Zero Waste on a Budget: 5 Helpful Tips You Need to Know

Zero Waste on a Budget: 5 Helpful Tips You Need to Know

Interested in going zero waste on a budget? I get it. With the cost of living being what it is, we’re all looking for ways to save. The good news is you don’t have to have limitless amounts of money to go zero waste. But, you do have to be a little budget savvy, thrifty, and creative. Ever since moving into my own apartment, my living expenses have certainly gone up! I’ve been creating a budget to help make sure I’m living within my means (and my values!). Here are my top five tips you need to know when it comes to going zero waste on a budget.

Zero Waste on a Budget:
5 Helpful Tips You Need to Know

Zero Waste on a Budget: 5 Helpful Tips You Need to Know

Is zero waste affordable?

Honestly, zero waste is affordable, if you do it imperfectly. For example, not everyone can afford (or has access to) refilleries/bulk bins. And certain zero waste items can be expensive ($40 for a Stanley cup? AHEM…). But, if you’re thrifty and crafty, you can certainly do zero waste in an affordable way.

Just remember this: You do NOT have to be perfect to call yourself zero waste. No one is. As long as you’re trying, that’s what counts! Because we live in a linear economy where items are literally MADE to be landfilled, it’s hard/nearly impossible to be fully zero waste. So doing what you can is enough and let no one tell you otherwise!

How can we save money on zero waste?

To be honest, being zero waste has saved me so much money. I bought a bunch of cloth napkins and un-paper towels when we initially moved into our new apartment and it has really paid off. Now, we never have to buy single-use paper napkins or towels.

Also, we use real cups, plates and utensils. This cuts back on the cost of paper goods.

For that time of the month, I no longer buy single-use pads. Instead I use reusable period underwear and reusable cloth pads I can wash. This has saved me SO much money.

I will admit, all these swaps initially did cost me some money. But they were an investment and they honestly paid for themselves over time.

It’s also all about mindset shifts – like knowing the 5 R’s of zero waste, and/or doing a trash audit to learn where your trash is really coming from. Sometimes, that’s all it takes! For example, instead of recycling an empty glass jar, I save it and reuse it for storing leftovers, grated cheese, plant propagation, knick-knacks, etc.

Can zero waste be more expensive?

It can be more expensive if you’re buying the most expensive reusable water bottles, always hitting up refilleries, and grabbing the latest plastic-free goodies.

However, that doesn’t mean it has to be. Here are my top 5 tips for keeping zero waste affordable and budget-friendly.

0. Make an actual budget!

Before we can even dive into my five tips, please above all else – make a budget for yourself! Grab a notebook, a scrap of paper, whatever – set aside about an hour.

Write down your income for the month, and all your guaranteed expenses (food, rent, Netflix, etc.) If it’s a holiday, or someone’s birthday, don’t forget to factor that in.

Then, see what money you’re left with. Can some of it be used to purchase one or two zero waste products? This will help you so much when doing zero waste on a budget! From there, you can shop around and see what places land you the best deals. Here are my fav zero waste stores FYI.

And, lets not forget – while zero waste products are great…it’s also mostly a mindset shift. Aka, buying less, upcycling more, DIYing when you have time, etc. DIYs definitely can save a lot of money too! Here’s a list of zero waste projects & DIYs to get you started.

1. Use what you have

First and foremost, the most sustainable thing you can do for the planet (and your wallet) is just using what you have.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Instead of running out to get the Stanley cup, use the reusable travel mug sitting in your cupboard already. Still just as good.
  • Did someone gift you a reusable water bottle? Use that instead of buying a fancier one.
  • Still have Tupperware? Use that instead of buying expensive glassware sets.
  • Instead of buying the latest clothing and accessories, why not just shop your closet first?
  • Save empty glass jars and tins to store items like leftovers, office supplies, or art supplies.
  • Have metal utensils? Don’t buy that fancy bamboo utensil kit – just wrap the ones you already have in a cloth napkin and secure it with a rubber band.

Often times we’re marketed the next best thing. But truly we don’t need as much as we’re told we do. Getting creative with what we have is more than sufficient. Buying less overall wins out!

2. Shop smarter for groceries

Many people don’t have access to refilleries (which honestly is a shame), and some cannot afford their pricing. But you can still reduce your waste at the grocery store!

Here’s how to shop smarter:

  • Plan ahead of time and make a list of what you want to get at the grocery store. This will help you avoid impulse buys.
  • Aim for whole foods, as these tend to come in less packaging. Think fresh leafy greens, apples, citrus, potatoes, etc. Try to reach for the plastic-free options of these foods whenever possible.
  • Be mindful of where you shop. The grocery store you shop at could be charging you an arm and a leg whereas another will charge less for the same items. I personally love going to Trader Joes as I feel their pricing is the most fair/affordable.
  • Look for items that come in rigid plastic, paper, cardboard and metal. These items will be the easiest to recycle, opposed to soft plastics. Soft plastics cannot be recycled curbside, though you may be able to find a plastic film drop off location near you that recycles it.
  • Visit the farmers market! They often sell local, in-season produce that is much less expensive than out of season produce (takes less resources to grow something during its proper season).
  • Reduce food waste! You toss so much money in the trash when you don’t get to your food in time.

3. Thrift, borrow and barter

Do you have a local thrift store? Take full advantage and go explore it! You never know what you’ll find there. Plus, there are so many great bargains. My local thrift store will sometimes throw in a free item.

Now, even with thrifting, you should be mindful not to overdo it. Only go when you absolutely need something. I love going to the thrift store during Christmas because it helps me create unique gifts for my loved ones. But I also enjoy going there first when I need something new for the house or in my wardrobe.

You can also ask loved ones if you can borrow something you need. For example, if you need a blender for a specific recipe, but don’t have the money for it, see if your mom/aunt/cousin will lend theirs to you. I will occasionally borrow my mom’s shoes/clothes and vice versa!

Bartering is also a fun, zero waste way to get what you need. For example, maybe your neighbor has a tool you need to fix your car. Instead of buying new, ask them if you can have it in exchange for one of your tools, making them a meal, or cleaning something of theirs.

4. Utilize free resources

There are a surprising number of free resources out there to help you stay within your budget, and stay zero waste.

The library is a perfect example of this! You can borrow books, CDs, DvDs, audio books, magazines, and newspapers from a library, free of charge. They also have computers, printers and copiers there. Some even have seed libraries!

Many times libraries will also host free classes or workshops. They are truly a hotbed of knowledge that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Another free resource is joining a local buy nothing group on Facebook. Look for one in your town and you’ll be amazed at the items people are giving away for free! You can request items, claim them, or post some you want to give away.

Last but not least, check your local community center/parks department. They often host several free events/workshops that may interest you, or even benefit the environment.

5. Space out your zero waste swaps

You don’t have to purchase all your zero waste swaps at once. In fact, you shouldn’t.

Remember how I said you should use what you have? Well, I mean it. Wait until that Tupperware starts to smell and look funky before replacing it with glassware. Or, wait until you’ve used up all your current shampoo before switching to a zero waste shampoo.

If it helps, you can set your mind to making one zero waste swap a month. This makes it a little less intimidating, and helps you factor it in to your budget.

Here’s a helpful list of zero waste swaps you could consider making. Pick and choose which you’ll make each month by basing it off of priority, affordability, and time. Can you find the time to make/do/buy it? Will you have enough funds for it if you save up a few months? Is it something that needs to be changed urgently, or can it wait?

Bonus: Don’t beat yourself up

Listen, you’re going to make some trash. I know I do. But, it’s okay. Being a perfect zero waster ain’t where its at. You’ve got enough on your plate to deal with: The last thing you need is to feel guilty over a plastic wrapper you couldn’t avoid.

I’m sure not perfect: I don’t have a refillery/bulk food store close to me, so I often have to get some foods in plastic packaging. I occasionally make exceptions for treats wrapped in plastic (my weakness is chips). I failed at the trash jar. And, I don’t play around when it comes to my skincare (which isn’t zero waste, but it’s the only thing that works for me).

But, then there are things I do amazingly: I compost every week, I use reusables, I go to the farmers market, I limit my spending/consumption, I cook from scratch/at home, etc.

So, you’ll have to find what works, what doesn’t and what’s going to give you peace of mind. Be gentle with yourself. You got this.

What do you think of these tips for going zero waste on a budget? Let me know in the comments!

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.

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