Single-Use Alternatives: 5 Things I No Longer Buy

Once I cut out fast-fashion, I looked for other more sustainable alternatives to common goods I purchase. It’s become increasingly important to me to limit the purchase of single-use products and invest in quality items that can be used over again. Single-use items, as the name states, are made to use once and then thrown away to end up in a landfill. They have been formed by society’s demand for more convenience and quickly became household essentials. We need to shift this view and form new habits such as taking the time to clean your products to reuse them. Buying single-use alternatives would drastically limit the amount of waste we produce and save on the energy used to make all of these disposable products.

Approximately one-third of plastics in Canada are for single-use products/packaging. While there is still use for these products for sanitary reasons like in the medical field, it’s ideal to start limiting disposable products in your own home.

Single-use cotton swab alternatives 

Cotton swabs are the first item I ditched before I adopted a more sustainable lifestyle. Swabs are super useful for applying medications, makeup, and so much more. Yet, I would always picture them in the garbage as soon as I picked up a box in the store and I felt terrible (for both my wallet and the planet). Cotton swabs impact our earth in various ways, such as ocean pollution and production waste (i.e resources to create and transport). According to the Last Object, 1.5 million swabs are produced per day. To learn more about the numerous ways single-use swabs impact our planted check out Last Object’s article on the topic. 

So, what is the alternative? Last Objects specialize in creating single-use alternatives. They created a reusable swab to combat the exact issues they wrote about. The company created two options, a makeup swab with a pointed tip and a traditionally shaped swab, I ordered both. They are packaged in recyclable packaging and their own plastic storage case (made from corn and it’s biodegradable!). The rod is made of durable plastic and the “cotton” part is made of thermoplastic elastomer. This is a comfortable and flexible soft plastic that perfectly dupes cotton. The swabs are very easy to use, care for, and clean. All you need is a little soap and water. 

Disposable Cotton Rounds 

Similar to the cotton swabs, I stopped purchasing cotton rounds for makeup removal/skincare long before I found a replacement. It just felt wrong to pick up a cheap pack of 100 single-use cotton rounds. I was lucky enough to receive my first pack of reusable rounds as a gift, but they aren’t difficult to come by. You can find them at many zero-waste shops and on Etsy. They do the job the exact same way as their single-use counterparts but are far more sustainable. I use the reusable cotton round just like the disposable ones and then I simply throw it in with my towel laundry. I have experienced absolutely no inconvenience from making the switch from single-use to reusable and I would never switch back. 

Left: Cheeks Ahoy Right: Oko Creations

At first, I started using Oko Creations‘ cotton rounds. They work great, made of organic cotton, and made in Canada! One thing I have learned though, a laundry bag is an absolute necessity. I tried to get away without one and have definitely lost quite a few along the way. I also recently ordered organic hemp rounds and an organic cotton laundry bag from Etsy seller, Cheeks Ahoy Handmade. Not for any unhappiness with my current rounds, but I just felt like trying a new brand. I’ve only used them a few times, but they are so soft and work great thus far!

Single-use alternatives Makeup Removing Wipes 

Makeup wipes are arguably the most convenient product on this list. They are the answer for anyone who can’t be bothered to follow a full skincare routine, want to remove their makeup, and catch some Zs. I’m here to tell you, stop! Throw those single-use, environment-killing, skin-irritating, wipes in the trash! Now, I know that a bit dramatic, but trust me. Makeup wipes often contain non-biodegradable plastics fibres (even when they claim they are) and are a mass contributor to landfill waste. 

Considering the various resources that are used up to produce these single-use wipes, you and your skin are better off with an effective double cleanse routine to remove makeup and the day’s buildup. These inefficient wipes don’t remove all makeup, requiring you to cleanse anyway, they pull at your sensitive skin causing redness, and commonly contain fragrances. 

As I made the conscious decision to stop using my hard-earned money on single-use wipes, I found Face Halo. Face Halo makes ultra-soft and reusable makeup-removing rounds. I was skeptical at first, but the reviews sold me. To my delight, the reviews did not disappoint. All you need to do is add water, gently rub across your face, and voila, all your makeup is gone. It even gets rid of my waterproof eyeliner. My one caveat with the Face Halo is it doesn’t get rid of stubborn waterproof mascara. I’m not too phased by this because no makeup wipe has ever been able to do that for me. Plus, you still need to double cleanse regardless, the face halo just makes the cleansing part a bit easier. Then, you add to your towel laundry just like the cotton rounds and they are ready to use again! 

Paper Books vs E-Books 

Now, this may be the most controversial item on this list as many wouldn’t consider buying a physical book as “single-use”. I personally, don’t care for having the ultimate bookshelf collection (not to say they don’t look cool). Whenever I purchased a new book, I would read it once and then I would place it on a random shelf to collect dust and never glance at it again. I am just not the type to reread books and so I can’t justify purchasing a $15 one-time read that will become a dust collector when libraries exist. This is why I purchased a Kobo reader! I no longer buy books that take up space and it connects to my local library’s e-book database to effortlessly borrow free books. 

Kobo E-Readers
Kobo E-Reader

I purchased the Kobo Libra. It is slightly larger than the popular Clara which allows me to easily hold the e-reader in one hand while I lay in bed or on the couch. This isn’t completely necessary though, many people love their Clara and it does the same job. I first thought that maybe an e-reader wouldn’t be worth it considering you can get books on your smartphone or laptop, but the screen on the kobo is very similar to reading a physical book whereas a smartphone screen causes eye-strain. 

Emma Rich of Cleantech conducted a study of the environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any studies mentioning Kobo, but the Kindle is a very close comparison. Ms. Rich concluded,

“… roughly 168 kg of CO2 produced throughout the Kindle’s lifecycle is a clear winner against the potential savings: 1,074 kg of CO2 if replacing three books a month for four years; and up to 26,098 kg of CO2 when used to the fullest capacity of the Kindle DX. Less-frequent readers attracted by decreasing prices still can break even at 22.5 books over the life of the device.”

This isn’t to say the e-readers are completely void of any environmental impact. Of course, there are resources that are used up to make and transport these devices. I encourage you to read Ms. Rich’s study for the full picture. However, when taken all the points into account, I am personally much better off with my Kobo than a paper book. 

Single-Use Baking Cups / Liners

Silicone baking liners seem to fall into a grey area in the zero-waste realm. Some people prefer paper liners because they collect and compost them. But if you’re like me and you live in an apartment, in a city that doesn’t support compositing, that isn’t really an option. The paper cups will end up in a landfill regardless. Foil liners are out of the question as they will definitely get thrown in the trash. Not to mention that these cups/liners almost always come wrapped in plastic.

When I saw silicone cups in the grocery store, I knew it would be a great option for me. I don’t bake often and when I do, it is just for people coming over or for my family. So I don’t have to worry about attempting to collect and keep track of the cups at a party. While I do see why some may opt to stick to the single-use paper liners, I am very happy with my decision to purchase the silicone baking cups and I’ll have them for life.

Wilton Baking Cups

I hope that this list of single-use alternatives has inspired you to convert at least one single-use item you buy to a reusable product, the earth (and surely your wallet) will thank you. I’m always looking for reusable replacements for everyday items, so please leave a comment if you have any suggestions!

If you’re interested in more reads, check out my last post on how to effectively clear out your closet.

Until next time, 


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