Recycling is one great way to go green. However, the entire process can still require an enormous amount of energy. Instead, consider the other two R's -- reducing and reusing -- to help close the waste loop. And while going zero waste may sound a bit scary at first, it doesn't have to be! Here are some of our favorite ways to start.
Photography: Candice Stringham1 of 16
Swap Out: Dish Sponges
As one of the germiest items in the average home, kitchen sponges need to be replaced fairly regularly. Moreover, once you toss ‘em, these sponges -- often made from synthetic materials and therefore not compostable or biodegradable -- can live in landfills for years. Gross!
Photography: Courtesy of Life Without Plastic2 of 16
Swap In: Plastic-Free Washing Brushes
For greener and longer-lasting go-to’s, try a plastic-free dish washing brush. Its hard plant-based bristles still scrub out stubborn grease, and its brush head can be composted. If you prefer the feel of a sponge, try an eco-alternative like the silicone sponge. Made out of non-porous, food-safe silicone, it’s good on all types of kitchen surfaces and is dishwasher safe.
Photography: Ryan K Liebe3 of 16
Swap Out: Paper Towels
Grabbing a paper towel (or twelve) to wipe up a spill might not seem like a lot on its own, but over time it certainly adds up. In fact, the average American uses over 45 pounds of paper towels in a single year.
Photography: Eric Lines4 of 16
Swap In: Swedish Dishcloths
A reusable option we love? These nifty Swedish dishcloths by Three Bluebirds. Made from wood cellulose and cotton, each cloth functions just like a paper towel, except it's 20 times more durable and can last up to a year. By using these longer-lasting (and super cute!) alternatives, you’ll even save a few bucks from having to restock your rolls.
$6.95 each, online or find a store on threebluebirds.com
Photography: mtutuncu / Getty Images5 of 16
Swap Out: Plastic Wrap and Snacks Bags
A sustainable rule of thumb: pass on plastic in all its forms when you can. Some cities do have special recycling programs just for plastic bags, cling wrap, and other similar items that can’t be recycled with the rest of your plastics. However, of all recyclable materials, plastic has some of the lowest chances of actually getting recycled compared to glass and paper.
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Photography: Jessica Sipe/Bee's Wrap6 of 16
Swap In: Beeswax Wrap
We love Bee’s Wrap’s all-natural and compostable alternatives. Made from organic cotton, beeswax, and jojoba oil, these wraps hold their seal from the warmth of your hands and can be washed and reused for up to a year. Use it in the same ways you’d use plastic wrap, from covering a bowl of fruit salad to saving half a baguette.
$6.00 for small wrap or $18 for set of 3, online or find a store on beeswrap.com
Photography: Johnny Miller7 of 16
Swap Out: Plastic Shopping Bags
Because plastic is such a common material, from our brushes to our bags, you may be surprised by how many plastic goods you really use on a daily basis. Did you know that the average American family takes home nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, and each bag is only used for an average of 12 minutes?
Photography: Courtesy of ECOBAGS8 of 16
Swap In: Cloth Produce Bags
Next time you shop for your produce at the market, skip those flimsy plastic bags and bring your own cloth bags instead. Keep a few in your car or folded in your purse for last-minute trips, or hang them by your door to grab on your way out. These produce ECOBAGS are super light, durable, and made from all-natural cotton.
Plus, they’re perfect for the bulk ailse -- here's 3 reasons why buying in bulk is better for you and the planet.
$3.99 for one, $11.49 for set of 3, ecobags.com
Photography: Dougal Waters / Getty Images9 of 16
Swap Out: Plastic Toothbrushes
Here's some dirt: over 850 million toothbrushes are discarded and sent to landfills annually. Because they are made of a combination of plastic, rubber, and nylon, they are unable to biodegrade, and release harmful chemicals if burned. Thanks to special programs like TerraCycle, some toothbrushes can be recycled, however only 1 in 20 people will end up doing so.
Photography: Courtesy of Brush with Bamboo10 of 16
Swap In: Bamboo Toothbrushes
Brush with Bamboo’s toothbrushes are plant-based from the inside out. The bristles are made from castor bean oil, and the wrapper, box, and handle are either compost-friendly or biodegradable. Plus, the brush handles are sourced from wild, sustainably grown bamboo which also happens to be the fastest growing plant on earth.
$20 set of 4, brushwithbamboo.com
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Photography: Frank P wartenberg / Getty Images11 of 16
Swap Out: Plastic Shaving Razors
Toothbrushes aren’t the only plastic waste culprits (we told you plastic was everywhere!). According to the EPA, an estimated 2 billion razors are tossed out every year. Though the handles are plastic and the blades are metal, neither can be recycled separately, as they are too small (it’s not recommended you dismantle your razors at home for safety reasons.)
Photography: Courtesy of Life Without Plastic12 of 16
Swap In: Safety Razors
Splurge on a stainless steel alternative. Remember while you're spending a bit more upfront, you’re saving a nice chunk of change in the long run (the average 4-pack of women’s disposable razors costs anywhere from $5-$10). Plus, these are longer-lasting, and since the blades can easily be removed from the razor when needed, they can be saved and recycled by the batch at many local recycling centers.
Photography: Oppenheim Bernhard / Getty Images13 of 16
Swap Out: Disposable Cotton Rounds
Unless you’re using organic cotton products in the bathroom, it’s likely your disposable cotton balls, wipes, and rounds aren’t the most eco-friendly. In comparison, organic cotton is minimally processed omitting the use of pesticides during harvesting and minimizing the amount of water used to harvest.
Photography: Courtesy of Juniperseed Mercantile14 of 16
Swap In: Reusable Organic Cotton Rounds
We know this might sound a little strange at first, but consider swapping your cotton wipes for reusable alternatives, like these from Juniperseed. Use them the same way you would use disposable ones -- perfect for removing makeup, applying toner, and even softer and more sensitive on your skin (don’t you deserve the best?) When you’re ready to wash them, the rounds can be tossed in the laundry with your other towels.
$24 for pack of 12, packagefreeshop.com
Photography: Sarah Ashun / Getty Images15 of 16
Swap Out: Bottled Shampoos
If you're looking to go even further in your zero waste journey (go you!), here's a challenge: vow to ban bottles in the bathroom. While many bath products, from shampoos and conditioners to lotions and soaps, come in bottles that can be recycled, this recycling process can still be incredibly taxing on the environment.
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Photography: Courtesy of Lush Cosmetics16 of 16
Swap In: Shampoo Bars
Lather your locks and leave packaging behind with Lush’s natural shampoo bars. Ingredients include lemon oil for shine, sea salt for body, and seaweed for softness, and each bar lasts about 80 washes. They’re perfect for traveling (bye-bye surprise spills!). And just like your favorite bottled shampoos, these bars come catering to a variety of hair types. To use, simply lather in your hand, as you would a bar of soap, or directly onto your hair until sudsy then wash, rinse, and repeat.
$11.95 each, lushusa.com