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6 household product swaps to help reduce your packaging waste

Detergent strips, shampoo bars and more alternatives you can try out today.

Detergent strips, shampoo bars and more alternatives you can try out today

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have — understandably — been producing more household waste, including single-use takeout containers and cardboard boxes from online orders. 

The good news is that if you're looking for ways to reduce your household's packaging waste, there are many alternatives available for common consumables, from cleaning to personal hygiene items. Getting your hands on zero- and low-packaging products and refills is easier than ever, too, thanks to the rising popularity of zero-waste grocery shops and general stores with refillery sections.

How to get started

The best way to begin reducing your waste is to use up what you already have on hand, says Kate Pepler, owner and CEO of The Tare Shop, a package-free bulk store and coffee shop in Halifax. Don't go to your pantry and throw away everything that's packaged in plastic. "It's more wasteful and way more expensive," she says, than it is to just "use up what you have and refill as you run out." 

Next, visit your local bulk or package-free retailer, or browse online to see which kinds of alternative products you might want to try. According to Pepler, the top seller at The Tare Shop every month is refillable liquid laundry detergent. For those seeking a solid return on their investment, she mentions reusable paper towels, safety razors, cloth diapers, period underwear, washable sanitary pads and menstrual cups. Pepler also says that items like shampoo, conditioner, body soap and dish soap, which "have a lot of water in the product," are particularly worth swapping out for plastic-free alternatives. 

"Plastic never goes away," Pepler says. "It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces," and these microplastics end up "in our drinking water, in our seafood, in table salt — we're finding it literally everywhere." 

Here are six ways you can help reduce packaging waste and single-use plastics at home.

Go refillable 

Many household products such as laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner and soap have long been available in bulk. Now, retailers are making it more convenient than ever to switch to refillable, with some like Toronto's Saponetti offering local delivery services and curbside pickup (used containers can be returned to the store for reuse or refilling later). 

Laundry Detergent Liquid - Lavender & Eucalyptus, from $8.30/1 litre (includes a $1.25 deposit for the jar), Pretty Clean Shop

Pick strips over pods

To avoid transporting and storing bulky containers of liquid laundry detergent or pods, consider trying laundry detergent strips. Available unscented or scented, these biodegradable and hypoallergenic strips work in both hot and cold water, and with front- and top-loading washers.

Tru Earth Laundry Detergent Strips, $0.86 each, The Tare Shop

Trade bottles for bars

Beyond the refillable option, you can swap out your plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner for bars that are equally effective. There are many brands available on the market, making it easy to find bars formulated for your specific hair type in both unscented and fragrant varieties. 

Normal/Balanced Hair Shampoo Bar, $17.99, Good Juju

Try refill tablets

Lighter to ship or carry than a bottle of cleaning solution, refill tablets are a good low-packaging option if you don't want to make your own cleaning products at home. This tab can be used to formulate 500 millilitres of multipurpose cleaner with a citrus scent.

Nature Bee Clean Multipurpose Spray, $4, Refillery Market

Reach for reusable cloths

Paper towels may be convenient, but fabric scraps and old rags are easy, low-waste alternatives for kitchen and household cleanups. For something in between that looks nice enough to double as a dinner napkin and won't come wrapped in plastic, try washable and reusable "unpaper towels" made of highly absorbent fabric.   

Juniperseed Mercantile Unpaper Towels, Large, $3.50 each, Nada

Seek out specialty products

You may be surprised by the breadth of bulk and package-free options for specialty cleaning and household products. Stores like The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples in Vancouver carry everything from bathroom cleaners to counter sprays and leather cleansers — and you can purchase only what you need, instead of a full container you may not completely use.

Sapadilla Rosemary Peppermint Counter Spray, $4.44/2-cup refill (includes a $1.00 deposit for the jar), The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples

Why our choices matter

"Our consumption of single-use plastics is way too high," says Pepler. To add to that, only nine per cent of plastic waste in Canada gets recycled. Recycling is "extremely expensive to do and very resource-intensive," she says. "So it's often cheaper for companies to create products from new plastics, virgin plastics, than it is from recycled plastics." 

Pepler notes that it isn't fair that "as consumers, we feel all of the burden and the responsibility of the waste of the products that we buy." 

"All of our individual actions do add up and do make a difference," she says. "But there's only so much we can accomplish if only individuals are acting and big corporations are not taking responsibility for …  the waste that their products create, whether that's end-of-life or the packaging that they come in." 


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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