Zero waste living is a trend that’s hard to ignore these days. I’ve seen articles about it pop up all over my social media feeds. Once I started digging deeper I realized that I had already incorporated some zero waste practices into my life without even trying.
What is zero waste and why does it matter?
In a nutshell, it means minimizing your household waste to almost nothing. When I first heard about this it seemed extreme. I didn’t even think something like this was possible in our plastic-loving culture. But the truth is many of us are aware of the need to buy reusable or biodegradable products for the good of the planet and, thankfully, companies are finally paying attention.
My biggest concern has always been plastic. The estimate is that it will take about six hundred years for it to completely break down. In the meantime, it breaks apart into very small pieces which wreak havoc in our oceans causing serious problems for marine wildlife.
Have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? There are literally giant patches of garbage floating around in the Pacific Ocean which are a direct result of our fondness for plastic among other things. If you haven’t seen images of it click here. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Easy Zero Waste Swaps
On a brighter note, there are ways we can make a difference when it comes to the impact our waste has on the planet. These are small purchases that can drastically reduce the waste we produce overall.
I’ve had some of these products for a few years, even before zero waste living was something I thought about seriously. The rest are recent changes I’ve made in order to simplify my life, feel better about my ability to reduce waste and even save some money. They are all readily available (i.e. you can buy them online) which is why I included them on this list.
Here are seven easy swaps anyone can make to get a little closer to a zero waste lifestyle.
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1. Reusable Grocery Bags
This swap is super easy because lately reusable grocery bags are everywhere. If you happen to live in a big city, odds are pretty good that single-use plastic bags are already banned. My first experience with this was about two years ago when I drove to Washington DC and bought something at a Rite Aid. I was charged five cents for a plastic bag because of their plastic and paper bag ban.
I owned a few reusable grocery bags by then but the experience made me realize that I needed to get serious about actually using them. I knew it was just a matter of time before they banned plastic bags in my area.
It takes a while to develop the habit of bringing them with you when you go shopping. And just to make sure I don’t forget, I put them back in my car after I put away my groceries. I always keep mine in the glove box and I now reflexively reach for them whenever I’m on my way out of the car heading into the supermarket.
2. Reusable Water Bottles
The reusable water bottle is so mainstream you probably own one. They come in tons of styles and the most common ones are plastic, glass, and stainless steel. Plastic isn’t great for the reasons I mentioned above but it’s a step in the right direction if it keeps you from buying water while you’re out and about. However, you definitely want to make sure it’s BPA free.
I also have a few glass bottles which are great from an environmental standpoint but they are heavier than plastic and stainless steel.
My favorite is the stainless steel water bottle. I prefer the insulated ones but single wall is fine, too. They are super light and you don’t have to worry about chemicals seeping into the water. This baby blue one is my favorite.
I love these bottles so much I kind of have a collection going. This is also the only type of water bottle I send to school with my kids.
I’m not crazy about the fact that most of them come with plastic tops but I do have one that is completely stainless steel. I got it on Amazon.
3. Stainless Steel Lunch Containers
I got these for my boys because I wasn’t thrilled about putting hot sandwiches into the plastic containers I had. (Can you tell I really don’t like plastic?) These were a little pricey but in addition to making me more comfortable about putting hot food into them, I really liked that the standard size I purchased was bigger than the plastic containers I had. I got the LunchBot boxes for my kids on Amazon.
These aren’t just for kids. The sleek stainless look works for adults as well. My favorite are the containers that have the clips and silicone seal to keep your food fresh and in place.
They also hold up a lot better over the years. The plastic lunch containers were looking pretty beat up after countless washes. The stainless steel containers look almost new a few years later.
4. Silicone Baking Mats
I was into baking for years. Mainly cookies and other goodies. I found the process relaxing but didn’t love the fact that I had to slather the aluminum foil I put on my cookie sheets with butter. I was using a lot of foil and a lot of butter. It seemed wasteful, not to mention it added tons of calories to my desserts.
During a trip to Costco, I found silicone baking mats in the home aisle. If you’ve never used these, you basically put them at the bottom of the cookie sheet and it makes it non-stick. They’re awesome and reusable! Once I was done I just pooped them out, wiped them down and washed them. They made baking a lot less messy.
These silicone sheets are available pretty much anywhere and are usually less than $20 for a set of three or four. They have tons on Amazon and this four pack seems like a good deal. You can use them for baking all sorts of things, not just cookies.
5. Bamboo Toothbrushes
Once I started thinking about my plastic use, I turned to the disposable stuff I use on a daily basis. Toothbrushes were at the top of my list of things I wanted to find a solution for.
If you listen to your dentist’s advice, you’re replacing your toothbrush every three months or four times a year. That’s a lot of toothbrushes being thrown away!
In terms of the environmental impact, in the US alone we throw away about a billion toothbrushes per year. The production of these toothbrushes also produces greenhouse gases. Here you’ll find an infographic about all the reasons why buying and using plastic toothbrushes is a bad idea.
So what’s the solution? I decided to give bamboo toothbrushes a try. In most cases, they’re cheaper than plastic toothbrushes and come in a pack of three or more.
However, keep in mind that although the toothbrushes themselves are made of bamboo, the bristles are usually still made of nylon. Some manufacturers claim to use a special nylon fiber that breaks down much quicker than traditional nylon but you kind of have to take their word for it.
Another option is toothbrushes from Naked Brush. They sell a bamboo toothbrush with biodegradable plant-based bristles. The bristles break down in about 2 to 4 weeks. They also sell a nylon bristle version for those of us who want to reduce waste but aren’t ready to replace our toothbrushes once a month. Those are also available on Amazon.
6. Bamboo Dental Floss
Here’s another environmental issue we’ve created in the name of good oral health. Most floss comes in plastic dispensers and is made of nylon (more plastic). And don’t even get me started on those floss picks. They’re convenient and make flossing a little easier but they are really wasteful and lead to even more plastic in landfills.
And just in case you missed it, the coating they put on Oral B Glide dental floss can lead to elevated levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the body. These chemicals can have all sorts of detrimental health effects.
Thankfully, bamboo has come to the rescue once again. Bamboo floss, unlike nylon, will biodegrade relatively quickly. As an added bonus they usually come in a cute little glass jar with a metal top. Lots of earth-friendly goodness in a tiny package!
7. Reusable K-cups
We all love our Kuerigs but the K-cup situation is a real bummer. Those plastic pods we throw away can’t be recycled, and since they’re plastic they’ll be taking up space in a landfill for a long time.
In 2014 alone, 9 billion k-cups were sold. Can you imagine how many have been sold since then as the Keurig has grown in popularity? We’ve created a serious problem in the name of convenience.
Enter the reusable K-cup. You may need to check which of these fit your Keurig model but there are so many available now this shouldn’t be a problem. I bought this four pack on Amazon.
An added bonus to switching to a reusable K-cup is that you can buy any brand of coffee you like. And common sense tells us that buying a bag or can of coffee is cheaper in the end than the boxes of K-cup pods. You’ll be doing something good for the planet and saving money!
We Can All Make a Difference
So there you have it. These seven simple purchases are a good start to minimizing the amount of waste we send to landfills. These items are widely available and don’t require a major change in lifestyle. They may be a little less convenient but are worth the effort if you’re trying to reduce your environmental footprint.
I personally plan to delve deeper into the zero waste realm. Look for more posts on my experiences as I take zero waste to the next level.
Do you think there are any other simple swaps I missed? If so, leave them in the comments.
Lisa D says
My weakness is plastic wrap. I’m trying to replace it with homemade beeswax covers. Every little bit helps!
Hi Lisa- Thanks for your comment. I put everything into a Pyrex glass container with a lid. I have a pretty big collection. 🙂
I’ve started buying bar shampoo, bar conditioner, and bar deodorant. I get them from Lush, which is at my nearest mall. The packaging is just a small paper bag, which when I remember, I bring back the next time.
It’s a small change, but it will save a lot of plastic containers!
Every little bit helps. And plastic waste from toiletries is definitely on my list of things to tackle next. I’ve been to Lush and everything there smells amazing!
I tend to always reuse my baking paper 3-4 times before throwing it out, but perhaps I should consider a silicone mat.
A different silicone product I use is muffin cases. No more washing muffin trays! You do get 12 muffin cases to wash, but they’re much more pleasant I find.
Thanks for the post!
Hi Kimi- I’ve seen those silicone muffin cases. They’re neat. I may have to get some of those too. 🙂
I recommend the individual ones, as then you can freeze one or two things in them if need be, instead of a whole tray.
Anne- I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂
Wow! Never heard of it put this way. I’ll put this on my things I want to do list