9 Things to Stop Buying Because They Harm the Planet

Woman shopping for meat at a grocery store
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Sure, there are major life changes that ordinary people can make to help the environment. And there are smaller, everyday changes as well.

Many of the suggested small changes are so well-known they’ve become cliches. Replacing single-use disposable drinking straws with either reusable or compostable straws is one of those. Stopping your use of K-cup style coffee pods or disposable razors are two more. Looking for alternatives, such as refillable coffee pods and razors where only the blade has to be replaced, is just plain better for Mother Earth.

But there are other, less obvious purchases that don’t make daily headlines. As Earth Day approaches, here’s a look at other items you should stop buying in favor of more environmentally friendly products.

1. Sandwich bags

bagged lunch
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If you pack a school or work lunch every day, you’ve surely noticed how many disposable sandwich bags you may use. Thankfully, there are better options.

Compostable paper sandwich bags are a great option. Beeswax reusable food wraps are also available, as are reusable silicone bags. But my favorite lunchtime change was switching my daughter from using a regular brown paper bag or lunchbox to a bento-style box, which has separate, washable compartments for different foods.

2. Disposable chopsticks

Woman eating sushi with chopsticks
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Disposable chopsticks are usually made of wood — so, what’s the problem? Unfortunately, it’s long been known that mass production of these one-use chopsticks accelerates deforestation and leads to bigger environmental problems.

Get each member of your family a pair of reusable chopsticks for those sushi and stir-fry meals. Many come with slim and elegant cases so you can bring them to your favorite Asian restaurant.

For more alternatives like this, check out “These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over.”

3. Cotton swabs

Cotton swabs and cotton pads next to makeup utensils
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Cotton swabs have many uses — ear-cleaning, makeup application, even laptop-keyboard cleanup. But the disposable variety are one-use products, which means they’re no friend to the environment.

You can now buy reusable cotton swabs, such as LastSwab, which are durable enough for 1,000 uses. One Good Morning America reviewer found them a great replacement for ear cleaning, though not as great for nail-polish removal.

4. Beef

Burgers cooking on a grill
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It can be hard to turn down a juicy hamburger. But we’ve known for years that it requires a lot of land to raise cattle, and the methane they exude accounts for about 10% of all human-related greenhouse gas emissions. Consider cutting back on beef in your diet — the Washington Post reports that if you swap steak for beans once a week for one year, you will keep the equivalent of 331 kilograms of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

New beef alternatives, such as Beyond Meat, use plant-based fats, binders and other ingredients to mimic the meat we love — and they do a surprisingly tasty job of it.

For more ideas, check out “8 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Meat.”

5. Disposable cutlery

Man holding plastic and eco-friendly disposable cutlery
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When you eat at home, you can use your own cutlery. But on picnics or when grabbing takeout, that’s not always possible. I like to pack a few camping-style sporks (spoon + fork — some even feature a knife-like blade) that can be wiped down after use and tucked away until I can wash them.

And when we can again host parties where heavy silverware isn’t ideal, look for bamboo and other plant-based cutlery that is compostable or at least biodegradable instead of traditional plastic utensils.

6. Disposable pens

African American man writing at table.
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According to the University of Southern Indiana, Americans throw away an estimated 1.6 billion pens each year. Thankfully, eco-friendly options provide the write stuff. Consider a pen that can be refilled or one made from paper.

7. Disposable sponges

Sponge cleaning
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Those familiar sponges sitting next to your kitchen sink likely are made of plastic. As we know all too well, typical kitchen sponges tend to get smelly and gross, and they aren’t made to last long, which means they get tossed out frequently. But with a little shopping around, you can find eco-friendly alternatives. Consider sponges made from plant-based materials like loofah and coconut fibers.

8. Balloons

Colored balloons
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Party balloons are enjoyable and colorful, but the party has a grim side. These dazzling decorations aren’t good for the environment or the many animals who unsuspectingly consume them. Consider ribbon streamers, bunting, pinwheels and luminarias when you want an option that will shout “the party’s here” without bursting your eco-conscious dreams.

9. Disposable batteries

Batteries
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It’s tough to get along without batteries — for our remote controls, for certain toys and games, for some small appliances. Thankfully, there are rechargeable batteries, and when you consider the use you get out of them, paying a little more upfront isn’t a big deal.

As a bonus: Even The New York Times declares that most name brands perform about the same, so you don’t have to sweat about which version of rechargeable battery you buy.

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