10 Zero Waste Swaps for Beginners
If you’re new to the zero waste movement, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m fairly new, too, and together we can learn the benefits of reducing the waste we create in our own homes, as well as saving money, becoming more eco-friendly, reducing our carbon footprints, and making healthier choices in the long-term. Learning how to reduce the waste that you (and your family) make is tough stuff and though it’s quite the challenge, it’s undoubtedly a beneficial and rewarding one. Are you ready to take the plunge and get started? Let’s begin!
I first started researching zero waste weeks before I actually made any efforts. I spent about two weeks being supremely cautious of my waste decisions and the ecological consequences they had. If I used a paper napkin at a restaurant, I was cognizant of it; if my green tea smoothie came with a straw, I noticed. Then, when I felt ready of the changes I need to make one at a time, I decided to start committing.
Below is a list of the first round of swaps I made when I first decided to live by the mantra of “zero waste goals.” Swaps I still haven’t made yet — but that I fully intend to — are using cloth napkins, cloth “paper” towels, a bidet, cotton swaps and pads, period management methods, and a few more. Those should be coming to the blog soon! I’ve also started composting so look at for a post on that in the near future. What other zero waste topics would you like to see me cover? Comment below!
1. Switch out your plastic phone case
This is exactly the first zero waste-friendly swap that I made. I knew I wanted a new phone case because my Otterbox was absolutely trashed (thanks to my pomsky, Koda, who was a puppy very much in a chew-frenzy at the time) and when I started researching phone cases, I immediately knew I wanted to go the more sustainable route.
This research led me to Pela case, a phone case option that is compostable, zero-waste, and biodegradable. The company calls its cases “drop absorption and scratch protective.” The case is 100% biodegradable, which means that in the event you ever want to throw out your case or get a new one, all you have to do is add it to your compost pile. It’s that easy to discard and over time, just like the rest of the waste in your compost pile, the case will eventually turn to soil. The Pela case is free of BPA, lead, cadmium, and of course, the evil phthalates. I ordered mine in black. You can grab your Pela case here.
2. Swap plastic bags for produce bags
It’s every zero-waste blogger’s go-to tip: eliminating using plastic produce bags at the grocery store. You know the ones — the small green, sometimes clear bags that you throw your apples, oranges, kale, and other loose produce into it. When you take it up to the cashier, there is no barcode, so the cashier has to manually type in which produce you’re buying. Those are the ones.
Nix ’em. After all, they’re a single use item only used to transport your food from the shelf to your cart to your fridge. What a waste of a use, am I right? Instead, invest in reusable produce bags. These Earthlink produce bags, available on Amazon, are my absolute favorite because they include the TARE weight written on the tags, which makes it easier for the cashier to ring up. (Tare weight is the weight of the bag itself without anything in it. The cashier uses this number to subtract from the weight of bag with something in it in order to determine the weight of the produce you’re buying.)
3. Make the change to silicone sponges
I love my silicone sponges! I bought the two-pack of iWellers, which you can find here, and think they’re one of my favorite zero waste swaps I’ve made so far. These sponges possess much more versatility than your regular, non-biodegradable sponges, not to mention, offer much more longevity. I’ve read that silicone sponges can last up to a year if taken care of properly. I don’t know about you, but when I was using traditional sponges, I was throwing them out once a month. This is because silicone sponges are made from food-grade silicone, making them non-porous. Therefore they don’t hold on to as much bacteria as traditional sponges. For this reason, you can keep them longer.
They’re also functional for a multitude of uses. Silicone sponges can be used as a dish cleaner, glass and tile cleaner, and even food cleaner. You can buy the two pack of iWeller silicone sponges here.
4. Use Stasher Bags instead of plastic baggies
Stashers are my absolute favorite swap I’ve made. Stasher bags are a silicone plastic baggie alternative that you can freeze, microwave, dish-wash, and cook with in boiling water. Stashers have an air-tight, pinch-press seal which means they don’t leak. I use mine to freeze fruit in bulk (to use for smoothies or acai bowls), take snacks with me to work or school, and many more on-the-go situations. You can snag my favorite aqua-colored Stasher bags here.
5. Use a reusable water bottle
Committing to carrying a reusable water bottle is one of the easiest swaps to make. Obviously, the best option is a glass water bottle but whether or not it’s a zero-waste faux pau, I’m still committed to my Blender Bottle. Sure, it’s made from plastic, but at least it’s BPA-free plastic and I don’t have to worry about it shattering when I drop it. (Trust me, I drop it a lot since I’m constantly bringing it with me on-the-go, back and forth from school and work, etc.) Check out the Blender Bottle here.
6. Use beeswax wrap instead of tinfoil or plastic wrap
Plastic wrap and tinfoil are so convenient for cooking but tragic for the environment. Beeswax wrap, believe it or not, solves the problem of needing saran wrap in the kitchen. (As far as using tinfoil in the oven, you can purchase a silicone mat to cook with). Beeswax wrap is super cool because it’s reusable, obviously, but it utilizes your hand’s natural warmth in order to adhere to whatever you’re trying to adhere it to.
I use my beeswax wrap to cover bowls, wrap up half-cut lemons, limes, and avocados, and more. Beeswax wraps can also be used in place of Stasher bags, as you can wrap up some snacks like almonds or other nuts and take ’em on the go. These are the ones I use from Amazon.
7. Use glass-lock containers for on-the-go or storage
Donating all that plastic was one of the first moves I made when deciding to go zero waste. It was such an easy decision after all the research I did on plastic containers and the nasty chemicals they contain. Plastic storage containers most often contain BPA — also known as Bisphenol A.
Exposure to BPA has dastardly consequences as the synthetic chemical mimics the female hormone estrogen. Research shows that BPA exposure is linked to breast cancer, decreasing of sperm count in men, and more. Additionally, an increase of temperature deepens and exacerbates the amount of damage BPAs can do. When exposed to high temps, BPA leaks out of the plastics and other resins, increasing exposure and upping the potential health risks.
For this reason alone, consider switching to glass-lock containers instead of plastic ones. Additionally, glass-lock offers more benefits, especially in regards to the environment. Whenever possible, go glass instead of plastic — both for your health and the planet’s health.
Not sure which glass-lock containers to buy? I procured mine for super cheap at Bed Bath and Beyond (thank you, never-expiring coupons!) but these Amazon ones look very similar.
8. Forego cheese cloth for nut milk bags instead
According to Forbes, 91% of all plastic is not recycled and humans — on a global scale — buy a million plastic bottles per minute. Milk makes up for an undeniably huge portion of this, as the average person buys 3.5 pounds of milk cartons per year, as of 2001. (No doubt that number has gone up in the past almost 20 years.)
One way to combat this (or at the very least, to reduce these shockingly high numbers) is to make your own plant-based milk at home. Personally, I opt for almond milk the most often, but I’ve also been known to make cashew or oat milk. A lot of people and influencers will recommend using cheesecloth in order to separate the almond (or cashew) meal from the actual liquid, however cheesecloth is a single-use item that immediately gets thrown out afterward. Instead, opt for a nut milk bag, available on Amazon, which you can use indefinitely.
💭 every sunday i usually make my homemade almond milk for the week, but lately i’ve noticed it’s getting to be an expensive habit 🤷🏻♀️ so instead, i opted for homemade oat milk this week ☺️ rolled oats from trader joe’s come in bulk + are super cheap in comparison, plus the actual maintenance of making the milk is a lot easier 💫 the ratio is 1 part oats to 3 parts water, plus four dates to add a creamier consistency ✨ add a tsp of maple syrup to sweeten things up, then chill overnight #wellness 〰️
Buy your almonds (cashews or oats) in bulk using a mason jar (with the TARE weight written on it) and then make the milk at home. How much waste have you produced? Absolutely none. Transfer your freshly-made nut milk into a glass container and you’ll have milk for the rest of the week with no waste made! (Wondering what to do with the extra almond meal? Make cookies!)
9. Swap grocery bags for reusable bags
No doubt this one’s already on your radar. If you live in affected areas of New York — Suffolk and Nassau counties as well as Manhattan — then you’ve already been hit hard by the 5-cent price on plastic shopping bags. As a result, tons of people have been vehemently making the switch to reusable shopping bags (though unfortunately that 5-cent price tag isn’t going toward economical purposes. The individual grocery store pockets that $$$).
Regardless, the environment is benefiting from this new role, as many more people are opting for bringing their own reusable bags when shopping. I use cotton reusable bags, ones that I nabbed from Trader Joe’s for, I think, just a dollar. I try not to buy plastic reusable bags and opt for cotton instead, but as long as you’re remembering to use them when buying groceries, the ecological benefit is similar.
10. Fill amber glasses with homemade cleaning product
It might feel weird at first but one of the things zero wasters need to think about eliminating is cleaning products. That’s not to say that you’re never going to clean your house; it just means that you’re going to be cleaning your house in a different way with different products. Most cleaning products come in plastic or other packaging that isn’t exactly sustainable. In order to cut these down, purchase amber glasses — these come with stickers and two kinds of tops.
I use mine for soap and for making vinegar disinfectant that I spray on practically everything for cleaning products (please note you can’t use vinegar disinfectant on granite countertops).
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What’s your favorite zero waste swap you’ve made at home?