Updated: Oct 20
Eco-friendly is a greenwashed term companies often use to mislead consumers into believing a company or its products are cleaner or more sustainable than they legitimately are. Unfortunately, knowing the validity of companies is challenging, but you can make better decisions to ensure you're living a more eco-friendly life.
Eco-friendly is defined as something that is not environmentally harmful (1). The Federal Trade Committee (FTC) oversees and regulates the term. A product's packaging must explain why the product is ecologically responsible before allowing eco-friendly labeling (2), but that doesn't mean the company is eco-friendly, which can become quite problematic if you genuinely care about the environment.
One of two things may be going through your mind right now. Either you're already on this journey for the animals, the future you'll leave your children, or some other reason, or you're wondering why an eco-friendly lifestyle is important. It’s honestly quite simple − the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic globally, with more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets (3)! So what can you do to ensure you're not contributing to the Great Garbage Patch, or at least not as significantly? This article will discuss 30 eco-friendly swaps that can lighten your environmental footprint.
1. Get Reusable Shopping Bags (order here)
It's said that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags annually (4), and all eventually end up in the ocean. If it doesn't end up in the ocean, a plastic bag takes about 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill (5). Any plastic bag alternative will work, but most prefer a heavy-duty canvas tote made from synthetic materials such as polyester to ensure its quality and will last a while. If you think you may forget them, leave them in your purse or the car, so they're always available to you when you need them. Linked is the one I use and enjoy.
2. Get Reusable Produce Bags (order here)
On average, Americans use about 365 plastic bags per person per year (6); if just 1 percent of the American population were to switch to reusable plastic bags, that would reduce the number of bags used by over 1.2 billion. Again, any plastic bag alternative will work, but most prefer a mesh bag with drawstrings or a zipper made from organic materials such as organic cotton. If you think you may forget them, again, leave them in your purse or the car so they’re always available to you when you need them.
3. Get Glass Drinking Bottles (order here)
Americans throw away approximately 35 billion water bottles annually (7), and with about 12 percent being recycled, around 8-9 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans yearly, including water bottles (8). Any plastic alternative will work; it doesn't matter if it's glass, stainless steel, or a heavy-duty BPA-free reusable water bottle. Glass is usually a favorite because it doesn't alter the taste of drinks. Additionally, glass bottles help to keep beverages cold, but anything reusable will lighten your environmental footprint. In my home, we reused glass kombucha bottles.
4. Get Glass Tupperware (order here)
Some Tupperware brands can last years, while others can last just a matter of months. Tupperware often gets discolored, cracks, or the famous missing lids. Replace your plastic Tupperware with something more durable; it doesn't matter if it's glass, stainless steel, or a heavy-duty BPA-free Tupperware. Glass or stainless steel are great because they're heavy-duty and last longer. Glass is usually a favorite because it doesn't alter the taste of foods or change colors, but anything reusable and durable will work.
5. Get Silicone Straws (order here)
A study published in 2017 estimated that as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches (9). Any plastic alternative will work, from glass to stainless steel or silicone; they are all great. Silicone is usually a favorite because, like stainless steel, it can be used with hot or cold beverages without intensifying the temperature, yet it is still less fragile than glass. Additionally, there are paper straws, among other options. If you have children, sticking to silicone is best to avoid potential mouth injuries. Check out my blog, The Truth About Plastic Straws, to learn more.
6. Get A Bamboo Toothbrush (order here)
You should change your toothbrush every 2-3 months or after illness to avoid re-infection since viruses and bacteria remain on the bristles (10). In 2020, 495 million non-electric toothbrushes were purchased in the United States, and the majority likely ended up in the ocean (11). Any plastic alternative will work but try to find biodegradable and recyclable options. Bamboo is usually a favorite because it is biodegradable and recyclable without breaking the bank. Linked is the one I use and enjoy.
7. Get A Bamboo Dish Brush (order here)
Changing your sponge every 2-4 weeks is recommended depending on how often it is being used (12), resulting in roughly 400 million sponges being thrown away annually (13). Switch from a traditional sponged to something such as a bamboo dish brush. Realistically, any plastic alternative will work, but a biodegradable and recyclable alternative is recommended, hence the recommendation of bamboo alternatives. Linked is the one I use and enjoy, but I’ve heard great things about Earthley’s Dish Brush.
8. Get Bars of Soap (order here)
Over 1.4 billion plastic body wash bottles are thrown away annually (14). Consider a 3-in-1 bar of plastic-free soap, meaning less waste, typically zero. A 3-in-1 bar of soap typically implies that it can be used as a body wash, shampoo, and facial cleanser. If the lather is great enough, it could also be shaving soap. If bars of soap isn’t your thing, check out my blog, The Truth About Antibacterial Soap, which features a DIY Bar to Liquid Soap recipe. Find an all-natural, toxin-free soap brand, such asEarthley Wellness.
9. Get Glass Soap Dispensers (order here)
In 2017, plastic bottle recycling reached nearly 2.8 billion pounds with a 29.3% recovery rate. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, hand washing seemed to become a new past-time, with the average home going through 25 single-use bottles of soap in a year (15). A glass soap dispenser is much more eco-friendly, especially when making liquid soap. Any plastic alternative will work, but most find a long-term glass soap dispenser best. No plastic is involved; it's usually made with heavy-duty materials and is easy to clean and reuse. Linked are the ones I use and enjoy.
10. Get Reusable Storage Bags (order here)
The average United States family uses 500 Ziploc bags annually, resulting in nearly 60 million Ziploc bags used annually in the United States alone (16). Of course, these all end up in our landfills or the ocean. Find a more eco-friendly alternative, any non-plastic choice will work, but most find reusable storage bags a better long-term alternative to throwing away a bag after each use. Find a BPA-free alternative, usually made from silicone, for a long-lasting, heavy-duty material to ensure it's both eco-friendly and toxin-free.
11. Get a Reusable K-Cup Filter (order here)
Single-serve coffee pods, the most wasteful form of coffee (17), accounted for 13 billion K-Cups being thrown away and in landfills in 2014 (18). Make the switch to a reusable K-Cup filter. Any plastic alternative will work, but most find reusable K-Cup filters a better long-term alternative than throwing away plastic pods after each use. Be sure to find BPA-free options, usually made from a hard, durable material with a stainless steel inner mesh filter.
12. Get Skin Care Products in Glass (order here)
In 2020, the skincare industry in the United States had a revenue of approximately $17.6 billion (19). Statistics show that 37.89 percent of Americans used at least one suntan/sunscreen/sunless tanning product on their face. Additionally, 10.22 percent of Americans used four or more (20). Everyone has a skincare routine, and these products come in plastic bottles that usually aren’t BPA-free. Make the switch to skincare products that come in glass containers instead. Find all-natural, toxin-free skin care, such as Earthley's Botanical Skincare Line.
13. Stop Buying Laundry Detergent in Bottles
About 1 billion laundry detergent bottles are thrown away annually in the United States (21). Laundry detergents are typically filled with toxins that end up in the ocean, affecting aquamarine life. Check out my blog, The Truth About Laundry Detergent, to learn more. Switch to an all-natural, eco-friendly laundry detergent in biodegradable or recyclable packaging. Try an all-natural, toxin-free alternative like Earthley's Laundry Detergent, which I use. I love it because it comes in a resealable paper bag that's biodegradable and recyclable.
14. Stop Buying Disposable Razors and Blades
About 2 billion disposable razors and blades are thrown away annually in the United States (22). Additionally, razor blades have moisture strips brimming with toxins such as Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) and Aluminum Salts, which end up in our oceans, causing toxicity to aquatic life. Consider switching to either a safety razor or an electric razor to cut down on plastic waste and toxins. Try a toxin-free safety razor such as the Leaf Razor by Leaf Shave, and check out my blog, My Review of The Leaf Razor By Leaf Shave.
15. Get Shaving Soap (order here)
With about 2 billion disposable razors and blades thrown away annually, imagine how many cans of shaving cream must get thrown away in the United States. Like the moisture strips on razors, shaving cream brimming with toxins such as triethanolamine, Laureth-23, and fragrances, ends up in the ocean again. Instead of shaving cream in an aerosol can switch to a non-toxic, eco-friendly shaving soap such as Earthley's Nourishing Shave Soap, which is what I use.
16. Get Tooth Powder (order here)
About 400 million toothpaste tubes are thrown away annually in the United States and at least 1.5 billion globally (23). Additionally, most of the fluoride in toothpaste that you ingest penetrates your bloodstream through your digestive tract and remains in your body due to accumulation in your bones and teeth, resulting in many adverse health effects (24). Consider trying an all-natural, toxin-free alternative like Earthley's Remineralizing Tooth Powder, which comes in a jar that can easily be reused or recycled.
17. Get Reusable Feminine Care Products (order here)
Women have monthly cycles, and with that comes the disposal of many feminine care products; in the United States, approximately 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are disposed of annually (25). No wonder the global value of the feminine hygiene market was 35.4 billion dollars in 2016. These products are also brimming with toxins, which I discussed in my blog, The Truth About Feminine Care Products. Instead of contributing to that, try switching to cloth pads or reusable cups; these alternatives are said even to help improve painful cramps, plus it's chemical and toxin-free.
18. Get Plastic-Free Hair Accessories (order here)
If you have long or thick hair, you probably know that hair accessories break easily, resulting in excessive amounts of plastic thrown away. That's, of course, if you're lucky not to lose half the pack in the first week. Unfortunately, typical hair ties take about 500 years to decompose (26). Instead of throwing away your money and contributing to the plastic waste, switch to an all-cotton hair accessory that will last, that's plastic-free and is better for the overall health of your hair. Linked are the ones I use.
19. Get Cast Iron Cookware (order here)
Teflon is filled with toxins, plus it releases resins and perfluorochemicals (PFOA) when heated to higher temperatures, which has been linked to thyroid disease (27), chronic kidney disease (28), certain cancers (29), subfecundity (30), effects on fetal growth (31) and more. If it's doing that to our bodies, imagine what it's doing to the environment. When this toxin-filled cookware is thrown into our landfills, they contaminate the soil and water, which leads to greater health risk for the general public (32). Switch to something healthier for you and the environment, such as cast iron, stainless steel, or blue diamond cookware.
20. Get Bamboo Cooking Utensils (order here)
Plastic cooking utensils tend to melt from the high temperatures while cooking, resulting in getting thrown away sooner than we desire. Cooking utensils typically have a five-year lifespan in the house (33) but hundreds of years until it decomposes after being disposed of (34). Instead of potentially getting melted plastic in your food plus contributing to the toxins in our landfills, invest in metal or bamboo cooking utensils; I prefer bamboo, which only takes five to ten years to decompose entirely (35).
21. Get Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays (order here)
Plastic ice cube trays may contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in the plastic containers of many common foods and beverages. This chemical has been linked to problems with reproduction. It increases the future breast and prostate cancer risk in a developing fetus, infertility, heart disease, asthma, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (36). Additionally, plastic ice cube trays eventually wear down, break, and then get thrown away, but stainless steel trays last forever. They are a little more expensive, but you’ll never have to buy a new one or have the guilt of contributing to the Great Garbage Patch.
22. Stop Buying OTC Medications
Think about it; you have a pill for constipation, another for diarrhea, another for headaches, another for cramps, another for heartburn, and 20 more for different ailments, all with a shelf life of about four to five years each (37). In 2015 about 740 tons of medications were thrown away by nursing homes alone (38), with an estimated 2.8 billion dollars of thrown-away drugs annually in the United States (39). That's a lot of plastic when natural remedies such as Earthley Wellness or MaryRuth's usually come in glass that can be reused.
23. Stop Buying Mainstream Cleaning Products
Everyday ready-to-use (RTU) household cleaning products, mainly consisting of water with toxic, active ingredients, are a significant factor in plastic waste (40). Everyone owns cleaning products, but most come in plastic bottles in the Great Garbage Patch. Since most of these bottles are filled initially with toxins that don't quite get entirely emptied, these toxins end up on our soil, air, and ocean. Instead, try buying products that come in glass or buy a cleaning concentrate, like Earthley's Cleaning Spray Concentrate. You could also check out my blog, 10 Swaps Towards Toxin-Free Cleaning, for several DIY recipes.
24. Stop Buying Microfiber Towels
Microfiber towels may feel like cloth, but they’re made from plastic, making them non-sustainable with plastic that eventually ends up in the ocean. Microfibers are the most dominant type of microplastic (plastic pieces less than 5 mm in diameter) encountered in the environment (41). Additionally, the inhalation of plastic microfibers may cause inflammation and potentially lead to health effects, including reproductive problems, cancer, and DNA damage (42). Instead of using microfiber, try organic cotton towels or other organic materials.
25. Get Biodegradable Q-Tips (order here)
With 25.5 billion Q-tips produced each year (43), the fact that Qtips are not recyclable (44) and not compostable, it's safe to say they're significantly contributing to the Great Garbage Patch. Instead of buying the regular Q-tips, which you can find in the store made typically of plastic and cotton, switch to a zero-waste, biodegradable bamboo cotton swab made out of organic buds without plastic to downsize your environmental footprint, which only takes four to five years to decompose.
26. Get Bamboo Bandage Strips (order here)
In 2019, the Band-Aid brand sold roughly 42.1 million first-aid tape/bandage products in the United States. Contrarily, the 3M Nexcare Tegaderm brand sold 1.2 million, but that's nothing compared to the 113.6 million private label brands (45). Even though bandaids are physically small, it is estimated that 2,300 tons of bandaids are thrown into American landfills annually (46). Instead of buying plastic bandaids, try bamboo bandage strips since they're hypoallergenic, free from plastic, and great for even the most sensitive skin with a much more eco-friendly concept.
27. Get an Egyptian Loofah (order here)
Loofahs should be replaced every three to four weeks to avoid the buildup of fungal organisms that lead to skin infections (47). Plastic loofahs would account for nearly 4 billion loofahs thrown away annually if every American adequately disposed of their loofahs throughout the year every four weeks. It would take hundreds of years until it decomposes. Instead, try an Egyptian loofah made from biodegradable plant materials, which are exceptionally sustainable and less likely to build up fungi and bacteria.
28. Stop Buying Paper Plates
Some people hate doing dishes, and who can blame them? Usually, this leads to people buying disposable plastic or paper plates that are toxin-filled and leach into their food. In 2019, 219.73 million Americans used disposable cups and plates (48), and 64 billion paper cups and plates were thrown away annually (49). Of course, if the paper plates have no food residue or contamination, they can be recycled, but that's few and far between. Although they are biodegradable, they're also quite harmful to the environment and take roughly 180 days to decompose, so they may be best to use in compost (50).
To learn more about composting and other ways to be more earth-friendly, download Earthley’s free downloadable guide, Simplify Natural Living, which I co-wrote and designed. Instead, especially if you don't compost, try something like disposable bamboo plates that are a little more eco-friendly.
29. Get Bamboo Floss Sticks (order here)
These days, floss sticks have become quite popular–they’re convenient and easier to use than regular floss. Still, they’re usually made from hard plastic and cannot be recycled due to their mixed-material nature (51). Floss made from waxed nylon can take over 200 years to decompose (52). Regular boxed floss can take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to break down (53). All flossing products will likely end up in the oceans or landfills, so instead, switch to biodegradable floss sticks that only take five to ten years to decompose entirely, probably less because of their small size.
30. Get Biodegradable Trash Bags (order here)
The average American household uses 100 trash bags, resulting in 12 billion trash bags used annually in the United States (54). Not to mention that a plastic bag takes about 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill; garbage bags are typically scented with pretty fragrances that are toxic to your health; these end up in our landfills, causing unnecessary air pollution and dangers to aquamarine life. Check out my blog, The Truth About Fragrances, to learn more about their many risks. Switch to fragrance-free, biodegradable trash bags; your health and the environment will thank you.