made and come with a wonderful warranty, so they are a BuyMeOnce favourite.
7. Instead of a plastic bag, use a tough one built to last
Putting a five-penny charge on plastic bags in the UK reduced their use by a whopping 85%. New York City just recently followed suit, implementing a five-cent charge on all plastic bags beginning October 2016. This is such great news, especially for the oceans, which is where many of these bags end up. We’ve found some of the most eco-friendly, durable and practical alternatives here.
Eco-String bags are super useful as they can be crunched up and put in a bag or a pocket but then expand into a handy carryall.
BagPodz are a great idea. The “pod” clips onto your shopping trolley and five sturdy reusable bags fit inside.
A robust canvas tote is great for customizing with some fabric paint, stencil your own slogan, or leave it to be plain and classic.
8. Instead of paper towels, use bamboo cloths
Paper towel is cruelly convenient, but it’s easy to get through rolls and rolls of it without even trying. I have a few microfiber cloths, which I roll up and keep in a mason jar. It looks quite attractive and it means they are on hand for spills.
Barefoot Bamboo have rather ingeniously come up with a washable version of kitchen roll. You tear off one or two sheets and rewash them up to 100 times until you tear off the next piece. Brilliant!
Birdseye's Organic Washable Baby Wipes are soft 2-ply cloths made of organic cotton and are perfect for cleaning up messes that require a little more grip. The fabric is a cross between terry and flannel, giving it a little more oomph than a traditional paper towel or microfiber cloth.
9. Instead of plastic knives and forks, use a travel set
Avoiding eating with horrible flimsy plastic cutlery is perhaps enough of reason to carry either a sturdy little set or a titanium spork with you. However, the waste produced by takeaway single-use cutlery is a serious matter, so the sooner we can all get into the habit of bringing our own the better.
I ordered one of these myself this week and was impressed that something so light felt as strong as it did (the magic of titanium). Now I keep it in my handbag in case the need arises. It comes in a sturdy drawstring pouch so it need not rattle around with your lipstick or poke you if you put it in your pocket.
Snow Peak's Titanium Set is one of the best-reviewed travel cutlery sets. It’s made of titanium which shows a wonderful commitment to durability. This also means that the set is lovely and light, so no excuses not to pack it.
10. (For the girls) Instead of tampons and throwaway pads, use cups and cloth pads
Now bear with me before you go running for the hills. I suppose tampons must have been considered a strange and niche thing once, so I was a little squeamish about the whole idea of reusable sanitary products. If you feel the same, I would urge you to watch this video made by the extraordinary Bree Farmer, a 16-year-old who has been talking about these products for the last three years with more maturity than I fear I will ever have.
She’s also a brilliant go-to for advice on washing and using all these products. They have many health benefits as well as being eco-friendly, so I would ask you to look into them, even if you ultimately decide against them.
These reusable, washable bamboo pads are sustainable, durable and have sweet patterns on them. What more could you ask for?
The Lena Cup was designed with the help of Bree. As you can imagine, it is one of the most highly rated and well-designed cups out there. The reviews certainly agree!
So that’s the BuyMeOnce zero waste list. I hope you found it helpful. If each of us could do just one or two off of this list, it would make a huge difference. Showing our support for sustainable, reusable products also means more investment and innovation will happen in this sector. Money talks, so make sure yours is saying good things. If you can think of any great products missing from this list, please add them in the comments and let me know how you got on with any of these swaps!