This question – how do you go zero waste on a budget – is such a good one.
- start with trash audits
- reframe your mindset
- analyze your needs
- use what you have
- learn from grandparents
- buy durable
- follow all the R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, repair, rot and recycle.
You can do this! We can all take baby steps together.
How do you go zero waste on a budget?
1. Audit yourself
Think of ways to reduce as you ask yourself:
- what do you throw out the most? (food packaging, leftovers?)
- when do you have more trash than normal? (weekends, holidays, after shopping sprees?)
- which rooms have more trash? (kitchen, bathrooms, kids rooms, backyard?)
For instance, if food scraps are the bulk of your trash, try composting.
2. Reframe your mindset
Don’t fall for ads. It’s the job of marketers to invoke emotions and make you feel to buy their products.
Case in point: paper towels! Think about all those ads. The towels are all so absorbent, aren’t they? But cloth works too! And it is washable, reusable, and cost saving.
3. Analyze your needs
Don’t impulse buy. Instead, take the time to think things through to maintain your zero waste lifestyle.
- do you need to buy this?
- is it possible to repurpose something you already have and use that instead?
- can you make it yourself?
- can you borrow it from a friend or through local community initiatives?
- are there more eco friendly options?
- are there local alternatives? (buying local can reduce carbon emissions)
- are there second-hand options for sale? (it’ll be cheaper)
- does it come in better, plastic-free packaging?
4. Use what you have
You don’t need to buy zero waste products right away. You can use what you already have.
Don’t throw out the plastic bags already in your cupboard. Use them instead, they are still functional bags. Finish the pack of replacement razor heads before getting a safety razor. Fill egg cartons and boxes with soil to plant seeds, you don’t need special plant pots.
5. Learn from older folks like your grandparents
Look at what your grandparents did before over-convenience and single use plastics. They made do with what they had. Learn about their recipes and how they innovated to find creative ways of doing things.
- Make soup and stock to use your leftover produce and food scraps.
- Preserve seasonal foods when they are cheap by freezing and canning.
- Repurpose old containers like glass bottles and boxes.
- Clean up spills with old cloths to never buy paper towels again.
- Air dry laundry to save on electricity. Repurpose a skipping rope as a clothes line if needed.
- Try reusable cloth diapers. Plastic ones aren’t the only options and they’re more expensive in the long-term.
- Grow your food to save on your grocery bill.
6. Learn from other cultures and circumstances
Rural cultures and low income communities usually have sustainable traditions and cheap hacks. There’s even an Indian concept called jugaad which refers to unconventional and frugal innovation.
So, be open minded and incorporate what they do into your zero waste lifestyle.
This Samoan video is exactly what I mean. Kap uses coconut and banana leaves as table cloths, coconut husk as a strainer, a branch split down the center as a tongs, and sharpened wood as a knife. Brilliant!
7. Embrace swaps
Barter with your friends and family. Host swap parties too with fun music and snacks (and masks). Swap everything from clothes, shoes, electronics, tools, you name it.
Not only can this save you money, it can also extend the lifespan of the item and reduce the need to buy brand new with plastic packaging.
8. Borrow from a trusted group
Create a group who are happy with lending and sharing their items within the group. This could be everything from clothing, tools, appliances, furniture, and more.
Hubby and his brothers do this often and share the cost and maintenance amongst themselves (why buy 3 of everything?). They share power tools often so the tools never really sit on a shelf for months without being used.
9. Join the local library
Local libraries usually have online and in-person resources for you to enjoy.
Join today to access online journals and magazines. Or visit one to borrow novels, children’s books and even movies.
Sometimes, they have social outreach and education programs too. During the lockdown, my local library streamed mini seminars on bread making, gardening and soap making.
Here’s another idea: create your own little free library for neighbors to take a book and leave another.
10. Consider renting
Renting and lending services are a lot more mainstream now.
You can rent things you don’t use often so you won’t have to buy them. Rent everything from bikes, vacuums, tools, sewing machines, and cameras. Check out the UK’s Library of Things and other local services.
Consider being a renter too.
11. Go thrifting
Set a budget so you don’t go overboard then visit your nearest thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets. There are online options like forums, social media groups and ‘marketplaces’ to check out too.
Thrifting helps extend the life of the item and you never pay full price for it.
12. Try sewing
Sewing is a great skill to have as you navigate the zero waste life.
Redesign and upcycle clothes already in your closet. Mend what you can. And repurpose fabrics to make practical things like cleaning rags, reusable bags and makeup wipes.
13. DIY for fun
Besides sewing, you can DIY just about anything.
Make your own beeswax wraps. Mix your own toothpaste and mouthwash. Create your own paper (especially from junk mail). Turn old wooden furniture into new ones, accent pieces, and more.
You can find lots of ideas on Youtube and reddit – especially the DIY subreddit.
14. Repair as much as you can
This goes hand in hand with DIYing.
When my TV died, hubby and I searched Youtube to figure out how to fix it. He ordered one circuit board and, using a couple screwdrivers, he fixed it. The same thing happened to the fridge. One circuit board change later and it’s still working.
So, look into repairing what you have before replacing it.
15. Use non-electric tools when practical
Non-electric tools last much longer and are usually cheaper in the long run.
This is certainly a lesson I learned after repairing the TV and fridge. Ditch the electronics and appliances when it is practical. Reach for grain grinders, mortar and pestle, whisks, graters, hand crank tools and more.
16. Buy durable and multipurpose
If you must buy items, be sure to get durable, functional and even multipurpose ones.
Save up for them if you need to. Buying the cheap items can be worse as they tend to tear or fall apart faster.
So, consider reversible clothes and bags. Get cast iron cookware which can be used on the stove and in the oven. Or try an actual multipurpose tool.
17. Buy loose items
Visit the farmers’ market to purchase produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic. Shop at zero waste stores too – don’t forget to take your reusable containers and bags with you.
18. Cook from scratch
I touched on this when talking about learning from your grandparents. They’ll be a treasure trove of zero waste and low waste tips and recipes. Try some of them.
You can also turn to forums and Youtube for videos on how to make your own bread and pasta. Do the same to make soups, sauces, preservatives, oils, and more.
But be sure to meal plan so you don’t buy too much ingredients and end up wasting them. Also, have an idea for the food scraps.
19. Quit junk food and takeout
When you’re in the cooking mood, batch make a bunch of your favorite treats (popsicles, cupcakes, you name it). Portion out and freeze them. So, when you’re feeling for junk food or takeout, reach into your freezer.
Stock up on your favorite fruits when they are in season too. They are usually cheap and make great sweet snacks.
Grow your own herbs and produce.
Pop basil and rosemary branches in some water and they’ll grow roots. Plant them in repurposed containers with holes in the bottom so they won’t be overwatered.
Plant your seeds too. I’ve done this many times with sweet peppers, chilis and even tomatoes. Give them light (even artificial light), water, and some DIY fertilizer and they’ll grow happy and healthy.
21. Start composting
Speaking of DIY fertilizer, start composting your food scraps. There are lots of apartment composters on Amazon you can start with.
If you are not a fan of composting at home, look up local composting groups and initiatives. My sister’s city just started its first drop-off community composting program for all organic, paper and compostable plastics.
22. Scout for recycling events
Recycling glass, paper and plastics are one thing, but what about electronics and batteries?
Put on your researcher’s hat and scout for recycling initiatives and events in your area.
23. Reach out to customer service
As a loyal customer, reach out to your favorite stores and ask them what they could do to make your experience more zero waste.
Encourage them to switch to more biodegradable packaging and bags. Suggest recycling and trade-in initiatives. A simple email or phone call could cause real changes to your favorite store.
If you enjoy advocating, reach out to city officials too. Get involved with like-minded local organizations and let your voice be heard.
So how do you go zero waste on a budget? I hope you found some answers here.