Consider these simple eco-friendly replacements to help you live more sustainably.
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using sponge cloth to clean faucet
Credit: Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Whether you actively think about it or not, we interact with paper and plastic almost every day. Unfortunately, common items like plastic cups or paper bags are often tossed out after one use—and don't typically don't get another life cycle. Limiting how much you use (and discard) these items will get you one step closer to living more sustainably—and there's no better time to start than right now.

"The importance of replacing paper and plastic with more eco-friendly options is of paramount importance for [everyone]," says Theresa Choh-Lee, leader at GROHE. "Every year, 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world's oceans, and the pollution of the oceans by plastic waste alone has increased tenfold since 1980. These facts make it unmistakably clear: Our oceans are drowning in plastic waste."

While large-scale solutions are needed, you can do your part at home. To limit your plastic and paper waste, think about the single-use swaps you can make under your own roof—and actively transition to relying on reusable products instead. "There's an impulse in the eco-community to go out and buy all new 'green' stuff in order to be sustainable," says Ashlee Piper, a sustainability expert and the author of Give A Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet ($13.52, amazon.com). "In reality, using what you already have is the most sustainable option available."

Try Washable Cotton Swabs, Rounds, and Tissues

As for where to get started? Piper recommends first reexamining your beauty or personal care routine. Take cotton swabs, for example. "I'm a devotee of swabbing my ears and I've found reusable silicone ear swabs to be a pretty good alternative to disposable ones," Piper says. "If you're a fan of cotton, use entirely paper or natural fiber ones you can compost."

Go a step further by using washable cotton tissues and cotton rounds, including the ones you use to remove makeup, instead of paper iterations that you constantly throw away. "These are items that replace single-use products I was sourcing on at least a monthly basis, and they all created so much waste," says Dominique Side, a sustainability expert and the founder of The Luxury Vegan. "I have reduced my costs and footprint tremendously just by taking inventory of my personal care."

Install an Under-the-Sink Water Filter

"Eliminating single-use plastics from the home is one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably as a household," Choh-Lee says, which is why she recommends taking stock of your home's drinking water source. Instead of buying single-use plastic bottles, consider installing a water filter to eliminate their necessity altogether. This way, you and your family will have access to fresh, filtered water straight from your kitchen sink's faucet. If a professional installation is out of budget, consider stocking up on a pitcher or two that filters your water; refill it as necessary. Then, stock up on reusable water bottles that you can easily clean and use time and time again.

Use Recyclable, Refillable, or Compostable Beauty Products

Instead of using bottled shampoo and conditioner or single-use makeup, try swapping each for zero-package or refillable options. A relatively new addition to the hair category, shampoo and conditioner bars are more eco-friendly; they limit plastic waste and ultimately last longer, since they are typically made without water.

Piper adds that most makeup packaging cannot be recycled at all, since it usually has a mixed material content, like plastic and metal. If you're looking to swap in products that are better for the planet, consider companies that offer refills, so you avoid accumulating compacts and containers that are difficult to dispose of. "I love ĀTHR, Trestique, and Elate for their commitment to ensuring their makeup is refillable, recyclable, cruelty-free, vegan, sustainable, and high-performing," she says. 

Stick to Reusable Microfiber Cloths

Instead of buying roll after roll of paper towels to clean your kitchen and other areas of the home, stock up on and switch to using reusable microfiber cloths. Even Martha swears by these cleaning essentials. During an Instagram Live, Martha noted that she uses reusable bar cloths instead of paper towels—they are her go-to way to clean up. "I learned this from my friends in a Japanese restaurant. The sushi chefs have clean, wet bar clothes," she said. Our founder has kept them stocked in her home ever since. "I just found them at the local Target ($5, target.com) and they were $1 each and I bought every single bar cloth I could find," she said. "I must have 500 of them."

Switch Out Your Plastic Toothbrush for Bamboo

Toothbrushes are another personal care essential that adds to your waste tally. Since dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, Piper suggests "a bamboo compostable toothbrush (they're even starting to make compostable heads for electric toothbrushes, if that's your jam!) and tooth tabs," instead of repurchasing plastic ones (and tubes of toothpaste, while you're at it). "These alone save so much waste from the landfill and are, in my opinion, low-sacrifice swaps," Piper adds.

Preserve Your Food with Beeswax Wraps

For many, cling-wrap and aluminum foil are two go-to materials in the kitchen. Hoping to trade both in for more eco-friendly options? Try beeswax wraps, which are made from organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin and are sustainable; you can wash the wraps in cold water, let them air dry, and reuse them for up to a year. You can even make your own: Test out our Beeswax Wrap how-to. Once the wraps have completed their life cycle, compost them.

Use Refillable Razors 

Purchasing one disposable razor after another is officially a thing of the past, thanks to refillable hair removal tools now on the market. "I've had mine for nearly eight years and am convinced it will outlive me," Piper says of her refillable safety razor (she uses Leaf Shave's three-blade version ($84, leafshave.com). "You'll also save money in the long run, as safety razor blades are inexpensive and spare the landfill the nearly two billion disposable razors and cartridges we toss out each year in the U.S."

Skip the Bouquet and Clip Flowers from Your Garden

Picking up a weekly bouquet from the grocery store might be something you look forward to if you enjoy having fresh florals in your home. This isn't, however, the only way to bring a lush touch to your space. "If you enjoy incorporating nature into your home, while you're outside taking a walk or enjoying your surroundings, grab some bush trimmings [and] blooms that are native to your area and use them in your décor," Side says. "Of course, you can buy fresh flowers from a store, but to avoid the environmental impact of production, packaging, and distribution, be creative."

Not a fan of blooms indoors? Side recommends placing rinsed pebbles or rocks in a glass along with neatly placed branches and a little water for a natural, but non-floral design element.

Pull Out Your Linen Napkins

You can even reduce waste at the dinner table if you make one strategic swap: Instead of reaching for paper napkins, pull out your fabric ones (yes, the ones you only use at holidays!). Simply toss the table linens in the washing machine—make like Martha and add some non-chlorine bleach for extra brightening and stain removal—and dry them afterwards.

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