6 online, low-impact stores for everyday necessities

Typically, I don’t buy much online…well clothing. But other than that, I do most of my business IRL. Take that, millennial haters! And so far, my non-digital approach has served me well. I’m lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find local grocery stores to support and with very few exceptions, I can purchase any household, cosmetic, or everyday essential within just a few miles of my house. 

But right now, everything’s a little different. Amidst the pandemic, bulk sections at my usual grocery stores are empty. Healthy and cheap go-to’s like oatmeal are difficult, if not impossible, to find. This on top of having to stand in line for hours just to get into virtually any store. And suddenly, something that was so simple and enjoyable for me just a month ago, is now a stressful time commitment. 

For the most part, I’m still trying to get my groceries around the neighborhood. I feel some obligation because of my good health (knock on wood) and access to a car to leave online stockpiles to those who really need them. Online orders also require additional gasoline and resources to ship and the more I can avoid adding to my footprint, the better. 

But if you do need toilet paper or some things for your pantry, the good news is you can find affordable, lower-impact options online. The following brands offer more sustainable alternatives to the Amazon’s and other one-stop-shops of the world. And even after shelter-in-place orders relax, you might find them to be a great addition to your lifestyle. 

The Wally Shop ($$ – $$$) 

In an attempt to mimic the “value, selection, [and] convenience” of her then current employer Amazon, founder of The Wally Shop, Tamara, split from the herd and started her own climate-conscious venture. 

Selling a range of bulk goods—olive oil to chocolate chips—in returnable and reusable containers, The Wally Shop is blazing trails where few digital businesses have ever been before. The site offers different size jars, letting you buy just what you need, and tells you the ideal number of products you’d have to buy in order for the carbon footprint of shipping to be worthwhile. At checkout, buyers pay a jar deposit that they’ll get back once their containers are returned as well as a flat rate for back-and-forth shipping. When your jars are empty, just send them back and you’re ready to start the process over again. Super simple & sustainable. 

Public Goods ($ – $$)

A smaller and more niche version of Costco, Public Goods is a members-only, semi-sustainable online grocery store. Membership is $59 annually (or about $4 a month) but you can try their products for free through their two week trial.  

In terms of quality, I think of Public Goods like a Trader Joes. Most of their products are unfortunately wrapped or packaged in plastic but, from what I can tell, the contents are more planet-friendly and/or healthy for your body. Their toilet paper, for example, is wrapped in plastic. But the paper itself is made from sugar cane and bamboo—bamboo being one of the more environmentally-friendly paper products out there. So it’s a trade-off. They also offer a lot of refillables which, if used properly, can reduce, but not eliminate, your plastic consumption. 

Overall, Public Goods scores lower for sustainability but offers really great value and access. If you are trying to limit your plastic use, I’d recommend sticking to their designated ‘zero waste’ section, glass or canned goods, vitamins, and avoid their travel & smaller sized cosmetic products. 

Package Free Store ($$ – $$$) 

Need a fresh shampoo bar, biodegradable dog poop bag, or reusable food storage pouch? The Package Free Store has it all. While their prices definitely fall on the higher side, Package Free has an incredible selection of sustainable products that are helpful in and out of quarantine. Keep in mind that the higher cost of eco-friendly products typically accounts for their longer lifespan and body-safe ingredients. But if that’s not enough justification, you can always try finding products of interest on other sites for a better deal. 

Package Free does offer a subscription program which will save you 10% on every order and prevent future oh-shit-I-ran-out-of-biodegradable-toilet-paper moments. 

Zero Waste Store ($$ – $$$) 

I owe my friend Mikayla for this one! (Hi, if you’re reading!) Like Package Free Shop, I trust the Zero Waste Store implicitly. They carry some of the best sustainable brands and offer a surprising number of smaller and more difficult to find names as well.

The Store offers shampoo and conditioner bars, candles, makeup, kitchen supplies, and more, all with minimal to no packaging. It’s also a woman-owned business and has a great blog if you’re looking for some reading material.

Sustain Naturals ($ – $$)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard Tinder’s not doing great with the whole social distancing thing. But that doesn’t mean the world has stopped having sex altogether. Like always, staying safe and comfortable is of the utmost importance. That’s where Sustain comes in.

Sustain, which in the past year was acquired by the subscription-based site, Grove Collaborative, was founded with the intention of destigmatizing intimate health. In addition to organic cotton tampons and pads, Sustain also makes fair trade latex condoms, water-based lube, and even a menstrual cup. Their products aren’t as affordable as K-Y or Trojan but they contain far less compromising materials. So they’re good for you, and better for the planet. 

Plain Products ($$ – $$$) 

Once I run through the shampoo and conditioner bars I’ve been meaning to try, Plain Products will be my next stop. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been skeptical of how a solid bar of product will interact with my hair. But, at the same time, I’m tired of big plastic bottles and long, chemical-packed ingredients lists. 

That’s why Plain is super cool. For $30—$27 with an ongoing subscription—you can get 16oz of liquid conditioner or shampoo. The product comes in metal bottles that you use and then send back to be refilled. No plastic. No waste. Plain has a range of body products, including lotions, body oils, face wash, and toner, all of which follow their low-impact system. 

If you’re looking to cut back on plastic within your beauty routine and can swing the higher price, Plain is a really good option. As someone who washes their hair 2-3 times a week, I can go four to five months on 16oz of product. That’s just cents per wash!