There is a myth floating around that zero-waste living is expensive.
It pops up everywhere in social media, but I think: It is your choice!
For me zero waste living is simply living without producing waste through eliminating, reusing, and making things myself. And with some self-discipline.
Businesses have caught on to the eco-movement and many want to convince us that we need certain things in order to become a successful zero-wasting superstar.
This is where self-discipline comes in.
Focus on what you NEED rather than what you WANT. The wants are always more expensive.
Do you NEED to buy a new set of stainless steel, bamboo, or glass straws? Maybe, May be not. One example: I bought reusable straws for a medical reason in 2015: I broke my jaw in a horse/fence accident; my jaw was wired shut for two months. Back then I needed straws.
Do you NEED to buy Swell bottles, KeepCups, KleanKanteens, tiffins, etc.? If yes, you might find reusables at a much lower price at secondhand stores in great condition. Stainless steel containers for storage are nice, but not necessary; instead, you can save the jars your food comes in, and reuse them as storage containers, or cover your bowl with a small plate.
Zero-waste is about doing more with less. Before buying something new, look at what you already have and how it can serve the same purpose. More often than not, you can do without.
I have been able to eliminate many products from my household, such as cleaners, cling wrap, reseal bags, and more. It saves me time, money, and space in my house. I re-evaluated what my needs were vs. my wants.
What your zero-waste life looks like is entirely your choice. You can choose to spend extra money on items, or you can try going without, buying secondhand, or finding an alternative.
Save money buying second hand
One of the most effective ways to save money while going zero waste is to buy previously loved goods. Not only do you prevent new stuff from being produced, you also reuse already existing items.
Imagine you need new clothes. Usually, you would head into the next store, pick something, pay for it and wear it a few times.
Now, what is the change when you go to a thrift store instead?
You head into the store, pick something, pay considerably less and wear it. If you take good care of it, you can even resell it again. You can second hand shop online as well, attend swap parties, go to flea markets or check out garage sales.
The wonderful thing about second-hand shopping: it will not only save you money, it is the gate-away deed to a more sustainable life.
No toxins from newly produced garments, no support for the ethical violations of the fast fashion industry, no harmful exploitation of the environment.
Repairing things is a great way to prolong the life of things you own, reducing waste, reducing the number of new things that need to be made, and saving money.
Just this week we have repaired a bread machine (the spare part cost £11 compared to £150 for a new machine), and a couple of pairs of trousers (saving maybe another £20 to £30). This year we have also had a professional repair to our dishwasher rather than buying new – which cost less that replacing it with a new equivalent model.
My sewing skills are pretty basic and I don’t have a sewing machine but even I can manage to fix a small hole in a pair of trousers. If the repair is more complex keep an eye out for Repair Cafe events in your area.
The Repair Cafe here in Chichester began last year and has already saved lots of items from being thrown away. Repair Cafes are popping up all around the UK and in other countries too – you can find details of many of them here: https://repaircafe.org/en/ The list is not comprehensive so if there isn’t one listed a search of the web might still turn up one near you.
Save money by reducing food waste
Food waste affects us all. We all have to buy food, eat it and deal with leftovers.
The average UK household throws away over £800 of food per year. When you consider the embedded energy such as water, air miles, transportation and packaging, it seems an environmental crime to waste it. Especially when you bear in mind that around one third of the food grown on this planet never reaches a human stomach. Then there is the moral implication that one in nine people go to bed hungry every night.
Here are 7 simple steps to reduce food waste:
- Take an inventory: Chances are you’re stockpiling food in your fridge, freezer or cupboards. Make a list of what you already have at home.
- Avoid ‘out of sight, out of mind’: The shelf on eye level in my fridge is the ‘use it up!’ shelf where anything that needs eating in the next 24-48 hours gets used up first.
- Meal plan: Now that you know what you’re stockpiling and what’s to be eaten next in your fridge, plan the next couple of meals around these ingredients.
- Serving dishes: Invite people to help themselves from serving dishes. (Except if you feed kids.) That means any food left over is clean and can be eaten another day.
- Write a list: Before shopping, write a list. Then stick to it!
- Don’t shop when hungry: This simple tip can slash your food waste and prevent poor choices.
- Watch your words: Change the word ‘leftover’ to ‘ingredients’!
I’ve calculated my Zero Waste lifestyle saves me over £1500 per year. If you want to save money, preserve resources and reduce your landfill by up to 80%, checkout my Waste Warriors Course.
The kitchen is usually where most people create their rubbish. It’s easy to reduce your household rubbish by simply using what you have:
- No need to buy new matching jars, containers, and bags. Reuse glass jars from pickles, condiments and pasta sauce for your bulk purchases, just give them a thorough wash out and peel off the label.
- Most households have a drawer overflowing with plastic containers. Old Tupperware and takeout, sauce and deli counter containers can be reused again to store dried goods.
- Paper bags don’t need to be single use, these can be reused before hitting the compost pile.
- Single use plastic wrap is not only unnecessary, but it’s expensive too! Those containers you just found are great for storing food in. Just make sure you check that you’re using BPA free containers for storing cooked/fresh food.
- Use your crockery, just pop a plate over the top of your bowl of food to cover it.
- Cut watermelons can be turned flesh side down on a plate, instead of being wrapped in plastic.
- Reusable beeswax wraps are another great alternative for plastic wrap. You don’t need beeswax wraps, but they are handy to have and easy and cheap to make yourself.
- If you already have zip-lock bags, don’t just use them once. Wash them out and keep using them, zip-lock bags cost money, why would you use them just once?
- Tinfoil and baking paper are another common single use item that can easily be replaced. In the oven, instead of covering food with tinfoil, pop a baking tray over your pan, or use a dutch oven. Baking paper can be replaced by simply oiling or flouring a baking tray. Alternatively, you can purchase a reusable silicone baking mat, while this is an upfront cost, it will quickly pay itself off if you’re a regular baking paper user.
Consider long term cost
If you’re thinking about replacing an item with a more eco friendly version of it, take a moment to think about the overall cost of it, not only the momentarily cost.
A good example is a safety razor.
For the calculation I’ll use Gillette Mach 3, because that’s what I used before my Safety Razor time started.
8 Blades of Gillette Mach 3 cost currently around 13 Euro here in the Netherlands. How quickly you’ll use them up depends entirely on how much you shave, which hair type you shave, how often you shave. I used up 8 blades in around 3 months.
In my shop I’m selling a 100 blades pack of Astra Safety Razor Blades for 19 Euro. They are packed in paper and carton box. Safety razor blades are sharp much longer and the razor can be cleaned much easier than those triple blades from a Gillette, so you don’t have to exchange them as often. And they have two sides that you can use. I’ve still got some blades left from my first 100 blades pack that I bought 6 years ago.
If I had continued to use the Gillette razor, I might have paid 312 Euro only for blades.
The initial cost for the safety razor made me hesitate in the beginning but when I looked at long term cost, a decision was quickly made. And back then I didn’t even know that those safety razor blades last much longer.
Long story short, my advice is to also think about long term cost 🙂
Making the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup has helped me save loads of money. Rather than being single-use like tampons, a cup is reusable and can last for up to 10 years which means for my £15 (€17) initial investment I will be able to save around £800 (€932) during the lifespan of my cup! I was raving about my cup to a friend but she prefers to use pads so I convinced her to make a switch from disposable plastic to reusable cloth pads. The initial costs were higher and they will typically last 3-5 years but my friend should still be able to save around £200 (€233) by ditching the disposables. The average woman will go through around 17000 disposable sanitary products in her life; and pads contain as much plastic as 4 carrier bags… that’s a lot of unnecessary waste going to landfill! Reusables save you a substantial amount of money, are better for the environment and many women report less/no period pain after switching – what’s not to love?!
For my family, cloth diapering was always how we were going to go about life with our baby Ruby, as I’ve been living the zero waste lifestyle for 4 years now. I was cloth diapered and never had a diaper rash, and very rarely leaked through or had a blowout.
Cloth diapers are affordable and we are temporarily a single income family, so purchasing disposables every week just wasn’t in the cards. Babies need diapers (unless you choose to do the communication elimination method, which could eliminate diapers super quickly), and disposable diapers are expensive!
Ruby goes through at least 10 diapers in a 24 hour period. A quick google search tells me that a 200 pack of diapers costs $55.
10 diapers a day for 365 days a year for approximately 3 years equals almost 11,000 diapers.
So for only three years, one could spend up to $3000 on just diapers (kids need less diapers per day as time goes on but still)!
Not to mention wipes and creams for those pesky diaper rashes. We purchased an entire stash (sizes 1-3) of used pre-fold cloth diapers for around $50, a couple used diaper covers for $10, and we caved and purchased some new GroVia diapers and covers for about $200 total. Additionally we also use cloth wipes with water.
These will last our little Ruby her entire diapered life, which is amazing to me! For only $260 we are done spending money on diapers! And I bet you could find all the diapers previously loved and spend even less than us. Cloth diapering is definitely the most affordable option, and once you get into the groove of washing them, it’s definitely less trouble than disposables.
One way to save money and time while going zero waste is stop junk mail by getting off every mailing list that has somehow gotten access to your address.
The zero-waste wins are here are two-fold. There is the obvious abatement of paper waste (and to a less obvious degree, that of the fuel and time of your local postal service). But the best waste-saving potential is the money you’ll save by not buying stuff you don’t need (not to mention reducing the production, packaging and shipping of all those products).
I initially stopped the catalogs and unsolicited junk mail in order to reduce needless paper waste. But I soon discovered the less exposure to I had to pretty home décor catalogues and taut models sporting athletic gear, the less I thought about buying those things. (Hint: get off those email lists as well!)
I’m not advocating never reaching out to such entities for design ideas or the perfect sports bra– the point is to do it when YOU are ready for inspiration, and not during those exhausted hours after you get home from work or when the kids get home from school.
You can use services like dmachoice.org but I think the most direct tactic is the best: take the flyer/catalog/letter that showed up in your mailbox and call/email/write the company directly tell them in no uncertain terms you want to be removed from their mailing list. Some make it easy; others will test your resilience. But if you get discouraged, just think of all that you will be saving in the end: time, effort, waste and even a bit of your hard-earned cash.
Save money by making your own oat milk
From an article in Ethical Consumer magazine (EC169 Nov / Dec 2017) I realised that it was super easy, cheap, and sustainable to make plant milk from British organic oats.
No shipping carbon footprint, no workers rights issues, no habitat destruction, no excessive water use, no wildlife killing and no single use packaging.
- approx. 3/4 cup / 75g of British organic porridge oats
- 4 cups / 750ml of water
- drop of Fairtrade vanilla essence
Soak the oats overnight, or for a few hours, so they are well covered with lots of water. Drain the liquid and discard. Place the oats, water and vanilla in a blender and whiz for around 30 seconds. Depending on the speed and strength of your blender it might need longer.
It also may need straining. Mine leaves almost nothing behind so I don’t bother. If you do strain, add the remnants to your porridge so nothing is wasted. Pour into a suitable bottle or container. The liquid will separate so you need to give it a good shake before you use it each time. This makes around 1 litre of oat milk. Adjust water and oats to find a thickness you like.
On my first attempt it came out like cream!
Cost: Most plant milks are around £2 – £2.50 depending on brand and where you get it. But lets assume you are able to shop in a local independent store where oat milk is £2 a litre. The oats I buy are £2 per kilo, so 75g costs around 15p. A drop of vanilla essence is negligible and I have this at home anyway. Let’s say I use 2 litres of bought oat milk a week, that is around £208 per year. And 104 Tetrapak cartons. VERSUS £15.60 a year for oats I can buy in my own packaging.
Saving of £192.40
Calorie & nutrient comparison per 200ml;
- Whole cow milk 126 calories
- Semi skimmed cow milk 92 calories
- Oat (bought) 92 calories
- Soya sweetened 86 calories
- Hemp 78 calories
- Oat (homemade) 60 calories
- Soya unsweetened 52 calories
- Almond unsweetened 48 calories
- Coconut (coconut drink not tins for cooking with!) 44 calories
Note; bought plant based milks tend to be fortified with extra vitamins and minerals (calcium and vitamin D) to mimic those found naturally (or added) in cow milk. If you decide to make your own milk you need to ensure your diet is suitably diverse to get these vitamins and minerals form elsewhere.
What’s your take on this? Do you have any tips and tricks on how to save money while going zero waste? What do you think is necessary to buy, what are things that are greenwashed products that are not needed at all?
Let us know in the comments!