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It is easy to add a few eco-friendly products to make your life more “green.” By replacing a few disposable, single-use items with reusable products, you can not only save money in the long run, but you can also keep tons of trash out of landfills and help prevent plastic from making its way into the ocean. If you would like to make some changes at home and do your part to help the planet, here are 9 easy swaps for eco-friendly products that you can make right now.
Ditch the paper towels.
Paper towels can be handy. They are great for killing a bug, cleaning up dog vomit, or quickly wiping up that entire cup of milk your toddler just spilled on the floor. What they are not great for is using as napkins for your entire family at every meal. Using paper towels or paper napkins at every meal creates a lot of waste going into the trashcan every day. If every American uses three paper towels every day, that’s 328 billion napkins being used in the United States alone in one year. The paper towels that get thrown in the trash across the world create 254 million tons of trash each year!
Besides the waste created by using paper towels, the process for making them is not exactly the greenest. The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world. Not to mention, the process for making paper towels uses tons of water – hundreds of billions of gallons of water every year actually – and a lot of chemicals. It also causes more than 51,000 trees to be cut down every day just to make enough paper towels for North America.
So ditch those paper towels for cloth napkins. Cloth napkins are the perfect eco-friendly products to replace all those paper towels. Buy a few sets of cloth napkins and start using them at mealtimes. When they are dirty, throw them in the wash and then reuse them. Not only will you feel fancy, but you will also be saving tons of water and trees. It is ok to still break out a paper towel or two to clean up a spill or kill that bug. By opting for eco-friendly products during meals, you will be significantly reducing the number of paper towels you use each year.
If every house in America used just one less roll of paper towels, 544,000 trees will be saved each year. Imagine how many paper towels you would save by swapping them out for cloth napkins at each meal!
Stop using sandwich bags.
The average person uses nearly one pound of plastic sandwich bags in a year. That might not sound like a lot, but when you break it down that equals around 540 plastic sandwich bags that one person uses once and then throws away – in just a year. It should be no surprise that plastic sandwich bags are not eco-friendly products. They end up in landfills and in the ocean and they never totally biodegrade. Plastic particles and chemicals stay around – they are always in the water and soil, even if it looks like the plastic bag has decomposed.
So swap those sandwich bags for one of a number of eco-friendly products. Buy a handful of reusable plastic or (even better) glass containers. They can be washed and reused over and over again. Another fun option is reusable fabric or silicone sandwich and snack bags. A number of companies make them in fun colors and patterns. They can be thrown in the dishwasher and used again and again.
If neither of those eco-friendly products lights your fire, give beeswax wrap a try. Beeswax wrap is a sustainable, reusable alternative to plastic wrap. If you have not heard the buzz about beeswax wrap (see what we did there?), it is basically a sheet of cotton that is layered with bee’s wax, and often jojoba oil and tree resin. Wrap a sandwich in it and it sticks together like plastic wrap, except, unlike plastic wrap, these awesome eco-friendly products are reusable. Once you use a piece of beeswax wrap, all you have to do is wash it in the sink with soap and cool water and let it air-dry. Then, use it again.
Fancy up those lunches.
Typically, the lunches we pack for school or for work are not the most eco-friendly. They are full of one-use plastics and paper products that go right into the garbage. Instead of all those baggies, paper napkins, and plastic forks, think a little fancier and save the planet at the same time. Make a few easy swaps for eco-friendly products like containers for your sandwich and snacks instead of plastic bags, a cloth napkin instead of a paper napkin, and silverware instead of plastic utensils.
Not only will your lunch feel fancy with your cloth napkin and your silverware, but you will also be doing the planet so much good.
Paper or plastic? How about neither.
It is common practice for a lot of people these days to bring their own shopping bags to the grocery store. However, there are still plenty of people using the plastic bags most grocery and department stores use. In the United States, the average person uses around six plastic bags every week. That equals more than 300 bags each year per person that end up in the trash. Because they are so light, plastic bags do not always stay in the trash or in landfills. They often fly away and settle in trees or on the side of the highway, block storm drains, clutter beaches, and end up in the water.
Plastic bags make up more than 10% of the trash that washes up and pollutes the coast in the United States alone. The problem with these bags flying everywhere is that it is estimated that one million birds, nearly one hundred thousand sea turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from eating plastic. Animals often confuse floating bags and other plastic trash for food like jellyfish that, once eaten, gets caught in their digestive tract, causing the animals to starve to death. Other animals drown after getting tangled in plastic.
So if you are not one of the people already using reusable bags, what are you waiting for? These easily accessible eco-friendly products are an easy swap that can save lots of animals. Not to mention, they are sturdier than those plastic grocery store bags, which means you can load them up and make fewer trips back and forth from your car to the house (you know you like to load your arms up with ALL. THE. BAGS!).
Stay away from plastic straws.
Think about how many plastic straws you use in a month. Every time you go through a fast food drive-thru or to a casual dining restaurant, you likely use one. Like plastic bags, straws are high on the environmental enemy list. They are usually used once before ending up in landfills and because they are so light, they often blow out of the trash and end up on the ground or in the water where animals mistake them for food. They are not usually biodegradable and cannot be broken down naturally into non-toxic materials, so most plastic straws break down into smaller particles that release harmful chemicals into the soil and water.
There are a few eco-friendly products that you can use to replace all those plastic straws though. Better than a plastic straw is a paper straw. Paper straws can decompose so they will not harm the environment like plastic straws. They do still require trees to be cut down and use lots of energy and water to produce a single-use product, but they are not quite as bad as the plastic version.
An even better swap is a reusable metal straw. They can be used over and over again since they are washable, so making this eco-friendly swap eliminates the waste problem and keeps contaminants out of the soil and water and away from people and animals. Buy a pack once and you will be all set for quite some time.
Put down the bottled water.
We have already established that plastic bags in all forms are bad. Plastic bottles are just as awful. Approximately 1,500 plastic water bottles are used every second in the United States alone. The process to bottle water uses millions of barrels of oil, enough energy to power nearly 200,000 homes, and takes three times the amount of water needed to fill the bottle. All that extra water becomes unusable due to chemicals used in the bottling process, so it is essentially wasted.
This situation is easily remedied by swapping for commonly used eco-friendly products – reusable water bottles. Buy a super cute reusable water bottle and fill it up over and over at the water cooler at work. At home, you can also swap out for a water pitcher with a filter or one of the filters that attaches directly to the faucet if you are worried about the tap water. These eco-friendly products will help you give up that bottled water habit, be good for the planet, and save you money in the long run!
Get that coffee to go…in your own cup.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that over 50 billion coffee cups are used each year. 50 billion in just one year. That means something like 20 million trees are cut down every year to make those cups. It also means a ton of energy and water are used to turn those trees into cups. All of these single-use paper coffee cups are then used once, maybe twice if you get a refill, and then get thrown in the trash along with those little cardboard sleeves that keep your hand from getting too hot.
Make your daily coffee habit “greener” with a few eco-friendly products. Instead of a cardboard sleeve around your cup to protect your hand, get a reusable one made from fabric and keep it in your car or your bag and whip it out the next time you make an unexpected coffee run. Not only will you be saving the planet, but you will be oh so stylish too.
The biggest impact you can have though is through an even better eco-friendly swap. Forget the single-use cup entirely and bring your own reusable travel mug. Most coffee shops will fill your mug and some will even give you a few cents off the cost of your coffee.
Forget about dryer sheets.
Everyone loves their clothes to smell nice and feel cuddly soft when they come out of the dryer, but what happens to all of those dryer sheets (or fabric softener sheets as some people call them)? They get used once and then go straight in the trash. Dryer sheets are another one of those single-use products that are not only unnecessary, but they also create needless waste and release potentially harmful chemicals into the air.
There are a number of eco-friendly products that can be swapped for dryer sheets. Replace those single-use sheets with reusable wool dryer balls. Crumple some aluminum foil into a ball about the size of a baseball, and toss it in the dryer with your laundry to reduce static. Or try some reusable static eliminating sheets that are non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free.
Stop with those tiny bottles of shampoo.
There is definitely a theme here. Can you guess it? If you guessed plastic, you were right on the money. Single-use plastics are bad. Their useful life is short and the waste that they create lasts forever. Another group of plastic items with a short lifespan is the little travel-sized toiletry items like bottles of shampoo and conditioner that we take on trips. The size is clearly convenient. It is not like you can bring your regular bottle of shampoo in your carryon baggage. The problem is they get used once or twice and tossed in the trash.
Most of those little bottles are recyclable, but when was the last time you put them in the recycling bin?
There are some little eco-friendly products you can use to make a big difference. Instead of buying a new batch of little shampoos every time you take a trip, invest in a set of refillable travel-sized containers. Just fill them up with your regular shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and any other toiletry must-haves before you head out on your next adventure. You will save money by not buying new products each time and you will also be helping the environment at the same time.
These 9 eco-friendly product swaps are easy for anyone to incorporate into their routine. Start with one or two and work from there. Try to make swaps when you can. You might not remember your travel mug every time you get coffee, but one or two less disposable coffee cups in the trash makes a difference. Think about how many fewer coffee cups would be in the trash if everyone brought a reusable mug just once or twice a month. A few little things add up to make a big difference to the planet.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Recycling Old Clothes to Contribute to Green Living.
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Sources: 9 More Reasons to Pass Up Paper, You Can Help Keep 540 Plastic Sandwich Bags Out of the Ocean With One Swap, 25 Reasons to Use Reusable Grocery Bags, The Environmental Impacts of Plastic Water Bottles, The Problem with Disposable Cups