Eco Swaps you may not need – is it greenwashing?

When you are starting out on a journey to reducing waste buying lots of new products as “eco swaps” might seem appealing. But as well as being expensive, you might find out that many of these things are also unnecessary. Below are just a few examples to illustrate the point but I’m sure you will be able to think of others.

  1. Beeswax Wraps

One of the first things I purchased after joining a zero waste group was a set of beeswax wraps. I know some people really love these, and if you do and they help you to reduce waste then that’s fine. We found them hard to clean so didn’t keep ours for very long but we soon realised that we already had plenty of options to store food – lunch boxes, reused takeaway or ice cream tubs, a bowl with a plate over, placing the cut side of a piece of fruit face down on a plate etc. These options meant we already used cling film rarely ( in fact I still have a roll in the drawer bought from Safeway who were taken over long ago).

2. Fancy new storage jars

Zero waste isn’t about buying new stuff so whilst shelves full of matching jars filled with loose food from your local refill shop might look appealing it really isn’t necessary. If you buy food in jars, keep them to reuse, reuse other containers such as ice cream tubs, takeaway tubs, etc depending on what you have. And if you don’t have any of these, check charity shops or ask on local giveaway groups – you will likely be able to find suitable storage cheap or for free, and even matching if you so wish – I have lots of Douwe Egberts coffee jars for storage – I only bought one myself – the rest came from Freecycle and Facebook giveaway groups so cost me nothing. Alongside those pictured I also have lots of mismatched jam jars, pesto jars, peanut butter jars etc that I use for storing smaller quantities of things in the cupboard, fridge or freezer.

Assorted storage jars – mostly reused jars from giveaway groups

3. Water filters

I’ve seen several eco accounts promoting Brita filters recently. In the UK we are fortunate to have access to safe to drink tap water so the need for such a product has always been a bit of a mystery to me, although I understand it is being promoted as an alternative to bottled water if you don’t like the taste of your tap water. Filters need replacing and at the moment you need to take them to a Terracycle collection point which may not be convenient for everyone, and recycling is anyway a resource intensive process. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water there are several alternative options to buying plastic jugs and filters:

a. leave water to stand before using – this will allow chlorine smells to disspate. An ideal way to do this is to keep a jug of tap water in the fridge.

b. charcoal sticks – I haven’t tried these as I like my water straight form the tap but these are a great plastic free alternative. You just leave the stick in the water for a while, it can be reused, and eventually composted.

c. get used to your tap water and enjoy the fact we have such easy access to safe drinking water.

4. Coffee cups, water bottles, produce bags

How useful these are depends on your lifestyle. If you often get a takeout coffee then a coffee cup might be really useful. We actually do this fairly rarely so really would have actually been fine just using the Thermos flasks we had already to take our own coffee from home. Now we have reusable coffee cups we do use them occasionally, but they really weren’t an essential purchase. The same with water bottles – actually we could probably do fine just by reusing bottles that have come into the house with things in them. At least my water bottle was preowned from a charity shop. And produce bags – pre covid I shopped on foot with a shopping trolley, often from the market and used my produce bags all the time so for me they seemed worthwhile – but I could have used old pillowcases or made my own bags from old clothing/ bedding etc for less waste and if I needed them now I would probably do that. This year I haven’t used them at all other than for storage at home as we have been having all our shopping delivered, so if you tend to shop on line these might be an irrelevant item for you.

5. To sum up:

As I said at the start these are just examples, but the point is really to get into the habit of asking yourself a few questions before making a purchase, however eco friendly it might appear:

  1. Do I have something at home already that will serve this purpose?
  2. Can I reuse something for this purpose – or source something preowned to use?
  3. How often will I actually use it? ( e.g. using a disposable coffee cup might actually be a lower waste option if you only get a take out coffee once a year)
  4. Is there a lower waste alternative?
  5. Do I really need it?

Are there any eco swaps you’ve bought and then regretted? Do let me know.


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