Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Pay for Zero Waste

Going zero waste will eventually reduce your household expenses (by a lot), but getting there requires an initial investment that can be intimidating. I live far below the poverty line, so collecting the change to pay for cloth towels, diva cups, food storage containers, and other reusables was daunting at first, but soon snowballed into an easy process as I saved money by not buying all those disposables in the first place. You can go about acquiring the things you need for zero waste any way you like, but this is the simple system I like to recommend.

Stop buying the things listed in order. Either use the standard, reusable version, or go without it. Put the money you would have spent on that product in a piggy bank, where you can save up for the more expensive zero waste replacements.Good luck, and remember to contribute to your pig regularly.

  1. Garbage bags. Just carry the can out to the dumpster and empty it. You won't have to worry about sticky, stinky things as long as you're composting, and you can always give your garbage can a quick rinse if it needs it. $1 a week.
  2. Paper plates and plastic utensils. Washing dishes isn't that hard, and has much less impact on the earth. $2 a week.
  3. Paper towels and napkins. Use rags, dish towels, cloth napkins, and Bird-e towels instead (see replacement resource list) $2 a week.
  4. Soda, smoothies, and coffee. Replace with water (free), or buy them if you must, but use a reusable cup or water bottle. Most places will give you at least a nickel off the price if you supply the container. $0.10--$20 a week. 
  5. Ziploc bags, saran wrap, and paper lunch bags. Use cloth sandwich wraps, Tupperware, and other food storage options. $1--$5 a week.
  6. Bathroom sundries, like Q-tips, cotton balls, nail files, cotton rounds, and paper cups. $2--$10 a week.
  7. Tampons and menstrual pads. $5--$10 a month.
  8. Toilet paper. I know this sounds gross, but cloth wipes clean better, feel nicer, and are lighter on the planet. A lot of people use them for #1 only, which is a great way to lessen your toilet paper use without worrying about the grossness factor. $1--$5 a week.
  9. Packaged and processed food. Oreos are crazy expensive compared  to homemade cookies. (if you don't have bulk bins in your area, try to buy the largest size package you can, and focus on dry goods rather than canned) $5--$50 a week.
  10. Batteries. These are expensive and wasteful, especially if you go through them quickly. $5--$10 a month.
Once your savings pig is good and fat, start buying reusable versions of disposable things, in order of importance/highest cost to you. Things I like:

There are lots of other disposable things that can be replaced, but these are the ones I was buying most often before going zero waste, and which I saved the most money from replacing. If you're lucky enough to be able to buy these in one trip, go for it, but if not, I hope the idea of snowballing your savings helps you in acquiring the little things that make a zero waste life easier.

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