17 sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics

Turtle in the ocean surrounded by plastic and rubbish

Tianna Nadalin

Posted March 17, 2021

Victoria has unveiled plans to ban single-use plastic. Here are 17 ways to go plastic free.

As the world grapples with what to do with the 380 million tonnes of plastic waste it produces each year, Victoria has taken a stand announcing it will ban many single-use plastics from 2023.

Last month the government announced that single-use plastics, including plastic straws, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and drink containers, and plastic cotton bud sticks would be phased out over the next two years in a bid to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and ending up in our waterways.

The move follows the state’s 2019 ban on light-weight plastic bags and the introduction last year of a container deposit scheme to address the issue of drink cans and bottles, which account for almost half of Victoria’s litter.

According to the Department of the Environment and Energy’s recent Australian Plastics Recycling Survey, more than 3.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced in Australia in 2018-19, of which only 11.5 per cent was recycled.

Not-for-profit organisation Plastic Oceans estimates that about 380 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced globally every year, of which up to 50 per cent is for single-use purposes. As well as being dumped into landfill and waterways, our oceans are also drowning in the stuff, with a staggering 10 million tonnes ending up in the sea, leading to the loss of about a million marine animals every year. This is equal to emptying the entire contents of a garbage truck into the ocean every minute.

If current trends continue, by 2050 the ocean is expected to contain more plastics by weight than fish.

“Plastic became prevalent in the 1950s and every piece made since then still exists,” says Sustainability Victoria spokeswoman Katie Pahlow. “It’s kind of been this hidden secret that when you throw plastic in the bin, it doesn’t just go away.”

The problem with plastic is that it never biodegrades, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces – or nanoparticles – which eventually end up in our water systems and even the air we breathe, Katie explains. But this isn’t the only reason it’s toxic to the planet.

“It also takes huge amounts of energy to produce, and it creates big environmental impacts when we stop using it,” she says.

So, with single-use plastics to be banned by 2023 in Victoria, what action can we take to reduce our plastic footprint?

The easiest way to use less plastic, Katie says, is to just stop buying it. What you shouldn’t do, though, is start going through your house and binning everything that isn’t eco-friendly.

“Don’t do that wholesale ‘plastic is evil, now I’ll get rid of it’,” she says. “If it is in use and effective, keep using it until you can’t any more. When it is at the replacement point, then you can choose a greener option.”

Here are 17 eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics.

Bamboo cutlery on a wooden table

Photo: Unsplash

17 eco-friendly swaps for single-use plastics

Plastic wrap for beeswax

Instead of buying endless rolls of plastic wrap, opt for beeswax wraps instead. These eco-friendly food covers are made using organic cotton, which is then coated in coconut or jojoba oil, tree resin and beeswax. These reusable plastic wrap alternatives are waterproof and freezer-safe and, with proper care, can last up to 12 months. They are also biodegradable and completely compostable, so they won’t end up at the bottom of the ocean when you’re done with them. You can also find cruelty-free wraps that are coated with soy or other vegan-friendly plant waxes.

Plastic straws for paper or metal

Aussies throw away an estimated 10 million plastic straws a day. Instead of adding to the straw pile, it’s easy to switch to more sustainable alternatives, such as glass, stainless steel or silicon. Having a party and don’t want 30 kids running around with glass tubes? You can find recycled – or recyclable– cardboard straws, too. 

Plastic bread bags for paper

While it has become commonplace to wrap bread in plastic bags, paper packaging is becoming an increasingly popular and easy-to-find option. You can now find bread in paper bags at most supermarkets and they have long been the preferred option for local bakeries – so if your local grocer hasn’t gone green yet, this might be a good opportunity to support small business. You’ll also be avoiding those pesky plastic bread tags and, if you want to go totally paperless, you can even BYO bread container. 

Plastic toothpaste tubes for toothpaste tablets

Forget folding up your toothpaste tube to try and squeeze out every last bit of toothpaste; toothpaste tablets are the latest eco alternative. These are a plastic free, zero-waste toothpaste solution and are made from simple, certified organic ingredients. As well as being eco-friendly, they’re also a healthier alternative, as they’re free from the chemical nasties often found in regular toothpastes, such as preservatives, fillers, aluminium and harsh chemicals like triclosan and SLS. They’re also a great option to take camping or travelling.

Plastic toothbrush for bamboo

While you’re at it, you may as well ditch the plastic toothbrush and opt for a bamboo brush instead. Aussies dispose of 30 million toothbrushes every year, which ultimately end up in landfill. Bamboo is technically a grass and it is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth so as well as being an eco-friendly plastic alternative, it is also sustainable (it is low maintenance and regenerates itself naturally, requiring little rain) and does not contribute to deforestation.

Plastic-wrapped toilet rolls for paper

Be kind to the planet and never run out of toilet paper again by switching to a more environmentally friendly alternative. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper is made from either 100 per cent recycled paper or 100 per cent recycled bamboo, and 50 per cent of the profits are donated to helping build toilets for those in need. And the best bit? They’re packaged in a box, instead of plastic wrap, which is delivered directly to your door.

Plastic dishwashing liquid bottles for glass

Say goodbye to single-use plastic dishwashing liqud bottles and opt for recycled or reusable instead. Many supermarkets, including IGA, now offer refill-and-go glass bottles for dishwashing detergent, handwash and even hand sanitiser. Alternatively, if you keep forgetting to BYO bottle, subscription-based services such as Unpackaged Eco deliver glass bottle starter kits and refill cans straight to your door, or Zero Co, whose cleaning product dispensers and refill pouches are made from recycled ocean-waste plastic. Single Use Ain't Sexy is another eco innovator, delivering reusable glass pump bottles and foaming hand soap tablets to which you just add water.

Bottled washing detergent for boxed

Out of detergent for your washing machine or dishwasher? Skip the liquid cleaning agents in plastic bottles and load up on boxed washing powders instead. It’s a small change that can send a big message to manufacturers, encouraging them to offer more eco-friendly packaging alternatives. You could also consider an all-natural alternative such as soapberries (or soap nuts). Check out Go Green at Home, That Red House and MiEco.


Blue paper straws in jars

Photo: Unsplash

Single-use plastic nappies for washable bamboo

According to Sustainability Victoria, a whopping 3.75 million disposable nappies are used each day in Australia and New Zealand. Each nappy is estimated to take 150 years to break down. Instead, do like your grandparents did and switch to modern cloth nappies. A slew of Aussie-made brands, such as EcoNapsHippybottomusPea Pods and Bubble Bubs are now available, with many made from sustainable fabrics. Though there are still environmental impacts associated with cloth alternatives (increased detergents, energy and water use to wash and dry them), overall they are a friendlier option for the planet. Just remember to opt for bamboo inserts, with flushable liners wreaking havoc on the enviroment (not to mention household plumbing systems).

Single-use face masks for fabric

We see them strewn on the streets and flowing from rubbish bins, but face masks are part of life in a new COVID-normal world, with an estimated 6.8 billion disposable face masks, which contain plastics, used across the globe each day. Though a recent study by RMIT researchers found disposable masks can be used to make roads, for non-essential workers, a more sustainable choice would be to invest in reusable fabric face coverings. Better yet, make them yourself. 

Plastic containers and snap-lock plastic bags for glass

Give single-use plastic bags and containers the flick and opt for recyclable materials instead. Use an empty jam jar to transport salad dressings, switch to glass storage containers for carting leftovers and reuse empty jars or even those little portion control sultana boxes for your trail mix.

Plastic drink bottles for glass or metal

million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, according to a study by The Guardian. And, in Australia alone, around 373 million plastic water bottles end up as waste each year. Instead of buying bottled H20, the most eco-friendly and cost-effective option is to just drink it straight out of a glass. But if you’re on the go and don’t have access to water on tap, invest in a good-quality reusable drink bottle. if you’re buying packaged beverages, look for glass bottles or easy-to-recycle cans over plastic.

Synthetic cleaning sponges for microfibre cloths

As well as harbouring bacteria and germs, plastic kitchen sponges are another environmental enemy. And if you’re changing yours the recommended once per week, that’s a lot of sponges entering landfill every year, where they don’t break down. The good news is there are alternatives to plastic sponges – including hemp sponges, bamboo or wooden scrubbing brushes and microfibre cloths. There are even such things as vegan dish blocks.

Body wash, shampoo and conditioner bottles for bars

Wash your hands of single-use shower bottles for good. Enter shampoo bars. Hair-care products have taken some inspiration for their soapy cousins, with some mane players going back to basics and offering their formulas in bar form. Without any bottles or tubes, shampoo and conditioner bars, such as EthiqueNue Bar, Amor Luminis, No Tox Life and Viva La Body, are a great plastic-free, waste-free alternative to regular bottled shampoos and conditioners. You can even find sustainable hair care brands like Bar None, which offers both cleaning bars and liquids packaged in recyclable aluminium bottles, at Woolworths.

Plastic plates for recycled paper or bamboo

Hosting a party and can’t be bothered with the hassle of washing up afterwards? Plastic plates have long been a cheap and easy solution. If you don’t have enough glass or ceramic plates to cater to big groups, or you’re looking for a more eco-friendly solution that offers the convenience of disposable dinnerware, palm leaf and biodegradable bamboo pulp plates are a great place to start.

Plastic cutlery for bamboo

Why stop with plastic serving ware when you can ditch the plastic cutlery and coffee stirrers, too. Opt for bamboo cutlery sets and stirrers instead. When it comes to cocktails, why not get creative. Add a sprig of rosemary for guests to use as a swizzle stick. If you’re ordering Friday-night takeaway through a food-delivery platform, choose the ‘no cutlery’ option and reach for the top drawer instead. And, with many workplaces banning communal cutlery, there’s never been a better time to invest in a set of reusable bamboo utensils that you can take with you wherever you go.

Single-use coffee cups for reusable

It’s estimated that Aussies use one billion disposable coffee cups every year. While many cafes banned BYO hot beverage holders during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in favour of contactless caffeination, reusable coffee chalices are once again being welcomed. As well as being an easy eco-swap, once you’ve rinsed out your empty cup it can double as a water glass or tea mug once you’re in the office. Win win.