Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Microplastics collected from Kailua Beach, Hawai'i. Photo by Tanya Torres.
A Little Background Behind Plastic:
Since the first mass production of plastic in the 1950’s, plastic has never left our side.
From plastic water bottles, to utensils, to bags; plastic is everywhere we look. Plastic quickly became known as “the material for a thousand uses” as it was cheap, durable, and extremely versatile. It wasn’t until recent decades that people began to notice the damage that plastics were doing to the environment and started becoming concerned about the consequences of consuming so much of it. Plastics are one of the largest contributors to global change. They degrade ocean and terrestrial ecosystems and impact migratory patterns, food chains, and habitats (including those of humans).
Plastic collected from South Point on Hawai'i Island. Photo by Laura Bailes.
Plastics are made from petroleum, a highly carcinogenic fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide into the environment when burned. Excess CO2 emissions have been scientifically proven to cause warmer ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. Due to their chemical makeup, they leach toxins into the environment (and our bodies), especially when exposed to heat. Plastics do not biodegrade, instead, they photodegrade. This means they break up into smaller and smaller pieces using sunlight, as opposed to being naturally broken down in the environment by living organisms. These small pieces of plastic are called microplastics and they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
Photos by Laura Bailes from beach clean-ups with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.
Plastic particles of various shapes and sizes are found throughout all of the oceans worldwide and accumulate in gyres located in between Earth’s continents. Any man-made material that enters the marine environment is considered marine debris. In many places, marine debris ends up scattered along coastlines, polluting some of the world’s most pristine beaches and wildlife habitats. Our over-consumption of plastic has resulted in overflowing landfills and rubbish bins where our trash can readily be swept away with the wind. No matter where you live, even if it’s a landlocked state in the Midwest, your trash can easily make its way to the ocean by way of storm drains and rivers.
Plastic makes up the majority of marine debris worldwide. Marine debris not only harms marine life via ingestion or entanglement, but it also destroys ocean ecosystems that provide us with oxygen, medicine, food, protection from erosion, jobs, and even recreation. The oceans help to regulate climate and weather, they provide us with all of our fresh water, and they are the very reason we are able to live here on Earth.
I <3 Earth. Photo by Kira Stephens.
The oceans (and the planet) do so much for us, it’s time we give a little love back. So here are some simple and easy changes we can all make to keep this beautiful planet alive and thriving and reduce our reliance on plastic :)
1. Bar shampoo, conditioner, and body soap:
Bar soap is a no-brainer and it's what people used to use before plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles even became a thing. Businesses like Lush are bringing these back in style and they often contain little to no harmful chemicals or additives and many can be found packaged in paper or with no packaging at all (waste free, yay!). The shampoo bars last up to 80 washes (the equivalent of 2-3 shampoo bottles) and the conditioner bars last just as long. Bar soap is also a great option for showering, washing hands, and even as a natural face wash. Lush sells reusable tin containers to store your soaps, which I have found to be helpful when traveling!
Lush shampoo, conditioner, and bar soap. Photo by Laura Bailes.
2. Straws- Bamboo, stainless steel, and glass:
Straws aren't exactly a necessity, but I know there are people out there who prefer them or have medical conditions where straws do come in handy. If you are a straw user, pretty much anything other than plastic is a better option. Many businesses and counties around the U.S. have already taken action by banning plastic straws, only serving them on request, or offering sustainable alternatives such as bamboo, glass, metal, paper, and pasta straws. 500 million plastic straws are thrown away EVERY SINGLE DAY in the United States alone and they are used on average for only 20 minutes. Making this simple switch will help keep those nasty plastic straws out of the ocean and out of turtles noses. They don't enjoy straws like we do.
Cool Fact: Bamboo is the fastest growing and most sustainable plant on the planet!
3.33% of the proceeds from The Bamboo Straw Co. are donated to well established ocean clean up and conservancy non-profits around the world.
Stainless steel and glass straw mustaches. Photo by Laura Bailes.
3. Reusable shopping bags and produce bags:
These are essential for anyone who shops for their own food or products, which is likely most of you reading this blog. Plastic bag bans have already been implemented throughout many counties in states like Hawai'i, California, Colorado, and New York, just to name a few. Plastic bags are harder to recycle because they are "soft plastics" and have to be taken to specific recycling facilities that not all places have. These are also typically only used one time and then thrown away, and they can be easily carried away by wind or rain and make their way to the ocean if they are not disposed of properly. Many people argue that they reuse their plastic bags so it's okay that they keep getting them. However, they are not that durable and they will eventually be thrown away to rot in a landfill and leach toxic chemicals into the Earth or will be swept away to spend the rest of their life in the ocean. There are so many companies out there now that make cloth or mesh bags from sustainable sources so you don't have to resort to plastic. Just remember to take them with you whenever you head to the store :)
Reusable shopping and produce bags. Click arrow on picture to view next photo.
First four photos retrieved 7/13/20 from https://ainalife.com. Last photo by Laura Bailes.
4. Bamboo utensils:
Utensils are something we use daily. In our fast paced American culture, we don't always have time to pack a lunch, so we end up eating out instead. This usually means using plastic cutlery if you're trying to find a quick bite. One thing I make sure to never leave my house without is my bamboo utensils, that way, I don't have to use plastic, and I always have something to eat with.This nifty little pouch comes with a fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks, and they are super easy to clean. I've had mine since 2015 and they're still in good shape!
Bamboo To-Go Ware utensils. Retrieved 7/13/20 from https://www.patagoniaprovisions.com.
5. Reusable cups:
Reusable cups, mugs and jars are some of the best investments I've ever made. I use a 40oz. and 18oz. hydroflask as my water bottles, and mix between mason jars, stainless steel cups, and coffee tumblers for smoothies, tea, juice, and wine. My hydroflask is also something I never leave the house without. I treat it like my keys or wallet so I never forget it. And if I know I'm going to a place to get a drink, I try to arrive prepared with the appropriate cup for the occasion if I think it's going to be served in plastic. Large mason jars are also great for boba drinks and acai bowls.
Visit: https://www.hydroflask.com/ or visit your local general merchandise stores for a variety of sustainable cup options.
Reusable glass mason jar. Photo by Laura Bailes.
6. Dryer Balls:
Choosing 100% wool dryer balls instead of synthetic, chemical-laced dryer sheets will help soften your clothes, significantly decrease drying time (which will lower your utility bills), and divert a bunch of disposable dryer sheets from ending up in a landfill. They can also help reduce wrinkles and static by circulating the air in your dryer more efficiently. They last for over 1,000 loads and will save you both time and money.
Dryer balls. Retrieved 4/17/19 from mightynest.com.
Click the arrow on the picture to view the next photo.
7. Bamboo toothbrush:
We brush our teeth an average of at least two times a day (I hope), and go through a few disposable toothbrushes year (if you listen to your dentist). Bamboo toothbrushes are a wonderful alternative to plastic toothbrushes because they are compostable, non-toxic, and sustainably sourced (remember what I said about bamboo in the straw section?). These toothbrushes work just as well as regular toothbrushes, and this way, you aren't putting a toxic piece of plastic in your mouth when you wake up every morning or before you go to bed at night. Remember, our bodies absorb the chemicals in plastic. I've used both Wowe and Brush with Bamboo, and like them both equally. Do your body and the planet a favor and treat yo-self to a new set of sustainable toothbrushes!
‘AINA life Bamboo Toothbrush and case. Retrieved 7/13/20 from https://ainalife.com/.
The deodorant you typically buy at the store is cheap, yes, but generally not the best for you. Most generic deodorant brands contain synthetic chemicals that block up your pores and internal glands. They also tend to be packaged in plastic that isn't recyclable in a lot of places (like Hawai'i). It took me a while to find a natural deodorant that worked for me, but the lavender bergamot deodorant stick from Meow Meow Tweet is my favorite so far. The deodorant stick comes in a cardboard casing which can be composted or recycled, and they also have the option of deodorant in a small glass container.
Natural deodorant stick in cardboard box and glass container.
First photo by Laura Bailes. Second Photo retrieved 4/19/19 from https://meowmeowtweet.com/.
Click the arrow on the picture to view the next photo.
LunchSkins can replace single-use plastic sandwich bags, reducing pollution right from your kitchen counter. They are reusable and dishwasher-safe, and are great for snacks and sandwiches.
Lunchskins. Retrieved 4/19/19 from https://www.lunchskins.com/.
10. Bamboo Hairbrush:
I had plastic hairbrushes for as long as I can remember. When it was time for me to buy a new one a few years ago, I decided to look into what else hairbrushes can be made out of and that's when I came across Bass Brushes Green Brush. The handle and pins are made entirely from bamboo which helps reduce static and it won't pollute the environment if you ever have to throw it away.
Visit: https://www.iherb.com/c/bass-brushes or go to your local whole foods store.
Bass bamboo brush. Retrieved 6/13/20 from https://www.pinterest.com.
11. Menstrual Cup:
This is a good alternative to single-use feminine hygiene products, such as tampons and pads. These menstrual cups are odor-free, chemical-free, zero waste, and are super easy to use. Not to mention, they last years instead of hours.
Menstrual cup. Retrieved 7/13/20 from https://pleaseconsider.com.
Click the arrow on the picture to view the next photo.
12. Face lotion:
Like most popular products on the market today, generic lotion brands have 1,000 ingredients in them with words you can't even pronounce. I try to steer clear of using generic products and focus on using natural things that are healthy for me and the planet. One thing people don't really think about when using products that we put on our bodies is that they eventually get washed off in the shower or sink and end up in the ocean. This face lotion is hand-made by an Earth-conscious woman living in New York City. Her lotion helps to balance, calm, and hydrate the skin - and give your face a glow. It contains all natural and sustainably sourced ingredients like olive oil, which works as an antioxidant and moisturizer, shea butter, which has anti inflammatory and collagen boosting properties, beeswax, which contains anti-viral and anti-bacterial compounds, and pomegranate seed oil for anti-aging. And for the cherry on top, it's all in a glass jar.
Yay For Earth Face Lotion. Retrieved 4/19/19 from https://www.yayforearth.com/.
I have a few more tricks to diverting plastic that I'll share at a later date, but for now, I hope you found this blog to be educational and inspirational. I hope it encourages you to make your own small lifestyle changes that can make a big difference, and I hope it helps you realize that there are so many simple, wonderful, and sustainable options out there to counter plastic. Imagine if 7 billion people cared enough and were able to make these changes. I believe the world would be a much better place.
Mahalo for reading!
Choose Earth. Photo by Cori Chong.