Is Zero Waste Cheaper?

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zero waste graphic with flowers

Are you considering switching to a zero waste lifestyle?

If so, great! You’re probably thinking about all the plastic-free swaps you want to make.

But you’re also probably wondering “is zero waste cheaper or more expensive?”

It’s normal to wonder how much it’ll cost to go zero waste, especially when so many eco influencers are recommending different low waste products.

The truth is, zero waste living can actually save you money in the long run. Let’s take a closer look at why the zero waste lifestyle is cheaper overall – and crafty ways to reduce costs.

Is Zero Waste Cheaper? – Table of Contents

  1. Is Zero Waste More Expensive?
  2. How Can I Make Zero Waste Cheaper?
  3. Will I Have to Spend Money to Go Zero Waste?

1. Is Zero Waste More Expensive?

Well, it depends. If you’re going out and buying all the latest and greatest eco gadgets and supplies, then yes it might be. However, if you’re using what you have on hand then probably not. 

What many people don’t realize about zero waste living is that it’s nothing new – your grandparents and especially your great grandparents did this without blinking. 

Up until the 50s (when plastic was first created and popularized), people lived pretty low waste lives. Specifically, if you focus in on the great depression era.

Think back to history class – do you remember hearing about victory gardens, thrifting, upcycling and sewing? Anything to keep costs down was in (and essential). 

While I’m not advocating we go back to such a terrible economic crisis, I am saying we can learn a thing or two from that time period.

Being frugal with our money, making our items last longer and upcycling products no longer in use are all good practices to keep. 

That being said, there are some zero waste items you may need to get started on your journey that do cost money. However, it’s best to view these items as investments – if you need to save up for them, that’s perfectly fine, but they will pay for themselves in time.

2. How Can I Make Zero Waste Cheaper?

One of the things you’ll need is a zero waste kit full of essentials you take with you everywhere. After all, being prepared is one of the best ways to fight waste! 

Here’s how to create a budget-friendly zero waste kit:

  • Water bottle: Upcycle a glass iced tea bottle into your new water bottle. 
  • Utensils: Grab some metal utensils from your kitchen and wrap them in a cloth napkin.
  • Cloth napkin: Sew one yourself from scrap fabric or material you have on hand.
  • Travel mug: Take a mug with you from home or ask the barista for a real mug at the register. 
  • Straws: Just ask for no straw and drink straight from the cup.
  • Chopsticks: Save wooden chopsticks from restaurants for reuse.
  • Reusable bag: You likely already have one in your home – if not, ask a friend for one.

Aside from creating a handy to-go kit, you’ll also need to consider other zero waste items as well. There are several DIYs you can make that don’t need to cost much money (most of the supplies can already be found at home!). 

Zero waste items you can DIY:

  • Cleaner: Infuse vinegar with citrus peels for at least two weeks in a jar, then fill a spray bottle with 50/50 water and infused vinegar. Can be used to clean close to anything!
  • Toothpaste: Baking soda, coconut oil and peppermint essential oil can be used to make homemade toothpaste – just mix it together in a bowl and store it in an upcycled jar.
  • Deodorant – Just mix together shea butter, coconut oil, arrowroot powder, baking soda and the essential oils of your choice.
  • Laundry detergent – Combine baking soda, washing soda and a grated castile bar soap to make powder detergent.
  • Dishwasher detergent – You’ll need washing soda, baking soda, citric acid and table salt to make this.

Along with DIYs, I find it’s helpful to also shift your mindset. Sometimes just learning new skills makes all the difference. There are so many ways to reduce waste without spending a dime – it just requires a bit of creativity and improvisation. And being open to trying new things!

Low-cost skills and habits to form for a zero waste lifestyle:

  • Learn to cook more of your own meals. Cooking at home using fresh produce (especially from the farmers market) is one of the most rewarding and low waste things you can do. It’s also all about being self-sustaining. 
  • Garden. Growing your own food is not just money-saving but also reduces waste because nothing comes packaged in plastic. Plus gardens have low carbon footprints because the food doesn’t have to travel very far to get to you. If you don’t have much space, start a kitchen herb garden in upcycled containers.
  • Start mending your clothes. Instead of going out and buying new clothes (which costs money), try mending the ones you have. If you see a tear, sew it. Learn basic sewing skills like darning a sock, sewing on a button, fixing a hem and visibly mending things. You’ll help prevent items from going to waste and have fun doing it.
  • Visit the library. The library is one of the few places left you don’t have to spend money in to be. It’s also full of valuable resources. You can check out books, movies, CDs, audio books, magazines, and newspapers. Plus, they tend to offer free workshops on various topics. Not to mention you can also use their computers and copying machines. Take advantage of all they have to offer because they truly support a circular economy. And it costs no money to get a library card!
  • Get familiar with saying no.  Simply learning how to refuse plastic is an art form in and of itself. We’re conditioned to take freebies – but so many of them are just useless plastic. I’m talking goodie bags, brand propaganda, straws in our drinks, and even the plastic toothbrushes at the dentist’s office. Saying no to these items is a simple way to reduce plastic and clutter in your life.
  • Spend more time in nature. Unplug and get outdoors. Go on a hike, a jog or a simple walk in a park. It costs zero money and won’t create any waste. Better yet, pick up the litter you come across when you’re there.
  • Compost. You can do this very cost-effectively by saving your food scraps in a container you have on hand and storing them in the freezer. Then, once a week, donate the scraps to your local farmers market or community garden. They usually will have a drop off location for scraps being made into compost, so it’s completely hands off. 

Having a pet adds to your cost, especially if you have a cat. You can learn more about zero waste living with a cat.

3. Will I Have to Spend Money to Go Zero Waste??

Yes, to some degree, you will have to spend money. But as I mentioned before, most zero waste items should be viewed as investments that ultimately give back. Here are a few examples.

Plastic water bottles vs. Brita filter case study: My family used to buy at least two 12-packs of water bottles every week, which each cost around $12 at the time. That easily tallied up to $96~ every month, which cost us $1,152~ every year.

That’s money we could’ve saved and put towards something more practical and/or enjoyable. We now have a Brita water pitcher and need to replace the filter every so often.

Granted, it’s not completely plastic-free and it cost about $16 for the pitcher, about $18 per filter. But the pitcher has lasted for years so it was a one time buy and the filters we generally replace once a month. That means we’re only spending $216~ every year.

Look at the savings there! $936 in our pockets. Now imagine if we switched to something like a glass jug and bamboo charcoal to filter our water? We’d save even more.

Single-use period pads vs. Reusable period products case study: When I was purchasing disposable pads, the brand I usually bought from typically cost around $8, excluding tax. Before switching to period underwear, I would typically go through one-and-a-half packs of pads in a month.

Each pack had about 24 pads in them. So, in other words, I was sending about 36 pads to the landfill in just one period cycle. That means I was spending a total of $16 every month on pads.

Now, I invested in period underwear from Thinx which costed me about $40 per period underwear. I have at least 8 pairs I’ve purchased over time, so I spent about $320 on reusable period supplies. Yes, that’s a lot upfront.

However, I haven’t had to purchase anything else and I’ve been using the same Thinx pieces for at least two years now. That means I more than made up for the amount I would’ve spent on disposable pads by now.

If I was still using disposable pads, I’d be out of $384 because I’d be spending $16 every month, $192 every year. Now, I spend nothing every month and the reusable period underwear pay for themselves.

These personal case studies are designed to show you that you will have to front some costs to be zero waste. Especially when you’re first starting out. However, those costs pay for themselves over time and actually save you money. So, what should you do? Treat it like an investment. 

Whatever you cannot DIY or upcycle, save up for. It’s okay if you can only buy one zero waste swap every one or two months.

You don’t have to go plastic-free overnight, nor should you.

One of the most sustainable things you can do is to use what you have. Use up everything you already have before swapping it out for something more sustainable. That way, you’re not generating any additional waste and you’re saving money.

Do you believe zero waste is cheaper? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below! 

About the Author: 

Ariana Palmieri is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste living and sustainability. Her work has been featured on Going Zero Waste, Mother Earth Living, Green Matters and several other publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.

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