I’m always looking for great sustainable swaps, because I love finding ways to reduce my footprint. (In an ecological sense only—been holding steady at size 7.5 for years.) I try to recycle, compost, buy less, shop local, and choose more sustainable options. But I’m just one woman! I can’t test out everything. So I asked our endlessly wise Patreon community. And boy did Bitch Nation deliver!
My only caveat was that these sustainable swaps can’t suck.
- Paper straws that disintegrate into wet clumps in your mouth? Absolutely not!
- Coffee pods sold to us as green because you’ll “waste less water”? Lies and pictures of also-lies!
- Cloth napkins that cost—I’m sorry—$92 for a set of four?! WHAT! I’m not linking to the site because they claim to be handmade by artisans, and I’m sure those artisans are very nice people. BUT STILL!
Out of this list, ye devils! These sustainable swaps need to be as good—or gooder!—than the products they’re designed to replace. Nothing prohibitively expensive or complicated.
And definitely not shitty.
Bad sustainable swaps drive people away from eco-friendly products
Some of the sustainable swaps I’ve tried… sucked.
One story in particular comes to mind. I’d been making a lot of bread from scratch, which often calls for the dough to be covered in oiled cling wrap. I love baking, but felt a twinge of guilt every time I spooled out another foot of single-use plastic.
One day, I spotted compostable cling wrap. “Ah,” I thought, “Gaia has answered my prayers!” (Yes, I pray to Gaia; yes, it’s specifically the Gaia from Captain Planet. As a sapphic atheist, I only respect celestial authorities when they are seven-foot-tall women in flowing purple cape-gowns.)
Thrilled with my find, I bought an extra-large roll and busted it out the next time I made bread.
Guys, it was a nightmare.
Tissue-thin. Tore when stretched. Stuck to itself like it was double-coated in super glue. The cutting edge had all the power of a 19-year-old chihuahua. When I gave up and tried to use scissors, it stuck the blades together. In my struggles, the flimsy tabs that held the roll inside bent, and the whole box came apart. The roll popped out and spun onto the floor, picking up stray flour and dog hair and all the squiggly cartoon germs from disinfectant commercials. Disgusted, I threw it away.
Score one for the second hottest Captain Planet character, bad mommy Doctor Blight.
The perfect is the enemy of the good
Reducing your impact on the planet is a journey. Imagine if this was someone’s first small step on that journey! They might throw their hands up and quit—or even form the opinion that green products all suck and actively avoid them!
I want to save our readers from making these mistakes. Because nothing infuriates me more than a company playing upon my good intentions to trick me into extra consumerism.
That said, the focus of this article will be “trying.” It goes without saying that there are infinite layers of complexity to this issue. Among them: greenwashing, recycling and composting feasibility, labor, production, every step in the supply chain… and that’s without getting to the consumer. What’s their lifestyle, location, abilities? Everyone’s lives are so different.
As one Patron wisely put it…
Analyze your own situation and find out where there’s the most waste, and how easy it is to replace it. There are often several aspects AND levels of improvement. You can do good things even if you can’t do the best thing. It’s a process.– Patreon Donor Julia
So right. Effort always matters! It ain’t easy to do the right thing. “Well actually”ing people when they’re trying is obnoxious and often counterproductive. As is holding yourself to an impossibly high standard.
Zero fake reviews, affiliates, or sponcon ahead
You should always be skeptical of good online reviews. Many bloggers make money positively reviewing products and collecting an affiliate payment when a reader buys them.
We don’t go this route. We are not paid to rep any of the products we mention in this article. Our donor-supported model allows us to turn down juicy paychecks to sell out and lead you astray. Everything listed here is an actual, unsolicited opinion. We value your trust, and thank our patrons for their support.
So here they are! You don’t have to do all of them. But if something resonates, try it out!
General advice for making greener choices
#1: The ultimate sustainable swap: not buying anything at all
Let’s start off with the most important wisdom of all.
I have always liked the reminder that it’s “reduce, reuse, and recycle—in that order!” I like focusing on the reduce/repurpose angle instead of looking for new products, where possible.– Patreon Donor V B
The greenest option, in almost all situations, is to not buy anything at all. It’s great for the planet and your bank account.
- Just make do without it.
- Borrow it instead of buying it.
- Repair what you have before you replace it.
- Get it used or secondhand instead of buying it new.
- Don’t use buying something as a commitment device for using it.
- Ask for it as a gift so your Meemaw buys you something you actually need.
- When possible, wait and reflect before purchasing.
- Always avoid single-use items and single-purpose tools.
We are so trained to buy and consume thoughtlessly. Zip-top bags don’t come in packs of five; they come in packs of one hundred. When you buy a box, their sheer numbers encourage you to burn them. If you own less, you’ll get creative with what you have. And in that creativity lies greater savings, sustainability, and suitability for your unique needs.
#2: Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk will reduce the amount of total plastic you use. It’s also cheaper in the long run.– Patreon Donor Varshini
I SING THE PRAISES of BulkFoods.com. They sell so many staples in bulk. They don’t have eco-friendly packaging, but buying one 5-pound plastic bag of popcorn kernels once or twice a year saves me having to purchase multiple plastic jars of my favorite snack that may not be recyclable.Patreon Donor B. E.
Shopping in bulk with reusable containers is fun! I use glass jars with labels, so that when they’re empty I can put them straight into the bulk shopping bag. No need for a shopping list.– Patreon Donor Claire
Love this advice, with three caveats.
First, don’t buy anything aspirational in bulk. You won’t be more inclined to eat it when it’s a two year-old can covered in dust. Second, check your stash before you buy more of anything. (Guess who forgot she bought two industrial containers of Q-tips eight years ago, then bought yet more? Hi, it’s me. May I offer you a Q-tip in this trying time?) Third, don’t buy compostable stuff in bulk. See the note about this in our “dishonorable mentions” section below.
#3: Avoid paying extra for plain old water
Those giant plastic containers filled with 90% water really annoy me!– Patreon Donor Stephanie
Products that take out unnecessary water! We buy a cleaning concentrate that you add to water, and moved to Nellie’s Soap Powder.– Patreon Donor Ilana
Vim cleaning spray sells small refill bottles of the concentrated liquid, so you can refill your spray bottle without having to buy a new one.– Patreon Donor Mar
I’ve really liked Blueland cleaning products. They’re made by dissolving a tablet in their reusable bottles, so you only get bottles once!– Patreon Donor Fritz
Force of Nature for almost all cleaning products is pretty cool. It still does involve shipping the little capsules in plastic, but the bulk of the water is from your own home and it’s like a cool little science project every time I need more cleaner.– Patreon Donor Ashley
Did you know that those giant plastic jugs of laundry detergent are 60-90% water? They add it to trick you into thinking you’re getting a large amount of product. But the added size and weight of the water creates greater unnecessary transportation emissions.
This is true for most detergents and cleaners. Anything concentrated or powdered gets more bang for your buck.
For the laundry
#4: Sustainable swaps for laundry detergent
I’ve used a concentrated liquid laundry detergent for years. Each load runs on a dime-sized squeeze. Although the bottle is tiny, it cleans the same number of loads as those giant jugs. And I’ve noticed no change in the quality of the wash.
If you want to go further, here’s more ideas that I’m definitely going to try next time I run out of the liquid concentrate.
Laundry detergent powder and wool dryer balls! Works just as well, and I’m still using the same tin of powder that I bought over a year ago.– Patreon Donor Mar
Meliora laundry powder is great. It’s plastic-free, refillable, and comes with a measuring spoon so you don’t use too much. It smells great, and it works just as well as regular detergent.– Patreon Donor Claire
Laundry strips! So much better than liquid detergent or even powder, plus it’s good for people with sensitive skin.– Patreon Donor Lydia
Dropps does a great job with laundry detergent. The packaging is minimal and 100% recyclable, and they use carbon offsetting for their shipping.– Patreon Donor Anna
I like Dropps, but there’s some debate about whether the PVA plastic the powder comes in actually dissolves. They’re still a decent choice, but hopefully I can find an alternative in the comments!– Patreon Donor Jessica
#5: Sustainable swaps for fabric softeners
Vinegar is great for laundry, especially since too much detergent leaves your towels feeling scratchy. It can help reset and make them fluffy again.– Patreon Donor Anna
Dryer balls! Got some as gifts, but I’ve also DIY’d them. I have enough to use on rotation because inevitably one gets stuck in my laundry basket for 2 weeks.– Patreon Donor SK
Was just about to post dryer balls! I have Friendship balls and they are the BEST. Scenting them with Woolzies oil makes them even better.– Patreon Donor Anneke
I’ve never used fabric softener or dryer sheets. I tried them only once because a previous tenant left a bunch. They left my fabric feeling oily and absolutely reeking of fake chemical lavender. All of these options sound more pleasant.
I do put old tennis balls into the dryer with big items that tend to get lumpy, like down blankets and winter coats. They bounce around and keep the fluff from clumping together. Plus it gives a second life to the tennis balls my dog creepily skins, then loses all interest in. Fucking serial killer vibes, man…
#6: Sustainable swaps for drying clothing
Air drying clothes on a rack instead of using a dryer is better for the clothes’ longevity anyway.– Patreon Donor Claire
I can attest that if you have the space and time for it, hang drying really cuts down on pilling, snags, and warped hems. Piggy dries her clothes on a retired climbing rope strung across her backyard. Sustainable and the most Colorado thing I’ve ever seen or heard of!
#7: Sustainable swaps for cleaning products
Using dish soap instead of other cleaning products that have harsh ingredients. It’s safe, effective, and always available. I personally use the Trader Joe’s brand dish soap, too. It cleans grease better from bathrooms, cleans and sanitizes countertops—it’s wonderful! I’ve also been converted to using Scrub Daddy cleaning products. Those sponges? The power paste? Amazing.– Patreon Donor Brigit
This ties into another important general point: avoid single-use items and single-purpose tools!
I used to have a closet crowded with toilet cleaners, shower cleaners, surface cleaners, glass cleaners, floor cleaners… I’ve followed Brigit’s path and have stopped replacing many of them. I’d rather own one or two that work well across many purposes.
If you want a fantastic demonstration of the science behind different cleaners, I highly recommend this debunking video by Ann Reardon. She’s a treasure.
#8: Sustainable swaps for paper towels and cleaning wipes
Just say no to paper towels. I cut a couple of old bedsheets into squares, and keep them in a cloth bin in my kitchen. I don’t hem them and it’s fine. The key is having a lot of them, and keeping them in a non-heinous-looking container.– Patreon Donor V B
Mini laundry bin under kitchen sink: clutch.– Patreon Donor Maya
I’ve been using Swedish Dishcloths instead of paper towels.– Patreon Donor Ashley
Cloth hand towels to replace paper towels. We rarely use paper towels anymore, though we still have some for cooking purposes like draining bacon or fried products. All the cleaning towels go in a bucket with Simple Green and get washed from there in a batch.– Patreon Donor Stacy
Like Stacy, I’ll probably always keep paper towels on hand. I foster dogs, and I don’t love the planet enough to clean their accidents with rags I would presumably wash in my precious clothes washer. But for everything else, my stack of rags works great.
You know what makes the best rags? The cut-up t-shirts of companies you’ve quit or been fired from. I used to burn them ceremonially in the fire pit, but now I relish using them to punish shower gunk!
In the kitchen
#9: Sustainable swaps for cling wrap
As I mentioned, less-bad cling wrap was my sustainable Golgatha. I’m stoked I finally got better recommendations!
I’ve tried a bunch of alternatives to cling wrap, looking for something that actually sticks, is easy to clean, intensely reusable, and can last for years. The one that holds up the best are these little guys called Meli Wraps. This specific one is softer, easier to use, and wayyy more sticky than the most common beeswax wraps I see. They’re also a small Hawaiian company owned by a woman who’s just trying to reduce plastic in the world. I’m obsessed with these, they’re my go-to holiday gift for folks.– Patreon Donor Jordan
I hate most beeswax cling film ‘replacer,’ but I love shower cap style Norpro brand silicon bowl coverers.– Patreon Donor Marianna
#10: Sustainable swaps for parchment paper
The compostable parchment paper I got seems to work alright! Note that if you cook meat on it you probably shouldn’t put it in the compost.– Patreon donor SK
Noted! I got a silicon baking mat as a gift a few years back, and that’s replaced parchment paper for me.
#11: Sustainable swaps for zip-top plastic bags
Stasher bags instead of plastic bags. Dishwasher safe. You can even pour boiled water on them, which is great for backpacking and making your own freeze dried meals (which are so expensive at REI). I try to buy them when they are on sale since they are pricy.– Patreon Donor Kati
Agree about Stasher bags! It definitely saves the cling wrap I’d put around halves of vegetables.– Patreon Donor Varshini
BioBag makes great compostable, resealable bags. They recommend using them within one year of purchase, but I used them for longer than that and they held up great.– Patreon Donor Anna
Not a product per say, but we keep our ziplock in a harder to get place, so I’m more likely to find an alternative solution than going for a ziplock.– Patreon Donor Ellena
Ooooh. I love Ellena’s tip. It works on me because I’m creative yet lazy.
Knowing that Piggy washes and reuses her zip-top bags has made me feel very one-upped. So I’ve challenged myself to use them less and less. Unless it’s going in the freezer, I’ve actually used mason jars way more. I have a few sizes, and I use them constantly. They’re NOT just a weird decorative totem for millennials! Who knew!?
#12: Sustainable swaps for food storage containers
I use different mason jar lids to make them sippy cups, blender cups, etc.– Patreon Donor Ellena
I second this. I’ve found that the metal lids rust eventually. I caved and got a set of plastic lids to add to the rotation. Not ideal—but worth it when they get used every dang day.
Pyrex glass (with glass lids) for fridge storage, or Porter Seal Tight bowls for travel storage instead of plastic Tupperware.– Patreon Donor Caitlin
Most of my Tupperware is repurposed takeout containers, and always has been. Not exactly a “change,” but since black plastic can’t be recycled where I live, it’s better than throwing it out. And it’s not a big deal if I send someone home with food after a visit and they never give the container back.– Patreon Donor Mar
I’ve been gifted two lovely sets of Pyrex food storage containers over the years. I love them, and highly recommend them—but so do all the people who’ve STOLEN pieces of it from me over the years. Mar’s solution to this problem saves waste and friendships!
#13: Sustainable swaps for bag clips
Good bag clips stop your food from going stale. Ikea has great ones.– Patreon Donor Ellena
I have a set of old fashioned wooden clothespins I use for this and many other things.
#14: Sustainable swaps for plastic straws
We have metal Boba straws for bubble tea! You can buy stainless steel ones and keep them in a bag, sometimes they come with their own. The hardest part is remembering to not grab a straw automatically when they hand you the tea, lmao.– Patreon Donor B. E.
Silicone straws! More reusable for me than plastic, doesn’t break apart like paper straws, doesn’t hurt like metal straws, less expensive than glass straws, and perfect for those with disabilities like me. They come in various sizes and colors, and pack up small for travels as well. Many packages come with a tool to clean the interior of the straws. I get most of mine from Target.– Patreon Donor Staci
None of our Patrons recommended paper straws. So you know they have good taste and can be trusted.
#15: Sustainable swaps for takeout utensils
Bring your own silverware when ordering takeout, bringing lunch for work, or even dining out to eat. (My pre-Covid germapobe OCD demands it!) I keep a separate set with me almost at all times.– Patreon Donor Xhoie
+1 for BYO cutlery! I spent time in Taiwan a few years ago, and noticed that it’s very culturally normal for everyone there to bring cutlery. Nothing too fancy—just regular old cutlery (not special “to go” cutlery) in a cute, convenient zipper pouch. It does the job.– Patreon Donor V B
When I order takeout, I always leave a note in the order that I don’t want napkins or disposable utensils. It’s kind of a coin flip if they listen, but hey, I try!
#16: Sustainable swaps for paper napkins
Cloth napkins—no paper.– Patreon Donor Stacy
I second using cloth napkins. When you do get paper napkins, say with takeout, have a handy dedicated bag to store unused ones. Keeping one of these in the glove compartment in my car has been a game changer for reducing my overall paper napkin waste.– Patreon Donor Hogwarts
I third cloth napkins! This is a bit schmoopy, but for my wedding, I sewed my own cloth napkins. After the wedding, we kept using them every day for almost a decade. I’m slowly decommissioning them to be turned into a rag quilt. Fabric lives forever in this house!
#17: Sustainable swaps for hand soap
Bar soap is far more sustainable than liquid (and especially foam, which is kinda the worst). For those who like to get crafty, if liquid is still desired, it can be made with bar soap. It yields A LOT, a little goes a long way. Making your own soap is a fun project for kids as an intro to going green.– Patreon Donor Xhoie
God I love our Patrons. They cite sources!
Like Xhoie, I’ve switched to bar soap recently too. I keep a single pump bottle of liquid soap for guests. Because guests don’t need to see my random hair stuck to the bar. Patron Jessica gets me on this one…
Bar soap is great, but a lot of people prefer soap from pump containers. So I’d recommend both Grove Collective and Blueland, as they each limit waste. Grove offers hand soap in aluminum bottles, which can be recycled. Blueland offers concentrated tabs which, when added to water, create the soap. I personally prefer Blueland, but it’s nice that Grove is available at Target.– Patreon Donor Jessica
#18: Sustainable swaps for toilet paper
Did you know we have a whole article where we rant on and on about toilet paper? You do now!
But let’s hear the ultra-plush advice of others…
Who Gives a Crap sells recycled toilet rolls, delivered on a regular schedule in large 48-box deliveries. Environmentally friendly, and no forgetting to buy. Easy as pie.– OFFICIAL BGR MOM® Cormac
Who Gives A Crap toilet paper does get shipped, so you’re not winning the transportation emissions war. But they’re made from bamboo and recycled fibers, and come in cute plastic-free packaging that looks nice when stacking spare rolls in the bathroom.– Patreon Donor Lee
I like Reel better than Who Gives a Crap. It’s definitely worse though that the fluffy Cottonelle, lol. A bidet is crucial!– Patreon Donor Illana
Tushy offers bidet attachments that can be added to most toilets with little effort. Let me tell you, it’s a game-changer when it comes to periods and upset tummies! Another toilet paper option would be Marcal. Marcal has been selling recycled paper products for decades, and their TP is made in the US. While they aren’t charity-driven like Who Gives A Crap, they’re a more affordable option.– Patreon Donor Jessica
Miscellaneous household products
#19: Sustainable swaps for bottled water and water filters
I’m fine to drink tap water without filtering, but my husband wanted filtered water. I hated the thought of throwing away plastic replacement filters for a Brita, so I looked into alternatives. Guys, CHARCOAL is what’s inside Brita filters! So we bought a glass pitcher and activated charcoal filter pieces. You just plop the charcoal in the pitcher and let it do its work. Lasts a long time, and compostable when you’re done. The dude got his filtered water and I got less plastic in my trash. I’ve used Kishu and Miyabi brands.– Patreon Donor Kelly
I’m with Kelly; I have no complains about tap water. But its taste and quality vary so much by location. If you’re a water snob, definitely try this before committing to a more expensive and wasteful solution.
Carrying a water bottle around with me everywhere. I have 3-4 to keep on rotation while they’re being cleaned.– OFFICIAL BGR MOM® Cormac
#20: Sustainable swaps for wrapping paper
I use fabric and reuse wrapping paper to wrap gifts. Google furoshiki!– Patreon Donor Claire
I love furoshiki. When someone hands me a cloth-wrapped gift, I am blown away by the chicness.
I try to stick to brown craft paper for wrapping gifts, because it’s actually recyclable and works for all occasions. Though I occasionally give in to the dreadful curse known as The Christmas Spirit. Mea culpa!
#21: Sustainable swaps for insecticide and bug traps
I’ve used diatomaceous earth as an insect/bug killer for YEARS. I put it on any openings to the outside like window sills or door thresholds. It’s is an old school pesticide that people used to add to flour, rice, and other grains to prevent bugs from eating it all. Very environmentally friendly.– Patreon Donor Hogwarts
Diatomaceous earth is indeed incredible! It’s completely natural, made from fossils of tiny aquatic organisms. It works mechanically, not chemically. The microscopically sharp, dry edges dehydrate the exoskeletons of bugs. Both Piggy and I add it to our chicken runs to keep bird mites off our precious hens.
Finally, here are a few that folks called out for all the wrong reasons.
Silicone q-tips. Get out of here, those things don’t work.– Patreon Donor Lydia
More than one poster mentioned these don’t really get the job done.
The best cling wrap alternative is probably beeswax, but it’s not as good, let’s be honest. Though I have followed this recipe to make gifts and my own. Silicone cling worked great a few times until it ripped, and then was useless. Never again.– Patreon Donor Maya
Yeahhhh, multiple people mentioned beeswax covers are more miss than hit. The rare good ones are covered in the cling wrap section above.
Don’t buy compostable stuff in bulk! I bought a bulk package of compostable bags. They started to fall apart when I’d get about halfway through the package. Now I only buy small packs.– Patreon Donor Maya
Though not a household item, many may order these more sustainable products online. So I’d suggest—a hard sell for some—avoiding Amazon. Or at the very least the same day delivery. It’s terrible for the planet.– Patreon Donor Xhoie
Hard agree. We have a whole article about why we hate Amazon. If you can help it, please don’t buy stuff from them.
White vinegar can be used in place of fabric softeners like Downy. It’s great to use on towels, sheets, and blankets, plus it gets rid of lingering smells. WARNING: DO NOT MIX WITH BLEACH. It can literally kill you.– Patreon Donor Jessica
An EXCELLENT safety reminder! I get white vinegar in big jugs and use it for cleaning, laundry, and pickling food. I could totally see myself absentmindedly creating chlorine gas with a load of whites…
Do sustainable swaps even matter?
Piggy and I have had our disagreements. One subject that will get our nostrils flaring at each other is consumer pollution versus corporate pollution.
Piggy will always point out that the responsibility to be greener belongs to giant corporations, not individual people. Corporations have deflected culpability for egregious global pollution by intentionally framing it as a problem caused by wasteful, thoughtless consumers. For over fifty years, they’ve sponsored heartstring-tugging ads making it seem like random litterbugs are causing mass extinctions and climate change. So she gets real huffy when articles like this one frame the environment’s problems as, somehow, your fault because you don’t line dry your clothes or whatever.
And I think that’s completely fair. Regular people are busy being underpaid, overworked, and shot at by random psychos with guns. They are not the villains in this story.
My perspective is that companies don’t company just for the fun of companying. They’re producing products for people, and people are buying them. They pollute not because they enjoy it, but because we’ve created systems that make it cheap and easy for them to make a handsome profit doing so.
I’ve watched someone justify a really environmentally destructive choice by shrugging their shoulders and saying “welp, no such thing as ethical consumerism under capitalism!” That kind of cynicism is dangerous and contagious. I never want to court it by making people feel like what they do doesn’t matter.
En masse, we have great power to influence industries. Changing our buying and usage patterns is not the only one—but it is one of them!
So there you go! I’m confident we’re both right, because we have a storied legacy of never being wrong.
Tell us about your favorite sustainable swaps!
These suggestions came from our Patreon community. Based on what we know about them, 4 out of 5 of them are INFJ librarians. They got galaxy brains and know how to use them.
But I’m sure there are many more we missed! So please tell us about your favorite sustainable swaps in the comments below!
And if you enjoyed today’s post, consider joining the club. Patrons help us get paid a little for the work we do writing these articles. They get to vote on which article topics we tackle next. We often ask questions like these to crowdsource wisdom and brainstorm as a group. We love the community, and seriously appreciate their support.
Want more posts like this?
I focused this list on household essentials for cleaning, laundry, and kitchen basics. But we got a lot of opinions on two other categories: food and beauty!
If you liked this article, let us know! We’d love to publish a follow-up with all the stuff I had to leave on the cutting room floor, such as deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, body soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, and more. (Spoiler alert: toothpaste is surprisingly controversial!) But we’ll only continue if there’s interest, which you can express by commenting and/or sharing this post with others.
Some of these notes were condensed for length and clarity. HUGE thanks to everyone who contributed!