Spring Cleaning: How to Tidy Without Plastic and Toxic Chemicals

With the weather warming up in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are now making time for spring cleaning. While often we associate home cleaning supplies with synthetic scrubbers and harsh ingredients packed in plastic packaging, it’s far healthier to clean without the plastic and toxic chemicals.

 Conventional cleaning supplies contain toxic chemicals like ammonia, bleach, phthalates, triclosan, and more, in addition to the thousands of chemicals present in plastics. Some cleaning products also contain or shed plastic particles that pollute the environment and our bodies. Chemicals and plastics found in common cleaning supplies—including some synthetic products labeled “green”—have been connected to a number of serious health issues, including cancer, heart disease, hormone disruption, and respiratory illnesses.

You can avoid harmful chemicals and plastics by incorporating nontoxic and zero-waste principles into your cleaning routine. Luckily, it’s quite easy to do so, with many healthier, plastic-free cleaning options highly accessible, DIY-friendly, and available at an even lower cost than most conventional options.

What to Look For: Nontoxic, Plastic-Free Cleaning Supplies

DIY

When you’re looking for healthier cleaning supplies with just one or two ingredients to make yourself, the first step is to think simply. Look for tried-and-tested cleaning ingredients that do not expose you to toxic chemicals and plastics. These include:  

  • Baking soda, in cardboard — a great all-around cleaner, especially in the kitchen and bathroom
  • Castile soap, in paper or glass — excellent nontoxic soap
  • Citrus peels (lemon or orange) — work well when added to vinegar as a cleaning solution
  • Coffee grounds — useful for abrasive needs, such as scrubbing pans
  • Cornstarch, in cardboard — a great glass cleaner 
  • Essential oils, in glass — adds scent and cleaning properties to vinegar and water solutions
  • Olive oil, in glass — works for stain removal in fabrics
  • Salt, in glass or paper — useful abrasive for tile cleaning 
  • Soap nuts, in paper, glass, or canvas — for washing clothes or dishes without detergents
  • Vinegar (apple cider or white), in glass — a super all-around cleaner, dilute 1:1 with water
  • Vodka, in glass — good for disinfecting and cleaning glass
  • Washing soda, in cardboard — use instead of laundry detergent

Some of these cleaning items can be used on their own or by scrubbing with a little water, like baking soda, while others may be combined, such as vinegar and citrus peels, to maximize cleansing properties. With many of these cleaning items also commonly found in the kitchen, chances are, you have at least some already in your home. If not, you can find many of these items in grocery stores or at your local food pantry. Whenever possible, avoid purchasing cleaning supplies in plastic containers and packaging, and instead try to buy in bulk. 

Find more tips on choosing plastic-free and nontoxic cleaning supplies in our Plastic Pollution Coalition Guides. And find inspiration to kickstart your plastic-free choices, as well as DIY recipes, with the book I Quit Plastics by Plastic Pollution Coalition Notable Member Kate Nelson.

How to Store and Use Cleaning Supplies

There are many plastic-free ways to store and use your cleaning supplies. Reuse glass jam or pickle jars to hold dry or wet items until they are ready to use. For dry items, add a metal or wooden scoop. Glass-and-metal sprayers are a sturdier alternative to the plastic type and useful for spritzing the cleaning liquids on surfaces. Store coffee grounds and citrus rinds in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

When you’re ready to clean, hop online to learn about the many ways you can use the simple ingredients above to keep your home clean. When you’re ready to dive into your spring cleaning, equip yourself with any mix of the following items:

  • Bamboo and natural bristle toothbrushes for hard-to-scrub areas of your home
  • Coconut fiber, cellulose, and sea sponges
  • Cotton rags, made from old towels or t-shirts
  • Glass-and-metal sprayer
  • Metal bucket
  • Metal dustpan
  • Wooden and natural bristle broom
  • Wooden and natural bristle scrubbers 
  • Wooden string mop

Some of these items can be found in secondhand stores for a reduced price compared to buying them new. 

Ready-made Options

If DIY is not your thing and you’d rather purchase ready-made healthier cleaning products, Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members offer some excellent options.

Blueland

Blueland strives to minimize waste and make cleaning products that are better for people and the planet. Simply fill the provided refillable spray and pump dispensers with water, drop in Blueland tablets, and start cleaning. And if doing the dishes or laundry, Blueland makes plastic-free washing tablets to pop in your dishwasher and washing machine.

EarthHero

EarthHero provides a wide selection of environmentally friendly products sourced from ethical and eco-friendly businesses, making it a one-stop shop for sustainable living—and cleaning. EarthHero offers all manner of cleaning supplies and equipment suitable for every room of your home.

I’m Plastic Free

I’m Plastic Free is a matchmaking platform you can use to find laundry and household cleaning products without all the plastic. Use I’m Plastic Free’s resources to learn how to swap conventional cleaning products for healthier plastic-free choices.

Life Without Plastic

Life Without Plastic offers reusable, nontoxic alternatives to everyday items that are so often made of plastic. In the cleaning category, you can find a selection of glass and bamboo storage jars, glass and metal soap dispensers, bamboo scrubbers, and more.

Meliora Cleaning Products

Meliora Cleaning Products is committed to offering eco-friendly laundry powder and other healthy cleaning products for homes, without any plastic. The company uses safe, non-toxic ingredients and packages their products in plastic-free reusable, recyclable, and compostable materials.

PlanetCare 

PlanetCare makes laundry machine filters designed to trap microplastics that shed from synthetic fabrics when they are being washed, keeping them out of water treatment systems. Unless your wardrobe and bedding are plastic-free and made completely from natural fibers, unfortunately, your washing machine is still creating microplastics with every wash. With each wash, a single fleece jacket is estimated to shed at least 250,000 individual synthetic plastic fibers into wash water, which is either discharged directly into your home septic system or into a sewer. Choosing clothing made of natural fibers like bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or linen will best prevent the release of microplastics when washing laundry.

Refill and Zero-Waste Shops

Refill and zero-waste shops are another excellent place to find healthier, plastic-free cleaning supplies. And chances are, there’s at least one such shop near you! PPC Member Ecorate keeps a database of shops offering bulk refills of personal care and cleaning supplies with the aim of assisting users in reducing waste. PPC Member Plastic Free Future also maintains a platform listing a wide selection of zero-waste and refill shops.

Beware of False “Greenwashed” Solutions

As with most categories of stuff, if you look closely at the available selection of cleaning products available today, you’ll find greenwashed options among real solutions. If you’re looking to purchase cleaning products, check the ingredients lists to avoid plastics and toxic chemicals. This means avoiding microplastics, PEG (polyethylene glycol), phthalates, and PVA or PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol), as well as ammonia, chlorine and chlorinated chemicals, phenols, phosphates, SEA, SLS, SLES, TEA, triclosan and triclocarban. 

While polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is frequently praised as a “degradable” plastic, in reality it does not live up to its eco-friendly reputation. PVA poses a number of environmental and health risks that call into question its status as an ecological solution, despite its claimed degradability.

Take Action

Choosing healthier, plastic-free cleaning products is a great way to further eliminate toxic plastic and chemicals from your life. You can also help by supporting real solutions in your community—and on an even larger scale. 

Support policy actions, like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in the U.S., and a strong global UN Plastics Treaty, to create the systemic change necessary to seriously reduce plastic pollution at the source. Sign the petitions below.

May 17 , 3:00 pm 4:00 pm EDT

“Climate change is not a tragedy, it’s a crime.” Could this increasingly common refrain among climate activists be more than just a slogan?

Years of reporting show that fossil fuel companies knew of their contributions to climate change and funded multimillion-dollar disinformation campaigns to block responses that would curb their dangerous conduct — conduct that is today causing massive harms and deaths across the country.

Could these acts constitute homicide or other criminal violations? Should Big Oil be prosecuted? Join legal experts, scientists, and former prosecutors for a panel discussion on this new theory of climate accountability, hosted by Public Citizen, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Fair and Just Prosecution, and moderated by Bill McKibben

May 23 , 7:00 am 8:00 am EDT

Join GAIA/BFFP Africa on May 23rd at 1pm Central African Time as we mark Africa Day by shining a spotlight on the urgent problem of textile waste across the continent. Our expert speakers will delve into this issue, and raise awareness on waste colonialism in Africa. Don’t miss out on this insightful webinar!

Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Members come from a wide range of sectors and are aligned in their mission to build a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. The Coalition Spotlight is our monthly blog to uplift and showcase their work, giving our readers an inside look at some influential change-makers. This month, we highlight four members who are increasing access to reuse businesses, advocating for people and the planet over plastics for Earth Day, inspiring plastic-free lifestyles, and mobilizing students to build zero-waste systems. 

EcoRate

EcoRate is a sustainability ratings platform that helps people easily locate cafes, restaurants, refill stores, and other venues that participate in waste-prevention initiatives. Through their interactive map and app, they provide visibility for plastic-free businesses and pathways for people to support them, building a zero waste economy and encouraging widespread adoption of reuse culture.

EcoRate scores retailers based on environmental criteria and even allows the user to search for “BYO,” “Mug,” or “Glass” filters to find locations that let you bring your own thermos, use mugs or glasses for dining-in, in addition to a “can carrier” filter that displays beer shops and other venues that collect beer can carriers for reuse.

Recently, EcoRate has been making significant progress indexing an inventory of zero-waste and refill stores. Now, people can also filter their map to show zero waste stores carrying the specific zero-waste items they’re looking for, offering users added convenience, reliability, and accessibility.

EcoRate just incorporated restaurant data from Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program into their interactive map. This makes it easier to search for eateries via EcoRate’s website and mobile app, and add even more plastic-free restaurants to your list!

EARTHDAY.ORG

EARTHDAY.ORG is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that emerged from the very first Earth Day in 1970. The organization aims to mobilize people around the world to advocate for, create, and implement solutions to the climate crisis. From voter registration to environmental education programs, they work with over 150,000 partners in 192 countries to drive positive action for the planet on a range of interconnected issues. 

EARTHDAY.ORG has helped pass landmark environmental legislation over the years through their advocacy efforts, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, as well as helped establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Part of their important work now includes a program to end plastic pollution. This year for Earth Day, the organization uplifted the theme of Planet vs. Plastics to mobilize the world to understand the harmful health impacts of plastics, rapidly phase out single-use plastics, and push for a strong UN Plastics Treaty. EARTHDAY.ORG is calling for a 60% reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040, recognizing that production limits are imperative to ending plastic pollution in the long-term. 

To educate yourself on the impacts of plastic on human health, check out EARTHDAY.ORG’s Plastics Health Research Module, and their Earth Hub for all fact sheets, toolkits, press releases, and articles. Additionally, Aidan Charron, Director of End Plastic Initiatives, spoke as a panelist in our recent webinar, “People vs. Plastic: How the UN Plastics Treaty Must Protect Our Health.”

Life Without Plastic

Life Without Plastic is a mission-based Certified B Corporation working for positive social change, improved health, and environmental sustainability. Through their products, guides, and educational materials, they raise awareness about the health and environmental problems posed by plastics while making the solutions more accessible, and empowering people to be part of the change.

Life Without Plastic offers unique, high-quality alternatives to plastic products that are carefully designed and sourced from trusted suppliers. Recently, the company has been working to bundle its products to reduce the environmental impact from ordering and shipping individual products to consumers.

Earlier this year, Jay Sinha, co-founder and co-owner of Life Without Plastic, participated in the PPC webinar Plastic-Free Resolutions: Protecting Your Health in 2024, offering common-sense steps to reduce the amount of plastic in your life with low and no-cost recommended solutions. Be sure to check out his book: LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy, and the Life Without Plastic newsletter, which provides plastic-free news, tips on plastic-free living, and sales and specials from their online store.

Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN)

The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) equips students with the resources and tools necessary to holistically understand our waste crisis and lead solutions on their campuses.

In collaboration with EARTHDAY.ORG, PLAN has allocated almost $10,000 in Earth Day Action Micro-Grants to student projects. These include demonstrations, art installations, actions, cleanups, and more around the global Earth Day theme of Planet vs. Plastics. Check out some of these projects, which have been posted to their social platforms from Earth Day onwards.

PLAN recently launched a new Community Hub to centralize their resources and tools available to support student-led zero waste programs. They have also been updating their manuals, the most recent being the Reusable To-Go Manual. PLAN recently received the Reusies Community of the Year award for the release of this resource!

PLAN’s Students for Zero Waste Conference, held in late 2023 at Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an annual space for network building, inspiration, and solution sharing to push the movement forward. They also hosted a Beyond Waste Student Summit at Marshall University’s campus—the first school in Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley to sign the Break Free From Plastic Campus Pledge.

Check out their newly revamped website to find up-to-date language on each of their projects, and sign up for their Community Newsletter to receive updates and exciting ways to plug in.

Does your business or organization align with our mission to build a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts? Apply to join our global movement.

3

Late Monday, in Ottawa, Canada, the United Nations (UN) closed the fourth of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop a global agreement to address plastic pollution. Unfortunately, INC-4 closed on a low note, with observers witnessing negotiators prioritize politics and profits over people and the planet by delaying and watering down critical work ahead of INC-5. 

Like the three previous negotiating sessions, INC-4 saw its share of challenges. In particular, the increasing presence of fossil fuel, plastic, and petrochemical industry representatives is proving a growing threat to effective and honest negotiations, and Indigenous and frontline groups were still denied full and equitable participation in the session—especially when compared to industry reps. 

On a high note, the negotiations saw significant representation of Indigenous and frontline communities, and members of the Break Free From Plastic movement. Together, these groups emphasized to U.S. and world leaders that plastic poisons people, and that an effective treaty must include a reduction in plastic production and environmental justice for all.

Action & Art Communicate the Costs of Plastic Pollution

BFFP members and allies from around the world, led by Indigenous and frontline communities, come together in a mass mobilization at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) meetings in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by Greenpeace

Ahead of INC-4, on Sunday, April 21, hundreds of impacted community leaders and experts from around the world marched together in the streets of Ottawa to advance a strong plastics treaty. Led by Indigenous peoples and impacted community leaders, Break Free From Plastic movement members and allies peacefully demanded a human-based approach to the treaty at the March to End the Plastic Era, and marked a pivotal “make or break” moment for the negotiations.

A week ahead of the talks, PPC Scientific Advisor “Her Deepness” Dr. Sylvia Earle read “Foliage,” a powerful statement on the importance of a strong UN Plastics Treaty written by PPC Notable Writer Margaret Atwood. The video, which was shared widely online, was created in collaboration with the Gallifrey Foundation, Mission Blue, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Break Free From Plastic.

On the eve of the start of INC-4, Actor and Plastic Pollution Coalition Notable Member Jeff Bridges, in collaboration with the Break Free From Plastic movement, launched a new video calling on world leaders to create a strong UN Plastics Treaty as the fourth round of negotiations (INC-4) begin in Ottawa, Canada. The video premiered at a well-attended Earth Day screening of the documentary “Plastic People” in Ottawa.

As INC-4 opened on Tuesday, April 23, delegates and observers were welcomed to the Shaw Center by the art installation “Turn Off the Plastic Tap” by Plastic Pollution Coalition Artist Ally Benjamin Von Wong. His piece communicated the core solution to addressing plastic pollution, and a necessary component of the UN Plastics Treaty: Nations must agree to significantly reduce and cap industries’ plastic production. To use a helpful analogy: If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t just start mopping water off of the floor—first you’d turn off the tap!

Madison Dennis, Project Manager, and Jen Fela, Vice President of Programs and Communications at Plastic Pollution Coalition in front of Benjamin Von Wong’s “Turn Off the Plastic Tap” in Ottawa

Facts & Real Solutions Discussed at INC-4

Participants in the March to End the Plastic Era gathered in front of the INC-4 conference center and highlighted the need for a legally-binding treaty on plastic pollution. Photo by Ben Powless | Survival Media Agency

Members of Indigenous communities, frontline communities, scientists, and allies tirelessly expressed the world’s need for a UN Plastics Treaty that protects human health and addresses plastic pollution in every stage of its “life cycle.” Plastic’s “life cycle” begins with extraction of its fossil fuel ingredients, and continues through its use, storage, shipping, and disposal.

BFFP members and allies at a special plastic pollution event held by Ottawa Riverkeeper. Photo by Ottawa Riverkeeper

Throughout its toxic existence, plastic has negative health impacts on the planet and people, especially people living on the frontlines of industrial activities and infrastructure—which were widely discussed at INC-4. Health experts discussed how plastics appear to increase the growth of cancer cells, as well as impair the fertility and pregnancy, and reduce human sperm counts. Plastics have created a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss — crises that are driving widespread environmental injustice.

Several countries appeared to be listening to those expressing the truths about plastic pollution and its toxic impacts. Perú, Rwanda, and Pacific Island States emphasized the importance of focusing the treaty on addressing plastic pollution at the source to minimize these harms. These nations in support of an ambitious treaty stressed the need to address production of plastics (“primary plastic polymers,” or PPP), in a proposal for intersessional work. What’s more, several other nations created the Bridge to Busan Declaration on Plastic Polymers, to support incorporating text addressing plastic production in the treaty in time for the fifth and final round of negotiations in Busan in December.

While these key messages are getting directly to the people who need to hear them, unfortunately the majority of people who can—and need to act—are not yet doing the right thing.

Video by Survival Media Agency

Industry Influence Hampers Progress We Need

Cartoon by Visual Thinkery

Despite a handful of nations taking an ambitious approach to the treaty, after a week of negotiations, most countries appeared to be influenced by the industry presence at the talks, and ultimately delayed planning for crucial intersessional (between INCs) work ahead of INC-5. And when intersessional work was finally agreed on, countries compromised to exclude upstream measures, which means it will be more challenging to include key extraction or production reduction measures in the draft plastics treaty. This low-ambition compromise is disappointing, and is a major missed opportunity to comprehensively address the root causes of plastic pollution: fossil fuel and plastic production.

Such low-ambition efforts are unfortunately not a surprise as fossil fuel interests have only been increasing their presence at the negotiations. During the talks, analysis of the UNEP list of INC-4 participants showed that 196 lobbyists for the fossil fuel, petrochemical, and plastics industries had registered for the negotiations—a 37% increase in industry presence compared to INC-3 only six months ago. Industry representatives outnumbered the members of the Scientists’ Coalition for An Effective Plastic Treaty by a factor of 3 to 1, and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus by a factor of 7 to 1. 

At the talks, industry representatives peddled false solutions and narratives, including recycling and plastic offsets, both of which only perpetuate fossil fuel and plastic production. They also promoted “demand-side measures” to address plastic production, falsely suggesting that people—not plastic production—drive demand for plastic products. INC-4 attendees and people working in, residing in, and visiting Ottawa saw pro-plastic industry ads displayed around the city. This, despite attendees calling for strong conflict-of-interest policies to be implemented at this and past INCs.

Plastic Pollution Coalition on the Ground

Jen Fela delivers PPC Business Member statement to U.S. Under Secretary Jose Fernandez

At INC-4, Plastic Pollution Coalition focused on discussions with the delegation of the U.S.—one of the world’s biggest plastic producers with a long history of supporting the fossil fuel and plastics industries— which has not yet taken a strong approach to the UN Plastics Treaty. Jen Fela, Vice President of Programs & Communications, and Madison Dennis, Project Manager, together delivered a statement signed by dozens of Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members that advocates for a UN Plastics Treaty that prioritizes systemic solutions to plastic pollution. They also shared with U.S. delegates their Reuse Solutions and Technologies Brief, which provides the U.S. State Department with specific examples of technologies and products that have been proven to create jobs, regenerate land and waters, protect human health, and mitigate plastic pollution, from reuse to regenerative materials—and will help us end plastic pollution.

Plastic Pollution Coalition also held a well-attended event at the Plastic Action Zone, hosted by the government of Canada. The event was focused on the recently launched Global Plastic Laws database and resource center, which tracks local, national, and regional legislation addressing the full plastic life cycle around the world and provides analysis and commentary from local experts. The panel, moderated by Madison Dennis; included Jen Fela; Justine Malliot, European Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic; Lilly Woodbury, Regional Manager of Surfrider Foundation Canada; and Ron Gutierrez, Executive Director of Upholding Life And Nature (ULAN).

Madison Dennis, Jen Fela, Justine Malliot, Lilly Woodbury, and Ron Gutierrez at Global Plastic Laws database and resource center INC-4 side event

Take Action

The fifth and final negotiating session, INC-5, is scheduled for November 25–December 1, 2024, in Busan, Republic of Korea. Ahead of the last INC session, we can see that there are obstacles, such as industry influence and delay tactics from low ambition delegations, that lie ahead in finalizing a strong, binding agreement to end plastic pollution. However, the opportunity to deliver one of the most significant global agreements in history remains on the table.

The clock is running out to finalize this “once-in-a-planet” opportunity to finalize an effective global agreement that addresses the full “life cycle” of plastic pollution by 2025. Yet, negotiators need to know that there is still time to take meaningful action that could help finalize an effective treaty. You can help by signing petitions to the U.S. Government and world leaders, and by amplifying the voices of people on the frontlines of the crisis.

1

May 23 , 7:37 am

Join GreenLatinos for a look back at the significance of Cinco de Mayo in United States and Latin American History as we grow our “Take Back Cinco” campaign into a more inclusive celebration of the heritage of rebellion, self-determination, and dreams of a better future across Latin America and within the diversity of Latinidad. This webinar will include discussion on the formation of GreenLatinos’ “Take Back Cinco de Mayo” campaign, the historic significance of Cinco de Mayo across the western hemisphere, and the role of Cinco de Mayo and social justice in the founding of the first Earth Day.

En español: Únete a GreenLatinos para reflexionar sobre el significado del Cinco de Mayo en la historia de Estados Unidos y América Latina mientras expandimos nuestra campaña “Recuperemos el Cinco” hacia una celebración más inclusiva del patrimonio de rebeldía, autodeterminación y sueños de un futuro mejor en toda América Latina y dentro de la diversidad de la latinidad. Este seminario web incluirá discusión sobre la formación de la campaña “Recuperemos el Cinco de Mayo” de GreenLatinos, el significado histórico del Cinco de Mayo en todo el hemisferio occidental y el papel del Cinco de Mayo y la justicia social en la fundación del primer Día de la Tierra.