Eco-friendly replacements for 50 plastic items in your life

Written by:
January 26, 2019
Bogdan Sonjachnyj // Shutterstock

Eco-friendly replacements for 50 plastic items in your life

About 300 million tons of plastic are produced from oil each year. Almost half of that is used for single-use packaging, such as plastic wrap on food, containers for personal care items, bottles for cleaning products, and other everyday purchases—including the plastic bags we carry them home in. Worse, only about 9% of all the plastic ever created has been recycled. And things are getting worse, not better: Almost half of all the plastic ever made has been created since 2000, the production of plastic is way up, and recycling alone can't stop the flow of plastic pollution into the world's oceans.

As more statistics come out about the volume of plastic ocean pollution (18 billion pounds annually from coastal regions alone) and the effect that is having on marine life (267 species worldwide have already been adversely affected), people have begun eschewing plastic products for zero-waste, eco-friendly options. Most global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, which has inspired thousands of companies to seek alternatives to plastic items from zero-waste personal care products and kitchen items to office equipment and ethically sourced, sustainable clothing.

Stacker has pored over the research and scoured product reviews and company backgrounds to compile this gallery of 50 easy, eco-friendly replacements for common plastic items in your life. Prices have been provided, and represent the cost for long-term use, except in the case of items that run out, like toothpaste. Those numbers should be compared to an individual's or family's spending on similar, single-use products over time for items such as sandwich bags or disposable razors. Wherever possible, products listed in this gallery represent less expensive options over time to their plastic, disposable counterparts.

In the interest of being most serviceable, Stacker has left two of the most ubiquitous, eco-friendly items—stainless steel drink canteens and reusable shopping bags—off the list in order to make room for items that may be less well-known. Wherever possible, products referenced come in zero-waste, plastic-free packaging, as well.

Continue reading to discover 50 easy alternatives to everyday, plastic items.

ALSO: U.S. metro areas with the worst air pollution

Stainless steel straws

Mason Jar Lifestyle stainless steel straws
$19.95 for four (includes cleaning brush, carrying bag, and plastic-free packaging)

It's nearly impossible to know exactly how many plastic straws Americans go through every day (one estimate puts it at 500 million), but it is known that single-use sippers are wreaking havoc on the planet by creating choking hazards for wildlife and polluting waterways and beaches. It's easy enough to order your next drink sans straw while you're out—and when you're home, a set of stainless steel straws should do the trick.

Safety razor

Albatross double-edged safety razor with 10 free blades

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 2 billion disposable razors are thrown out in the U.S. each year. That's because on average, disposable razors only last about five weeks. Razors with disposable heads create less waste, for sure (and rechargeable razors less than that), but they still come wrapped in plastic packaging, the plastic heads still get thrown out, and rechargeables still require natural resources for their batteries, charging, and proper disposal. Instead of spending around $200 every year on something you throw away, safety razors offer a lifetime return on your investment at a fraction of the cost.

Zero-waste sunblock

All Good Zinc Sun Butter

If it's not enough that the plastic packaging most sunscreen comes in never gets recycled and contributes to the waste in landfills and oceans, the majority of sunblock contains oxybenzone, a chemical that's toxic to reefs. Today, it's easy to find sunscreens derived from natural ingredients that are reef- and skin-safe, with packaging that's equally as harmless.

Stainless steel leftover containers

Mecete stainless steel food storage containers
$26.99 for three

Evidence shows plastic containers leach chemicals into the foods they store (and BPA-free plastic isn't actually any better). These containers also lose their durability over time—which means they're all eventually headed for landfills or recycling centers, where it takes massive amounts of resources to melt down and turn into more plastic. While dumping all your plastic in favor of lifetime-use stainless steel containers may seem counterintuitive to zero-waste lifestyles, as the need arises to replenish your existing containers, there are plenty of non-plastic options that cost more up-front but will never need to be replaced (and won't leach contaminants into the environment).

Fabric produce bags

Naturally Sensible mesh produce bags
$17.75 for five

You may remember to bring your eco-friendly, reusable tote to the grocery store, but what to do about produce? Those plastic bags that hold fresh fruits and vegetables are rarely used more than once. And, while the thin plastic wastes away faster than, say, plastic bottles, they're yet another unnecessary single-use option amidst a growing sea of reusable bags. Cotton produce bags are available in a number of styles and sizes and can be stowed in your fabric shopping bags so you never leave them behind.

Wooden kitchen scrub brush

REDECKER Tampico Fiber Dish Brush with Untreated Beechwood Handle
$11.99 (pack of two replacement heads, $8.95)

Certain kitchen items are such a regular part of how people clean, we often forget the waste they're associated with. Dish scrubbers are no exception: The plastic base and nylon bristles get tossed as soon as the bristles fray. These days, it's easy to find scrub brushes made with sustainable materials like bamboo, and with bristles made of biodegradable items like the tampico plant.

Shampoo and conditioner bars

Silver Falls Sustainability Co. shampoo and conditioner bars
$8.35 for 3.75-ounce shampoo bar (up to 60 washes)
$13.50 for 4.4-ounce conditioner bar (up to 80 washes)   

Half of all Americans don't recycle their personal care items, which results in around 552 million plastic shampoo bottles (among other items) winding up in landfills each year. Shampoo and conditioner bars can help de-clutter shower space, pass easily through airport security, and are usually free of harmful chemicals and dyes.

Beeswax food protectors

Bee's Wrap
$18 for assorted three-pack (lasts up to one year)

Dow Chemical released Saran Wrap in 1949 as an easy way to protect leftover food, and Americans have been using the product in excess ever since. Today, however, as more is known about the effects of plastic leaching into food and the wastefulness of single-use items, there are a number of alternative options for storing food. These include eco-friendly, reusable food protectors made of beeswax that come in a variety of sizes and styles that last up to a year with proper care.

Silicone food bags

Stasher reusable silicone food bag  
$11.99 for 7-inch container

It takes around 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 billion plastic bags Americans go through each year. Of those bags, only 1% are turned in for recycling. While silicone doesn't organically biodegrade, it also doesn't leach harmful chemicals, absorb poisons, or off-gas toxins as it breaks down in nature. And silicone food bags are dishwasher- and microwave- safe—in addition to being reusable for years.

Mason jars

Ball Mason Jar
$13.85 for a set of four 16-ounce jars with lids and bands

Perhaps the most universal of plastic alternatives is the Ball Mason Jar, well-suited for storing dry or wet food, holding hot or cold fluids, canning, and countless other uses. In addition to being able to withstand extreme temperature changes and being much more resistant to breakage than regular glass, there are dozens of different kits to turn these universal items into sippy cups, soap dispensers, baby bottles, cocktail shakers, and more.

Bamboo toothbrush

SimpliGOOD toothbrush
$6.95 for five

Like other plastics, a toothbrush doesn't actually biodegrade. Rather, plastic goes through “abiotic decomposition” by which over time, UV rays cause the plastic to lose its strength, turn brittle, and break apart into smaller and smaller segments that never disappear entirely. That allows things like toothbrushes to become tiny plastic particles that absorb toxins from waterways only to eventually be consumed by other lifeforms (and often, in turn, by humans). You can break the cycle with bamboo toothbrushes, which can compost organically in about six months, leaving nothing behind but soil.

Zero-waste toothpaste

Peppermint toothpaste in glass jar
$30 for 1.5 pounds

The durable packaging we buy our oral care items in (e.g. toothpaste tubes, plastic dental floss containers, plastic toothbrushes themselves) will be littering landfills for hundreds if not thousands of years beyond our lifetimes. Because many of these items are comprised of aluminum, plastic, steel, and even nylon components, recycling them would require separating all these parts first. Alternative options abound; from natural toothpaste in an all-metal tube, bulk toothpaste in reusable glass jars, toothpaste tablets with zero-waste refills, and easy recipes to make your own.

Deodorant bar

Lush Aromaco deodorant bar

The emissions from siloxane, an ingredient prevalent in many personal care products like shampoo and deodorant, cause as much air pollution as cars. That's in addition to a myriad of other toxins commonly found in deodorant, and the plastic packaging we toss as soon as the stick is used up. Natural stick deodorants have been gaining in popularity and are offered in an array of sizes, scents, and price points with none of the harmful chemicals or garbage to throw away.

Stainless steel spork

5ive Star Gear stainless steel spork

One of the greatest contributors to plastic pollution is disposable cutlery; ubiquitous with takeout restaurants, delivery, and office culture. The classic, stainless steel spork offers a permanent alternative to all that mess.

Refillable fountain pen and ink

ZenZoi refillable fountain pen

Parker Quink ink bottle

The EPA estimates that 1.6 billion disposable pens are discarded each year. This scourge has led to renewed interest in old-school, refillable fountain pens and—if the former feels like too much work—refillable ballpoints.

Bamboo speaker

Natural bamboo speaker

Even audiophiles have alternatives to plastic nowadays, with basic sound amplification available from a far more sustainable source. Bamboo and other wood-derived speakers can amplify songs or phone conversations well beyond the strength of a phone's normal speakers without any of the pollution or messy manufacturing.

Glass carafe

Artcome 60 Ounces Glass Iced Tea Pitcher with Stainless Steel Strainer Lid

Next time you brew tea, squeeze fresh juice, or just want to keep fresh water cool in the fridge, there's no need to rely on a plastic pitcher—and no need to buy a single-use bottle of the aforementioned items at the store. Glass carafes are classic kitchen upgrades that don't leach chemicals into what you're drinking, save a lot of money on beverages, and last forever.

Biodegradable natural adhesive bandages

Natural adhesive bandage strips
$10 for 25

It's exceedingly difficult to find zero-waste, plastic-free items for the medicine cabinet. One of the most wasteful culprits is the classic adhesive bandage, which has a more complicated life cycle than one might expect. To reduce waste, look for biodegradable options made of natural products.

Steel compost bin

Utopia stainless steel compost bin

With estimates that food waste accounts for up to 40% of the waste stream, composting is one of the simplest ways to reduce pressure on landfills while also encouraging the healthy creation of soil. A stainless steel compost bin can be set on a counter or under a kitchen sink to hold leftover food until it can be added to a bin or garden outside.

Natural fiber yoga mat

Maji sports jute yoga mat

Most yoga mats are made out of PVC, the world's third-most common synthetic plastic polymer.  That has led to an increasing number of yoga mat manufacturers to leave the plastic compounds with natural-fiber mats and those made out of recycled materials.

Plant-based dog poop bags

Onya compostable dog waste bags
$9.45 for a pouch with 30 bags ($6.95 for 30-bag refill)

Walking the dog is all part of pet ownership, as are the plastic bags required to clean up the mess. Biodegradable dog poop bags are designed to break down quickly, allowing Rover's refuse to do the same.

Compostable cell phone case

Pela iPhone case

The average person keeps his or her cell phone for 18 to 24 months while the cases that cover phones are made of non-renewable resources built to last for hundreds of years or more. Compostable cases will protect phones from dings and breaks and are made out of plant-based “flaxstic,” starch-based polymer and flax straw waste.

Natural dental floss

Georganics natural charcoal floss

Dental floss is commonly made of Teflon or nylon and sold in a hard plastic case. But these days, it's possible to find natural flosses made of sustainable materials like bamboo charcoal fiber and wrapped in compostable packaging.

Reusable bulk food bags

Onya reusable bulk bag set
$39.95 for three, plus carry case

Bulk foods have become mainstream in supermarkets across the U.S., helping to avoid much of the plastic packaging so prevalent in America's grocery stores. Still, it's not exactly convenient to haul an excess of jars and other containers along to go shopping. Reusable bulk food bags come with their weight printed right on them and have space to fill in item codes.

Stainless steel dry food containers

Estilo stainless steel brushed food containers
$19.79 for four

Buying food in bulk comes with the added responsibility of figuring out how to store it. Stainless steel containers will keep liquid and pests out and plastic-free freshness in.

Natural exfoliators

Bee You Organics body scrub

Microbeads—tiny plastic particles found in a number of personal care items—caused quite a stir once consumers realized what they were doing to waterways. That led to a 2018 ban on microbeads, with natural health products and non-prescription drugs containing microbeads banned in 2019. As an alternative, there is a plethora of DIY recipes and new product lines offering body brushes and other alternative exfoliation options that won't absorb toxins in waterways and poison fish (and, by extension people).

Plastic-free kitchen sponge

Kolo Nature reusable sponge
$15 for one (replaces 12 kitchen sponges)

Kitchen sponges are usually made of two artificial layers: Polyurethane (or other foamed plastic) and polyethylene mesh. Both materials are manufactured to mimic natural products that are just as easy to source, last longer, and can be composted when worn out.

Stainless steel reusable K-cups

Plastic-free, reusable coffee pod
$19.99 for two (with metal spoon)

Keurigs may have reduced coffee waste, but they also got a terrible rap for all the single-use, plastic K-cups they required—the cups already in landfills could wrap around Earth 10 times. This produced a need that many companies have answered: reusable coffee pods. Stainless steel K-cups are safe to use, won't leach chemicals into the hot water, and won't ever have to be replaced.

Wooden sunglasses

Wise Owl Old Blue bamboo sunglasses

Bamboo is a sustainable wood that's also lightweight and tough against the elements. The company making these shades—Blue Owl—also commits to donating 10% of proceeds to the National Resource Defense Council.

Glass spray bottles

Glass spray bottle
$11.98 for two

Consumers can save hundreds of dollars each year on cleaning supplies and keep all that plastic out of trash cans and recycling centers by investing in a few glass spray bottles and making DIY cleaners. For a lid, just pull a sprayer off an empty bottle of cleaner from the pantry. Basic cleaning can be accomplished with white vinegar (and a few drops of your favorite essential oil, if desired), which can be mixed with an array of add-ons for various cleaning tasks like windows, toilet bowls, and countertops.

Glass spice jars

Talented Kitchen glass spice jars
$19.95 for 14

Most spices come in plastic containers or pre-measured glass containers designed to be replaced with every new purchase. Sturdy glass spice jars mean you can shop in bulk with zero packaging to throw away.

Zero-waste dish soap

Pre de Provence bar soap

Popular dish soaps come in plastic containers and are often riddled with harmful dyes, perfumes, and other toxins that can damage the waterways they end up in (not to mention what they can do to human skin). This bar soap has a myriad of uses, including as a gentle cleanser for dishes.

Wooden toilet brush

Plastic-free toilet brush with edge cleaner

Plastic toilet brushes are another item in the catalog of plastic planned obsolescence. These large, cheap plastic items have been found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and do little to enhance the interior design of bathrooms. Wooden toilet brushes offer a more attractive, compostable alternative that you won't mind leaving out in the open.

Laundry strips

Dizolve laundry strips
$35.99 for 160 loads

Laundry soap gets a bad rap for the damage it does to waterways, and the harm its chemicals and dyes can cause to human skin. The bulky, plastic packaging most laundry detergent comes in doesn't do anything for the product's reputation, creating bulk in recycling bins and requiring excessive resources to melt down and recycle (only to be thrown out again). Instead of throwing away the jug you have now, consider refilling it with a DIY laundry soap recipe, laundry paste you mix yourself, or check out a set of laundry strips that require zero effort and leave nothing behind.

Natural lipstick

Dazzle mineral lip color

There's been a surge in eco-friendly lip color, but it often still comes in plastic packaging. Sustainably sourced lip color in tin promises no plastic pollution, and the containers can be reused as travel containers for slivers of shampoo and conditioner bars.

Zero-waste mascara

Vegan zero-waste cake mascara

For the same price as conventional mascara wrapped in un-recyclable plastic comes a zero-waste alternative derived of candelilla wax, castor oil, activated charcoal, and kaolin. Refills are available at a 25% discount, to boot.

Wooden hairbrush

pureGLO bamboo hairbrush

Hairbrushes are most commonly manufactured as unrecyclable plastic derived from virgin materials. Not so with bamboo brushes, made from sustainable wood that's 100% compostable.

Wooden hair comb

Tek comb with wide teeth

Plastic, disposable combs are things of the past. Ashwood combs work in wet or dry conditions and won't damage the structure of your hair while being small enough for travel or handbags.

Stainless steel ice cube tray

RSVP Endurance old-fashioned ice cube tray

Plastic ice cube trays crack, split and break, requiring replacements over the course of a lifetime. Stainless steel won't erode or lose strength over time, offering a forever, plastic-free, and eco-friendly alternative.

Plastic-free feminine hygiene products

Thinx period underwear

Conventional sanitary pads are about 90% plastic, while most tampons come with excessive plastic packaging and applicators. Many companies today offer organic, plastic-free options, including Thinx, which makes underwear to replace disposable feminine hygiene products once and for all.

Compostable garbage bags

Unni compostable garbage bags
$15.95 for 50 13-gallon bags

The lion's share of garbage bags today come from virgin plastic derived from natural resources including oil or natural gas. This material prevents its contents from undergoing decomposition and contributes to the toxic plastic pollution plaguing the planet. Compostable garbage bags are as strong as their plastic counterparts but allow for decomposition. They're also plant-based, so manufacturing them doesn't create the same emissions as traditional garbage bags.

Plastic-free dustpan

Harimi dustpan

Plastic dustpans crack, chip, and create static electricity that can make dust stick, and have to be replaced many times over the course of a lifetime. Swapping them out adds to the waste stream while continually hitting your wallet. Not so with wooden dust pans, like this one by Harimi that's crafted of cardboard and bamboo and will look lovely hanging in your kitchen.

Corn fiber sweeping broom

Traditional sweeping broom

Traditional brooms can do everything plastic brooms can, with none of the waste. Rice straw brooms are lightweight, long-lasting and sturdy enough for everyday sweeping—and will decompose naturally with no chemical residue.

Bamboo clothing hangers

Neaties bamboo hangers
$27.99 for 12

A study of ocean trash in the Gulf of Mexico found plastic hangers floating among other common plastic garbage. That's because when plastic hangers break—as they do so often—they end up in the trash, not the recycling bin. Next time you need to re-up your supply, consider sustainably harvested bamboo hangers that will turn into soil when you're done with them.

Rubber lint brush

Bürstenhaus Redecker lint brush

Most lint brushes are plastic-based and need to be replaced regularly, costing hundreds over the course of a lifetime and adding high volumes of plastic to the waste stream. While a higher up-front investment, rubber lint brushes never need to be replaced and are comprised of natural rubber for the bristles held together by copper to a wooden handle.

Non-toxic stain stick stain stick

Most stain sticks come packaged in plastic and are riddled with toxic chemicals. Instead of creating more plastic mess to be hauled away, there are now alternative options in the form of non-toxic stain sticks free of plastic packaging.

Refillable steel lighter

Zippo chrome lighter

In spite of all we know about plastic waste, global plastic consumption continues to grow. That's due in part to convenient, compulsive purchases at the checkout counter, for things like disposable plastic lighters. These lighters have a shelf life of about an hour's worth of fire. An easy alternative is a Zippo lighter, in production since 1933 and simple to refill.

Compostable plates

World Centric compostable wheat straw plates
$36.49 for 200

Eighty to 85% of all litter in the oceans is plastic, half of which is made up of throw-away, single-use items. For your next picnic or pizza party, consider replenishing your plastic disposable plate supply with the compostable variety.

Biodegradable, non-toxic dishwasher pods

Dropps unscented dishwasher pods
$16 for 64

Popular dishwasher detergents are often abrasive, loaded with phosphates that harm waterways, and packaged in plastic that too often ends up as solid waste or, less frequently, processed through a recycling facility that extensive resources. Non-toxic dishwasher pods are an eco-friendly solution that ship in compostable packaging.

Highlighter pencils

Eco highlighter pencils, jumbo size
$19.99 for six (includes sharpener)

Regular highlighters have a place in most backpacks and homes. But their relatively short shelf life, easily misplaced caps, and questionable ingredients make them inevitable additions to garbage heaps. Not so with highlighter pencils, which won't stain skin and will biodegrade in a backyard garden plot.

Trending Now