6 Zero Waste Swaps You Can Make Right Now without Spending a Penny

6 Zero Waste Swaps You Can Make Right Now without Spending a Penny

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!

Karis

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

My sweet baby girl turned one this month so yesterday we threw a small [nearly] zero waste dinner party to celebrate.

For my older two kids, I threw big themed parties for their first birthdays. For Evangeline’s ice cream themed party, I made a ton of paper decorations including huge ice cream cones that hung from the ceiling and a “Sweet Shoppe” banner. I also catered the food from a grocery store. For Theo’s Cubs baseball party, I hung a huge stadium backdrop and ordered a photo booth prop package. For both of those parties I served everything in disposable dishes with disposable cutlery and disposable napkins.

Still, I wanted Josephine to have a party that was just as special – but without all the waste. I tried to marry our new “simple living” philosophy with our goal to reduce our waste and what we ended up with was a beautiful party that was inexpensive and elegant.

Here’s how it went:

The Food

I made three roasted vegetable lasagnas, Brett baked two batches of rosemary focaccia [his specialty], and we also served a yellow watermelon we got from the farm share [or CSA, if you’re just now joining us].

Since I made the lasagnas myself, including the noodles, tomato sauce, and ricotta cheese, there was very little waste. The only waste was the plastic bags from the mozzarella and parmesan, which we will recycle. Brett made the focaccia from scratch using the yeast and flour I bought at Walmart a while back [more about that zero waste trip here] and the rosemary from our herb garden on our deck.

Waste: cheese bags [recycled]

The Cakes

I also made all the cakes and frosting from scratch – a total of four different kinds of cake with three different types of buttercream. [Before you go thinking I’m absolutely insane, I had to make a special vegan cake for the birthday girl and my cousin who is on a special diet for health reasons. Then I wanted to make two small special cakes for two other family members who also have birthdays in the same week. And then a big cake for everyone else.]

The butter wrappers cannot be recycled so they ended up in the trash before I found this amazing article about all the brilliant ways to use the butter wrappers [spoiler alert, they still end up in the trash] BUT I probably need to just make my own going forward. The most waste was actually from the piping bags, which were not necessary but made the cakes so pretty. Next time I am going to invest in a reusable option since I am out of disposable piping bags now anyway.

Waste: butter wrappers and piping bags [trash], butter carton and whipping cream carton [recycled]

The Tableware

We used all of our regular tableware. With a guest count of twelve adults and eight kids, we had enough dinner plates to feed everyone, but we didn’t have enough dessert plates for the cake so some people ate their cake out of bowls. But, really, cake is cake no matter what it’s served on, right?

We served the drinks [cucumber lemon water and sweet tea lemonade] from big glass beverage dispensers [one of which we borrowed] and everyone used cloth napkins [well, I don’t know how many people actually used them…why are people so afraid of cloth napkins???].

After dinner, my sweet auntie rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher and we gathered all the dirty napkins and put them in the laundry room.

We even fed the scraps to the dog who was in heaven – but there were very few scraps. Oh, and the watermelon seeds and rinds were composted.

Waste: None!

The Decorations

I decorated with a pallet from my backyard [don’t judge me from having pallets randomly lying around my back yard] and signs from Josephine’s nursery [the flowery “J” and the painted sign with her name that I made for her before she was born and the floral bunting that hangs in her room].

I printed the photos for the typical monthly timeline, but I needed these photos for her baby book anyway, so they will not be wasted. I up-cycled old wine bottles and used mason jars as vases for flowers. I even used some of the small buds that had fallen off the flowers and carnations as “confetti” on the table.

The biggest waste [which I had not even thought about] was the plastic wrapping from the flowers [along with the rubber bands and the flower food packets]. I’m not sure how to get flowers without the plastic besides cutting them from your own garden. At least the film can be recycled by dropping it off at the store, so not a total waste.

Everything else I used to decorate [like the paper and burlap runners] are compostable or recycleable or reusable AND everything was already in my home and therefore technically already wasted.

Waste: plastic sleeves for flowers and paper decorations [recycled]

The Gifts

I asked for no gifts, but I knew that the chances of not receiving any gifts was slim. And I was right. But it was SIGNIFICANTLY reduced compared to what it would ordinarily be. [Also, I have noticed that when I request no gifts, which I always do, people tend to give us practical, useful gifts]. Josephine got two baby board books, a helium birthday balloon, and an elephant bath towel and homemade soap.

Waste: gift bag and tissue paper [which I will reuse] and balloon [which will end up in the trash but will entertain my kids for the next week, so I’m not upset about it at all].

All in all, it was a good party – not because of the small amount of waste, but because we spent time with family celebrating our sweet baby girl being so grown up!

Of course, the lack of waste makes me happy. We didn’t even have to empty our little trash can under the sink. Come to think of it, I don’t think a single thing was thrown away the entire party. [It helps to hide the trash can – and the paper towels.]

That’s a success in my book!

Karis

Zero Waste: Beeswax Wraps

Zero Waste: Beeswax Wraps

In January of 2017, I made a New Years resolution to stop using all disposable products [i.e. paper towels, plastic bags, disposable cups, paper plates, paper napkins, etc] and switch everything in the house to reusable. At the time, I didn’t even know that zero waste was an actual thing and I certainly didn’t suspect that I would fall this far down the rabbit hole…but here we are.

It has been a long process [obviously] as we have slowly eliminated different disposable items from our lives as we’ve run out of them.

And today, I started using beeswax wraps.

Truthfully, I don’t use plastic wrap very much any more because I store pretty much everything in mason jars or plastic storage containers or reusable baggies. BUT on a few occasions [such as when making jam or prepping a salad ahead], I need something to cover a bowl. Today, I did both – so I used my beeswax wraps for the first time.

When I make jam [which I do every time strawberries go on sale for less than $1/lb], I follow Martha Stewart’s no-pectin recipe and soak the strawberries in sugar and lemon juice overnight. I usually cover the bowl with plastic wrap – but last night I covered the bowl with my beeswax wrap and it worked great.

Afterward, I just washed gently in the sink and hung to dry.

I also made a cabbage salad [that is a lot like an oil based coleslaw] that gets better as it sits in the fridge, so I covered the bowl with a beeswax wrap.

These wraps are also good for storing sandwiches or anything that can be fully wrapped – but like I said, I typically use containers for those things. The tackiness goes away over time, but these are supposed to last for at least a year.

Another disposable product GONE! Yay!

Karis

Buh-Bye to Plastic Straws

Buh-Bye to Plastic Straws

My daughter, Evangeline, ran the Safari Stampede at the Lincoln Park Zoo [the amazing free zoo in the heart of Chicago, for those who don’t know] as part of the Run for the Zoo event that Brett and I also ran to support this summer. In her swag bag was a lot of plastic stuff – but also this awesome reusable bamboo straw from The Shedd Aquarium [#SheddTheStraw].

While we rarely order fast food [we actually have a family ban on fast food going on right now] or takeout beverages, I carry this straw in the diaper bag in case we have the opportunity to refuse a plastic straw. But it sounds like the reign of the plastic straw is coming to an end [a very, very slowly – but still].

Last month, Seattle put their plastic straw and utensil ban into full effect [read about it in this Seattle Times article] and it looks like other cities are following suit.

And so they should. There are SO MANY better options – compostable, reusable, or no straws at all [what an idea!]

According to this article by CNN, 79% of plastic ends up in the environment and only 9% is being recycled. [The article cites this report by Science Advances, which you can read if you are ever very bored…or just interested in the “Production, use, and fate of all plastics” like I am.]

Only 9%?!? Seriously?

C’mon, guys! We can do better than that!

I wish Chicago would join the movement, but just because my city isn’t banning their use, doesn’t mean I can’t stop using disposable plastic products. AND I can recycle more [and hopefully bump up that 9%]!

Hence the bamboo straw.

If you haven’t gotten your hands on reusable straws [along with reusable water bottles, coffee cups, shopping bags, etc], then do it! Save the planet!

I know my measly efforts to reduce the ENORMOUS amount of plastic in our oceans and landfills is not going to make a big dent – BUT if we all were to take a stand and make a change… that might do something.

Don’t wait for change. Be the change!

Karis