Written by Grove Collaborative

Eco-Friendly Swaps for Your Medicine Cabinet

Last Updated: May 19, 2022

What’s in your medicine cabinet? We’ve got sustainable tips from an eco-expert to make your medicine cabinet a plastic-free haven with refillable medicine options and earth-friendly alternatives to single-use products.

Medicine cabinets are one of the last places people think of when they make sustainable changes and transition to a plastic-free lifestyle. And, let’s be real — most companies don’t make it easy to choose eco-friendly health and wellness products, opting instead for single-use containers made from unsustainable plastic.

The good news is that more and more companies are shaking up the industry with plastic-free packaging and refillable options for over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and other healthcare essentials. We met up with the founder of one of these companies, Russell Gong of Cabinet Health, to get the down-low on creating an eco-friendly medicine cabinet — plus some top-shelf tips for a smooth transition.

What’s hiding in your medicine cabinet?

The afterlife of plastic

It takes one plastic bottle 450 years to decompose, and with an estimated 580 billion plastic bottles sold in 2021 alone — well, it’s safe to say that the planet is going to be haunted by plastic for many years to come.

“It’s important to include medicine in your sustainability goals because it’s an essential activity of our lives,” says Mr. Gong. “Switching to Cabinet can help reduce up to a pound of plastic for every medicine that we switch to.”

Try this instead: Look for vitamins and medicines sold in glass bottles. Up to 80% of glass is recycled, whereas only about 8% of plastic is recycled.


Plastic and your health

“There are over 190 billion plastic pharmaceutical bottles created every year, and only 1-2% of those are recycled — the rest go into oceans, landfills, and our communities,” says Mr. Gong. “Recent studies show that microplastics are present in our blood, and the average consumer eats about a credit card worth of plastic every year. At Cabinet Health, we believe that no medicine company who truly cares about people’s health should be packaging their medicine in plastic. Cabinet is the first and only company that sells plastic free packaging which meets and exceeds FDA standards.”

Put a bandaid on it

Over 42 million band-aids were sold in 2019, but most band-aids are made from plastic – which can take years and years to fully decompose.

Try this instead: Biodegradable band-aids made from bamboo, band-aids made without plastic, and band-aids sold in tins are all eco-friendly alternatives to traditional band-aids.

The case against cotton

Cotton production is incredibly detrimental to the environment because it uses pesticides and fertilizers that pollute soil and waterways. Cotton also uses more water than any other agricultural commodity — yikes!

Try this instead: Ditch the single-use cotton swabs and cotton rounds, and reach for reusable swabs and rounds that are made from sustainable sources. Bamboo products and organic cotton are also more sustainable alternatives to commercial cotton.

Eco-friendly swaps for your medicine cabinet

OTC medicine

What you’ve got: Cold and flu syrup in plastic bottles

The swap: Ditch the plastic bottles and opt for cold and flu medicine in reusable glass bottles from Cabinet Health. They provide maximum-strength cold and flu relief from symptoms like congestion, fever, and cough – all in a plastic-free refill system.


The quality of your medicine

“The FDA only tests 1% of medicines, the rest of medicine quality is held up by a self reporting honor system,” Mr. Gong told us. “For that reason, there are roughly three to five drug recalls every single day. Customers want more transparency, confidence, and quality in their medicine. Cabinet is the only company which independently batch-level quality tests its products, ensuring that our products are free of any harmful substances and allergens.”

What you’ve got: Over-the-counter pills in plastic bottles

The swap: Cabinet Health has an entire line of OTC medicine refill systems that use glass jars and compostable medicine pouches. You'll find plastic-free medicine cabinet essentials like gas relief, sleep aids, pain and fever relief, and allergy relief that’ve been batch-tested to meet their high-quality standards.

What you’ve got: Sinus congestion relief in blister packs

The swap: Marie Originals Sinus Congestion Relief Spray comes in an easy-to-recycle glass spray bottle. The brand also carries a wide array of pharmaceutical remedies for everything from athlete’s foot treatments to ear oil, plus poison ivy relief soap.


How to sustainably dispose of medicine

Improperly disposed pharmaceutical drugs are bad news for the environment — they pollute water supplies and negatively affect ecosystems. If your meds aren’t on the FDA’s Flush List, toss ‘em in a sealable bag filled with cat litter or sawdust, and throw them out with the trash. If your medicine is on the Flush List, go ahead and flush the pills down the toilet or take them to a drug take-back location. Either way, make sure to cross off your personal information before recycling empty medicine bottles.

First aid

What you’ve got: Plastic bandaids

The swap: PATCH Compostable Adhesive Bandages are made from 100% bamboo fibers which makes them compostable and biodegradable. They’ve even got kids’ bandages that have an eco-friendly panda print.

Welly Bandages are another great alternative to conventional bandaids. These bandages come in tons of fun prints so you can heal with a bit of flair — and they’ve got a flexible fabric design and cool reusable tin.

What you’ve got: Healing ointments in plastic tubes

The swap: All Good Goop is a natural, non-greasy healing balm made with soothing botanicals that help heal minor scrapes and burns. And with over 16 ways to use it, this plant-powered salve is going to be your medicine cabinet’s new superhero.


Prepare for the unexpected

“I’m most wasteful and spend the most money on my health when I’m not prepared,” Mr. Gong says. “This often happens when I’m at the airport or traveling. What I do is I use one of Cabinet’s refillable pouches and make them into mini travel pouches. Instead of even bringing the glass bottles around or paying a ton for travel-size plastic bottles and blister packs, I just carry a compostable pouch with one dosage and whenever I’m done, I’ll just toss it in a compost bin.” If you don’t have a refillable medicine pouch, a reusable sandwich bag is a great alternative.

Vitamins and supplements

What you’ve got: Vitamins and supplements in plastic bottles

The swap: Vitamins in glass jars are becoming more and more prevalent. Brands like Honu, Gaia Herbs, Llama Naturals, and Ora Organics all sport a variety of must-have supplements like multivitamins for adults and children, vegan probiotics, and protein powders that come in earth-friendly glass packaging.

Oral care

What you’ve got: Plastic toothbrushes

The swap: Brands like The Humble Co. carry eco-friendly toothbrushes made from fast-growing, biodegradable bamboo instead of plastic.

You can also find toothbrushes from Radius that offer replaceable heads with handles that are made from recycled materials.

Preserve has toothbrushes made from recycled plastic, and you can mail in your old toothbrushes to be recycled — a win-win situation in our book.

What you’ve got: Nylon floss in plastic container

The swap: Eco-friendly floss from The Humble Co. has sustainable packaging and the picks are made from plant-based materials — not plastic!

If you prefer spools of floss instead, Radius offers plastic-free packaging with 55 yards of certified organic floss.

What you’ve got: Toothpaste in hard-to-recycle plastic tubes

The swap: Look for brands that partner with take-back programs, like Tom's of Maine. Their toothpastes are made from naturally-derived ingredients and come in plastic tubes that you can send back — free of charge — to be recycled.

David’s Natural Toothpaste comes in a metal tube that’s easily recyclable, and each tube comes with a metal tube key roller to squeeze out every last bit, ensuring you don’t waste a drop.

Georganics nixes the tube altogether and offers certified organic cream toothpaste and toothpaste tablets in conveniently recyclable glass jars.


What you’ve got: Makeup remover wipes

The swap: The Superbloom Makeup Remover Towel is a reusable alternative to disposable makeup remover wipes — and it comes without the nasty chemicals. The towel removes a face-full of makeup with just water and handwashes clean with the help of a little soap.

What you’ve got: Face wash in plastic containers

The swap: Instead of using face wash in plastic containers, try face wash bars like these from Peach. They’ve got a line of soap bars targeted for dry skin, oily skin, and skin that needs a little exfoliation.

Don’t wanna give up your liquid face wash? Check out brands like Acure that partner with recycling take back programs. These programs make it easy to send in your loved-up plastic tubes to be recycled.


Take it from the medicine cabinet to the vanity

Keep the sustainability train rolling from your medicine cabinet to your vanity with eco-friendly makeup and clean beauty products. Brands like Axiology, Terra Beauty Bars, and Burt’s Bees use sustainable packaging, ingredients, and business practices to create beautiful products that benefit you – and the planet, too.


What you’ve got: Cotton rounds and cotton swabs

The swap: Swap your single-use cotton products for reusable cotton rounds or swabs. Last Object carries reusable swabs that can be used up to 1000 times, saving the planet from tons of disposable cotton swabs with every purchase. They’re easy to use, easy to clean, and fit much more neatly in your medicine cabinet than a box full of cotton swabs.

If cotton rounds are more your speed, check out the facial rounds from Marley’s Monsters or Cocokind. Both are long-lasting, gentle on skin, and ideal for everything you’d use single-use cotton products for.

What you’ve got: Disposable razors

The swap: Safety razors like Leaf Shave’s Plastic-Free Razor are a fantastic way to get a clean shave without the waste that comes with disposable razors. The Leaf Shave Razor has an all-metal construction and comes with 10 refill razor blades — as soon as one blade dulls, just pop in a new one. Easy!

Period care

What you’ve got: Conventional pads and tampons

The swap: Menstrual cups, like those from Sustain or Lena, are a reusable alternative to disposable menstrual products. One menstrual cup can last up to 10 years — and with the average person going through 240 tampons a year, that’s a lot of waste being diverted from the landfills.

Organic cotton pads and tampons are another eco-friendly alternative to conventional period products. Organic cotton is made without the pesticides and harmful chemicals that are used in traditional cotton production, which makes them better for your body and safer for the Earth.


Make your menses more sustainable

If you want to nix period products entirely, try period underwear. These undies soak up your monthly menses via a layer of super-absorbent organic cotton. They’re machine washable and last for years — what’s not to love?

Shop more eco-friendly health and wellness products on Grove.

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