Zero Waste, Plastic Free Alternatives Master List



Below are DIY projects, recipes, and plastic-free recommendations for common household items. This is meant as a reference, not to encourage shopping. Most plastic-free items today seem tailored to the sort of customer who drinks from a mason jar, attends "flower potlucks," and pays $250 for decorative twigs to festoon their reclaimed wood farmhouse table. If you already have plastic versions of these items, by all means, use them first, then make your own or hit the thrift store. Online shops like Buy Me Once or upcycled / reused marketplaces such as Kuttlefish are also good resources.


Arts, Crafts, Office Supplies



I save packing materials and reuse them, but when shipping things to the US or packing fragile items, clothes and sheets always keep glass and liquids safe. This last trip, my husband brought back a suitcase full of beer wrapped in socks and underwear and nothing broke! Vintage papers, notebooks, stationery, and arts and crafts supplies can be purchased at Au Grand Magasin in Paris 11ème.

Household



People make fun of parents that buy wooden blocks and handcrafted toys for their children, but my brothers and sisters and I always had fun with them (if I'd gotten the metal pedal or wooden soapbox car I always wanted, I'd be a better driver today). Perhaps the problem is the kids are boring, not the toys. My friends buy plastic-free thrift store toys for their children, who are happy, creative, and well-adjusted. You might also consider joining a toy library or organizing a toy swap.

This goes for everything on the list, but borrow or buy household items, including electronics and appliances, used where possible. For example, when he met me, my husband took one look at my seven-year-old flip phone and gave me his old smartphone. If buying secondhand isn't realistic, maintain and repair items instead of buying new, which is something I think everybody does anyway. I re-use a crate to hold recyclables, and a large glass jar for compost scraps.


Personal care 


  • Anti-fungal cream
  • Beauty
  • Birth kit
  • Birth control: Not that I'm advocating or detracting from any form of birth control, it's a personal decision whether you use plastic of not, but some use a fertility monitor or practice natural birth control instead of hormonal options, others opt for an IUD
  • Bug repellent
  • Breath mints / gum
  • Breath spray
  • Blush / Bronzer: Beetroot powder (make your own, or buy a lead-free version) or cocoa powder
  • Concealer
  • Cough medicine: My doctor always said dark chocolate was the most effective cough medicine, and he's right! He graduated from Oxford and Cambridge with honors so it's not like he's some quack or anything. For homemade cough drops, click here.
  • Curlers: Rag or pin curls
  • Deodorant- baking soda
  • Dry shampoo- cocoa powder, cornstarch
  • Eyeliner: Kohl / kajal (not Middle Eastern or Asian, which can contain lead), cobalt ultramarine powder, Fat and the Moon eye coal
  • Eye shadow: Turmeric powder, spirulina, clays, sage powder, or cocoa works; click here for DIY
  • Hair dye: Nettle leaf, black walnut hull, sage, and henna color brown tones. Beet powder, hibiscus, rosehips, and saffron give a red tinge. Lemon, quassia chips, turmeric, and chamomile dye blond hair or highlights. Click here for instructions.
  • Hairspray- lemon / lime juice or sugar water
  • Hair ties
  • Heating pad: Fill a cotton bag with rice and warm it up.
  • Feminine hygiene- switch to a cup, natural sponges, or washable pads (for DIY instructions click here) and, though tampons are not ideal, reusable hemp tampons. Period panties are intriguing, but so far I could only find ones made of plastic.
  • Floss- siwak
  • First aid / medicine
  • Hairbrush- wood and natural rubber
  • Lotion or lubrication- DIY mango butter, bulk oil, especially olive or coconut. Note: If your doctor or veterinarian recommended KY Jelly for thermometers, do not substitute.
  • Mascara
  • Nail clippers / file: Stainless steel, bamboo, or glass
  • Nail polish remover: Best to skip vernis ongles, but some soybean oil removers come packaged in glass
  • Perfume: DIY or refill your Le Labo bottles in-store (cruelty free) 
  • Q-tips / cotton pads- I've never used Q-Tips- don't your ears get clean every time you take a shower? Try a hemp washcloth to remove makeup, or reusable cotton rounds. 
  • Razor / shaving cream- safety razor and unpackaged soap
  • Shampoo: water only, soap, clay, rye flour (for fine hair), gram flour (thick hair), bulk
  • Straightener: 6 ways to straighten your hair naturally
  • Sunless tanner: Henna, cocoa powder self tanning lotion
  • Sunscreen 
  • Tissues: handkerchiefs or Hankybook
  • Toilet paper: soap and water, recycled (packed in paper), or family cloth
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste- siwak, bamboo, and baking soda
  • Tooth whitener: Turmeric or activated charcoal
Ellis Faas, Fat and the Moon, Elate Cosmetics, and Kjaer Weis are the favorite makeup brands in the zero waste community right now.

Wardrobe



Kitchen


  • Almond milk
  • Bean sprouts
  • Blender- plastic-free, or eat whole fruits and vegetables
  • Baby bottle: glass (that's what my mom used for all of us!) or stainless steel
  • Cling wrap- cloth towels, jars, or covered glass and stainless steel containers
  • Coffee filters- French press
  • Dish rack- I just use a cloth towel, but choose metal drying racks if necessary
  • Dish soap- bar soap or castile
  • Fish sauce
  • Flour
  • Food processor- mortar and pestle, ricer, plastic-free or secondhand food processor
  • Homemade food coloring
  • Ice cube tray
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Meat grinder- have butcher grind meat, then place directly into jars, or use at home grinder
  • Mustard
  • Nut milks
  • Noodle cups: DIY in a mason jar
  • Olive oil
  • Paneer
  • Paper towels- flour sack towels
  • Parchment paper / muffin liners- generally compostable, although I don't use aluminum foil or parchment when recipes call for them. Food turns out fine. My mom uses silicone muffin pans and macaron mats; silicone behaves as a plastic, but can be fully recycled. 
  • Pasta- buy in bulk, or, if celiac, make it fresh. When I have leftover mashed potatoes I make gnocchi out of it- add rice, almond, or coconut flour and one egg or vegan egg replacement (I like chia gel), then form with your hands.
  • Pickles
  • Popsicle mold
  • Quark
  • Refrigerator- click here to store food without the refrigerator, here for a DIY zeer pot.
  • Rice flour
  • Salad spinner- use cloth or plastic-free
  • Slow cooker- bring double-handled pot to temperature, then wrap in wool blanket and place in covered basket
  • Soy sauce- here or here, for soy-free sauce. Vegans can substitute vegetable broth for beef/chicken, or just use coconut aminos.
  • Sparkling water- seltzer bottle
  • Straws- DIY, skip, or buy stainless steel / bamboo
  • Starch
  • Tapioca pearls
  • Tea bags- teapot with glass or ceramic filter, tea ball
  • Tortillas
  • Vinegar
  • Water bottles- secondhand canteen or Klean Kanteen
  • Whipped cream- shake cream and sugar in a jar
  • Ziploc bags- glass or stainless steel containers (good for freezing), drawstring cloth bags. Click here for zero-waste food storage suggestions.

As for exercise equipment like weights, medicine balls, and yoga mats, I have a friend who is doing the Kayla Itsines BBG and she uses a towel and a big potted plant or big jugs of water instead. I walk eight miles a day and up / down seven flights of stairs carrying groceries so I hate working out, but I like plyometric routines and using a chair or table for tricep dips. For basic zero-waste food tips, click here. For everything I own, click here.


Paris to Go

33 comments:

  1. Any diy clothing freshener ? I use one from Laundress that has some sort of alcohol and comes as a spray. I heard vodka does a good job. I wash my clothes less now.

    And wools. I have been reading that woolen clothes need a special cleaner to not damage the fibre.

    How do you buy essential oils ? I cant find a dispenser. And they all come in glass bottles with plastic caps.

    thank you for the sunscreen recommendations.

    Thank you for making this list. I dont think you should hesitate to make any lists. They are immensely useful.

    Today, I tried to get take out in a steel container from an over the counter by the pound cafeteria. And they gave me such a tough time about it. It helps to be able to share these stories and hear other people's stories.

    I would love to hear your story on lingerie shopping in Paris.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Archana! Why would they have a problem with a steel container? It saves them money! I don't understand why people are so opposed to lowering their environmental impact. I bet the employees thought they would lose their jobs because they were violating health codes or something.

      Those are great ones. Vodka is the best clothing freshener I've ever used. I combine with equal parts distilled water to freshen upholstery, bedding, etc. too. It actually neutralizes scent instead of masking it.

      For wool I use savon de marseille or Aleppo soap, many experts recommend it. It's so gentle.

      I try not to use essential oils because of my cats, but I found one man at the Raspail market who makes them in a copper still and bottles them in whatever you want. Otherwise I linked to at home instructions in this post:

      http://www.paris-to-go.com/2014/06/sick-day.html

      I really liked that tutorial and used it often, before my cats of course :)

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    2. Hi Archana,
      I was taught to wash my woollens with pure soap flakes and it works beautifully. If you are concerned about soap residue you can add a small splash of eucalyptus oil to the rinse water. I have never damaged a woollen garment in over 40 years of washing so have confidence! The main thing is to use lukewarm water unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise, and to roll in a towel to remove excess water then dry flat out of the sun (to prevent shrinkage).

      Madeleine

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    3. Thank you for the great tip Madeleine! I never knew that about eucalyptus oil, good to know. Your laundry must smell wonderful!

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    4. I dont think most people think about environment at all. Untill someone who does explains why we should. I think our education system is quite broken. I was telling a friend who was using this atrificial room freshener about how she could spray some essential oil instead. And then she told me about a 'nutcase' who was all natural, organic and glutenfree whose kids have such bad immunity that they fall sick all over the place. And linked it to the mothers 'paranoia'.

      Its all very frustrating.

      And thank you for the DIY essential oil tip. I have lavender that I use to make tea. I am definitely going to use it to do more.

      @Madeleine : Thank you. I got so used to laundress products. I am going to look into the alternatives.

      Thank you for the constant inspiration. My life has changed so much since.

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    5. That is crazy. Research shows the reason people don't have immunity anymore is because we use antibacterial everything and kill all the good bacteria and don't build up a tolerance. Does she know if the kids have celiac disease or not? I can understand your frustration!

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  2. Wow! Thank you for so so much inspiration (and! on a Monday morning). Also really curious about the hair experiment. I'm getting married next year and want long curly hair (I have that) that manages itself (I do not have that...yet).

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    1. Emma, congratulations! I'm so happy for you! I can't wait to hear about your wedding :) Your hair is beautiful already though! My hair seems to be growing faster now that I'm water only. I cut five inches off just before going to the US and now my hair appears to be the same length as when I left, but a lot healthier. Maybe that's impossible, but it's halfway down my back again...

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    2. I do have really healthy hair appearantly, according to my hairdresser. Good news so far. But I will not go to the trouble of visiting my hairdresser on the morning of my wedding. I am looking for zero waste styling options that are conditioning my hair. If you have tips, great. If I find ones myself, I will try and share. Thank you for your sweet wishes. It will be the best day of my life....

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    3. Ah I'm not sure for styling options... for my sister's wedding a hairstylist came to us. I'll keep an eye out, and yes please do share!

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  3. I'm now going for the sugar water experiment. Keep you updated!

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  4. This is a terrific list. I didn't know most of these things existed! Thank you.

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    1. I'm in the same boat. I get that you're not encouraging us to buy everything but I like seeing the possibilities that are out there. For instance, I never knew there was a plastic free food processor, or that you could slow cook food in a basket (which prompted some interesting research....people have been cooking this way for centuries? Who knew?). I also never thought about a plastic free ironing board, but now I confess I want one. When mine gives out, I now know where to look. Thanks for putting this together!

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  5. Replies
    1. Ooh, that's a good one! Here is a diy tutorial:
      http://www.minimalistbeauty.com/diy-super-soft-seamless-hair-ties-upcycled/

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  6. Hi Ariana! Thank you for sharing all of this. Actually, this being my first comment, thank you for taking the time to share so much of your zero waste journey. It is very inspiring. I also live in Paris and I am also on a path to minimize my impact on the environnement. From what I have read on your blog, it seems you know other zero waste enthousiasts. Have you ever thought about doing a meetup?

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    Replies
    1. Hi, you are so sweet! Yes, actually if you follow https://smalletbeautiful.wordpress.com/, she organizes zero waste events from time to time and zero waste bloggers from the Netherlands have even come. I have yet to attend one since it seems I'm always out of town when it happens. But I look forward to going to the next one... and meeting you there perhaps!

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  7. Ariana,

    How do you care for your wooden utensils and cutting boards ? mineral oil ? and you can source it in bulk ?

    Sorry for all the questions.

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    Replies
    1. Don't be sorry Archana! I use olive oil, beeswax, or carnauba, which you can buy unpackaged here. Lemons keep it clean, fresh-smelling, and disinfect it; I use baking soda to scrub it. This is another good option: http://www.cuttingboard.com/vegan-coconut-cutting-board-oil/

      My cutting board is actually bamboo and in Indonesia they said you should never use mineral oil or anything petroleum based on bamboo as it degrades the surface! I know people here in France who used olive oil on their cutting boards for years and as far as I know they don't have the problem with it getting rancid. I asked my friend Sophie's mom and she looked puzzled and said she washed her cutting board every time she used it, so there's no reason for it to get rancid.

      I don't have any wood utensils though, sorry! With my celiac disease I can't use them because sometimes my husband cooks gluten and it would leach into the wood :(

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    2. Oh thank you ! Everyday I walk around and see something I absolutely need that comes packaged. And you have the answers.

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    3. Keep them coming! It helps me do research so, for instance, in case someday my husband goes gluten-free, I'll be ready :)

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  8. Not sure if someone else responded to this, buti was just comparing period panties recently and apparently "dear Kate" period panties do not use plastic linings.
    http://www.dearkates.com/pages/how-is-dear-kate-different-from-thinx-and-knixwear

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    Replies
    1. Ah, thanks Jennifer! I looked at Dear Kate when I was searching for ethical lingerie, but I decided against them because they were made of polyester... at least they are reusable (and I ended up, after years of searching, getting stuff with a little elastane anyway, sigh). Dear Kate is cute though. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Dear Ariana, as you live in an apartment without a garden like we do, which way of composting do you use? Or what do you do with the amount of foot scraps that pile up in a vegan diet? In Hamburg is a service that empties out a special 'green bin' every week. But the owner of the apartment complex doesn't want to have it.
    With Love, Carolin

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    Replies
    1. Hello Carolin! The owner of my apartment doesn't allow composting either. Not even on my balcony, which I don't think is any of their business, but ok :(

      We have a community compost down the street from us. I try to minimize the food scraps by buying fruits and vegetables I can eat whole. I don't peel vegetables and I eat radish, carrot, and beet greens for instance. This season we can buy bare butternut, unpackaged without the shell, at the market, which is very convenient. Whatever scraps I don't use for broth or other foods I take in a glass jar down the street to compost. What a nice service! I am sorry the owner will not let you have it. I got my neighbors to sign a petition to compost and the landlord still did not want it. Are there any community composts nearby?

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  10. Hi Ariana, what brand of vinegar do you buy? The only vinegar I Can find is in plastic bottles.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, I buy bulk cider vinegar in an old 1L tequila bottle at En Vrac in Paris. If you can only find it in plastic, it's still better than toxic commercial cleaners, but you could make vinegar at home from scraps. I know people use glass bottles since they are recyclable, but that's expensive, and the carbon emissions from transporting the glass are staggeringly high.

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