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Do you wonder how to save money by going zero waste?
By avoiding unsustainable items and practices, you can save A LOT of money, and to be exact, around $5,337 for just one year.
I’ll go through some single-use products or unsustainable options, that usually people avoid, once they start their low-waste journey.
I will include a reusable, zero waste, or at least a more sustainable option for each ”unsustainable” product.
Some of the reusable options might cost more, however, you will save up in the long run, as you will spend on a zero-waste product that is designed to last years, rather than disposable items created for a single-use.
Before we start, it’s important to mention that there isn’t 100% an exact number of how much you spend on something for a year.
That’s because we live in various locations, we spend differently, and we have different options.
However, I’ll try to go as close as I can, by using statistics, personal observation & experience, and other sources.
In the end, I calculated and displayed in a table the approximate prices of the expenses of most of the zero waste alternatives for one year, so be sure to check it out!
A quick overview of the article –>
How to save $5,337 by going zero waste & avoiding these 14 products:
- Household cleaning supplies
- Wet wipes
- Trash bags
- Paper towels
- Menstrual single-use products
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic water bottles
- Unnecessary beauty/personal products
- Fast food
- Packaged snacks, sweets, etc.
- New clothes
- Single-use & plastic razor blades
- Toilet paper
- Final calculation (+ Illustration / Graph)
1. Household Cleaning Products
Cleaning supplies are a big one! A report showed that the average American spends between $50-$60 dollars per month. That’s about $755 for household supplies, yearly.
That can be anything from:
- Disinfectant cleaner
- Glass cleaner
- Soap scum remover
- Chemical trigger sprayers
- Microfiber scrub pads – for bathroom/kitchen
- Plastic scrapers (to scrape hard to remove gunk on counters or floors)
- Floor cleaner
- Microfiber dust mitt
- Disposable cleaning gloves
- Dishwashing detergent
These are just some of the usual household supplies people buy. For a year, they cost a lot of money, plus they create a lot of waste. Most of these cleaning products are:
– one-time use
– not reusable or washable
– toxic and filled with harmful ingredients
– in a plastic packaging/containing plastic
Reusable & cheaper, zero-waste alternative:
1) DIY multipurpose detergent
Usually, most households require very few types of cleaning supplies, and it is effortless to make one by yourself.
- baking soda
Mix vinegar and baking soda. Add some water. Place it in a glass container and use it as a multipurpose cleaner. Ta-da! Don’t worry about the vinegar smell – it evaporates quickly after you use it. If you really can’t stand it, place in the mixture a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
- 1 part water
- 1 part vodka
- 4-5 drops of essential oil (optional)
Mix the ingredients, then add them in a spray bottle.
- White vinegar
- Citrus peels
Put the peels from citrus in a container and cover with vinegar. Let sit for at least a week. Pour it into my spray jar and dilute it with water.
The best part is that the ingredients for a DIY multipurpose cleaner are basic, cheap, and usually, you already have them at home.
2) Purchase multipurpose cleaning supplies in bulk
If you have a bulk shop nearby, look for a multipurpose cleaning product. Just bring your container and fill it up.
2. Wet Wipes
Buying wet wipes every couple of weeks doesn’t feel like you are spending a lot. But let’s make a quick general calculation:
A monthly cost of buying wet wipes or other single-use surface cleaners can range from $10 to $15 per month.
That’s $120 or $180 per year.
3. Trash Bags
Online, you can find a pack of 100 plastic bags for about $16, or 0.16 cents per bag. If you use a new bag every second day, that will be $2.4 a month, or $28.8 per year.
Trash bags are not going to save you thousands of dollars. It will only save you a couple of bucks every month. But the thing about plastic trash bags is that they are a single-use product, and it can be overused easily.
So a bag here, a bag there… and it can quickly pile up! Plus, they are horrible for the environment – plastic bags cause pollution, from manufacturing to disposal. They can’t biodegrade, so plastic breaks down and photo-degrades into little pieces.
Reusable & cheaper, low waste alternative:
Reuse whatever you can. For example, if you buy foods that are in a glass jar, reuse the jar!
2) Paper liner
Instead of using plastic bags switch to a paper liner made from a newspaper. It is super easy – find out how to do it with this video tutorial on youtube!
3) Reusable trash bag
Have a cotton bag or another reusable container/bag for the paper waste, another one for the plastics, another one for glass (and remember to reuse some of the glass containers or even some of the plastic ones).
A bag like this will cost you around $20. You can probably find it even cheaper.
Some options (links to Amazon):
It is so essential to start composting. It is not hard, and it is possible even if you live in a small apartment. Check my guide for apartment composting here!
Composting requires a few items, but for basic composting, you will need a compost bin, which you can find for $15-$20.
Overall, once you separate your trash correctly, you reuse or upcycle some containers/jars, and when you start composting, you will see that your waste will decrease exponentially.
4. Paper Towels
Paper towel use in America is increasing more and more, with no sign of slowing down.
Overall, the paper is quite tricky, and it is not a sustainable solution. Paper towels are the opposite of eco-friendly, and they can cause multiple problems for the planet.
Some of us are not even aware of how much paper waste we generate. For example, using a napkin at every meal, clean up spills, to dry off your hands after you go to the bathroom, to dry or clean things, etc.
The most common estimates are that a family of 3-4 people uses around 1.5 to 2 rolls of paper towels used per week but often is much more.
One of the current best-selling bulk paper towels online is Bounty. They offer 6 big rolls for about $11.42 ($1.90 per roll).
If you use 2 rolls per week that’s around 8 rolls (or $15.2) per month. That is about $182 for 1 year.
In general, if you ditch paper towels, you won’t just lower your waste and save money. You will save a lot of other resources, such as energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions. A few more critical facts about paper towels are:
- They are processed with chemicals
- Usually, paper towels can’t be recycled
- Paper towels pollute through production and transport, too
- They are made with trees, so they contribute to deforestation
5. Menstrual Single-Use Products
On average, a woman has her period from three to seven days per cycle. It is recommended to change it every few hours (4 to 6 hours). Let’s say, you change the tampon every 4 hours.
1 tampon every 4 hours is ~ 6 tampons per day. 6 tampons x 5 days of a period = 30 tampons per cycle.
2 packs with 32 tampons cost $12.49 or $0.39 per tampon.
If we multiply this, it turns out that you will spend around $11.7 per month or $140.4 for one year.
Currently, StayFree menstrual pads cost $8.07 for 36 pieces ($0.22 per one). It’s good to change a liner every 3-5 hours.
If you change it every 4 hours, that’s 6 pads a day. 6 pads x 5 days of a period = 30 menstrual pads per cycle. That is around $6.6 per month or $79.2 per year.
2) Period underwear, such as Thinx
These period-proof undies hold up to 4 tampons’ worth. A pair costs around $30 (A pack of 3 = $92).
3) Reusable menstrual pads
I own a set of reusable menstrual pads, and they are better than I expected. However, compared to a menstrual cup and to the period underwear, they are the third best option.
If you want to try it, look for menstrual pads that are thinner. For instance, mine are a bit thicker, so they are not the most comfortable, plus not the best option for the summer.
6. Aluminum Foil
Online, you can find a roll of 30 square feet for ~ $1.97 if you use 1 and a half per month that’s $2.95 a month or $35.4 per year.
Not the highest number, but when you combine with the rest, then it piles up. Also, if there are better and cheaper alternatives, why keep buying aluminum foil?
Furthermore, even though it is 100% recyclable, doesn’t mean it gets recyclable. Confused?
The tricky part is that if the foil is dirty with food, many recycling centers won’t accept it, because it can lead to contamination.
So, a massive part of the aluminum waste goes to the landfills, precisely for that reason – having traces of food.
7. Plastic Water Bottles
The majority of Americans get their bottled water online. I checked online, and I found a cheap bulk case of plastic bottled water – $2.23 for a case of 12 bottles, 16.9 oz or 500ml.
Let’s make a quick calculation:
Health authorities commonly recommend that a person should drink 8 x 8-ounce glasses of water per day (equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon).
One case from the one I found will last 3 days (if you want to be healthy and drink the daily recommended dose!). You will need approximately 10 cases per month. That equals to $22.3 per month or $267.6 per year.
And that’s just for one person. If we calculate for a family of four, at the rate of 2 gallons of water per day, a family will spend around $1,070 per year.
Let’s calculate quickly another scenario: The price of going out and buying a water bottle from the shop. Let’s say you won’t do that every day, but 4 times per week, for $1.5. That is 16 bottles = $24 each month. That equals to $288 per year. That’s $1,440 for 5 years! Wow.
Reusable & cheaper, zero-waste alternative:
1) Reusable water bottle (between $12 – $30)
Think of it as your keys: NEVER leave your home without it! 😀 This will save you a bunch of money since you will avoid buying plastic water bottles and… it will also save tons of pointless plastic waste!
A vast, plastic-free way to filter your water, in case you don’t like the way your tap tastes.
8. Beauty Products
For 2017, The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that, on average, people spent $762 on personal care products and services. Sounds too much? Well, that’s around $63 per month.
There are a bunch of pointless beauty products that you don’t need, but you probably waste money on some of the following:
- dry shampoos
- anti-cellulite creams
- stretch marks creams
- shaving creams
- lip scrubs
- ”special” hair masks
… and many more! For some, this stuff might be great, but in general, most of them are very unnecessary, plus specific beauty products are usually costly.
So $60 per month can quickly pile up if you buy makeup products or other personal/beauty products.
Cheaper & low waste alternative:
1. Make a list
Write down your most essential beauty & personal care products. The one that you use daily. As mentioned above, there are so many pointless products, so try to keep it short, write just the essentials. Then follow the next step!
Start learning how to make some of the products that you can’t live without — for instance, toothpaste. There are tons of recipes that you can follow to make your homemade toothpaste.
For a basic toothpaste recipe, the main ingredients you will need are baking soda and coconut oil! I also have an article with 5 easy recipes that you can make, so feel free to check it out!
3. Plastic-free alternatives
Probably, you won’t feel like doing all of your products all the time. That’s why you can find some eco-friendly brands and products, that will lower your waste and also your expenses (see some examples at the end of this article).
9. Fast food
Eating out is generally more expensive than cooking at home.
What is more, it can be very tricky! In most of the fast-food places, the food will come in some wrapping, or a plastic box/cup, with plastic utilities, paper, dressing/sauce in plastic bags.
An estimation is that the typical American spends about $1,200 on fast food annually. That is around $100 a month and approximately $12.50 spent per meal.
No one says that you HAVE TO stop eating fast food. We all love it from time to time. The idea is to reduce it. Also, it is a good idea to bring your containers, utensils, cups, to avoid unnecessary waste 🙂
By avoiding fast food, you will not only save a good amount of money, but you will also eat much healthier.
Meal prepping is a great place to start. It might seem too complicated or time-consuming, but it will take you just a few hours in one day of the week.
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
1) Farmers markets
By buying your food from there, you will support your local farmers, and you will have a great choice of a lot of fresh veggies and fruits.
2) Bulk shops
Frequently, buying in bulk is much cheaper. You can get grains, seeds, nuts, spices, and other staple foods from there.
3) Meal prep
From the food from the farmers market & bulk shops, you can prepare your meals in advance! You will eat healthier, you will lower your waste, and you will spend less!
10. Packaged snacks like cookies, chips, ice cream, or baked goods
The average annual amount for bakery products, chips, and sweets are:
- Sugar and sweets – $143
- Cookies – $49
- Other bakery products – $165
- Ice cream and related products – $59
- Potato chips and other snacks – $115
- Crackers – $39
Overall: $570 per year or $47.5 per month.
99% of the time, these snacks come in plastic packaging. So, going zero waste will prevent you from buying these snacks, that most of the time, are also filled with sugars and fats.
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
We have the privilege to find ANYTHING we want by just typing in the google search. Write down a list with your favorite treats. It can be chips, crackers, cookies, waffles, muesli bars, candies…
Then find easy recipes and start making them by yourself! In that way, you can experiment with the flavor, you can substitute the sugar for agave, or you can avoid some of the usual unhealthy ingredients. Overall, you can make even the chips healthy!
You will feel much better because you will save up money and at the same time, you will put good, healthy food in your body.
And don’t think it will take you endless amounts of time!
A batch of muesli bars will take around 20 minutes to make, and it can last you a couple of weeks.
Tip: You can freeze some things (such as muesli bars, energy balls, etc.), and anytime you crave something sweet, you will have it ready & waiting for you in your freezer. 🙂
11. New Clothes
Did you know that some of the reasons why most women go shopping for clothing? A survey discovered that some of the most common reasons are:
- to cheer up
- to treat others
- to feel they look good
- if they feel low
- if they feel happy
- to impress others
- if they feel unattractive
A statistic for 2017 identified that on average, all this impulsive shopping equates to about $152 per month*. For a year, that piles up to approximately $1,833.
*the calculation includes also other related services like laundry and dry cleaning
The worst part is that most of these apparel just lay back in our wardrobe, untouched. Another fact is that almost 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production and it ends in the landfill.
The good news? There are ways to save up money. You can even make some cash if you decide to sell your old clothing!
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
1) Second hand
Obviously, there many environmental and personal BENEFITS of buying secondhand clothes online.
First off, it saves resources such as water and energy, plus it reduces waste.
Furthermore, it is affordable, and you can find your favorite brands at a lower price & high quality! If you are curious, you can find more benefits and the best online secondhand stores here.
This is so much fun, and you will get ”new” clothing for free! Just organize a clothing swap with a bunch of friends. Ask each of them to bring clothes, that they don’t wear and have some fun by switching your clothing 🙂 I shared all of my tips on how to organize a clothing swap here, so feel free to check it out!
3) Sustainable clothing brands
A lot of the sustainable clothing brands are pretty expensive, but there are plenty that are very affordable. Plus, the point of slow fashion is to buy less frequently, and higher quality apparel. Find some of my favorite sustainable & affordable fashion brands here.
12. Single-use & Plastic Razor Blades
Disposable razors are designed for one-time or short-term use. According to a new report by Statista, 163 million consumers in the U.S. used disposable razors in 2018.
Now, let’s make an estimated calculation. 4 Gilette disposable razor blades cost $5.97 ($1.49 each).
They can last between 3-10 shaves. It’s hard to guess or be precise, but let’s say you shave 2-3 times a week. Usually, the best indicator to replace a disposable razor is when the blades feel dull, but it is recommended to use one disposable razor, not more than 2 weeks.
So, for a month, that’s around 2 or 3 disposable razor blades. For a year (if one is $1.49), that’s between $35.76 – $53.64.
It doesn’t sound that much. But keep in mind that that’s just an estimate, so some may be using disposable razors more often. And in the long run, this piles up.
Additionally, it really doesn’t make sense to keep using them, if we consider other negative factors, such as:
- the disposable razors create a lot of waste
- they are usually made of a few different materials, which make them a challenge to recycle properly (silicone/rubber, plastic, steel)
- low quality steel can oxidize (rust), sometimes is unnoticeable and can cause some bad infections
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
A much more environmentally friendly option, since it is made from stainless steel (obviously!), it costs between $15-$40 and the replacement blades can last for years!
An additional benefit is that the safety razors cause less irritation on the skin, so they are ideal for those with sensitive skin types.
13. Toilet Paper
Saving paper is a common eco-friendly step when you try to lower your waste. But have you ever consider your toilet paper usage?
What’s more, it is estimated that Americans use around 3 toilet paper rolls per week. Now, let’s make a quick calculation:
1 roll per week = 52 rolls a year
2 rolls per week = 104 rolls a year
3 rolls per week = 156 rolls a year
Let’s use the second option with 2 rolls per week.
For a year, you will need 13 packs of 8 rolls like this one. A pack cost $16.69, so 13×16.69= $216 for 1 year.
That number can go up, since we often use toilet paper for other purposes, such as:
- makeup remover, cleaning spills, cleaning mirrors/glasses, nose care, drying off your hands, etc
With the low waste alternatives, you will save a lot of trees and other resources (like water and electricity), plus, you will save some extra cash.
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
1) Recycled Toilet Paper such as:
Scott 100% Recycled Fiber Bulk Toilet Paper – 80 rolls
2) Tree-Free toilet paper such as:
Pure Plant Club (the US only) – 36 rolls per box
It is not only so much more hygienic, but it will also help you to save a lot of toilet paper!
You can reduce up to 50% of your toilet paper usage. Some options include:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that on average, tobacco smokers spend around $332 on Tobacco products and smoking supplies.
Cigarette butts are a threat to wildlife, and usually, they aren’t biodegradable.
Low waste & cheaper alternatives:
Electronic cigarettes ($30-$50)
E-cigarettes are not the best solution, but they are better, both for the environment and for your pocket.
The devices use a small amount of power to vaporize nicotine. They are reusable and don’t produce smoke, which makes them less risky to non-users and air quality in general.
Just keep in mind that if you buy the electronic cigarette, you will need to refill it with the special liquid, which is very cheap.
I don’t have a lot of knowledge on the topic, and I’m in general against smoking, so I won’t go into details. It is best if you make your further research.
I didn’t want to exaggerate, but I believe that some of the numbers can be even higher.
It is hard to calculate how much you will spend on each of the zero-waste alternatives because as I mentioned before – we live in various locations, we spend differently, and we have different options. But let’s make an estimation, just for fun 😀
Zero waste alternatives – estimated spendings for 1 year:
If you want to see the products from the image above, you can find the links below (links to Amazon):
– DIY multipurpose detergent:
- Baking soda – pack of 6
- Apple Cider Vinegar ~ 3 bottles for the whole year
- Vodka ~ 2 bottles
- 5 Loofah Sponge for Kitchen & 1 Bamboo Dish Pot Brush
– Paper liner
– Essential beauty & personal care products – This is hard to estimate since it is very individual. I’ll use my personal essentials as an example:
- Shampoo bar (Lush) ~ 4 for the whole year
- Conditioner bar (Lush) ~ 3 for the whole year
- Toothpaste tablets – 180 tablets (for ~ 3 months)
- Body oil – Hemp oil
- Hair oil – Hemp oil / Jojoba oil
- Hair mask (Lush) – occasionally, 1 hair treatment ~ 4 uses
- Toothbrush (new every 3-4 months) – 4 bamboo toothbrushes
- Body/Face soap – 6 pack boxes
- Face moisterizer – Rosehip Seed Oil
- Deodorant (Lush)
- Zero Waste Sunscreen
I hope that this article was able to show you that there are always low waste & better options. Also, I hope I was able to prove to you that a zero-waste living is not more expensive and that it can save you a lot of money!
The whole point of this article is to motivate you to make gradual, conscious decisions, that will have a positive effect, both for you and for the environment.
Just try to imagine what can you do with EXTRA $4000-$5000 in your pocket!
You can invest in something, go on that long-time desired vacation, open a savings account, etc.
Keep in mind that you can’t make all of these zero waste switches overnight. And that’s alright! Don’t feel overwhelmed with all of the information. Start making SMALL changes in your everyday life, which will have a fantastic impact, in the long run!
Individually, people may think that they are not creating that much waste – but the truth is that together, as a society, it adds up.
By changing your habits and looking for more sustainable options, you will leave a positive impact on the planet.
Finally, you can download my FREE e-book, where I share in detail about these (+more!) reusable & low waste alternatives.