Recently, I’ve been thinking about zero waste first-aid kits. Is it possible to get away from plastic band-aids and tiny ketchup-sized packets of Neosporin?
This article is in no way shape or form a referendum on personal health. So, upfront, I want to say do whatever is best for your health: buy the medicine, take the plastic, do whatever you need to do.
But, trying to be more eco-friendly/plastic free in the personal health space is something I’ve been thinking about so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.
I enjoy using natural remedies like sipping ginger tea for tummy aches, taking elderberry syrup during cold season, making sure I eat lots of foods rich in probiotics for optimal gut health, and of course aiding my body during that time of the month.
I also strongly believe in modern medicine, going to the doctor, and taking antibiotics.
Wanted to get all of that out upfront, and hope that you might be a little bit inspired when it comes to your own first aid kit. Several of the links below are affiliate links for more information please see my disclosure policy.
First, decide on how you want to store the items you will include in your zero waste first aid kit.
Instead of purchasing something new, are there items you currently own that are not serving a purpose for you? Consider upcycling an old lunchbox, tupperware container, or sealable storage boxes.
Once you’ve picked out the perfect storage container, it’s time to fill it up! Below is a list of many items that are good substitutes for “traditional” first aid items sorted by ailment.
2. minor cuts and scrapes:
An aloe vera plant
Basic wound care consists of cleansing a wound thoroughly, letting it dry to air, applying antiseptic as needed and leaving open to air or wrapping with a clean, sterile dressing.
For minor skin wounds cleansing a wound with clean water and bar soap is just as effective as using alcohol wipes or other wound irrigations. Wash the wound for at least 15 seconds, rinse thoroughly, and let air dry.
Manuka honey makes a great alternative to antibacterial and antiseptic ointment, and has been shown to effectively keep wounds healthy and help them heal.
Consumer product companies have created a narrative around minor wound care for decades. Band-Aids, or disposable adhesive bandages are rarely, if ever, biodegradable and usually unnecessary.
If your cut continues to reopen or truly needs to be covered, consider using scraps of clean organic cotton or silk, which can either be composted or washed and sterilized and used again. You can keep the bandage in place with paper tape, stainless steel safety pin, or tying the fabric into a knot.
An aloe vera plant
For minor first-degree burns (pinkish that only affect the top layer of skin), run the burn under cold water to dissipate the heat and break the leaf of an aloe plant off and use the sap on the burn.
You can also make your own zero waste aloe gel at home. Aloe is cooling, moisturizing and protects the moisture barrier of the skin.
4. everyday aches, pains, and stings:
Reusable cold packs (stainless steel or a reusable ice bag)
Hot water bottle (or make your own heating pad out of rice and an old sock)
Calamine or bentonite clay powders
Apple Cider Vinegar
Oatmeal (purchased in the bulk section, of course!)
For achy muscles, soreness, cramps, and aches hot and cold therapy is a tried and true method for relief.
Reusable metal cold packs or ice bags offer convenience with no waste. In addition, many people are resorting to a standard hot water bottle for relief as well.
Any of these can be placed on the affected area for 30 minutes on and one hour off. Be sure to always place a barrier of some sort between your skin and the hot or cold therapy to minimize the risk of a burn.
In addition to hot and cold therapy, there is a significant amount of research showing CBD (cannabidiols) oils to be of great use for pain management.
Personally, I use a high potency CBD balm that comes in a metal tin. I find it has given me significant relief for tired, cramped legs, sore shoulders and neck after a long day of work or working out.
Rashes, stings and bug bites can be calmed in a variety of natural, waste-free ways.
For topical skin rashes a paste of oatmeal wrapped with organic cotton and secured with paper tape or a metal safety pin can relieve the itchiness and heat a rash can give off, while a paste of calamine or bentonite clay will dry out a poison ivy rash, pulling out the offending poison oil and drying out the rash so it can heal.
The sting and itchiness of bug bites can be calmed with a little apple cider vinegar. In addition, many of these ingredients can serve multiple purposes: zero waste deodorants, overnight oats, and more.
5. preventative measures:
Vitamins and supplements in glass jars
Fresh fruits and vegetables
As you can probably guess, this is the part of the list that doesn’t live in your dedicated “zero waste first aid” container.
There is nothing better than not getting sick in the first place. And, while that’s not necessarily a reality 100% of the time, we can do our best to stay healthy in the first place.
Eating a diet that is full of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains (all of which easily come in package free options!) has been clinically shown to keep us strong, healthy, prevent certain types of cancers, and improve gut health, thereby improving immunity.
But, sometimes the stresses of life or traveling can wreak havoc on our bodies and we need a little extra help. A personal favorite low waste remedy of mine is elderberry syrup. It helps boost your natural immunity to viruses that cause the cold and flu.
There are many varieties available in health food stores, which also come in glass bottles or you can make your own from dried elderberries.
If you are feeling mental and emotional stress herbs such as valerian, ashwagandha and rhodiola are very calming to your nervous system. They come in vegetarian capsules or also as loose leaf teas in the bulk section.
Insomnia can also be helped by drinking a homemade golden milk with nutmeg (aka “Ayurvedic ambien”). In addition to a healthy diet, supplements and herbs, there are many loose leaf teas that can help with everyday ailments.
Ginger tea helps with digestion and nausea, Smooth Move tea helps with constipation and bowel irregularity, and tulsi tea acts as a natural expectorant and cough suppressant.
Overall, take time to think about your regular health and first aid needs and include only what you need and can sustainably source and keep stocked.
This way you will be prepared for the minor emergencies and ailments that come your way while staying conscious and in line with the waste reduction principles implemented in the rest of your daily routines.
GUEST POST: Beth Cruz is a registered nurse and freelance writer in New York City. She loves a good book, advocating for a zero-waste lifestyle, cuddling her rescue dog and watching true crime.