20 sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics

Reusable cotton tote bag and wooden cutlery on white background

Tianna Nadalin

Posted July 11, 2022

Single-use plastics, including straws, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and drink containers, and plastic cotton bud sticks, are slated to be phased out in Victoria by 2023.

The move follows the state’s 2019 ban on light-weight plastic bags and the introduction of a container deposit scheme in 2020 to address the issue of drink cans and bottles, which account for almost half of Victoria’s litter.

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 soil, our water systems, and even the air we breathe.

So what can we do to reduce our plastic footprint?

Sustainability Victoria spokeswoman Katie Pahlow says the easiest way to use less plastic is to just stop buying it. "What you shouldn’t do is start going through your house and binning everything that isn’t eco-friendly," 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.”

Close up of hands wrapping sandwich in beeswax wrap.

Beeswax wraps are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Photo: Getty

20 eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics


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 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.

Silicone food covers and lids

When it comes to sustainability, silicone is a bit of a grey area. While it is technically created from silica, a product that is derived from sand, it generally sits somewhere between synthetic rubber and a synthetic plastic polymer. But when it's a choice between reusable silicone food covers and single-use plastic wrap, it's a step in the right direction. These stretchy lids come in a range of sizes and are ideal for covering cut fruits or vegetables (solves the dilemma of how to store half an onion) or stretching over bowls of leftover food. You can find these alternatives everywhere from Ikea and Aldi to specialist health stores. 

Paper or metal straws

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. 

Paper bags

While it has become commonplace to wrap loaves of 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. If you've got school-aged children, you're probably already stocked up on paper bags, with plastic wrap banned from kids' lunchboxes at some Victorian schools.

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.

Bamboo toothbrushes 

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. If you're not on board the bamboo train, make a better choice by opting for toothbrushes made from recycled plastic.

Eco-friendly toilet paper

Be kind to the planet and never run out of toilet paper again. Since the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, loo roll subscriptions have skyrocketed with companies including Wipe That, Cheeky, About a Dog and Who Gives A Crap delivering paper-wrapped toilet paper directly to your door. Most offer double-length unbleached dunny rolls made from either 100 per cent recycled or 100 per cent recycled bamboo. And the best bit? They’re packaged in a box, instead of plastic wrap.

Glass soap and detergent bottles

Say goodbye to single-use plastic dishwashing liqud bottles. 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.

Boxed washing powder

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). 

Cotton tote bags

According to Sustainability Victoria, Australians use around 10 million plastic bags every day. Even though soft plastics can now be recycled (drop them off at your local RedCycle collection point), only 3 per cent of those bags are actually being recycled. Taking reusable shopping bags on your next grocery run is the easiest way to reduce this number. Whether you prefer a stylish cotton tote, a backpack or one that folds up so it can fit in your handbag, using bags you already have in the house is better than buying new ones. Look for supermarket totes that have thick straps so they are strong enough to carry heavier items and, where possible, choose bags made from cotton, canvas, calico or recycled plastic, as these are more sustainable choices.


Person eating lunch from stainless steel lunchbox at offfice

Throw away disposable coffee cups for good. Photo: Getty

Glass or metal containers

Give single-use plastic bags and containers the flick and opt for recyclable materials instead. Use an empty jam jar to transport salad dressings or trail mix and switch to glass containers for carting leftovers. You can even BYO stainless steel container the next time you buy lunch and ask them to fill it with your favourite takeout. 

Reusable coffee cups

It’s estimated that Aussies throw away 2.7 million disposable coffee cups every single day. That's a whopping 1 billion coffee cups ending up in landfill every year. As well as being an easy eco-swap, once you’ve rinsed out your resuable coffee cup, it can double as a water glass or tea mug once you’re in the office. Win win. Here's our guide to the best reusable coffee cups.

Washable bamboo nappies

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 are now available (including EcoNaps, Hippybottomus, Pea Pods and Bare and Boho) 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).

Fabric face masks

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. 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. 

Resuable drink bottles

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.

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. 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.

Soap bars

Wash your hands of single-use shower bottles for good. 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 Ethique, Nue 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.

Recycled paper or bamboo plates

Plastic plates have long been the go-to when it comes to fuss-free party planning. 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 same convenience of disposable dinnerware, palm leaf and biodegradable bamboo pulp plates are a great place to start.

Bamboo cutlery

Why stop with plastic serveware when you can ditch the plastic cutlery, too. 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.

Paper cups

Whether it's for the office water cooler or your kid's 21st birthday party, there' are plenty of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic cups. Make a greener choice by opting for biodegradable or compostable paper cups or head to your local thrift shop and stock up on upcycled glassware that you can rinse and reuse time and again.