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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?