8 Simple Single-use Plastic Swaps

For many of us, going completely plastic-free feels overwhelming and impossible. But particularly when you’re starting out, achieving small changes in habit are the thing you need to stay motivated.

Yes, the examples below are really just the tip of a very big iceberg, and there’s a long way further to go to live a low waste life. But if you’re looking for a place to start, here are some easy swaps for common single-use plastic items you’ll barely miss. 

Plastic produce bags

With the best intentions, it’s all too easy to forget our reusable produce bags when getting the groceries. But once it’s your default setting to keep produce bags with the reusable shopping bags, you can cut plastic produce bags out of your life. Search ‘reusable produce bags’ for options. Or if you don’t fancy buying more stuff, you could also make some from durable, lightweight fabric threaded at the top closure with shoelaces or ribbons.

Single use coffee pods

Nespresso admits that 71% of its pods end up in landfill, with 2018 figures suggesting that 56 million coffee pods were produced that year alone. This also sends coffee grounds that could be composted into landfill. Consider other ways to caffeinate, that produce far less waste. Some local roasters like Kokako in New Zealand and Bun Coffee in Australia sell excellent organic, fairtrade coffee in home compostable bags.

Tea pyramids

What pods are to coffee, ‘silk’ pyramids (usually plastic) are to our other favourite cuppa. Most traditional paper teabags also use a thermoplastic in the heat sealing process, such as polypropylene or plant-based polylactic acid. Consider using loose leaf tea, and make a ritual out of your morning cup. Although we get that the humble teabag is a simple wonder of modern convenience – so if you can’t do without, seek those without individual packs, strings or tags, and put just the tea leaves into your compost when you’re done.

Takeaway utensils

In a perfect zero waste world, we wouldn’t use takeaway containers either. But it’s usually easier to refuse the cutlery than the container itself, although it does take some organising. Pop a set in your bag from your cutlery drawer, buy a special set in its own container or forage for some at your local charity shop. Bonus: nori wrapped sushi is best eaten with fingers anyway.

Bottled water

Hundreds of billions of single use plastic water bottles end up in landfill each year. Gulp. And while it’s no better for you (in fact it may be worse, due to chemicals leaching into the water from the plastic) it’s definitely far more expensive. All you need for this swap is an aluminium or glass bottle and some tap water. If you run out while you’re on the run, many cafes are happy to refill it for you.

Takeaway coffee cups

One takeaway coffee every workday adds up to around 260 single-use coffee cups (and lids) headed for landfill each year. And with so many beautifully designed reusable cups, you can enjoy your treat even more. Some cafes will even incentivise BYOing your coffee cup with a discount. Again Again is a cup lending system that’s useful for those of us who forget our reusable cup sometimes. Pay a small bond on the cup and lid, and get it back when you return the cup to a café within the system.  

Non-refillable plastic bottles

Look almost anywhere in your house and you’re likely to find plastic bottles. We’re constantly working on solutions to single use plastics: like the ecostore aluminium Refill Bottle that can be topped up at one of our 90+ Refill Stations. Or our plastic free, solid Haircare Bars. We’re also improving our mix of packaging materials, and have even begun remaking new ecostore bottles from old ones.

Dryer sheets

Dryer sheets are small pieces of (usually polyester) fabric, coated in softeners and fragrances, which help to reduce static cling when you use the dryer. While these aren’t widely used in New Zealand, they’re worth a mention as they’re an easy thing to go without. As well as being disposable and made from synthetic materials, dryer sheets are full of chemicals like benzyl alcohol, chloroform and pentane. Instead, choose a laundry detergent and fabric softener combo with a fragrance derived from essential oils, and hang clothes outdoors when it’s fine – they’ll smell like fresh air and sunshine!

Further reading: