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Tips For Going Zero Waste on a Budget

Living on a zero-waste budget is largely possible for every individual who is willing, as long as you have a basic income/allowance. If you are interested in learning how to go zero waste on a budget, in this article, we'll take a look at real-life examples and tips to help you get started.

It’s evident to anyone who has tried going zero-waste that your alternative shopping practices can get expensive. Really fast. Most easily accessible stores carry only single-use, packaging-heavy items. 

Read on to learn to achieve more with less cash and help the planet at the same time.

Related: We've also got some great tips for living well on a budget.

Essential Tips for Going Zero-Waste on a Budget

Zero waste bathroom good you can reuse
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Define your Needs and Wants 

Needs are the things you must have to survive and live a decent lifestyle. And wants are things that you desire to have but are not essential.  Choosing between "a want" and "a need" is important when making a zero-waste budget.

However, the concept of need and want varies with each individual since what I want might be what I need, but the ideology remains the same.

When you can differentiate between what you need and want, you will find it easier to shop within a budget and still go zero-waste.

Swap old stuff for things you need

Instead of trashing that old item, swap it for something you need or want. So that old sofa in your living room is not totally useless. And you can swap the dining set you never use for something you do.

All you have to do is locate a furniture store close to you specializing in recycling old furniture. Your old furniture might not yield a fortune, but it is better than nothing.

Remember, the plan is to go to zero waste. Some sites also offer opportunities to resell your already used furniture if it is not so bad. With this, you can recover some of the money you spent while purchasing the item initially, add a bit more, and get the new item you want. 

Shop for fairly used items

Sometimes going for fairly used items (second-hand) can also help you save a great deal of cash. You get what you want for a lesser price. We place lesser value on second-hand items because we think the Item to be sold is spoiled or has one issue or the other, but that is not always the case.

These days people put up their reusable goods for sale simply because they are tired of using them or because it looks outdated to them, and they want an upgrade.

But considering our difference in choices, you can get second-hand quality items in good working condition for lower prices. There are so many online thrift stores that provide options for second-hand shopping. 

Find an alternative to buying.

Mason jars used for lights zero waste
Photo by Javier Graterol on Unsplash

Changing an old item or buying a new item because you want to is normal, but if you are looking to go on a zero-waste budget, buying does not always have you be your last option. You should look to avoid the continuous buying of items that have alternatives, like tissues and kitchen rolls.

Using your old fabric scraps to replace kitchen rolls can save you a lot of money and prevent buying reusable paper towels. You can easily maintain old fabrics by washing them frequently when they are dirty. This way, you can reuse them for a long time.

If you do not always want to buy, your maintenance game will have to improve, especially for items or properties that could cost a fortune. This saves you a lot of cash when compared to the amount it would cost for proper maintenance.


Taking care of the items you already own, helps them last longer. This way, you don’t have to change them as quickly or pay for repairs. When you look after your appliances regularly, you will be able to tell when it's time to service the appliances or when it needs repairs. If your car is having a minor breakdown, fix it. If your clothing buttons come off, sew them back on.

Rent instead of owning

Renting an item will surely prove less expensive when compared to buying since you are renting for a specific period of time and for a particular purpose. This leads to the big question; Why own an item you only want to use once or a few times in a lifetime?

While planning for your wedding and looking to both cut costs and do so on a low-waste budget, buying a wedding gown contrasts with that. Why own a wedding gown you only need once? It is possible and much cheaper to rent a wedding dress than to buy one. Of course, the same can apply to any one of many items you may rarely use, from a carpet cleaner to dress-up costumes. 

You might buy an item you only need once intending to resell after using it but on the other hand, it is only in rare cases will you resell the item for the initial cost price.

Almost always, there is a price cut when reselling an already used item, and this price cut might be higher than what you need to rent that particular item and sometimes when a middleman is involved during the sale. A paid percentage is agreed upon, and then you discover that you are already losing a lot. Renting does not only save you from this loss but also the stress.

Quality buying

A quality item might cost a fortune to acquire, but it will surely outlive an inferior item that goes for a lower price.  Buy durable cups, dishes, silverware, and cloth napkins rather than disposable paper and plastic goods. Zero-waste dish soap bars will last loads longer than liquid detergent.

Always consider the durability of an item before buying. Don't buy it because it's cheap but because it will last. When you choose to purchase quality items that are less likely to break or that will last long, you end up saving a lot. After a while, you will discover how much you have saved from not constantly replacing the spoilt cheap items.

When shopping for quality items, wherever you can choose to buy from zero-waste stores that ship goods using eco-friendly packaging.

It is ideal to avoid buying trending items so that you won't always have to do an upgrade when a trend comes out. This is an important fact for anyone who is looking to go zero-waste on a budget.

Choosing to go minimal and vintage will go a long way in helping reduce the amounts of waste generated by manufacturing companies. It will also help you cherish and use your property for an extended period.

Use it all up

There is a considerable increase in sustainability when it comes to food consumption. People now minimize how they shop for food to reduce waste and benefit the environment, society, and economy. Especially when shopping for perishable goods like food items.

If you make your food at home, that is even more ideal for a person looking to live on a low-waste budget; you have to pay close attention to the different ways of preserving these food items to prevent them from spoiling and wasting. 

While some food items can be preserved by drying and refrigerating, always make sure you do the right thing. Avoid leftovers while making your food.

Always ensure you make the right measure that is just enough for you and any other person involved in the meal. Refrigerate any unavoidable food leftovers and ensure to use them later. The idea is to use it all up to avoid food waste.

Related: Food Waste Facts and Statistics

Go for reusable items.

Reusable zero waste lunchbox
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It is okay to buy the things you need to serve a specific purpose, but with a little bit of creativity, you can buy items that will not only serve their purpose but can also serve the purpose of other items. This will help you practice the reuse reduction strategy1.

You go to a grocery store to buy pasta. You might want to buy the pasta in a sachet, but it is wiser to buy the jarred pasta. You can use this jar later to store your nuts, and even for the little savings, you make at home.

Imagine how much you can save over time if you only bought jarred grocery items. Reusable items and packaging also prolong the useful life of these materials, thereby delaying the final disposal or recycling. 

Buy wisely a few items to help you replace the ones that might hit the trash on a regular basis. Grab a reusable tea strainer to replace tea bags and read up on our tips on how to go plastic-free in the bathroom.

Do it yourself or go plastic-free

There are always alternatives that are cheaper, healthier, and more environmentally friendly. Instead of shopping for packaged items using plastic containers or bags, choose to be open-minded and create your own packaging or products.

You can make your own or search out zero-waste alternatives for everything from ice cream, yogurt, and zero-waste toothpaste to zero-waste cleaning products and other items. Try buying a big bag of soap nuts for your laundry. Producing your own items is safer, better, and cheaper. This way, you can store these items in reusable containers while cutting costs and saving the environment.

Walk more

Walking more and using human-powered transportation mediums like bicycles saves waste and money. You could also take public transport often instead of driving your car. It helps you live with zero waste on a budget while helping reduce emissions and improve your overall health.

As discussed earlier, going zero-waste on a budget can be achieved by anyone willing. However, it does not just happen. And it is consciously practiced and instilled into our daily activities.

Over time, it becomes a routine and a lifestyle. Your lifestyle may not look the way social media says it should look, but you will be glad when you look at your financial savings and see what a huge impact reducing waste has had on it over the years.

Going zero-waste on a  budget does not limit your lifestyle. It only exposes to you that a sustainable life is not dependent on extravagant spending but is achievable for lesser spending, especially when it is practiced to consume less.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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