12 Easy Swaps to Begin Your Sustainable Living Journey
Although I’ve been conscious, for a while now, of common sustainable practices and the impact that plastic and synthetically manufactured goods have on the environment, I have to admit that I’m still fairly green to sustainable living as a lifestyle. To be honest, my newness is one of the reasons why I decided to blog about my journey. I want to share my authentic experience with other newbies out there, as well as folks that might not be aware of the sustainable movement yet. One of the first things I’ve learned is that it’s been easier to begin than I originally thought.
The only prerequisites for this lifestyle is time, awareness and preparation. Although it requires time to research products and processes (in order to answer important questions that we, as consumers, should be asking about every item we purchase), and time to make preparations in order stick to our goal of minimizing waste and decreasing the environmental impact, the rewards far outweigh the costs. Prior to making my first trades, I had a few preconceived notions. I thought that this lifestyle was financially costly and that many natural products wouldn’t perform as well as their synthetically derived counterparts. I was partially wrong about both notions.
My honest opinion so far is that, yes, there are some natural products that do not perform well, but after trial and error, I have found wonderful sustainable products that are highly functional and just as effective as top-rated, non-sustainable, products. Additionally, I’ve found that a low-waste lifestyle is not only about the products we purchase, but also the processes we adopt. It is true that this lifestyle can be financially costly, but only if we constantly buy new. I’ve found that in many instances, it’s possible (even preferred) to borrow, trade, mend, repurpose, or thrift before purchasing new, which ends up saving a lot of money from the start. While the upfront price tag of some of the products can be more expensive than plastic and disposable options, if we look for opportunities to reuse and refill, we can ultimately save money over extended periods of time.
The rewards that I have found, so far in my low-waste journey, are the following: money saved in the long-run, decreased plastic waste, decreased negative environmental impact, personally more aware and educated consumer, greater respect for our earth, and more aware of the resources that are naturally abundant. As I continue on my journey and gain more knowledge and experience, I plan to update this list.
I would like to share with you the first 12 items I’ve easily traded out for sustainable choices. Some are commonly known and others might be new to you. I’ve consciously made these trades based on how frequently I use these common household items, their environmental impact through the product’s life-cycle (i.e. manufacturing process, period of use, decomposition process, etc), financial cost, performance, lifespan of product, and how convenient it is to acquire, use, and replace. Check it out!
I’ve replaced the single-use plastic produce bags, provided at the grocery store, with these mesh produce bags. I haven’t had any trouble at my local market during check-out, and I’m able to store produce in these bags in my fridge. However, I do need to consume the tender fruits and veggies quickly because they will wilt if left in this breathable bag for too long. I have found that I can extend the life of the produce by a day or two by wrapping the produce in a damp paper towel (that I compost after using) or a damp sheet of organic cotton fabric. Another way to extend the life of the produce, without single use plastic bags, is to store it in a bowl or jar with an air-tight lid or beeswax wrap cover to slow the oxidation process. Produce bags can be found online here, or locally in Salt Lake City, here.
Replacing plastic grocery bags with reusable bags has been a mainstream practice for quite a while, yet there are still so many people that use single-use plastic bags for their grocery hauls. If you find yourself forgetting your re-bags, I encourage you to opt for paper instead of plastic. Paper breaks down in landfills, plastic does not, and is extremely harmful to the environment. If you don’t have re-bags, before purchasing new, you might consider re-using your saved plastic or paper grocery and shopping bags. Or, grab an old tote bag lying around your home. Another way to save money is to thrift for reusable bags and totes. After you’ve exhausted those options and still come up dry, then consider buying new and local. I use a few totes, a bag that folds in on itself to form a small (easily transportable) ball, and basket I picked up at a local farmer’s market. I also found these well-made re-bags that are great options as well.
This is a super trend right now and that’s a good thing! My hope is that it’s making the zero-waste movement more mainstream. This is a super easy swap that replaces plastic straws and ultimately makes a big difference over time. Straws are too small to be recycled so they end up piling up in landfills and filtering into the ocean with all of the other plastic waste that never biodegrades. So, if you often order drinks to-go, then this is a logical swap. The straw is easily transportable and will last forever. Pick one up locally in Salt Lake City here, or online here.
What’s the point in having a reusable straw if you don’t pair it with a reusable cup? Single use coffee cups, styrofoam cups, and plastic cups are arguably more used, and discarded, than single use plastic bags. None of those can be recycled, so switching to a reusable cup has been one my most proud trades. I carry with me a small thermos mug for coffee and tea, and a taller cup for drinks and smoothies on-the-go. I didn’t buy these items new so that I could create this habit, I simply used items I’ve had for years. I’m happy to report that this trade ended up being completely free! Plus, I’ve found a few coffee shops that give me a discount for bringing in my own cup. All I had to do was ask!
I recently made my own reusable Beeswax Food Wraps to replace plastic wrap and bags in the kitchen, and I’m telling you, I can’t go back. This trade has been so easy and I’m saving quite a bit of money! The wraps can be used as a flat cover over bowls, or wrapped around produce to store in the fridge. They can also be folded as snack and sandwich bags for lunches on the go. The wraps are very effective, especially when used with pine resin. Check out my blog post on this sustainable kitchen craft so you can learn how to make your own!
When it was time for me to buy deodorant again, I was hesitant to choose one packaged in plastic. I also haven’t had much luck finding a natural formula at the market that doesn’t wear-off, ball up, flake, or leave residue throughout the day. I also was hesitant to choose a paste that needs to be applied by fingers instead of the common roll-on style. I found this natural deo-paste online that is made in small batches by a fellow sustainable blogger, and since using it, I’ve been so happy with the results! I apply it with my fingers, but because of the natural ingredients, there is no residue or flakiness left on my fingers or in my pits. To be perfectly honest, a pea-sized amount has performed better than any deodorant I’ve ever used. I cannot recommend this trade-out enough. The glass jar is great for travel, and it can be re-used in the future. Shop this fun and effective sustainable option here.
When it was time to get a new toothbrush, I picked up a bamboo brush from Briut Essentials. This is also a big trend right now too, and so far into this switch, I really like it! It’s a different brushing experience than using a plastic toothbrush because the bristles are little softer, but other than that there are no other adjustments. It’s just as effective as any other toothbrush on the market, and it’s been approved by my dentist. I’ve since transitioned my old toothbrush to a house cleaning brush until it’s no longer usable. Most natural grocery stores carry this product, but you can also shop this Briut Bamboo Toothbrush here. This toothbrush is more expensive than plastic brushes, so be sure to use my exclusive code BDC10 to get 10% off.
I picked up some natural and sustainable toothpaste when I acquired the bamboo toothbrush from Briut Essentials. This was my first time trying an activated charcoal toothpaste, and I must admit that I enjoyed this formula. It definitely takes some getting used to, because at first it’s a dry brushing experience and it doesn’t lather the same way typical toothpaste does. It also made my mouth temporarily grey while brushing. Despite those differences, it cleans wonderfully! The minty flavor delightfully improves breath and the charcoal gently polishes teeth and removes stains. Plus the glass jar will be reusable when I finish the product in about 3 months. I’m converted. Although this swap is more expensive than average toothpaste, you can use my exclusive code BDC10 to get 10% off.
9. Safety Razor
After years of being marketed terrible pink disposable razors, I tried using men’s razors. The performance was better but they were still disposable and expensive to replace so frequently. My shaving game has changed since switching to this single blade stainless steel safety razor. It’s very high quality, and the results are excellent. Although it seems dangerous, it’s actually quite safe. The guards on either side of the blade help prevent nasty cuts, and the only adjustment that needs getting used to, is the 90* angle in which the razor should be held. Yes, it’s a men’s facial razor, although, with care, it works wonderfully on the curves of my body. The shave is impeccable. The cost of this reusable razor is equivalent to the upfront cost of one men’s disposable razor - not including the disposable razor heads. And the replaceable, double-sided, blades that are needed for this sustainable option are so affordable. This swap is a no-brainer! This trade has definitely opened my eyes to the marketing scam of the American razor industry. Shop for your reusable safety razor here.
This switch can be done without going to specialty stores, or without paying a ridiculous amount for a bar of hand soap. Although I love to support local crafters, artfully crafted single bar soaps can be expensive and used quickly. So if you are looking to save money, perhaps those purchases should be saved for special occasions. I have found natural bar soaps with paper packaging at chain grocery stores that are priced well, so that has been a very convenient option. Although, beware of paper wrapping that has a plastic lining - those are not recyclable. If you prefer liquid hand and dish soap, then buying a large container of liquid soap and refilling your soap bottles is a very economical and sustainable option, despite the bulk container being plastic. The benefits of this trade is that it can cut out a significant amount plastic, and you don’t need to sacrifice product quality. Check your local grocery store, or find biodegradable Dr. Bronner’s liquid and bar soap online. Local to Salt Lake City, they can be found at this great local bulk market.
Most of the disposable dish scrubbers and sponges on the market are made of plastic that decreases in quality with use, then doesn’t break down in the landfill after it’s discarded. When I used the last of my plastic sponges, I switched to a natural sponge and scrubber alternative. I found success using a small bamboo scrubber and a plant based sponge wrapped in woven twine. This arrangement has lasted quite a while and has been very effective at cleaning dishes - even the tough greasy messes. I found both at my local grocery store, although some high quality options with replaceable brushes can be found here.
12. Wool Dryer Balls
Dryer sheets and scented fabric softener sheets are often made with synthetic fibers that don’t breakdown easily after use, and harsh chemicals that are rough on sensitive skin. A sustainable option, and just as effective, is to use large wool balls. To add scent, I typically add a couple drops of essential oil onto the ball before starting my dryer. This natural fiber is easier on the environment to produce, and decomposes after use, as well. Additionally, it’s a wonderful option for those with skin sensitivity. In the long run the price of wool dryer balls ends up being comparable to how much one might spend on synthetic dryer sheets. Woolen balls can be found locally in Salt Lake City, here, or online here.
As I continue my sustainable living journey, I hope you’ll join me in decreasing our environmental footprint and plastic waste by making sustainable swaps of your own!
What sustainable trade do you plan to make next?