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

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

About a month ago, Brett and I [but mostly Brett] finished remodeling our upstairs bathroom.

Before reno:

After demo:

All done [hallelujah!]:

Since then, I’ve been anxious to replace the final eyesore – our toothbrushes.

I’ve been slowly replacing other bathroom items with zero waste, sustainable alternatives. I swapped our plastic shower curtain liner for a cloth one that can be washed and reused. [Since plastic shower curtain liners can’t be recycled, we are “upcycling” it as a tarp over our firewood. Other great ideas for old plastic liners can be found here.]

I’ve also traded the typical containers for cotton balls and q-tips for glass jars that I already had around the house.

I still have some plastic stuff waiting to be used up or worn out before being replaced – brush, comb, lotion and detangler bottles…

But the toothbrushes really bothered me. I finally got to replace them with compostable bamboo brushes. The bristles are nylon and though the biodegradability of some types of nylon are being debated, these bristles can be pulled and recycled.

I chose this company because it is based in the US and [from everything I can tell] committed to ethical and sustainable practices. Also they come in 100% cardboard packaging [double boxed]. It is hard to find toothbrushes that don’t have ANY PLASTIC in the packaging.

And it doesn’t hurt that making the bathroom more eco-friendly also makes it look better.

There are lots of great sustainable toothbrush options available now. Just search for bamboo toothbrushes. Also Preserve is a company that partners with Whole Foods to gather and recycle plastics into new toothbrushes which is the best choice if you want stick with plastic. They make it super easy to recycle the brushes when your done by selling you the brush in a prepaid return pouch!

As for your old plastic toothbrushes, read more about recycling them in this article by Recycle Nation [spoiler alert: it ain’t easy].

And more about sustainable toothbrush options in this post by My Plastic Free Life.

AND order your own sustainable toothbrushes from The Green Root here.

Happy Brushing!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme

Today we took a long drive to a grocery store that sounded [from everything I read online] like a bulk bin paradise. I first heard of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market a month or so ago during one of my many searches for local zero waste shopping options, but was sad to find that the closest store was forty minutes from my home. Since then, however, I learned that a new location is opening in January 2019 only ten minutes away!!!

So, today we decided to make the drive and check out the location nearest us. I was pleasantly surprised by the bulk bin options which, though not quite as many as Whole Foods, include bulk coffee beans and bulk liquids like oils, vinegars, and honey! And the prices are more reasonable than any other bulk sections I have found. The grocery store also runs good deals that offer meat and produce for prices similar to what our local grocer, Jewel-Osco, does, which is why I picked up a package of blackberries [my only purchase today with any plastic waste].

Here’s our grocery haul:

We even got some package-free bars of soap.

I put the bulk bin numbers into my phone for checkout so we didn’t even bother with any papers or pens or twisty ties or anything. The only other waste [besides the blackberry package] was the stickers on the bananas and avocados and the receipt.

Also, since going [nearly] zero waste and not buying any processed foods, we’ve reduced our grocery budget by $100 per month – from $400 to $300 for our family of five [being mostly vegan also really helps with saving money]. I think it is pretty clear that buying healthy, organic, local and fair trade food does not have to break the bank.

Quite frankly, I don’t know why more people aren’t doing it…

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

Zero Waste or Fair Trade

Zero Waste or Fair Trade

A while back, we ran out of brown sugar [which, it turns out, my children MUST HAVE in their oatmeal each morning]. So, I figured I would just grab a bag at Aldi while I was there for the avocado sale.

Aldi carries two types of brown sugar [that I have found]:

Baker’s Corner light brown sugar,

and SimplyNature organic fair trade light brown sugar.

I was about to throw the fair trade sugar in my cart when I thought to check whether the bag is recyclable.

Hmm…it is not.

So I checked the Baker’s Corner bag.

Yes, it is.

Seriously?

I have to choose now between waste and a fair wage?

Well, I didn’t have time to ponder the deep philosophical consequences at the moment, so I chose not to buy either and my kids spent two weeks eating oatmeal with maple syrup until I had a chance to get to Whole Foods where I bought brown sugar from the bulk bins.

I’m sure the correct choice is a matter of opinion, but seriously?! Why do I have to choose? Why can’t the fair trade brown sugar be in a recyclable bag?

What would you have done?

Karis

Recycling Plastic Bags

Recycling Plastic Bags

How awesome are these new How2Recycle labels that help you know how to recycle the item!

When we first began recycling, the whole thing was so foreign to me that I actually printed a visual reference guide for what could be recycled curbside and posted it on our fridge. I had no idea what the rules were. [Side note: I did the same thing for the compost bin.] Turns out, there’s a lot that can’t go in the curbside recycling bin. [Check this article out: 18 Things You Should NOT Recycle Curbside] But, the good news is, there is a convenient drop-off for plastic bags and films at grocery stores.

Of course, we use our canvas bags for grocery shopping so we never [or very rarely] have plastic bags, but there are other plastics that need to be dropped off this way, such as: produce bags and films, sandwich or freezer bags [yes, I still have a few of these lying around], plastic wraps [like what the toilet paper comes in], and the plastic packaging or plastic envelopes that you get with shipments. [Read a complete list and find a location here.]

We are working on getting rid of these types of plastics altogether, but in the meantime, I want to recycle them. Just because something can’t go in my can for pickup, doesn’t mean it can’t be recycled at all. It might take a little more effort, but not much since the drop box is literally right at the entrance of places I regularly go.

So at any given time, I’ve got a small collection of these plastics waiting by the door so that I can easily drop them off on my next trip to Jewel or Caputo’s.

Just another easy way to be good to the earth.

Who else is dropping off their plastic bags??? Must be somebody else out there because the bins are usually pretty full. 👍🏻

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