Sustainable Shopping: Alternatives To Single-Use Products

Abi Kara-Fernandes

You might not know it, but we come across single use products on a daily basis. From the cutlery at your local take-away to the everyday essentials in your toiletry bag. These disposable items are designed to be used once and then discarded. They are often not biodegradable, causing extensive harm to our planet. However, there are a whole host of environmentally friendly alternatives you can pick up on your next shopping trip, many of which will even save you money in the long run.

Disposable Cups

“16 billion paper cups are used for coffee every single year, which leads to 6.5 million trees cut down, 4 billion gallons of water going to waste, and enough energy to power 54,000 homes for a year also goes to waste.” By investing in your own Reusable Cup you can help combat this. UON KeepCups are stocked in the SPA in the Portland building, so be sure to grab one on your next venture for some midnight snacks. Alternatively, check out their website; with five sizes to choose from and a range of features available including glass, plastic and stainless steel. You are spoilt for choice! There are also countless colour combinations available and you can even buy replacement parts if you want to change your KeepCup daily to match your outfit!  

For added incentive, some coffee shops, including Costa, will give you a discount on your drink when opting to use a reusable cup. Cups made out of certain materials – including stainless steel – will also keep your drink warmer for longer. Not forgetting they’re less likely to burn your hands. 

Plastic Straws 

Plastic straws were scheduled to be banned at the end of April, however the Coronavirus pandemic has caused this to be pushed back to October. You can get ahead of this by popping a Stainless Steel Straw into your basket alongside your Star Wars KeepCup, as these are also available on the KeepCup website. Other alternatives include Silicone Drinking Straws and Organic Bamboo Straws.

I’m guilty of many spontaneous purchases whilst I’m out, leaving me forced to buy yet another plastic bag

Plastic Bags

The law in England requires large shops to charge 5p for all single use plastic carrier bags. When this law came into place in 2015, it caused plastic bag sales to drop by 86%, helping to reverse the rising amount of plastic waste in our rivers, This shows just how effective simple changes to our daily routines can be in helping our environment. 

We can individually take this one step further by refusing to use plastic bags full stop. It can, however, often be hard to remember to bring along your own bags to the supermarket. I’m guilty of many spontaneous purchases whilst I’m out, leaving me forced to buy yet another plastic bag. To prevent this from happening, Reusable Foldable Bags are available in an array of patterns, that can be folded into the small pouches provided, and kept in your jacket pocket in case of emergencies. Many also come with their own little clip, meaning you can attach them to your handbag and have easy access to them at all times. 

Produce Bags

Supermarkets also generate a lot of plastic wastage through the use of produce bags. Whilst you can avoid these by putting the food straight into your basket or trolley, a more hygienic option would be to invest in Reusable Produce Bags – I got mine from Sainsbury’s.

Zero-waste stores also help to fight the single use packaging found in supermarkets by stocking a variety of products sold by weight, allowing customers to buy as much or as little as they need in their own containers. Check out WasteNott in our very own Student Union. 

The list of single use products and their alternatives is truly endless, and I encourage you to seek out more ways you can make these changes

Plastic Cotton Buds

The ban on Plastic Cotton Buds will also come into place in October, and they are already in the process of being phased out. I just grabbed a pack of Bamboo Cotton Buds in my local Aldi, where I also managed to spot a pack of Bamboo Toothbrushes. Although toothbrushes are not single use, plastic ones take up to a thousand years to decompose, and with the average person estimated to use 300 in a lifetime, you should definitely consider switching these out. 

Cotton Wool Pads

Although cotton is a renewable source, it requires vast amounts of water and high levels of pesticides and fertilisers to grow. This means it is much more environmentally friendly, and cost effective, to purchase some Reusable Cotton Pads, which can be popped in the wash after use. You could even recycle some old clothes and make your own – something I did at UON’s Sustainability Society last year!

Menstrual Products

20 billion pads and tampons are thrown into into landfill each year. I personally have an Organi Menstrual Cup, which can save an estimated 264 pads and tampons a year. Other varieties include Mooncup and the The Keeper – who have actually been manufacturing Menstrual Cups since 1897. For a perhaps less daunting alternative, there are also a wide range of Reusable Sanitary Pads available. 

The list of single use products and their alternatives is truly endless, and I encourage you to seek out more ways you can make these changes. By doing this, we as individuals can help move our society away from the throwaway culture we currently encapsulate, towards a more environmentally conscious one. 


Happy sustainable shopping!


Abi Kara-Fernandes

Featured image courtesy of  @bptakoma via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image. 

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One Comment
    21 September 2020 at 12:04
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    Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this short article together.
    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

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