Last year, I began swapping disposable products for reusable alternatives and was impressed by how easy and affordable it was to make my home less wasteful. Many times, I already had eco-friendly alternatives lying around anyway. Now, I just had to make the switch to using them. Once I did, I no longer had to spend money on constantly restocking disposables and that alone actually saved me loads of money over the past year.
Contrary to what some might think, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a difference. You also don’t need to be perfectly, 100% without any waste. A little effort goes a long way, and when choosing zero waste alternatives saves you some cash, everyone wins.
Some of these suggestions are going to sound like no-brainers to anyone who is already living a zero waste life, but these are also some of the biggest offenders in the unnecessary waste department, so we’ve got to be better about even these small simple products that collect in landfills [or our oceans and ecosystems] in alarming amounts.
Here are some of the easiest swaps we made:
1. Cloth shopping bags instead of disposable bags. Most people have bags lying around that can be used as shopping bags. If you’ve ever shopped at Aldi then you probably already have a stash for those trips. So why not use them for all your shopping? Turns out you don’t need a special material or a specific size, and it doesn’t have to have some cutesy environmentally friendly slogan written on it. Just grab a bag – any bag – before you head out for your next shopping trip and pass on the store’s bags. If you literally don’t have a bag, grab a t-shirt you don’t wear and make one – tutorial here.
2. Reusable plates instead of paper plates. This one is guaranteed to save you money since the only thing required is to stop buying paper plates altogether. I assume everyone has a set of real plates (even plastic will do – so long as they are reusable). I know it’s convenient – especially for big gatherings and for packing lunches – but it’s not the only way. Create a system for the party so dishes get rinsed and washed. Eat out of your container at work/school so you don’t need a dish at all. Paper plates cannot be recycled because the paper becomes contaminated by food. And with the global paper plate industry at around 3.6 BILLION USD – that equals a whole lot of paper plates in landfills.
3. Silverware instead of plastic cutlery. Same as above, this will only save you money. Pack a real spoon and wash it. Is it as convenient? Maybe not. Is it free to do? Definitely. Is it important. Yessiree.
4. Reusable water bottle instead of plastic water bottles. I am admittedly a total water snob. I hate tap water – especially my own because we have very hard well water which, even after an elaborate softener system treats it, still tastes terrible. [I am working on becoming less entitled in this regard – but it may take a LONG time.] We used to buy tons of water bottles because they are so convenient, despite being a colossal waste of plastic and money. So, our alternative has been a Primo water dispenser.
This guy conveniently hides a refillable five-gallon water jug.
So, we are still technically paying for water [though we don’t pay for our well water], but it costs less than $2 for five gallons and we reuse the jugs so that we are not creating any waste.
Another good solution for water snobs like myself would be to use water from a filtered dispenser in the refrigerator. We don’t have one of those. Even putting a filter on the sink would be good.
Then use a reusable beverage holder of some kind.
Most people probably have a reusable water bottle lying around their house. You don’t need a fancy stainless steel one [though they are nice to have]. You don’t even need a water bottle, truthfully. You could just use a glass…or a mug…or heck, a sippy cup if you have to. Anything that will hold liquid should work.
5. Kitchen rags instead of paper towels. The attachment to paper towels is very strong and is probably the hardest disposable to stop using. In fact, I occasionally wish for paper towels when I want to clean the bathroom mirrors or have a place to set freshly fried bacon…BUT I don’t use them. We haven’t bought any in a year and we are surviving just fine. I didn’t purchase anything to replace paper towels, I just used my current stash of kitchen towels, wash cloths, and rags. You don’t actually need something that comes on a roll that allows you to rip off individual pieces [though there are Pinterest tutorials aplenty, if you want to make your cloth towels into a roll]. You can just reach into a drawer or cupboard and get a new towel or rag when you need one. This system has been serving us very well AND saving us a lot of money.
6. Reusable containers instead of zip-lock bags. Plastic baggies are definitely very convenient, but they are nothing that a reusable container [tupperware or glass] cannot be – besides made of plastic and very wasteful. I have kept my plastic Tupperware sets to use for food storage and travel and anything else I might need a plastic baggie for, so I didn’t have to buy anything. All I had to do was stop buying zip-lock bags. The only challenge I encountered was freezing certain foods – and for this purpose, I did purchase reusable silicone bags, but now I just cook the meat before freezing [with the exception of chicken which I freeze raw in small portions in the silicone bags].
Try the 30-day challenge
If any of these swaps seem like a challenge, just try doing without for a while – say a month or so – to see if you really do need these things in your life. Yes, there is a minor loss of convenience, but a big benefit for our shared environment AND your wallet. So, it’s a win-win.
I’m sure there are other zero waste swaps that can be made on the cheap. If you have ideas to add to this list, please share below!