It makes me feel so good to cut down on the waste we create and save money at the same time. We’ve cut the amount of garbage & recycling we’re producing each week in more than half since we started our baby steps towards zero waste, and we’ve got more money in our pockets!
Here are 5 disposable items to ditch that will save you money and majorly cut down on your non-recyclable trash.
Paper Towels –> Flour Sack Towels
Counter spills, drying dishes & produce, napkins, dusting–we’ve replaced almost everything we used paper towels for with reusable flour sack towels. We keep them stored in a drawer next to the oven, rolled up so they’re easy to grab. This is right near where we used to store paper towels, and locating them there made it easier to switch our habit. Once a week or so, we wash the flour sack towels we’ve dirtied in a hot-cycle load with our bath towels and produce bags, and they’re good as new. Right now we have 10 towels, I want to get twice that so that we always have a clean one on hand.
We are still keeping disposable paper towels around for one specific use. If it’s at all rainy or chilly outside, or if she’s just feeling some kind of way, our lil Chihuahua, Ellie, likes to poop on the floor. I am just not prepared, at this particular moment in my life, to be implementing a dog-poop-towel wash routine. Maybe we’ll get there someday. For now, we go with Who Gives a Crap brand paper towels, because both the paper towels and packaging are 100% recycled paper.
Cost of 20 flour sack towels, bought new at WalMart: $18.56
Cost of 1 roll of Bounty paper towels per week for 1 year: $75.70
Annual savings: $57.14
Sheet Masks–> Reusable, DIY Masks
I love sheet masks as much as the next girl. So luxurious. So moisturizing. Such an effortless way to feel like you’re doing something good for yourself. However, not only is the mask itself disposable, most are packaged in individual plastic pouches that are non-recyclable. That adds up to a ton of plastic waste, which is never a good look.
There are a few different options for replacing your sheet-mask habit. The easiest, most zero-waste route is to just slather that “key ingredient” on your face, and after a little while, wash it off (or not). For example, I grow an aloe plant, and I’ll just rip off the tip of a leaf and smear aloe on my face. You can do the same with oatmeal, eggs, coconut oil or shea butter, which you can buy in a big tub that will last you a year. Or you can mix up a mask from any one of a million online tutorials about DIY face masks.
If you’re not into DIY, or you just reaaaally need that obscure, snail- based face mask, well you can buy most fancy commercial masks in tub-form also.
I hear you saying, but the sheet is the best part! Two options there– you can make a DIY reusable sheet by cutting eye- and mouth-holes out of any piece of cotton flannel. Or, you can buy a silicone reusable facemask online.
The price of savings here will really vary, depending on whether you go with DIY facemasks or buying tubs of prepared beauty-goo. But let’s say you go the route of buying a silicone reusable facemask and mixing up masks out of stuff that’s already in your kitchen.
That’s $1.82 for one reusable silicone facemask
vs. 1 disposable Tony Moly facemask ($1.62)
If you use 1 face mask per week, that’ll save you $85 over the course of the year. 1 per day, that’ll save you $591 over the course of the year (and 365 un-recyclable plastic packets!)
Side benefit: If you DIY your own face masks, you know what you’re putting on your skin is food-grade. There’s no weird petroleum by-products in there that petrochemical companies were like, hey this probably gives people cancer but maybe?? it’ll?? prevent??? wrinkles??? The cosmetic industry is totally unregulated, and they can sell you poison and tell you whatever they want to about it. Fun fact.
La Croix–> Water
This one hurt, it really did. We were known amongst our friends as the couple who could always be relied on to have multiple flavors of La Croix on hand any time you came to visit. People still come over and are like, “I’ll have a Pamplemousse, please,” and we have to explain, I’m sorry, we’re not hoarding La Croix like it’s the end times anymore.
We had a 3-case-of-La Croix-a-week habit just as of a few months ago. I loved going into my fridge, and always having an ice-cold, fizzy, refreshing La Croix on hand. I still miss that crack of an opening can. But when we started thinking about our waste more closely, we just couldn’t justify it anymore. Our recycling bin would be HALF-FILLED with La Croix cans every time it was collected! Every time we need to slake our thirst, we don’t need to be creating aluminum waste. That’s some gross late-stage capitalism right there.
So, we just switched to water. I carry a Nalgene around with me all day and try to drain it twice. Houston has very clean city water (the suburbs, not always so much), and we use a Pur filter on the tap. Some people I know use the soda stream, but we found that too annoying because the cartridges only last a few weeks and then it’s a whole big errand to get it replaced.
So we’re drinking water. Just…you know…water…like animals do. What are we some kind of Queens of England to where we need chilled, lightly flavored, sparkling water every time the least little thirst hits us? No. We’ll drink lukewarm tap water and be grateful we’re not one of millions of people on this planet without access to clean water.
Cost of tap water over the course of the year: I don’t know, a few dollars? Water is cheap in Houston and the amount we use for drinking barely registers on the meter.
Cost of 3 cases of La Croix a week for a year: $622.44
If you really want, you can buy a Soda Stream and a ton of fresh fruit all year for that cost and make bespoke La Croix.
Baby Food Pouches –>Baby Food Ice Cubes
This one only applies to parents of babies and toddlers. Those single-serve baby food pouches are mostly not recyclable, and that’s generating a ton of waste (which is bad for baby’s future!). They’re also crazy expensive! Making your own baby food is super easy, way more nutritious, and will save you a ton of money. That’s a win-win-win.
How do you make baby food? Pretty much you take the fruit or veg. you wanna make, boil it till it’s soft, then puree it in a blender with a lil extra water. You freeze it in ice cube trays so you get a bunch of single servings. You can buy fancy silicone or stainless steel baby food ice cube trays, but regular ol’ ice trays work just fine. The next day, the puree will be frozen–pop it out of the tray, stick the cubes in a reusable tupperware (ideal) or ziplock bag, and label it with the food/date you made it.
In this way, you can make MONTHS of baby food for the cost of a DAY of meals in prepared pouches. I’m not kidding.
2 lb. bag of carrots –$1.90, will make 30-40 single servings
Plum Organics single carrot puree pouch–$1.32
Over the course of a year, if you use a baby food pouch at every meal, that’s $1,468. Making your own baby food for a year? Knowing carrots are on the cheap end of fruits and veg, let’s be generous and say you’d spend $50 on produce.
That’s a savings of $1,418! Plus the food you make will be much more nutritious, because it has not been pasteurized, a process which breaks down many nutrients in food.
Amazon Prime–>Facebook Marketplace
Nothing makes the average US citizen feel more like a god than an Amazon Prime membership. It’s like The Secret made literal–especially for folks who have Alexa. You literally just speak your desires aloud, and they manifest at your doorstep 36-48 hours later. It’s addictive. It’s exhilarating. It’s so delicously, dangerously convenient.
Because a whole lot of waste and suffering and destruction goes into creating this illusion of godlike magic. I could write a whole separate schpiel on the evil that is Jeff Bezos, and why none of us should give him our money, and maybe I will another day. But today let’s just focus on the disposable waste and transportation costs. Every time you get a package from Amazon, it’s in a box, that comes from trees. Sometimes with non-recyclable plastic bags full of air in there. And fossil fuels are used to transport those products halfway across the country, or even across the world, to get to your doorstep.
So I’ve been trying to cut back on my Amazon Prime habit, but I’ll level with you–I am currently a member who has a shipment on the way. In fact some of the things I need in order to become more zero-waste, I can only GET on Amazon, because the community in the US is so small–there are no local shops focused on waste-reduction.
But what I’ve been trying to do for little items lately that’s saving me a lot of money, and is much better for the environment, is going to Facebook Marketplace FIRST whenever I need something, before looking on Amazon. Recently I needed an infant pool-floaty thing for my baby girl since it’s starting to get warm. My first instinct was to just order it on Amazon, but I headed to FB marketplace instead. A woman in the Med Center was selling one for $5, whereas on Amazon they were $20 new. I had a doctor’s appointment in the Med Center yesterday, and her house was only 5 minutes off my route. So, we saved the environmental damage of manufacturing a new absurd plastic thing, she saved her unwanted pool floaty from the landfill, we saved the cost of transporting a pool floaty halfway across the country, and there’s no Amazon packaging waste! Plus I saved $15!
Granted, not everything you want is going to be available on FB marketplace, or close to you. It’s not gonna be new, and you might not get to pick out the color you want. But I’m cool with all that, and I’m going to try to replace my Amazon habit with FB Marketplace as much as possible. I’m also doing more thrifting, garage sales, and vintage stores, because I’m trying to buy as little as possible NEW. If I have to buy something new, I’ll see if I can get it direct from the company instead of Amazon. Sometimes it’s just not possible though, and I’m probably going to continue ordering through Amazon when all else fails. I’m only human.
Savings are hard to estimate on this one, but I’d guess you’d save between hundreds or even thousands with a year of shopping on FB marketplace only, depending on what all you’re trying to buy.
Waste Less, Save More
In conclusion, going less-waste means changing around some habits–some slightly painful to break. But let’s get real, in the big scheme of things, climate change and global environmental collapse is gonna be a hell of a lot more painful than drinking tap water or foregoing a pig placenta sheet-mask (ew).
Aaaaaand here’s the part of the post where I remind everyone that (sing it with me) individual consumer choice will not be sufficient to reverse or halt the progression of climate change, and we need substantive, radical public policy and a restructuring of our global economic system in order to ensure the earth continues to be a habitable planet for generations to come.
It works if you sing it to “Twinkle Twinkle,” I swear.
What disposable habits are YOU ditching that saved YOU money?