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Reusable cloth towels can be washed and re-rolled just like their paper counterparts. (Photo: Pierce Johnston / Scenic Hudson)

Six Fresh Household Swaps That Cut Packaging Waste

Replacing just a few of your home essentials with reusable alternatives can cut back on plastic pollution at its source.

by Erin Nylen (Saronson)
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We’ve seen the headlines about how much our oceans, ecosystems, and wildlife are suffering as a result of humanity’s packaging waste. By 2050 it’s estimated that, by weight, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish. Here in America, even if you diligently recycle all the bottles and containers you use, there’s a good chance the majority of that material, mostly plastic, is still going into a landfill

But toothpaste needs a tube, right? Not necessarily. In just the past few years, there’s been lots of innovation around zero-waste and reusable products. Now, with some of these emerging alternatives, you can make a few easy swaps in your own home to drastically reduce your packaging and plastic consumption.

While you might already have your reusable water bottle and mesh produce bags ready to go, here are a handful of products you might not know have plastic- or waste-free twins. Not only will you cut the garbage, you’ll also save money in the long run not having to purchase disposable items or containers over and over. Check out these eco-friendlier innovations.

Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

Solid shampoo and conditioner bars can get hair equally clean and hydrated without the need for bottles. (Photo: AnSyvanych / iStock)

Although you can easily refill your bottles of shampoo and conditioner at a local refillery to cut down on waste, you can also cut the bottles out altogether by opting for shampoo and conditioner bars. These do the job of liquid shampoo or conditioner, but come in soap form so you lather them up a bit before applying to your hair.

The process may take some getting used to, but the result is equally clean and hydrated hair. There are a huge variety to choose from, so pick out the scents and styles you like best.

Toothpaste Tabs

More than 1 billion toothpaste tubes end up in landfills every year. You can replace your plastic toothpaste tube with toothpaste tablets. Just chew a tablet, wet your toothbrush, and start brushing. While it may take a little getting used to, you can find a tablet brand with fluoride that foams just like a traditional tube of gel or paste once it’s wet. They’re lightweight for camping and travel, too. 

Toothpaste tabs eliminate the waste of a toothpaste tube. (Photo: Helin Loik-Tomson / iStock)

Laundry Sheets or Paste

According to the Zero Waste Store, 900 million plastic jugs of laundry detergent are thrown away each year, and most don’t get recycled. So ditch the plastic jugs of laundry detergent or plastic bags of detergent pods in favor of laundry sheets or laundry paste. Most sheets are a concentrated detergent held together by thickening agents (each brand has different ingredients to review before buying). These sheets dissolve in the wash cycle, so you just throw one in per load (two for heavily soiled loads) and voila, clean clothes.

Laundry pastes work almost the same way, but you dissolve the paste in a (non-plastic, reusable) container with water at home before using it like traditional detergent. 

Beeswax Wraps

Find yourself putting lettuce and other veggies in a plastic bag in the fridge to keep them nice and crisp? Or wrapping that half-eaten block of cheese in plastic to keep it fresh? Now you’ve got greener options. 

Reusable beeswax wrap can replace plastic wrap for food storage — and when it wears out, it’s usually compostable. (Photo: Liudmila Chernetska / iStock)

Try beeswax wraps for storing cheeses and other partially-eaten foods. These non-plastic solutions are usually made with a piece of cotton fabric coated with beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. They can be cleaned with cool water. Most wraps last for more than a year, saving you money. And they’re typically compostable when they do wear out.

You can also use reusable cotton bags both when you’re shopping for produce (instead of the plastic bags available in the supermarket) and storing veggies in your fridge. Pro tip: Dampening the bag slightly can keep greens crisp for longer, and you can throw the bags in the laundry whenever you want to get them nice and clean. 

Reusable “Paper” Towels

Many of us instinctively reach for a paper towel to wipe up a mess, but instead try reaching for a reusable towel. Swedish dishcloths are a super-absorbent option. But for those who’d still like to pull a towel from a roll, reusable cloth towels are also available on reloadable rolls.

If you’d like the satisfaction of pulling a clean towel from a roll, you’re in luck with attractive launder-and-re-roll options. (Photo: Pierce Johnston / Scenic Hudson)

Most reusable towels can be washed in the dishwasher or with the laundry when they get icky, and you’ll be thwarting deforestation and saving money on single-use paper towels to boot (conservative estimates say at least $100 a year).

Mouthwash Tabs

Mouthwash tablets are a great alternative to plastic bottles of mouthwash. Some you dissolve in water beforehand, and some you chew and mix with water in your mouth before swishing. Like their toothpaste-tab counterparts, mouthwash tabs are a great way to cut down on plastic waste, and are also convenient for camping and travel. 

Feeling inspired? Check out the resources on the blog My Plastic Free Life or Sierra Club’s guide to how to (really) bid good riddance to plastic for even more actions you can take.

Or feeling overwhelmed? You don’t need to change your routines all at once. Try a few swaps at first and see which make sense for you. While individuals can’t stop pollution or climate change on their own, every sustainable switch you make collectively pushes us toward a brighter future. 

[Note: In keeping with its nonprofit status, Scenic Hudson does not promote specific commercial products for sale.]

Erin Nylen (Saronson) is a communications operations manager at Scenic Hudson. She currently serves on the Conservation Advisory Committee and Climate Smart Task Force in the valley town of Hurley, N.Y. She loves the outdoors, cats, and coffee.

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