Perhaps you’re already familiar with the EPA’s recent disclosure that our homes, even in cities, now contain more air pollution than the outside environment.
This is due in large part to off-gassing from low quality household items, including polyester, a petroleum-based synthetic fiber that is ubiquitously the material of choice for so many upholstered items and every major fast-fashion label the world over. Yet this next actuality may strike you like a more subtle and quietly serious threat: our homes are littered with seemingly harmless items that open us and our shared ecosystems to a degree of risk that is only now being explored.
Whether they pose a danger to our own health, infrastructure safety, or environmental well-being, there are a host of home goods that can (and should) be avoided.
But this is where the barrage of bad news ends.
There is a growing abundance of consumer product alternatives flooding the waterways of an Amazon Prime distributor near you. Indeed, there exists a deluge of millennial-friendly, eco-optimistic, cellulose-derived products being produced and sold widely so that we can avoid polluting every watershed east and west of Tulum. We’re thankfully witnessing a rising sun of the consumer’s magnetism toward plant-based and affordably priced (!) packaged goods so that Generation Beta doesn’t have to swim in a cesspool of synthetic heeby-jeeby fibrous muck.
Whether they pose a danger to our own health, infrastructure safety, or environmental wellbeing, there are a host of home goods that can (and should) be avoided.
With that, we present to you ZZ’s List of Future Banned Items... and Their Conscious Counterparts. Every room is on the brink of a plant-based revolution — the kitchen, living room, bathroom, closet, and office — and we’re here to help you find the goods that matter for your next sustainable supermarket sweep. As we know, knowledge is power, yet biodegradation is just plain god-like.
Important Note: These recommendations are purely ours, and we receive no affiliate kickbacks from the products we offer as solutions below.
1 / Plastic Wrap
If we were betting women, we’d say that this CPG wouldn’t surprise any of us. First developed by accident in 1933 by a lab worker at Dow Chemical, the low-density polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) wrap we use today to cover cupcakes during an Uber home from a baby shower has undergone many facelifts in its day, including the elimination of its pungent chemical scent, to removing the off-green hue it originally exhibited.
Ease of use and antimicrobial prowess is the name of the game with this household staple and truly is its raison d’etre. Yet this film is as gossamer as consumer products get, and the low quality and frankly stuck together weirdness that it usually demises to, always ends up heading to the dump after its undeniably short shelf life. Plastic wrap is considered a plastic #3 film, so due to its flimsiness, most municipalities won’t accept it as it clogs up or jams machinery at recycling plants.
The Solution: Let’s avoid the soiled Earth epidermis of PVDC at our local landfills and instead gain the same antimicrobial seal with a breathable alternative that gives 120x more uses. Try biodegradable and reusable wraps like this beeswax wrap available (and highly rated) on Amazon.
2 / Plastic Cooking Utensils
Spatulas can melt. Mixing spoons can fume. The dangers of using plastic cooking utensils aren’t worth the risk that can accompany their limited use. There are just as effective tools made from renewable resources like bamboo and olivewood that are exponentially more durable, just as easy to clean, and most importantly safer in the long run for people and planet.
Bamboo, a perennial evergreen and member of the grass family, takes on average 5-10 years to reach both biological and financial maturity, or 50-70% less time than most other North American hardwoods. In addition, olivewood, another fine substitute to plastic, requires on average 6-12 years to reach maturation and is just as beneficial as bamboo. However, we would avoid buying beechwood kitchen utensils and household items. Beechwood is a recently popular and aesthetically on-point alternative to plastic, yet it is a notoriously slow grower. The hardwood takes upwards of 40-60 years to reach biological and financial maturity.
The Solution: Luckily, with the rise of artisanal creators there are numerous handmade alternatives that can be found in local craft or flea markets. If you prefer a more immediate solution, check out this highly rated 6-piece set or create your own set with this spatula spoon, this turner, and this slotted spoon.
3 / Plastic Hangers
This love-to-hate closet staple easily snaps or breaks, can puncture (and fall out of) garbage bags and eventually leads to more litter. The little odds and ends of plastic hangers are, likely not surprising to anyone, environmental death knells once they reach ocean shores.
The Solution: Instead of adding more petroleum-derived products to your closet, try natural bamboo hangers, or utilize these cedar hangers, as cedar takes 10-20 years to reach financial and biological maturity. We however cannot emphasize enough to avoid using wooden hangers where it is not specified what the wood species is, or how it was harvested. Sadly, many unregulated forests in Southeast Asia are experiencing extreme exploitation to make products that seemingly appear “green”.
4 / Synthetic Sponges
There’s been an awareness shift to using greener dish soaps (and laundry soaps and hand soaps, and thankfully the list continues on...). But we’re still waiting for the revelation that the item we’re actually placing the soap on is petroleum-based, too. Sponges don’t have a long lifespan and almost always fall apart during use; thus, their tiny flakes end up in drainage and waterway systems here, there, and everywhere. Beyond that the vast majority are neither recyclable nor do they biodegrade.
The Solution: Using a small sponge that’s comprised of plant-based renewable resources makes a huge difference mainly due to its biodegradation. Try this vegetable loofah (made from the luffa plant, who knew?!) that lasts for up to a year due to its woven layers, or check out our recommendations for tampico and coconut bristle dish scrubbers below.
5 / Plastic Dish Scrubbers
Same sink, different issue: Plastic bristles fall apart and enter the water stream. And if you throw your plastic scrubbers into the washing machine on a heated dry it invites a whole host of other dangers that are hard to quantify, but best to be avoided.
The Solution: Plant materials such as tampico or coconut are optimal for use as bristles. They still retain their shape after scrubbing and their fibers are completely biodegradable so there’s no worry about a heap of plastic bristles shedding into our shared habitats. Next time, try a natural-fiber dish brush like this bamboo handle and tampico bristle version, or this bamboo handle and coconut bristle option. Important note: once again, we do not recommend using the ubiquitous (yet admittedly beautiful) beechwood brushes due to the 40-60 years beechwood requires in order for its lumber to be harvested.
6 / Plastic Water Bottles
This one’s obvious but the numbers are staggering. According to The Guardian’s 2017 article, “A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021.” If there’s one thing an individual can do right this minute, it’s to not buy one more plastic water bottle.
The Solution: As we all know, there are thousands of incredibly designed and reusable water bottles out there, so where do we draw the line? Consistently day-in, day-out we’re using this bottle, the world’s first self-cleaning bottle that uses UV-C light every two hours to zap bacteria from the water inside (not to mention, the bottle itself is also quite handsome). We’re also supportive of glass options, like these that are airtight and waterproof, or this collapsible water-storage bag. You’ve got options but just remember, avoid plastic and polyurethane reusable water bottles as the longer they sit in the light, the more questionable their safety becomes.
7 / Plastic Toilet Bowl Scrubbers
We move from the kitchen to the bathroom but encounter similar obstacles: plastic polypropylene bristles. Not only do the bristles shed into the toilet’s water basin, but the plastic versions we so often encounter have a short shelf life (3-6 months) for health reasons. Due to their use case and function, these brushes most often cannot be recycled as they’re considered contaminated, so once again they make their way to landfills.
The Solution: Use natural fiber bristles and renewable wood handle alternatives such as this rubber-wood and coconut-fiber brush. We recommend placing the brush in a small ceramic holder (even plant holders and pots work, like terracotta pots sold at almost every greenhouse and plant nursery).
8 / Sealable Plastic Bags
Thankfully, we are beginning to witness the banishment of the single-use plastic bag that so often tragically resembles a jellyfish out in the blue. Yet may we introduce you to its younger, yet just as nefarious sibling: the sealable “sandwich” version that’s found in so many K-12 snack packs. Its length of use is short - think as long as it takes to down ants on a log - so reusable options are gaining ground amongst the woke parental set.
The Solution: As of the time of publishing this article, we couldn’t come up with a zippered, somewhat waterproof option as even the new to the market PEVA varieties still require long-chain polymers derived from ethylene in order to produce their glossy finishes. That being said, we recommend utilizing beeswax paper, like seen in our first item above, or check out this company’s whole range of muslin food & produce bags (they’re certified as a B Corp and with GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard), or utilize the classic and highly reusable stainless steel bento box.
9 / Plastic Desk Chairs
When we think of poorly made office seating, the traditional rolling computer chair comes to mind. Its lifespan is incredibly short due to inept materials that lead the seat to crack and, most frequently, broken wheels. While some parts of these chairs may be recycled, not all of it can, which leads to a whole mess of questions and research that most consumers won’t embark on. See our recent article on the topic which explains more about this conundrum.
The Solution: We encourage you to peruse vintage or antique marketplaces such as Etsy, Chairish, Furnish Green, or flea markets in order to find a well-made long-lasting solution to this blundering piece of furniture. Refer to the same article we highlight above to find a list of architectural salvage locations across the country that provide a varied range of well-priced and oftentimes handmade furniture items. Be sure to check back to that article often, as we'll be adding to the list of salvage spots as soon as we learn of them (drop us a line if you know of any great ones!).
10 / Particleboard Furniture
And thus our grand finalé – particleboard (otherwise known as chipboard or low-density fiberboard, and so often seen in veneered, laminated, or wood-composite furniture). It gets not only the recycling thumbs down because of everything that’s required in its chemical-laden production, but if we had to point to one product across all industries that urgently requires heightened attention and action now (even taking into account all the waste of fast fashion and its polyester bibelots), we’d say particleboard is it. From the glues and paints to the varnishes and treatments, particleboard is not recyclable because of its chemical makeup, and it’s as difficult to decompose as its plastic brethren. Beyond that, particleboard can often off-gas when kept in an interior environment because of all the manufacturing and chemical requirements needed to create that final low-priced product.
In addition, everyone’s favorite Big Blue & Yellow Box that features primarily particleboard furniture accounts for close to 2% of the world’s timber consumption annually (here's a fun deep dive from Harvard if you’re so inclined). The timber, questionably sourced, then gets milled down to a pulp and reconstructed with everything mentioned hereto in order to make that $19 white shelving unit that you know won’t be making the move with you going forward. We need to rethink not only our particleboard purchases, but also relay this information to others who might fall into these conspicuous consumption traps.
The Solution: As we mention above, we encourage you to visit second-hand retailers and marketplaces. Or if you’re purchasing new, make sure your retailer describes what a product's true materials are and embark on the light research it takes to ensure you have bought a work that is ecologically-positive. As a reminder, it’s important to keep in mind that inexpensive items are often cheap for many reasons, and often it begets an item falling apart in a relatively short amount of time. Replacement costs for these products or their parts add up and can amount to more than the initial investment required for an item of higher quality and greater longevity.
Don’t get us wrong — we recognize that many of the products mentioned above were developed in order to meet the needs and save time for the growing, burgeoning American middle class (ahem, to let homemakers have more of a life).
Yet we must adapt, just as our consumer products did back in post-war America. We now recognize that we are in the throes of the largest existential environmental crisis known to humankind. A climate crisis that threatens our own lives, the lives of our children, and, to be frank, the economic welfare of Americans (and global citizens) at large. Is it possible for us to do more than just acknowledging that saving money on some cheaper home goods, in the long run, ends up costing us much, much more? Can mea culpa America, one of the wealthiest societies on Earth (and one of the largest culprits for the issues we’re in today), step up to spend a little more since we can, in comparison to other nations’ peoples?
In any case, we appreciate your time in reviewing our suggested solutions, and for your consideration and reckoning of what impact these products have on people and planet. Here’s to the notion that we won’t ever get a BOGO opportunity for our deeply beloved pale blue dot on aisle three of the Milky Way.
Our header imagery depicts original artwork created by Jessica Stockholder, as represented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, a gallery in New York, NY