25 Biodegradable Swaps To Make Your Life More Eco-Friendly
As we step into Spring and the planet starts to renew, now is the perfect time to renew your own routines to be more planet positive. We have compiled a list of 25 awesome swaps you can make to increase your home’s eco-friendliness and reduce your carbon footprint.
What It Means to Be “Biodegradable”
We believe products should go back to the earth in a natural cycle at the end of their life.
Biodegradable and compostable materials return to nature with the help of naturally occurring microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, algae) and biodegrade into CO2, water and biomass.
Biodegradable materials biodegrade in months or years, like an old tree on the forest floor.
Compostable materials biodegrade in weeks or months, like an apple in the soil.
Why Your Choice Matters
Non-biodegradable materials like petroleum-based plastics, aluminum cans, styrofoam, etc., take-up an incredible amount of space upon their disposal. When not recycled, these materials are sent to landfills where they live out the remainder of their days changing at a rate so slow you would never be able to visually detect it.
Most non-biodegradable materials remain unchanged in landfills for decades or even centuries, and eventually begin to leach toxic chemicals into the surrounding soil and environment.
Biodegradable materials are able to naturally break down in certain environmental conditions, taking up far less physical space than non-biodegradable materials like metals and plastics. These materials leave behind fewer toxins and residual particles than synthetically derived material waste.
By choosing biodegradable alternatives, you reduce the amount of landfill space your waste takes up, and help to reduce the number of toxins present in your local landfill/environment. Choosing biodegradable alternatives also helps to increase demand for environmental alternatives, which encourages other more companies to be mindful of their environmental impact.
25. Make Your Own Face & Body Scrub
There is no better feeling than sloughing off a layer of old dead skin to reveal a new, smooth, healthy complexion, but if you are still using an exfoliant loaded with microbeads, you’re behind the times.
Microbeads are made from small pieces of plastic barely larger than the eye of a needle. Added to soaps, face scrubs, body scrubs, and tons of other exfoliating skincare products, microbeads do a good job scrubbing the skin but also pose a serious threat to the environment.
Once washed away by your sink, these tiny pieces of plastic are flushed into natural ecosystems and waterways.
Essentially already in the form of microplastics, microbeads may easily be consumed by wildlife and marine animals, and can easily be absorbed into soil, groundwater supplies, and the surrounding environment.
Basically, if you couldn’t tell that washing thousands of minuscule pieces of plastic down the drain was bad, well, now you know.
Don’t worry, giving up microbeads doesn’t mean giving up on smooth skin. Rather than buying often expensive plastic laden products, make your own biodegradable exfoliating face and body scrub!
A few simple ingredients you probably already have at home are all you need, and you’ll be shocked at how well they do the job.
Basic Sugar Scrub Recipe:
- Combine 1 cup brown sugar with ⅓ cup olive oil
- Mix thoroughly
- Use tips of fingers to massage scrub into skin, rinse with warm water
24. Switch to Organic Cotton Menstrual Products
Menstrual products are typically formulated with layers of polymer-based fibers and packaged in plastic wrappers and with plastic applicators. With the average period-haver using more than 15,000 tampons in their lifetime, that’s a lot of plastic being tossed in landfills or left littering oceans.
Besides posing a threat to the environment, plastic menstrual products aren’t much better for human health, and there is a shocking lack of regulatory oversight to inform the formulation of menstrual products.
Organyc menstrual pads and tampons are made using 100% organic cotton, which is both biodegradable and contains no toxic chemicals. To replace the typical hard-plastic applicators, Organyc tampons include recycled cardboard applicators, which can easily biodegrade in just a few years.
To solve the need for individual plastic wrappers around each pad or tampon, Organyc has created an all-cornstarch alternative, which is also biodegradable.
23. Offer Biodegradable Coffee Cups
If you operate a business that serves coffee, tea, or other hot beverages, you likely hand out hundreds of disposable paper cups every day.
While many consumers believe that conventional paper coffee cups are recyclable/biodegradable, these products are typically coated with a thin plastic layer to improve water resistance.
With sneaky hidden plastic to contend with, most paper hot beverage cups cannot be recycled, repurposed, or environmentally disposed of.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to insist your customers bring their own reusable cups - although that would be an awesome and eco-friendly solution. Next time you need to stock up on disposable cups, opt for a brand that makes theirs compostable!
Good Start Packaging offers compostable cups in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. While these cups are technically compostable and can, therefore, decompose in a conventional composting environment, they will behave as though they are biodegradable in a landfill environment.
22. Release the Tea
We love a good cup of tea as much as the next person, but finding out that tea bags are made with plastic polymer fibers that release microplastics into your mug and the environment has got us taking a second look at our drinking habits.
While some teabags can actually be composted, many others are mixed material plastics that won’t biodegrade in any environment.
While you can carefully research the brands you purchase in the future, the best way to ensure you are consuming your tea as environmentally as possible is to purchase bulk loose leaf tea.
Loose leaf tea is on its own biodegradable, and won’t do any harm to the planet once thrown away. By purchasing loose leaf tea and brewing it in a reusable tea strainer you’ll be able to eliminate plastic waste from your morning cuppa and your lifestyle.
21. Opt for Biodegradable Shampoo
Like exfoliating, washing your hair is an important part of staying fresh and clean. There are hundreds of products on the market to help you keep your locks clean and shiny, but lots of these products are also chock full of chemicals that could be harmful to the environment.
Ingredients like sulfates, Cocamidopropyl betaine, potassium sorbate, and dimethicone are artificially derived, toxic to the environment, and potentially harmful to human health.
Many of the harsh ingredients included in popular shampoos have been linked to skin rashes, eye conditions, and even certain cancers.
Luckily, you don’t have to start washing your hair with baking soda to make your hair care routine healthier and more environmentally friendly, you just need to choose a new brand!
One of our favorite options is Aloe Shampoo by Habitat Botanicals, which is not only 100% biodegradable, but also features simple plastic-free paper packaging to eliminate additional post-consumer waste. Rather than a long list of complicated chemicals, these shampoo bars are formulated with just a few natural ingredients like olive, coconut, castor, and essential oils.
20. Bamboo Q-Tips
A common reason many plastic products that should theoretically be recyclable go unrecycled is because they are considered too lightweight to be processed by most recycling facilities.
Lightweight plastic items like q-tips can easily fall between cracks in machinery or sorting equipment, tainting other recycling batches and making them unusable. Because of this, small items like q-tips, straws, and dental floss are considered non-recyclable.
So, what happens to these tiny pieces of plastic? Some go to landfills, and many more end up in oceans, lakes, rivers, and waterways.
With trillions of pieces of plastic being dumped annually into oceans and other vital ecosystems, some companies are looking for ways to make common plastic items like q-tips a little more eco-friendly.
Earth Hero offers biodegradable cotton swabs made from two simple natural materials: bamboo and cotton. Unlike plastic swabs that can survive in landfills for more than 500 years, these natural q-tips will biodegrade without a trace.
Best of all, Earth Hero sustainably sources their materials and donate part of their proceeds to charity.
19. Ditch That Dirty Kitchen Sponge
Most kitchen sponges you’ll find at your local store are made from a combination of natural cellulose and plastic nylon. The presence of durable nylon makes sponges difficult to dispose of, and helps them to last in landfills for centuries before degrading into microplastics.
Because kitchen sponges see a fair amount of use, most households should dispose of them every 1-2 weeks in order to prevent the spread of bacteria. To remain safe and healthy, most households will contribute 26 to 52 nylon sponges to landfills annually.
Lucky for us, there are eco-friendly sponge alternatives to choose from, and some are even biodegradable and compostable! Our favorite options include these biodegradable Swedish dishcloths that are basically super strong paper towels, and plant-based loofah sponges that you can find everywhere from Target and Amazon to your local grocery store.
18. DIY Biodegradable Confetti
Confetti is fun, but this sparkly party accessory is often made from tiny pieces of plastic, and are essentially just microplastics sold as decorations.
While you can certainly sweep up confetti and reuse it another time, confetti is most often discarded after a single-use, or used outside where it immediately disappears among the blades of grass and the bushes.
While the negative effects of littering handfuls of plastic might be obvious to some, it isn’t always clear to everyone what cost this practice might have.
If you want to add some pizzazz to your next party or event with a little confetti, try throwing one of these biodegradable confetti alternatives instead.
Options like flower petals, coconut shreds, and dried herbs like lavender and chamomile flowers make excellent and whimsical replacements, and won’t do any harm if you miss a few during the cleanup process.
*Note: Rice, while technically biodegradable, is not a good confetti substitute. Birds and other wildlife may become ill should they consume large amounts of dried rice, and this option should be avoided in order to protect native wildlife.
17. Natural Pooper Scoopers
Having a dog to enjoy nature with is one of life’s great joys, but when your precious pooch needs to go number two, their company can be a little less sweet.
While picking up your doggy’s poops might be mandatory, you aren’t required to stick to the traditional plastic-baggy solution.
The plastic bags typically used for dog waste are made from the same petroleum-based plastic as other single-use bags like produce and grocery bags, and won’t naturally degrade in any environment.
Rather than tossing a sheet of plastic in the trash every time your dog needs a potty break, choose a biodegradable alternative like The Original Poop Bag, a cornstarch based bag that works the same way as your traditional plastic variety.
While these bags are fully compostable (they’ll degrade in a composting environment in as little as 40 days), The Original Poop Bags will degrade at a rate similar to biodegradable materials in a landfill.
16. Sub-Out Plastic Gloves
Dog poop bags help keep your hand away from….well, you know, but that’s not all they’re good for! Dog poop bags can be super helpful whenever you need to handle a nasty mess, even if that nasty mess just happens to be the germ covered gas pump handle at your local gas station.
Now, with additional precautions being used worldwide to help reduce the spread of bacteria and germs, more and more individuals have begun regularly carrying and using single-use plastic gloves.
While plastic gloves are essential for many healthcare and food service workers, their use isn’t necessary by the majority of individuals. Next time you need to touch something gross, like the gas pump handle at your gas station, sub-out your plastic gloves and use a biodegradable dog poop bag instead.
Since doing simple things like pumping gas or touching public door handles doesn’t require careful attention to detail gloves are an unnecessary expense, and a biodegradable dog poop bag will make a perfect substitute.
15. No More Nylon
Like plastic q-tips, traditional nylon dental floss is considered to be too lightweight to be processed by most recycling plants. Because of this, dental floss has become yet another common addition to both landfills and natural ecosystems.
While strength and resistance to friction might be helpful while you are cleaning your teeth, the immense durability of nylon floss quickly becomes hazardous if ocean critters become entangled in the thin threads.
While we aren’t suggesting you stop flossing (your dentist would be furious with us!), you should consider choosing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional nylon dental floss.
Companies like Net Zero Co. are working hard to offer biodegradable options, like floss made from natural corn silk. While biodegradable dental flosses are gentle on the environment, don’t let that fool you: corn floss will get your teeth just as squeaky clean as your nylon floss without the harsh chemical ingredients.
14. Make Your Own Household Cleaners
Like shampoos, many household cleaners are made using harsh synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to both the environment and human health.
Despite being loaded with questionable ingredients, there are very few regulations regarding disclosure, and the federal government does not require manufacturers to list ingredients on their packaging.
If exposing yourself, your family, and the environment to an unknown litany of chemicals makes you nervous, your instincts are correct.
Harsh chemicals included in household cleaners can be toxic to the environment and local wildlife, may irritate or worsen existing respiratory conditions, and can even cause soil and water quality degradation.
With few regulations protecting consumers or the environment, one of the best ways to ensure your cleaning products are eco-friendly is to make them yourself.
This guide from Eartheasy covers everything you’ll need to know to create your own non-toxic biodegradable cleaners, and includes lots of information about chemicals you should look out for in common commercial cleaners.
13. Biodegradable Sunglasses
There are two kinds of people in this world: the kind that can keep a single pair of sunglasses for decades, and the kind that loses or breaks theirs once a month. With lots of people falling into the second category, sunglasses happen to be a frequent visitor to landfills around the world.
Since most sunglasses are made from hard plastic, one pair can take hundreds of years to even begin to break down, and will leave behind toxic residue even thousands of years from now.
As an answer to the conventional pair of plastic sunglasses, we over here at Pela created the Pela Vision Collection, a line of biodegradable sunglasses made entirely from plant-based materials. Should your pair of Pela sunglasses wind up in a landfill, their end of life will be waste-free, or you can easily send them back to us to be reused or recycled.
12. Say Goodbye to Plastic Wrap
Like q-tips and floss, clean plastic wrap is too light to be processed in most recycling facilities, and must, therefore, be thrown away with other conventional waste.
Even if plastic wrap could be recycled, soiled plastic wrap that is covered in food residue would not be eligible for recycling, since materials must be cleanable in order to be recycled.
Beyond simply being non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, plastic wrap is full of chemicals which can leach into food, soil, and water supplies.
Bee’s Wrap can be used to wrap and preserve almost anything, and the natural antibacterial properties of the beeswax and jojoba oil coating help to keep each piece fresh and usable over and over again for up to a year.
If you throw your Bee’s Wrap away, it will decompose in a landfill environment at a rate similar to other biodegradable materials. Should you choose to, Bee’s Wrap can also be cut into small pieces and added to a compost pile, or made into strips and used as a natural fire starter.
11. Wheat and Cane Straws
Remember all those lightweight plastic items that can’t be recycled? Well, straws are another item to add to the list!
One of the most commonly littered items, millions of straws wind up floating freely in our oceans every single year.
Like other commonly littered plastic products, plastic straws have been found in increasing numbers lodged in the bodies and digestive systems of marine critters like fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles.
With the general public beginning to pay more attention to the readily growing presence of plastic in our rivers, lakes, and oceans, plastic straw bans have begun to roll out worldwide.
While plastic straws are undeniably bad for the environment, there are individuals who rely on straws to allow them to drink independently, and straws are admittedly also a lot of fun!
Individuals with limited mobility, seniors, and those with sensitive teeth or other sensory conditions use straws daily to help facilitate independent living. While straws may be personnel preference for some, for others, they are an absolute necessity.
Whether you need straws to live life comfortably or just like enjoying your favorite beverage through a miniature water-slide, ditching plastic doesn’t have to mean ditching straws.
Biodegradable alternatives like those made by Yes Straws offer an experience that is virtually identical to using a plastic straw without any of the environmentally harmful materials.
10. Cardboard Deodorant Tubes
We won’t get into the toxic chemicals present in most commercial deodorants in this blog post - we’ll save that for another time - but we will mention the amount of plastic waste the deodorant industry contributes.
Most commercial deodorants are sold in a hard plastic container, and if you’ve been paying attention to the last 15 items, you already know why that’s a problem.
Habitat Botanicals offers an awesome zero-waste biodegradable deodorant stick that won’t expose you or the planet to harmful chemicals or toxins.
Completely plastic-free and made from recyclable cardboard, this deodorant tube will biodegrade in a landfill environment or compost in your home compost bin or local composting center.
9. Fish Food Golf Balls
The average golf ball you’ll find on any golf course is made from plastic and rubber, and while many end up in the bottom of lakes and rivers, they are in fact not particularly environmentally friendly.
At this point, you can probably imagine what the problem with a bunch of plastic balls laying at the bottom of a lake might be, but why hasn’t anyone come up with a reasonable solution?
Well, they have! Albus Golf has created the ECOBIOBALL, a biodegradable golf ball with fish food sealed in the center. Rather than sitting at the bottom of a pond or lake for months or even years, ECOBIOBALLs biodegrade in less than 48 hours, allowing the local fish population to access a tasty and healthy treat hidden in the center.
8. Cork Yoga Mats
Most traditional yoga mats are made from synthetic rubbers, and while many are manufactured using recycled materials, that doesn’t make them more environmentally friendly.
Like other rubber products, yoga mats can take hundreds of years to begin to decompose in landfills, and won’t ever decompose entirely. As an alternative to traditional rubber mats, some companies, like Scoria, are turning to cork and tree-fibers.
7. Organic Rubber Hair Ties
Hair ties are traditionally made from synthetic elastic cores bound with nylon fibers. These synthetic polymer-based ingredients make for a strong hold, but also make hair ties long-lasting in landfills.
Easily lost and frequently littered, synthetic fiber hair ties are also commonly consumed by local wildlife, or found wrapped around their snouts, bodies, and legs, restricting movement.
Organic Biodegradable Hair Ties from Wild Minimalist are 100% biodegradable, made from organic cotton and natural rubber. Should you lose one of these, you won’t need to worry about it putting some small critter in danger of polluting the planet since it’s natural material components will immediately start to decompose.
6. Scrub Clean with A Natural Loofah
Those items that most of us call “loofahs” are actually bath poufs, bundles of synthetic fabric typically made from fibrous plastic materials like nylon.
Like other synthetic plastic products, bath poufs eventually become microplastics in the landfill, and since they should only be used for a few months, most of us end up throwing hundreds away in our lifetime.
To top it all off, synthetic bath poufs might not be getting us as clean as we think, since they will eventually begin to collect dirt and bacteria.
Natural loofah actually comes from the luffa plant, which when dried becomes a 100% natural exfoliating sponge soft enough to gently clean your skin without causing redness or irritation.
Because luffa is a naturally occurring plant, discarding your old loofah won’t mean tossing plastic in a landfill. Luffa will naturally biodegrade or compost, and can even be grown in your own garden with a little extra effort.
5. Biodegradable Cleansing Wipes
Makeup and cleansing wipes are one of those products that truthfully should be avoided in general, but some are certainly more harmful to the environment than others.
The majority of facial cleansing wipes are made from synthetic non-woven material, and cannot be recycled or environmentally disposed of. While you would ideally opt for a cotton washcloth and a natural cleanser, if you must use a wipe, choose a biodegradable variety.
There are several readily available biodegradable wipes for sale on the mass market, including Wonder Wipes from Billie, and SheaMoisture’s African Black Soap Clarifying Facial Wipes, easily purchasable at such stores as Target and Walmart.
4. Biodegradable Business Cards
You might think that business cards would automatically be biodegradable, considering that they are typically made from paper, but water-resistant coatings and plastic finishes make these little items difficult to sustainably reuse or dispose of.
Plantable Business Cards from Botanical Paperworks are not only biodegradable, but they are also laced with viable seeds to grow beautiful flowers and plants long after your business card has decomposed.
3. Plastic Free Disposable Cutlery
Whether you operate a restaurant/cafe, or just like to have disposable cutlery on hand for picnics and parties, choosing a biodegradable variety can help you seriously reduce your personal plastic waste.
2. Sustainable Pens and Pencils
Did you know that Americans throw away 1.6 billion pens annually? No? Neither did we!
Most pens are made from non-recyclable plastic, and often contain toxic ingredients in their inks.
If you are one of the many individuals that still use pens and pencils every day, check out this list of eco-friendly writing utensils to find some biodegradable alternatives to your cheap plastic office-supply variety.
1. Edible Six-Pack Rings
Six-pack rings, the plastic loops used to hold packs of soda or beer together, have been a source of concern for environmental advocates for decades. They continue to wreak havoc on marine environments today.
Sea birds, turtles, fish, and other wildlife are frequently found with six-pack rings stuck around their bodies, mouths, fins, legs, and wings, restricting the ability to eat, defend themselves, swim, or even move.
In response to the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, Saltwater Brewery has created an eco-friendly alternative to plastic six-pack rings that is not only biodegradable but can also be safely consumed by marine creatures.
Saltwater Brewery’s Edible Six-Pack Rings are made from barley and wheat ribbons leftover from the brewing process. Should a sea turtle snag one of these six-pack rings floating through the water, they’ll be surprised by nothing more serious than a tasty treat.
0. Compostable Phone Case
Oh, you thought we weren’t going to give you a bonus swap!? Well you thought wrong. This one is more than just biodegradable. At Pela case, we offer a range of compostable plastic phone cases that really are the ultimate eco-friendly swap!
Thus far, thanks to our incredible community of customers and supporters, Pela has helped to keep more than 313,528 pounds of plastic from ever being produced.
Pela Cases are made from our proprietary bioplastic Flaxtic, a blend of flax shive and starch-based elastomer.
Once you are ready to switch out your phone case, all you have to do is toss your Pela Case into your backyard compost bin, bring it to your local composting center, or send it into the Pela 360 program where we’ll take care of making sure it is sustainably upcycled or composted.