Sustainable product examples: eco-friendly alternatives

Table Of Contents

An intro: green-alternatives

For many people, making environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions is over-shadowed by social, political and/or economical factors whereby every-day survival is prioritised over trying to save the planet.    

For those of us living in first-world countries however, sustainable shopping alternatives are widely accessible. Not adopting and embracing an eco-mindset is quickly becoming a social ‘shame’. 

Although increased media exposure and social-shaming is a step in the right direction, tackling climate change on global scale remains a steep challenge. More and more businesses are adopting sustainable development practices in an effort to promote economic growth, environmental safety and social benefits.

According to Forbes, 77% of Australian and American people would like learn how to live more sustainably.

Tools such as Google Trends highlight the increase in relative popularity for search queries (in the US) such as ‘sustainable products’.

What are some examples of eco-friendly products?

Something eco-friendly is ‘designed to have little or no damaging effect on the environment’, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

You can think of eco-friendly products as items that are produced using natural, raw materials.

Common examples include:

– Using organic cotton over conventional cotton

– Using recycled polyester over virgin polyester

– Using natural rubber instead of synthetic materials

A natural or raw material is ‘any product or physical matter that comes from plants, animals, or the ground,’ according to Wikipedia.

Some every-day examples of eco-friendly items include:

– Eco-Friendly/Bamboo Toothbrushes

Most (non-electrical) toothbrushes are made of plastic (BPA-Chemical) materials which do not biodegrade or decompose properly.

– Reusable / Biodegradable Cups

Finding materials that are not chemically-rich as well as being BPA and phthalate-free.

Compostable cups, like food waste, can be disposed and taken to a composting facility.

– Beeswax Wraps (Baking Paper Alternative)

Beeswax wraps have both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. They offer a water tight, plastic alternative to food concealment.

Something eco-friendly is ‘designed to have little or no damaging effect on the environment’, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

You can think of eco-friendly products as items that are produced using natural, raw materials.

Common examples include:

– Using organic cotton over conventional cotton

– Using recycled polyester over virgin polyester

– Using natural rubber instead of synthetic materials

A natural or raw material is ‘any product or physical matter that comes from plants, animals, or the ground,’ according to Wikipedia.

Some every-day examples of eco-friendly items include:

– Eco-Friendly/Bamboo Toothbrushes

Most (non-electrical) toothbrushes are made of plastic (BPA-Chemical) materials which do not biodegrade or decompose properly.

– Reusable / Biodegradable Cups

Finding materials that are not chemically-rich as well as being BPA and phthalate-free.

Compostable cups, like food waste, can be disposed and taken to a composting facility.

– Beeswax Wraps (Baking Paper Alternative)

Categorizing sustainable and eco-friendly items

Common environmtally-friendly ‘product categories’ include:

– Biodegradable
– Renewable
– Solar-powered
– Natural materials (straw, hemp, bamboo, organic cotton)
– Organic
– Reused
– Recycled

reusable produce bags

How to tell if a product is eco-friendly?

Identifying whether or not an item is eco-friendly can often be confusing.

It is often the case that brands will use vocabulary associated with nature and the environment in order to appear more ‘eco-conscious’.

When checking product packaging, look out for any of the following organisations:

– Energy Star (energy saving electronics and appliances)

– Forest Stewardship Council Logo(paper and wood products)

– USDA Organic Seal (organic cosmetics and foods)

– Green Seal (environmentally-safe cleaning products)

How to tell if product-packaging is earth-friendly?

Environmentally-friendly packaging is packaging that, over a period of time, reduces its environmental footprint.

In order to qualify as ‘earth-friendly packaging’, materials must fall into one of three categories:

– Recyclable

– Reusable

– Biodegradable

With consumers becoming more environmentally-conscious, manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to adhere to ethical and environmentally production processes. 

This can occur in various ways, including:

– A reusable lifecycle

– Consideration for social and economic factors

– Using raw 100% recycled or raw materials

– Minimising the production process

Adopting sustainable packaging is paramount in the fight against climate change.

In recent times, the global volume of plastic production has significantly increased, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015. Production is expected to double again by 2050…

It is estimated to take at least 400 years for most single-use plastic items to break down.

Most plastics contain additives which makes them stronger, more flexible and more durable. It is these additives that cause plastic to be so resistant to mother nature.

The environmental impacts of plastic

Each year, it is estimated that approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic materials are produced.

From this, around 8 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans.

Synthetic plastic materials are made up of chemical combinations, making decomposition extremely difficult.

Macroplastic:
According to Wiktionary:

“Macroplastics are relatively large particles of plastic found especially in the marine environment (typically more than about 5 mm)”

Microplastic:
According to Wikipedia:

“Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment”

Microplastics are not a specific kind of plastic, but rather any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length, according to the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Worryingly, plastic waste is forecasted to quadruple between 2010 and 2050.

Countries such as China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have huge changes to make (these countries create more plastic waste than all other countries combined).

Focusing on biodegradable and reusable plant-based materials is going to be pivotal if we’re going to be successful in keeping our oceans clean.

Although scientists can accurately estimate how long it takes plastic to break down, a precise time frame is unknown.

This is because different plastic materials contain different percentages of chemical components, meaning that one piece of plastic may be more environmentally harmful in comparison to another, due to higher levels of toxic materials.

As well as landfill pollution, plastic waste causes signifant ocean and marine damage. Plastic fragments are ingested by ‘filter-feeding organisms’, such as  plankton and other ocean creatures.

Animals higher up the food chain may bioaccumulate larger quantities of microplastics as a result.

Plastic waste that survives for thousands of years in our oceans can also serve as a transportation device for invasive species that disrupt habitats.

Banning single-use plastic bags

In many states across the US, plastic bag usage is not prohibited. More and more states (and countries around the world) are beginning to ban plastic bag distribution full-stop.

In 2014, California became the first state in the US to prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags. Other countries such as Germany are also preparing to impose similar bans/laws.

Examples of sustainable alternatives for single-use plastic bags include:

– Organic cotton bags

– Linen bags

– Hemp bags

– Jute bags

– Non-woven polypropylene bags

Rest assured, there are endless plastic packaging alternatives out there. Here we wrote an article about 20 natural materials.

produce bags

The environmental benefits of sustainable products

As people’s concern for the environment increases, so does the popularity of eco-friendly products.

More businesses are beginning to incorporate sustainable development goals in the work place, i.e. paying more attention to a products social, environmental and economic advantages.

Appreciating the environmental benefits of sustainable products means understanding the consequences that arise from non-eco-friendly materials.

Earth-friendly products are safe for both the environment and for surrounding communities, since sustainable products pose no threat to the health of individuals.

Environmentally-friendly materials are manufactured using significantly cleaner production processes and often powered using renewable energy sources.

Most sustainable products are produced using recycled materials (this also ensures that the item can be recycled once disposed).

According to the European Commission: ‘The global market for low carbon environmental goods and services is estimated to be worth around €4.2 trillion.’ You can read the full article here.

In recent years, more and more conventional power sources are being substituted for energy-efficient methods, as more manufacturers begin to harness natural resources such as the sun, water and wind.

Sustainable products are a part of the ‘closed loop system’, a system whereby recycled products are used as raw materials for new products.

When the materials life-cycle comes to an end, the waste is reused as a raw material itself.

What are the most eco-friendly materials?

– Natural Earth Clay & Plaster
– Cardboard
– Sustainable Paint (Low VOC)
– Bamboo Fiber
– Hemp
– Organic Cotton
– Soybean Fabric
– Cork
– Teak
– Corn Starch
– Bio-Compostables
– Glass (Recycled)
– Recycled Polyester
– Aluminum Bottles
– Recycled Paper
– Felt
– Solar Cells
– Reclaimed Rubber
– Rice Hulls
– Bamboo Hardwood
– Reclaimed Wool

What?
– Eco-friendly materials and production methods that are eco-conscious in terms of the way in which they are produced

Why?
– Eco-friendly materials are used in order to reduce pollution and other damage to our ecosystem

How?
– By adopting renewable resources in order to produce the materials

How can we use eco-friendly materials to make products?

What criteria actually makes a product eco-friendly?

Here are 10 principles that you should look out for:

1. The product should be produced from recycled materials

2. The product should contain natural ingredients, i.e. avoid purchasing items that contain synthetic chemicals

3. The product should be officially eco-friendly or fair trade certified

4. Eco-friendly packaging should be used (if necessary)

5. When the product is finished or no longer has any use, no harmful or hazardous waste or chemicals should be emitted/formed

6. During the production process, the methods used should be free of pollution

7. In general, items that last for a long time (i.e. durable), without the need to be constantly replaced is a positive sign

8. If the product is reusable then that is a big plus point in terms of eco-friendliness

9. Locally sourced products (using organic farming methods if necessary) is another principle of eco-friendly product criteria

10. Items that require little or no external power sources are more sustainable in comparison to products that require constant power in order to function

Design for environment (DFE)

Design for environment has four main concepts:

Design for environmental packaging:
– By using eco-friendly packaging, we can help to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging materials around the world.

Design for environmental processing and manufacturing:
– We should always consider how materials are used during a production processes, i.e. how a material is manufactured, extracted and processed, and whether or not the materials are mined, grown, drilled or harvested before production completion.


Design for energy efficiency:

– This concept is specifically relevant for electric appliances.

– The aim here is to ensure minimal energy that is consumed by the product during its life cycle.


Design for disposal or reuse:

– Despite a product no longer having the capacity to carry out its purpose or function, the life of the materials themselves are not necessarily finished (although the owner might dispose of the item).

– Environmentally-friendly materials will ensure that the item can be reused and recycled.

An eco-friendly system explained

An eco-friendly system is a system that is environmentally-friendly, i.e. it does not damage the earth in any way.

Examples of such systems can be as simple as disposing of waste from our houses in an eco-friendly way.

Factors involved include energy efficiency, materials efficiency, water efficiency, environmental health and safety and environmental operation and maintenance.

By segregating waste into organic and non-organic collections, we are contributing to an eco-friendly ‘system’.

Another example of a sustainable system could be the process of composting human waste. This type of system boasts great benefits to public health, helping to avoid serious hygiene and health issues

This type of a system is a completely eco-friendly cycle since plants require nitrogen and other nutrients found in manure (as a fertiliser). As a result of this, plants are the most ‘nutrient-dense’ foods.

Here via Quora you can find a full thread of helpful answers on this topic.

Is silicone eco-friendly?

Silicone products are (generally) more environmentally-safe in comparison to other harmful materials such as plastic.

This is because silicone materials tend to be more durable in comparison to plastic and therefore more environmentally sound (i.e. longer life-span resulting in a reduced waste volume).

Overall, however, silicone is certainly not an ‘eco-friendly material’.

Negative silicone properties include:

– Hydrocarbons used during the process of silicone production originate from non-renewable resources (such as oil and natural gas).

This means that silicone is not biodegradable.

– Even though silicone boasts both durable and flexible properties, silicone can tear if not handled correctly/with care.

– Silicone must be sent to a specific/unique recycling environment in order to be recycled correctly. From there, silicone can be broken down into various products.

Here you can read more about the characteristic properties of silicone rubber compounds.

Is cotton eco-friendly?

Cotton that is not organic is one of the most unsustainable and least environmentally-friendly materials.

Approximately 10,000 litres of water is required in order to process one single kilo of conventional/standard cotton.

The reason why conventional cotton is so popular is due to the fact that it can be produced at large scale and is heavily subsidised and cheap in comparison to other fibres.

Global consumption of non-organic cotton releases huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (approximately 220 million tonnes per year).

On the flip side, organic cotton is an entirely different conversion when it comes to the environment.

Aboutorganiccotton.org brilliantly illustrated how organic farming systems work in the below graphic:

Are microfibers eco-friendly?

Most microfibers are produced using polyester which is made up of dihydric alcohol, ester and terephthalic acid.

As a result of this, microfiber is very much an inorganic material and therefore does not biodegrade.

Microfiber requires almost double the amount of energy to be produced in comparison to natural fibers such as cotton.

Microfibers do however boast ‘some’ eco-friendly properties (in comparison to plastic).

Microfiber has the ability to clean a wide range of surfaces mixed only with water. This differs to non-microfiber materials that rely on added chemicals to do the actual cleaning.

Microfiber, on the other hand, has dirt-loosening capabilities and can remove debris from surfaces without the use of chemical detergents.

Industries evolving as a result of climate change

Eco-Friendly Transport:

Transport vehicles and systems that run on renewable energy sources include:

– Electrical vehicles
– Solar-powered air travel
– Solar-powered pumps

There are three principal ways to make transport more environmentally-friendly:

1. Reduce the need for transport

2. Change to more eco-friendly forms of transport

3. Use emission-reducing technology

Eco-Friendly Agriculture:

In the context of farming and agriculture, produce grown and maintained via sustainable and eco-friendly methods can be referred to as ’bio’ or ‘organic’ produce.

An example of a product produced in a sustainable environment could be a factory that:

– Harnesses renewable energy
– Uses significantly less water
– Cleans and sustainably filters all of its wasted-water

Ecology & Animal Welfare:

Animals and insects play a crucial role in every ecosystem.

Since we are also classified as animals, humans engage in what is referred to as the ‘food web’.

This is an interdependent ecosystem whereby each ‘contributor’ relies on the other in order to survive. If just one ‘contributor’ fails to engage in the food web system, the whole system will crash as a result.

By harming and damaging other living organisms, we risk depleting both our planet and ourselves of the necessary conditions to continue to survive.

The WWF highlighted some examples of different species that have been significantly impacted by human activities here.

You may also like:

What is sustainable living? The easiest ways to live more sustainably

Five animal species facing extinction between 2050-2100

Is acrylic paint toxic?

20 green, natural & raw material examples

Can plastic decompose or biodegrade? How long does it take?

Sustainable development: all you need to know

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What are the main causes of water pollution?

Is almond milk bad for the environment?

Is styrofoam recyclable?

How to reduce waste?

What is an ecological footprint?

What is sustainability in business?

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