32 Ways That Being Zero Waste Saves You Money
Many zero waste Instagram influencers portray an elite lifestyle that seems inaccessible, so many people believe living a low waste lifestyle is unachievable and only for those with money and time to waste. Not so! In real life, being zero waste is a frugal way to live life that saves you money in many ways. We list 32 of them!
The most zero waste you can be is to use what you have and going zero waste is all about simplifying, consuming less and going back to simpler times. Overall, it is about spending less and wasting less, which will inadvertently save you money.
Investing in new zero waste products can be an expense, but most of the time, this is unnecessary and you’ll be able to find a way around it. We’ve busy working on a blog post with 61 ways to be zero waste that’ll cost you nothing.
But first, here’s 32 ways that being zero waste saves you money. And, we probably haven’t thought of them all!
By not wasting food
It is estimated by OzHarvest that food waste costs each Australian household around $3,800 worth of groceries each year, with one in five shopping bags ending up in the bin! This money can be saved by eating every part and every portion of food!
Make sure you store leftovers, as well as fresh fruit and veg, properly so no food ends up in the bin rather than on the plate.
And by using fruit and vegetables in their entirety, like broccoli stalks, beetroot leaves, and carrot greens, you can stretch them further and get extra meals out of them.
Other ways you can save by saving food from going to waste are using apps like Bring Me Home, which enables you to get a good deal on food that would otherwise be thrown out at the end of the day - a win for you, a win for the vendor and a win for the environment - and bin diving.
Read how we spent a month eating food waste, saving it from landfill and saving ourselves a lot of money: Eating (Mostly) Only Food Waste for a Month: 10 Ways I Saved Food.
By shopping less/buying less
Every unnecessary thing you don’t buy because you don’t need it and buying it would waste resources saves you money.
For instance, buying new clothes less often and not supporting fast fashion means you won’t be wasting money on clothing you’ll only wear for a season. Being zero waste means wearing and using what you have rather than buying something new and taking time to consider whether you really need something before buying, so you’ll find yourself in malls less often and you’ll find yourself reusing and refusing rather than spending.
By using soap bars
Solid soap bars, which are a great way to avoid liquid soaps and shampoos in plastic bottles, are actually more cost effective than liquid soap!
A study by the Institute of Environmental Engineering found that bar soap costs about 0.4 cents per hand wash and liquid soap costs about 3.5 cents per wash. The same study found that liquid soap has a 25% larger carbon footprint than bar soaps due to the manufacturing process and plastic packaging.
So switching to bars is a good switch to make, both for the environment and your wallet. We now use bars for our body, hair, face, and dishes.
For your soap bar to be even cheaper, make it last by putting it somewhere it can dry out after use, storing it off the surface so the entire bar can dry out, and using a cloth not your hands to clean your body. We've got more tips on how to make soap bars last longer and how to use up the last sliver in our How To Make Soap Bars Last Longer & Use Up That Last Sliver article.
By not buying paper towels, Clingfilm, tissues, wet wipes & makeup remover pads
You’ll no longer need to buy paper towels, clingfilm, tissues, wet wipes, and make-up remover wipes when you start using reusables options instead! These can all be replaced with things that can be used over and over again rather than being disposed of after being used once.
Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues, wax wraps instead of clingfilm, rags or cloths instead of paper towels and wet wipes, and a facecloth or reusable cotton wipes instead of single-use ones.
These are all easy to make yourself out of material scraps or old clothing. Just sew the hem or cut the material using pinking shears so it doesn't fray. Wax wraps are a bit more complicated, needing wax to melt over cut cotton material.
Or they can be bought and their cost will be offset in no time due to reusing instead of repurchasing. You will find them at op shops and markets or they can be bought online. Etsy is a good place to look for these.
By buying second hand over new or trading rather than buying
Buying second hand items not only ensures something that is already out there is not wasted and used, it is also more often than not cheaper than buying new.
Trading items is another option that keeps useable items in circulation and allows you to get something you need without spending any money.
By getting discounted takeaway coffee or making it at home
Lots of places in Australia and other countries give you a discount for getting takeaway drinks in a reusable cup and making your coffee at home with beans you’ve bought in bulk rather than getting a takeaway from a cafe works out much cheaper per cup.
Drinking less coffee, which is also better for the environment, will also save you money.
If you're in Australia and wondering if your fav cafe gives a discount for reusables, check out Responsible Cafes. They've got a map so you can find a responsible cafe near you.
By no longer buying water
No more paying an inflated price for water for no reason (in countries where the tap water is drinkable)! Tap water costs around 1 cent per litre while bottled water costs $2.53.
With an estimated 600 million litres of bottled water being consumed by offices and residences across Australia per year, that’s over 1.5 billion dollars! And taste tests have shown that most Australians can’t taste the difference between bottled and tap! In fact, 45% of bottled water is essentially just tap water that has been treated in plants using filtration systems.
We all know the environmental issues around the plastic bottles it comes in but did you know that it takes 3 litres of water to produce just 1 litre of bottled water?
The best option is always refilling a reusable water bottle, preferably one you already own! If you do want to invest in a quality water bottle that'll last you years, we've listed our 5 fav non-plastic reusable water bottles, two of which are 100% plastic free!
By buying in bulk
While some things are more expensive when bought in bulk at bulk food stores, some food items like spices are usually much cheaper. Don’t write off buying from package free stores as being more expensive overall before taking a good look at the prices of all the products you want to buy.
We cover this in depth in this article if you want to read more on this: Is Shopping Zero Waste More Expensive Or Can It Save You Money.
Another way to buy in bulk that doesn’t involve bulk food stores but skips them, is to buy the biggest bag, tub or bottle from the producer yourself and to slowly work your way through it. This will work out cheaper over the long run as large quantities are generally sold at a more competitive price.
It is just important to make sure any food items bought this way won’t spoil and that you have somewhere to store it. This is easier with non-perishables like cleaning products, which will last ages without any issues.
You can also buy large amounts of a product in the largest packaging together with friends, family, and neighbours and share the cost and product.
By growing your own herbs & veggies
Homegrown herbs and vegetables are free and plastic free! Especially when grown from food scraps or cuttings from neighbours.
You'll be amazed at how many edible plants you can grow from cuttings and cutoffs! You can regrow spring onion, leek, lettuce, celery, lemongrass, bean sprouts, potatoes, ginger, garlic, onion, pumpkin, peppers, fennel, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and turnips from food scraps, for example, and things like mint, tomatoes, and rosemary can be grown from cuttings from bushes.
By repairing instead of replacing
Way too often these days things that have stopped working are replaced instead of repaired. Repair is often not even attempted. Don't waste your money and possessions! See if it can be repaired before throwing it out and buying a new one.
You can try repair it yourself if you're able to or find a professional or repair cafe to do it for you.
And, importantly, when buying new, buy quality items that can be repaired or that have a lifetime guarantee to ensure you won't have to replace it due to poor workmanship or planned obsolescence.
The CEO of Patagonia, which has an amazing ethos of repair, explains why repairing is a radical act and so important well: "Why is repair such a radical act? Fixing something we might otherwise throw away is almost inconceivable to many in the heyday of fast fashion and rapidly advancing technology, but the impact is enormous. We live in a culture where replacement is king. These conditions create a society of product-consumers, not owners.
"Most companies still make cheap stuff that breaks and must be replaced quickly. Customers conditioned to seeking out the best price buy into this model and keep the cycle going. And too often, products come without repair instructions. This should be considered unacceptable given the environmental crisis we face—but instead, planned obsolescence is celebrated as smart marketing.
"Let’s behave like owners, not consumers, and repair rather than inflict something new on the planet if we don’t truly need it."
By buying fewer cleaners & DIYing cleaners
Buy fewer, more multi-purpose cleaners or start DIYing multi-purpose cleaners!
Simplify your cleaning routine and save money by choosing multi-purpose cleaners and ditching cleaning products you really don't need. Specialised sprays for each room and surface and products like toilet bowl blocks, wet wipes, and fabric softener are unnecessary and a waste of money.
Soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax can replace nearly all of these for general cleaning! Castile soap, which can be bought in bulk, bar form, or recycled plastic bottles, and dishwashing liquid are also great multi-purpose cleaners.
Certain surfaces do need to be cared for differently, so these ingredients are used in various ways and dilutions depending on what is being cleaned. And do not mix vinegar and baking soda. If you mix them, they become ineffective. And don't mix vinegar and bleach as this creates a toxic gas.
Also, note that none of these are disinfectants and are only effective as a general cleaner. Diluted bleach can be used for proper disinfection.
You'll find an article on all the ways you can clean with white vinegar, including a recipe for an all-purpose cleaner, here.
By taking leftovers home when eating out
Take a container to put any leftovers in when eating out and you’ve got a free zero waste lunch for the next day!
Packing a container in your bag means you don't have to choose between wasting food and having to get a single-use plastic takeaway container. Whether it is an old plastic tupperware container or a stainless steel one doesn't matter, just scrape it in before you leave.
No food waste and no single-use takeaway container and lunch for the next day sorted!
By borrowing or renting instead of buying
If you need a tool for one job, if your child needs something new to keep them entertained or capture their interest, if you need an elegant dress and shoes for an event, and if you want to enjoy a book without adding it to your collection, borrow or rent it; don’t buy it.
This means you won’t acquire something that will only gather dust once it is no longer needed and you won’t have to bear the cost of something you don’t need long-term, as well as the cost of storing that item. You can also use the sharing economy to borrow or rent large items like bikes and cars.
You can borrow from family and friends, neighbours and community projects and businesses like tool libraries, toy libraries, clothes rentals, and regular libraries with books.
You can read more about borrowing and renting in our 8 Ways To Borrow Or Rent Rather Than Buy Using The Sharing Economy blog post, which also has maps of Little Libraries and toy libraries and examples of other rental businesses in Australia.
By having a naked bin
One of the questions we get asked a lot (besides do you still use toilet paper) is: but what do you line your bin with? The answer? Nothing!
Once you’re composting your food scraps, there is no need to use a plastic bag to line your bin and keep it clean and free of bin juice. We throw the little rubbish we still create straight in the bin and if the bin is looking a little grubby, which isn’t often at all, we simply wash it out.
No need to waste money on bin bags! If you do want to line your bin with something, you can use newspaper. You can just place this inside loose to protect the edges of your bin or you can make an actual bag out of newspaper to place your trash in.
By using reusable menstrual products
Reusable menstrual products are a massive money saver! Pads and tampons are not cheap and the price of investing in a menstrual cup, reusable cloth liner pad and/or period underwear is soon covered.
You can read about all the different reusable menstrual products and find out which one is right for you here: Zero Waste Menstruation: Non-Trashy Menstrual Products for a Waste-Free Period.
By using a reusable razor or not shaving
Another reusable bathroom product that will save you from buying the single-use version over and over again is a safety razor.
Safety razors last practically forever, if not forever, saving so much plastic waste and saving you so much money. You just need to buy blades, which can be recycled in blade banks and don't cost much.
An alternative that costs nothing, which I have personally chosen, is to stop shaving.
By walking/cycling rather than using public transport or a car
Walking and cycling is free and also provides a free form of exercise!
If you are able to walk or cycle the distance, choose one of these options over paying to use public transport or driving, which costs money in the form of petrol and wear and tear, as well as being bad for the environment in terms of emissions.
Being zero waste is not only about not creating physical trash, it also involves not wasting precious resources such as fuel and creating fewer carbon emissions.
By shopping at markets just before closing TIME
Did you know that market produce is heavily discounted just before weekend food markets close and that if this produce is not sold, it often goes to landfill?
Save this food from becoming food waste and save on your weekly fruit and vegetable shop by going to fruit and vegetable markets right before the market ends.
By going without or using SIMPLE, cheaper replacements
Look for simpler low waste alternatives to products that marketers have convinced us we need to buy or do without products like these which are mostly not needed.
For instance, air freshener in a can. Do you really need it? If you do need to remove odours from a room, rather light a match (matches produce sulphur dioxide which masks odours), a candle or incense.
Another example is fabric softener. It is completely unnecessary for the most part, but if you do want to use something softening for your laundry, use white vinegar instead. Baking paper is another thing that you can do without. Just use an oil or butter to grease your pans and trays.
Other examples are replacing store-bought cleaning cloths with cut up old clothes, wet wipes with wet cloths, and dry shampoo with baking soda, cornflour or arrowroot.
I’m sure there are loads more examples of this!
By simplifying your beauty routine & DIYing beauty products
Simplifying your beauty regime and DIYing beauty products means not spending money on unnecessary items and getting cheaper versions of the ones you do need!
As your beauty products run out, think about whether you actually need to replace it or could do without it or if you can replace it with a homemade version. There’s no need for so many different creams and lotions!
Everyone’s body is different so it might take a bit of trial and error to find out what works for you but here are some ideas:
use an oil like coconut oil to wash your face and remove makeup
go no poo (stop using shampoo)
use oil as a moisturiser - jojoba oil, rosehip oil, olive oil, hemp seed oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil or shea butter (the last two are thicker and can block pores)
use Castile soap to wash your face, body, hair, hands, dishes, laundry, and the rest of your home
DIY cold cream, which can be used as a cleanser, make-up remover, face mask and moisturiser
DIY a multi-purpose beeswax balm to smooth skin, lips, nails and hair
DIY body scrubs and lip scrubs when exfoliation is needed (we have some recipes here)
DIY your deodorant (we have some recipes here)
By using solar power
Although an up-front investment, solar power will save you money in the long run, as well as being less wasteful of the earth’s precious resources.
Once your solar panels are up and running, you will no longer need to pay a power bill to get money from the grid and, in some cases, they can even make you money from you putting power back into the grid for others to use through solar feed in tariffs, which are the rate paid for electricity fed back into the electricity grid.
According to a 2018 Australia-based survey by Choice, “once installed, about half of respondents said the payback period for panels was the same or shorter than they were told to expect by the installer, while one in 10 said it was longer”.
And panels themselves much more cost competitive than they used to be.
It is important to note that to maximise output, solar panels need to be maintained.
By making your own popcorn/snacks for road trips/movies
Snacking is a must during movies at the cinema and on long trips via rail or road! Avoid excess packaging and the inflated costs involved in movie popcorn and petrol station food refills by making and taking your own snacks along with you!
From the healthy options of fruit and cut vegetables and a homemade dip to popping your own popcorn, baking your own potato or veggie chips, rolling some bliss balls or baking some muffins or muesli bars, DIYing nibbles is much cheaper, as well as plastic free.
I usually pack popcorn in a produce bag, beeswax wrap or any container to take to the movies (also take your own water in your water bottle for when the salt makes you thirsty!) and pack treats for the road the same way.
By getting fertiliser for free
No need to buy fertiliser for your plants and garden when compost bins and worm farms provide free fertiliser in the form of rich compost and worm tea!
The rich compost and fertiliser created by compost bins helps gardens and pot plants grow by building good soil structure, enabling soil to retain nutrients, water and air, helping buffer pH, and protecting plants from diseases found in the garden. You can simply apply it as a mulch, spreading it in a thick layer on top of exposed soil, or use it when potting plants by using seven parts soil to three parts compost to two parts sand.
And worm tea boosts microbiological activity in soil by adding bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, and protozoa to the soil and can protect plants from diseases. It is made from worm castings and can poured straight on house plants, outdoor potted or hanging plants, and garden soil.
By not buying disposable plates & cups for parties
Using your usual ceramic plates, steel cutlery and mugs and glasses, borrowing some, or asking guests to bring their own saves you from having to pay for disposable ones that will only be used once and thrown out.
Some people in some communities have begun collecting unwanted second hand cutlery and crockery and glasses and using them to make party kits people can lend when they have an event.
By using cloth nappies
Reuse cloth nappies instead of continually purchasing disposable nappies and sending them to landfill after one use.
According to Nest Nappies, as little as 24 cloth nappies are needed from birth to toilet training and the average cost when using them is around the AU$1,500 mark from birth to toilet training, while the average cost for disposable nappies is AU$3278.08!
Regarding laundry costs, Nest Nappies says the average cost of laundering these nappies is “not going to have a noticeable effect on your household bills”, noting that the increase in household bills while using cloth nappies is thought to be between $50 and $170 per annum plus detergent.
They can also be used for future children or can be passed on to friends and family, donated to charity, or repurposed. Look for second hand ones before buying new to get a good deal!
By using less in general
Being more aware of how much you are using of particular products and how much actually needs to be used and only using the necessary amount - which is usually a lot less than we think - means it’ll last longer and you’ll only need to buy more further on down the track.
For instance, with washing powder and detergent added to buckets for mopping and to sinks for washing, start using less.
The Spruce recommends using only one-half of the amount of laundry detergent recommended by the manufacturer to save money and still achieve clean laundry. You probably also only need to use half of the amount of detergent you liberally squirt into mop buckets and sinks and place in your dishwasher.
The same applies for beauty products, make sure that you are not using too much deodorant paste, hand cream, soap, and hand wash etc in one go so it lasts longer. Start with applying a small amount - you can always apply more if you need, but it is hard to apply less!
Also, make sure you don’t waste any product and use it all up before buying some more.
By using less water
Using less water will also save you money as you pay according to how much water you use.
So, shorter showers, turning the tap off when soaping up and brushing your teeth, fixing leaks, capturing water when washing your fruit and vegetables for use on the garden etc not only wastes less water, it also keeps more cash in your wallet.
By using less gas & electricity
Similarly, not wasting gas and electricity will reduce your electricity and gas bills, lowering your household costs.
Simple ways to reduce electricity and gas usage and costs include turning off lights and appliances not in use, only using air-conditioning and heating systems when necessary, washing clothes with cold water, lowering the temperature on your hot water heater, ensuring your home is properly insulated, turning your stove top or oven off just before food is done, allowing it to finish cooking with the residual heat, using the sun to dry clothing instead of a dryer, and using a hot water bottle instead of an electric blanket.
By eating less meat & animal products
Eating a diet that includes meat and animal products is generally more expensive than a vegetarian or vegan diet and it is often more difficult to get meat and animal products zero waste and without plastic packaging.
Like I Love Vegan says, “many of the foods considered to be staples in a typical, healthy vegan diet are very affordable – grains, beans, seeds, and legumes are all good examples.”
This has been confirmed by this study, which found that by eating a plant-based diet that uses olive oil in place of lean animal protein as a healthy source of fat, nearly $750 a year could be saved compared to the average cost of a 2 000-calorie diet that follows the federal MyPlate nutrition guidelines.
And is further confirmed by Thinkmoney, which found that a meat-free diet can save you around £645 a year. For a real-life story, read how this journalist’s vegan diet costs them less than $25 a week.
Vegan meat and cheese substitutes are similarly priced or pricier than meat and animal products, but these are not essential to a vegan diet and are often not a healthy option. It is better and cheaper to make your own version of these from scratch, such as vegan burger patties.
By making & taking lunch to work
Take homemade lunch and snacks to work in whatever you already own! Making lunch at home reduces the waste potentially produced by takeaway lunch and homemade snacks replace packaged snacks, enabling you to avoid the packaging they come in, as well as the inflated costs of both of these.
These can be meal-prepped on a Sunday or what we often do cause we never get round to meal prepping, is just make double the amount of dinner and eat the leftovers for lunch.
Put it in reused jars and/or **shock horror** plastic containers you already own. We don't count plastic we already own in cause it can be really useful for reducing waste and there's no need to rush out and buy glass or stainless steel containers when you have something that'll do the job. Focus on no single-use plastic and no new plastic rather.
By DIYing dog poo bags
Use newspaper, magazine pages and other papers to pick up your dog's poo instead of buying plastic dog poo bags! One of our most popular tips from Plastic Free July 2018, which saves both plastic and money, was how to fold newsletter pages into a pouch to pop your pooch's poo in when on a walk.
We have a step-by-step guide of how to make them here.
We don't buy any newspapers or magazines so we take old ones from our workplaces. You could also source them from cafes at the end of the day. And, I also use junk mail that I litterpick.
The amount of plastic-wrapped poo going to landfill from dog park bins is frightening! And I've noticed that most of the poo bags provided by councils are degradable - the worst kind of plastic bags.
By cooking from scratch
Make your own sauces, dips, nut butters, and salad dressings from scratch rather than buying them in plastic. It is much easier and less time consuming than you think and usually works out way cheaper.
Neither of us are natural cooks and neither of us particularly enjoy cooking. But, we've managed to replace most of these things with easy recipes we've searched for online. Most just involve a quick mix in a bowl or a bit of chopping and a quick blitz in a blender. Trust me we’re not doing anything complicated!
We make a lot of hummus and pesto and salad dressings using different oils and vinegars and most recently made some chimichurri, which was delicious, and which was made from carrot greens that would have otherwise been composted, so no extra money spent, but extra food to eat!
Did we miss any ways being zero waste can save you money? If you have any to add, please let us know in a comment below.