16 Zero Waste Essentials

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!

U Konserve Stainless Steel Straw | EarthHero | Zero Waste Essentials

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 x EarthHero | Zero Waste Essentials

2: Silicone Stasher Bag

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.

Stainless Steel ECOlunchbox x EarthHero | Zero Waste Essentials

3: Stainless Steel Lunchbox Set

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!

EarthHero x Khala cloths Zero Waste Essentials

4: Vegan Reusable “Cling Wrap”

“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.

Food Huggers x EarthHero Zero Waste Essentials

5: Silicone Food Huggers

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!

EarthHero x BioBag Compostable Ziploc Bags

6: Compostable Snack Bags

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.

7: Glass Smoothie Straw  & Mason Jar Lid

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!

Natural Fiber Produce Bags | Chico Bag x EarthHero | Zero Waste Essentials

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.

EarthHero x To GO Ware Stainless Steel Tiffins Zero Waste Essentials

9: Stainless Steel Tiffins

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!

Scrap Happy Compost Bin | EarthHero x Full Circle Home

10: Silicone Compost Bin

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.

Klean Kanteen EarthHero Reusable Tumblers

11: Insulated Coffee Tumbler

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!

EarthHero x Love Bottle Reusable Glass Bottle | Zero Waste Essentials

12: Recycled Glass Water Bottle

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!

13: Bamboo Utensil Set

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!

United by Blue x EarthHero Reusable Lunch Bag Zero Waste Essentials

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.

EarthHero Zero Waste Products Sling Shopping Bag

15: Reusable Shopping Bag

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.

EarthHero TerraCycle Zero Waste Box

16: TerraCycle Zero Waste Box

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!

EarthHero Zero Waste Gift Box

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.

Silicone: The Plastic Alternative

Imagine this: you’re making breakfast on Sunday morning, flipping pancakes and scrambling eggs, when you notice tiny pieces of something swirling with the chocolate chips. You take a closer look and–yuck!–it’s pieces of your old plastic spatula chipping away into brunch. So what do you do? You know you shouldn’t buy another plastic spatula, just to have to toss it in another 6 months! Enter silicone, a non-plastic alternative that can take the heat.

What is silicone made out of? An earth element called silica that is found in sand. Is it durable, heat and cold resistant, and easy to cook with? Yep. Is it a better alternative to plastic? Duh. Is there a lot more info about silicone in the blog below? Of course there is. Get the facts on silicone below!

What you’ll learn:

  • The difference between silicone & plastic
  • What silicone is made from, and how
  • Plus, tons of ways silicone can be used to help you live more sustainably!

 

Silicone – The New PlasticEarthHero - ezpz Silicone Mini Mat - 6

Since the invention of plastic in 1907, it’s no surprise that the versatile material has become so widely used. It’s flexible, durable, washable, and can be shaped into just about anything!

In recent years, however, consumers opened their eyes to the harmful effects of plastics. With studies around BPA, BPS, phthalates, and microplastics (just to name a few), plastic is showing its true colors as both bad for the planet, and bad for our health.

That’s why silicone has caught our eye–flaunting the convenient features of plastic without any of the toxic side effects. But what really is silicone, and how is it different from plastic?

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-2What is silicone?

Think about sand. Almost every kind of sand contains silica, which is a form of silicon–the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust! The form of silicon we’re talking about today, silicone (with an “e”), is a man-made polymer created from silicon, oxygen, and other elements (usually carbon and hydrogen). This polymer has been found to have a wide variety of properties. It can be a liquid, gel, hard, soft, or even rubber-like.

Unlike plastics, silicone has a high resistance to temperature, low reactivity with chemicals, doesn’t support microbiological growth, repels water, and is resistant to ultraviolet (UV light). All of this makes silicone easy to clean, perfect for cooking (microwaves too!), great for hospitals, and a strong overall alternative to plastics.

Silicone vs plastic

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-3How it’s made

Plastics are most often made from crude oil that’s extracted from the Earth and transformed into plastic by altering the oil’s carbon compounds. Crude oil, like coal, is a non-renewable resource, meaning that when it’s gone, there will be no oil left to create new raw plastics. On the other hand, silicon, as we mentioned earlier, is found readily in sand–which is more abundant (although not “unlimited”).

However, to turn this silica into silicone, the silicon must be extracted and processed. First the silica is heated with carbon in an industrial furnace to extract the silicon, which is then passed through hydrocarbons to create a new polymer with an inorganic silicon-oxygen backbone and carbon-based side groups. Simply put: this means that while the silicon in silicone comes from a plentiful resource like sand, the hydrocarbons in silicone come from non-renewable resources like oil and natural gas. This makes silicone a hybrid material, meaning that it’s better than plastic in terms of resource extraction, but still not as naturally renewable, and is not biodegradable.

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-4Toxins?

In 1979, the US Food and Drug Administration determined that silicon dioxide, the raw material that goes into silicone products, was safe for food-grade applications. Health Canada also states: “There are no known health hazards associated with use of silicone cookware. Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages, or produce any hazardous fumes.”

This is based off the concept that silicone’s base material, silica, does not contain the same types of chemicals that are found in petroleum placed plastics. Although we welcome additional research into potentially overlooked chemicals in silicone, what we do know is that hormone disrupting chemicals found in plastics, like BPA and BPS, aren’t found in silicone, and we’ll take that as a win.

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-5Durability

Compared to plastic, a silicone product will last a good deal longer before it’s unusable. Consider a plastic spatula. It may be in good shape for a few years, but eventually that plastic will look scratched, the edge might be slightly melted, and it can break under too much pressure. A silicone spatula, however, can withstand large amounts of pressure, heat (and cold), and will resist cracking. Not only does this durability mean that you’ll cut down on replacing (and landfilling) your plastic products by switching to silicone, you can feel confident knowing that silicone won’t break down and leach chemicals into your food like its plastic counterpart.

Recycling

Silicone, like plastic, can be recycled multiple times. However, silicone usually has to be sent to a specialized recycling company to be properly recycled. Because of this, many users will simply throw away silicone at the end of its life (where it will sit without breaking down for centuries.) When properly recycled, or sent to a company’s take-back program, silicone can be downcycled into an oil that can be used as industrial lubricant, playground mulch, or another lesser product.

In the landfill (and in our waterways)

Because silicone is so durable, it doesn’t easily biodegrade or decompose. While normal plastics break down into dangerous microplastic pieces that can ingested by wildlife and ocean life, silicone doesn’t break down much at all (it’s that good!). While this may sound worse, plastic activists say it’s actually better for the environment, as large silicone pieces are less likely to get caught in fish bellies, which can cause a multitude of health problems in marine life as well as in humans that consume them down the line.

Silicone benefits

Heat it up (and freeze it too!)

Silicone can endure extreme fluctuations in temperature. It won’t melt under normal cooking scenarios, though once you reach over 400 degrees it may begin to harden over time. Silicone can also be used for freezer storage, and will resist cracking or other deterioration that can result from using plastic containers.

Another benefit of silicone: It’s dishwasher-safe! Because silicone can withstand extreme temperatures, you don’t have to worry about it melting in the wash. Some silicone products, like ezpz mats, can even be stacked for an easier set up, clean up, and meal!

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-6Microwave it

Because silicone is more resistant to heat, and doesn’t contain the harmful toxins that plastic is known to have, it’s considered safe to microwave!

Stasher Bags, for example, are very popular for freezing, cooking, and microwaving food. They’re freezer-safe, and can be placed in the microwave without contaminating your food with BPA or BPS. Into sous vide cooking? Stasher bags can be used for that as well!

Cooking for a whole family? Try ezpz’s unique silicone placemat+ plates! All you have to do is put the food in the portion controlled areas, toss it in the microwave and then serve warm, toasty food–without any plastic chemicals.

ezpz silicone placemats

Seal it

Plastic is a popular choice to use as lids for glass or stainless steel containers due to its ability to create a watertight seal. Well, (you guessed it) silicone can do the same thing! Companies like ECOlunchbox are turning to silicone for the lids to their stainless steel containers. Not only do they work as well as plastic ones, but they’ll last you much longer! Other companies, like ezpz are using the powers of silicone to make an all-in-one placement/plate combo that suctions to the dinner table so tiny hands can’t tip anything over.

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-7Overall, silicone seals in moisture to keep food fresher for longer! Check out Stasher Bags or Food Huggers to seal up your leftovers. They’ll retain more moisture than plastic wrap or plastic bags, and you’ll be able to reuse them for years!

Choosing your silicone products

Like any item, there are low-quality and high-quality versions of silicone products out there. We recommend you always look for silicone thats “medical grade” or at least “food grade”. The higher the quality of silicone, the less likely it is to contain chemicals or toxins that could leach out of the silicone.

Low quality silicone can contain chemical “fillers”, which disrupt silicone’s uniform heat resistance, and can even give usually odorless silicone a synthetic odor. You can test your silicone products for chemical fillers by pinching and/or twisting a part of the silicone. The general rule is that pure silicone does not change color at all, so if any white shows through, there may be fillers in your product.

silicone-the-plastic-alternative-8The final verdict?

We love silicone for its ability to withstand temperatures, seal up food, and last longer than plastic. From a health perspective, it doesn’t contain the same harmful toxins as plastic, (but there’s still research to be done!)

However, silicone is rarely recycled properly and can end up in landfills, where it’s less harmful than plastic yet still won’t biodegrade. Plus, it’s not infinitely recyclable, and will need to be downcycled (used to make a lesser product like playground mulch).

We recommend glass and stainless steel for food storage when possible, and silicone as an alternative for items that you would otherwise use plastic for. It’s great when used as lids and food storage bags and even children’s mealtime mats!

So, how do you use silicone? Are there benefits that we didn’t mention? Share in the comments!

What are Parabens?

The American Chemical Society estimates that parabens are in 85% of personal care products–meaning that you’ve probably applied parabens to your skin, hair, or teeth at some point today without even knowing it. But what are parabens, and should you avoid them? Read on to learn why you might be seeing “paraben-free” more and more often.

parabens-in-beauty-and-careWhat are parabens?

For decades, parabens have been a key ingredient in the beauty industry for their use as a low-cost preservative–preventing bacteria and fungi from growing in your products and giving them a longer shelf life. They’re also widely used in pharmaceuticals, food additives, and even food packaging…all in the name of keeping things “fresh”. And while they’re known for hiding in cosmetics and skincare, researchers have found that around 90% of grocery store items also contain measurable amounts of parabens.

Simply put, a paraben is any group of synthetic compounds that are used as a preservative in cosmetics or pharmaceuticals containing water. According to the FDA, the most widely used parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben (there’s also isobutylparaben and ethylparaben). These chemicals can be inhaled, ingested, and even absorbed through the skin.

Why are they a problem?

Here’s where it gets tricky–the FDA and American Cancer Society say that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that parabens cause health risks or cancer in low doses (like what’s found in skin care or food preservatives). Now, we don’t know about you, but we’d rather exercise caution and play by the “dangerous until proven safe” rules, not the other way around. We’ll tell you why.

Parabens are able to artificially mimic estrogen, a female hormone, in your body. This disrupts natural hormone systems, and the excess estrogen is known to cause both normal and cancerous breast cells to grow and divide at a higher rate. This could lead to extra fat storage and male breast growth, alongside hormone-related neurological, hormonal, developmental, and metabolic disorders.

Ladies, listen up. Because parabens are highly prevalent in products targeted towards women (think tampons, makeup, or skin cream), we suggest being a little careful. In 2004, a British scientist named Philippa Darbre Ph.D. found parabens present in malignant breast tumors. This doesn’t prove that parabens=breast tumors, but the study led to experts worldwide recommending legal limits on parabens in cosmetic products. Despite this, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider parabens safe at low levels. While the FDA allows limited paraben concentration in products, some scientists still worry that parabens can be stored in the body or interact with other chemicals, which could mean that they can accumulate over time and create even greater, cumulative health risks.

Our final verdict? Seek out paraben-free products. It can’t hurt you, and the worst case scenario is that now you’re using awesome certified non-toxic and organic products instead of preservative-packed synthetic ones. Researchers still have a long way to go on paraben research, but while they’re figuring all that out, we’ll be off enjoying our chemical-free personal care and natural skincare.

paraben-free-beauty-and-careHow can I avoid them?

At the end of the day, avoiding parabens comes down to one thing: reading the ingredients. Whether it’s a snack bar at the grocery store or your shampoo, you deserve to know exactly what is in a product. If you see any hard-to-read word that ends in –paraben, then don’t buy it. If the ingredients can’t be found on the product packaging, try going online for a full ingredient list, or opt to not purchase products from brands that aren’t forthcoming. A good tip when reading ingredient labels is that the ingredients will always be in the order of their prevalence, meaning that the first ingredient is highly concentrated in the product, while the last few ingredients are present in smaller concentrations.

Once you’ve switched over to paraben-free products, just remember, there’s a reason that parabens became so popular. Truly natural products will expire! Yes, just like food, organic skin care products have an expiration date because they don’t have the added preservatives to keep them fresh. Some organic skincare will even come in dark or clouded pump-containers to reduce the contact with light and air; two things that can degrade a product faster. If you’re like us and absolutely love natural products, try putting them in the fridge: it’ll help them stay fresh longer, and give you a refreshing boost during your skincare routine.

parabens-deodorant

What are paraben-free alternatives?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) performed a study that states the average adult uses 9 personal care products daily. Your skin comes in contact with personal care products a lot throughout the day, even if it’s just the essentials like hand soap and toothpaste. The good news is that natural and organic cosmetic companies have found effective alternatives for pretty much every single paraben-product out there. Natural preservatives include oregano, thyme, rosemary, goldenseal root, grapefruit seed extract, and even lavender oil! These natural preservatives also have their own health and beauty benefits–which is just another added plus to switching to paraben-free products. Not to mention, they smell great too!

When it comes to parabens, you might assume that ingesting it or putting it on your face would be the worst thing you can do. However, the one of the biggest concerns with parabens is actually… deodorant! Dr. Phillipa Darbre, a senior lecturer in oncology, notes that a disproportionate amount of all breast cancer tumors occur in the upper outer portion of the breast–the section closed to, you guessed it, our armpits. Nothing is proven, but we do know parabens are estrogen-imposters, and we also know that estrogen exposure is linked to breast cancer development. So, you do the math. Want to play it safe? Check out our favorite natural deodorants, here!

parabens-free-natural-beauty-and-care

The Final Verdict

While there seems to be scientific uncertainty on if parabens are a complete no-go, we like to err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially dangerous chemicals. That’s why we’re hopping on the paraben-free (and phthalate-free) bus, and swapping our personal care products to natural alternatives! But, as we learned, parabens can be found in food packaging, food products, and other consumer goods too. Until more research comes out, we recommend reading the ingredients, shopping with companies who pledge against parabens, and choosing natural whenever possible.

Check out 4 beauty brands breaking free from plastic packaging next!