Zero Waste should not break the bank, but with the perceived pressure to invest in the newest eco-friendly products, it’s no surprise that it can feel like you have to pay to play. That cannot be further from the truth.
The heart of the movement isn’t to chuck out every single piece of plastic from your life, but rather to use things up until the very end of their usefulness. The things that are the most zero waste are often not the aesthetic things that end up on Instagram.
To be honest, who has that kind of disposable income? I certainly don’t on my teacher salary. It’s a good thing, then, that frugality and zero waste overlap so much in their ideals: use what you have and use it ‘til you can’t anymore.
Five ways to go zero waste without breaking the bank:
- Trash Audit
- Old T-shirts
- Old Food Containers
- Use up everything
- Secondhand shop
Complete a trash audit. Why? Knowing is half the battle.
If you track what you’re throwing away, you’ll see exactly what waste you’re producing. This is important because you can’t reduce what you don’t know you’re creating.
Now, there are a couple ways to do your audit.
1. Grab a pair of gloves, a second trash bag, and either a partner or a voice-command piece of text. Go through all of your trash (even the kitchen trash) one by one and see what it is you’re throwing away. You will see patterns of things that you’re throwing away.
2. If you’re less than inclined to go digging through the trash (no shame), you can instead jot down what you’re throwing away each day for a week. Keep a notepad near your trash can (or again, use a note app on your device) and track what’s ending up in it. Is it food? Is it cotton rounds/cotton balls? Is it wrapping from new purchases?
If you’re able to track what you’re throwing away, you’ll have a better idea of what waste you’re producing. Once you know how much waste you’re producing, you’ll be able to prioritize where to start reducing. It’s important that your journey be sustainable, so choose one thing at a time until the habit is automatic, then move on to the next priority.
Old cotton shirts are the beeest. I grew up as an athlete, and I attended many sport camps during the summer to improve my game. Pretty much every year, I got another t-shirt for that summer’s camp. Add that to the fact that when it comes to supporting team-spirit, whether that’s for an actual sports team or a workplace team, one of the first things that are offered are t-shirts.
Originally, I used to just add each new tee to my workout drawer. However, as time drew on, it began to completely overflow and I couldn’t fit anything more in there. (Legit, I had around fifteen of them at one point in time)
So, I went through my drawer, kept the ones that I liked the most, and took scissors to the rest of them. They went into an old holiday tin (like one of those self-care tins you see for sale during December, and can get for half-price on December 26th), and they faithfully serve us to this day.
Rags last for a long time. One important thing that I’ve found with rags is to devote certain rags to certain tasks. I have rags that are devoted to oiling my cast iron, ones that are devoted to anything beeswax (because it never comes out- ask me how I know >.<), and ones for our daily cleaning needs.
T-shirts’ uses don’t stop there, though.
- Take ones that you like and make them into no-sew reusable bags (check out this tutorial).
- Make a zero waste rope toy for your favorite pupper.
- Make your own unique baskets for your home.
- Make your own crocheted rug.
Empty food containers
Empty food containers are the epitome of zero waste. Anyone else have issues growing up trying to figure out which container had the margarine and which had the leftovers?
This is a habit that I know that I shunned when I first got started. I fell hard into that lie that “zero waste” meant “zero plastic” in my life. I hoarded anything that was glass that entered my house, but I tried to get rid of everything that was plastic.
I shake my head at my younger self, thinking about how much waste I produced in the pursuit of the zero waste aesthetic.
I also had a stint where I had an overwhelming amount of pasta jars because they’re just so dang useful. Use them as an iced coffee cup. Or slip an old (CLEAN PLEASE) single sock over it and, BAM, you’re ready for a hot coffee on the go.
I have had to stop myself more than once from buying a jar of food in the store simply because I loved the jar it came in.
USE UP EVERYTHING
This is something that just seems so obvious. Well, duh. You don’t want to throw away anything that would have more use from it. So why the heck am I talking about this?
How many of you throw away that lip balm with the last little bit in there because you can’t get to it? And your toothpaste? What about shampoo/conditioner? I know that I’m guilty of doing this.
I am impulsive. When I get an idea in my head, I want to go at it full throttle, what’s in my closet be damned. This is an urge that I have to fight when pursuing zero waste because it’s directly counter to the movement itself.
For example, I’ve been wanting to switch my shower toiletries over to bars, but I know that I need to finish the exorbitant amount of product that I have in my closet first. (No joke, I haven’t bought anything new for over two years and it’s still going.) I made the commitment when I purchased them, and now I’ve got to finish them off.
*Note: If you find yourself reacting to the ingredients in the products, don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of zero waste. See if a family member, friend, or colleague would be interested in it. That way, it’s still being used without you toughing it out.)*
Second Hand Shops
I know I’m a broken record, but second hand shopping saves me so. much. money. Especially when it comes to buying things for the house, I always head to our local thrift shops first. I have only bought a few pieces of furniture new: one was an ottoman I bought in college because it was a really good deal and why not? (I was not a very discerning shopper then.) One is my bed. The others are the bookshelves I bought as a newly grad. That’s it.
Everything else in our house has come from hand-me-downs, yard sales, or second hand shops. This saves me significant amounts of money because most products are designed with planned obsolescence in mind (within X amount of years, it will break down). No longer are things made to last.
When I buy things second hand, I’m able to 1) exercise that delaying gratification muscle and 2) search for exactly what I’m interested in, not something that is just near enough to what I want. When I find things, they are often vintage, and will stand the test of time better than whatever I get off the department store shelf. Plus, if I were to buy that same quality new, it would easily run me hundreds to thousands of dollars.
What are your favorite ways to reduce waste and save money?