Zero Waste Living

A monster guide of simple zero waste swaps that will save you money

I first wrote this post in November of 2017 – two months after my family and I started our zero waste journey. I was surprised to find that even at two months, we were already saving over $25 a month with just a few simple zero waste swaps (and within the first year, had reduced our waste by 35-40lbs a MONTH).

I am now updating this post FOUR and a half years later with a ton more simple zero waste swaps that are only continuing to save us money and reduce waste. 

And when I say saving us money, I mean SAVING MONEY to the tune of over $200 a month, or $2400 A YEAR!

If you’re just starting out, know that this is a journey and that change won’t happen overnight. You didn’t develop these habits in a day, and you won’t reverse them in a day. Additionally, our society and economy isn’t set up for waste reduction. It’s set up that when an item is manufactured, it’s designed to have a finite life, and ultimately will end up in the trash (and we won’t even get into manufactures not being responsible for properly disposing the items they produce). 


What is zero waste, and what is a zero waste approach? 

The term zero waste goes way beyond making simple zero waste swaps at home. In fact, it originated as a manufacturing term. Fast forward to the past few years, and the term has become much more mainstream for general consumers. 

Basically, the goal of a zero waste lifestyle is to create as little waste as possible. When the movement first started, we saw people trying to fit all their trash into tiny little mason jars. Remember that? 

Thankfully, the movement has shifted away from the mason jar (hint: it’s not at all realistic), and more towards trying to get as many people as possible to think hard about their waste and how to reduce it through zero waste swaps. Like the saying goes, we need everyone doing “zero waste” imperfectly, instead of a few people doing it “perfectly”.

Related post: Eco minimalism 101: The What, Why, and How

What are zero waste swaps?

Zero waste swaps are actions, items, and mindsets that you can switch from a conventional way of doing things to a way that reduces the impact on our planet. 

There are many benefits to making these swaps, besides the obvious one of waste reduction. Here are some others:

  • Save money
  • Reduce consumption
  • Reduce clutter
  • Saves mental energy (no more having to keep track of inventory, watch sales, etc)
  • Saves time (reduces shopping time)
  • Potential health benefits
  • Support small businesses 
  • Over time, the swaps you make will become second nature

But this post is meant to give you the full picture of making zero waste swaps (not just the good stuff), so I want to make sure to include some cons as well. Here are some my family and I have run into:

  • Some swaps take some trial and error to find a formula/brand you like
  • For some, there can be an upfront cost that may be a barrier
  • You may live with a partner, roommate, or other family members that aren’t interested in making swaps
  • You may not live in an area that makes shopping for swaps in person easy
  • You may feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start
  • You deal with a mental or physical illness that takes up a lot of your energy
  • Other resource intensive situations

If you resonate with any of the cons, don’t worry. You CAN still make zero waste swaps that will help save you money. I’ll show you how. 

Related post: How to live zero waste and be a minimalist when your partner isn’t

Why is zero waste not possible?

First, I want you to knock off with the eco-guilt. Yeah, yeah. Easier said than done, I know. But it’s not productive, not useful, and takes up mental energy that could be used elsewhere!

There are a number of reasons true zero waste living isn’t possible. 

First, we’re human beings. We have lives, commitments, and finite resources. Which leads me into the second main reason:

We do NOT live in a society and economy that is set up for zero waste living. 

It obviously doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it just means that it requires a bit more effort. We live in a linear economy, which means that when an item is manufactured, it’s designed to have a beginning and an end (the end being the landfill). And manufacturers have gotten out of being responsible for properly disposing the items they create – leaving the onus on the consumer (that’s us).

Third, like I just mentioned, companies have spent a LOT of time, energy, and money into putting the disposal responsibility of an item onto the consumer. 

The first carbon footprint calculator? Designed by BP (yes, the oil/gas company). 

The “Make American Beautiful” campaign in the 70s? Created by the beverage industry which successfully turned consumer attention away from the companies themselves, and onto consumers. Not only that, but it pitted us against each other by creating a shame culture for those who litter and don’t dispose of items properly. 

These reasons are not to dissuade you from trying to live a more eco-friendly life. I share them to act as a reminder that the odds are stacked against us when it comes to living a 100% zero waste life. So, cut the guilt! 

Related post: 9 (free) Community-Based Actions You Can Do To Combat Eco Anxiety, Eco Guilt, and Eco Grief

What are the best zero waste products?

We are fortunate that there have been a number of places that sell zero waste swap products become available within the last couple of years. Even if you don’t live in the vicinity of a zero waste shop, you very likely can order online and have some shipped to you. 

However, it’s important to mention (and remember) this:

Even buying eco-friendly, zero waste swap items is still consuming. 

And consuming is a big reason we’re facing the climate crisis in the first place!

One thing I hear about zero waste living is that it is expensive to get started and expensive to maintain. But it doesn’t have to be, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be

The simplest zero waste swap: your mind

When it comes to making zero waste swaps, some may go against the grain of what we’ve learned growing up and as a society. 

Think of the first time you thought about using unpaper towels or napkins or tissues. Did the idea gross you out? Did you have concerns about germs, or how to wash? Did your mind go straight to “does not compute?”

This is what I’m talking about when it comes to “swapping” your mind. 

One swap that my family gets a lot of weird looks for is a bidet. A few years before getting one, we may have even turned our nose up at it. But if you’ve ever used one, you know how AMAZING they are. All it took was a mindset shift. 

Approach zero waste swaps with curiosity. It’s OK if something ends up not being for you or your family, but at least you can say you’ve tried. 

Related post: Plastic is not the enemy. Our mindset is.

zero waste hierarchy of needs

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The other simplest zero waste swap (you already own)

You certainly can spend a lot of money getting started or making a bunch of zero waste swaps. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Not only that, but I have found that my family is actually saving money by making zero waste swaps by doing one main thing: using what we have at home.

Not only are we reducing waste in more ways than one, we are also eliminating things that could be considered clutter. Win, win.


One example could be if you want to start growing your own tea (yes, it’s a thing!). You get seeds and dirt, but what do you grow the seeds in? Got an empty plastic salad container? A container? An old mug? Those would all work great for starting your seeds. 

How do I start?

Use what you have

If you’re brand new to this, I have good news. It’s not at all hard to start!

My number one tip – whether you’re just starting out or have been at this for a while – is to use up what you have first

Unless there is some immediate reason why you need to pass something along (an allergy or something), use it up. This not only prevents waste (why you’re here in the first place), but also buys you time to do some research or DIY your own. 

Do a trash audit

If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, you may want to start by doing a trash audit. This will provide you with valuable information on what you are throwing away most often. When my family and I first did ours, we found that single-use paper items (tissues, paper towels, napkins) were some of the items we were throwing away the most. From there, we could slowly use up those items and find a more eco-friendly replacement. 

This post from 2021 talks about three ways you can reduce waste. The first item contains instructions on how to do a trash audit. It’s super easy, and only takes 10-15 minutes. It’s also a perfect activity to do with kids. 

Where to find zero waste swaps

As I mentioned previously, there are now many options for finding zero waste swaps (assuming you don’t have something you can use at home). Here are a few of my favorites. 

My favorite zero-waste stores

  Use code ‘ReduceRenew’ for 10% off your purchase!

Use code ‘Laura10’ for 10% off your first purchase.
Applies sitewide with the exception of any products from Naturepedic, TerraCycle, Zeal Optics, Gift Cards, or sale items. The code is valid for first-time EarthHero customers (i.e. 1 usage per customer) and can not be used with any other code

Research-ready resources

I’ve done the research, all you have to do is review and decide! Here are some of my massive guides to save you time.

Related post: 5 Zero Waste Essentials You Must Have (that aren’t actually things)

Zero Waste Swaps

Let’s get into the swaps. I’m sharing swaps that my family and I personally use, and where I can, putting in monetary savings and costs to show you that you really can save money! 

Air drying clothes

Did you know the clothes dryer is one of the most resource-intensive appliances you own? One way we can save money and reduce the number of resources needed is to air dry our clothes. 

The amount of money you save will differ from person to person, but you can get a general idea by using this handy calculator from energy.gov.

Even if you aren’t able to air dry all your clothes (hi, I live in Minnesota), that’s OK!

Bonus: air drying helps your clothes last longer. Win, win. 

  • Expense: $0 – $20 (depending on if you need to purchase a drying rack)
  • Cost savings: An average of $100 a year, or $8.50 (rounding up for ease of calculating) per month

Cleaning products 

DIY floor/all-purpose cleaner

We started making our own floor cleaner when we moved into our house.  We have old hardwood floors, and we were having trouble finding a cleaner that was safe to use. The cleaner has worked great and lasts us a couple of months per bottle at a minimum! It is a simple mixture of water (4 cups), vinegar (⅛ – ¼  cup) and a couple of drops of essential oils (for scent). You can skip the essential oils if you don’t have any or want to use them, or use orange peels, herbs, or pine needles to infuse a light scent. 

  • Expense: Refillable spray bottle $1, Vinegar – $0.89 per bottle (I can get about 10 rounds of cleaner out of a bottle of vinegar)
  • Cost savings: Approximately $6.00 on a bottle of floor cleaner ($2 per month) and $4 for general cleaner ($1.50 per month)

Swiffer mop pad replacement

I remember the time when I ran out of disposable Swiffer mop pads. Without thinking, I started to write that item on our shopping list, but then stopped myself and started to brainstorm what else we could use as a replacement.

Initially, I came up with using an old sock, which worked well. Since then, my mother-in-law crocheted us a reusable Swiffer-specific pad! You can crochet your own (patterns on Pinterest), or find some on Etsy. Of course, you can always just use a sock or cut-up shirt!

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: $14 Swiffer mop pads (approximately $3.50 a month)

Coffee

My family and I used to use a french press, which we got secondhand for $4. We used it for a couple of years before it broke. When it came time to replace it, we decided that we wanted to upgrade to an automatic coffee maker. 

We did end up buying a brand new one because I have a somewhat irrational fear of mold, but two factors solidified our decision to do so: 

  1. We went with the brand Mr. Coffee because you can buy replacement parts if something on it breaks
  2. We opted for a model that came with a reusable filter
  • Expense: $30 for coffeemaker
  • Cost savings: Approximately $1 a month for coffee filters

Compost

Indoor compost storage

Instead of spending money to buy a bin for our compost inside (until we take it out), we have started storing the compost in leftover containers, oatmeal canisters, and any other type of container we have on hand. 

We do not have any issues with smell, and if there is something that we feel might be stinky, we keep the compost in our fridge/freezer until it’s time to take out. 

  • Expense: None
  • Cost savings: Varies

Yard Waste

Having an outdoor compost bin has been great for collecting our yard waste this spring/summer. Normally we would have to sign up for continuous service from our waste company for pick-up during the summer months, or, we could have them collect it per bag at $3 per bag. For grass clippings, since we don’t treat our grass with anything, I use those as a type of mulch in the garden. For weeds, branches, and any other type of yard waste, those all go in the compost!

Tip: I recently learned that having a brush and woodpile somewhere in your yard provides great habitat for beneficial pollinators and other critters!

  • Expense: $0
  • Cost Savings: $10 a month

Compost for the garden

As someone who values growing my own food for myself and my family, compost is very important to provide nutrients to the soil. Luckily, having a compost pile provides just that!

If you don’t have a compost bin, or can’t have one, there is an app called ‘Share Waste’ that connects people who have compost materials with those who have bins, and vice versa. 

  • Expense: Varies depending on the type of bin you buy or make
  • Cost savings: $100 a year for the six-month growing season, or $8.50ish a month

Related post: Want to start composting but not sure where to start? Check out my ultimate guide on how to do so in any sized space.

Organic recycling in the bathroom

We added a clean yogurt container into our bathroom for trash, and now use our trash can for organic recycling. Our trash audit results yielded that most of our bathroom waste was facial tissue or toilet paper. Both of these items are compostable! Adding this container makes it really easy to compost these items!

  • Expense: None
  • Cost savings: None, but a great zero waste reduction!

Food

‘Eat me now’ area in the fridge

We created an area in our fridge where we only put leftovers or produce that needs to be eaten right away. This has really helped us reduce our food waste and helped us save money on eating out for breakfast or lunch because we can see and find the leftover food we have. I talk a little more about how reorganizing your fridge can help prevent food waste in this post.

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: Varies

Related post: How to reduce food waste at home, and how to reduce food waste with kids

Meal planning

While we are on the topic of food, meal planning has also really helped us reduce food waste, and thus, save money. Before I sit down and plan out our meals (I do two weeks at a time), I do a quick, visual inventory of our pantry, produce, and freezer. That way I know what items we need to use up, and I plan our meals around those items. Many people also plan their meals around grocery store sales. That works too!

  • Expense: Non-monetary, just time
  • Cost Savings: Varies

If you’re interested in learning more about meal planning in order to reduce waste (and save money), I have an entire post on that! You can check it out here: ‘How to Plan Your Meals in Order to Save Money and Reduce Food Waste’.

DIY chicken/vegetable stock

I like to make vegetable stock (or chicken stock if I have chicken bones) in my crockpot with leftover veggie scraps. I save my vegetable scraps after meal prepping, and either make the stock at the end of the week or freeze the scraps until later. When you’re ready to make the stock, throw the scraps in a crockpot or stockpot, add water and salt, and cook!

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: Varies depending on stock purchased ($0.89 from a can – $2.50 from a carton)

Buying in bulk

We have slowly started to buy in bulk at the store when we can. A couple of examples we have traded so far are cheese (buying in larger packages, or buying blocks instead of individual snack sticks), and applesauce in a large, plastic container versus individual snack packs.

We have also found that certain items are cheaper buying in bulk bins (if you have access to them). Check around and see if you find something similar.

I especially like bulk bins for items we eat a lot of (pasta, rice, beans), and for less common items I need for a recipe where I only need a little bit. This helps save a lot of money and reduce waste. Just remember to bring your own container!

  • Expense: None
  • Cost savings: Varies

Tea ball

Some tea bags (that you buy) are compostable, but others are made with a plastic-type material that you may not necessarily want steeping in your hot water. To avoid this altogether, we use a tea ball or tea strainer. This way we can grow herbs for our own tea (see ‘grow your own tea’ under the ‘gardening’ section), or buy tea in bulk. 

Reusable tea bags are also a good option. (take 10% off using code ‘Laura10’ at checkout)

  • Expense: $6 for tea ball
  • Cost savings: Varies

Food storage

Tin Foil and Saran Wrap

Food waste sucks and properly storing food is a great way to combat it. One alternative to single-use tin foil and saran wrap are beeswax wraps. You can make your own or find them at many stores. 

Let me say, my family and I LOVE our beeswax wraps. They work so well, and one piece can last over a year. Here are the ones we have (take 10% off using code ‘Laura10’). 

Some shops even sell vegan wraps if you don’t want to consume beeswax (take 10% off using code ‘ReduceRenew’ at checkout). 

You can also make your own, which of course has its own expenses, but overall it comes out cheaper than buying pre-made ones because you can make a lot more (or give them as gifts.)

Check out my Comprehensive DIY Beeswax Wraps Guide (with troubleshooting and FAQs.)

  • Expense: $30
  • Cost Savings: $6 a month

Gardening

Tools and Lawn Items

As a gardener and a homeowner, tools and other lawn items can be a large part of my family’s budget. Prior to our current house, my husband and I owned a condo, so all of our house and yard maintenance was taken care for us. 

When we moved into our current house, I was eight months pregnant, meaning we were scrambling to get the house in order before our son arrived.

This was stressful but also turned out to be a good thing. As new homeowners, we didn’t have a lot of tools that we would end up ‘needing’ in order to maintain our home. 

However, we learned even before we started reducing our waste and consumption to borrow and look for items that people were giving away before buying used or new. This was not only to save some money, but also because some of these tools and other lawn items were things we just didn’t use all that often!

One example happened a few winters back. It was a weeeeird winter weather wise, and before I get all Minnesotan and start explaining the winter weather in detail, let’s just say in about three months span we got about 23904802968 million inches of wet, heavy snow.

Not so good for the roofs.

Once spring hit, our gutters, still frozen, prevented any water from going where water needed to go. Instead, that water ended up leaking in our house.

We needed a roof rake (exactly as it sounds except solid metal)! But upon researching, we found that they were $50-$75 and almost all stores in our area were out because 95% of the rest of the city was dealing with the same thing.

Out of necessity, and also to try and save money, we asked our neighbor if we could borrow theirs. After we used it the first time, I started asking around and turns out, my dad had an extra one he let us use for the remainder of the long winter.

Once spring hit, I was browsing Facebook Marketplace for an unrelated item, and found someone listing a roof rake for $5!!!

Moral of the story, it pays to ask around and borrow. Some neighborhoods have even started a “tool share”, where a spreadsheet is created and people list tools they have that they are willing to lend out. 

Besides friends and family and neighbors, my favorite sites for second hand/free items are:

  • Expense: Varies
  • Cost Savings: Varieson average $10 a month

Grow your own tea

Typically, tea is simply dried herbs (which can be super easy to grow). Growing your own tea is not only delicious, but it’s super budget-friendly, and can make great gifts.
I have an entire post on the topic, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.

I usually grow lemon balm, chamomile, and peppermint for all my tea needs. The latter two herbs are perennials or self-seeding herbs in my area so I get them year after year. 

Bonus: many herbs grow great in pots!

  • Expense: $2 per seed packet
  • Cost savings: $16 a month (I drink a lot of tea!)

Haircare

Conditioner

I stopped using conditioner over a year ago. Why? Honestly, I don’t really remember. Over time, I just found that I didn’t really need it (and I have thick hair). The biggest test for me was our Minnesota winters when your hair gets so dry and static-y – but even then, didn’t need it.

I know this might now work for everyone, but I challenge you to take a look at the products you are using, and once you run out, try and go without. For some products, there might be a bit of a period where your hair/skin/whatever needs to adjust, but after a short period of time, you can determine whether or not you miss it. 

For those that feel they really do need conditioner, Tiny Yellow Bungalow has a shampoo and conditioner bar in one!

  • Expense: $12 a bottle, every three months
  • Cost Savings: $4 a month

DIY Shampoo

Ever have those days you just don’t get around to taking a shower? As someone raising an eco-minimalist, I find myself there more often than I like to admit. Dry shampoo to the rescue!

I’ve been using this DIY recipe for a few years now – before I even started reducing waste and clutter. It’s cheap, easy, and you likely already have the ingredients on hand. Plus, it lasts forever!

You’ll need: 

  • cornstartch
  • cocoa powder (for tinting)
  • A container
  • A toothbrush or other way to apply

I mix the two ingredients together, and store the powder combo in an old jar. To apply, I use an old toothbrush.

  • Expense: $5 a year for the above ingredients
  • Cost Savings: $5 a month

Hand soap

Switching to bar soap was honestly one of the harder swaps to make for my family. I remember bar soap from when I was a kid that had a gross perfumey smell to it, and using it majorly dried out my hands. 

My, have times changed. Soap these days is not at all like that. It smells good and comes in tons of different varieties for different skin types.

Plus, the finished products contain less waste (and usually much less plastic), and last longer than liquid soap. 

Another bonus? You can usually find small business owners in your area that make and sell soap!

  • Expense: $6 a bar ($2 a month conservatively)
  • Cost Savings: $2-$3 a month

Worried that soap bars are unsanitary? Think again.

Libraries 

Book library

I am all about utilizing community resources, and my local libraries are big ones. 

The book library can be a great resource for saving money, waste, and clutter (by not having to buy or own any books)!

The library nowadays is much different than it was when I was a kid. Not only do they have regular books, but you can request specific books online, and you can even check out ebooks and audiobooks, (and no, you don’t have to have an official e-reader to read them).

 Some libraries even have toys and games to check out. 

  • Expense: Free
  • Cost Savings: Varies (our library provides how much we save each trip)on average $50 a month

Free Little Library

Don’t forget about local free little libraries! These neighborhood book stops are popping up all over these days, and are a great outlet for passing along books you or your kids are no longer reading.

In addition to book libraries, there has been an increase in other types of “little libraries” such as pantries, flower stands, art, seeds, tools and more. 

  • Expense: Free
  • Cost Savings: Varieson average $15 a month

Toy Libraries 

My family and I are very fortunate to have had a toy library in our area for when my son was little. If you’re not familiar with a toy library, it’s exactly as it sounds! It’s a fantastic resource for saving money, reducing waste, and limiting clutter.

 Do an Ecosia/Google search in your area for a toy library, or use the link above to search for one. 

  • Expense: Free (some toy libraries may have a membership fee)
  • Cost Savings: Varieson average $5 a month

Napkins 

We LOVE our reusable napkins. We have two sets – both of which we received as gifts. For guests, we are still using up disposable napkins we had already purchased, and that we received from ordering takeout over the years. Eventually, we will purchase a set just for guest use – likely on Etsy.

  • Expense: $0
  • Cost Savings: Approximately $2 a month

Paper towels

Paper towels were one of our first swaps, AND the one I thought we’d never stick with. 

When we first started our zero waste journey in the fall of 2017, we did a trash audit where we found our second most common item in the garbage was single-use paper goods. At the time, we had a two-year-old, dog, and two cats, so the thought of actually giving up paper towels seemed bonkers. 

There are three items we use interchangeably when it comes to replacing single-use paper towels: 

  • Swedish dishcloths (used mainly in the kitchen, dries super fast, perfect for camping, can be used over 200 times, and then composted. I love these from Tiny Yellow Bungalow – use code ReduceRenew for 10% off your order). 
  • Unpaper towels – we did purchase a set, but you could easily upcycle cleaning rags instead. Another Tiny Yellow Bungalow favorite – these super cute veggie ones that last forever, absorb well and can be easily cleaned. 
  • Cleaning rags – for messier messes, we’ve upcycled old towels and other random cloths that have somehow made it into our home. 
  • Expense: $20 a year
  • Cost Savings: Approximately $15 every two months, $90 a year

Period products

I started my menstrual cup journey about three years ago and can’t imagine ever NOT using one. However, that was not always the case. Long story short, I was not one of those people who on a whim picked up a cup and it magically worked. For me, it took me five different cups to finally find one. Let me preface by saying that is not the norm.

Throughout the journey, I would mix disposables with reusables until I finally got to a point where I could use all reusable products.

Here is what I currently use:

  • Merula OS cup (the main item I use)
  • One heavy cloth pad
  • One cloth panty liner
  • Multiple pairs of period underwear – enough to wear continuously through my period as a backup to the cup
  • Period workout shorts and leggings

If you’re curious about all the different period cups, discs, underwear, and other items, check out my ultimate zero waste period guide here. 

I personally love all of my reusable products. They are comfortable, and WAY WAY WAY better than their disposable counterparts. Not to mention after the initial investment, way cheaper, less waste, and better for my health.

Seriously – even though it took me a long time to find a cup, now that I’ve found one, it is truly LIFE CHANGING. If you’re struggling, stick with it! It’s totally worth it.

To find a cup recommendation based on your lifestyle, check out the Put A Cup In It quiz.

Is price a factor in buying a menstrual cup? I totally get it. Check out the Put A Cup In It Swap Group on Facebook. I sold the cups that didn’t work for me in this group – an idea if you have some you aren’t using any longer.

  • Expense: $75 for everything listed above (not including cups bought and sold)
  • Cost Savings: $15 a month 

Pets

Cat Litter

Cat litter is a hard swap when you’re trying to reduce waste. Traditional cat litter is made of clay, which is mined and the process is NOT the most environmentally friendly. However, other litter options can be quite expensive.

After trying many different types of eco-friendly litter, I’m happy to say we found one that fits our budget, WORKS for a family with three cats, combats smell, is eco-friendly (made with a by-product of walnuts), and doesn’t track as much as clay! 

The name of it is Naturally Fresh Unscented, Multi-cat, Clumping Walnut litter (we usually just buy off Chewy). It does come in a thick plastic bag, but we just reuse that as a trash bag of some sorts. 

I’ve also heard good things about Yesterday’s News cat litter for those with one cat. We tried it, and with three cats wasn’t a good fit for us. The people we heard success stories from only had a single cat. I’m not sure if that was just coincidental or not but just wanted to throw it out there. 

Other options I’ve heard:

  • Pine shavings
  • Buying clay litter in bulk 
  • Buying litter in a cardboard box
  • Training your cat to use the toilet!
  • Expense: $25 for a 26 lb bag, which lasts us a couple months with three cats
  • Cost Savings: $7.50 a month versus the clay litter we were buying

Cat toys/treats

One way that we keep our cats entertained (and let’s be honest, us too) is to give them some catnip! But instead of buying it in plastic from the pet store, we grow our own. 

Catnip is really easy to grow and when it blooms, the bees and other pollinators LOVE it! In the fall, simply harvest and let dry, and wa-la, you’ve got a TON of catnip for all your kitty needs. 

Another fun thing to grow is cat grass! I just use whatever container I have on hand, some potting soil, and plant the cat grass seeds. 

  • Expense: $2 for catnip seeds (it’s a perennial in my area, so I only have to plant it once), $2 for cat grass seeds and soil
  • Cost Savings: varies

Dog poop bag replacement

This is one that I feel silly we didn’t do before. We had been purchasing the ‘poop’ bags and using those to clean up our dog waste in the backyard – because that was what you did, right? However, we started saving any type of plastic bag (I mean ANY) to use instead. It has worked great! I keep a bin by our door where we let our dog out and just keep adding to that bin. We haven’t had to buy the ‘poop’ bags since!

Note: we no longer have a dog, but I wanted to keep this tip in the post in case it could help anyone else. 

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: $7 a month

Reduce your meat intake

We all want to save money – that’s one reason you’re here, right? Reducing the amount of meat and dairy products that you consume can not only help you save money, but it can also help you reduce waste. 
This doesn’t mean you need to become completely plant-based. Even reducing one or two meals a week can make a big difference. 

For recipes, I personally love the food blogs Minimalist Baker (many, many plant-based recipes), and Budget Bytes (not specifically a plant-based blog, but has tons of recipes that can be easily customized). 

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: Estimating $5 savings per meal, with switching out four meals a month = $20

Repairing

If something breaks, rips, or cracks, instead of rushing out to buy something new (even secondhand), consider repairing it instead.

A quick YouTube search will bring up pretty much any type of resource you could want when it comes to repairing something. 

If your broken item needs a part, check the company’s website to see if they offer replacement pieces. While this may have a cost, it would still be more budget-friendly and eco-friendly than buying a brand new item. 

  • Expense: Varies
  • Cost Savings: Varies

Shopping secondhand 

The most sustainable item is the one you didn’t buy. Quote by: me and a lot of other people.

The second most sustainable item is one you buy because you actually need it AND you buy it second-hand. Quote: me.

Buying second-hand items for the times you actually need something means you’re not only saving money, but you’re also reducing waste.

Let’s use crockpots as an example. Say you’re in the market for a crockpot because your old one broke beyond repair. You could buy one new, sure. Or, you could head to your local thrift store, Facebook Marketplace, or other local group and find one in great condition for half the price.

Not only that, but by buying second-hand, you are saving materials and resources that go into the manufacturing, packaging, and transporting of a new one. You are also potentially saving one from ending up in the landfill.

Second-hand is great for toys, clothes (my favorite is my local thrift store and ThredUP), household items, and more.

(For tips on how to shop for kids toys and gear from a second-hand shopping expert, check out this episode of the Raising Eco Minimalists podcast.) 

Want to save even more money? Check out your local Buy Nothing Group or Freecycle.org and see if anyone has one to give away!

  • Expense: Varies
  • Cost Savings: Varies

Skincare

Aloe Vera

Sunburns, eczema, mosquito bites, oh my! When I get em, I head straight to my aloe vera plant and get some fresh aloe vera gel. Doing so has eliminated the need to keep as big of a stock of plastic bottles in our bathroom/medicine cabinet. Less clutter and waste.

That being said, if you do need actual medicine, by all means, go for it! I don’t sacrifice medication for other things just because it comes in plastic. If aloe vera won’t work for you, don’t do it! Use something else that does. I just wanted to throw it out there as an option for anyone interested.

Bonus: ask around your community to see if anyone has extra aloe vera plants. They usually reproduce fairly easily, so you might be able to get one for free or at a low price. 

  • Expense: Free – they expand and I got one from my mom. Check around locally to see if anyone has one they want to give away.
  • Cost Savings: $5 a month on average

Straws

Reusable Straws

Do we NEED straws? The answer for many of us is honestly, no, we don’t (this assumes we’re talking about able-bodied individuals). But having a 6.5-year-old, and as a lover of bubble tea, AND a husband who loves bloody mary beverages equals using straws. To be honest, I initially bought stainless steel straws because my son would bite through any type of disposable/plastic ones in an instant. But once we started reducing our waste, I was really glad we had them. The set we have comes with a straw brush which is handy when we need it. But most of the time I rinse really well with the included brush I got with the straw, and then it (the straw) in the dishwasher.

  • Expense: $6.50
  • Cost Savings: $1 a month

Tap into the sharing economy

Sharing is caring – isn’t that the saying? Our mainstream economy is largely linear – meaning that when an item is manufactured, it is designed to have a beginning and an end (the landfill). With the sharing economy, you swap, trade, or lend items for other people to use until the item has reached its end. 

Some ideas to tap into the sharing economy:

  • Host a swap
  • Get into the habit of asking to borrow an item instead of immediately buying it
  • Utilize your local community Facebook groups
  • Share or trade with friends and family
  • Embrace hand-me-downs
  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: Varies

Tissues

Reusable tissues were something I wasn’t so sure about when I first start my journey, but my family and I have come to love them! They’re so much softer on the nose, and it’s so nice not having to worry about keeping them on hand when we’re sick. 

To make ours, we have upcycled an old shirt, an old swaddle (the zipper had broken), old burp cloths, and an old receiving blanket into tissues. All of these things were just sitting around the house not being used, so we changed that! I just cut them up into squares/rectangles. Nothing fancy. Bonus: we saved money and reduced waste!

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: $3 a month on average

Smaller trash bin

After we were a few months in on our zero waste journey, we had reduced our waste enough that we could call our trash company and ask for the smallest waste collection bin they had. While the cost savings aren’t astronomical, it was a great feeling to actually SEE how much our zero waste efforts had paid off. Even now, we could go down another half size, but unfortunately, the waste company doesn’t offer anything smaller.

  • Expense: $0
  • Cost Savings: $1 a month

Waiting

Waiting cost nothing, but can help you save money and reduce waste. 

If something breaks and is beyond repair, instead of rushing out to buy something new (even secondhand), consider implementing a waiting period. In this waiting period, see if you can use somethign else you already have on hand as a replacement, OR, if you can do without! So often we are just used to replacing what is broken, that we don’t stop to think about what we could use instead or simply do without. 

  • Expense: None
  • Cost Savings: Varies

Water bottle

No zero waste swap list would be complete without mentioning the good ole reusable water bottle! Assuming you have access to safe drinking water, skip the bottled water (even for road trips and picnics) and bring you own reusable one. 

You likely already have one on hand, but if not, you can ALWAYS find one secondhand. Our local thrift store is always so overrun with reusable water bottles that they give many away for free. 

Bonus: use the app Tap to easily find places nearby where you can fill up your water bottle!  

  • Expense: Varies 
  • Cost Savings: Varies

The savings with JUST these small steps is over $200 a month for our family, and that doesn’t even include the money we save from the changes where the costs vary (since I didn’t add those in). 

That’s a savings of over $2400 A YEAR.

Of course, this doesn’t include the expenses, but with those added in we are still ahead!

And, as you may have gathered, we slooooowly obtained these items as their disposable counterparts ran out, utilized what we had at home, and waited for sales whenever we could.

With a little extra thought, some habit, and determination, you can definitely save money implementing zero waste swaps like these!