Zero waste is one of those things that is pretty trendy these days. There seems to me this idea that either you have to fit all of your trash for the year in a little mason jar or you aren’t a “serious” zero waster.

I absolutely applaud the people who are able to tackle Plastic Free July without a sweat and remember to bring their glass to go containers without fail. But where does that leave the rest of us who aren’t perfect at this all of the time? Or perhaps, you’ve never paid attention to the amount of trash you create and getting started feels overwhelming.

The good news is, there are a lot of little swaps you can make in your everyday life that can make a big difference in the amount of waste you create. Even better, those swaps can save you money in addition to be being better for the planet. We may not all be perfect, but little changes can sure go a long way.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Without further ado, these are my favorite eight zero waste swaps that will save you money. And over time, like me, you might just realize that these changes are actually superior choices to the standard disposable options we’re all used to.

1. Unpaper Towels

As I clean up the hundredth spill of the day between the toddler and the two dogs (and sometimes me because I tend to make a mess while cooking, I am so glad that I can reach for some cloth towels instead of throwing away rolls and rolls of paper towels. If you’re crafty, this is an easy one to make yourself. I’m not, but am lucky enough to have a good friend who is, and she made me these for two years in a row so now we have plenty even on a really messy day. 

2. Mesh produce bags

I stumbled upon these in the produce section of our grocery store a number of years back and I absolutely love them. I don’t bother bagging an individual piece of produce, but if I’m getting a bunch of one thing, these bags are great.

They work even better than plastic or paper bags because they’re so breathable, and I find that mushrooms and other produce last a lot longer than they normally would. And when the bags eventually get a bit dirty, I just throw them in the wash with the rest of our laundry. 

3. Gift wrap bags

While I adore Christmas and giving (appreciated) gifts, I absolutely hate wrapping them. Not only do you have to spend money on something that has no real purpose, that something goes straight into the trash after basically no use. So in the past, people have been lucky to have their gifts wrapped in an old paper bag (or just gifted with no wrapping at all). 

Last couple of years though, we have been using cloth gift bags instead. After Christmas we’re here, my mother-in-law and I went out and picked a whole bunch of discounted Christmas fabrics and she turned them into different sized gift bags. Now, all I have to do is drop presents in the respective sized bag, tie a ribbon, and I’m done.

And then when we are done opening gifts, the bags get folded up and put away for next year, and we have zero trash and clean up. You can either buy them here, sew your own, or just pick up discounted pillowcases and use them the same way. Regardless, cloth gift bags are basically the best *new* thing when it comes to gift giving. 

Our gift wrapping supplies box


4. Cloth “ziplock” bags

While our Pyrex glass containers work for most things that would otherwise go in a plastic ziplock, I’ve found that the small cloth sandwich bags are really useful in certain cases. The biggest uses for the bags have been 1) to store our toothbrushes and toothpaste while traveling 2) on the go snacks and 3) for packing sandwiches for lunch on days I run to work and a glass container would be too bulky to carry. 

5. Cloth diapers

While I was always set on using cloth diapers, I know that not everyone is so convinced. Not only are they a ton cheaper then disposables over the length of time you have a kid in diapers, but the laundry really isn’t a big deal. I use all in one diapers so they go straight off the kid into the laundry and then there’s nothing that needs to be done after they come off the clothes line

Hard to get cuter than a kid in a cloth diaper


If you want a ton of information on cloth diapering, go to the Fluff Love University website. With following their laundry instructions, I promise you will succeed and find that they are really no big deal. My favorites are Thirsties and Bumgenius but there are a ton of great options for every price range (plus great secondhand deals). 

6. Cloth wipes

Along with their uses that go with the cloth diapers above, cloth wipes make a great replacement for tissues. We don’t ever buy boxes of Kleenex, which saves us a bit of money, but tissues are such a small size that I honestly can’t tell the difference in a load of laundry. And we never have to worry about running out. 

If you don’t care what the wipes look like, you can also make them out of old sheets/baby blankets/rags and they work just as well. We ended up with a lot of them because we asked for them on our baby registry (because most people want to buy you at least some kind of physical item when it comes to babies). We have these ones and they’ve held up really well. 

7.  Seeds (grow your own food and flowers)

Since we moved into our home six and a half years ago, I’ve continued to expand the garden in our front yard. Starting out, I bought a lot of (expensive) heirloom seeds because I believe it’s important to keep our seed variety alive (plus purple Brussels Sprouts are just more fun to eat).

However, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with gardening, I’ve started to save a lot of my own seeds. Not only is it a lot cheaper, but then I’m just reusing what I’ve already grown and completely cutting out any packaging and transportation waste that comes from buying anything. 

Our first year of homegrown green onions!

8. Mama cloth 

While cloth diapers were something I knew I would someday use once I had a child, reusable menstrual pads were something I had never even heard of until I started researching cloth diapers when I was pregnant.

Pads and tampons are such a ubiquitous part of female life for half of our lives, and yet somehow reusable products are only now starting to become more than just a fringe thing. Of course, prior to disposables, the only option was to reuse, but we lost that in pursuit of convenience. 

And they’re so much prettier


Not only are cloth pads cheaper (you only have to buy them once), but they’re chemical free, don’t end up in the landfill, and like with the rest of the items on this list, you never have to worry about running out. 

I’ve also heard great things about the Diva Cup, but it’s not something I’ve tried out myself. For now, I’m more than happy with cloth pads and can’t imagine going back to disposables. 

At some point, the general consensus has been that convenience trumps all – that it’s more important than money, than health, than the environment. Not only is this a false equivalency (most of these things really take almost no time at all), but like my mother has come to realize, cloth grocery bags are always way superior to the disposable plastic bag. We’ve somehow as a culture decided that convenience is king without actually realizing what it might be costing us. 

What’s something that surprised you that ended up being better than the “typical” disposable product?

38 thoughts on “8 Zero Waste Alternatives That Will Save You Money 

    1. He is definitely cute 🙂 working on the potty training thing now but he’s not totally convinced he wants to give them up yet 😉

  1. I had to pass on cloth diapering because we were deep in drought when JB was born, but I’m hearing they’re a lot easier than we had initially thought. If another was ever to come along, I’d reconsider, depending on our drought conditions!

    We JUST got some cloth produce bags, yay, and I’m still using a huge roll of butcher paper for wrapping gifts but with some planning ahead by the time that runs out, I’ll have the cloth bags figured out. I have a couple already set aside. I think we’d need the rest of the family’s cooperation to make that work ongoing, though, or they’d be likely to just toss the bags aside and not even think about the fact that they’re REUSABLE. Tsk.

    1. Ah, deep drought definitely changes things. But yes really not as intimidating as they’re made out to be!

      Thankfully our whole family is on board with the bags (though they do tend to get mixed up between houses).

  2. I love the cloth gift bags and will definitely be sewing some soon! I’d never thought of that, and instead just reuse gift bags.

    And in case any readers are wondering, the diva cup works great too!

    1. My sewing skills definitely aren’t up to it, so I’m glad my mother in law made us a bunch 😉

      And one more vote for the Diva cup. Can you swim with it in? That would be key.

      1. You can definitely swim in a Diva Cup! In my experience, it is even more set-and-forget than a tampon. No discomfort and no leakage after you get the hang of proper placement (I had it down in a couple days). Totally recommend.

      2. Hmm. The swimming part definitely has me intrigued – the one down side of cloth pads.

  3. This is such a useful list!! The cloth gift bags are a great idea. I have so many regular paper ones ready for reuse too I don’t remember the last time we went to buy one. I’ve been using a menstrual cup for over a year and it works great! It’s definitely made the time of month less awful.

    1. I’m glad you think so! Paper bags were definitely my go to before we got the bags.

    1. I’ve had to get creative on the nighttime diapers, but a prefold stuffed with a thick hemp insert works pretty well (but he’s also dry ~70% of nights).

  4. No kids for us yet but I always saw myself using cloth diapers. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to scoff at it for one reason or another so I’m so glad you brush it off like nothing! I hate hearing how difficult people say they are but you’ve changed my thinking now that they really just have a bad rap!

    1. Cloth diapers have come a LONG way in the last decade. When you get to having kids, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about cloth!

  5. Great ideas for generating less waste! I keep a giant stash of IKEA kitchen towels in my kitchen to use instead of paper towels. It makes a big difference, and they take up little to no room in the wash.

    1. Yeah, I never do an extra load for kitchen towels even with two large dogs and a messy toddler. Plus the cloth ones work so much better!

    1. I hadn’t either until a friend gifted me a few for Christmas a number of years ago. I love them!

  6. Such a cute pic of your baby! I have never heard of mamapads! Good idea that they are black so you don’t see the red stuff! I heard the Diva cup is quite popular.

    I was initially keen on cloth diapers too but my husband wasn’t so keen, in the end he won and I’m happy with the idea of not doing laundry so often (I feel like I already do it enough).

    1. My husband is only on board because we made a deal that I deal with the poop 😉

      Honestly, I already do so much laundry that a couple extra loads a week just don’t seem like much haha

  7. How did you know I need some mesh grocery bags in my life? Even though I only use the plastic bags in the store for bundles of herbs, making that switch is so long overdue, so I’m off to buy some of those!

    1. They are seriously the best. It’s funny, I started switching over on a lot of these because of the environment (cost savings second), but now I’m realizing they are just better anyway. There’s no way I’d go back now.

    2. Oh! And they’re also great for storing things like carrots/celery in the fridge so they aren’t rolling around individually.

      1. Excellent! Also I’m not going to lie, I LOVE that the ones you linked come in fun colors haha.

        Environment vs money is sometimes a chicken and egg scenario with me since I forget sometimes which one prompted a specific change. But either way it’s a win-win!

      2. For me, it’s pretty much always environment first. And yet I write a finance blog 😆

Leave a Reply