Reducing your waste is also a great way to save money. Part of our frugal minimalism journey includes being low waste (and just buying less in the first place). Some of the zero waste “swaps” that we’ve made over the last few years have proven to save us money. But there are also some that cost the same or a little bit more. Oh, and before I forget… my favorite zero waste swaps are the FREE ones! Yes, by using things you already own, not only can you reduce your waste but also save money at the same time.
The most sustainable, zero waste thing you can do is use up what you already have. Buying pretty, aesthetically pleasing things to help you along your journey to sustainability and zero waste is very tempting. Trust me. Every time I see a “zero waste” home that is Instagram worthy I am so tempted to add all the pretty storage containers and bamboo brushes to my Amazon cart and click “buy now”!
While that zero waste, sustainable aesthetic is very visually pleasing, it can also be pretty unattainable. The majority of us don’t have the time or money to make our homes light, airy, and filled with bamboo cutlery, metal tiffins, glass jars filled with food from the bulk grocery store, and a drawer full of Stasher bags. This is why I advocate for using up your existing products, making do with what you already own, and not purchasing a “swap” until you’re ready.
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The Ultimate Zero Waste Swap – Shop Secondhand vs Buying New
Big retailers suck us in with their bright lights and shiny, well organized displays. That’s why there are memes all over the internet of women walking into Target with one thing on the list… and walking out with a cart full of things they didn’t actually need.
While that could happen at any store, you’re far more likely to shop intentionally when you shop secondhand. Secondhand shopping allows you to not only save money, but save unwanted items from ending up in the landfill. Better yet, most thrift stores don’t have any type of packaging on used items other than a small tag.
Shopping secondhand and finding things that you need/want/actually like can take time and practice. There have been many times that I walk out of a thrift store empty handed because they didn’t have what I need. Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and other resale sites allow you to browse before you buy – but they still take time to find what exactly you’re looking for.
See more on secondhand shopping >>>
- 6 Things to Always Buy Secondhand
- Why You Should Thrift
- How to Thrift Like a Pro
- What to Look for When Buying New Clothes
But the best place to find secondhand items is your Buy Nothing Group.
I love our local Buy Nothing Group. Not only have we received so many wonderful things for free, we’ve also been able to give our unwanted items away to neighbors and others in our community. The key is that a Buy Nothing Group is a free gifting economy. Whether it’s goods, time, or talent – money doesn’t exist.
Zero Waste Swap #1 – Storage Containers vs. Disposable “to-go” Containers
This is one of the zero waste swaps that we almost unknowingly made – putting food into reusable containers rather than using a disposable one or zip-top bag (see below). For some reason, it never made sense to me why people would purchase a whole package of sturdy (but not the name brand!) plastic food containers only to use them once and toss them. I get the whole “take-and-toss” convenience of them. But even as a busy family, we find the time to pack lunches – yes, even our son’s lunch! – in reusable containers and wash them afterwards.
Our favorite containers are the 2 cup, 4 cup, and 7 cup Pyrex bowls. Pro tip for keeping the lids from breaking – do not microwave them and hand wash them whenever you can.
Zero Waste Swap #2- Reusable Zip-Top Bags vs. Disposable Zip-Top Bags
When I first thought to ditch single use plastic baggies, my initial reaction was “This will save us so much money!” But then reality hit – these reusable bags are expensive. Stasher bags cost more than four or five boxes of disposable bags. However, creating a stash of 5-10 reusable zip-top bags will last you much longer than all the boxes of disposables you would buy.
Now, I’m not saying go out and buy Stasher bags. If that’s what you want to do and it’s in your budget – go for it. Test out other, less expensive zip-top bags to see if they’re a good fit for your family. That’s what we’ve done, and they’re great! (Comparable ones found HERE). Maybe your kids are prone to losing things or throwing them away on accident. That’s okay! Try washing the disposable bags to eek out one or two more uses before throwing them away.
Zero Waste Swap #3 – Real Cutlery vs. Plastic Cutlery
It doesn’t take Hulk strength to snap a plastic fork in half while you’re trying to eat. So why bother with them? My husband and I always bring our regular forks, knives, and spoons with us whenever we pack our lunch for work. It makes eating a sack lunch at work just a little more enjoyable!
And whenever you do encounter plastic disposable cutlery, save it for next time! Just give it a proper wash and bring it home with you or stash in your work desk.
Zero Waste Swap #4 – Cloth Napkins vs. Paper Napkins
Cloth napkins are better than paper napkins – this is a hill I will die on.
Three years ago I made my very first set of cloth napkins for my family and we were hooked! They are two poorly measured 12″ x 12″ squares sewn together from fabric I already had on hand. They’re absorbent, they’re cute, and they keep a whole heck-of-a-lotta paper napkins out of the landfill. This zero waste swap was really the first one that inspired me to keep going and see where else I can reduce my waste.
Myth busting time – using cloth napkins and other cloth options will NOT increase your laundry time. We rinse out any bad stains, then toss in the washing machine to wash with whatever load I do next. Easy peasy.
Zero Waste Swap #5 – Rags and Cloths vs. Paper Towels
We used to go through rolls and rolls of paper towels every month. Whenever we first started really looking at our budget, household products was right up at the time as the most expensive! This made me try out alternatives to paper towels and reserve the paper products for gross messes.
Now that we have swapped paper towels for rags and cloths, not only are we saving money, but we’re throwing less away! We currently only use paper towels for cat and dog messes that I just can’t bring myself to use a rag for (and then wash it). To wipe counters and tables off, we use microfiber cloths (like Norwex and eCloth) or use old wash cloths and cut up t-shirts.
Zero Waste Swap #6 – Washable Sponges vs. Use-and-Toss Sponges
I can’t be the only one grossed out by wet, messy sponges! The disposable sponges can’t easily be cleaned. Reusable, washable sponges can be tossed in the wash with just about any load! We use these eCloth scrubby sponges as well as microfiber sponges.
Zero Waste Swap #7 – Concentrated Cleaner vs. Mass Produced Cleaners
I found concentrated, more natural cleaners in 2017 when I was pregnant with our tiny human. I love concentrated cleaner because I 1) don’t have to purchase cleaner as frequently and 2) less packaging!
Concentrated cleaners (like this one) only needs a separate spray bottle that can be used over and over again.
Zero Waste Swap #8 – DIY Foaming Hand Soap vs. New Bottles
Call me cheap, but my favorite foaming hand soap is 2 tablespoons of dish washing liquid in a foaming hand soap bottle and filled the rest of the way with water. This zero waste swap does still involve plastic, but I’ve been able to use Bath and Body Works foaming soap bottles over and over again for three or four years now!
Read More >>> DIY Foaming Hand Soap
Zero Waste Swap #9 – Make-Up Removing Cloth vs. Disposable Wipes
Sensitive skin drove me to find an alternative to disposable makeup remover wipes and remover liquid. This zero waste swap can be as easy as using old t-shirts cut into squares, small flannel pieces, or purchasing makeup remover cloths. I personally use Norwex remover cloths, but no longer recommend them (because, ya know, MLMs). However, I will use them until they fall apart! That’s part of makes zero waste, less wasteful.
Zero Waste Swap #10 – Menstrual Cup vs. Tampons/Pads
Menstrual cups aren’t for everyone and this zero waste swap takes a good bit of getting used to. The good news is that this zero waste swap comes with lots of YouTube tutorials from the manufacturers!
The major reason I switched to using a cup was that it started to bother me to think that my very first pad (over 15 years ago) was still in a landfill somewhere and would never decompose! I still use disposables at times, but my consumption is far less! I personally use (and love) the cup from Saalt.
Zero Waste Swap #11 – Shopping in Bulk vs. Smaller Packages
There are so many items that we consume everyday that come in bulk sizes. While small, individual sized packages are handy (like when you have to bring a snack for your kid’s soccer game), shopping in bulk can reduce the overall packaging of an item.
Bulk for “hard core” zero wasters means the bulk section at Whole Foods where you scoop the exact amount you need of a product into your reusable jar or bag. But for a lot of us, finding a bulk store to fill our own containers can be cost prohibitive (i.e. the store is far away or the store’s prices are much higher than a regular grocery store) and it just doesn’t work for our grocery budget.
Instead we opt to buy larger packages of what we need. A larger sized product package (even if it is plastic) is less packaging than the smaller sizes if you bought them separately. The easiest example to picture is a bottle of dish soap. A small 8oz size may only be a dollar but a 120oz size may be ten dollars (cost savings). Over the course of buying 15 smaller bottles of soap to equal the 120oz, you not only save money per ounce but also reduce packaging waste. Fifteen small bottles of soap have more packaging than a jumbo one. So if a larger product size is available, it’s cost effective, AND you’ll use it – this is a great zero waste swap to make.
Zero Waste Swap #12 – Bar Soap vs. Body Wash
Several years ago, my skin was constantly itchy. After asking my dermatologist what to do, fearing that he would prescribe some fancy (expensive) cream, he simply suggested switching from a fragrance-filled body wash to a simpler bar of soap. My skin immediately improved and I now exclusively use bar soap for my body and face!
Body washes generally have more fragrance and additives than a bar of soap does. Soap is easy to find from local makers or on Etsy. If you can’t shop small, consider doing some research on what store brands would be best for your skin (Sprouts Farmers Market has a store brand shea butter soap that is less than $3 with tax and feels great!).
Switching to bar soap was one of my first zero waste swaps that happened as a result of a small lifestyle change. I now look at ingredients in products that I put on my skin and opt for things that have fewer ingredients and less packaging.
Soap bars often last longer than bottles of body wash too! I even slice my bars in half to reduce how quickly the soap lathers away. Even if a bar of soap costs $7, I’m able to make that bar last 3-4 months or longer, which is cheaper than buying a $4 body wash every month.
Zero Waste Swap #13 – Decanting Regular Products vs. Buying New Travel Size Products
Travel-sized products are a scam. The teeny-tiny bottles of branded product last the length of your trip and either tossed before you get home or are forgotten about. Don’t buy traditional travel sized products!
Instead, refill your own small bottles that fits within TSA Guidelines (3.4oz) or reuse one of those scam ones 🙂 . Each time you refill, you’re not only keeping tiny bottles out of the landfill but you’re also saving money!
Zero Waste Swap #14 – Reusable Water Bottles vs. Single Use Bottles, Cups, etc.
I remember when I purchased my first “reusable cup” (in quotes because honestly, most cups are reusable) and it was considered weird by my coworkers that I would want to refill a cup when I could just walk out of our office and purchase a fresh water bottle.
I’ve had the same cup for almost ten years and use it almost daily. It helps remind me to take a drink with me when I run errands, bring my own drink to work, and that I really don’t need to go buy a fancy coffee or soda! This is one of those zero waste swaps that takes time to remember but will soon become second nature!
My favorite tumbler is from Tervis.
Zero Waste Swap #15 – Homemade Vegetable Broth vs. Store Bought
My family doesn’t yet compost, but we certainly don’t toss out our veg scraps! We save them in the freezer to make homemade vegetable broth!
Homemade veggie broth is super simple and costs you nothing other than a freezer safe bag, freezer space, veg scraps and eventually some water and a pot to cook it in. Not only is veggie broth made from scratch free and easy when done this way, it can also be better for you too (less sodium and preservatives)!
For instructions, see my homemade vegetable brother recipe HERE.
Zero Waste Swap #16 – DIY Baby Food Pouches vs. Store Bought
When our Little Guy was just starting solid foods we made our baby food from scratch. We could control exactly what we fed him with no hidden ingredients or preservatives. Plus all those tiny plastic containers and pouches – no thanks!
DIY baby food can be as simple as:
- Pureed banana
- Homemade applesauce (unsweetened)
- Steamed and pureed: sweet potato, squash, carrots, peas, etc.
You can also get fancy and add grains, seasonings, and legumes!
But you want it on-the-go as well, right? We had the perfect reusable pouches that we could fill, freeze, use, wash, and do it all over again. Not only does DIY baby food cost way less than store bought, but you’re keeping a lot of plastic pouches out of the landfill.
Zero Waste Swap #17 – Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable
The last zero waste swap to save money on my list is cloth diapering.
Now hear me out.
Yeah, it’s a little gross in the beginning but you get used to it! You’ll be doing laundry more frequently, but you’ll build the habit. And the best part is that you never have to worry about if you’re about to run out of diapers!
Cloth diapering does cost more upfront that disposables. However, we were able to use ours for over two years with very few issues. We did use disposables while traveling and while on long outings – but the majority of time Little Guy was in cloth diapers.
You can read more on my cloth diapering adventure HERE.
Another swap that can be made is reuseable lunch bags, one time investment and years of use for me. Besides packing my lunches, my spouse and I have used them for hiking excursions instead of plastic bags.
To save on plastic, we have also started using laundry sheets from Good Earth instead of the big plastic liquid containers which is mainly water.
The lunch bags are a great idea! We have several that have lasted us ages with little wear.
This is an excellent list. Another swap I have made that saves me hundreds of dollars a year is replacing several skin and hair care products with coconut oil. I use it as night cream, lip gloss, hair frizz treatment, makeup remover and many more uses.
That’s awesome! I’ve heard of the super powers of coconut oil but have never tried it myself. My winter-frizzy hair might need to test it out!