Trendy zero waste products are great, but are they sustainable? Carefully choosing sensible, reusable products that fit your lifestyle can drastically reduce your waste, and even save you money. But these items are only really sustainable if you NEED them. If you could live without it, or you aren’t going to get considerable use out of the item, then that zero waste product is far from environmentally-friendly and certainly not minimalist. Often, trendy zero waste items are just more “stuff” being marketed to us to perpetuate the consumer and capitalist cycle (or even greenwashing). This post looks at trendy zero waste items you probably don’t need.
For more on minimalism see: Minimalism – Helpful or Detrimental to Sustainable Living?
That being said, if you have any of these things I mention below and you use them, that’s great! Or, if you think “that looks amazing — that thing will make my life so much easier and I can stop throwing out single use items!!”, then please do look into these products in more detail.
The brands mentioned below are just representative examples of types of products, I’m not targeting them specifically.
For more information, check out my previous post: Zero Waste Essentials – Things I won’t be buying! (Part 3). As an update on that post, we did end up getting a wooden dish brush and we love it. Lucy also got a safety razor because her plastic one snapped in half. It’s also pretty great!
Silicone Cotton Ear Bud
I switched to buying bamboo/cotton ear buds (Q-tips) in cardboard packaging, but I’ve been seeing these silicone equivalents marketed on social media. My questions are: how long do they last? Are they hygienic? How resource-intensive were they to create/ship?
Another option you could look into instead are the wooden or metal ear scrapers that are commonly found in Asia. I’ve never used one, so I can’t attest to whether or not they work. I’ve also heard that different people have different types of ear wax, so perhaps the scrapers are better if you have hard wax, whereas cotton buds are better for soft wax…
As I mentioned in the zero waste essentials post linked above, I have no use for a metal, bamboo, or glass straw because I rarely use straws. When I do, I have some durable plastic straws that I clean out as re-use, and take with me on-the-go. The collapsible metals straws do look neat, but you probably don’t need one. Before you go out and buy loads of reusable straws, think about how much you will use them because they still use resources for manufacturing and distribution.
Reusable Tampon Applicator
I mentioned this product in my Companies that are Greenwashing post. My suggestion is try a menstrual cup. If you do decide to use tampons, you can probably just get buy using your finger and some organic and unbleached tampons, and then you don’t run into hygiene, cleaning, and storage issues.
Collapsible Travel Mug
These seem like such a great idea because they take up less space in your bag. But surely you could just put your empty travel mug in your backpack pouch, or car cup holder? I worry that these cups will collapse with hot liquid in them, or that when you’re finished and collapse them, they’ll end up dripping leftover coffee anyways. Maybe a useful trendy zero waste product for some, but you probably don’t need it. Biodegradable Glitter (with a degradable pot)
Now eco glitter is a much better alternative to conventional glitter made of plastic particles, no question. But, do you really need glitter at all?! I guess if you are big into festivals or wear costumes regularly, then please do look into this alternative. I think my glitter days are over, and that’s okay. 🙂 Just remember, when something is “biodegradable” that just means it breaks down into smaller pieces.
For example, on Bio-glitter‘s website they actually say “We are now investing in further development to remove the final trace of plastic from Bioglitter SPARKLE, utilising the new and proven natural coating used in Cosmetic Bioglitter PURE”. So, bear in mind that some of their products still contain plastic. I also couldn’t find any information on their website about general environmental policies and carbon footprint.
See my post on tips to avoid greenwashing if you’re still confused about terms like “biodegradable” and “pure”.
I’ve mentioned that I don’t need bamboo cutlery because I rarely eat on-the-go. If I do, I bring a fork from home. I saw this ad on Instagram and I thought – unless you do backpack camping or something similar, you probably don’t need folding cutlery. And since when was washing cutlery so difficult and time-consuming?!
It seems that “vegan” is the trendy word of the year, and a lot of cosmetics brands are slapping it on packaging. The thing is, often products are already vegan. And, if they’ve removed animal ingredients, are the products still healthy for you given that cosmetics are full of chemicals? My advice is be wary of marketing schemes using trendy words, and do your research on ingredient lists. Better yet, say goodbye to drugstore cosmetics altogether to reduce the plastic packaging and resource-intensive production process from your morning routine!
I’ve seen so many adverts for organic and “natural” deodorants on my social media. While these products are likely better than standard antiperspirants, you probably don’t need one of those trendy push pop style deodorant sticks. Why not try making your own first? For my recipe, see my DIY toiletries post.
This can be anything from veg delivery boxes, to eco cosmetics boxes, to concentrated sachets of household cleaners. The veg boxes can be useful if you’re actually going to use what they send you, but these are still creating a carbon footprint by being delivered to your door and often contain plastic packaging. A better alternative would be to grow your own, or shop at your local farmer’s market.
Subscription boxes for beauty products go completely against the idea of sustainability. You simply don’t need new products every month. End of story. Use what you’ve got, and then replace if necessary one at a time.
I’ve seen a lot of advertising for new companies making small sachets of concentrated cleaners that you mix with water in your reusable spray bottles. But what’s in the cleaners? And what about the carbon footprint in having these cleaners delivered? I don’t want to entirely poo poo this concept because a lot of companies seem to claim that they use cardboard packaging, water soluble sachets, and cleaning agents “based on plant extracts and pure essential oils”, but that could still mean they are synthetic and contain other ingredients. Do your research.
Moreover, you probably also don’t need six different kinds of cleaners. Vinegar, lemon, and baking soda clean most things. If you’re looking to re-fill your bottles with laundry soap or dish soap, you can sometimes find re-fill stations for Ecover and SESI, which have no nasty chemicals in them.
Lucy suggested I include smart meters for homes. There is an ad campaign for smart meters using children and the fear of climate change to sell the smart meter product. This is borderline unethical and furthermore there has been considerable backlash suggesting that energy companies are essentially greenwashing – you can read more on stopsmartmeters.org and Parliament Committee Paper.
ON THE FENCE
Brands like Thinx and Modibodi make underwear you wear instead of pads, or wear with a cup/tampons as back up. I might try these out one day, but for now my cloth pads are working well. If you’re looking to switch from disposable period products, I’ve heard great things about them!
Have you tried any of these products, and if so are they a must-have zero waste item? Are there any dubious trendy zero waste products I’ve left off my list? Share in the comments!
Thank you for sharing your common sense approach. It seems to be a rarity these days.