In choosing zero waste alternatives, the most important thing is to find the item with the most reuse value. As I was transitioning to the zero waste lifestyle, I realized that some of the zero waste products can be expensive, especially for someone on a tight budget. My advice is DON’T THROW EVERYTHING AWAY, RIGHT AWAY! Slowly replace things as you run out of certain items. Remember to be smart about how you dispose of your products through conscious recycling or composting as you transition into a zero waste lifestyle. When I transitioned to zero waste, I replaced slowly, so the process took about 6 months. I barely noticed the spending because I was saving in other areas, which made wiggle room for me to invest in these zero waste alternatives.
Replace those plastic cutting boards with bamboo or wood cutting boards. With regular polishing using either coconut oil or beeswax, your cutting boards can be used for years!
Tip: most plastic cutting boards are made with HDPE #2 Plastic, which is widely recycled. Although most places that recycle #2 plastic are stringent on the type that can be recycled (water bottles, etc), call your local recycling center and see if you can dispose of your plastic cutting boards in the recycling bin.
DISPOSABLE UTENSILS AND SERVICEWARE
I understand that disposable utensils and serviceware are sometimes unavoidable. When you are traveling or throwing a party and don’t want to wash 20 sets of utensils and plates, you will want to lean towards disposable items. I always carry a foldable, stainless steel spork with me so if I dine out in a restaurant that only has disposable utensils, I avoid using the plastic utensil. Alternative options include bamboo or palm leaf utensils and service ware. They look classy and chic, and they are compostable.
Replace nylon and plastic cooking utensils for bamboo and stainless steel utensils. The stainless steel utensils will last you a lifetime. The bamboo utensils will last a long time, and when it is time to replace, you can just compost it.
Replace disposable coffee filters with reusable coffee filters. If you own a Keurig, Nespresso, or any other pod machines, consider in investing in a reusable stainless steel capsule. A French press uses no disposable filters and the grounds can go directly into compost.
Tip: If you still have disposable coffee filters, don’t fret! They are 100% compostable. Start by composting those. If you are using single-use pods, contact the company for a recycling bag for the pods as you transition into a reusable capsule.
There is a lot of debate on the safety of using plastic Tupperware. Personally, I am not against using plastic Tupperware for cold items (I was taught to never heat up plastic). My husband is a chemist and has assured me that plastic Tupperware poses no harm to consumers. My only reservation is that with normal use, plastic Tupperware tend to fall apart after a year or two. I replaced them with glass storage and repurposing the plastic Tupperware to organize small things around the house (like storing paperclips, staples, lightbulbs, etc.)
Plastic wrap is one that is very hard to give up because it is so easy and convenient! Switch to beeswax wrap is a simple switch. There are a few companies that sell beeswax wrap, but I make my own using cotton and beeswax. Click here to see that blog post.
POTS AND PANS
Non-stick pans are very easy to use, but they need to be replaced yearly due to a risk of leaching aluminum into your foods. Go for stainless steel pans or cast iron pans. They can last a lifetime, and they are a lot tougher than non-stick pans. With good care and maintenance, they will become easier and easier to use.
Instead of disposable razors, which are often made from a mixed material which is hard to separate, it becomes practically impossible to recycle. Stainless steel safety razor is what most zero wasters swear by. They come with replaceable blades that can be recycled. Personally, I haven’t used a razor in years! I do a homemade sugar wax using only sugar and lemon. Zero waste and really economical!
If you use a mesh plastic body pouf, replace those with a natural loofah. The natural loofahs are made from natural Luffa cucumbers, so they are 100% compostable. They also do a good job of scrubbing off dead skin. Personally, I use a cotton washcloth because they last for years and the natural loofah still needs to get replaced every few months.
Instead of using different kinds of make-up removers, opt for a good hardy oil like coconut oil or olive oil. I use coconut oil myself and I find that I don’t need to use cotton rounds when I remove my makeup. Because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, I get a little tab on my fingers, let it melt on my face and slowly work my fingers in circular motions until my makeup slides off. I then proceed to wash my face with a cotton washcloth.
Although disposable cotton rounds and cotton balls can be composted, they are pricey and wasteful. Opt for reusable cotton rounds instead. Here is a great DIY version for homemade cotton round. I bought mine off of Etsy for around $10 for a pack of 8. They are machine washable so you can safely use them over and over.
Ditch those disposable toothbrushes with one of these more eco-friendly alternatives. Preserve is a great company that makes toothbrushes out of recycled yogurt cups. After you are done using them, you can send them back and get a coupon on your next order. Personally, I prefer bamboo toothbrushes because I can upcycle or compost myself after I use them.
Tip: If you are currently using electric toothbrushes, that’s okay! You can still be responsible for using them by contacting the company to see if they do a take-back program for all the used brush heads.
Tampons and pads cause so much trash in the bathroom! Think about it, when I used to use tampons and pads, I probably had to take out the bathroom trash twice during my period which typically lasts a week. That’s 2 trash bags per month just for my period, and 24 trash bags per year! By switching to a zero waste alternative, I immediately diverted all those trash bags from the landfill every year. I was really hesitant on switching to a menstrual cup, but now I am never going back. They do get some time to get used to, but I love how freeing they feel, and now I can sleep at night on my back without fear of leaking. Another alternative is reusable cotton pads. I’ve never tried that since I am on a budget and I feel like a reusable pad would have a high start-up cost.
Instead of using dish soap and an array of commercial cleaners around the house, opt for these three things: Castile soap, baking soda, and vinegar. Diluted liquid castile soap can be used as dish soap and vegetable wash. Baking soda is great for cleaning and lifting stains. Vinegar can be used from cleaning your windows to your floors.
Tip: Can’t stand the smell of vinegar? If you prefer the smell of alcohol, vodka is a great substitute.
Paper towels, although it can be composted, is quite wasteful and can get expensive. Invest in cleaning washcloths that can be used to wipe down any messes. If you have a raggedy towel lying around, cut that into smaller pieces and use as washcloths. Free and zero waste!
Laundry soap can get expensive, and not all the parts are recyclable (ex: the rubber part if you have the spigot dispenser). Make your own laundry detergent, save money, and feel good that you know every single ingredient in your detergent. Want my recipe? Click here to go to that blog post.
Dryer sheets are not allergy-friendly, and most of them cannot be composted. Wool dryer balls are a great alternative. They last a very last time, and before you drop them in the dryer, put a few drops of your favorite essential oils and your laundry will smell great. If you are allergic to wool, here is a great alternative to dryer sheets that uses fabric scraps, essential oils, and vinegar.
Replace plastic cleaning brushes with bamboo brushes. If you prefer to clean with sponges, replace those with compostable sponges.