Disposable products are so common for a reason. Usually cheap, very convenient, and easy to clean up. And once you throw it in the trash can, it is easy to forget about them. But the amount of resources that go in to every disposable product should make you think twice of not using a more sustainable version. Also think about this: the initial cost of a reusable item may be higher than its disposable counterpart, but overtime the cost of constantly buying the disposable product will be greater.
Here are ten alternatives to common disposable products.
1. Grocery bags. By now, it is fairly common to see people with cloth bags at the grocery store. Most stores in my area even offer 5 cents off for every bag you bring in. In some towns, plastic bags have even been banned. And if you already use cloth bags at the grocery store, that's great! But what about other stores you shop in? And what about the plastic produce bags you use? Get your own produce bags (I found mine at Whole Foods for pretty cheap), and take along the cloth bags you already have when you do your other shopping. This probably won't save you money (I haven't heard of any non-grocery store offering a bag rebate), but it will help the environment greatly.
2. Swiffer pads. I love my Swiffer Wet Jet. It's easy to use and stores easily. But the cleaning pads are expensive, and are very wasteful. Buy some cloth swiffer pads, and use them instead of the disposable option. I have the ones I linked to, and love them. It's a higher cost up-front, but I have no doubt I'll recoup the cost quickly. If you are crafty, you can also make your own. Also consider making your own cleaning solution for the swiffer jet, and you won't need to buy and throw out the cleaning bottles.
3. Menstrual products. Ok, bear with me. Initially this suggestion is out there, but it is not as weird as you may think. Tampons and pads contain a considerate amount of chemicals, and need to be disposed of immediately. Most women also have to buy these products on a regular basis. There are alternatives to tampons/pads, that not only cost less but are better for the environment. One example is the diva cup. This is a menstrual cup that is safe to use, and can last several years. It's far cheaper in the long-run, and you won't need to replace it as often as you buy new tampons.
4. Lunch bags. Taking your own lunch to work or school is a great way to save money. I bring my lunch most days for that reason. But don't take your lunch in a paper bag with plastic baggies inside. Buy a few containers and use those to bring your lunch in instead. Mason jars are inexpensive, safe, and easy to pack. I've also never had an issue with food leaking out of a mason jar. You can use stainless steel food containers. Even plastic Tupperware is a better option than constantly buying plastic bags. (Though, if you are like me, Tupperware containers will magically disappear a lot faster than glass jars.) Also keep a couple sets of utensils at your desk so you don't have to use the plastic utensils supplied by your office.
5. Napkins. Paper towels are a standard in many households, including mine, but there are alternatives. You can buy cloth napkins, or make your own, for very little money. I'm trying to get away from using paper towels, so I keep them in the back of the pantry and put the cloth napkins and rags within easy reach. I like to get dish rags in darker colors so stains aren't as obvious. There are still some spills I prefer to clean up with a paper towel, but I'm trying to cut back my dependency on them.
6. Kitchen products. I think most waste in the average house comes from the kitchen. Aluminum foil, k-cups, cupcake wrappers, plastic wrap, etc. are common items that you see in disposable form. If you are considering a Keurig (or already have one), make sure you get a reusable filter to use instead of the k-cups. When baking, you can use silpat mats instead of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Also consider switching to trash bags that are more environmentally friendly (like the ones here).
7. Batteries. Rechargeable batteries are becoming more common and less expensive. They are not a perfect alternative as they do eventually need to be disposed of, however they last far longer than standard batteries. You can find them at Wal-Mart and even Whole Foods.
8. Starbucks drinks. Or any drink you get on the go. I'm not sure if every place will allow this, but Starbucks and some local coffee shops will let you bring your own cup to fill your drink with. Buy a cup in the size you order most of the time, and keep it on hand for when you want to get coffee in the morning. I keep my grande sized cup in my car just in case.
9. Refillable pens/toner. I heard of being able to refill toner and ink cartridges, but did not realize you can also refill some pens and markers. I'm constantly throwing out pens and buying large packs of them, so I will need to look into the refillable pens. You can refill some ink cartridges at stores like Office Max, and even CVS.
10. Hand soap. This is not a reusable option as much as it is a better alternative. Castile soap is made from completely biodegradable ingredients and is not harmful to you or the environment. I use the Dr. Bronner's brand which is ethically sourced and fair trade. The soap comes in both liquid and bar form, and costs more than your standard hand soap. The liquid soap is an all-purpose cleaner, so we use it in our soap pumps, to clean the bathroom, and as a body-wash. This soap can replace many of your regular household cleaners.
No product will ever have zero impact on the environment. Even the greenest products impact the environment by just existing. But you can choose products that have less of an impact, or don't use resources that aren't sustainable. It's a give and take, so don't feel bad if you use some disposable products.