10 Free Zero Waste Swaps
Many people have asked me and/or assumed that the zero waste lifestyle is expensive and that they could not afford to live zero waste. While there are a few aspects of living zero waste that do cost more money, there are many more aspects that save you money or that are FREE! Here are 10 swaps that can help you reduce your waste that are 100% FREE.
1. NO JUNK MAIL
Most people get annoyed with their mailboxes being filled with junk mail, so why not just prevent it from being there in the first place. We receive multiple advertisements and coupons for one place or another each week and most of us just throw them straight into the trash. Think about all the waste that is being created from that.
I live in an apartment, so it is somewhat difficult to get in contact with my mailman and ask he/she to not leave junk mail in my box. I did however place a sticky note on the inside of the front and back door of the mailbox that says "no junk mail please" (like the one above). Since I placed the note in the mailbox, I have not received any junk mail!
If you live in a house though and are able to speak with your mailman, just kindly ask if he/she could not leave any junk mail in your box. You could even place some stickers on the outside or inside of your mailbox reminding the mailman "no junk mail please".
And if you do happen to still receive junk mail, compost or recycle it if possible.
2. BUY PRODUCE UNPACKAGED
Even before I began zero waste, I would buy most of my produce loose, especially the larger items. We have this preconceived idea that all of our produce needs to be in their own individual little bags, when in reality they don't. The smaller items (e.g. mushrooms, green beans, brussels sprouts, etc.) may need to be so you can keep them together for easier check out, but items such as apples, oranges, lemons, kale, onions, etc. don't have to be placed in any bag. You are allowed to just grab your desired produce and stick it in your basket, no bag required. This way you are not grabbing one of those plastic bags that is going to go straight into the trash.
Along with this, buy the loose produce. Right next to the row of apples, there is a packaged bag of apples. The bag of apples generally costs more than you picking out your own apples, and this is because of convenience. Manufacturers know that people want things that are easy and convenient. So, they think that we as consumers will opt for the bag of apples to save a few seconds of our time. Picking your own apples and placing them straight into your basket will actually save you money and save the environment from the plastic packaged bag of apples and/or the plastic produce bag. By choosing the "naked" apples, we are speaking as consumers telling the manufactures that we don't want the packaged bag of apples, so maybe they will quit packaging them that way.
3. NO IMPULSE BUYS
I have to admit that I am somewhat of an ex-shopaholic. In high school and some of college when I received a paycheck, I would spend almost all of it within the next few days. I wanted to buy everything. I would go to stores to just "look", and then walk out of there with $100 worth of stuff that I really didn't need. I would love it for a day or a week and then not want it anymore. I was a horribly impulsive shopper. "Ooh that's pretty!, get it!" That was me. And it costs so much money. I can't even imaging the amount of money I threw away on useless impulse buys. Not only is this swap free, but it could save you money.
Tip 1: Window shopping is just torture if you don't actually plan on buying anything or can't buy anything. Don't go to a store to just "look around". When we do this, we see things that we didn't know we "needed" in our lives, and then want them. It kind of goes back to that old saying "ignorance is bliss", before we saw that item, we didn't know about it, but now that we've seen it, we think we have to have it. Now when I go shopping for items, I have a list of things that I know I need, this way I won't buy anything impulsively.
Tip 2: When you are at a store, think about the way the item is packaged that you want to buy. Are you about to produce more trash buying that item than agrees with your beliefs? Could you find that same item or a similar item at a second hand store? When buying second hand, we are cutting out the waste involved with manufacturing, transporting, and packaging a new product. The products are unpackaged and loose, so you aren't creating more waste.
By keeping these things in mind when I'm shopping, I have cut down on the amount of waste I could have produced, and saved myself money on items that I probably would have stopped loving in a few days.
4. NO FAST FASHION
As a consumeristic society, we are taught we need to BUY BUY BUY all the time. Advertisements show us that our lives will be better, we'll look prettier if we have this or that and that more people will love us if we have this new item. ALL of this is a lie. Companies want us to think this way because it means more money for them. A couple of the most famous fast fashion companies are Forever 21 and H&M. These two stores have cheap clothes that are in right now but will be out tomorrow (fads). Most of their clothes are made from cheap synthetic material that will literally disintegrate after a number of washes, and both companies have been found running sweat shops that pay their workers pennies on the dollar, just so we can get a t-shirt that costs $5.
Do you feel like you're drowning in your closet?? Refuse fast fashion pieces when shopping. Buy items that you can picture yourself wearing for five, ten more years. Items that are interchangeable with many outfits and that you absolutely love. This way you will have a closet full of pieces that you love and it will make getting dressed in the morning so much easier.
It is okay to buy a few statement pieces of clothing if that's your style. Just really think it through, will you wear this item multiple times? Can you picture yourself loving this piece in five to ten years? How many different ways can you wear this piece? If you can't think of a great answer to each of these questions, then do you really need to buy it?
IF you have to buy a specific clothing item for a specific event (e.g. a wedding or other special event), try looking around at the second hand stores first. This way if you don't love the item and couldn't see yourself wearing it ever again, you can donate it back to the thrift store afterwards to continue it's lifecycle.
5. BOOK SWAP
I love reading and while trying to keep my possessions to a minimal, definitely have a plethora of books. I only buy books that I think I would want to read again. I also try to only buy books that are used. There are so many places online and in many bookstores that have a used section of books. These books have been loved by someone else, and now they can be yours. Used books are generally cheaper, and all the ones that I have bought used before have still been in great condition.
Before buying a new or a new used book, why not check your friends' collection of books. A great free alternative for all you bookworms is to do a book swap. Maybe you have friends who also love reading. Is there a book of theirs that they've been talking about that you would be interested in reading? Is there a book of yours that they may interested in reading? Why not swap books?? Then both of you get a new book to read for ABSOLUTELY FREE. It could be a forever swap or a temporary swap, just make sure you are both on the same page.
6. REFUSE FREEBIES
We have been programmed to think that FREE is GOOD. This is not always the case. I'm sure most of us have been in a number of situations where we have been handed a free pen or a free t-shirt. Sure, it's free, but at what cost? Do you really need another pen to add to that draw full of pens that you never use? Do you really need another t-shirt that sits at the back of your dresser until you throw it away? Think about how much waste was produced in the manufacturing of that bag of free stuff. Most of the time we don't really need or even want the free "stuff" that we are offered. We take it because someone is handing it to us and think it is rude to refuse. We take it home or it gets pushed to the back of our car until we clean our car out. Then we toss it all in the trash because we really didn't need it or want it in the first place. It's almost like someone handing you a bag of trash to throw away at your own convenience.
Yes, I have to admit SOMETIMES there are freebie items that we may really need. If that is the case, take the one or two items that you actually need and say "no, thank you" to the rest. They won't be offended. They will take note of how much they have leftover at the end of the day, and then not buy as many the next time, thus reducing the amount of waste from the beginning.
I know all of you have heard before RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE. It is almost inevitable that at some point you will need to buy something that is packaged. Maybe there isn't another option in your area for unpackaged, or you just really need that specific item. That is okay. Look at the packaging though first and see if it can be recycled in your area. This does not cost you anything. In some cities, they have curbside recycling which can cost a few extra dollars on your utility bill a month. But, if you don't want to pay extra for the curbside recycling or you are not able to because you live an apartment, you can always take your recycling to the collection center for free.
For instance, I live an apartment and am not able to add curbside recycling to just my apartment. Therefore, I have a box that I keep my recyclable items in until the box gets full, then I take the box to the collection center. I have to walk around and divide up my recycling myself, but honestly it takes like five minutes.
If you don't know about your city's recycling program, you can look online at their website or call your city's municipal building to ask for more information.
Composting seemed a little scary to me before I started, and I have to admit, what I consider "composting" is not altogether accurate. As I've mentioned, I live in an apartment, so I can't really have a backyard compost system. So, I keep my food scraps in a bowl in my freezer. When the bowl gets full, I take it outside and dump it behind a tree in the woods behind my apartment. They mow the grass in the woods back there every week with a large tractor, and I've never noticed my pile of food scraps sticking around for more than a week. I believe the tractor cuts up the food scraps into smaller pieces and then it degrades easier and more quickly.
There are a couple of other options though. You can also look into vermiculture (worm composting) or make your own compost area in your backyard if you have a yard of your own. I have heard of another person who would dig a hole in their backyard and dump their compost in there. I also know that some larger cities have curbside composting or a community compost where you can take your compost each week when it gets full.
The idea is to prevent food scraps from going to landfill. When food and other natural organic items are able to decompose on their own with air, they are able to replenish nutrients in the ground and if actually composted can be turned back into soil for plants and gardens. However, when food goes to landfill, it is smothered by all the other rubbish there, it begins to decompose anaerobically (without the presence of oxygen) and releases methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.
9. REPAIR BEFORE THROWING AWAY
In our society, we have also been taught that if something is broken to throw it away and buy a new one. We have made it so easy to replace something broken that many people forget to try and fix it first. I admit that I was very much like this before. I even catch myself now almost throwing something away and then realizing that I could probably fix it.
For instance, the other day I accidentally dropped one of my marble coasters on the floor because it got stuck to the bottom of a glass. When I picked it up, the coaster fell off and broke in half. Initially upset, I picked it up to throw away because I thought it was ruined. Then I thought, I have some glue, I'm sure I could just glue it back together. And that is exactly what I did. Now it's like brand new!
The internet is at our fingertips now and you can search and learn almost anything on there. So, before you throw something away, think to yourself, "Could I fix this?".
10. SAVE ENERGY
You have probably heard multiple times in your life to turn off the lights when you leave a room or turn off the water when you're not using it. Maybe you get annoyed at the amount of times you hear this, but it is so true. Because we cannot see how much energy we are wasting from electricity and water, we are less aware of our usage. A great way to reduce your waste and save money is to save energy.
ELECTRICITY: If you're not in a room, why does it need to be lit? If you aren't using an electronic device, why does it need to be plugged in? You are paying for all that electricity that is running through to light up a room and to keep something plugged in. You know that even when you have a lamp plugged in and turned off, it is still using electricity? Make it a habit to turn off a light as you are walking out of the room and to unplug anything when you are done using it.
WATER: Washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, taking a shower or doing laundry. All of these things require water to do. Wet your toothbrush, then turn off the water. There is absolutely no reason to keep the water running while you are brushing. It is literally running straight down the drain. When you are washing the dishes, you can either fill your sink with water to use to wash all the dishes, or only turn the water on when you need to rinse making sure to turn the water off whenever you are scrubbing. When washing your hands, wet your hands, turn off the water, lather with soap, turn water back on to rinse. No need to keep water running while lathering your hands. When doing laundry, look at your settings and adjust them based on your load and try to wash full loads of laundry at a time, not just a couple of items here and there. When taking a shower, get in there and get it done. I know sometimes you just want to stand under the water and let it run over you because it's been a long day and it feels good, but it's wasting so much water. If you want to get really extreme, you could even turn the shower water off in between each rinse. For instance, rinse your hair, turn water off, lather with soap, turn water back on and rinse.
These are all great ways to reduce your waste for free and some of them even save you money. Zero waste does not have to be expensive and it is not only for the wealthy. Anyone can live a more sustainable lifestyle, it is only a matter of changing what has become the norm.
If you have any questions or comments regarding any of these or other zero waste swaps, feel free to comment below or send me an email.