4. How Zero Waste Saves Me Hundreds Each Year

How zero waste saves me money each and every year.

Back in 2016, when I was first starting my zero waste journey, really one of the biggest things that was leading me there was I wanted to stop spending money. 

I was living on a newly college graduate budget, and it was not a fun time. It was expensive and I needed ways to cut costs. And one of the easiest ways was to get rid of all the disposables that we were using. 

Zero waste should not break the bank, but if you scroll on Instagram, if you scroll on Pinterest, you see all of these picture-perfect, eco-friendly things that just seem so out of touch, out of reach from the average person that you feel defeated, because it feels like you should have to have those things in order to participate in the zero waste movement. 

And that’s just honestly not true. The heart of the movement. Isn’t to Chuck every single piece of plastic out of your life in order to reduce into glass mania or having everything in glass or aluminum.

That is honestly not the most sustainable thing. The core of zero waste is to use things up until the very, very end of their usefulness. Now, does that mean that sometimes you’re going to get rid of plastic? Yeah, absolutely. And I’m not saying anything against that, but I know that I definitely fell prey to the glitz and glam of Instagram and threw away and recycled a lot of perfectly usable plastic that I could have continued using.

I want to help you avoid those same mistakes that I made and when it comes down to it, who has that sort of thing, disposable income I’m a full-time teacher. So I definitely don’t have that extra money in my pocket because we do not get paid all that much. 

Frugality and zero waste overlap a lot in their ideals.

Use what you have and use it until you can’t anymore. I remember distinctly when I was growing up, my mom would have margarine in these containers and I’m sure a lot of, you know well. You would go in and try to find the butter or the margarine, and you’d have to look through like 15 containers because there were all leftovers in these margarine containers because they are still perfectly useful.

And it’s that exact idea that zero waste brings to the fore. So we’re going to be talking about five different ways to go zero waste without breaking the bank. 

#1 Trash Audit

Now you may have heard about these. You may have heard this in my last episode, but completing a trash audit is really important to doing zero waste.

You can’t reduce what you don’t know, if you’re not aware of all of the trash that you’re creating, then it’s not going to be easy to be like, “Oh, I need to reduce this,” or “I need to find an alternative to this,” because you’re not aware of the problem. If you track what you’re throwing away, or if you write it down, then it becomes real. Then it becomes more solvable than if it’s just this nebulous idea in your head. 

Now there’s a couple of different ways to do your audit. You can grab a pair of gloves, a second trash bag, and either a partner or a voice command app and go through all of your trash. That means the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, everything. What are you throwing away? Write it all down.

If you’re finding more than one thing of the same type, say yogurt cups, then you can just put a check mark and just keep going. If you are less than inclined to go digging through the trash, which no shame whatsoever. Instead you can jot down what you’re throwing away each day for a week. Keep a notepad near your trash can, or again, using no app on your device to track what’s ending up on it. 

Was it cotton rounds or cotton balls. Is it wrapping from new purchases? What is it that you’re throwing away that you need to be aware of? 

Once you have this idea, it’s a lot easier to make an action plan. For more details about how to make an action plan. Go back into episode three where I go over how to determine where to go when you want to bring some new Eco-Products into your life and to determine when the best time is to do that. 

So the next thing, this is something that I have in abundance and that is old cotton t-shirt. 

I grew up as an athlete. I was a three sport athlete throughout high school. And from the age of five, until the age of 17, I played both basketball and softball.

Every single year, I went to games and I had summer camps that I went to. That meant that I had oodles and oodles of shirts because every single year I would get a shirt and the same thing happens at school because I am a teacher. So I’ve got a shirt for pretty much every single year that I have been teaching.

I used to have all of my t-shirts in my workout drawer. So I would cut them up, they’d become a workout shirt, but then I had like 20 of them in there. And that just doesn’t make sense. I don’t need 20 workout shirts when I barely work out three times a week. As time drew on, it overflowed. I did not need any of it.

So I went on, I went in, I took the ones that I liked the most and I left them and all the rest of them, I cut up. I had this old tin from one of those little self care bundles that you find in the holiday section at Walmart during the lead up to the holidays in winter. And like, that is what I’ve been using for my paper towels since then.

So I do not buy paper towels. I haven’t bought them in years. On average, the average American family goes through Well, one and a half to two paper towel rolls every single week. A week! That saves me literally hundreds of dollars a year. Even buying bargain brand prices.

Rags lasts for a long time. One of them, the important things, if you have not done rags before is make sure that you have certain rags that are devoted to certain tasks. I have rags that are devoted to oiling my cast iron, ones that are devoted to anything beeswax, because that stuff never comes out. And ones for our daily cleaning routines. 

Not only that, but you can use it to make them into no-sew reusable bags. You can use them to make rope toys for your puppers, or you can make a crocheted rug or baskets for your home. There are so many alternatives to just having a t-shirt languishing in your drawer and making your dresser overflow.

Empty food containers.

Going back to the margarine that we talked about earlier this episode. This was a habit that I shunned not proud of it, but this was one that I really didn’t see much use for, because when I first started this journey, I was pulled into the glitz and the glam, and I really wanted to have that picture-perfect pantry and refrigerator that I saw everywhere on Instagram. And I just didn’t didn’t think that I should be keeping all of this stuff because it’s plastic and plastic equals bad (because obviously), and I fell hard into the lie that zero waste meant zero plastic. 

I hoarded anything that was glass that entered into the house, but I tried to get rid of everything that was plastic. I shake my head at my younger self thinking about how much waste I produced in pursuit of the “zero waste” really zero plastic aesthetic. 

I also had a stint where I had an overwhelming amount of pasta jars, because they are so dang useful. Now, if you have pasta jars, you know that they are so useful, you can use them as storage.You can use them as a cup, and you can even use them for your hot coffee. Just put. clean single sock over them. And bam, you’ve got a nice to go cup. 

So, because I’m able to use all of these individual containers, I don’t need to go buy containers. I’m able to save that money that would go into investing in new storage containers and just use what I already have.

Use everything

This one seems really obvious. Well, duh. You don’t want to throw anything away that could have more use from it. So why am I talking about this? My question: how many of you have thrown away that lip balm with that last little bit in there because you just can’t get to it? What about your toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner? 

I know that I’ve been super guilty of doing this previous to really committing to zero waste. I’m an impulsive person. It’s something that I have been working on a lot in my life and in my purchases. When I get an idea in my head, I want to go at it full throttle, what’s in my closet be damned. 

This is an urge that I have to fight when pursuing zero waste because it’s directly counter to the movement itself. For example, I’ve been wanting to switch my shower toiletries over to bars, which I have literally just been able to do partially in June of 2021 when I started in June 2017.

But I knew that I had to finish using the exorbitant amount of product that I had in my closet. First, I made the commitment when I purchased them. And now I’ve got to finish this off. Little caveat here, if you are trying to go zero waste, because you are reacting negatively to ingredients in the products, and it’s a health thing, do not sacrifice your health for the sake of zero waste.

See if a family member, a friend, a colleague would be interested in it. That way it’s still being used without you having to tough it out and sacrifice your mental and physical wellbeing. If you have full products that you haven’t used, donate them to a local shelter. They are always looking for cleaning and personal careproducts in order to help serve the families that they serve.

And this one’s my favorite.

 One second hand shops. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I have saved at least 30, if not upwards of hundreds of dollars on things just for buying them second hand. 

Now this does take a little bit of a trained eye to figure out what’s worth buying second hand and what’s not. For example, underwear don’t want to touch it, but when it comes so furniture, when it comes to kitchenware, when it comes to a lot of stuff, I am a-okay with buying it second hand.

I’ve only bought a very, very few pieces of furniture in our house, brand new. All the rest of them came from either yard sales or antique or secondhand shops. This saves me significant amounts of money because most products are designed with planned obsolescence in mind, within X amount of years, it will break down meaning that people are going to have to come by more from me. Mua-ha-ha-ha.

Haha. Things are generally not made to last anymore. I know that you’ve heard people whining about that, but it is absolutely. When I buy things that are second hand, I’m able to, one exercise that delaying gratification muscle, because a lot of times I’m not able to find exactly what I’m looking for secondhand immediately when I want it.

And two, I can search for exactly what I’m interested in, not something that’s just near enough to what I want. When I find things they’re often vintage and will stand the test of time, better than whatever I get off the department store shelf. Plus, if I were to buy that same quality new, it would easily run me hundreds to thousands of dollars.

These are the top five ways that I save money while doing zero waste to recap. 

  • trash audit
  • old t-shirts 
  • old food containers 
  • using everything up and 
  • secondhand shop 

Using these five things will make it so much easier to save money. As you look to invest in more sustainable products, then it’s going to be easier to invest knowing that you will still save money.