22 Surprising Things That Contain Plastic (+Plastic-Free Alternatives)

22 Surprising Things That Contain Plastic (+Plastic-Free Alternatives) - Almost Zero Waste

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Plastic is very sneaky. 

Everyday items that you think are plastic-free sometimes contain plastic which makes them impossible to recycle. 

Keep reading to find the 22 surprising things that contain plastic and sustainable & plastic-free alternative for each item. 

I’m sure some of these are going to shock you! 

1. Chewing gum

Chewing gum has been around for hundreds of years. Back in the day, people used to use resin from certain trees in Mexico to make gum. 

It used to be a natural substance.

It wasn’t until the late 1900’s that the demand for gum increased. 

Because of this, there wasn’t enough supply from the trees.

Now, companies use synthetic materials to make gum to keep up with the demand.

In other words, when you chew gum, you are just chewing plastic. Yikes!

Sustainable alternative: 

Luckily, some brands offer natural & plastic-free gum alternatives, like:

2. Paper cups

Paper cups, including coffee cups, have a plastic lining on the inside of the cup

The plastic lining prevents the cup from getting wet and soggy from the liquid it holds.

This plastic lining also makes recycling paper cups impossible. 

Sustainable alternative: 

  • Bring your reusable mug or tumbler (or reuse a jar from home!). Most restaurants will even give you a small discount for using your cup. It’s a win-win!

3. Paper plates

Similar to paper cups, paper plates have a plastic coating to prevent water and oil from seeping through them. 

Plastic-free option:

4. Teabags

Teabags are made of plastic that releases billions of microplastic in each cup of tea you make. 

Microplastic is just a fancy word for very, very small pieces of plastic waste. 

So, when you drink tea, unfortunately, you’re drinking plastic with it.

For all the tea lovers, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean that we can’t drink tea ever again. 

Some companies are getting rid of plastic in their teabags, so you can always support them. 

Plastic-free options:

surprising things made of plastic

5. Kitchen sponges

Most people don’t think about what their kitchen sponges are made of. 

I know because I never thought about it before starting my sustainable journey. 

But yes, conventional kitchen sponges are made with oil-based plastic

Sustainable alternatives:

You can easily opt for wooden dish brushes and scrubs instead of plastic sponges.

A few cool ones that I can recommend are:

6. Toothpaste

Toothpaste contains microbeads in their products. 

A study found that more than half of all dental care products contain microplastics.  

Switch to a brand that doesn’t contain plastic. Some options include (Amazon links):

surprising things made of plastic

7. Glitter

Glitter is made of plastic. However, the glitter is so tiny that it passes through water filtration systems and ends up in our oceans. 

The worst part is that glitter is found on so much stuff.

You’ll see the glitter on cards, gift wrapping paper, makeup, and event décor.

Sustainable option:

The best alternative for this would be to give up glitter altogether. Instead, choose cards and gift bags that don’t contain glitter. 

Find décor that doesn’t contain glitter and can be reused. There are so many alternatives to glitter.

8. Water

This one may sound surprising, but it’s estimated that 80% of water is contaminated with microplastics. 

That means that you’re most likely drinking plastic.

This is because all the plastic that ends up in our oceans doesn’t disintegrate. Instead, they get into tiny microplastics that escape all our filtration systems.

Sustainable option:

  • If possible, use a water filter to remove these plastic particles from your tap water.  I’m currently using a charcoal stick and am pretty happy with it. 
  • Get Grayl, or similar other purifying water bottles, to ensure you drink the best possible water.
surprising things made of plastic

9. Receipts

This one is a little frustrating. You would think that receipts would be paper and you can recycle them, but that’s not the case.

A study found that about 90% of receipts have a plastic lining on top of them. 

This plastic makes the receipts unrecyclable. Ask for a digital receipt instead.

Sustainable option:

This one is harder. It is almost impossible to avoid receipts altogether, but what you can do is:

  • Self-check: Some supermarkets have self-check where you can choose if you want to receive a receipt or not. 
  • Digital: Ask if the shop you buy from offers digital receipts. 
  • Eco-friendly receipts: SOME store receipts are recyclable and compostable. If you know some, try to shop there more.
  • Less frequent shopping: By shopping less frequently, you will reduce the creation of receipts.
  • Farmer’s market: I never get any receipts for visiting and buying things from local farmer’s markets. If that’s the case for you, try buying veggies and fruits from there.

Related post: Can You Recycle Receipts?

surprising things made of plastic

10. Clothes

A lot of clothes these days are made with synthetic materials. 

Fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic contain a lot of plastic.

Sustainable option:

Pick a couple of sustainable fashion brands that sell organic cotton, linen, hemp, or flax clothes. Read more about why sustainable fashion is important here.

Another more affordable and probably even more sustainable option is second-hand. 

Find my huge list of second-hand online stores all over the globe!

surprising things made of plastic

11. Flushable wipes

Flushable wipes became very popular for their convenience. 

However, a study found that 50% of wipes labeled ‘flushable’ actually contained plastics. 

Once you flush those wipes down the toilet, they break down into microplastics and contaminate the water system. 

Sustainable option:

12. Produce stickers

Companies put small plastic stickers on fruit and veggies to organize them. 

Most often, the stickers are not recyclable or compostable. Even though the labels are small, they’re on almost every loose fruit or vegetable sold. 

This can add to a lot of waste if you think about it. In addition, because the stickers are so small, they can easily slip away and end up in our oceans or nature.

Plastic-free option:

A great way to avoid this is to shop at your local farmer’s market if possible. 

They don’t put stickers on their products; they often hold their products in recyclable containers instead of plastic.

surprising things made of plastic

13. Cigarette butts

According to Earthday.org, cigarette butts are the world’s most abundant form of plastic waste. 

About 4.5 trillion individual butts are polluting our global environment. 

Not only are they bad for your health, but cigarettes also contain toxic ingredients that harm the planet.

Better alternative:

If you are a smoker and have a hard time quitting, dispose of the cigarette butts properly. 

Don’t toss them on the floor. This will help prevent them from polluting our environment.

14. Drink cans

Most aluminum pop cans are lined with plastic (many contain BPA, too). This prevents the can from rusting for years. 

It also prevents aluminum from affecting the flavor of the drink.

Sustainable option:

Instead, opt for drinks in glass jars. These days, many soda companies have a glass version of their drinks. Or get drinks in a reusable container.

surprising things made of plastic

15. Sea salt

Studies show that about 90% (12) of salts worldwide contain microplastic – including sea salt. 

Although the amount we consume does not have any health impacts, it says a lot about how microplastics contaminate everything. Ugh.

Plastic-free option:

I did a quick online search, and I immediately found Jacobsen Salt and Only Salt – both companies ensure their salt is 100% plastic-free.

Since the companies might be far away from you, I suggest you check online for some local options. 

16. Glass jar lids

There are dozens of ways to reuse glass jars to reduce your waste. They’re eco-friendly and can be recycled endlessly. 

But the lid of the glass jar often contains a plastic lining to help seal the jars. 

This is to prevent rusting or corrosion from acidic foods.

Of course, I’d never ask you to give up your glass jars. They’re a massive favorite in the eco-friendly community. 

Plastic-free alternative:

You can opt for glass jars with stainless steel or bamboo lids.

17. Makeup

Microplastics have been found in all types of makeup, including mascara, eyeshadow, face powder, and lipstick

That means our bodies absorb all this plastic and possibly some chemicals that makeup products have.

Luckily, more and more companies are choosing to create good for you makeup products that don’t contain plastics or harmful ingredients. 

Some of them are:

  • Elate Cosmetics – from eyeliners and eyeshadows to mascara, lipstick, foundation, etc
  • River Organics -blushes, concealers, mascaras, brow wax, lip balms, highlighters, etc.
surprising things made of plastic

18. Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper often has glitter; it is dyed, laminated, or made with plastic, giving it the shine that we all love on gift boxes.

All these fancy additions make wrapping paper non-recyclable.

Sustainable option:

Instead, wrap presents in things you already have, like boxes, newspapers, brown paper, or even fabric (check out Furoshiki gift wrapping).

19. Sunscreen

Most sunscreen brands put plastic in their products. A study found that 72%* of sun care products contain microplastics

It unites the ingredients of the product while adding waterproof properties. Plus, it is a cheap alternative to more expensive options.

Sustainable alternative:

Switch to a plastic-free, non-toxic, and zero waste sunscreen

surprising things made of plastic

20. Laundry detergent pods

Laundry detergent pods are convenient, but unfortunately, they’re wrapped in plastic

Not to mention the enormous plastic container they (usually) come in.

Sustainable option:

A few great alternatives include:

All the packaging is plastic-free and recyclable.  

21. Tetra paks

Tetra paks are the cartons that most boxed drinks come in. They claim to be recyclable, but they contain a plastic coating inside, just like the aluminum can.

Tetra paks are very hard to recycle, so try to avoid them if you can. Honestly, this has been hard for me.

I like making homemade nut milk, but sometimes, I can’t make it as creamy and delicious as the store-bought one.

So, even though I try to reduce it, I’m far from perfect. 

Sustainable option:

Choose glass packaging wherever applicable, and DIY products usually in Tetra paks, such as plant-based milk.

If you love drinking plant-based milk and you don’t want to give up on it (I feel you), consider making it at home. 

I bought a soy & nut milk maker that makes the process easier. You can read more about it in my review

surprising things made of plastic

22. Air

Wait, what?

Microplastics quickly get everywhere with the wind. (1) When it is in the air, we breathe it.

More research needs to be done so that we can understand the impact of plastic on humans. 

For now, we know that the inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue, and it can lead to severe diseases, including the risk of lung cancer (123

Microplastics get into the atmosphere and the air we breath in various ways:

  • When water containing microplastics evaporates.
  • When you drive a car, your tires (that contain rubber and plastic) slowly wear off. Millions of tiny microscopic pieces tear off the tire and then go into the air.
  • When you rub the surface of polyester clothing, thousands of tiny microplastic fibers are released into the air.

To protect yourself from plastic in the air: 

  • Stop buying plastic single-use items.
  • Buy everyday items that are plastic-free, compostable, or biodegradable. 
  • Do not buy synthetic clothes.
  • Get a laundry ball, which catches microfibers shedding off your clothes in the washer. 

Final thoughts

Was this shocking enough? Who would have thought something natural like air and water would contain plastic? 

I know this might seem like a lot, and almost impossible to ditch all of these things. 

But remember that you don’t have to be perfect. 

Reducing your plastic use is an ongoing journey. Progress is more important than perfection.

You can always reach out to certain companies for a more significant impact.

With your help, we can let companies know that we want an end to the unnecessary use of plastic.

Let me know in the comments below which of these surprised you the most. 🙂

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