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Is it possible to save the planet while saving your coins?
Can the tag eco-friendly be budget-friendly?
Read more: Why Is Sustainable Fashion So Expensive?
As a broke student, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this whole zero waste thing out.
I live in a constant struggle. I want to be as sustainable as possible, but I also kinda want those fancy zero waste gadgets I keep seeing on Instagram. But do I want to spend $20 on a mason jar? Or $100 on a reusable bottle? For now, it’s a no for me.
So after a lot of trial and error, I’ve realized that we’re making zero waste look way more complicated than it actually is.
If you think about it, it can be one of the easiest and most affordable lifestyle changes one can make, because, in essence, it’s about using what we already have.
And there are two keys to zero waste success:
- Know what to prioritize: of course, we’d all love to have those cute items one day, but right now looks aren’t the priority – wasting less is.
- Know where to look and find uses to what you already know – trust me, a former pickle jar can be many things.
That’s why I’m here today. I want to give you a few tips and, hopefully, convince you that living a greener life and reducing your waste using the things you already own or making strategic zero-waste purchases is preeetty easy.
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Read more about zero waste
Going zero waste on a budget
1. Stop buying bottled water – if you haven’t already
An easy one to get started.
Honestly, if you live in a place with a safe water supply, there is no reason for you to use bottled water. Just do the math and think how much money you’ll save just by not buying bottled water every day.
I know that if you’re on a tight budget, buying a reusable bottle looks like an investment, but think about how many times you’ll use it vs. a single-use plastic bottle.
In my case, I used to buy a plastic bottle every other day at uni. Let’s say 3 times a week. Each bottle was about $1, which means $3 a week, $12 a month, and $72 a semester.
You can find great reusable bottles starting at around $15-20, which now that we’ve done the math doesn’t look like much, does it?
My oldest one (4+ years) is from 24 Bottles. Their Urban Bottles start at $15, and their Clima Bottles (that you can use for hot and cold beverages) all go for about $30.
I really like and trust this brand, but if you want to look for affordable bottles elsewhere just make sure that they’re safe and don’t contain any nasty chemicals such as BPA.
2. No bulk store? No problem!
I know that living close to bulk and zero waste shops is a privilege that not all of us enjoy. But there are a few ways in which you can make your groceries low waste (or even zero waste) in any regular supermarket.
Read more: 8 Tips to Shop Zero Waste at the Grocery Store
First, avoid using those little produce bags they offer for vegetables in the supermarket. Actually many times they’re unnecessary (do bananas really need them?), and plastic bags can actually mess up the recycling equipment by getting tangled up in it.
My super low-cost tip is that if you really need to use them for certain products, you can save the ones from previous trips to the supermarket and reuse them until they’re literally breaking apart. Then you can try and find out if your city’s recycling facilities accept produce bags and if there’s a designated drop-off point for them – some supermarkets in the US now even have recycling programs for this type of plastic.
If you prefer quitting plastic produce bags completely, you can give this reusable produce bag DIY a try. Of course, if you don’t have the time (like, who has it?), you can find lots of mesh cotton produce bags online that are affordable, super durable and extremely aesthetically pleasing.
3. Go for products packaged in glass, aluminum or carton
Did you know that glass and aluminum can be endlessly recycled without losing their quality? And that plastic can be recycled only once or twice?
So always try to go plastic-free and choose the packaging with the lowest impact, and either find ways to reuse it or learn how to recycle it correctly.
For example, in my local supermarket, the eggs in plastic packaging are right next to the eggs in cardboard packaging and they’re almost the same price. Most cardboard egg cartons are biodegradable, so you can either upcycle into something new (definitely check Pinterest for ideas) or just compost them.
And those glass jars you buy pickles in? I’m leaving you some ideas on how to reuse them on points 9 and 12.
4. Think twice before hitting your go-to fast fashion store
The fashion industry is a waste-making monster, so before buying something new (especially from fast fashion brands) ask yourself: do I really need it or is it just a whim?
Read more: Fast Fashion Facts You Need to Know
If you really really need it, ask yourself again: is there another way to get it? Maybe from a second hand store? Can I borrow it from a friend?
Changing your mindset about how you consume fashion will help you avoid literal tons of waste – and once you get used to seeing price tags through the cost-per-wear lens, your wallet will thank you.
Read more: What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide
5. Use refillable pens and pencil highlighters
Refillable pens and fountain pens are ✨the answer✨. There are also pens made of recycled bottles, like these Pilot Bottle to Pen I’ve literally been using since 6th grade, that are affordable and refillable – and if you’re a stationery nerd like myself, you’ll be happy to know that they glide across the paper like butter.
Using fancy-looking fountain pens is also a more eco-friendly alternative to your regular plastic pen because you can keep refilling them instead of buying the whole thing over and over again.
Also, instead of using felt-tip pens – you know, those you use to highlight school notes – use highlighter pencils. They last for way longer than the markers, and you’ll skip the plastic.
6. Switch from paper to digital planners
There are many online organizers you can check out on your app store, like Evernote and Moleskine Journey. But I have to admit that I love just using Google Calendar. It’s free, it’s simple to use and you can synchronize it easily with your email and all your devices…
If you’re old-school and prefer a paper planner, you can check these eco-friendly planners to get started.
7. Dare to DIY
If you can’t afford to buy beauty products from sustainable brands, just do them yourself. This goes for beauty products, food, even clothes if you have the skills to make them.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and, even if at the beginning it looks like an investment (buying oils, extracts, etc.), it ends up being waaay cheaper than going to the shop and buying a final product.
And many times you can use stuff you have already at home.
Some of my favorite beauty DIYs are coffee body scrubs and oil-based hair masks. How rewarding is using something you made? J’adore.
8. Say no to tea bags
Doesn’t matter if you’re an avid or an occasional tea drinker, just ditch the tea bags and get leaf tea in bulk. Not only is it way cheaper, but in case you didn’t know, these little bags sometimes contain plastic.
When you put them in hot water, they release tons of tiny microplastics into your drink. Ew.
Buying tea in bulk is life-changing: the taste is x1000 better and it transforms your tea-making routine into a whole ritual. I make mine in a french press because it’s faster for when I’m on the run and it doubles as a coffee maker, but who doesn’t love a more traditional teapot cuppa?
Read more: Hidden Plastic In Everyday Stuff
9. Ditch the disposable coffee capsules
These pods are way pricier than just coffee grounds, and you will be saving a lot of plastic and aluminum from going to waste.
In the previous point, I told you about my love for my french press, but another zero-waste staple is a good stovetop espresso maker – so old-school and sophisticated.
Pro-tip. On that same caffeinated line: a family member told me that every day for work and since the 80s he uses a mason jar for his coffee. Like how is it possible I had never thought about doing this before? It does the job and it looks pretty aesthetically pleasing, too. Such a breakthrough.
10. Start using solid skincare products
If you want to learn more about solid beauty and skincare, this post is all about that.
Bottled gels and soaps often have additives and nasty chemicals that you don’t need in your life, so your skin will also thank you for this swap. Also, some of them are mostly water.
The main reason why I made the switch is that each solid bar lasts at least three times more with the same use. Second reason: solid products are TSA-approved, so you won’t need to think about your beauty routine when you fly.
11. Make your snacks instead of buying packaged ones
I guarantee you that they’ll be x5 cheaper, x10 healthier and x20 tastier.
Like these delish + healthy snicker bars. Want to learn how to make them? Click here 🍫
12. Reuse mason jars you already own
Use them for meal prep, when you order takeaway, to store your low-waste homemade snacks, to keep your coffee, for your leftovers. The sky is the limit.
I bring my lunch to work in them. They look kind of effortlessly cool, which tricks people into thinking I have my life together.
Some day you will have a cute, expensive, and instagrammable mason jar. But for now, you can live without it, hang on with the pickle jar.
Repeat after me: you don’t need fancy stuff to go zero waste.
So these are my humble tips. But hey, I’m no expert, so I would love to hear your own tricks. Tell me in the comments, or in my social media places.
Now it’s your turn to kick waste’s ass. Affordably and sustainably.
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