These come with a HUGE caveat – please do not buy new things that are duplicates of what you already have just to go LW. The recommendations are for swaps I’ve made when the products I was using reached the end of their lives and it was time to replace them anyways. I was also swapping the type of product I was using, so that the product would either produce less (or no) waste or would last much longer than the disposable kind I was using before.
Think twice about companies that want you to buy a ton of new stuff to get you to go LW or that push a bunch of freebies and extras. I won’t name names, but you can probably think of a few out there. If they’re trying to get you to buy stuff you don’t need, they’re likely greenwashing. If they’re going to throw in a free something or other (that’s not a consumable in proper packaging), they’re not the die-hard kind. Frequent sales to get you to buy more more more are also red flags. Be conscious of that kind of marketing. Repeat after me: the most eco-friendly option is what you already own!!
Note: Everything listed below is something I (or a reader) have actually used and purchased with my own $$. Nothing is sponsored, they’re just honest recommendations. There are some links which will bring you to websites through my referral link (meaning you get a deal and I get rewards points). If you don’t want to use these links, the websites are an easy Google search away!
Reusable Cotton Swab
Brand: Last Object (follow this link directly to use my referral code, which gets you $5 off your purchase. PS I also get some rewards points if you make a purchase.)
Thoughts: I have the original Last Swab (the nubby one) and have been using it since early 2022. It, like many other products, takes some time to get used to, but does the trick for me, especially since I used to go through so many single-use cotton swabs. I use it to clean my ears, which, yes, I know I’m technically not even supposed to do. One con is that I’m primarily using it to dry the inner bits of my ears after a shower (I also have particularly liquidy ear wax as opposed to dry, flakey stuff) and the silicone obviously doesn’t absorb anything like cotton would. It’s easy to clean though and nice that it comes in a little case (made from recycled plastic).
If this doesn’t feel like the swap for you, always at least buy paper-based cotton ones, never plastic, and compost them if you can.
UPDATE: Last Object claims their swabs will last at least 1,000 uses, however mine developed a break in the middle of the stem after about a year of use (less than 1,000 uses). I reached out to their customer support and they sent me a replacement very quickly and I was glad it was only the swab in a bit of cardboard packaging, rather than a whole new case as well. I stuck it out to see how long the first one would take to actually break in half, and it lasted over 3 more months! It was hanging on by a thread for quite a while. I’ve moved onto the replacement and will see how long it holds up. I’ve kept the two pieces of the first one for cleaning tight spots.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
Brand: Ethique (follow this link directly to use my referral code, which gets you 20% off your purchase. PS I also get some rewards points if you make a purchase.)
Cost: $13 – $17 per bar
Thoughts: These bars are 100% plastic free, come in compostable packaging, and are the equivalent of three 350 mL bottles, according to Ethique’s website. A major draw of these products and the idea behind shampoo and conditioner bars in general is that we’re not shipping loads of water back and forth all over the globe, which is what you’re really paying for when you buy traditional shampoo or conditioner. If you’re not into the idea of bars, but want to make a more LW swap, they also offer concentrates, which are shipped in powder form and you mix them into a creamy consistency with your own water at home. I purchased the St. Clements shampoo bar and the Wonderbar conditioner bar, which I’ll start using once my current products run out!
UPDATE: I’ve now used the St. Clements shampoo bar, the Pinkalicious shampoo bar, and the Wonderbar conditioner bar. The shampoo bars last me ~8-9 months (I have longer hair and use the bars about every 2-3 days since my hair is so oily). The conditioner bar is somehow still going strong after over a year. The bars have helped my hair feel softer and get less oily less often. 10/10 would recommend!
UPDATE 2: I’ve now tried the concentrate shampoo (their old version that came as a bar – now they come as powder). I feel like the amount I got from the concentrate won’t last me nearly as long as the bar, but it’s nice that they have the option. Oddly enough, I find it harder to get the liquid shampoo to foam up than the bar shampoo.
Reusable Cotton Rounds
Brand: Make your own!
Thoughts: Instead of buying cotton pads or makeup remover wipes, or even buying reusable ones, just make your own! Grab any cotton-based scrap cloth, like an old T-shirt or sheet, cut it into pieces (squares waste less material than circles, but whatever you prefer), and sew around the edges to keep them from fraying. Depending on the thickness of the material, you may want to sew two pieces together, which is what I did when I used an old T-shirt. If you’re planning on using these to apply any products, I’d recommend testing a swatch of the fabric after its been washed with some of the product(s) you intend to use. This is because some liquid takes a moment to absorb into the fabric, which may have to do with the detergent it’s washed with. Otherwise it can bead up and run off the material. It’s not a deal-breaker, it’s just worth testing first and getting used to.
Liquid Soap Refill
Cost: Under $10 for a large jug
Thoughts: I get it, bar soap isn’t for everyone. I actually still use liquid hand soap in the bathroom and kitchen. I think the most important thing is trying to reduce the associated waste as much as you can. The easiest step you can take is to buy refill soap for your pumps, instead of buying new pumps. Pumps themselves aren’t recyclable since they’re a mix of plastic and metal that can’t be separated easily. Separability into basic materials is a huge factor in the recyclability of an item. So keep the pump bottles and buy a big jug of liquid soap refill when you need more soap – it lowers the packaging required, the packaging itself is recyclable*, and it’s usually more cost-effective in the long run. If you want to go the extra mile, refill your big jug of soap at a bulk store (like Cleenland in Cambridge). That way, the process is super LW, very close to ZW.
*Avoid the refills that come in filmy bags instead of hard plastic jugs. They may use “less plastic”, but they just get thrown out, so from my perspective, they’re worse. If anyone knows the secret to why they’re actually better, let me know!
Cost: Under $5
Thoughts: Replace bar soap where ever you have soap in a container! This could be body wash in the shower or pump liquid hand soap at the sink. If you’re worried about it being sanitary, many studies have been done saying bar soap is actually cleaner than pump soap. Look for bar soap that comes in fully recyclable or compostable packaging – avoid the stuff that’s wrapped in plastic film.
Brand: AllMatters (formerly Organicup, which was more clever)
Cost: $28, but they often have BOGO sales, which is perfect for trying it out with a friend (also makes it more fun!)
Thoughts: I feel like there’s some weird stigma around using a menstrual cup, but after switching I literally cannot understand why. They’re far superior to pads and tampons for a few reasons:
- You’re essentially producing no waste, since your cup can last years. Obviously it will reach the end of its life at some point, but some people report being able to use them for 10 years – it all depends on how well you care for them. I got mine at the beginning of 2019 and see no signs of needing a replacement any time soon.
- They’re logistically easier to maintain throughout the day, since you empty them twice, once in the morning and once at night. I also find them to be less messy and more controlled.
- They’re better for you and your downstairs since they simply collect, rather than absorb, without exposing fluids to the air and bacteria, which can lead to TSS.
To be fair, they do take some time to get used to, but so do tampons and even pads to some degree. They’re not 100% perfect, yes they can leak – it happened to me twice (towards the beginning) since I started using one, but overall the benefits waaaay outweigh the disadvantages for me. If any menstruating readers have questions about how it all works – ask!! I won’t be shy about details.
Cost: $84 for the razor, $113 for the Leaf Kit (includes the razor, the stand, 50 blades, and a little tin to collect your used blades)
Thoughts: A Leaf razor is really just a metal version of what you may already be using, but you replace only the blades when they get dull. There’s zero waste from the razor itself, especially if you take good care of it to extend its lifetime, and the blades are recyclable (not in the curbside bin, please!). It’s an upfront investment as many ZW swaps are, but also way less scary than a more commonly recommended alternative – the safety razor. I personally wouldn’t dare use one of those on the more sensitive bits…
- I purchased the Leaf Kit in 2019. I’d def recommend at least getting the stand if you get a Leaf, since up-right storage helps keep it dry and in good condition. You can get blades for way cheaper than they sell on the website, any standard ones will do. The tin isn’t a must either, it’s convenient, but you could totally make one yourself (use something like an Altoids tin or a small jar). More recently, they added a razor travel case – I just saved the box it came in, which is already nicely shaped to hold the razor securely, then I travel with that.
- The blades last a really long time for me, way longer than the ones in plastic razors from the drug store. I use 3 blades at a time (you can use 1, 2, or 3) and I still have more than half the blades that came with it.
- Don’t store it in your shower. Put it on your bathroom counter or somewhere out of direct water/steam exposure, then bring it in with you. Make sure you dry it off after each use.
- Mine has developed some signs of wear, mostly on the stand, and the metal on the inside near the blades has tarnished a bit, but it works perfectly.
- I was pretty intimidated when I first got it, since it’s heavier and seems like it’ll be more prone to cut you, but it’s just the same if not better than a disposable razor. I whip that thing around now and I don’t think I’ve ever cut myself.
UPDATE: Since writing this review, my Leaf razor actually did need repairs. The spring that helps the razor head move back and forth broke so it would flop backwards whenever I tried to use it. I emailed Leaf’s customer support, they sent me a free shipping label, I sent it off, and within a week or two, it was delivered back to me with all the repairs done completely free of charge. Every part of the Leaf razor’s design is repairable. This is what we need more of!!
Brand: Tushy (follow this link directly to use my referral code, which gets you $10 off your purchase. PS I also get some rewards points if you make a purchase.)
Cost: $69 (sale price), $99 (regular-ish – they market it as $129, but almost always have it marked down to $99)
Thoughts: Can we please normalize the bidet in the US?? It makes SO much more sense than using our TP brand of choice until we *think* it’s clean. Right? If you’ve never used a bidet before and have questions, I’m an open book. Send them to me and I’ll gladly tell you everything you want to know with details, diagrams, a video call – you name it. It’s life-changing. I have a Tushy bidet for the apartment and it’s very easy to install (even if you don’t have a handy bf to do it for you like I do) and I’m VERY happy with it. We got the Tushy Classic 3.0, which is the basic model, but they do have a fancier version with warm water if you want to splurge and have the right water setup in your bathroom. I personally don’t think it’s needed, though.
Curious about how using more water actually ends up being more eco-conscious in the end? I was too. This article explains it nicely. Essentially, if you take into account the amount of water that’s used to make toilet paper and compare that to the amount of water you’re using to clean, plus at least some reduction in toilet paper use, bidets come out on top.
Brand: Who Gives a Crap (follow this link for 20% a subscription or this link for $10 a purchase [$54 minimum]. PS I also get some rewards points if you make a purchase.)
Cost: $30/24 rolls or $48/48 rolls for the TP made from recycled material
$34/24 rolls or $52/48 rolls for the premium 100% bamboo TP
Thoughts: I was a Charmin UltraSoft diehard for the longest time. I always thought if you’re going to splurge on one thing, make it good TP. But now, I’m completely converted to WGAC TP! Not only is the TP itself more sustainable since it’s recycled or made from bamboo, but it’s not wrapped in millions of layers of plastic. It comes in cute patterned paper wrapping that you can reuse as gift wrap (or just give people TP as a gift – there you go!). After chatting with a pal who has used both kinds, there seems to be no major difference, however the bamboo may be slightly stronger during use. I personally splurge for the bamboo.
Brand: Brush with Bamboo
Cost: $20/4 adult brushes (or less $/brush if you buy more at once)
Thoughts: It took me only about 2 brushing sessions to get used to these and now I don’t even notice the difference. They have “soft” bristles, which comply with dentist recommendations (important!). When it’s time to replace them, just pluck out the bristles with some pliers – those go in the trash – then compost the handles or reuse them in some super clever ways, like in the photo at the top of the page, inspired by @sustainablyamber (look for the highlight “Toothbrush Upcycle”).
Brands: Bite & Unpaste
Cost: Bite – $12/62 tabs or $30/248 tabs with subscription
Unpaste – $8.50/125 tabs (not sold online, price based on Cleenland in Cambridge)
Thoughts: I’ve tried both Bite and Unpaste and I would choose Bite out of the two, even though it’s the more expensive option. The consistency of Bite when brushing is closer to the foaminess of a traditional gel toothpaste, plus they have more and better flavors. Unpaste is very runny and there’s a lot of drool involved for a 20-something-year-old who thought she had her life more together than this. It’s also super chalky when you first bite into the tab, which I really didn’t like a first. Bite also offers mouthwash tabs, “plastic-free floss” (see below), and other products (that I’ve never tried myself) that you can bundle with your subscription, which can be delivered to your door. Read a bit more about Bite’s shipping policies and how they keep it sustainable.
Cost: $12 ($5 with subscription)
Thoughts: This floss is made from polylactic acid (PLA), which is a plastic-like material made from corn, sugar cane, or other similar natural resources. It’s compostable in commercial facilities or at home, you just need to cut it up into smaller pieces if it’s going in your backyard. For me, it took a week or two of learning to maneuver it, since it did get stuck between my teeth more easily, but after that it was just like the real plastic stuff. One refill lasted me 8-9 months, using it (mostly) every day.
Mouthwash (Reader Recommendation)
Cost: $12/60 tablets, additional $3 for a container
Thoughts: This mouthwash doesn’t have alcohol like the major brands, so it doesn’t make your mouth feel like it’s burning.
Facial Cleanser & Sponge (Reader Recommendation)
Brand: No Tox Life
Cost: $14 ONYX Cleansing Bar, $3 LUNA Charcoal Sponge
Thoughts: The cleansing bar is vegan and palm-oil free and the sponge is created using the roots of the konyakku plant, which has very absorbent fibers. Highly recommended, especially for people with sensitive skin.
Page last updated: Mar 2023