While I’ve been passionate about reducing my environmental impact since I was a child growing up in drought-ridden Southern California, I’ve had a laissez-faire attitude toward sustainable swaps in recent years. After all, a single-use plastic bag at the grocery store actually takes less energy to produce than a paper or reusable bag, and my individual actions often seem insignificant when you consider the fact that the richest 1 percent of people on Earth create 15 percent of emissions.
It’s important to remember that no one’s sustainability journey is perfect or complete, but our everyday choices do make a difference. Because while I may picture Jeff Bezos’ phallic rocket when I imagine the global 1 percent, that figure actually includes many middle-class Americans. And those plastic items that seem inconsequential at first glance aren’t biodegradable and eventually turn into microplastics. In other words: your actions, however small, actually matter.
So if you’re ready to do a little more on your part to reduce your ecological footprint, there’s no better time than the present. Changing out single-use plastic items for the swaps on this list is an easy and accessible place to start. Here are some tips for incorporating sustainable items into your own home and kitchen routine.
Use What You Have
It’s a little counterintuitive to buy a ton of reusables only to toss out whatever disposables you already have. When I buy a reusable product, I like to wean myself off the plastic or single-use version I already have slowly. That way, it doesn’t feel like one sudden lifestyle change.
Think About What You Use Most
The reusable swaps that will have the biggest impact are the items that you use every day. Are you always packing sandwiches in plastic zip-top bags? Try a beeswax-coated wrap instead, which can be used for up to a year before being composted.
Be Realistic And Go Slow
Plastic is so pervasive in our lives that it’s not reasonable (yet) to expect people to go completely without it, so don’t beat yourself up if you forget your cotton produce bag and have to use a plastic one at the grocery store. I find it’s also a bit easier to slowly incorporate lifestyle changes one or two at a time, so the small amount of extra effort to use reusables doesn’t feel as overwhelming all at once.
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Some Colorful Reusable Food Wraps
These kitchen and food wraps are made from 100 percent cotton and coated with water-resistant bees wax. The finished product can be used to wrap chunks of cheese, a sandwich, or even errant baked goods you would otherwise toss into a single-use plastic bag. I find that the more I pull out these food wraps, the easier it is to find new uses for them, whether it be using the heat of my hands to seal the wrap onto a bowl of proofing dough or wrapping a loaf of bread before putting it into a picnic basket.
A Ceramics-Inspired Water Bottle
Using an insulated water bottle like this one from S’well is one of the easiest plastic-free swaps that you can incorporate into your daily routine. I particularly like the speckled look of S’Well’s ceramics collection, as it gives off an aesthetic reminiscent of our favorite stoneware pieces, but is durable enough to bounce around in your tote bag.
Keep Your Veggies Crisp
This isn’t a swap per-se, but you can reduce food waste and extend the life of your fresh vegetables with these cotton bags. The bags keep your vegetables and greens damp, but not wet, creating the perfect cool, humid environment that will help your fresh ingredients stay crisp in the fridge.
Keep Cut Fruit and Veggies Fresh
I introduced my family to these silicone food huggers last year, and while they immediately made fun of me and started calling them “fruit condoms,” we use these regularly to save extra halves of lemons, onions, and even sticks of butter (instead of using plastic wrap). And since the food huggers are dishwasher friendly, they take even less effort to use than tearing a piece of disposable cling wrap.
Make Your Own Cold Brew
If you get your daily dose of cold brew from a café or the large format bottles at the grocery store, you can reduce your personal waste (and save money) by making your own cold brew at home. We like this cold brew coffee maker from Takeya because it’s super easy to use, and the ergonomic handle helps reduce slips and spills.
A Big Chunk of Soap
Just as bars of soap and shampoo can help you reduce plastic waste in your bathroom, a large block of soap in your kitchen can lessen waste from dish and hand soap. This Marseillaise-inspired soap block is made with all-natural olive and coconut oils plus an essential oil blend that gives it a relaxing, clean scent. Keep it in a small dish by your kitchen sink for any cleaning tasks that may arise, without worrying about constantly throwing out plastic waste.
A Traditional Dishwashing Set
This set from Andrée Jardin comes with everything you need to hit reset on your dishwashing routine while minimizing plastic use. The water-resistant beechwood dish brush is perfect for scrubbing your beloved enameled cast iron or more delicate non-stick pans, while the copper scrubber is best suited for tackling stuck-on messes. It all comes in an adorable box set, so this item would also make a great housewarming gift for any fellow sustainability aficionados.
Or You Could Go The Japanese Tawashi Route
These Japanese Tawashi scrubbers are a fan favorite among sustainability enthusiasts and home cooks. The tightly bound palm fibers are tough on grease, but gentle on pans and plates.
Some Stout, Sealing Jars
If you want to cut down on your plastic container use, use glass jars for food storage. These short jars have vacuum seals to keep your dry and perishable items fresh for as long as possible.
Because Paper Straws Fall Apart
These straws are made from food-grade electro-plated stainless steel, so they can stand up to all your everyday tasks — like serving ice-cold cocktails and stirring your morning dose of cold brew. Keep one in your bag, and you’ll save yourself from using a plastic straw or experiencing the wet-paper-towel feeling of a paper straw disintegrating in your mouth.
Get Some Reusable Napkins
The benefits of having some reusable napkins on hand at your home are twofold: you reduce waste from regular paper napkins, and your houseguests will think you’re extra hospitable for having dedicated cloth napkins at your dinner table. We like these fun tie-dye napkins that are made from reclaimed denim, which means they’re sustainable and ultra-soft to the touch.
And Don’t Forget Reusable Snack Bag
I love Porter’s reusable silicone bags for bringing around all sorts of goods, whether it be fresh ingredients I plan on finishing and serving at a friend’s house or snacks for a lowkey park hang. This starter pack comes with five bags, so you can retire your single-use plastic bags and use these to create some order in your fridge.
When You Truly Cannot Do Dishes
As much as I love my reusables, the last thing I want to do after hosting a large dinner party is wash a mountain of dishes. Thankfully, these nine-inch plates absolve me of my guilt, since they’re made with upcycled plant-based materials and are compostable once used.
Because You’ll Need To Wash Your Reusables
Many paper products in your home can be swapped with cotton or other fabric reusables, but that also means you’ll have more items to toss into your wash each week. I’ve swapped out my dryer sheets for these cute wool balls. They can actually cut down on your drying time, and the tumbling balls help fluff up items like dish towels or table linens.
Say Goodbye To Single Use Popcorn Bags
I bought a bulk bag of popcorn a few months ago because it creates less waste than the standard microwave popcorn bags, but I hadn’t found an easy way to pop all the kernels until I discovered W&P’s popper bowl. Simply toss in kernels and a little bit of oil or butter, then cook in the microwave for about two minutes for perfectly popped movie snacks at home. The best part is that the bowl easily collapses for storage — one reviewer even said she brings the bowl in her bag to the movie theater to divvy up theater popcorn with her husband.
Ditch Plastic Produce Bags
These reusable produce bags replace the plastic or compostable ones from your local grocery store. You could also use them to transport items you buy in bulk from your local co-op or farmer’s market, like dried oats or a loaf of bread.
Find A Swedish Dishcloth That Suits Your Taste
You can find these reusable Swedish dishcloths in just about any pattern and color, and they can be used for all sorts of cleaning jobs around your kitchen. I love the food-inspired patterns from Three Bluebirds, which include this botanical collection of herbs, glasses of coffee, mushrooms, and summery strawberries.
Replace Your Paper Towels
When you replace your paper towels with these reusable 100% cotton cloths, you not only reduce paper waste, but you also eliminate plastic paper towel packaging from your ecological footprint.
Make Your Meal Prep More Sustainable (And Fun!)
It’s tempting to pick up a plastic bento box or Tupperware for transporting your workweek meals or on-the-go lunches, but these glass and bamboo containers will look and feel much nicer (in addition to being plastic-free).
Clean Up Your Cleaning Routine
If you’re searching for a place to easily make some plastic-free swaps, look no further than your cleaning supplies. Many common household cleaning items are heavily diluted with water, which generates more emissions from shipping as well as plastic waste. The cleaning products from Cleancult are highly concentrated and can be used to fill their reusable glass containers that look fun on your countertops. When it’s time for refills, the concentrate comes packaged in recyclable paper cartons to further reduce waste.
Or A Simple Plastic Free Swap
If you’re not ready to commit to an entire home cleaning system yet, maybe just try swapping your disposable soap dispenser for this apothecary-style glass pair.