One-Stop Shops for Buying Less-Toxic Products

There’s an app for that!

By Jessian Choy

April 7, 2021


Photo by Kwangmoozaa/iStock

Hey Ms. Green,

I would like to help reduce single-use plastics and unnecessary chemicals going into the environment, but I don't know where to turn. Is there a recommended one-stop shopping site for buying green products? 

—Carol in Princeton, New Jersey

While many stores claim to sell sustainable products, it can be hard to find those made with ingredients so green you can almost eat them and that are cruelty- and palm-oil-free, truly zero waste (refilled), and manufactured by workers paid fair wages.  

My favorite greenest one-stop “shops” are Buy Nothing Facebook groups, Poshmark, and Ebay. On these sites, you can buy almost anything new or used from people that no longer need those items. If you need something else and want to avoid creating hidden and obvious single-use waste, there are a handful of new refill shops and apps for that. 

For less-toxic cleaners or skincare, or pots, pans, or other products, check out Clearya—a new, free web browser extension and phone app for researching more than 100,000 products. Amit Rosner created Clearya when his wife got breast cancer. They wanted to make sure they were buying less-toxic products but couldn’t find a single resource. Through Clearya, a user can now find pots and pans that have cleared toxicity tests conducted by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and Ecology Center. If you browse products in an online store in which Clearya has collected ingredient data, click Clearya’s logo under each product to see whether it has toxic ingredients or allergens. If you click the Clearya logo’s Discover tab, you’ll see safer alternatives. 

Users can also use Clearya to shop for CEH’s single-use, lab-tested PFAS-free straws, cups, trays, and utensils. If you need pots and pans, steer clear of some of the 14 nonstick pans and 10 nonstick baking pans tested by the Ecology Center. 79 percent of the pans and 20 percent of the bakeware were coated with toxic PTFE (a PFAS chemical), and undisclosed toxic bisphenol-A (BPA) coatings were on two baking pans. So try safer products: uncoated cast iron or stainless steel cookware and glass or ceramic bakeware. 

Clearya will expand to more retailers, including local brick-and-mortar stores. For now, I use its app to see which products are safer, and then I try to shop from local worker-owned co-ops or shops. The more people use the app, the more it can collect ingredients from new products and display them to others. Clearya says it tracks products, not personal user information

The Remark phone app is a great way to ask any business to create policies and practices regarding sustainability and labor. Click the happy- or sad-face emojis to rate if a business complies with local laws on single-use utensils or plastic bag bans, or nudge it to use more sustainable materials, ingredients, and packaging. You can also rate whether a business is reducing waste with paperless receipts or offers discounts if you bring reusable bags. Based on emojis you clicked, the app crafts a friendly email that you can customize and then send to businesses asking them to support a less-toxic, cruelty- and palm-oil-free, zero-waste world. 

If apps aren’t your thing, you’ve got options. For skincare, Plaine Products makes certified cruelty-free, organic, and vegan items with no palm oil, and it's a certified socially and environmentally responsible B Corp. It’ll fill your containers at retailers nationwide and also ships plastic-free.

For groceries, try the Wally Shop, the only one I could find that refills containers and ships nationwide.  

If you’re concerned about labor rights, Rawganique is the most sustainable one-stop shop I could find for sweatshop- and plastic-free, organic hemp linen, cotton clothes, and waterproof shoes, bags, linens, and home products that use less-toxic dyes and are vegan and waterproof. The next greenest one-stop shop is Earth Hero, though not everything is fair trade, plastic-, cruelty- or palm-oil-free.  

More shops across the country should encourage consumers to refill and reuse their containers. A few in the Bay Area offer a great model for how to do it. Mudlab cafe and store and FillGood refill containers and even return bulk containers to manufacturers and ask them to ship without plastic! In Tacoma, Washington, A Drop in the Ocean  will deliver or ship products to you in glass or aluminum containers that they will then refill via pick-up or their return shipping label, such as liquid dish soaplaundry powder, and dishwasher powder. Though not all products from those three shops are palm-oil free, A Drop in the Ocean claims all of its products are cruelty-free, and many of its products are vegan. Unlike some refill shops, that one ships in used packaging

I scoured through hundreds of cleaners that claim to have clean ingredients (even ones from refill shops). I concluded that the least-toxic, palm-oil-free and plastic-free cleaners (even stain removers) are easy to make at home.  

Ask me how to spot fake green office supplies!

This article has been updated since publication.