Do you want to learn how to go zero waste, but are unsure if it’s the best way to save money? Today I’m sharing a list of my favorite zero waste swaps for beginners to get you inspired.
The truth is – going zero waste doesn’t have to be expensive and it can actually save you a lot of money in the long run. There are many free or cheap ways to start living a low waste lifestyle which can help you slash your monthly budget and minimize your carbon footprint. That’s why I’m sharing my favorite affordable zero waste products to give you some ideas.
A good place to start is by reusing what you already have. This past year, I have become more conscious about which products I choose to buy and how much waste I’m producing in my home.
Here’s a list of 20 zero waste swaps that save money! These easy sustainable swaps can save you up to $9,000 per year — that’s a lot of money!
- How I save 50% of my income (and how you can too)
- 10 ways to stop spending money you don’t have
- 50 creative ways to save money on a tight budget
1. Swap plastic bags for reusable shopping bags
Most stores have started charging customers for plastic bags, up to $0.15 at some stores. The average American family uses nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year.
By bringing your own reusable bag, this can save you up to $225 per year. Start by reusing bags you already have. This can help you save money, reduce waste, and it’s better for our planet too. This is one of the easiest zero waste swaps you can make.
I personally have invested in quality reusable bags. They have lasted me years and they are much studier than using plastic bags. Because I walk to and from the grocery store, it’s important for me to use quality bags that won’t easily tear.
Approximate savings: $75-$225 per year
2. Swap plastic straws for reusable straws
Plastic straws are one of the most common types of litter found on beaches, yet they can’t be recycled. Americans use, on average, 1.6 straws per person per day. This adds up to nearly 500 million single-use plastic straws per day.
Plus, using a straw can cause wrinkles. This is because you have to purse your lips to drink from a straw and wrinkles can be formed from the repetitive muscle motion. Sometimes straws are not always necessary.
However, if you prefer to drink from a straw, I recommend choosing a glass, stainless steel or silicone straw. I LOVE using a silicone straw to drink my morning green smoothie. You can even find collapsible straws that you can take with you on-the-go. This is one of the easiest zero waste swaps you can make.
Approximate savings: Minimal savings, but it’s still worth the switch.
3. Swap bottled water for reusable water bottles
According to the Container Recycling Institute, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014 (approximately 315 per person).
Water is free and safe to drink in most U.S. cities. But many people choose to pay for bottled water based on taste and convenience. According to Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans spend $16 billion a year on it.
Let’s say you spent $1 per day on bottled water. This can add up to $365 per year. And if you prefer fancier water brands, which can cost up to $4 per bottle, this can add up to $1,4260 per year. (Calculation is based on an average of 315 bottles per person, per year).
I can appreciate that not all water tastes the same. This is why I love using my Brita Filter for drinking water. I fill my reusable bottle whenever I’m going out or traveling. This is one of the easiest zero waste swaps that can save you money.
Approximate savings: $365-$1,260 per year
4. Swap single-use coffee cups for reusable cups
Many coffee shops have started offering discounts to customers who bring their own cups. For example, Starbucks offers a $0.10 discount to guests who bring their own cup. The savings might seem small, but over the period of a month, it adds up to a free cup of coffee (or 12 free coffees per year).
I have a couple of reusable coffee cups: one for cold drinks and one for hot beverages. This is also a great way to be more environmentally friendly and cut down on unnecessary waste. This is one of my favorite zero waste swaps.
Did you know that paper coffee cups are not recyclable?
This is because they are coated in plastic. That’s why they can hold hot liquid without it leaking all over the place. Disposable cups are becoming a major pollution hazard, which is why it’s even more important to bring your own cup. Save money while helping the planet!
Approximate savings: $24+ per year
5. Swap paper napkins for reusable cloth napkins
Even though 1 paper napkin costs less than 1 cloth napkin, we use an average of 3 paper napkins per meal. And if you’ve ever had BBQ, you’re probably going to go through several paper napkins in just one sitting.
Cloth napkins cost more money up front, but they can last for years with proper care. According to Ocean Conservatory, cloth napkins for a family a four can cost anywhere from $20-$108, depending on the brand. With proper washing and care, cloth napkins can last up to 8 years.
If you bought disposable paper napkins for a family of four for 5 years, this could cost you anywhere from $322-$2,635, depending on the type of napkins you buy.
Plus, cloth napkins look nicer than paper napkins, especially when you have guests over for dinner.
Approximate savings: $300-$2,000+ over 5 years
6. Swap toxic cleaners for homemade cleaners
According to the Nest, American families spend around $40-$50 per month on cleaning supplies. This can add up to $600+ per year. Most of these cleaning supplies are not reusable.
Cleaning is essential to protecting our health in our homes, but many of the popular store-bought cleaners include harmful chemicals.
Homemade cleaners are easy to make and you can probably use ingredients you already have in your pantry, such as vinegar and baking soda.
I’ve been making my own homemade cleaners for the past year and love it. It’s saved me so much money and I have peace of mind knowing which products are being used to clean my home. This is one of my favorite zero waste swaps that no one talks about.
Here is the recipe I use for my favorite DIY all-purpose cleaner:
- 2 tablespoons Castile soap
- 2 cup distilled water
- 10-15 drops of tea tree oil (You can use lemon oil or lavender oil instead)
Put all ingredients in a reusable spray bottle. Gently shake it up. And it’s ready to be used to clean your home.
Approximate savings: $400-$500+ per year
7. Swap single serve coffee brewer to a traditional coffee maker
Single serve coffee makers, such as Keurig, have become popular recently because they are simple and easy to use. However, these single serve brewers not only cost more up-front than traditional coffee makers, but the cost of buying capsules can add up quickly.
According to a recent study, Americans consume approximately 2.1 cups per day. This could cost up to $800 for K-cups or $190 per year for regular drip coffee drinkers. While using a Keurig is still cheaper than daily trips to Starbucks, the cost is not far behind.
I switched to using a pour over coffee maker, which I absolutely LOVE! It was affordable and you have the option to brew a single serving. Plus, it’s easy to clean. This is an easy zero waste swap you can do at home.
One of the problems with the Keurig system is that they are prone to the growth of mold, bacteria, and algae – yuck!! I feel better knowing that I can easily keep my pour over coffee maker safe and clean.
Another affordable coffee maker is to use a French Press. This is easy to use and can also save you money.
Approximate savings: $600+ per year, depending on how much coffee you drink
8. Swap paper coffee filters for a permanent coffee filter
With a permanent coffee filter, you’ll never have to worry about replacing filters. This can also improve the taste of your coffee because you won’t have to deal with the paper taste that can happen when using paper filters.
A package of paper filters usually costs about $3. A permanent coffee filter costs about $10 so it’ll quickly pay for itself within the first few weeks. Plus, it will last for several years with proper care. This is one of the best reusable items to save money.
Approximate savings: $100+ over several years
9. Swap dryer sheets for dryer balls
I’ve stopped using dryer sheets years ago when I found out they contain artificial fragrances and other ingredients that are known to cause health problems. Since then, I’ve switched to dryer balls and love them!
Dryer balls can replace both dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener, which can save you a lot of money (and storage space). They help prevent laundry from clumping in the dryer and can boost the drying process. This helps your laundry dry more efficiently and faster – which is another way to save money.
The most common dryer balls are made from wool or plastic. Both options cost anywhere from $7-$20, depending on which kind you get. Dryer balls can last for 2-5 years, depending on how much laundry you do.
Approximate savings: $65+ per year
10. Swap take-out containers for home cooked meals
Did you know that take-out is the fastest growing segment in the restaurant business? This also means that a lot of take-out containers end up in landfill.
We all know cooking food at home can be a great way to save money. But many of us think cooking at home is time-consuming.
Here’s an easy solution: Plan out all your breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners for the week. This is called meal planning and it’s basically just a budget for your food. You get to decide upfront what you’ll be eating during the week.
I like using my Meal Plan Binder to help my keep track and organize healthy meals for my family. You can download your copy of my free weekly meal plan printable below!
If you’re new to meal planning, I recommend trying the $5 Meal Plan. Many of my readers have told me great things about how this service makes planning meals each week simple and easy.
For just $5 per month, you will receive a delicious meal plan, where every meal will cost about $2 per person (or less). It’s a great way to save time and money, plus they offer specialty plans, including gluten-free and vegetarian meals. Click here to try it free for 14 days.
Let’s say you spend $15 a day eating out. That can add up to $75 per week or $3,900 per year. Instead, spending $100 on groceries per month to make your own lunch costs only $1,200 per year.
Approximate savings: $2,700+ per year
11. Swap plastic cutlery for stainless steel cutlery
If you’re eating on-the-go, I recommend keeping a set of reusable cutlery with you. When I was working in an office, I used to keep a set in my desk drawer.
The Ocean Conservancy lists cutlery as among the items “most deadly” to sea turtles, birds, and mammals. A better alternative is to carry your own reusable set.
I know for some people, it’s common practice to eat off disposable plates at home and use plastic cutlery. This is because it’s easier to throw them out after a meal than wash and dry the dishes. Using a dishwasher though has been shown to use less water and be more cost-effective than hand washing.
You can grab a portable stainless steel cutlery set for around $10, which can last for several years with proper care. Plus, it feels good to eat with real cutlery – it can add a little luxury to your meal experience. This is an easy zero waste swap.
A 180-piece plastic cutlery set costs about $12, which will only last for 100-130 meals.
Approximate savings: $50-$100 per year
12. Swap plastic Tupperware for glass containers
I grew up using plastic food storage containers. But once I started doing my own research and learned that plastic containers can leach harmful chemicals into our food and drinks, I made the switch to glass containers. Now I use glass containers to store all my bulk food (dried pastas, oatmeal, flour) and leftovers.
While glass containers can be slightly more expensive than plastic containers, I find that my glass food storage containers last LONGER than my previous plastic ones. This is because glass doesn’t absorb food and germs like plastic can. Due to this, glass containers are a more cost-effective option for me.
Approximate savings: $20-$40
13. Swap plastic cooking utensils for silicone or bamboo utensils
Plastic cooking utensils are non-recyclable and they can easily melt into your food. This actually happened to me when I was cooking at a high temperature – it was super gross!
Instead, I recommend switching to bamboo cooking utensils. They are strong and long-lasting. Plus, they won’t warp or crack from wetness like wooden spoons. Bamboo also has anti-microbial properties so you don’t have to worry about them collecting bacteria or germs.
Bamboo cooking utensils are a more sustainable choice because they are biodegradable and recyclable.
Another good option is to use silicone cooking utensils. They have a high-heat resistance so you can use them for stir-frying and in hot pans. They are also lightweight and easy to clean.
Approximate savings: $30+
14. Swap plastic Ziploc bags for reusable baggies
Using reusable baggies is an easy way to be less wasteful. Today there are so many sustainable alternatives to Ziploc bags that are freezer-safe, microwave-safe and dishwasher-friendly. Plus, you can find them in pretty colors or designs, which can make it fun for kids.
I can appreciate that plastic bags are easy to use, however many of those bags add up to major pollution in landfills and oceans. I recently read a statistic that said more than one million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide.
Using reusable bags can save you a lot of money too. Let’s say each Ziploc bag costs $0.05 and a reusable baggy costs $6. This means you would have to use 120 Ziploc bags to equal the cost of one reusable baggy.
There are approximately 180 school days in a year, which means you’ll save money by switching to reusable bags!
Approximate savings: $3-$10+ per year
15. Swap plastic shower curtain for fabric shower curtain
Many shower curtains are made from PVC, which is one of the most widely used synthetic plastic materials. PVC can release toxic chemicals in the air when used in your home. This can cause health problems and even cancer in humans.
A better choice is to use a cotton or hemp shower curtain. These look nicer than plastic shower curtains and can be washed to prevent mold and mildew from building up. If you need to add a shower liner, look for one that says PEVA, which is safer than PVC.
Plastic shower curtains generally last about one year. Cotton shower curtains are better quality and can last much longer when cared for properly. This is one of the easiest zero waste swaps and it can protect your health too.
Approximate savings: $20+ per year, depending on cleaning care
16. Swap disposable wipes for reusable makeup remover pads
Disposable round and wet wipes are wasteful and can be harmful to the environment. Reusable makeup remover pads can be gentler to use on your skin and will save you a ton of money in the long run.
On average, one reusable makeup remover pad is the equivalent to using 300 disposable cotton pads. This is one of the easiest money-saving hacks ever.
Approximate savings: $15-$50+ per year
17. Swap store-bought books for library books
If you’re an avid book reader, you could save yourself hundreds of dollars per month by borrowing books from the local library. This is one of my favorite easy zero waste swaps that save money.
Don’t live near a public library? You can borrow e-books from the library and read them on your e-reader device, such as a Kindle.
Let’s say you spend $20 per week on a new book. This could add up to over $1,000 per year! By choosing to borrow books from the library or your friends, this could save you a lot of money.
I used to collect books. However, I never re-read them, and they were just taking up precious space in my home. Not to mention all the money I wasted on buying books only to read through them once.
Approximate savings: $1,000+ per year
18. Host a clothing swap with friends
Most people’s default is to head to the mall or shop online whenever they need something. Instead, going to the store or buying something new should be your last option.
If you do want to wear something new, consider hosting a clothing swap with friends. This can be a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to snag some awesome clothes for free. You can even choose to trade shoes, handbags, or other accessories. It’s up to you!
Another idea is to shop second hand. Many thrift stores have clothing in new condition or with the price tags still attached. You’ll be able to score great finds for less than the cost of buying new. I like using ThredUP for second-hand clothes. They are one of the largest online consignment stores.
Approximate savings: $100-$1,000+ per year, depending on how much you shop
19. Swap paper towels for reusable cloths
Many people gravitate towards paper towels because it’s familiar. That’s what I grew up using in my home and it’s seems like the easy solution to cleaning up messes.
But this single-use item is wasteful and buying them each month can get expensive. Choosing reusable cloths can save you a ton of money each year and it’s a better choice for the environment.
The key is to figure out which paper towel alternative is right for your home. Here’s a few of my favorites:
- Microfiber towels. These are great for cleaning counters, drying surfaces and mopping up spills. They are easy to clean and store.
- Huck towels. These are popular in hospital settings because they are ultra-absorbent and lint-free. They are great for window cleaning, spills, and absorbing grease.
- Dish cloth. This is great for cleaning counters, wiping up spills, and wiping down the kitchen sink. I use dish cloths in my bathroom too for wiping up water on the counter.
- Tea towels. I love the different designs you can find on tea towels. I hang two tea towels in my kitchen: one for hand-drying and one for dish-drying.
Approximate savings: $300+ per year, depending on how many paper towels you use
20. Swap meat for plant-based protein
This is NOT a suggestion that you should cut out all animal products in your diet. I just recommend choosing plant-based alternatives whenever possible.
For example, we started buying tofu, beans, and legumes instead of meat. The cost-savings have been a game-changer for our monthly grocery budget.
Let’s say you make 1-3 meatless dinners per week, this can still add up to big savings. Plus, it’s fun to get creative in the kitchen and try new food. We found out that we prefer vegetarian spaghetti sauce to regular meat sauce. We also prefer vegetarian chili to regular meat chili.
We are also happy that we’re eating more vegetables now and it’s helped us lose weight too.
Approximate savings: $100+ per month
Looking for more zero waste swaps that will save you money?
Check out these zero waste swaps…
- Swap plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush
- Swap bottled liquid soap for bar soap
- Swap bottled shampoo for a shampoo bar
- Swap disposable pads for a menstrual cup or reusable pads
- Swap disposable diapers for reusable cloth diapers
- Swap disposable razors for a safety razor
- Swap plastic cling-wrap for bowl covers or beeswax wrap
- Swap aluminium foil or parchment paper for reusable silicone baking mats
- Swap paper cupcake liners for reusable silicone cupcake liners
- Swap plastic produce bags for reusable mesh produce bags