The Hixon Center’s Alternatives to Disposable Products


Americans live a lifestyle focused on disposable goods. Instead of having to deal with the hassle of carrying around and cleaning out reusable items, it often seems easier or more convenient to grab one-time use products. However, this attitude can be dangerous and lead to an immense amount of plastic waste that ends up in our landfills—even our campus waste audit found that a good proportion of Harvey Mudd’s waste was comprised of single-use items.

Further, we often use disposable products on a daily basis, rather than just occasionally. This leads to an accumulation of waste over time that is hard for us to notice and be mindful of in our every day lives. Even if some of these disposable products are recyclable, the sheer volume and concentration of their use creates a massive waste problem. The EPA’s 2010 waste audit estimated that 21.3 percent of landfill waste is from “nondurable, disposable goods.” [1]

So, for your convenience, we’ve put together a list of unique alternatives to disposable, everyday goods that you can start using today.

Alternatives to Disposable Products

Bakeys Edible Utensils

Bakeys’ edible utensils. Source: Digital Trends

  1. Edible Utensils

    As an alternative to single-use plastic cutlery, an Indian startup called Bakeys has created a groundbreaking edible spoon, made primarily from sorghum (millet). Sorghum is a sustainable substitute for rice, especially given the climate change-induced shortage of rainfall—it requires 3.5 times less water per ton than rice to grow. [2] Each utensil has a shelf life of three years, and they come in different flavors like hot and spicy, ginger, garlic, or onion. The utensils are completely edible, but they also biodegrade in 3-5 days because Bakeys uses no preservatives or chemicals in the manufacturing process. The best part: you can buy 100 utensils for just $4, only slightly more than the current price of plastic cutlery.

    The My K-Cup. Source: Amazon

    The My K-Cup. Source: Amazon

  2. My K-Cup

    You may have heard that Keurig has just made their single-serve instant coffee pods recyclable. Although this is an improvement from their prior non-recyclable pods, the New York Times writes that the new pods are not compostable and not reusable, and Keurig will still be selling billions of pieces of plastic every year. [3] The good news is that Keurig does make a durable, reusable K-Cup made from mesh that works on every Keurig model. You can fill the filter (called My K-Cup) with any coffee grounds or tea leaves, and insert it in the Keurig like a normal K-Cup. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even compost the used grounds or leaves before you wash out the reusable K-Cup! You can also check out non-Keurig affiliated reusable cups such as Solofill or Ekobrew. If you’re still a fan of the pre-packaged single-use cups, be sure to grab a tool like the “Recycle A Cup,” which cuts and separates used K-Cups for recycling.

    A Loch Ness Monster tea steeper. Source: Gizmodo

    A Loch Ness Monster tea steeper. Source: Gizmodo

  3. Tea Steepers

    Tea bags also account for a large amount of everyday waste. Although most (staple-free) tea bags are compostable, many people just throw them out, sending them to the landfill. To avoid this unnecessary waste, we recommend using tea infusers or tea steepers instead. All you need to do is pack these metal-mesh balls with loose leaf tea and let them brew in a mug of hot water, just like you would do with a tea bag. Tea steepers come in many shapes and forms—you can try a silicone infuser, a mesh ball, or a lidded resting steeper.

    The LENA cup. Source: Amazon

    The LENA cup. Source: Amazon

  4. Menstrual Cups

    Menstrual cups are the only reusable feminine hygiene product out there, and they come with huge environmental implications. Menstrual cups are reusable, washable silicone cups that reduce the waste and cost that are usually associated with a menstrual cycle. According to the Diva Cup’s website, the average American woman uses 300-420 pads or tampons per year, all of which end up in a landfill. This sanitary waste also has the potential to leach into groundwater, lakes, and streams, posing public health risks. There are lots of brands of menstrual cups: the Diva Cup (the most popular), FemmyCycle, Lunette, LENA, and Eva Cup are just a few that are currently on the market.

    The Gessato Bamboo Toothbrush

    The Gessato Bamboo Toothbrush

  5. Bamboo Toothbrushes

    Although manual toothbrushes seem to have a longer use than some of the disposable products discussed above, the plastic and silicone materials remain in landfills for hundreds or thousands of years. Considering that 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes are deposited in landfills every year, this makes for a massive amount of plastic waste. [4] Bamboo toothbrushes, like those made by Brush with Bamboo, The Environmental Toothbrush, and Gessato, are completely biodegradable and compostable—and, they’re just as inexpensive as plastic toothbrushes.

Even if it may seem easier or more convenient to buy a single-use product that you can throw away after using, exercise your power as a consumer and choose to buy reusable items instead.

[1] Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures

[2] California drought – time to rethink forgotten grains

[3] Keurig’s New K-Cup Coffee Is Recyclable, but Hardly Green

[4] Brush With Bamboo: Our Story