Going green doesn’t have to be expensive. On the contrary: an easy way to save time and money is to adopt a zero waste home mindset.
What is zero waste, exactly?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines zero waste as conserving resources in regards to production, packaging, and materials. Examples of zero waste products include:
- Food that comes in recyclable packaging
- Clothing you buy at a secondhand store
- Reusable paper towels you wash instead of throw away
- An eco-friendly beauty product that comes in compostable packaging
You can buy some products like these in places that label themselves as a “zero waste store” or “zero waste shop”. Others can be found in grocery stores or via online searches. For example, you can search everything from “zero waste napkins” to “zero waste shampoo,” and thousands of products will pop up to shop.
How to become a zero waste household
If you’d like to lower your carbon footprint and reduce waste in your home, it might be helpful to tackle this project room by room in your home. Just like decluttering can seem overwhelming to do all at once, making zero waste swaps is easier when you address one room at a time.
Zero waste kitchen
If you’re like most families, most of your waste is produced in the kitchen. That includes food waste, which releases the super pollutant methane as it decomposes in landfills.
One of the most impactful things you can do to reduce waste in your kitchen is to compost your food scraps and food-soiled paper, like dirty pizza boxes that aren't recyclable. Instead of tossing items like these in the trash, place them in a kitchen caddie to be composted. Your waste service provider might offer organic waste service, or you can create your own compost plot in your backyard.
Families also tend to throw away lots of packaging and ingredients in the kitchen. You can reduce waste with these tips.
- Ask for recyclable or compostable packaging for to-go food.
- Use reusable straws and foodware instead of plastic, polystyrene, or paper foodware.
- Opt for washable paper towels, baking mats, baggies, grocery store bags, cupcake liners, and napkins instead of disposable ones.
- Plan your meals. Only shop for the ingredients you need each week to avoid food from spoiling.
- Use the eye test. Food “use by” dates typically indicate peak freshness, not spoilage. CNN reports more than 90% of Americans throw away food prematurely. If freshly packaged food still looks and smells in good condition a couple days past the use by date, it’s probably OK to consume.
- Incorporate leftover ingredients (like half an onion or some carrots, for example) into meals like soups, slow cooker recipes, and casseroles. Extra leftover ingredients can add unexpected flavor to a dish and enable you to unleash your inner chef.
- For kitchen tools like sponges and brushes, choose plastic-free products.
Zero waste bathrooms
Bathrooms are another area in the home where we typically have dozens of toiletry, hygiene, and beauty products to manage. These products typically require a lot of packaging, as well, but there are easy ways to make some zero waste-friendly swaps.
- Use shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, and deodorant bars instead of products in plastic bottles.
- Reduce cotton ball waste with reusable pads.
- For tools like hairbrushes, combs, toilet brushes, and toothbrushes, opt for natural materials, like bamboo rather than plastic.
- Make your own face masks using organic ingredients.
- Use reusable razors instead of disposable razors.
- Look for compostable bathroom products, like compostable dental floss.
- For toilet paper, opt for recycled products.
- When you need to use items like diapers or sanitary pads, consider reusable products instead of disposable ones.
Zero waste living spaces
Our bedrooms and living rooms usually store our clothes and our entertainment. From adults to kids, here are some ways to decrease waste in your most lived-in spaces.
- Buy secondhand clothes and furniture.
- Donate clothes and toys that are in good condition rather than throwing them away.
- Rent entertainment like books, music, and movies.
- When you’re getting rid of electronic items like TVs, computers, or video games, never dispose of them in the landfill, because they have toxic components. If they’re in good working condition, donate them. If they’re no longer working, contact your recycling services provider for electronic waste disposal options.
Other zero waste home tips
In general, there are some things you can do to reduce waste overall.
- First, use up what you have. Take inventory of the items you have on hand before you purchase something new. Don’t throw away a half-bottle of shampoo in a plastic bottle. Use that first, then buy a shampoo bar when you need one.
- Go paperless whenever possible. Contact companies that send you bills or other paperwork, like your bank and phone service provider. Ask to receive communications via email or text instead of by mail.
- Purchase products made of eco-friendly and recyclable materials. Recycle waste that’s recyclable. Purchase items you need from a designated zero waste shop, or look for sustainable materials and ingredients. Remember: it's not a given that the eco-friendly version of things you want to buy are more expensive. Shop around!
- Maximize the use of what you have. For example, save paper print-offs for your kids to color on the backside. Melt leftover crayons to create colorful candles. Sew old T-shirts into a quilt. Think of how you might creatively use items before you throw them away.
- Buy high-quality items. When you do need to purchase something new, spending a little more up-front can save you long-term. Cheaper products that are made of cheaper materials or with cheaper methods may break more easily, causing you to purchase more. Whether it’s a winter coat or a food processor, the higher-quality model may cost more but can last for many more years.
Finally, be mindful while you shop. The most zero waste-friendly item is the one you leave on the shelf.
The Minimalists, who are documentary stars and podcast hosts who provide minimalist expertise, suggest only buying products that will add value to your life and that you can afford. Try to think about these characteristics with every purchase you make. That can help you to avoid overspending and adding things to your home that you don’t truly need or want.
Less waste = more savings
We want to help you save time as you put more money back into your wallet. Get more tips for how to repurpose common household items and transform them into something new. Find some fun zero waste activities the whole family can do, too.
Check out your Save mailer to get coupons on eco-friendly goods. And remember to recycle the mailer when you’re all set.