For years, I’ve used and reused twist ties that I got from products like bread. I used them around the house until they were frayed and twisted and breaking from use, and then I’d finally throw them away. I used them to tie up or bundle cords, to close plastic bags of leftovers, and to throw away trash bags of shredded paper that can’t be recycled in my area.
Twist ties and toxic metal
Then I learned that some vets recommend not using twist ties around pets because twist ties are made in China, and no one seems able to document what metals are used in making them. I’ve done a lot of online research about this, and some sources claim the metal is stainless steel – but steel is an alloy that can contain “traces” of almost any metal. Zinc is also toxic to many animals, including most of the ones we keep as pets, and is often used in hardware.
At the very least, you would be wise to keep twist ties away from pets and small children, just to be safe. I’m also concerned about not dumping something that might contain lead or other toxic metals into the landfill or recycling center, even in minute quantities.
For most household uses, the most environmentally sound and non-toxic option is simply a rubber band. Various sized rubber bands can keep bread wrappers sealed up tight, bundle cords, etc. The only problem is, many pets will chew right through rubber, so what do you use to tie toys and feeding dishes onto pet cages, or in other places pets may have access to?
Reusable cable ties are one option. Yes, they are plastic, and from the Amazon page I was unable to determine if they were recyclable or biodegradable, so they may not be. They do bear a seal that says “RoHS Compliant – Environmentally Friendly” – the RoHS directive is a European standard that restricts the use of certain toxic chemicals. So while they may not be recyclable, they’re non-toxic and work beautifully for household uses around pets who like to chew things. In any case, expect to get hundreds or thousands of uses out of them before they become unusable and have to be discarded.
These reusable cable ties – called “resealable” on the packaging – have a tip next to the latch that you either push in or down to release the seal, but they’re otherwise just as impossible to open as a non-reusable cable tie. Pets may eventually chew through them, but since they’ll be cinched tight, most animals won’t find it easy to get at them with their teeth or beaks at all.
So, rubber bands are definitely the better solution in my opinion, but when they won’t do, reusable cable ties are a solid second choice, both in terms of usability and environmental friendliness.
Some other options you may already have around the house include:
- Chip clips or bread clips. These are those clamps you can get for keeping bags of food tightly closed. These are usually made of plastic and wire, and therefore might not be a lovely contribution to your local landfill, but you should get hundreds if not thousands of uses out of them before they have to be discarded. Some are made of metal – again, no telling what metal.
- Clothes pins are made mostly of wood and “galvanized” metal for the wires. Sadly, “galvanized” seems to mean “whatever”, so we don’t know what kind of metal these are putting back into the environment. But again, you should be able to use them loads of times before they break.
- Those other bread clips – the ones that come on bread wrappers that don’t use twist ties, pictured to the right. Collect these when you get them, because they can be used a million times over. Yes, they’re plastic, and non-biodegradable and possibly even toxic. But if you can’t avoid getting them, then the most responsible (and frugal!) thing you can do is reuse the heck out of them before condemning them to the trash or recycling.
- String. They make biodegradable string (you’d think it’s all biodegradable, but I guess some of it uses plastic fibers). The only problem with string is that if you tie a very secure knot, which you need to do in some cases, you can’t untie it and will end up having to cut it and probably not be able to reuse the leftover pieces. But for many uses, string makes sense.