Sustainable Summer: 5 Beach Bag Essentials that Protect You and the Planet

July 22, 2019

Wherever you’re headed this summer, what you bring along with you makes an impact. Together, we can make a difference by choosing products that give back to people and the planet.

Long and lazy summer days are ideal for heading outdoors to soak up the sunshine. As we prep to go, we have choices in what we pack up: We can take the disposable route, which can be wasteful, filling landfills and polluting our oceans. Or, we could approach our R&R time with a focus on making a positive impact. Even though it seems small, what we put in our beach bag can make a difference!

Here at COIN, we’re always looking for ways to live more sustainably and consciously, and how we plan our time outside is no exception. So, we researched how to reduce waste on our upcoming trips, seeking sustainable products to pack for beach getaways, picnics in the park, or days at the lake. We wanted beach bag essentials that would serve us well and treat the planet well.

What we found was too good to keep to ourselves! Read on to check out five sustainable products for your summer adventures.

1. Socially Conscious Sunglasses

Sunglasses are the obvious sunny day essential. But did you know your shades can now support sustainability and even help underserved communities achieve shared prosperity?

The editors at The Good Trade have rounded up nine sunglasses made from natural materials like bamboo, wood, and cork, as well as recycled plastic, so your new shades will be more durable and less likely to end up in a landfill. Each featured company also has programming to give back, like initiatives that provide cataract surgeries for the underserved, for example, or recycling programs for eyeglasses, among other causes.

If you want even more options to browse, blogger Karen A. Mulvey at Citrus Sleep has compiled a list of 14 eco-friendly sunglasses, with many companies also supporting fair trade and sustainable practices.

We also love when companies create “one for one” policies to make our purchases more impactful. TOMS Giving Sight program provides eye exams and follow-up treatment to needy populations, funded through TOMS Eyewear purchases. To date, they’ve helped more than 770,000 people improve their eyesight.

You should also check out Warby Parker’s Buy a Pair, Give a Pair initiative, which donates a pair of glasses for every pair purchased, and has distributed more than 5 million pairs so far.

2. Breathable, Natural, or Recycled Slip-On Shoes

Flip-flops are awfully convenient for the beach, but they’re also really bad for your health and the environment: They make us more accident-prone, they expose our feet to germs, and they’re often made from landfill-cluttering, toxic-leaching latex and BPA plastic.

This summer, consider skipping a new pair of flip-flops and opt for a pair of easy slip on/off shoes made from recycled and/or natural materials. They’ll have a much longer shelf life than your average pair of flip-flops, you can throw them in the washing machine to keep them fresh, and your feet will be better protected.

We love these styles from Allbirds and Rothy’s – they’re perfect for the beach!

If nothing but sandals will do, check out Guru’s: Each pair is made from sustainably sourced natural rubber and they even use sustainable shipping materials, too.

3. Reef-Safe Sunscreen

We all know that sun exposure comes with the need for sun protection. But take note: According to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), chemical-based sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate can pollute ocean waters, damage coral reefs, and harm sea wildlife populations.

While there’s disagreement about exactly which sunscreens are environmentally friendly, non-aerosol, mineral-based sunscreens are considered safer choices overall. Check out these 13 reef-safe sunscreen options from the experts at Travel + Leisure, with many available at major drug stores, supermarkets, and online.

On your own, you can always read labels once you get to the sunscreen aisle: If you see oxybenzone and octinoxate listed in the sunscreen’s ingredients, put it back on the shelf!

Alternatively, you can go one step further and minimize your sunscreen use altogether. “The best way to protect both yourself and the environment may be to cover most of your body with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing—or even just a plain old T-shirt,” says the team at Consumer Reports. “You’ll still have to apply sunscreen to exposed skin, but you’ll need far less—up to half the amount—than you might if you were in a bathing suit.”

Dr. Craig A. Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, agrees. As he told Travel + Leisure: “So you wear the UPF sun-shirt and then you apply sunscreen to your face, neck, the back of your hands, behind your ears. Think of how much less sunscreen you are using.”

If you’re not a fan of the sun, even at the beach, this may be the perfect solution for you! You’ll use less and pollute less, while still protecting your skin.

4. Sustainable Towels

A good beach towel is soft, absorbent, and … sustainable? Believe it! Two companies are leading the way in creating multi-purpose towels for your next beach trip and beyond.    

Nomadix creates their towels with certified recycled materials and makes them oversized so they can work as a beach towel, a yoga mat, or a travel blanket. And one multi-use towel means less to buy, less to ship, another environmentally friendly bonus. Not to mention, they’ve partnered with CamelBak to create towels made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, with a portion of proceeds going to clean up California beaches.

Sand Cloud makes Instagram-worthy towels that also are generous in size. They’re made from natural materials like bamboo and cotton, and are lightweight for easy packing. The company’s mission is “to save marine life” and they donate 10% of all profits to support marine conservation activities. Partners include the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Marine Conservation Institute, and San Diego Coastkeeper, among other clean water groups.

5. Coolers that Conserve Food, Drink, and the Planet

OK, so technically a cooler is too big for your beach bag, but we still had to include it! When it comes to sustainably dining al fresco, we’ve come a long way.

In the past, if you took food and drink to the beach, camping, or just out for a picnic, you often had the choice of a plastic cooler or a Styrofoam cooler, which is less than ideal. (Although it’s designed to be disposable, Styrofoam never actually breaks down in landfills.) Today’s coolers, however, are much more thoughtfully designed with sustainable materials that are strong and functional.

For starters, coolers are now biodegradable. Igloo’s 24-quart, crack- and chip-resistant Recool is made from recycled paper pulp, keeps ice frozen for up to 12 hours, and can hold up to 75 pounds of food and drink. It’s even reusable: “Simply empty it, let it air dry, and use it again”, the Igloo team claims. It’s available at REI and online.

At first glance, the Recycooler looks like a box on a handbag string, but it’s actually a recyclable cooler that uses cellulose insulation to keep food and drinks cold. Intended to replace short-term use coolers, like Styrofoam, it’s made with at least 60% recycled materials. Purchase it at supermarkets like Kroger, Publix, and Whole Foods, and at select vendors at state and national parks.   

Wherever you’re headed this summer, what you bring along with you makes an impact. Together, we can make a difference by choosing products that give back to people and the planet.

With these sustainable beach bag essentials, we’ll all help to preserve and protect the outdoors, now and in the years to come.