Once I read somewhere that zero waste is expensive and only achievable by folks with dollars to spend on shiny stainless steel containers, bamboo furniture, top end reusable bottles, and other fancy non-plastic gadgets. Now, I suppose it depends just what you are trying to achieve. Trend? Doing right by the world? Or are there obstacles?
The thing is, it does not have to be expensive. For me, it has been a way to reflect on what I have and to make what I have last longer, and to consistently be looking for alternatives. There is always more than one way of doing things. Simplifying and getting creative can save you money in the long run. Here is an example of Kathryn at Going Zero Waste keeping track of her savings while cutting down and cutting out.
There are a lot of things I don’t feel the need to buy anymore. I have not counted up the savings or done a compare-to, but here are some things I’ve been able to cut out or reduce and replaced with reusable options:
aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and other food wrapping materials: To me, these are a waste of money and not a necessity, and also super wasteful, as most people just toss out the plastic sandwich baggies, and just keep spending to throw them away; it makes no sense! I have replaced most food storage containers with glass, and some reusable plastic containers. There are also many different ways of storing vegetables without having to use plastic – just ask the Zero Waste Chef. As far as price is concerned, I either found my glass jars in thrift stores, or reused ones that store-bought food came in, like pickle or salsa jars.
paper towels, napkins, and tissues: Not only are they expensive and wasteful, but a huge amount of resources go into making these paper products. A lot of fresh water is used and wasted in production, including using it to rinse out excess bleach. Great use of our drinking source? I think not. I have replaced these with rags, cloth napkins, and handkerchiefs when I need them; none of these items I spent money on, as rags are easy to come by, the cloth napkins were a second-hand gift from my sister, and the handkerchiefs were my Opa’s ❤
deodorant, lotion, and lip balm: Ingredients of my former deodorant: cyclomethicone, aluminum chlorohydrate, stearyl alcohol, PPG-14 butyl ether, talc, hydrogenated castor oil, chamomilla recutita flower extract, bisabolol, persea gratissima oil, octyldodecanol, glycine soybean oil, glyceryl stearate SE, BHT. Umm… what?! Okay, so aside from these random thingamajigs in the product, it still left me with stinky pits at the end of the day, so there had to be a better alternative. I make my own now and I have never smelled more neutral. Woo!
Ingredients of my former lotion: glycerin, distearyldimonium chloride, petrolatum, isopropyl palmitate, cetyl alcohol, dimethicone, colloidal oatmeal, benzyl alcohol, sodium chloride. Lots of strange ingredients, but mostly I just found it ran out too quickly. So I made my own, as well as my own lip balm. Lasts way longer (over a year now and haven’t had to make a new batch), costs less, and no tubes or bottles to toss out. See my ZW Bathroom Alternatives for recipes.
cleaning products: These are so expensive, they smell weird, and there seems to be one product for pretty well every separate piece of furniture in your home. I have scrapped them all and have not bought any in years. What I use to clean various surfaces are vinegar, borax, baking soda, and lemon juice. Way cheaper, more natural, and gets the job done.
dryer sheets: Expensive, smell weird, and are pretty toxic to the environment. To cut out, I line-dry mainly, or if I ever use the dryer, I use wool dryer balls that can be used for countless cycles and can be composted once used up. You can also make your own.
cosmetics: I do not use that much anyway. I still have ancient containers of eye shadow that go unused unless it’s Halloween or something. I have stopped purchasing blush and just use tiny amounts of cocoa powder. Next on my list is to make my own mascara. I have never tried this, so wish me luck. That will help me cut out yet another item.
processed food: Food and I have changed our relationship drastically in the last years. In order for me to cut down on excess packaging, I had to shop smarter and get creative. I don’t need to buy chocolate syrup, I can make my own. I don’t need to buy sour cream, I can make my own. I don’t need to buy granola bars, I can make my own. Etc, etc. I’m not saying I buy nothing processed or packaged, but I have significantly reduced those items, which has saved me lots of money in making it myself, and of course has helped me avoid excess packaging (because bananas already HAVE a protective peel!).
tampons and pads: There are even alternatives in this category. Super wasteful, full of plastics, bleach, etc, and not exactly a cheap necessity. Menstrual cups and cloth pads is all I have to say about that.
water bottles: Do we need to go there again? If you have ever read any of my water posts, then you will know how I feel about plastic water bottles! I bought a reusable water bottle years ago, and though it has been dented and has a hard time standing up straight, it is still serving me well as I fill it up in my home and take it wherever I go. No water bottle purchases necessary.
My point is… there are alternatives. Cut down and cut out where you can, and that will make all the difference.
Another thoughtful perspective on this topic by Paris To Go.