By Natalia Hook
We’ve all heard “reuse, reduce, recycle,” right? Most of us have gotten on board with recycling, but too many of us have stalled there. If you’re looking for ways to kick-start an eco-friendly lifestyle, there are plenty of products that can help. I know what you’re thinking… “How is buying more products an environmentally-friendly choice?” Well, it’s all about the products you choose.
In many cases, buying one or two sustainable items means not buying a bunch of disposables. That’s a big deal when you’re trying to figure out how to make your home more environmentally-friendly. Reusable grocery bags, travel cups, and water bottles are a great start, but there are many more things you can do to go green and get even greener! These seven products can help you on your way to an eco-friendly home for very little money, and even less time.
Recycling plastic bottles is good. Know what’s even better? Not buying them in the first place. Give soda bottles the boot with your own home carbonating system. No electricity is needed with the basic SodaStream unit, just a CO2 canister, which can be returned to most retailers for a discount on your next refill. The electric unit, SodaStream Power, has three carbonation settings. Want flavored soda? No problem! There are dozens of flavored syrups, including diet and natural options. Alternatively, squeeze a lemon or lime in your glass, or add a sweet fruit juice.
Basic units cost about $50-$70, but the Power unit is fancier and pricier. Canisters run about $15 before the return discount. Each canister makes about 40 liters of seltzer — all in that one reusable bottle.
In a year or less, a SodaStream unit can pay for itself with the money you’ll potentially save on carbonated drinks. Plus, say goodbye to heavy cartons and bottles on grocery day. Between the two of us, my husband and I drink between one and two liters of seltzer every day. The SodaStream saves over 500 plastic bottles per year in our household alone!
2. Shampoo and Soap Bars
It used to be that almost all soap came in bars with just a few options in pump bottles. Now it’s the opposite. However, keep in mind that although bottled soap is convenient, it’s not nearly as eco-friendly as bar soap.
Bar soap is usually packaged in recyclable/biodegradable cardboard or paper, or in a small amount of plastic cellophane. Pump soap is packaged in a big ol’ plastic bottle, or at best, a less impactful refill bag. Even if you recycle the plastic containers, the environmental impact of their recycling and manufacturing process is much greater than that of a small paper or cardboard wrapper.
Beauty mavens, don’t despair! Bar soap has come a long way and made with quality ingredients by dozens of companies, like Kiss My Face, Plant Apothecary, Desert Essence, South of France, and Lush. Not only are you getting eco-friendly packaging, but the products themselves can be safer for you and the environment. Another great idea is to explore the world of small batch handmade products on Etsy. Organic goes artisanal with essential oils and herbal infusions. Heavenly!
Shampoo bars are quickly gaining popularity as they become more mainstream. The specific needs of fine, coarse, kinky, curly, oily, or dry hair can be met with a shampoo bar. Check out Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Co., Lush, Beauty & the Bees, and Etsy sellers. Mass-produced liquid shampoo is full of preservatives and chemicals, but shampoo bars are full of natural oils and good smells. And guys, take note: Beards are getting in on the action too! Try Professor Fuzzworthy’s beard shampoo bars.
Want an extra bonus when buying green products from an eco-responsible company or seller? Chances are they’re cruelty-free too, so you won’t be supporting animal testing either.
3. Cloth Napkins and Towels
Ditching paper napkins and towels seems impossible, doesn’t it? A quick meal or cleanup is so much more convenient with paper goods. What would we do without them?
How about using cloth napkins and towels instead? You’re probably already using dishtowels in your kitchen. When they start getting shabby, put them aside in a rag drawer or bag and use them for everything you would use a paper towel for — wiping the counter, mopping up spills, cleaning the stove top, etc. Once you get in the habit, you’ll wonder why you ever used paper towels.
Using cloth napkins every day may feel overly formal, especially at casual family meals, but it will save a lot of paper napkins. For a low-key vibe, keep an attractive basket of casual patterned cloth napkins on or next to your table so they’re right at hand when you need them. Just throw the dirty ones in your next load of eco-friendly laundry and you’re done.
4. Rechargeable Batteries
Single-use battery recycling is a program that started off slowly and hasn’t yet met its stride. It can be challenging to find options in your area, which means a whole lotta chemical heavy batteries getting thrown in the garbage.
How about using rechargeable batteries? Sure, they cost a little more, but you’re saving money in the long run because you can use them again and again. And a charging station isn’t a costly investment. They only cost about $25.
Be aware that recyclable batteries contain heavy metals, and many states require them to be recycled. Because of this, the recycling programs for rechargeable batteries are much more widespread than those that exist for single-use batteries. Home Depot and Lowe’s both have recycling programs for rechargeable batteries.
Don’t forget that lithium-ion batteries for cameras, smartphones, notebooks, etc., are also recyclable, as are many electronics. Staples, Walmart, and Best Buy all have electronics and appliance recycling programs. Some Walmart branches will even give trade-in values to some electronics.
5. Reusable Lunch Gear
Sandwich baggies and zipper storage bags (like Ziploc) are two extremely disposable components in many lunch bags. Every day, literally millions of plastic bags are thrown away in schools and in the workplace where they’re destined for landfills or incinerators. Choosing reusable, sustainable products instead of plastic baggies can make a huge difference.
There are lots of options: snack pouches, hard plastic containers such as Tupperware, and my personal favorite, Bee’s Wraps. All three are great eco-friendly ideas for school lunches.
Snack and sandwich pouches are made of fabric. Some are cotton, some are nylon, some are lined with water-resistant food-safe PUL (polyurethane laminate) or EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate.) Check out the different options and choose what’s right for you. Even if you opt for something with a plastic or vinyl lining, choosing a reusable pouch will conserve hundreds of bags per year while you reuse the equivalent of a single bag. Brand names include ItzyRitzy and Planet Wise, but homemade or Etsy-purchased pouches will also do just fine.
Reusable snack containers are usually made of plastic as well, but again, one reusable container vs. hundreds of disposable bags is a win for the environment. Lunch containers for soup, pasta, etc. can be plastic or metal. Many snack and lunch containers of both materials are recyclable but they should get plenty of use before that time comes.
If you want to go full-on green with your lunch gear, Bee’s Wrap is a great way to go. These clever cotton sheets are coated with beeswax and jojoba oil, and can be used to wrap sandwiches, snacks, and even cut up fruit. Not only are they great for lunches, but they can also be used as container covers and veggie wraps in your fridge.
Bee’s Wrap uses only organic cotton in their products, which ensures that no pesticides or toxic weed treatments are introduced into the environment. Sustainably sourced beeswax is a natural waterproofing agent and also allows the wrap to be shaped and tightened. Bonus: It supports healthy bee populations, which are vital to agriculture. Gentle handwashing with cool water keeps the wraps in good condition for up to a year of use. When finally worn out, Bee’s Wraps products are 100% biodegradable and compostable. If you’re looking for good ways to help the environment at home, this one should be at the top of your list.
6. Recycled Razors
Stop and think about your razor. Is it disposable? How often do you need to replace it? Is it recyclable? Preserve brand razors are made from 100% recycled (and recyclable) No. 5 plastic — yogurt cups, to be specific. No. 5 plastic isn’t a widely recycled as Nos. 1 and 2, but the Preserve company is working on that. The “Gimme Five” program not only takes back Preserve products for recycling by mail but has also set up hundreds of No. 5 collection bins across the country that are managed by the company.
Preserve’s first product was actually toothbrushes, which the company still produces and recycles today, along with kitchenware and razors. They are also a cruelty-free company. So, made from recycled material, recyclable, and animal-friendly… I’d call that an eco triple play!
7. LED Light Bulbs
LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are truly amazing. They are super efficient, producing 95% light and only 5% heat, and use up to 80% less energy than other types of light bulbs. They last much longer, too — six times longer than compact fluorescent bulbs, and more than 40 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Retailers, including Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and Ikea, also accept LED bulbs for recycling.
Do you have a go-to green product that you’d like to share? Why not bump this article up to a list of eight or even 10 Earth-friendly products? Sharing conservation ideas and eco-friendly lifestyle tips is a great way to keep each other moving towards a greener future!
Images used with permission, courtesy of Natalia Hook