The Best (Online) Sustainable Shopping Alternatives
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Online shopping. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s convenient… but when your much anticipated eco-friendly bamboo dish scrubbers and toilet wand arrive wrapped in loads of plastic, it can really take the wind out of your sails. Thankfully more online stores and shops are popping up that ship with Zero Waste and/or minimal packaging. It’s also becoming increasingly easy to find high-quality second-hand items online through peer-to-peer sites and digital consignment shops. Below you’ll find my list of sustainable alternatives to shop for just about anything online, including home goods, kitchenware, toys, clothing, cleaning, groceries, and everything in between.
Before we get started though, I want to include a quick note about Amazon. Yes, almost everyone shops from Amazon, and that is okay as long as you’re also exploring other, more sustainable alternatives! It would be hypocritical of me not to admit that I have links to Amazon items on this site. The sheer quantity and variety of items they offer often makes them the best place to get certain things.
My philosophy is this: If we can source it locally, second-hand, or find a good alternative on a package-free site, that is the route we go. However, if Amazon is the only place to get what we need, that is where we get it (we also carefully assess whether we really need it). We live in a rural area where we just can’t get certain things locally.
Remember, the goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to do the best we can with the resources available.
Okay, now that we’ve got that off our chests and have absolved ourselves of our Amazon shopping guilt, let’s explore the sustainable shopping alternatives that are out there.
Best for: Just about everything! They have items for the kitchen, home, outdoor, pets, beauty and self-care, clothing, cleaning, children’s toys, diapers, and more! They have a good variety of items at reasonable prices, and their company's commitment to sustainability is really admirable. You can buy TerraCycle recycling boxes from their site as well, helping you find a sustainable solution to those pesky waste sources you just can’t seem to completely eliminate.
Best for: Kitchen/food storage, home, and bath & body. They have lots of beautiful and functional necessities on their sites, as well as fun things like stainless steel popsicle molds! They also offer plastic-free subscription boxes, which make great gifts or can be an affordable way to begin swapping conventional items in your home for Zero Waste alternatives over time. Their book on Life Without Plastic contains simple ideas for eliminating plastic from our lives.
Best for: Bulk foods, pantry staples, baby food and groceries. They offer everything from organic dried beans and legumes, to flour, to cheese & eggs. The variety of goods is quite impressive. They even sell chicken feed! While you can’t find everything 100% plastic-free, many of their products come in compostable paper or glass packaging, and many of their dry goods are available in a range of sizes, from very small to super bulk (I saw a listing for 25 lbs of gluten-free flour!). It’s the best online alternative to bulk bins I’ve come across (which is great if you live in a community--like we do--that has limited access to bulk bins).
This online store also has one of the most interesting delivery models I’ve come across. They coordinate community “drop points” to cut down on shipping costs and the associated carbon footprint (though you can arrange delivery to your door if you need to). You can also sign up to become a community coordinator and start your own drop. I thought there was no way there would be a drop point in our town, but to my amazement, they already had one! You can find out more about how it works here.
Best for: Organic spices and refillable spice jars. Okay, so I realize this one is a little bit niche, but having good spices is really important if you'll be cooking at home a lot. This company carries these very neat magnetic spice jars that can stick to your fridge or a magnet board, so you don't have messy spices getting lost or going stale in your cupboard. Everything ships Zero Waste and their spices are all organic. If you don't have access to local bulk bins for refills, their spice refills ship in biodegradable packaging.
Best for: Shampoo and conditioner bars, face and body care. They even carry shampoo and conditioner bars for dogs ! I have dry and unruly hair, and these are by far the best bars I’ve come across. Ethique is a certified “B” corp and I also really appreciate that everything ships plastic free and they donate 20% of all profits (2% of sales) to charities that support environmental causes. You can read more about their charitable partnerships here.
Best for: Laundry & Dish cleaning supplies. While I make a lot of my own cleaning supplies, I don’t make everything myself. I just don’t have the time, plus, why not simplify life a bit if there is a solid Zero Waste alternative? DROPPS products ship in compostable packaging, are made from safe, biodegradable ingredients, and actually work.
Best for: Comfortable new clothing made from organic cotton. The clothing design is simple and flattering for most body types, and they carry clothing for men, women, kids, and baby, as well as bedding. While buying second-hand is preferred, sometimes you just need to get some new things. Plus supporting sustainable businesses helps to increase demand for sustainable products, which will hopefully help to shift mainstream business models toward sustainable practices. While PACT doesn’t ship completely plastic-free, items come in a bag that is biodegradable and the cardboard they use is 100% recyclable and made from previously recycled materials. Their products ship with carbon offsets, and you can also use the box to ship back old clothing to donate to nonprofits.
Best for: Gently used clothing. Buying second-hand helps to reduce waste caused by fast fashion. You can also find second-hand jewelry, home, and pet supplies on the site. In addition to items for myself, I’ve found awesome kids' clothes at good prices and work clothes for my husband. I love that I can often find clothing from sustainable brands such as Vetta and Pact so I feel like it’s a double win: I buy second-hand clothing that was produced sustainably in the first place. Plus, Poshmark is a peer-to-peer site, so every purchase essentially supports a small business owner. If you have gently used clothing of your own, you can also become a Poshmark seller (my husband has started selling off his old hockey jerseys on the site).
Tips for shopping on Poshmark: I’ve found that I have the best luck if I go in with a certain item or brand in mind. Simply browsing can be too overwhelming. Also before buying an item “like” it to see if the seller will offer you a discount on the item, or make what you feel to be a fair offer to see if the seller accepts. Keep in mind that because you’re shopping from multiple sellers, you need to pay shipping costs for each seller you buy from, though usually, the price is so good that the shipping cost is worth it.
Best for: One-stop online consignment shopping. Like Poshmark, ThredUp sells gently used clothing. However, rather than purchasing peer-to-peer, everything ships from a centralized location, so you can take advantage of site-wide sales and experience fewer shipping costs. You can also sell on ThredUp, but instead of being responsible for running your own store, you instead send your items directly to ThredUp so they can sell it for you (the tradeoff is that you have less control over the prices you sell things for than you do on Poshmark).
Best for: Pre-loved outdoor gear. You can get everything from hiking and camping gear, to climbing, cycling, and snowsports equipment. They also carry clothing and footwear for kids. If you need high-quality gear at a (more) affordable price, this is a good way to go. And as always, buying second-hand is an excellent way to practice zero waste living: you get new (to you) gear, and the gear gets saved from the landfill.
Best for: Compostable diapers, diapering supplies, training pants, and package-free Baby Laundry detergent. Okay, so I know that getting diapers is not on everyone's list, but if you need a disposable diaper subscription without the guilt, DYPER is a good place to get diapers. Their diapers are compostable through their REDYPER program in partnership with Terracycle. They also carry cloth diapers and DROPPS Baby detergent. You can read more about sustainable diapering alternatives (from reusables to disposables) in this post.
While this list doesn’t cover every eco-friendly online store out there, these are the shops I feel are really committed to sustainable practices, create very little waste, and fill real needs such as bulk foods, kitchen supplies, sustainable clothing, diapers, and other essentials to help us all live more sustainably. Again there is no such thing as perfection, and right now, we may not always be able to get everything we need from completely sustainable sources. However, if enough people support these types of products and businesses wherever we are able to do so, then together we can create pressure for more sweeping, industry-wide steps towards more sustainable practices.
If you know of any awesome online shops that use similar sustainable practices, please let me know in the comments so I can update this post.