• Meghan Bartok

Eight simple swaps you can make to be more sustainable!

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

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Environmental awareness is on the rise, which is a trend I’m loving, but it’s also sad that it’s taken us Americans this long to catch on. The UK started charging for plastic bags way back in October of 2015 when I was studying there, and many other places have started making changes to be more sustainable. While no person can be perfectly environmentally concious, it’s not hard to implement small swaps to reduce our plastic waste. This helps lower the amount of waste that end up harming our planet’s animals and waterways. Here are some of the easiest ways that you too can be more environmentally friendly, both at home and while traveling!

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions doing it imperfectly.”

1. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush

I’ve been using a bamboo tooth brush for the past year and a half, and I love it. Trust me, you’re not going to notice a difference from the plastic toothbrush you’re used to using, and it cuts down on the ONE BILLION plastic toothbrushes that are used every year and end up in a landfill. These take 400 years to decompose, whereas a bamboo toothbrush can be composted when you’re done with it.

Bamboo toothbrushes can be found at many stores near you for abut $3.50 each, or can be found in multipacks on Amazon. This one is $10 for eight toothbrushes.

2. Start using a reusable water bottle

While American use about 50 billion plastic water bottles a year, only about 23% get recycled, which means a lot of waste. Buying a resuable water bottle will save you so much money in the long run, and is much better for you and the environment. I have two water bottles I alternate between using:

I love my Kleen Kanteen because it keeps things cold for ages, and the loop on the handle is super nice for carrying it while on a hike or in the airport. I love that it’s insulated, so even at the beach in 85 degree weather, you’ll be drinking cold water. You can get these in a couple different sizes, so you’re sure to find one that fits your needs!

I’ve been using a CamelBak for the past six years – it’s my tried and true favorite. This one isn’t insulated, but holds more water than the Klean Kanteen, so I tend to pick which bottle fits which situation. I think the Chute lid is super easy to drink out of, and it has markings down the side that tell you how much water you’ve had so far. 

3. Bring a reusable cup for your morning coffee

Did you know that most hot coffee cups cannot be recycled due to the plastic lining inside of them? Most people don’t. I know I didn’t until a couple years ago, then felt really bad about the twice a day Starbucks I used to drink at college. 

Bringing your own cup for your hot or iced coffee is an easy way to cut down on plastic waste, and many coffee shops will give you a little discount! Plus most reusable cups are insulated, so your coffee won’t get cold after a couple hours of sitting on your desk. A real win-win!

I swear by my Contigo, which I can just throw in my backpack and not worry about it leaking, plus I can use it for hot or cold drinks.

I’ve not personally used one of these yet, but I love the design of the KeepCup. It’s a little smaller, which is nice for travelling, and many places outside the US serve their coffee in sizes closer to these (is it a shock to anyone that small, medium, and large in the US are much bigger than anywhere else…)

4. Ditch those plastic shopping bags

Trust me, once you get in the habit, it’s not hard to remember your reusable shopping bags. Americans use an astounding 100 billion plastic bags a year, which is honestly horrifying. These bags are often not recycled and take 500 years to break down.  Many of these end up in our oceans, where marine animals mistake them for food.

Next time you’re at the grocery store, say no to that plastic bag and bring your own. I often buy reusable bags on trips, and continue to use them at home – my two favorites are from Tesco in England (I’ve been using that one since 2016!) and Woolworth’s in Australia. 

I also like to bring reusable produce bags which help keep everything separate – these ones are great!

5. Ask for no straw, or bring your own!

Turtles and other sea creatures don’t like straws, and neither should we! Plastic straws can’t be recycled, and many of them end up in our oceans. Next time you’re out, decline the plastic straw and go strawless! If you really want a straw for your drink, bring a metal one of your own. You can get these in all different sizes and even some cool colors, and it’s easy to throw one in your purse, backpack, car, etc. There are even straws that collapse down and can be carried on a key chain! 

I like this multipack from Amazon, which has a couple of varieties to choose from. 

6. Try out solid versions of hygiene essentials

Seeing as most plastic is not actually recycled, trying to limit your use of it is always good! I’ve been using a shampoo bar from Lush, which I actually love. It leaves my hair feeling nice and clean, and is so easy to travel with. Other swaps you can make are using solid bar versions of face wash and body wash, or toothpaste and deodorant in glass jars. 

If I do have to buy products in plastic bottles, I’m super picky about finding ones that come in bottles made of recycled plastic. I really like Love, Beauty, and Planet for their ethical products and message. 

7. Other easy bathroom swaps

The bathroom is a great and easy place to start cutting down your waste, and I have a couple more suggestions for eco-friendly swaps you can make.

I recently bought reusable cotton swabs from Earthsider, which you just wash after each use. It makes me feel a little better when I clean my ears after I get out of the shower. Plus they come in a cute little case which is perfect for travel!

I also started using a reusable razor that you just switch the blades out every couple of months. While it’s not completely waste-free, it’s better than throwing away a whole razor every time you’re done.

Ladies, you’ve heard about the menstrual cup and probably had a mixture of fear and curiosity. I’m here to tell you it’s not as scary as it seems, and it’s actually much better for you and the environment. They take up no space when traveling and cut down on having to bring a stash of tampons or worry about buying them in a foreign country. Try it out, and I can guarantee it will change your life. I personally use the Pixie Cup, but there are plenty of other brands to check out, and I’m sure you can find one to suit your needs! 

8. Make thrift shopping a habit

Thrifting is super cool these days, which is awesome because it’s WAY better for the planet. Next time your wardrobe is in need of a refresh, check out your local thrift store before heading to the mall. Not only is the stuff you find there going to be way more unique, but it’s also going to be a lot cheaper than big-name clothing stores. Some of my most complimented clothing pieces have come from thrift stores!

Another idea is to have a clothing swap with your friends. You’ll all be getting something new, but it’ll be totally free, and a lot less wasteful!


There you have it, eight easy ways to cut down on your waste so you can do your part to help our planet! Once you get in the habit of doing it, it’s super easy, and it makes you feel good too.

What are your favorite ways to be more eco-friendly? Let me know in the comments below!