Going zero waste is a pretty big decision, especially when we are so conditioned towards consumerist sensibilities. It’s not easy to give up comfort and convenience in exchange for personal responsibility and sustainability, but it’s a decision that those of us who have gone zero waste are happy to have made. That said, living a zero-waste lifestyle doesn’t just have to be about personal sacrifice or spending a lot more for organic, sustainable products. In fact, there are quite a few zero-waste swaps that you can make that will save you money in the long term.
Is living zero-waste expensive?
Contrary to what many folks might think, living a zero-waste lifestyle is not nearly as expensive as you might believe it to be. In fact, if you do it properly and with a little frugality in mind, it can actually save you a lot of money over time. There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to start living a zero-waste lifestyle that will help you to significantly slash your budget. You just need to know where to find the best deals.
A good place to start saving money and living zero-waste is to simply reuse what you already have. Think about it: how many things do you throw away once they have been used? Takeout containers, clothing, half-filled notebooks. If you are replacing these things often, you are likely spending more money and throwing out far more than you need to. The many zero-waste swaps compiled below can save you a ton of money over the course of the year,
Zero-waste swaps that save money:
Swap water bottles for reusable bottles.
This one is an absolute no-brainer. According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans are consuming water from disposable plastic bottles at a rate of more than 70 million bottles each day. That amounts to more than 25 billion bottles a year. That is not only a lot of bottles, it’s also far more water than people should be paying for — especially since it’s free to drink in most U.S. cities.
Now, many people choose bottled water because they like the way it tastes, they are convinced of its superiority, or they like the convenience of going in and picking up a bottle anytime they are thirsty. The thing is, you can get great-tasting water out of a filter attached to your sink... at your home...for the price of a one-time purchase. And filling up a reasonably-priced reusable water bottle is a much more economical choice than spending $1 on one every time you go out. It’s an easy swap to make.
Swap disposable coffee cups for a reusable one.
Many coffee shops reward customers for bringing in their own cups. Even Starbucks will discount customers $0.10 for bringing in their own reusable cup — the coffee chain will do this for any patron who brings their own cup, in fact, not just if you have a Starbucks-branded cup. It’s a pretty hefty saving if you’re a coffee drinker like me.
Also, don’t just assume that disposable paper coffee cups are recyclable either. Coated in plastic as they are, those cups are actually becoming a pollutant category of their very own. Your best bet is to just purchase one reusable cup for your coffee and never have to buy or utilize any non-recyclable ones again.
Swap single-use coffee brewers for a conventional coffee pot.
Speaking of coffee, we can’t suggest this strongly enough: please stop using single-serve coffee makers like Keurig. Yes, they are simple and easy to use, but they are also one of the biggest waste of money you can buy. The Keurig-type machines themselves are also prone to algae growth if not properly cleaned. Not only that, but they also account for an enormous amount of non-recyclable waste. Plastics guys: we gotta stop using them. Honestly, a regular coffee maker, French press, percolator, or literally anything else will make you a far better cup of coffee.
Swap disposable plastic bags for reusable ones.
Many grocery stores and pharmacies either charge customers to use disposable plastic bags or don’t even offer them at all. By bringing your own reusable bags to the store, you’re not only saving the environment, but you’re also saving yourself a hefty sum over time. Note that picking up one of the reusable bags at the register is fine, but you’ll save more money in the long-run if you invest in durable, quality reusable bags. That way, your bags won’t blow out on you and cost you more than just another bag.
Swap toxic cleaners for homemade ones.
According to the Nest, American families spend around $40 to $50 per month on cleaning supplies. That is approximately $600 or more each year. There are several problems with this. First, most of those cleaning supplies are harmful to the environment and ourselves to some degree. Second, they are usually stored in non-reusable plastic, which is a real no-no when it comes to living a zero-waste lifestyle. So what are our alternatives?
There are plenty of homemade cleaning products out there that effective, readily available, plastic-free, and non-toxic. Many contain vinegar or baking soda, both of which we will bet can be found in your pantry right now. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, add some essential oils like lemon, lavender, or tea tree to give a pleasant scent to your new cleaner.
Swap takeout for home-cooked food.
This one is also pretty elementary. Cooking food at home is a great way to save money and takeout containers almost always end up at a landfill. Cooking at home is also a way to be more self-sustainable and economical. You can plan out your meals, invest in some reusable containers, and be able to save far more than you would eating out three times a week.
Eating at home will also allow you to make healthier meals as well. You’ll cook it, so you’ll know what goes into it. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, this makes it far easier to eat what you choose rather than hem and haw over what might or might not be in that takeout dish. It’s the best swap for your wallet, your body, and the planet. We might add also, that being vegan is actually one of the keys to living a zero-waste lifestyle. Just some food for thought.
Swap Tupperware for glass containers.
Tupperware storage containers are great in many ways. They are reusable, they keep food fresh, and they’re familiar. But unfortunately, these containers are prone to cracking or melting, and there is evidence that it's unsafe to microwave food in a plastic container, as they can leach chemicals into your food. Plastic is a real pollution problem these days, and knowing that your old Tupperware isn’t going to last the test of time should be enough for you to reconsider investing in it.
Glass containers, however, are just as durable, just as effective, almost as familiar, and can last for your entire life. They might be slightly more expensive upfront, but that’s usually because many popular brands, like Pyrex, are microwaveable and oven safe.
Swap paper towels for reusable cloths.
According to Readers Digest, Americans use more paper towels than all the other nations of the world combined. That is a heck of a lot of messes if you ask me. It’s also an awful lot of trees torn down and mashed up for a product that you’re done using within seconds. Using fewer paper towels is a great way to save money and be zero-waste, but using no paper towels would be even better.
There are a ton of microfiber cloths, huck towels, dishcloths, tea towels, unpaper towels, and other such reusable cloths that work just as well, if not better than, paper towels. The best part is, you’ll only need a few of them to get along with. Even if they get particularly messy, you can always wash them. Before long, they will be good as new and you won’t have to buy a new one for many years down the road.