Single-Use Plastic Alternatives: Straws, cotton buds, drink stirrers, carrier bags, food containers & more

Why wait until April 2020 for the government and the EU to ban single use plastics. Consumers can use these alternatives to stop the use of single use plastics today.

Another year would have gone waiting for the ban to be enforced. For the EU member states, this would take up to two years with ban on single-use plastics only coming into force by 2021. There would be tonnes of single use plastic waste generated; 5bn plastic straws, 300M stirrers, 2bn cotton buds stems a year just in UK alone.

We are merely scratching the surface, looking only at straws, cotton buds and stirrers. There are other single-use plastics such as plastic lid for drinks, plastic lined paper cups, polystyrene cups, plastic carrier bags, food container, plastic packaging and plastic cutleries.

Beyond straws, cotton buds and stirrers, the EU member states are only looking to introduce measures to reduce the use of plastic food containers and plastic lids for hot drinks. These measures include using 25% recycled content in plastic bottles by 2025 and 90% recycled content by 2029. These figures are difficult to enforce especially over the continent of Europe.

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What can we do now

It is down to us as consumers to make the switch sooner rather than later. The result from a government consultation showed that 80% of us would support a total ban on plastic straws and 90% on drink stirrers and cotton buds with plastic stem.


These single use plastics have a short useful life of only a few minutes but takes hundreds of years to breakdown polluting the environment and harming wildlife and sea creatures. Nature has a way of reminding us just how dire things are, just look at the polluted beaches and dead sea creatures that washes up on the shores.

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8 Single Use Plastic Alternatives We Can Start Using Today

For those who wish to start today, there are plenty of alternatives. Colour My Living has already introduced some of these sustainable and viable options in the past but we can do more. Here is the ultimate list of single use plastic alternatives:

  1. Reusable Pyrex, silicone or Stainless Steel Straws: plastic straw alternative
  2. Environment Friendly Cotton Buds: with biodegradable cotton bud stem
  3. Reusable, Recyclable and Biodegradable Carrier Bags: no more plastic bags for your groceries
  4. Bento Boxes, Tiffin Carriers or Hot Food Flasks: multi-tier food container or food flask
  5. Reusable Hot Beverage Cups: alternative to plastic lined or polystyrene cups for hot beverages
  6. Reusable Cold Beverage Cups: for those ice frappes (Frappuccino), ice blend or iced beverages
  7. Bamboo, Wooden or Stainless Steel Cutlery: reusable travel cutleries with compact travel case
  8. Stainless Steel or Reusable BPA Free Water Bottle: instead of plastic drinks bottle

All that is required is for us to make that conscious effort to bring and use these alternatives in place of those single-use nasties. Make that switch now.

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1. Reusable Pyrex or Stainless Steel Straws: Plastic straw alternatives

Choose from bamboo, stainless steel, pyrex or silicone straws. While bamboo straws are reusable, it does not have the equivalent shell life of say a stainless steel straw. F&B outlets are starting to use this as a publicity stunt. While it is biodegradable, like the bamboo chopsticks, it is actually unsustainable in the long term. Still, there are bamboo straws sold with personal carry cases and cleaning brushes if you are looking for one.

Bamboo Straws


If the primitive-looking bamboo straw isn’t for you, then choose from either stainless steel, pyrex or silicone straw options. These are also typically offered with a carrying case and cleaning brushes. Stainless steel straws are sometimes offered with soft silicone tip if you don’t like the feel of metal on your teeth. These modern straws are definitely longer lasting and easier to clean compared to the bamboo straw.

RELATED: Best Reusable Stainless Steel, Silicone and Pyrex Glass Straws – The environment friendly alternatives

2. Environment Friendly Cotton Buds: With biodegradable cotton bud stem

Eco-friendly cotton buds and swabs with handles made from natural bamboo are becoming mainstream. Conventional cotton buds with plastic stems takes centuries to break down. These bamboo cotton buds are completely biodegradable. Some manufacturers also offer wooden or paper stems as an alternative to bamboo.

Bamboo Cotton Buds

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3. Reusable, Recyclable and Biodegradable Grocery Bags & Food Containers

From small and lightweight foldable shopping bags to the stronger and sturdier jute carrier bags, there are lots of alternatives to carry your groceries. The smaller foldable variety can stay in the backpack or handbag while the bigger shopping bags can be kept in the car boot ready for your weekly grocery trip. Choose grocery bags made from nylon or natural materials such as cotton, bamboo fibre or jute. There are plenty of designs and colours to choose from, pick the one that works best for you.

Cotton Grocery Tote Bags

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RELATED: 8 Eco-friendly Alternatives to Everyday Plastics

4. Tiffin Carrier, Bento and Hot Food Container: Multi-tier and hot food flask

Tiffin carriers and Bento boxes are common in the East but not so much in the West. These food containers are perfect for individuals or family with separate levels or sections to keep the different food separate. The idea is slowly coming to the West in the form of stainless steel multi-tier bento boxes, a hybrid of the Tiffin carrier and Bento boxes.

For hot food such as soup or porridge, use an insulated food jar. These vacuum lunch jars will keep food and beverages warm for hours. Depending on the manufacturer, a spoon and sometimes carry case are included. Vacuum insulated food jars can also be use to keep cold dessert. Tiffin carriers, bentos and food jars are great when ordering takeaways from your local restaurants. Instead of foil or plastic containers and plastic bags, bring your own food containers and contribute to saving the environment.

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5. Reusable Hot Beverage Cups: alternative to plastic lined or polystyrene cups for hot beverages

High street cafes and coffee shops are offering an incentive in way of discount if you bring your own cup, flask or travel mug. Make sure to take advantage of this with your very own stylish cup and save some money in the process. By using your very own coffee cup, you are not only reducing the use of those hard to recycle, plastic-lined paper cups but you also forgo the plastic lid for your hot beverage. That’s a great deal of single use plastic and paper that would just end up in the landfills.

Reusable Coffee Cup

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Reusable coffee cups are available in all shapes and sizes, not to mention the materials they are made from. If you are an eco warrior and care for the environment, choose a travel mug made from bamboo fibre. Glass and porcelain mugs may be breakable but it’s a small price to pay for the coffee connoisseurs who don’t want anything to ruin the taste of their coffee. Then there is the long lasting stainless steel mugs with insulated wall to keep the beverage warm for longer. For heat insulation, most reusable cups come with non-slip silicone or cork band sleeves.

RELATED: 12 Best Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mugs – Mugs for life

6. Reusable Cold Beverage Cups: for those ice frappes (Frappuccino), ice blend or iced beverages

If ice blends and frappes are your thing, then these insulated cold drink tumblers with straw is a must have. Made popular by Starbucks with their endless tumblers, thermos, mugs and water bottles, the Frappuccino or iced tea cups are their answer for their cold beverage.

Kate Spade New York Insulated Tumbler

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You can now find reusable tumblers with lid and straw in a variety of designs. To make sure that your cold drink stays cool for longer, choose an insulated model either plastic or stainless steel. Also, consider a bigger cup especially for when you want to order a cooling and refreshing ice blend drink for a summers day. As a guide, see list below for the size of your cup.

  • Short (8 ounces)
  • Tall (12 ounces)
  • Grande (16 ounces)
  • Venti (20 ounces)
  • Venti Iced (24 ounces)
  • Trenta (31 ounces)

7. Bamboo, Wooden or Stainless Steel Cutlery: reusable travel cutleries with compact travel case

Here again, we would advocate the use of sustainable cutlery. Disposable and biodegradable cutlery sets made from natural and eco-friendly materials such as wood and bamboo (see image below) are all well and good but they are still single use and have a limited life.

Disposable Wooden Cutlery

Choose instead to bring your own travel utensils or cutleries. These are available in a travel friendly compact case and when you are done, simply chuck them in the dishwasher when you get home. You can find 3, 4 or 5-piece sets that includes fork, knife, spoon and even chopsticks and reusable straws.

Portable Utensils

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8. Stainless Steel or Reusable BPA Free Water Bottle: instead of plastic drinks bottle

Finally, for hydration, instead of buying bottled water, again with the single use plastic bottle, choose instead to bring your own. There are some really cool BPA free durable plastic bottles with fancy quick release lid. Invest in a good quality reusable water bottle. And, if you are totally against plastic use, pick a stainless steel model instead. The double wall vacuum insulation keeps hot beverage warm and cold drinks cool.

And to further encourage people to bring and use their own water bottles, Refill stations, in a range of coffee shops, supermarkets and malls in the UK and the US, and in numerous other countries are encouraging their customers (whether they buy anything or not) to top up their water, in store, for free.

Hydro Flask 40 oz Double Wall

RELATED: Top 10 Tips on How to Reduce Your Use of Plastics – Cut down on residential plastic waste

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There’s really no excuse to simply continue with the status quo. Foregoing inconvenience, ease and familiarity are but minor issues against the larger challenge of doing our bit to save the environment.

Pick one thing from the list above and make the change today!