We all know that going zero waste can make a huge difference on the planet. Cutting waste in your home and switching to more sustainable products can positively impact your well-being and the environment.
Perhaps you are just starting your zero-waste journey and wondering - is the waste-free lifestyle expensive? Is switching to zero-waste living worth it?
Well, in this article, we answer these questions. Read on as we explore what zero-waste means and how to save money while going zero-waste.
Before we dive deeper, what exactly does zero-waste mean?
The zero-waste life involves preventing and reducing waste. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, the zero-waste lifestyle is
‘The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
The zero-waste philosophy involves the 4Rs - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Authentic zero-waste living aims to ensure that no part of a product or packaging ends up in landfills or the ocean.
As an individual, choosing a waste-free lifestyle involves making better choices with the kind of things you buy. This includes household items, food packaging, shopping habits, etc.
Read more: What is Zero Waste? And the Zero Waste Movement All About?
The zero-waste lifestyle comes with many benefits. However, zero-waste living also comes with its downsides. Here are some pros and cons of the zero-waste lifestyle:
The primary goal of the zero-waste movement is to reduce waste, especially plastic waste, from plastic bags used for grocery shopping to disposable plastic and packaging materials used for various items. All these contribute to plastic waste which ends up in the trash and landfills.
In landfills, these plastics could take hundreds of years to decompose. Also, as it decomposes, it breaks down into microplastics, polluting our environment and poisoning marine life.
The zero-waste movement encourages you to refuse, reduce or recycle these plastics and go for eco-friendly alternatives.
The low-waste lifestyle also aligns with other sustainable movements, including veganism, fair labor, sustainable shopping, and a circular economy.
For example, a zero-waste store typically stocks organic or zero-waste products from eco-friendly brands. Most of these brands prioritize sustainable packaging and follow recognized social and environmental standards.
The zero-waste lifestyle doesn't only benefit our environment but also promotes a healthier lifestyle. It promotes sustainable activities like zero-waste cooking to reduce food waste and encourage better eating habits, proper waste disposal, recycling, and other activities which improve your physical and mental well-being. As you purchase zero-waste products instead of their conventional counterparts, you also protect your health from toxic chemicals.
Going zero-waste not only reduces waste but also helps curb global warming, which is a major environmental plague. Several activities contribute to depleting the ozone layer causing global warming.
Production of goods and services burns fossil fuels, depleting our natural resources and increasing the release of harmful greenhouse gases. These gases get into our atmosphere causing global warming and climate change. Adopting zero-waste practices and lifestyles can help reduce our carbon footprint and repair our planet.
Buying zero-waste products like stainless steel food storage containers and glass jars instead of disposable items comes at a higher upfront cost. This can stretch your budget and make the zero-waste journey slightly inconvenient.
The zero-waste lifestyle can also be time-consuming. For example, you will need to go out of your way to do some bulk shopping. If you're cooking zero-waste, you will need to take out time to meal prep (check out some of the best zero-waste cookbooks for ideas). Also, if you want to DIY items like grocery bags, kitchen utensils, and reusable products, you will need ample time.
You may be unable to access a zero-waste alternative for all products because some products don't have sustainable options.
For example, household appliances come in plastics which you can't replace. If these items get damaged, you must put them away in the bin or try to repair them.
Read more: Pros and cons of zero-waste
Now to the question we've all been waiting for - Is it expensive to go zero-waste? Well, the short answer is no. While zero-waste products can be quite costly initially, it is much cheaper in the long run.
Furthermore, the goal of living zero-waste is to reduce waste and help you save money.
If you're just starting your journey, the idea is not to immediately switch out all your items with zero-waste alternatives.
A more sustainable and budget-friendly approach is to use what you already have. This starts with ensuring that no product goes to waste. It also means giving old items new life, buying used items from online thrift stores, and so on.
Read more: Tips for going zero waste on a budget
If we compare side-by-side, zero-waste items are seemingly more expensive than disposable ones. This is primarily because sustainable products are made to last longer.
Most eco-friendly products come with high-quality materials and functional designs, which make them cost more than conventional items.
So while sustainable products may come with a higher price tag, they can last for years, so you won't have to replace them often. Ultimately buying sustainable products can save you money in the long run.
Also, low-waste products are made with sustainable labor and environmental practices. Sustainable companies ensure that they source materials ethically and pay their employees fairly. These practices can increase the cost of the product compared to those produced less scrupulously.
For example, a 24-pack biodegradable kitchen sponge on Amazon costs $29, while the conventional one costs $14 for the same pack. However, biodegradable kitchen sponges are more eco-friendly and durable.
While some sustainable products may be initially expensive, others are cheap. For example, instead of using a biodegradable sponge, you can use reusable paper towels, a reusable brush, or a dishcloth.
Here are several ways you can go zero-waste while saving money:
If you’re just starting the zero-waste lifestyle, you might be tempted to switch out all your items for zero-waste alternatives.
However, you should start with what is available. You may have lots of items stuck in your cupboards and shelves. You can reuse those items instead of throwing them in the trash. For example, instead of buying a new reusable water bottle, you can use that plastic water bottle until it wears out.
For items that you can’t reuse, think of other ways to dispose of them. You can put some items in your recycling bin, upcycle some and add some to your compost pile.
Going forward, pay attention to the types of items you buy and buy only what you need. Avoid buying unnecessary cheap items you don’t need. This could increase waste and cost you more money to replace.
Buying products in bulk is one way to reduce the amount of packaging that comes with some items.
However, while you can buy items like refillable laundry detergent, eco-friendly toilet paper, zero-waste dish soap, etc., there are others you can't buy in bulk. To save money, only buy what you need in bulk. Look out for local shops selling non-perishable goods in bulk and buy them for later.
Buying in bulk also reduces the number of trips you make to the store, reducing carbon emissions from your vehicle.
For perishable products like fruits and vegetables, you can get them directly from a farmer's market. This, amongst other reasons to buy local, reduces packaging and reduces transportation, which is a plus.
Instead of buying brand-new storage items like food containers and glass jars, you can get them from local thrift shops. This way, you can spend less money while replacing the plastics in your home.
Apart from thrift shops, you can get these items from the bulk of unwanted items with family and friends and reuse them. Doing this gives new life to old items that would otherwise have ended up in the bin.
Did you know that an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste end up in landfills in the United States every year?
Another way to go zero waste is to upcycle clothes into new ones. Instead of purchasing new clothing items, you can buy secondhand clothing from thrift shops. You can also swap clothing items with your friends and family.
Making your products could be time-consuming, but it is ultimately rewarding. For example, instead of buying cleaning products with toxic chemicals, you can make your own zero-waste cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar, which are natural products that can get the cleaning job done. Instead of using those plastic bags for shopping, you can sew your shopping bags using old clothing items at home.
There is a wide range of products you can make on your own. You can check online for DIY recipes and procedures for various items at home.
One way to reduce costs when buying fresh produce is to buy them when they are in season or reaching their sell-by dates. Some supermarkets offer products close to their sell-by date at a discount. Doing this will also prevent the food from ending up in the bin. Also, they typically sell fruits and vegetables in season at cheaper rates. Buying them when they are in season can help you save money.
To avoid food waste, create and follow a meal plan. Creating a meal plan helps you buy all the ingredients you actually need. Meal planning also helps you eat healthily. Get creative with your recipes and meals and find multiple ways to use the same ingredient.
Perhaps you have a space outside your home. You can use that space to create a garden. Simply get some plant pots, seeds, and soil and grow fruit and vegetables in your garden.
The benefits of planting a garden at home are enormous. You won't have to spend money buying junk food. You can get fresh food right from your garden. Also, plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This helps reduce your carbon footprint around the home.
You can compost food waste in your garden to enrich it and decrease waste.
Worried about needing more space? Start out small with our guides to apartment gardening and urban composting.
We all know that plastics are a major plague on our planet. One way to go zero waste while spending absolutely nothing is to avoid purchasing plastic. This could be as simple as using a hemp tote bag for shopping, which is more sustainably grown than cotton, to avoid going home with many plastic bags. When you go out to eat, you can take your own food container and reusable straw to avoid using plastic containers and straws.
Prioritizing quality over quantity is an integral part of living zero-waste. Instead of buying low-quality items that will only last for a few months or even days, spend more money upfront purchasing high-quality products.
For example, instead of buying a set of plastic food containers that can break quickly, invest in eco-friendly lunch boxes and stainless steel or glass containers, even if they are initially more expensive. This will save you money in months and years to come. It will also help you decrease waste which is great for the environment.
The zero-waste lifestyle is an excellent choice for the planet and doesn't have to be expensive. You can start by cutting down the items you buy weekly and purchasing fresh produce from the farmer’s market in the second week. The secret is to start building small, sustainable habits that can significantly impact over time.
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.