Switching to reusable options

Reusable alternatives to disposable products

This blog post is about our third Zero Waste New Year’s Resolution idea which was to ‘Switch one single use product for a reusable option’.

We live in a throw away society. People prefer to throw things away rather than wash and reuse them. Here are some single use products that were only invented in the last 100 years but are commonly used;

  • Plastic bags
  • Cling wrap
  • Zip lock bags
  • Paper towel
  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic bottles
  • Disposable pads and tampons
  • Disposable cutlery
  • Cotton balls
  • Disposable nappies
  • Paper serviettes
  • Aluminium foil
  • Tissues

Why switch to reusable products?

Single use products are expensive in the long term and most end up in landfill. In contrast to this, reusable products are generally cheaper in the long term and are usually less wasteful and better for the environment.

Before these single use items were invented and sold, most people already owned an item that could be reused over and over again. Single use products are wasteful and in the long term they are expensive. Most reusable products are cheaper long term than disposable items. It’s worth switching to reusable products just for you – because you will save money – but it’s also worth it for the environment. By using reusable products you can divert a lot of waste from landfill and reduce energy consumption required for recycling.

What should I switch first?

If you search the internet, you’ll find heaps of reusable alternatives for these single use items that you can buy or DIY. The problem is, with so many options, where do you start?! Changing everything at once would be overwhelming, and for some items it would also be expensive. The best approach is to choose 1-2 products to change now and then gradually make other swaps as you are ready.

This will be different for everyone and you can approach it from several points of views. You might choose to start with the single use product you use the most of in your home, or the one that costs you the most, or maybe something you don’t use a lot but that will be an ‘easy’ switch for you. It’s all up to you.

Three swaps we’ve already made

Everyone needs to decide what will work for them so instead of writing a list of alternatives, we’re going to share a few reusable options we use on a regular basis.

Single use product: Plastic bags
Reusable option: Reusable bags

These are some of our reusable bags. All of these we have been given by others except for the koala one which I bought as a souvenir.

We do not use plastic bags anymore and I’m sure many of you are already doing this one as a result Coles and Woolworths no longer having free plastic bags available for customers. I know many people are purchasing the 15 cent bags and so this is a good one to start with if you do this.

Most people already own reusable bags and if you do then you can use these to replace plastic bags. You can use them at the supermarket as well as other retail stores. You might have ‘green’ bags or blue cooler bags from our local supermarket chains, canvas bags from other retailers or other types. There’s no need to buy newer prettier ones if you already have something that will fit the purpose.

Check out this video by Going Zero Waste for more tips.

Single use product: Paper towel
Reusable option: Sponges, cloths, tea towels, rags

This one is so easy! We just stopped buying it, and so can you! There’s really no need for it. Paper towel can be substituted with things you probably already own. Try using sponges, cloths, tea towels and rags instead. If you really want, you can buy or DIY some ‘unpaper towels‘ for convenience.

If you have the occasional need for a disposable paper towel (I sometimes like to use it for mopping up oil and grease in certain circumstances) then I have a small, frugal suggestion for you. When you dine out, often there are multiple napkins on the table and regardless of whether your party use the napkins, they will all go in the bin for hygiene purposes. You can grab them before the waitress clears the table and save them for those times when you really need a disposable paper towel type product.

Single use product: Disposable pads and tampons
Reusable option: Cloth pads, menstrual cups or menstrual underwear

Apparently women use about 10,000-12,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime! That’s a lot of waste going to landfill that can be easily avoided with reusable alternatives.

I (the menstruating half of our team) have been using cloth pads for 5 years. I have sensitive skin and disposables irritated me – the waste reduction was a bonus back then. I’ve recently starting using a menstrual cup and it’s a great alternative to tampons. You can also purchase underwear specially designed for periods to be used instead of pads and tampons. All three of these reusable menstrual products have an upfront cost but in the long run they are much cheaper than disposables, plus they’re kinder on your body (less risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome and less irritation from bleached disposables) and they’re less wasteful.

There are a LOT of options out there for reusable menstrual products so do some research and find something that suits your needs. Happy to chat with anyone about reusable menstrual products in the comments below, or via our Contact page and Facebook.

Other reusable options

There are so many other reusable options out there to replace single use products. You can buy or DIY so many things that will reduce your overall waste. Some other ideas are cloth nappies, beeswax wraps, teflon baking liner, reusable straws, reusable make up pads and hankies.

If you are looking for an alternative for a single use product that we haven’t discussed then you will find lots of inspiration on the internet. If you’re looking for specific recommendations then contact us via our Facebook page, the comments below or our website and we’d be happy to chat. 

Buyerachy of Needs

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic via her website

Consider the Buyerachy of Needs when looking for reusable alternatives. The Buyerachy of Needs is a way to think about consumption before consuming and is a good approach for minimising waste when seeking resources. The Buyarchy puts buying as the last option and encourages us to try the other options, in ascending order, before making purchases.

Do you already have reusable bags? Can you find what you need in an op shop? Can you cut up an old towel to use instead of paper towels? Can you make your own beeswax wraps or hankies? Obviously some things need to be purchased new… For example if you want a menstrual cup then you’re probably not gonna be looking for one on Gumtree!

You have to use it for it to be less wasteful

If you purchase a reusable alternative, then make sure you use it! A study by Associate Professor Karli Verghese from the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT found that a reusable bag need to be used at least 50 times before it’s better than using a single use plastic bags (more on that here). A reusable bag should last much longer than a year but if you use a bag to do your shopping every week for a year then that’s 52 uses already. If you purchase a reusable product that doesn’t end up working for your situation, see if someone else can make use of it or donate it to charity.

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