In 2018, I wrote a version of this post that was heavily focused on in-person shopping—which is clearly the easiest way to shop Plastic Free. But these days, I’m doing most of my shopping online. So here’s an update focused exclusively on online retailers.
When we started the Plastic Free Challenge in 2018, we didn’t have any exclusively package-free or zero waste retailers in Fairfax County. I could find a lot of great Plastic Free swaps—like Eco Nuts, paper-wrapped toilet tissue, and reusable snack bags—at MOM’s Organic Market or even Target, but no one really had the breadth of options I knew was available elsewhere. So I started looking online for zero waste retailers that were conscientious about their shipping practices. Here are my favorite five:
The Package Free Shop, based in Brooklyn, was launched by “the girl with the jar” Lauren Singer, author of the popular zero waste blog Trash Is for Tossers, who became known a few years ago for fitting eight years of her own waste into one Mason jar.
This online shop sells package-free bath, kitchen, laundry, and home goods, including cosmetics, utensils, cloth bags, and so forth, plus a variety of cool zero waste starter kits for things like cleaning, self-care, or lunch. Products are shipped in minimal, plastic-free packaging, via ground transport, and every product description in the store includes directions for end-of-life disposal.
Plus, the Package Free Shop has made a commitment to inclusivity that includes “breaking down barriers of entry to sustainable products” by (among other things) working to reduce price points. Yes. Let’s do more of this please.
I have tried a lot of products from this store, but my top three picks are the pink clay facial bar (which feels luxurious on the skin and lasts forever—I’ve had mine for almost a year), the Albatross safety razor (my husband and I have saved SO MUCH money on shaving since we switched to safety razors), and the kids’ bamboo cutlery set (which I pack in my daughter’s lunch bag every day).
The Refill Shoppe, a woman-owned business based in California, is the place my family turns to for products we prefer in liquid form, like dish soap and shampoo. They ship liquids in a refillable pouch, you empty the pouch into your own container (or a container you buy from them), and then you return the pouch for cleaning and refilling. They ship refill pouches in reusable, zipper mailing envelopes and all other products in minimal paper packaging.
Of course, shipping across the country—even from a company committed to reducing its shipping footprint—is certainly not ideal, so I am excited to hear that our first local zero waste store, Trace, will offer refillables when it opens next year.
- Arbor Teas, based in Michigan, sells high-quality, fair trade, organic loose tea in backyard-compostable packaging. I absolutely recognize what a luxury it is to have loose tea shipped from Michigan, but I just don’t want to live without Arbor Teas’ Gyokuro green tea and it is not available in local stores. Arbor Teas has an incredible sustainability mission—from sourcing and shipping ingredients to packaging and distributing teas.
I love Etsy, especially for gifts and kids’ stuff. Doesn’t everyone? Not every vendor on Etsy ships plastic or packaging free, so it is important to do your due diligence and ask questions. By finding the right vendors and asking the right questions, I’ve used Etsy to spare myself a ton of plastic waste when it comes to decorating birthday parties, preparing (unpackaged) treat bundles for party-goers, and making Halloween costumes.
Recently I bought my daughter some handmade organic cotton masks and a witch hat pattern for her Halloween costume. I was able to communicate directly with the mask maker about her packaging (which was minimal), and I asked her not to include the “bag of party balloons” people get with orders of 3 or more masks. Plastic averted.
I can’t reiterate this enough: Plastic Free shopping is just easier when you can talk directly with a vendor. Etsy makes vendor communication possible in a way many online retailers can’t or don’t.
EarthHero has been described elsewhere as Amazon for sustainable goods, and it really does have a selection of high-quality eco-friendly goods that I haven’t seen on other zero waste sites. You can buy everything on EarthHero from stainless steel cups and bar shampoo to reading glasses, phone chargers, and turntables. Turntables! (My husband is an audiophile with an extensive collection of records. I doubt we will need to replace our turntable any time soon, but I am beyond excited to have this option when we do.)
But unlike Amazon, EarthHero has made a commitment to transparency, creating positive change, and making sustainable shopping as convenient and affordable as possible. As a bonus, they are a certified B Corps, and their offices are zero waste.
These online shops are in my regular eco-friendly shopping rotation, but they either don’t offer 100% Plastic Free shipping or they just can’t always meet my needs.
- ThredUp has an incredible selection of used clothing. I mean, Incredible. I rebuilt my work wardrobe almost exclusively from ThredUp finds when I returned to an office last year, and they’ve got a great kids’ shop too. I’ve also sold my old clothes and accessories through ThredUp, which couldn’t be easier (although they aren’t currently accepting used clothes). The downside with ThredUp is that, although they usually ship in cardboard boxes with tissue paper, I do occasionally get a plastic shipping bag from them.
- Renewal Workshop takes defective and unsellable garments and turns them into “renewed” apparel, upcycled material, or recycling feedstock. The company works with global brands—like prAna, Osprey, and Pottery Barn—to close the loop on waste coming out of their factories. So, for example, a prAna jacket with a broken zipper isn’t immediately thrown out because it can’t be sold; instead it’s refurbished or remade into something new. Renewal Workshop is extremely eco-conscious and ships in minimal packaging—and is just SO COOL!—but because of the nature of their business, their warehouse stock is unreliable.
- Buy Me Once, another woman-owned business, independently vets products from a variety of manufacturers and recommends investment purchases that will last a lifetime. Their recommendations cover the gamut from pots and pans, knives, and sheets to shoes, yoga mats, and t-shirts. The downside of Buy Me Once is they sell products in their original packaging, which is often plastic.
By Julie Kimmel