Zero-waste living is an eco-friendly lifestyle that helps ensure people get the optimum value from the products they buy while reducing waste. Therefore, as someone who wants to live a zero-waste lifestyle, you need to waste-proof your consumption. To do so, zero-waste swaps help you replace wasteful items with ones that fit the zero-waste bill.
Below is an extensive list of zero-waste swaps to help you make your life a little more waste-free.
Keep in mind that zero waste swaps are better when you buy second-hand and only when you need them. It would be counterproductive to buy any of the items on the list while still having a perfectly working alternative.
We can find plastic products almost everywhere in the home, from the kitchen to the bathroom. Outside the house, petrochemical material is still a lot more popular than alternatives because it is cheap and readily available. As a result, today, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.
Plastic does not biodegrade and pollutes landfills and oceans, endangering humans and wildlife. In addition, over 99% of plastics are made from non-renewable resources like coal, natural gas, and oil. You may not find it easy to eradicate plastic products from your life all at once, but the list below contains some items you can start with.
99.75% of cups used to drink coffee don't get recycled, and in 2011, 2.5 billion cups were thrown away. One way to make your regular visit to the coffee shop a zero-waste activity is to avoid plastic coffee cups. Opt to bring your mug or thermos instead, as you can wash and reuse those again and again.
Swap the habit of buying PET bottled water daily for filling a reusable water bottle at home from the tap. This is a choice that has more impact than most people realize.
The world buys a million plastic bottles every minute2, and experts estimate that our plastic bottle consumption will exceed half a trillion by 2021. However, because plastic recycling still has a long way to go, we can all do our bit to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bottles.
In 2018, plastic containers and plastic packaging had the highest tonnage at over 14.5% of municipal solid waste.
Currently, we use about 5 trillion single-use plastic bags globally every year. Replacing a single-use plastic bag with reusable shopping bags and organic fiber produce bags is an easy zero-waste swap. Furthermore, taking a reusable bag along to your local zero-waste store helps reduce your carbon footprint every time you make a trip.
One thing people use a lot and throw away immediately after use is plastic straws. It makes drinking water and beverages in public convenient and not messy, but the price the environment pays is not worth it.
So instead, make the swap to a reusable straw made from silicone, glass, wood, or metal. You'll find them easy to buy online or from a zero-waste store, and you can carry them in a bag or eco-friendly backpack for when dining out.
Replacing plastic cutleries with those made from sustainably sourced wood or metal alternatives proves an easy swap on your zero-waste journey. You could also ask for compostable alternatives. Of course, bringing your cutleries to eat out is something you could consider as well.
Mason jars, glass containers, and steel containers serve as durable, reusable containers replacing plastic. You can also find suitable replacements in reusable silicone food storage bags perfect for taking along to zero-waste bulk stores for refilling. There are also cotton storage bags you can use for dry foods and fruits.
Use paper wrapping or compostable plastic wrapping for packaging items instead of plastic. Beeswax or vegan wax wrap are great swaps too. We have a selection of the best plastic wrap alternatives here to help you choose.
Trees are an essential part of the ecosystem, and they are critical in our attempt to stop global warming. But trees are not solely carbon sequestration agents; they serve many other purposes, one of which includes paper production.
Paper and paper products are not usually durable. About 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away every year in the United States alone. The environmental impact of such waste is vast, and we can lessen the impact by choosing paper products or alternatives that are zero-waste products.
Below is a list of easy zero-waste swaps for paper products
Rags or cloth napkins are great functional swaps for paper towels. These easy-to-source reusable paper towels are durable and will save you money. In addition to that, you would be saving trees, and every 17 trees saved absorb about 250 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Keeping track of your napkins and keeping them clean is essential. Otherwise, you will only create more waste if you trash them only after a few times. A pro tip is to toss dirty napkins into the base of your washing machine. That way that you won’t forget to clean them.
Using a bidet converter kit means you will consume less toilet paper. You could also switch to eco-friendly toilet paper made from non-tree sources like bamboo. Also, using recycled toilet paper is less wasteful compared to those made from virgin trees. There is also an option of switching to reusable toilet cloth, also known as family cloth, although this will require a lot of washing.
Paper is biodegradable, so we don't have to worry about microfibers polluting the environment. However, the rate at which we cut trees down is a lot faster than the rate at which they grow back. And that is a significant concern.
For example, a 15-year-old tree would make approximately 700 paper grocery bags, and a very busy store could exhaust it within an hour. This means that it takes 15 years to grow 700 paper bags that we would only use once and then trash.
A better alternative to single-use paper bags would be reusable and durable bags made from natural fibers like jute, cotton, and hemp.
If you run an eCommerce business or regularly ship items to friends and family, you can also consider environmentally friendly packaging options. Whereas they may still be used only once, at least with these options, they use sustainably sourced materials, biodegrade, and are better for the planet.
The smooth, pristine white quality of virgin paper comes at a price, usually virgin trees and lots of chemicals. And it seems such a waste to cut down a tree, turn it into paper, use it once, and then throw it in the landfill. Therefore, recycled paper should be your preferred kind of paper. One ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water.
One room in the house that is not possible to stock completely with second-hand products is the bathroom. For the obvious reasons of safety and hygiene, you want to source your bathroom and personal hygiene products in brand-new condition. However, there are ways to ensure your zero-waste bathroom is free from plastic and excessive waste.
Below we cover a list of bathroom swaps you should consider swapping for less wasteful alternatives.
There are quite a few zero-waste toothbrush swaps for regular plastic toothbrushes. You can replace it with a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush. If you don't like bamboo toothbrushes, then you should opt for toothbrushes with replaceable heads. If you would like to do away with nylon bristles, check out toothbrushes with boar bristles.
It is possible to make your toothpaste at home, but if you don't find the idea appealing, you’ll find reduced waste product alternatives available to buy. For example, you can get toothpaste in powder or tablet form. Any of these swaps helps you avoid accumulating empty tubes of toothpaste that are pretty difficult to recycle.
Regular dental floss is usually waxed nylon packed in a plastic bottle. Opt for zero-waste dental floss, and switch to biodegradable floss made from natural materials. Plastic-free packaging and refills are also qualities to look out for. You can also grab some zero-waste mouthwash to complete your dental routine without plastic bottles.
Swap your disposable plastic shaving razor for a stainless safety razor. Stainless steel is durable, and with proper care, it will serve you for a long time. A safety razor has only the recurrent cost of new blades, which is less than buying a new shaving razor every time. You will save some money and produce less plastic waste.
Usually, shampoo comes in containers that become useless after you have exhausted the contents. If you go through a bottle of shampoo in a month, you would have 12 waste containers by the end of the year. A shampoo bar that is palm oil-free is an eco-friendly and plastic-free alternative. There are other hair care products like conditioners and moisturizers that come in bars as well.
If you don't like the idea of hair care products coming in bars, go for refillable liquid shampoo and conditioners. This method allows you to buy the products in large quantities and refill your handy dispenser bottle when you need to.
One way to do zero-waste swaps in the bathroom is to swap body wash and hand washing liquid for zero-waste body wash, usually in the form of bar soap. Bar soap usually comes in paper packs and sometimes comes without individual packaging when you buy in bulk. Buying a refillable type is something that you should also consider.
Makeup products like face wash, lip balm, and foundation usually come in small quantities in fancy packages, primarily plastic, which can quickly lead to a rapid collection of empty waste containers. One way to make zero-waste swaps with cosmetic products is to search for zero-waste makeup options with less packaging that you can buy in bulk, like refillable zero-waste deodorants and cleansers.
And for the summer sun, grab zero-waste sunscreen instead of the major brands in plastic bottles. Also, choose products that come in reusable or plastic-free packaging.
With soft reusable cotton rounds, coconut oil works great as a face cleanser and a zero-waste makeup remover. If you like to experiment, you can also make your lip balm at home. Or simply grab some zero-waste face wash for clean and moisturized skin without the plastic packaging.
Many sanitary product brands use plastic for tampon applicators, strings, the leak-proof base for pads and packaging. A menstruating individual will consume 5 to 15 thousand pads and tampons in a lifetime.
These products end up in landfills as plastic waste. Zero waste swaps include products like menstrual cups, compostable pads, cloth pads, period underwear, and tampons without applicators.
PVC is the material commonly used to make synthetic shower curtains. Unfortunately, it is a petrochemical product and not great for you or the environment. Zero-waste shower curtain swaps for synthetics include cotton or hemp curtains.
Cleaning with harmful chemicals is not good for you or the environment. In addition, cleaning takes a toll on tools used for the purpose, so we often have to replace them. Here is a list of zero-waste cleaning swaps you can make today.
Eco-friendly feather dusters might be hard to find as you may not be able to ascertain that they are 100% fairly sourced. But getting a second-hand feather is an excellent swap for new ones, even ethical ones. If you prefer a vegan lifestyle and would rather stay away from animal products, use cleaning rags instead.
You can make your rags from the old cotton fabrics you have at home.
Swap chemical cleaning supplies that contain toxic ingredients for eco-friendly options. You can use natural or low-impact ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon as part of your zero-waste cleaning routine to replace store-bought liquid soap in plastic bottles. One of the good things about natural cleaners is that you can buy them in bulk to last you for as long as you would like.
Optionally you can find eco-friendly cleaning strips or tablets that you can dissolve in water to make a cleaning spray. There are also plastic-free dissolvable detergent pods for zero-waste laundry and refillable laundry detergent options as well.
Try soap nuts for a natural alternative to laundry detergent. Also, rather than buy a different cleaning spray for every section of the room, get a multi-purpose cleaner.
Swap your old brush for a plastic-free zero waste product like a wood or bamboo handle brush. The bamboo handle will make a useful addition to your compost bin at the end of its life.
Wooden brooms with natural bristles are great zero-waste swaps for plastic brushes with nylon bristles. Getting one with a replaceable head makes it even more eco-friendly and less wasteful. Add a metal dustpan, and you have something that will last for years.
You can also replace your old plastic mop with an eco-friendly mop.
Disposable gloves are unrecyclable and end up in landfills by the millions. Even when made from natural rubber, it still takes a long time to break down in landfills because of added chemicals. Natural latex gloves that are compostable and made from fair-trade rubber are the zero-waste alternative to regular gloves.
Make zero waste swaps in your laundry, starting with switching from single-use dryer sheets to wool dryer balls. The balls do an efficient job of reducing static and shortening dryer time. You may add a few drops of essential oil to the balls to freshen up your laundry.
Something that should be at the top of your list of zero-waste swaps is your sponge. Research has shown that your kitchen sponge harbors more bacteria than any other item in your house1, second only to the drain traps. Therefore, it is hygienic to replace them often, maybe once every week.
They make a regular sponge from petrochemicals. It is not biodegradable and sheds microplastics every time you wash it. Loofah alternatives, coconut scourers and scrub pads, cellulose sponges, and hemp scourers make great eco-friendly swaps. So also do copper scourers, reusable cotton sponges, and walnut shell sponges.
Like most textile items that the original owner can’t donate after use, dish clothes go straight from your house to the landfill. Rather than buy new dishcloths, improve your zero-waste kitchen creds by putting old clothes to new use.
Cut up old clothes to use as rags. You would give those old clothes a new life and save some money as well. Cotton dish rags make an excellent zero-waste swap for kitchen towels too.
It is easy to assume that using disposable plates cuts back on the water needed for washing. However, producing disposable plates requires more resources and energy for production than dishwashing.
Because they are mostly impossible to recycle, disposable plates also take up valuable space in landfills and contribute to environmental pollution. Replace disposable plates with glass, ceramic, bamboo, or wooden plates that you can use over and over to reduce waste. The value you get from reuse will eventually balance out the environmental costs, unlike disposables.
You can swap aluminum foil and parchment with a silicone baking mat. It is reusable.
Tupperware is the popular choice for food storage, but there are better options for you and the planet. When Tupperware gets old and unusable, replace it with something more durable. You can make zero-waste swaps with steel containers or ball jars for food storage.
Use a french press instead of disposable filters for zero-waste coffee. You save money as the French press also works for filtering tea and nut milk.
A lot of soap brands use palm oil in their products. This practice is not eco-friendly, given that palm tree cultivation is one of the top contributors to deforestation and ecosystem degradation in Indonesia and Malaysia. They may also add some other ingredients that are not good for the environment. Check the list of ingredients in your dish wash to know if you should switch to a palm oil-free alternative.
Keep in mind that packaging waste is an important thing, so you could consider eco-friendly bar soaps that come with zero-waste packaging. You may also try out the refillable sort of dish-friendly detergent.
Paper cupcake lining is compostable. However, if you swap it for a silicone liner you can reuse, you will save money and reduce paper waste.
Food waste is not something you can swap with another product from the supermarket. But, with apartment composting, you can turn food waste into compost.
Switch to eco-pens, markers, and highlighters that you can refill with ink rather than throw away. This can significantly reduce plastic waste in schools and offices.
Water filters often use plastic which is not good for the environment. A charcoal water purifier works great and is a zero-waste alternative. Charcoal absorbs impurities from water and may improve its taste. You can use one charcoal stick for 3-4 months.
Synthetic hair brushes, combs, and hair ties are bad for the environment. Zero-waste alternatives include bamboo or wooden combs and brushes with natural bristles. Also, choose eco-friendly hair ties made with natural rubber or fiber instead of synthetics.
Switch from regular plastic lighter to a reusable model or an electronic lighter.
You can have zero-waste holidays with eco-friendly gift wrappings; opt for compostable or flowering-seeded gift wrap that allows you to give gifts not just to your friends but to the earth as well.
Related: Thinking of gift wrap, we have a bunch of ideas for zero-waste Christmas to inspire a low-waste holiday season.
Making all these zero-waste swaps is not something you may be able to do at all at once, but there is always room in your life for improvement. This list of swaps for low-waste alternatives is great for those just getting started with a zero-waste lifestyle and those who already do.
Cardinale, M., Kaiser D., Lueders, T. et al. Microbiome analysis and confocal microsocopy of used kitchen sponges reveal massive colonization by Acinetobactar, Moraxella and Chryseobacterium species.
Beat plastic pollution. UN Environment.
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.