To live an eco-friendly lifestyle, we must take action against all that negatively impacts the environment. Every little bit helps, and we can relatively easily take steps to reduce the amount of waste we produce, especially in our homes. As of 2018, each person in the U.S. produced an average of 4.9 pounds of waste daily1. To reduce your waste contribution, replacing wasteful choices with alternative zero-waste essentials is both practical and easy to do.
Zero-waste essentials are items that cause less harm to our health and the environment. Producers source materials and produce them sustainably. Many of these items have reusable qualities, making them more durable and meaning less waste compared to their single-use counterparts. For instance, beeswax wrap is a reusable alternative to plastic wrap used to cover food items.
Read on as we examine the qualities to look out for in zero-waste essentials. We also list a bunch of go-to items that’ll help you reduce waste bit by bit for your home and travel lifestyle.
You should be on the lookout for certain things when shopping for zero-waste products. There are different components and levels of production. All the production levels must meet certain sustainability criteria to provide the best options for sustainable living. These criteria include:
First, ensure the materials used to produce your desired item are sustainable. The type of material used to make a product determines whether it has a high or low impact on the environment. Look out for products made with natural materials like bamboo, linen, hemp, steel, wood, and aluminum. Zero-waste raw materials should be recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable.
You should also consider the packaging materials used for your products when shopping. The packaging for your item should be recyclable and biodegradable. It should have a low impact on the environment. For instance, the wood used should have FSC certifications.
The next thing you should look out for when shopping for eco-friendly products is the product’s life-cycle assessment. A product's lifecycle includes production, packaging, consumption, and recovery. All these stages of a product’s lifecycle should have a minimal environmental impact.
The production of an item should produce low carbon emissions. Its packaging should be eco-friendly and plastic-free. It should have recyclable properties with easy recovery systems.
Lastly, investigate your chosen eco-friendly brand to know if they adhere to proper environmental standards. An eco-friendly brand monitors its supply chain and ensures its commitment to producing an eco-friendly product. It also treats its employees without discrimination.
Noting these zero-waste attributes when shopping will help avoid brands that practice greenwashing. Greenwashing is making false statements about the benefits and impacts of a product or service on the environment. Companies do this to convince consumers to buy from them because sustainability is now mainstream.
Further reading: How to Shop Sustainably, Eco-labels, Tips, and What to Look For
Here are five categories of zero-waste products and essentials:
Going on a zero-waste journey requires that you have a plastic-free kitchen. The kitchen is one space in our homes that produces the most waste. There, we produce food waste and plastic waste.
Here are some alternatives to the plastic kitchen items we use in the kitchen:
Whereas seemingly small and insignificant, the environmental impact of plastic straws is not. Other forms of straw are available, like glass and stainless steel straws. The materials used to produce these straws are eco-friendly and highly reusable.
Reusable straws are an excellent addition to a large household, especially with many children. Children often prefer plastic straws because of their colorful attributes. However, it is an opportunity to educate the younger generations on the importance of being eco-friendly.
These straws are very handy. Some are of various sizes and easily collapsible, making them easy to handle and transport. Many of these reusable straws come in a cleaning brush kit.
Choose alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery and utensils by opting for zero-waste alternatives to transform your kitchen into a zero-waste kitchen. You can swap your plastic spatulas, spoons, and ladles with ones made of wood, bamboo, or stainless steel material.
You should examine your plastic utensils, especially your cutting boards. You’d notice there are marks and indentations. The bits of plastic removed from these tools are most likely in your food. When that old plastic cutting board becomes worse for wear, replace it with a wooden one.
By making these zero-waste swaps, you are preventing the release of microplastics in your kitchen, especially in your meals.
In the United States, an average person uses at least eight rolls of paper towels. In 2020, 321.97 million Americans used paper towels. You can imagine the large quantities of these paper napkins used annually in the United States, and of course, the total amount worldwide is far larger.
Paper towels are not sustainable because we don’t recycle them after use, putting a strain on the virgin material used to produce them. The point of a zero-waste lifestyle is to protect the environment and the resources it provides us.
So, next on our list of zero-waste essentials is ditching the single-use ones common in many kitchens in favor of reusable paper towels instead. This simple change reduces your use of paper rolls, and they are more efficient, absorbing more water - and they add to your kitchen aesthetics.
Another zero-waste essential you must have in your kitchen is glass containers. Use mason jars, glass storage bottles, and reusable food containers instead of plastic containers to store food in your kitchen.
Aside from the fact that plastics take thousands of years to break down, they also release microplastics with each use. These microplastics are harmful to human health and the environment at large.
Glass food containers are perfect for storing leftovers to avoid food waste and preserving food at home. Also, keep other edible items in mason jars and glass bottles. You can upcycle your used jam, mayonnaise containers, and beverage bottles for this purpose rather than buying new which helps you to go zero waste on a budget.
When it comes to washing up those containers, grab some zero-waste dish soap in place of conventional detergents in plastic bottles.
Do you need covers for containers that don’t have lids, or do you need to wrap your protein and other edible items? Beeswax wrap is an excellent alternative to plastic wrap. Beeswax wrap is an eco-friendly storage material that keeps food fresh for a short while.
You can make your beeswax wrap or buy from sustainable brands.
There are single-use bathroom products we ignore, like the containers used to package our beauty and shower products. Also, the ingredients used in some of our products are harmful. Zero-waste isn’t only about avoiding plastic products. It is about living in healthy ways that don't harm us and the environment.
Here are some zero-waste bathroom essentials:
To keep a plastic-free kitchen, remove your toothbrush with plastic handles. Instead, opt for toothbrushes with wooden handles. Preferably a zero-waste toothbrush with a handle made from sustainable non-plastic materials, such as bamboo toothbrushes.
There are also plant-based wooden toothbrushes. These vegan toothbrushes have semi-biodegradable bristles made from castor bean oil. You can add your toothbrush to your compost bin once you are done with it. However, remove all bristles before decomposing if they are plastic.
Zero-waste period products are some of the must-have zero-waste essentials to add to your bathroom. Conventional period pads come with a lot of plastic packaging. Also, they contain toxic chemicals that are dangerous to the reproductive health of menstruating people.
You should opt for reusable alternatives like cloth pads, menstrual cups, and reusable period underwear. These zero-waste period products reduce your contribution to plastic pollution. Also, these alternatives reduce the money you spend on period products.
Conventional bathing soaps come in plastic packaging, like shower gels packed in a plastic bottle and bar soaps packed in nylon. Apart from packaging materials, harmful ingredients are used in the production of regular bathing soaps. These ingredients include artificial color and fragrances, sulfates, parabens, and formaldehyde.
To go green, source zero-waste hand soap bars with natural ingredients and sustainable packaging. Manufacturers use natural skincare ingredients like rosemary, turmeric, coconut oil, other essential oils, shea butter, etc. They also use paper as packaging material.
The key to a plastic-free bathroom is shampoo and conditioner bars. Avoid purchasing shampoo packaged in plastic bottles and containers because it is difficult to recycle them.
Another perk of shampoo bars is the natural ingredients used to produce them. Natural ingredients will improve the health status of your hair.
Avoiding plastic isn’t the only way to be eco-friendly. As an eco-friendly person, you need to learn to conserve water resources. For this reason, get a low-flow showerhead. It reduces your water consumption when you shower or wash your hair, saving energy and water bills. And while on the topic of showering, those plastic shower curtains won’t do; grab an eco-friendly shower curtain instead when it comes time to replace what you have.
Most deodorants aren’t eco-friendly because manufacturers pack them in plastic containers. Also, most ingredients used to produce deodorants harm the environment and the human body. These harmful chemicals are phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and artificial fragrances. Swap your regular deodorants with natural zero-waste deodorants packed in aluminum tins.
Disposable razors are less durable than reusable razors. After 3 to 6 shaves, plastic razors end up in landfills, increasing pollution levels in the environment. So, your bathroom zero-waste shaving routine should include a safety razor with stainless steel handles.
There are other sustainable options made with bamboo and wood materials. However, steel razors last a minimum of 20 years and are recyclable. Although wood and bamboo are sustainable materials, they don’t last as long as steel razors. This is because wood degrades fast in wet conditions. The perk of using a wooden shaving stick is its harmlessness to the environment when disposed of.
We don’t realize the amount of plastic we use each time we go grocery shopping. The food products we purchase from mainstream supermarkets are regularly packaged in plastic. Going zero-wasting grocery shopping disciplines us to always carry our reusable bags. Zero-waste shopping helps us shop effectively for the things we need without going overboard.
Regular grocery shoppers use a lot of plastic bags while shopping. As an eco-friendly shopper, carry a reusable bag. Bringing reusable bags made with organic cotton, like tote bags, helps you avoid plastic grocery bags.
You can make your grocery by sewing cotton fabric, knitting, or weaving cotton and polyester yarn. Also, carry your reusable packaging container for fresh produce, especially if you buy in bulk. This way, you reduce your purchase of products packed in plastic bags.
Shopping at the farmer's market or a bulk zero-waste store is a sustainable hack. Unlike buying from regular supermarkets, it reduces the quantity of plastic bags used during shopping. Also, buying from a farmers' market ensures you purchase fresh produce from the farm, amongst many other reasons to buy local food. You can ask for plastic-free meat purchased from the butcher’s shop.
Your travel zero-waste kit should contain a bamboo toothbrush, soap bar, shampoo, and conditioner bar, reusable straw, cutleries, and snack bags. Also, reusable water bottles and coffee cups are zero-waste essentials for eco-friendly travel and trips.
Avoid plastic water bottles to reduce plastic pollution in the environment. Get a glass bottle or insulated stainless steel bottle. When you carry your water bottle, you can refill it with water instead of buying plastic water bottles. Instead of purchasing single-use cups, get cups you can use multiple times. You can use it to get your beverages at a restaurant or a cafe.
Consider bringing a reusable shopping bag or hemp tote to carry groceries, souvenirs, or other purchases. This will help you avoid single-use plastic bags that contribute to pollution. A collapsible or foldable design makes it easy to store in your luggage.
Pack a set of lightweight, eco-friendly lunchboxes for packing meals or storing leftovers, reducing the need for disposable packaging. You can also use these containers to store toiletries or other small items.
Opt for materials like silicone, stainless steel, or glass, which are more eco-friendly and durable. Also, a quick-drying microfiber towel can be an invaluable zero-waste essential for various purposes, such as drying off after a swim, using it as a picnic blanket, or even a makeshift bag. It's lightweight, easy to pack, and can be washed and reused multiple times.
You can be fashionable and also be eco-friendly. Avoid purchasing products that are made with harmful and artificial chemicals. Always go plastic-free when purchasing your beauty products. Some zero-waste makeup brands pack their products in aluminum, glass, and sustainable timber containers.
Also, buy makeup and hair brushes with wooden or bamboo handles. You can buy reusable organic cotton pads with cotton pouches.
To live a sustainable life, a perfect place to start is our list of zero-waste essentials. You don't have to change everything at once; not least, the principles of zero waste’s 4rs include refusing and reusing. That is, refusing to buy new until you have to by reusing.
An important zero-waste essential for your kitchen is avoiding the wastage of food. You can make it happen by composting your food scraps. Food waste is the organic waste you can use to nourish your plants or use it as animal feed.
You can reduce waste in your environment by getting a reusable alternative container for storing leftovers. Various sustainable brands sell zero-waste starter kits if you prefer. Just take your time and search for eco-friendly stores around you.
However, beware of greenwashing when purchasing eco-friendly products. Some brands lie about the environmental impacts of their products. So, follow our list of things to be watchful of during your sustainable shopping activities.
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.