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, I was already saving our family over $25 a month with just a few simple zero waste swaps.
I am now updating this post two and a half years later, with a ton more simple swaps that are saving my family and I money and helping us further reduce our waste.
If you’re just starting out, know that this is a journey, and change won’t happen overnight. You didn’t develop the habits you are trying to get out of overnight. The most important thing to know is that you will get there if you stick with it!
Another thing I noticed that is important to note after reading through this old post is that while we’ve made changes, they have become so part of our ‘norm’ now that I can’t imagine NOT doing these things.
And finally, I’m amazed and impressed with the number of things that my family and I have ‘reduced’ and flat out ‘refused’ by incorporating a low/zero waste lifestyle and minimalist mindsets. Again – not feeling like we’re missing out or missing anything either! Just a shift in priorities! These zero waste swaps have helped us reduce our waste by 35 – 40 lbs a week. The swaps may seem small, but they are mighty! Ok – cheesy? Yes. True? Also yes.
Use what you have when making zero waste swaps
One thing I hear about zero waste living is that it is expensive to get started and expensive to maintain.
And while you certainly can spend a lot of money getting started, 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, whenever we can. Not only are we reducing waste in more ways than one, we are also eliminating things that could be considered clutter. Win, win.
Zero Waste Swaps
We use a french press versus a normal coffee maker. While coffee filters are compostable, we don’t have that added expense.
- Expense: $4 for french press a at thrift store
Cost savings: Approximately $1 a month for coffee filters
We use a tea ball for tea. Some tea bags are compostable, but others that are more of a plastic-type material aren’t. Plus, plastic in your tea. This also allows us to buy tea in bulk from a local tea shop.
- Expense: $6 for tea ball
Cost savings: Varies
Grow your own tea
And to go in that tea ball, why not try growing your own tea? Tea is simply herbs, which can be super easy to grow. I have an entire post on the topic, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.
I grow lemon balm, chamomile, and peppermint for all my tea needs. The latter two herbs are perennials or self-seeding herbs so I get them year after year. Even by growing in pots!
Doing this saves me So. Much. Money and waste! I also package some up and give it away as gifts.
Check out the post on growing, harvesting, and preserving herbs for all the how-to!
- Expense: $2 per seed packet
Cost savings: $8 a month (I drink a lot of tea!)
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 months per bottle! It is a simple mixture of water (4 cups), vinegar (⅛ cup) and a couple drops of essential oils (for scent). You can skip the essential oils if you don’t have any or want to use them.
- 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)
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)
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. So far, it has worked well!
- Expense: None
Cost savings: Varies
Compost for the garden
As someone who values growing my own food for myself and family, compost is very important to provide nutrients to the soil. Luckily, having a compost pile provides just that!
Want to start composting but not sure where to start? Check out my ultimate guide on how to do so in any sized space.
Looking for other ways to obtain compost or get rid of extra compost? Check out this community site called ‘Share Waste’.
- Expense: $50 a year (approx $4 a month)
Cost savings: $4 a 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)
Cat litter is a hard swap when you’re trying to reduce waste. Traditional cat litter is made of clay, which is mined and not the most environmentally friendly. However, other litter options can be quite expensive.
For our cats, we were buying Arm and Hammer because the litter came in a cardboard box that could be recycled. However, we were going through a box a month.
We decided to try another brand that had gotten really good reviews on Chewy.com (not affiliated – but they do ship with no extra packaging!) and see if that would last a little longer. The downside was that it came in a plastic bag, which we do reuse by filling with the cat poop.
Here is the breakdown.
40lbs – $14.50 + $3 shipping – Arm and Hammer Double Duty
35lbs – $12.34 + $3 shipping – Frisco Unscented
Turns out, the Frisco Unscented lasts about 2x as long! Meaning, although we’re buying it in a plastic bag, we are buying less litter overall. And as I mentioned, we reuse the plastic bag.
- Expense: $15.34 (approximately $7.50 a month)
Cost Savings: $7.50 a month
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!
- Expense: None
Cost Savings: $7 a month
Reusable tissues were something I wasn’t so sure about, but my family and I have come to love them! Bonus – we used an old shirt, and old swaddle (the zipper had broken), old burp clothes, and an old receiving blanket. 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.
- Expense: None
- Cost Savings: $3 a month on average
‘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
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, our 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’.
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!
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 – many don’t). Check around and see if you find something similar.
If you can’t find items in bulk, don’t worry. Try to make changes in other areas. And remember, even buying in bulk is not completely zero waste. Most items in the bulk bins come in giant plastic bags. So there’s that.
- Expense: None
- Cost savings: Varies
I know I have talked about these before in this post, but we seriously love them! We have been using them for three months already, and have no desire to go back to disposable paper towels. Of course, you can use old towels or other clothes instead!
- Expense: $8 (find them here)
- Cost savings: $10 a month
We have one set that we use for our family that was gifted to us. You could easily use cut up cloths, clothes, or old towels. For guests, we are still using up our disposable napkins we had already purchased, or napkins that we got from ordering takeout. But eventually, we will purchase a set just for guest use – likely on Etsy.
- Expense: $0
Cost Savings: Approximately $2 a month
I started my menstrual cup journey about a year and a half ago. 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 have:
-Merula OS cup
-One heavy cloth pad
-One cloth panty liner
-One heavy pair of period underwear
-One regular pair of period underwear
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.
Price a factor in buying a menstrual cup? 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
Smaller waste collection bin
After we were a few months in on our zero waste challenge, 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
Having a compost bin has been great for collecting our yard waste this spring/summer. Normally we would have to sign up for a 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!
- Expense: $0
Cost Savings: $10 a month
Do we NEED straws? No, honestly, we don’t. But having a 4.5-year-old, as a lover of bubble tea, and a husband who loves bloody mary beverages, means we use 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
Buying Second Hand Items
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 manufacturing, packaging, and transporting 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.
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
I am all about utilizing community resources, and my local libraries are big ones. How long has it been since you took a step into your local library? If it’s been a while, it’s time to check it out (pun intended, ha).
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 now days 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 e-books (and no, you don’t have to have an official e-reader to read them). I get email reminds about when books are due, and can renew online as well.
My family and I use the library often. If there is something we want to read, I always check the library first. They also have movies, TV series, music, and more. It is pretty rare that they don’t have what I’m looking for.
Oh, and don’t forget about checking your local free little library! I often find (and give) fun books in ours!
Psst: I’m not including the following options in my cost savings because I realize it is not a widely available option for everyone, but wanted to point it out just in case. We also belong to a toy library, and my city also has a tool library and an art library. Do a Google or EcoAsia search to see if you have any of these in your area. The toy library alone has saved so much money and waste!
- Expense: Free
- Cost Savings: Varies – on average $5 a month
Tools and Lawn Items
As a gardener and a home owner, 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 last winter. 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 oh my goodness, 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. And the worst thing that could happen would be that no one has one, and you have to buy new. But it’s ALWAYS worth asking!
Besides friends and family and neighbors, my favorite sites for second hand/free items are:
–Buy Nothing Group
-Facebook garage sale sites/community groups
- Expense: Varies
Cost Savings: Varies – on average $10 a month
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 perfume-y smell to it, and it majorly drying 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 contains less waste (and usually much less plastic), and lasts longer than liquid soap – especially with a 3 year old in the house!
Another bonus? You can usually find small business owners in your area that make and sell soap!
Worried that soap bars are unsanitary? Think again.
- Expense: $6 a bar ($2 a month conservatively)
- Cost Savings: $2-$3 a month
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 challenge you to take a look at the products you are using, and to 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’ll be able to tell whether you can do without.
For those that feel they really do need conditioner, Tiny Yellow Bungalow has a conditioner bar!
- Expense: $12 a bottle ($4 a month)
- Cost Savings: $4 a month
Ever have those days you just don’t get around to taking a shower? As a mom with a 4.5 year old, 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.
-cocoa powder (for tinting)
I mix the two ingredients together, and store the powder combo in an old jar. To apply, I use an old toothbrush.
- Expense: $1 a month
- Cost Savings: $10 ($5 a month)
Sun burns, eczema, mosquito bites. 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.
- 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
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 (which I plan to do), but for my first go I wanted to check out what they were supposed to feel/look like.
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.
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: $18
Cost Savings: $4 a month
The savings with JUST these small steps is about $105 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 $1200 A YEAR.
The expenses only add up to about $140 dollars TOTAL, so we are definitely 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.
As I hope you can see, these changes are pretty simple steps you can take to reduce waste and clutter, and the bonus is that they save money. If you have a reluctant spouse, you can mention the monetary benefits to try and get them on board, or check out my post titled: How to be zero waste and a minimalist when your partner isn’t.
What small changes have you made to help save money, move towards a zero waste life, or just to be more environmentally friendly?
Looking for more zero waste swap help? There’s a coach for that!
Check out my 1:1 zero waste coaching sessions!
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