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Simple Zero Waste Swaps

If you have read about why reducing and reusing is better than recycling, you know that recycling has its faults, and the best option is to reduce and reuse before resorting to recycling. And if you have checked out our Beginner's Guide to Reducing Household Waste, you already have a few waste reduction tricks up your sleeve. Are you ready to take your efforts one step further? There are so many alternatives to disposable products, and many are just simple, one-time swaps! Read on for a list of zero waste swaps to give you even more ideas on how you can reduce your waste.

Note: You might think some of these swaps are too costly, but we encourage you to consider that most of these are one time purchases, as opposed to hundreds of purchases for their disposable counterparts. Opting for reusable, durable products can require a larger upfront cost but will save money in the long run. Additionally, you can reduce costs and environmental impact by buying secondhand when possible. You can read more about going zero waste on a budget here. Also, not all of these swaps have to be made all at once. Use up what you have first, then try whichever swap or swaps you feel inspired to!

Cotton balls and facial wipes

Replace disposable cotton balls, facial wipes, and disposable rounds with reusable fabric rounds! These can be purchased through various companies online, or you can easily make your own. Try using these with coconut oil for an all-natural, waste-free makeup remover!

Cotton swabs

Cotton swabs are not recyclable, and are often made of synthetic materials that can cause pollution issues. Additionally, some physicians are warning against using cotton swabs altogether; read why here. If you feel they are necessary for you, you can purchase a reusable ear pick, or buy natural cotton swabs that will biodegrade (such as organic cotton).

Cupcake liners

Are you a baker? Try reusable silicone liners for cupcakes and muffins! Added bonus: These liners can be used to separate foods in containers or mason jars. For example, place in container above salad greens to keep toppings from getting soggy!

Dryer sheets

Swap out wasteful dryer sheets with reusable dryer sheets and/or dryer balls (which can either be purchased or made easily at home).

Dental floss

Floss is often made from petroleum products and packaged in unrecyclable materials. A more natural alternative is silk floss with plant-based wax; and some companies are even starting to sell floss in refillable packaging! If you are keen on plastic floss holders, they do make reusable flossers and floss forks, such as this one. Another option is a reusable water flosser, which, according to some research, can be more effective at removing plaque than traditional floss. However, when it comes to oral health, you can never be too careful. Always ask your dentist before changing your routine.

Greeting cards

E-cards, phone calls, and face-to-face visits are the most Earth-friendly options, but if tangible cards are your style, try to find greeting cards made of post-consumer recycled content. They also make tree-free cards out of hemp and even elephant poop! Or, try out seed paper greeting cards for an added wildflower bonus gift.

Hairbrush & Comb

Avoid plastic with a brush made of natural wood and rubber, or a bamboo comb. They are easy to clean, durable, and biodegradable.

Hair ties

Are your hair ties wearing out? Good news! Certain companies are now selling completely natural and biodegradable hair ties. Try searching the web for "Organic cotton hair ties", or read more tips about eco-friendly hair ties here.

Keurig coffee pods

Keurigs are convenient, but they are also very wasteful since traditional K cups cannot be recycled. Luckily, there are reusable pods! You can also make coffee without a filter by using a French press.

Lint roller

If you have pets or humans in your house that shed a lot, this swap is for you! Instead of using disposable lint rollers, try a reusable lint roller or a rubber lint brush. Friction from rubbing the brush against a surface creates static, which hair and lint cling to. They are totally reusable and easy to clean by simply removing the hair with your hands.

Menstrual products

Aside from the fact that they produce a lot of waste, conventional pads and tampons are full of harmful chemicals, bleaches, and materials. Luckily, there are a number of more eco- and healthy-friendly alternatives on the market currently. Period panties, menstrual cups, and cloth pads are the best options for reusability. For natural alternatives that are still disposable, try opting for organic cotton tampons and pads. Organic cotton tampons and pads still produce waste, but do significantly reduce chemical waste from the manufacturing process.


Paper napkins are not recyclable, and their production utilizes copious amounts of energy, resources, trees, and water. Using natural cloth napkins instead (such as linen) is a much better option. Don’t forget to bring your cloth napkin with you if you are taking food on-the-go, or plan to eat out!

Parchment paper/aluminum foil

Swap out aluminum foil and parchment paper for a reusable baking mat!

Plastic wrap

Skip the plastic wrap and opt for reusable! Companies like Bee's Wrap (made right here in Addison County!) make reusable food wrap from natural and organic materials to replace single-use cling wrap. It’s great for wrapping bread, sandwiches, fruit and veggie ends, and all other things plastic wrap is traditionally used for. Now THAT'S a wrap!

Produce bags

Stop using plastic to bag your produce! Bring your own reusable produce bags when you go grocery shopping. Store them in your purse or reusable shopping bags so you won’t forget them.

Razors & razor heads

A safety razor is a plastic-free alternative to disposable razors for people of any gender. These metal razors are durable and if properly cared for, will last longer than you! Safety razors are used with metal razor blades, which some companies offer takeback programs for. Read more about metal razor blade recycling here. Alternatively, ACSWMD offers a recycling program for disposable, plastic razors

Sandwich bags

When it comes to zero waste food storage, there are LOTS of options. Sealable containers, glass containers, metal containers, mason jars, repurposed food jars, reusable bento boxes, and metal tiffins all work great for storing leftovers or for food on-the-go. If you’d like something less bulky, try silicone sandwich bags! They are washable, extremely durable, and 100% reusable!


Bar soap reduces waste from packaging, and did you know they make shampoo in bar form? Great for traveling and for reducing waste!

Sponges/dish brushes

Sponges can be replaced with bamboo dish scrubs, bamboo pot scrapers, natural fiber wash cloths, and/or plant based/natural loofah sponges.


Glass, stainless steel, and bamboo straws are all great to use in place of disposable straws. Use at home, take with you on-the-go, or bring to a restaurant! Remember to say, “no straw, please” when placing drink orders.


Handkerchiefs may seem gross to some people, but they don't have to be unsanitary. Using tissues is only more hygienic than handkerchiefs when the tissue is immediately thrown away after use (which doesn’t always happen). Folding a handkerchief after use, washing it often, and keeping it away from other people is the best way to curb the spread of germs when using a hanky. And, of course, washing your hands often will also keep germs and viruses at bay. Jack Gwaltney, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School, advises: “…if you would rather use hankies than disposable tissues, just make sure you wash them – and your hands – regularly" (source). Washing in the normal cycle will remove germs (no need to use hot water). Line drying in the sun will also disinfect them.

Toilet paper

Americans use 15 million trees’ worth of toilet paper every year, and it takes 37 gallons of water just to make a single roll. Luckily, there are tree-free toilet paper options, such as bamboo and recycled paper. Also, try unbleached toilet paper; it is healthier for you, and also reduces chemical waste in the manufacturing process. As for packaging, it is possible to purchase toilet paper without the plastic overwrap (some toilet paper comes wrapped in recyclable paper in a cardboard box), but plastic overwrap for toilet paper can be recycled at plastic bag collection bins in grocery stores and at the District Transfer Station. You can also try a bidet to help reduce toilet paper usage.


Several companies have started making bamboo or wood toothbrushes for the purposes of reducing plastic waste and pollution. The handles of these toothbrushes are biodegradable and compostable, or can be repurposed in planters or used as kindling for fire. (The bristles are typically not compostable, however, so be sure to remove those first.)

Bonus: How to make a zero waste kit

Remembering to bring reusable products from home to reduce waste while you are out (like utensils, straws, a water bottle, etc.) can be a pain. It’s hard enough to remember reusable bags when going grocery shopping! To help create a habit, you can make a zero waste kit to leave in your car or by your front door to grab each time you leave. Some things to include in your kit:

  • Reusable produce bags
  • Cloth napkins and/or handkerchiefs
  • Travel mug
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Metal or bamboo utensils
  • Reusable straw
  • Food storage container

Pack these items in a reusable bag to help you reduce waste when on-the-go. When buying food, remember to tell the staff that you won’t be needing plastic utensils, straws, or paper napkins! You can even ask if they will pack your food in your reusable container when getting takeout.

Happy reducing and reusing!