Guys, I have a confession. I’ve been trying to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle for a while. And it is taking a lot longer than I expected. I don’t know if I’ll ever be zero-waste. But I do like reusing things to save money! Reusing things just seems more logical to me. And probably something my grandma would encourage me to do. I don’t want to take our things for granted. And I do like the idea of making less garbage; I want to be aware of the impact of my choices.
So I keep trying to move towards zero-waste for the benefits. But sometimes it’s impossible to find any practical advice on how a family can make this zero-waste thing doable! First, I do think it’s harder for women–I just have way more products to replace! And I’m not even high maintenance! Do I really have to make my own mascara? (Because I currently don’t.) Second, I’m a full-time working mom! So often, I turn to Google looking for zero-waste tips and solutions only to have some well-meaning person with tons of free time tell me that I need to start making my own almond milk and pressing my own tofu at home. Seriously?
It just makes me laugh. I want to do the right thing! I really do! I want to save money, be conscious of what I’m consuming, and make less trash if I can! But most of the time, I consider it a successful week if my daughter eats anything besides pasta and cereal. I cook a real dinner maybe once a week (and sometimes less often)? This is TMI, but I think I vacuum like once a month. I have goals of achieving more balance and a clean home, but right now, I just don’t have time for all the unrealistic tips some of these zero-waste peeps dish out.
So here is my list of zero-waste products that actually save time and money for real-life busy people! Disclaimer: I am not being paid to endorse any of these items. I use all of these and love them, but I’ve also taken nearly two years to slowly transition to using each of these items. Please don’t feel like you need to make any of these changes right away or at all. These are just ideas. They’re here if you want to try them. I hope they’re useful for you like they were for me!
This little baby is awesome! Think about how much you spend on typical razors and blades every couple months. I think I got a new pack of razors about four times a year at $20+ a pack. I used a new head each month. And think how much trash that created! Between the packaging, all the little plastic bits that can’t be recycled, and a replacement razor handle every few years, it was shaping up to be quite a theoretical pile. Until I found the safety razor!
I bought my safety razor here for $29.99 a year ago. That’s basically the price of just one of my refills! And I bought a pack of 100 blades here for $11.88. I have not had to buy any refills since last year and I won’t have to buy another refill for another eight years by my calculations. Just this switch has saved me approximately $700.00! And it’s totally zero-waste! The handle will last forever. I keep mine in the shower and there’s no sign of rust or wear at all. The blades are recyclable.
Also, between us, because I know you’re wondering. Yes, I can shave just as fast. I’ve done the 4-minute shave and shower dance and made it through unscathed many times this year. You do need to be careful when you first put in a brand new blade, just like with a traditional brand-new razor head, around the ankles and knees. Frankly, I’ve cut myself with a traditional razor going too fast several times too, so in my experience both razors take about the same amount of time and skill. You can use the safety razor with soap, oil, shampoo, or shaving cream–whatever you use now! And you can shave your legs, pits, bikini area, or full brazilian no problem. There are also plenty of non-pink colors available if you don’t like the pink. If you want to make an easy zero-waste switch, this is my #1 recommendation!
I know. I know. You’ve heard a million times about switching from plastic bags to reusable bags at the grocery store for the environment. But what about the plastic bags we buy for home? I’m talking about the bags for your full-size garbage can. Those are made of plastic too, aren’t they? So why don’t we ever talk about those plastic bags?
Well I did a little research and found these compostable garbage bags that I use for home and LOVE. The only downside is that I can’t find any at any local stores! But it’s not a huge deal. I just buy them online and have them shipped to my door. I know there are environmental reprocussions for ordering things online, and I’d much prefer to buy local if it was possible. But for now, I’ll keep buying these online until the company can expand to my area. These run about $20 for 50 bags so they are more expensive than Glad or Hefty bags (which are about $10 for 50). That said, it takes me about six months to go through 50 bags, so I don’t mind spending an extra $10 twice a year. It’s worth it to me because it’s an easy switch to producing less plastic waste.
You can also use paper bags, but I have no idea where to find giant paper bags. Plus, as soon as my kid dumps a drink in the garbage, the entire bag would dissolve. These compostable bags are the best of both worlds–they can break down in moisture if left sitting for too long, but they’re perfect for my kitchen trash (and for my kid to dump her drinks in) as long as we take out the trash regularly.
NOTE: You have to be very careful when buying “green” garbage bags because a lot of companies are very misleading. For example, I naively bought a brand called Green Legacy thinking the bags were biodegradable. The box has a picture of a big green planet Earth and these bags pop up if you search for biodegradable trash bags. It turns out only the box and twist ties are biodegradable. Excuse me? So the trash bags are the exact same as the plastic trash bags I buy from the store for 1/10 the price?! Don’t buy Green Legacy and don’t get duped like I was if you’re researching better options.
Honestly, think about how expensive tampons and pads are. Then we use them for only a few hours and toss them out. And they come wrapped in so much plastic packaging! I was definitely ready to make a switch in the hygiene products department.
That’s when I found cloth reusable pads and the cup. If you’re a tampon woman, you’ll probably prefer the cup. If you’re a pads woman, you’ll probably prefer the cloth pads. I opted to get both in a package deal from GladRags, but there are also much cheaper options if you don’t want to buy a kit: pads are less than $20 here and the cup is available here. There are two sizes for the cup. I do recommend getting a cup, even if you get the pads–it comes in handy for swimming. I know plenty of women who swear by the cup, but I actually prefer the pads. I’ve tried them now while on and off birth control (meaning light v. heavy periods) with no problems and no leaks. If you have heavy periods, the nighttime pads are worth it, but they’d be too thick for during the day. I’ve even used these on vacation with no problems. It’s also so easy to toss the pads in the wash. I don’t presoak them, but you can if you want to. I just picked a dark navy pattern so stains don’t really show up and then I wash them as is. The cup rinses out in the sink! So easy!
Even better, you’re never running to the store exhausted in the middle of the night because you just ran out of products again, or begging your significant other to go pick you up some essentials at a strange and inconvenient time. Such a time-saver for me! And, while the upfront expense for the kit can be costly, these totally saved me money. I spent $91.87 for a standard moon cup kit (with a cup, several pads, a carry case, a laundry bag, and a stain remover stick) almost two years ago. I haven’t bought feminine products since. I think I used to spend $8-$10 per month on pads. So by using reusable pads for two years now, I’ve already saved $150.00 and will be saving $120.00 per year from here on out! If you get the cheaper options from Amazon, you’ll save more money even more quickly. Awesome!
4. My Handy Little Bambu Spork and Cork!
Guys, I LOVE this thing. It’s handy. It’s tiny. It’s flat. I keep it in the weird little secret compartment pocket in my purse and use it all the time! It has been so useful at food truck roundups and festivals and concerts. Whenever you have to grab your own plastic silverware, I just grab this instead. There’s no knife, but I rarely need a knife so that’s okay. I actually bought this set of utensils too, to keep in my desk, but I like the Spork and Cork way better. It’s just so compact and cute! It doesn’t really save me money, because I wasn’t paying for those plastic silverware anyway, but it reduces my garbage! And it sure comes in handy sometimes when everyone else realizes they forgot to grab silverware and I’m good to go! Easy switch.
This is another basic one, like the reusable grocery bags, but if you haven’t ordered a reusable water bottle it’s a good idea. I always carried around a water bottle in my purse anyway, so switching to a reusable really made no difference to me. There are several types to choose from: plastic, glass, or stainless steel. I used plastic water bottles for several years, but had to replace them every so often because they would crack or break over time. My plastic reusable water bottles were only “reusable” for about a year, so not exactly meeting my objective. I also learned more about BPA and about the estrogenic effects of plastic in BPA and BPA-free water bottles. Long story short, I wanted to drink out of something that would actually last forever and that was plastic free. Glass bottles are great, but so many of them have plastic lids or silicone carriers, and I wanted to go as plastic-free as possible. So I settled on this stainless steel water bottle with a stainless steel lid. The only plastic is a tiny rubber liner inside the lid that you can remove. I’ve had this water bottle for over a year now and it still looks brand new. I think it’ll last forever!
Instead of those little disposable Kleenex packs wrapped in plastic that I used to always carry in my purse, I’ve switched to reusable handkerchiefs. That may sound a bit strange, but just imagine the olden days, when people carried around beautiful handkerchiefs all the time. Now, that’s me too! The reusables work just as well as the Kleenex packs. I never need to buy Kleenex packs again (which saves me a few bucks a month). The reusables are just as easy for me to stash in my bag. And I just throw them in the wash after they’ve been used. I actually like the HankyBooks even more than regular handkerchiefs. Each page of the book is a new, clean hanky to use! But that grosses some people out and, unless they’re immediate family or a little kid, they will probably never want to use your HankyBook, so you may want to get the regular handkerchiefs instead. But the HankyBook is tiny, stays clean in my bag, and is great for sharing with kids! Zero-waste, money-saving solution! Plus there are some really beautiful patterns to choose from. And they make great gifts! This one’s a keeper!
This is going to be a controversial one. We all have such different hair types and preferences that it’s really hard to recommend a one-product-fits-all solution! But I’ve switched to J.R. Liggets Shampoo Bar and I’m not going back. It’s all natural. Vegan. It doesn’t contain harmful chemicals that strip your hair. And it is zero-waste; it comes wrapped in paper just like a bar of soap. I have curly / frizzy / dry hair and this bar does a wonderful job at moisturizing my hair with no conditioner needed. There are other formulations to choose from too. It lathers up just like regular shampoo (which is great, because shampoo bars that don’t lather just feel so weird). (I like J.R. Liggetts way more than Lush.) If you’re wondering, these leave my hair squeaky clean; my hair does not ever look greasy (like some of those no shampoo experiments you see online–I commend the no shampooers for their efforts, but oily roots are a no-go for me). Also, these bars are SO CHEAP. They cost $3-$5 a bar and a bar usually lasts me 2-3 months. That’s $1 per month! Saving for my retirement baby!
You can buy these bars online here but they may also be available in local stores. I found mine at Whole Foods.
There is one disclaimer: these bars only work if you have soft water. If you have hard water (like I do) they don’t rinse out right. The solution is to buy a soft-water shower head filter, like this one, and problem solved! (You can also make your own soft water to wash your hair with using baking soda, but that is not a very practical solution for real-life busy-people like us.)
Have you heard about the chemicals in dryer sheets? Well I did and decided that I wanted to find a chemical-free solution. Enter: dryer balls. These things are awesome! You buy them once and use them for years (if not forever)! They aid in the drying process, soften the fabric, and can even add a nice smell if you put a few drops of essential oil on them. But, best of all, they’re chemical free! I recommend these hemp dryer balls or bamboo dryer balls, because I try to avoid plastic and wool. But, right now, hemp and bamboo dryer balls are much more expensive than the alternatives. If you’re interested, the plastic dryer balls are available here. I’ve been using our dryer balls since 2015 and still love them! It takes the same amount of time to throw these in the dryer as throwing a dryer sheet in the dryer and you’ll save money by never buying dryer sheets again!
Note: We noticed after using dryer balls that we didn’t need to run our dryer nearly as long. If we ran the dryer too long, the clothes would over-dry and get static-y. But using the dryer sensor solved that problem. (Before, we just set the timer for as long as it would go… not sure why. We just never really thought about it and wanted our clothes as hot as possible?) And by running the dryer less, we save energy too!
Remember when we talked about avoiding plastic grocery bags and plastic trash bags? Well my hubby loves to use zip-lock bags to store leftovers. They’re not my favorite. #1: they’re single-use disposable plastic. #2: it is very hard to get soup back out of a plastic bag without spilling. #3: somehow I always end up reaching into the bag with a spoon to scoop out a serving of food and there’s always food up the insides of the bag and I always end up with food on my wrist. Gross. Can you tell I have a beef with the zip-lock bags?
So I’ve started using bento boxes and tupperware to store leftovers. For these, I prefer glass or reusable plastic over metal because: (1) you can see what’s inside; and (2) glass and plastic are microwavable. I like to split large portions up into smaller tupperwares where possible. It’s great! It makes packing a lunch the next day much easier when I already have a bento box ready to go. I can pack the bento box straight into my bag and run out the door. It saves me time, energy, and we don’t waste leftovers anymore! Plus, we save money by not buying zip-lock bags and we save money by not eating out for lunch! If it works for you, give it a try!
Another often-overlooked type of garbage is the empty shell of an old plastic pen. I work in an office, so I was using these plastic pens all the time. I probably wouldn’t have purchased a refillable fountain pen for myself, but I got one from a dear friend as a gift and now I love it! This is admittedly a little more work than a regular plastic pen, because you do have to refill it every once in a while. I use mine all the time and only refill it once a month though. And refilling it is as simple as pulling back a little plunger, so it’s not a prohibitive amount of effort. Worst case scenario, it runs out of ink and you just use a disposable pen until you have time to refill it again. I keep my ink bottle in my desk, so I can usually just refill it right when it runs out; it only takes a minute. For the pen to be zero-waste, I did need the converter (the plunger) and ink along with the pen. I’ve used the refillable pen for about a year and I think I’ve only had to throw away one plastic pen shell this year (as opposed to at least one a month before). It is a big expense up-front, but I believe it will save money long-term. A bottle of ink runs $10-$15 and will last years, compared to the $10+ I used to spend each year on pens, and that’s not even including free pens at work. Also, I’m kind of a pen snob. Uniball was the only pen for me. Thankfully, the fountain pen is wonderful. It grips well and writes beautifully. It feels luxurious. For me, it has replaced the plastic pens forever.
Like I said above, I am not being paid to endorse any of these items. I use all of these and love them, but I’ve also taken nearly two years to slowly transition to using each of these items. These are just ideas and they’re here if you want to try them.
What do you think of this list? What zero-waste products have you found easy to use? Do any of these sound like way too much work to you? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below! Also, check out my next post for some pretty epic zero-waste fails. (Can you say “severe allergic reaction”?)