First aid kits typically contain single-use, disposable medical supplies that inevitably end up in landfills for several reasons, including sanitation, ease of use, and efficiency in emergencies. New materials and the latest packaging can reduce the environmental impact of your emergency medical cupboard.

Single-use items like antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, and gauze pads are individually packaged to maintain a sterile environment, reducing the risk of infection when treating wounds or other medical issues. There are products you can use, and habits you can change that will increase the sustainability of your medicine cabinet by reducing waste and using more sustainable materials.

This article does not provide an exhaustive list of first aid supplies, but you can refer to The American Red Cross for a list of first aid kit necessities and guidance on maintaining your home emergency supplies.

The Dawn of Biodegradable Bandages

Among the most common medical supplies used are adhesive bandages. Most bandages include plastic, latex, fabric, and vinyl resin materials that are not biodegradable or compostable. Of course, bandages are designed for single use. Still, new bandage materials, such as bamboo, can help reduce their environmental impact. Bamboo is a more sustainable material alternative because it is a renewable resource and biodegradable material.

The Australian brand Patch, a certified B Corp, offers bandages with fabric made from bamboo. They ship internationally, including to the United States, and you can find their products on Amazon. They have options for bandages with natural ingredients added into the gauze to enhance healing, such as coconut oil to reduce inflammation, activated charcoal to draw out toxins, or aloe vera to soothe wounds. Patch also created a body tape made from bamboo, avoiding the plastic and synthetic materials used in traditional body tapes that are used to support muscles after injuries.

Another bandage option made with bamboo is FEBU bandages, which are plastic and latex-free. They are biodegradable in your home compost in 10 weeks. FEBU’s bandage wrappers are also compostable; however, the paper backing on the adhesive is not. You can purchase Patch Bandages on Amazon. Patch also makes reusable paper towels, laundry detergent sheets, and coffee cups.

Another option for bandages with a lower environmental impact comes from Welly bandages, which are available on Amazon or many retailers, including Walgreens and Target. Welly bandages come in a reusable tin that you can repurpose for any number of uses. Consider using the small tin for carrying other small first aid supplies like antibiotic ointment, cough drops, and pills.

Some people may have concerns that composting a bandage with blood on it could be a health hazard. There are different opinions about this, but some researchers related composting blood to the horticultural use of bloodmeal, a soil amendment made from the dried blood of animals. Whether or not you decide to compost a bloodied bandage can be a decision based on your personal preference.

Choose Your Face mask Carefully

While we hope never to need them as we did during the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be times during cold and flu or wildfire smoke season when face masks provide a health and safety benefit. Easydry is a biodegradable towel retailer based in Ireland that offers a compostable face mask that is OK compost-certified for home and industrial composting. These 100% biodegradable masks fully decompose in home or industrial compost piles within twelve weeks.

Consider reuse instead of single-use. New York Magazine collected and tested many reusable face masks. Whether you are looking for single-useupcycled fabricfair labor practices, or environmentally responsible production methods, there are plenty of options for a  more sustainable face mask for you.

Rethink Your Habits

In addition to changing the products in your first aid kit, there are habits you can adopt to be more sustainable.

Remember to purchase only quantities you can use before their expiration date to avoid creating unnecessary waste when purchasing first aid supplies.

You can prevent synthetic ointments from contributing to water pollution by growing plants with healing properties, such as aloe vera, which can moisturize skin and soothe sunburns. And learn about a variety of medicinal herbs, including chamomile, wintergreen, lavender, and rosemary that you can grow to help alleviate pain, ease nausea, reduce stress, and more.

These ideas represent progress toward a more environmentally responsible first aid kit but companies need to do better. Removing composite paper-and-plastic or paper-and-metal sterile wipes packaging, for instance, or adopting biodegradable materials and adhesives would go a long way toward reducing the impact of our emergency medical supplies.

Review your current first aid kit and consider writing a letter to the companies whose products you use. Tell them you’d like more sustainable options.

By Abby Kansal Schack

Abby Kansal Schack is a sustainability and outdoors enthusiast with an M.S. in Sustainability and a background in horticulture. She lives in Illinois and enjoys gardening, yoga, and woodworking.