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Unfortunately, a material that is both 100% eco-friendly and as versatile as plastic doesn't exist yet. Until then, there are a lot of great alternatives we recommend trying out. Here we’ve broken down the most common materials you’ll find in the products we carry, laying out both their strengths and shortcomings alike.
Perhaps the most versatile material in the world, plastic is light, moldable, and durable. It's found in our furniture, food packaging, electronics, clothing items, cars, throughout our homes… you get the point. It’s everywhere. One problem is that most plastics are made of petroleum, natural gas, or coal. And the insane demand for and production of plastic products means we’re using up these natural resources faster than they can be replenished.
Another issue: plastic takes multiple lifetimes to degrade completely. In fact, the first plastic item ever created is still out there today. In addition, chemicals are often added to alter the consistency and shape the form of different plastic products, including containers for food and drink. These chemicals contain toxins that aren’t healthy for the human body to ingest or consume, posing potential serious health risks that are still under study.
While it takes a lot of intention and proactive behavior, we advise you to avoid using plastic when possible. And when it’s unavoidable, be sure to recycle plastic after use.
When we diligently throw our plastic bottles into those carefully-marked blue bins, where do they go? If we’re all recycling, why don't we see that many recycled plastic products out there? Part of the answer lies in the fact that recycling plastic is a complicated and confusing process. Each different type of plastic—from polyester to polyurethane—has its own unique recycling rules. As such, recycled plastic is really expensive to produce. More expensive than it is to produce new plastic.
We support the use of recycled plastic here at Simply Spruce because doing so extends the life of a material that would otherwise further clog up our landfills, oceans, and beyond. And recycled plastic works really well, serving the same versatile needs as regular plastic. But unlike steel or glass, which can be recycled infinitely, recycled plastic can only be processed once or twice more before it loses durability and no longer functions like its shiny and new counterpart.
Some of the products Simply Spruce offers that feature recycled plastic include [link], [link], and [link].
Think of bioplastics as plastic's greener cousins. They’re moldable, durable, and versatile, but are made from renewable sources like corn, straw, sawdust, and food waste. While certainly cause for celebration, bioplastics aren't a magical cure-all. Like their less-green relative, they come in many variations, not all of which are biodegradable. They’re also not all easily compostable. Most aren’t recyclable.
So you can see how properly disposing a product made of bioplastic might prove a headache. And when bioplastic waste is improperly processed, the repercussions can be big. For example, if mistakenly thrown into a recycling bin, a bioplastic product might contaminate whole batches of would-be recycled plastic and end up in the landfill. We definitely recommend using bioplastics over plastics but encourage you to keep proper disposability top of mind.
A rising star in the sustainability game, silicone offers a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic. It can take on myriad forms and consistencies in order to meet a whole host of needs, and is made when the silicon found in sand reacts with fossil fuels (the main essence of plastic). Silicone behaves like plastic and in most cases looks like plastic. But it’s extremely hardy and infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic, which is why it’s earned its place in the spotlight.
Some of the most common household products made from silicone are kitchen items. Silicone thrives across disparate environments, performing just as well in the oven as it does in the freezer and on the countertop. It’s also more inert than plastic, which means that forks, containers, spatulas, etc. made from the former are way less likely to leach chemicals into the food they contact than the latter.
Check in with your local recycling center to see if they have the proper facilities for recycling silicone or can point you in the right direction.
Scope out Simply Spruce’s top-selling silicone products: [link], [link], and [link].
Many bioplastics are derived from plants that require the use of pesticides and fertilizers (read: notoriously strong pollutants) in order to grow. By contrast, bamboo thrives without much attention. That makes it one of the most sustainable and renewable materials on the market. Strong and durable enough to compete with more commonly-used materials such as glass, wood, and steel, bamboo fiber composite offers both an eco-friendly and usually much lighter alternative.
Bamboo fiber composite is biodegradable, but products made from this material rarely come with specific instructions and timeframes for composting. We encourage you to check in with your local recycling facility to make sure your bamboo fiber composite product is compatible with your composting set up.
A true MVP among plants in the sustainability game, bamboo is pest-resistant, needs only small doses of water to survive, grows at lightning speed, and produces a lot of oxygen. It’s earned the nickname “green steel” because of its durability and strength. Toothbrushes, straws, flooring, skateboards… they’re all items that have been successfully made from bamboo.
It’s important to note that the above items utilize bamboo in its raw, woody form. We encourage you to be mindful in considering whether or not to buy clothing items made from bamboo. The transformation from stalk to fabric is an intense process that’s often reliant on harsh chemicals and negates some of the eco-friendly qualities inherent to unprocessed bamboo.
When you’re through with your bamboo product, toss it in your compost. It’s 100% biodegradable. Remember, we did say bamboo’s an MVP.
Cotton is the most popular natural fiber in the world. It only makes sense, then, that the production and manufacturing of cotton are huge industries around the globe. Though biodegradable, cotton often requires a decent amount of water and an indecent amount of pesticides in order to grow. And in the manufacturing process, cotton can come into contact with other chemicals. Organic cotton manages to avoid some of these ecological concerns by avoiding pesticides and chemicals.
However, the most sustainable option out there is reused or recycled cotton. No complicated processing or manufacturing necessary. That’s why we strongly recommend that when you’re done using your cotton product, you clean it and donate it. Otherwise, bring it to a recycling facility or add it to your compost.
Wool is one of the most eco-friendly fibers we’ve got. It’s made from atmospheric carbon, which is created when sheep eat and digest plants. Not to be confused with carbon produced by fossil fuels, atmospheric carbon is part of our environment’s natural and healthy cycle. It goes something like this: a sheep eats plants, then that sheep’s wool is converted to clothing, the clothing is worn until recycled or composted, the wool waste serves as fertilizer for the plants the next sheep will eat.
Items made of wool have impressive lifespans. They generally last much longer than those made of cotton or other textiles. And that’s because wool has a superpower: it naturally stays pretty clean. That means your wool jumper or blanket doesn’t need to be washed as often as many of the other textiles in your closet and home. Which also means you’re using very little by way of energy and resources to maintain it.
When your wool product is no longer of use, check in with your local recycling facility to see if you can recycle it or can make a game plan to compost it.
Borosilicate glass is distinguishable from regular old glass because it contains a combination of boron trioxide and silica. They’re a pair of super ingredients that enable the glass not to fail, shatter, explode, crack, you name it, under extreme temperature changes. In addition to thermal changes, borosilicate glass also resists chemicals. In fact, it’s so leech-resistant that it’s the material of choice for containing nuclear waste.
While technically recyclable, borosilicate glass doesn’t play well with regular glass, and would need to be sorted out separately by a recycling facility. There generally aren’t enough borosilicate glass products entering the waste stream in order to justify this separate process. But unlike regular glass products, many of which are single-use, borosilicate glass items are meant to last a lifetime, avoiding the recycling conundrum altogether.
Steel is North America’s number one most recycled material. It can be recycled in any stage of its life or in any form without compromising strength and durability. The average piece of steel is actually made up of about 60% recycled material. You also don’t need much of it to get any job done. And unlike some of its counterparts in the construction industry, steel releases no toxins or chemicals into our bodies or the environment. You can see why it’s the literal foundation of the green building movement around the world.
Steel has also been recently making its way into other arenas, including consumables like straws and water bottles. Steel products are meant to last a long time. If you’re done with your steel product, we encourage you to reuse or donate it so that someone else can benefit from it. But as we mentioned above, steel is extremely recyclable. So if all else fails, you can toss it in your blue bin alongside your papers, plastics, etc.
You may have heard about activated charcoal as a miracle-working emergency treatment for overdoses. It works because it binds to almost everything it encounters. So instead of absorbing into the bloodstream, drug toxins bind to the charcoal and pass through the body without causing catastrophic harm. That very same binding strength is what’s turned activated charcoal into a new hit in the beauty and dental care worlds too. Active charcoal toothpaste may help remove stains from the top layer of your teeth, and active charcoal face wash could pull out oils from your pores. It can also be used as an air and water filter.
It’s important to note that activated charcoal is not the same thing as the charcoal you use to grill or fuel. The former has been through a process of oxidation, improving its porosity and absorbency.
When it’s time to dispose: activated charcoal’s high carbon content makes it a prime candidate for your compost, where it will help matter break down more quickly and easily.