In the past 50 years, humans as a whole have consumed more resources than in all of our previous history–with no signs of slowing down. In America alone, the total consumption of products rose 57% from 1957 to 2000 (that’s over twice the rate of population growth!) And while many believe that recycling is the answer, a new movement called “zero waste” aims to tackle our pollution problem where it starts.
By purchasing more durable, reusable products, and less plastic “single-use” products, zero-wasters aim to reduce the amount of non-recyclable trash they create. Check out some of our favorite products to get you started on your low-impact journey below!
1: Reusable Stainless Steel Straw (with cleaning brush!)
From Starbucks phasing out their plastic straws, to viral videos of sea turtles with single-use straws stuck in their nostrils, the buzz against plastic straws has never been louder. And for good reason! Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws every day, but these straws can’t be recycled and will never, ever, ever biodegrade completely. That’s why we’ve made this our first zero waste go-to: a little stainless steel straw, with a huge environmental impact! Made from BPA and phthalate-free stainless steel, this durable straw travels easily and comes with a straw brush for easy cleaning! Plus, read our reusable straw blog to learn which material of straw is best for you!
Stasher Bags aren’t just zero-waste and plastic-free… they do everything and anything, making them a favorite for anyone trying to reduce their waste in the kitchen, bathroom, or on-the-go. Made from food-safe silicone, a more sustainable alternative to plastic, these resealable bags can be used in the microwave, freezer, oven (on medium heat), sous vide machine, dishwasher–you name it. It contains no latex, lead, or additives (unlike plastic bags), and can be used and reused for years. Whether you’re storing leftovers, cooking, or even using it as a toiletry bag, Stasher is the perfect alternative to wasteful plastic bags and freezer wrap.
When we hear the word “lunchbox”, our minds usually go to playing on the playground and eating PB&J’s in the cafeteria. But the truth is, adults deal with the struggle of bringing lunch, dinner, and snacks with them on-the-go–and the brown paper bag just isn’t cutting it anymore. We’re loving ECOlunchbox products because they’re 100% plastic-free, and flaunt modern looking stainless steel that’s perfect for little ones and work lunches alike. The large oval container fits 3 cups of food, with an accompanying snack cup featuring a leak-proof silicone lid for mess-free traveling. Plus, they’re dishwasher safe–so clean up and repacking is a breeze!
“Plastic-wrap”…. also known as “cling wrap”, “Glad wrap”, or as we like to call it… “Sad wrap”. These single-use wraps were originally made with polyvinyl chloride plastic (aka PVC) which is non-recyclable, and has questionable toxin levels. But companies like Khala Cloths and Bee’s Wrap are taking us back to our roots with reusable plant-resin and beeswax infused cloths that keep food fresh by molding to various shapes to seal in moisture, and keep bacteria out. The vegan Khala Cloths are made from an organic cotton & hemp blend fabric, with 100% plant-based tree-resins and oils to create a durable, moldable cling-wrap alternative.
Fact: 30-40% of all the groceries you purchase get thrown in the trash due to expiration, which ends up being around $1,600 wasted per year. And most of this waste is due to perishables being exposed to the air–just think of what happens to produce like avocados, citrus, or tomatoes when you leave them uncovered! Food Huggers has found the ultimate solution for perishable produce in their non-toxic silicone “huggers”. In a variety of sizes (even some specifically designed for avocados!), these stretch to fit the uncovered side of partially used produce, keeping bacteria and air out–but moisture and freshness in. In fact, using a Food Hugger can help keep 23% more moisture in your food than if it was stored in plastic containers or baggies!
Americans use 100 billion single-use plastic bags a year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. And almost none of these bags get recycled, instead hanging out in our landfills and waterways for centuries. That’s why BioBag stepped in, offering up a sustainable solution to single-use Ziploc bags. By using compostable and biodegradable film from corn, not oil, their resealable baggies compost at the end of their life. Use the gallon bags for storing leftovers, the snack bags for school lunches, and the sandwich bags for everyday! That’s single-use, done sustainably.
Now that we know why reusable straws > single-use straws, it’s up to you to decide what straw material and set-up is best for your lifestyle. Simply Straws glass smoothie straws are a great option for anyone looking for a way to drink milkshakes, smoothies, soups, and tons more! The colorful glass is easy to see-through and clean, and has a lifetime guarantee in case anything happens to it on-the-go. Just pick your favorite color, length, and type–then pair it with a straw compatible mason jar lid to transform any jar into an adorable drinking cup!
8: Produce Bags
Grocery stores are starting to get the memo: single-use grocery bags are bad! And while some have begun to charge additional fees for using plastic grocery bags, this hasn’t carried across to the thin plastic produce bags that are used with abundance. One of the easiest zero waste swaps you can make is simply adding reusable produce bags to your car alongside a shopping bag, so they’re on hand for the next time you need fresh fruit and veggies. Try mesh produce bags for produce that needs to breathe, like lettuce, or solid produce bags for things like nuts, grains, and rice.
Easy to carry, easy to clean, easy to love. Stainless steel tiffins, a traditional lunchbox system out of India, are truly a zero-waste essential thanks to their lightweight, stackable construction with room for plenty of snacks. For small meals, just bring one level–or for bigger lunches, stack two or even 3 tiers for a full spread of snacks. To further reduce your waste, bring your tiffin when you go out to eat to collect leftovers, or use it to shop with ease at the bulk store!
Going zero waste is all about reducing, reusing, recycling, and rotting. Rotting? Well, composting. When we dispose of organic materials like food into the landfill, the organic materials aren’t able to get the oxygen they need, and therefore decompose anaerobically–releasing methane into the atmosphere. This is a major problem, because methane is 20x more harmful for our planet than carbon dioxide, with rotting food being the second largest source of man-made methane emissions. Whether you can commercially compost, or simply have a backyard compost, keeping your organic waste out of the trash will create a huge impact! This silicone compost bin is the perfect way to get started, as it can easily go into the freezer to minimize compost smells, is easily washable, and has a hook to attach to the kitchen counter for scraping scraps into it as you cook! Plus, we’re in love with silicone for a ton of reasons… read about them: here.
Single-use paper coffee cups aren’t just terrible at keeping coffee warm and leak-free, they’re also 100% non-recyclable. This means that the 58 billion paper coffee cups that get tossed in America each year go straight to the landfill–where they’ll stay for decades. That’s why, whether you’re a coffee drinker or not, we recommend you stock any zero waste kit with a reusable tumbler that works for any hot beverages. This Klean Kanteen Tumbler features double-wall stainless steel vacuum insulation that can keep hot drinks hot for up to 4 hours, and cold drinks cool for nearly 20 hours. With a scratch-resistant exterior and bold colors, just pair this multi-purpose tumbler with its lid and straw set, and you’ve got the perfect travel mug!
Plastic water bottles: the original sin against sustainability. While there has actually been tons of progress towards banning single-use plastic bottles, and more and more consumers are “BYOBing” (bringing your own bottle!), there’s still a long way to go to reduce the roughly 50 billion plastic water bottles Americans use each year. These Recycled Glass Bottles from Love Bottle not only help reduce plastic waste, but save money otherwise spent on bottled beverages. Plus, 5% of the profits from each Love Bottle goes to providing clean and safe drinking water globally!
You order takeout, head to the restaurant, pick it up…. And boom, you now have several individually packaged single-use plastic utensil pouches (and no intention of using them!) Next time you’re on-the-go, say “no utensils please”, and pull out your travel Utensil Set. With a branded EarthHero pouch made from recycled polyester, this essential kit contains a spoon, fork, knife, and chopsticks–with room to fit a straw of your choice inside! The bamboo is naturally stronger than steel, antimicrobial, and antibacterial–making it both easy to clean and carry. Just pop one in your purse, backpack, or car, and be amazed with how much plastic you’ll keep from the landfill!
14: Reusable Lunch Bag
We touched on how packing a lunch is not just for kids… so why are all lunch bags designed for them? United by Blue brings modern sophistication to the adult lunchtime routine with a water-resistant 100% organic waxed canvas lunch bag, featuring a brass buckle and fold-over top. It can be reused again and again, contains no paper or plastic, and is roomy enough to fit all of our favorite zero waste essentials.
We all have one…usually found in the junk drawer, or the back of the closet, there’s a conglomeration of discarded superstore and grocery bags that you’ve sworn to make use of one day. And while we suggest you totally try to repurpose those baggies for bathroom trash liners, doggie bags, or shipping packaging–once you have used them all up, switch to a reusable alternative. Made from recycled polyester, the SLING Shopping Bag is big enough for your next grocery haul (without having them bottom fall out on you!) Plus, it can be easily stuffed into its carrying case with a carabiner clip, so you can stash it easily inside your car or backpack.
Now that we’ve gone over our favorite products to help you create less waste, we have to share with you a little zero waste secret: TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes. Hey, waste happens. Whether it be due to food allergies, medication, or access to sustainable alternatives, you’ll probably have something to throw away at some point. That’s where TerraCycle comes in, offering a solution for recycling nearly everything. While you begin your transition to zero waste, take inventory of what the biggest sources of trash in your life is–and get a zero waste box to help recycle those materials until you can phase them out!
Bonus: EarthHero Zero Waste Gift Box
Need to jump start your zero waste journey? Want to set up a friend for sustainable success? We’re making it easier to get the reusable essentials you need with our Zero Waste Gift Boxes. They’re chock-full of some of our absolute favorite zero waste products from Stasher, U Konserve, To-Go Ware, and many more–check out all of our Gift Boxes: here.
Original post: October 2018. Updated: January 2022