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sneaky sources of plastic

17 Sneaky Sources of Plastic You Didn’t Know About

We’re all well-aware that the world has a plastic problem. Unfortunately, it runs deeper than we even realize. If you’re looking to lessen your footprint on the environment, consider these sneaky sources of plastic that might be lurking around your home. Most of them can be easily swapped out with an eco-friendly alternative.


#1 Bath & Body Products

By William Warby on Unsplash

It’s all about the microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic are added to a variety of bath products to add scrubbing and exfoliating power. They’re often added to whitening toothpastes, facial exfoliators, sunscreen, and body scrubs. The pieces are so small that they can’t be processed out by wastewater treatment facilities, which means they end up in our waterways.


What you can do:

If you want to avoid contributing plastic pollution in our lakes and rivers, make sure not to use products that contain microbeads. You can easily make your own body scrubs at home using salt, sugar, or coffee grounds for natural exfoliation. 


There are plenty of natural toothpastes on the market, and if you’re looking to whiten that smile, try charcoal powder instead. 


#2 Sponges

From Pixabay

Your kitchen sponge contains multiple types of plastic. Most are made out of polyurethane and polyethylene. The manufacturing of these materials requires fossil fuels, and if that wasn’t bad enough, these plastics can take over 500 years to decompose


What you can do:

The good news is that there are several choices for going plastic-free when it comes to keeping your kitchen clean! Copper scours are great scrubbers that can be recycled. Plant-based loofahs, walnut sponges, and reusable cotton sponges are all great choices.


Or try these reusable, biodegradable, compostable Swedish dishcloths from Wet-it! that are made to be a replacement for both sponges and paper towels. We love their cute designs and the fact that they’re washable, lasting up to 6 months or more!


#3 Salt

Photo from Jacobsen Salt Co., a company that works to keep microplastics out of their salt

Yup, this one is hard to swallow. The thing is, a lot of the plastic products we produce end up breaking down into tiny pieces that will essentially never decompose entirely. This microplastic ends up in abundance in our ocean. And the ocean is where most of our salt is harvested from. Ultimately, a percentage of these microplastics end up in our salt supply. 


What you can do:

This one is a bit tougher to battle, but there are some salt companies that are changing their filtration processes to ensure that microplastics don’t end up in their product. Jacobsen Salt Co. is one of those companies. 



#4 Tea Bags

Photo by Lynda Sanchez on Unsplash

Surprisingly, most tea bags contain up to 25% plastic. Why? A plastic polymer is used to seal the bags as well as keep its shape when it’s dunked into hot water. Although tea bags are often thought of as compostable, the added plastic also means that they won’t completely decompose.


Not only is this a detriment to the environment, but also to our health. A recent study found that when these bags are steeped in warm water, billions of microparticles and nanoparticles of plastic are released into our cups. Since consuming plastic can have a negative effect on our endocrine system, it’s best to avoid bagged teas altogether.


What you can do:

Switch to loose leaf teas. Use a tea ball or tea pot for straining out the herbs.


#5 Paper Coffee Cups

Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash

Those paper cups that house our to-go coffees aren’t just made of paper. The insides are lined with plastic in order to make them waterproof and to prevent the heat of the liquid inside from deteriorating the cup. Again, this plastic leaches into our hot beverages. Not so delicious after all.


What you can do:

Bring your own reusable cup when you go to the coffee shop. And if you’ll be drinking on location, ask for a ceramic mug. 


#6 Disposable Wipes

Photo from Naty, a company that makes plastic-free wet wipes

Most wet wipes contain plastic and don’t meet water industry standards, yet we’re flushing thousands of them down our toilets every second. The plastic used to make them means that they never fully break down, and have become a huge issue in our sewers. A UK study found that 93% of sewer blockages were caused by wet wipes. They may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of single-use plastics, but they’re a huge contributor to plastic pollution in our oceans.

And this isn’t just about baby wipes. The same goes for face wipes and makeup removing wipes, too.


What you can do:

First of all, never flush any disposable wipes down the toilet! It doesn’t matter if they’re marketed as “flushable” or made with biodegradable materials, none of them should ever end up in our sewage system. Secondly, find a brand that makes eco-friendly products. Naty makes wet wipes that are made with plant-based fabric that contains 0% plastic. 


#7 Plant Plastics/Bioplastics

Photo from de zeen

Yes, it’s still plastic. These bioplastics take a lot of resources to produce, don’t fully decompose, and produce methane, which contributes to global warming. They can’t be recycled or composted except in certain commercial facilities. And the land used to grow the crops could be used to grow food instead of plastic.


What you can do:

Find more sustainable solutions than using items made with bioplastics. Use reusable grocery bags instead of bags made with plant plastics, wood cutlery instead of biodegradable alternatives, and glass straws instead of straws made with plant starches.


#8 Produce Stickers

Photo by Dom J on Pexels

They’re small enough to seem harmless, but they’re causing a stir in commercial composting facilities. Oftentimes, these little stickers are thrown into compost with fruits and vegetables that are generally peeled before consumption, such as bananas. The problem is that they don’t break down with the rest of the compostable material, and it’s difficult and costly to sort them out.


What you can do:

While there’s some talk about companies starting to laser-etch PLU codes on produce, it’s hard to say when or if this method will be globally adopted. For now, the best you can do is make sure to remove stickers from your fruits and veggies and throw them away before you compost.


#9 Faux Wood

Image from

You knew it wasn’t wood, but did you know those faux-wood floors you were thinking about putting in are made of plastic? Most faux-wood flooring and blinds are made with PVC or some other type of vinyl.


What you can do:

There’s not a great substitute for faux wood except real wood itself.


#10 Your Toothbrush

Photo by Henrick Lagercrantz on Unsplash

Ok, it’s probably a bit more obvious that your toothbrush is made with plastic, but it’s easy to overlook. The billion toothbrushes that end up in North American landfills each year can take over 400 years to break down. That’s a little longer than we’re willing to wait. 


What you can do:

Consider switching to a bamboo brush that doesn’t use plastic in its handle or bristles.


#11 Aluminum Cans

Photo from Pexels

It would be easy to assume it’s nothing but aluminum. Yet as it turns out, manufacturers have been lining these cans with plastic for decades. This insulative lining protects the beverage from interacting with the metal and producing off flavors, while also protecting the can itself from being corroded by acids and chemicals in the beverage. 


What you can do:

Of course, the most eco-friendly container is no container at all. Get creative finding ways to pull this off – filling up a reusable glass growler at your local brewery, for example. Your next best bet is to choose beverages that are sold in glass bottles where possible, as glass is more recyclable than aluminum or plastic options.


#12 Painkillers & Medications

Photo by Myriam Zilles on Pixabay

A study published by Environmental Health Perspectives found that 10-20% of medical pills contain phthalates, plasticizing chemicals that are known to cause adverse health effects. Medications and painkillers that are made to be slower-releasing are the biggest culprits for using these plastic additives. The enteric coatings applied to survive stomach acid that create that slower release time is the main reason there’s plastic used in these pills.


What you can do:

Be a conscious consumer and do your research. The Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database is a helpful resource to find out which products are safe for you.


#13 Lotions & Conditioners

Photo from Pexels

You know that silky smooth feeling your hair gets when you’ve just conditioned it? In most cases, that’s thanks to conditioning polymers and silicones. These ingredients help emulsify bath products as well as create a soft, moisturized feeling on hair and skin.


What you can do:

Look out for ingredients like polyquaternium, polyimide, polyethylene glycol (PEG), and carbomers, all examples of synthetic polymers.  For a good list of plastic ingredients generally found in these products, check out this list from ftoxins. Try organic lotions and conditioners made with non-toxic ingredients. Best yet, go for shampoo bars that are not only made with simple ingredients, but are also packaged without plastic.


#14 Bedding

Photo from scooms, a company that makes plastic-free bedding

Are you sleeping on plastic? Your bed’s probably not the first place you look when you think of eliminating plastic in your home, but synthetic fibers, microfibers, and memory foam are all made of plastic. These are used in pillows, mattresses, mattress toppers, and “soft as down” comforters. 


What you can do:

Try a brand such as scooms, who makes bedding that is both plastic-free and shipped without any plastic.


#15 Receipts

Photo by Aman on Pexels

Thermal paper used for things like store receipts, movie tickets, and boarding passes are coated with measurable levels of BPA. There’s debate about whether or not this is harmful to our health and can be easily transferred to our skin, although there have been studies that show increased levels of BPA after handling these receipts. Either way, it’s yet another source of unnecessary plastic that’s not good for the environment.


What you can do:

If you don’t need the receipt, don’t take it. Ask the cashier to throw it away or get a paperless receipt emailed to you if possible.


#16 Cardboard To-Go Boxes

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

By now, you’re probably getting the point. Similar to the plastic lining in paper coffee cups or aluminum cans, those cardboard boxes that you leave restaurants with are coated with plastic so the box doesn’t instantly fall apart due to the moisture content of your food. 


What you can do:

Unfortunately, this one doesn’t have an easy eco-swap. In most cases, we don’t have a lot of control over the packaging choices that businesses make. Support any local restaurants in your area that use plastic-free takeout containers. Otherwise, do your best to order an amount of food you’ll finish while you’re dining out. 


#17 Tampons & Pads

Photo from Thinx, a brand that makes underwear designed to replace pads & tampons

Yet another sneaky source of plastic in your bathroom: those sanitary products. While it’s obvious which brands use plastic for packaging and applicators, what’s shocking is that some tampons actually contain plastic in the tampon. Sanitary napkins often have plastic in their adhesive bottoms as well as the synthetics that are there to soak up liquid.


What you can do:

Go for 100% cotton tampons to ensure there’s no extra ingredients sneaking their way into your hygiene products. Or, try the zero-waste approach with period panties, a comfortable trend that’s finally starting to catch on.


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