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12 Things I’ve Stopped Buying Since Going Zero Waste

12 Things I’ve Stopped Buying Since Going Zero Waste

Zero Waste Lifestyle

Last Updated on April 7, 2020

I wonder… how much money have I really saved since going zero waste?

I don’t buy a lot of stuff anymore. I don’t buy anything that eventually winds up in the garbage; essentially I’ve stopped paying for trash. (I found this article from the onion to be hilarious!)

12 things I stopped buying since going zero waste and saved $12,000 from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #sustainable #ecofriendly #savemoney #frugal #frugalliving

But, how much money does the average American spend on trash every year? I did some digging to find out. The average American spends almost $5,000 on products that are thrown away! That’s A LOT of money. Hell, that’s a vacation.

In my 2.5 years of zero waste living, I’ve saved $12,000. Twelve. Thousand. Dollars. Wowza. 

All of my estimates below are based on 2.5 years worth of savings because that’s how long I’ve been living a zero waste life!

1. paper towels and napkins:

The average American family would have spent $684.50 on paper products such as paper towels and paper napkins. We used to buy a giant selection every other month at Costco.

This is one of the larger expenses on this list. Thankfully, these paper products are so easy to ditch!  Get the full post on ditching paper towels and paper napkins by clicking on the links. 

2. tampons and pads

This number was actually a lot lower than I expected. Feminine care products are always so expensive in my mind, but it was only a $165.00 expense. However, I am so stoked that I don’t have to buy these products ever again!

I never have to make an emergency run to the corner store. Plus, cloth pads and menstrual cups are so much more comfortable. 

Reusables save you money, but most importantly they come without all of the not-so-good-for-you-additives like bleach!

3. toilet paper

I have told you time and time again, how much I loooooovvvvveeeee my bidet attachment. Full post on it here. We’ve managed to cut out $262.15! We still use toilet paper, but we use so much less. We spend less than $24 a year on TP. 

4. aluminum foil

I used to love aluminum foil. I’d wrap pretty much anything and everything in it. I used to cook with it a lot too. Over the years I’ve saved $60 by ditching it. That’s not too shabby.

On Saturday morning, I love watching Martha Bakes. Really interesting, Martha always advocates being wary of the aluminum foil touching your food and that it should be avoided.

That always gave me pause. I’m glad I’ve ditched it. 

If you’re looking for something to bake on try these silicone mats. If you’re looking for something to wrap your food in try these beeswax wraps. 

5. plastic baggies

I’ve never been a huge plastic baggie fan. As I mentioned in my story, I tried to reduce my exposure to plastic around my food well before I went zero waste. I was pretty shocked at how low this number was.

I thought plastic baggies were pretty expensive, but the average cost over 2.5 years is only $150.

6. trash bags

Trash bags is an expense I never have to worry about! More info on what I still throw away here. The average American family would have spent $210. 

If you’re still creating some trash, switch to a paper liner made from newsprint. Most of the wet garbage you have can be composted. I have a backyard compost, but if you live in an apartment you can get my guide here

7. tissues

Switching to handkerchiefs is one of my favorite swaps. I never have to worry about my nose chafing. We store our handkerchiefs in a porcelain tissue cover. Similar to this.

Whenever they’re dirty, we just throw them in the hamper and wash them with the rest of our clothes. Switching to handkerchiefs will save you $75.

As allergy season approaches this would be a great investment! 

8. disposable water bottles

As Americans, we spend WAYYY too much on bottled water. It boggles my mind. If you don’t like the way your tap tastes, get a filter.

Flint, MI is the exception, not the rule. Bottled water is appropriate in times of crisis, but it should not supplement our laziness. Bring a reusable bottle with your when you’re out. Filter your water without plastic, and you could save $865!

9. conventional cleaners

This BLEW my mind. I was reading this article, and it’s INSANE how much the average American family spends on cleaning supplies. Anywhere from $300-800 a year! I went with a conservative estimate and saved about $1260 over the past 2.5 years. 

I honestly have no idea what you could possibly buy that would cost that much. Take a look at my favorite all-purpose cleaning spray, tub scrub, and febreze. 

10. plastic wrap

I have never bought plastic wrap. I was always more of an aluminum foil girl. But, the savings on this item is $54.

11. beauty products

There are SO many beauty products I’ve stopped buying. I’ve realized that I don’t really don’t need a lot of them. I don’t buy makeup “just because” anymore. Most of the products I bought were used only once or twice and never used again.

Now, I just stick to things I know I like and use. I’ve calculated over the past 2.5 years I’ve saved $600. If you’re interested in more of the beauty products I make, check out this post for 15 simple zero waste bathroom swaps

12. convenience food

This one blew my mind. The average American spends 30-40% of their entire grocery budget on overly processed convenience food. A conservative estimate is $7,215 worth of savings. 

I no longer buy pre-made foods. I buy real food with whole ingredients. Not only is it great from a health perspective, it’s also great from a savings perspective. 

If anyone asked me for diet advice, I’d tell them to go zero waste. When you can’t buy food in a package, you’re buying whole fresh ingredients. You control the amount of sugar you put in your meals. No more hidden sugars and fats hiding in boxes and bags. 

It’s just real, whole, good food. 

For more information on zero waste grocery shopping, read my ultimate guide


Is there something you don’t buy anymore? How much do you think you’ve saved? 

Looking for more inspiration? Check out the ultimate list of zero waste swaps from A-Z.

This post may contain affiliate linking you can read more on my disclosure page.

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  1. Wow this list is awesome! I’ve made some of these swaps (like ditching paper towels and napkins and have switched to cloth.

    But genius to use a tissue box for handkerchiefs! I already use these tiny, thin baby washcloths we used to bathe the boys with for wiping noses (so much softer) but I never thought about an actual storage solution for them.

    Also… switching from liquid soap to bar soap (mine’s not zero waste but I know it’s possible to buy or make your own) and then making my own laundry detergent (again not zero waste but 2/3 of them ingredients at least come in paper).

  2. While I’m still on my way to becoming more zero waste, something I absolutely refuse to buy is bottled water/single use coffee things, and I can’t imagine how much money that is saving in the long run! I also don’t really wear makeup anymore, and looking at the amounts I used to spend, I’ve for sure saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars by not buying those items!

    Thanks for the post, I now have even more reason/ideas for how to save money and produce less waste 🙂

      1. I love the post and i aspire to follow your lead. Its a major challenge with two little ones but im the one who makes the choices, so i have no real excuse haha.
        I just wanted to mention that coffee pods are recyclable. We use nespresso pods and they provide a recycling bag for you to return the pods at no cost to you. They recycle the pods and compost the used coffee grounds. Just a thought.

      2. We just bought the reusable one – so you fill it with your own coffee and rise it out when your done! When i got my Keurig i got the pods for like a month and was like.. this seems crazy lol. The reusable one was only like 7$ I think? (:

  3. It’s really interesting to see how much money you can save by not buying things you don’t really need but buy for convenience. I’m starting out but the two biggies in our house are kitchen roll and cling film; my boyfriend is a chef and for him it’s habit to use tonnes of that stuff because that’s what he does at work. He did buy some microfibre clothes the other day so I’m hoping to convince him to use those all the time instead of kitchen roll.

    Like you, I’ve also drastically reduce the amount of beauty products I buy because I don’t buy into the advertising / marketing rubbish any more. I’ve also found that being cruelty free / vegan / natural eliminates pretty much all of the products that receive a huge amount of hype that I would have probably brought before.

  4. We used to use a box of what we call fru fru coffee. Premix latte mix that you just add water to. I make it at home now and put it in a cute glass jar. Three teaspoons per cup add boiling water. We have not used paper towels or paper napkins. Rags and old towels here. I make my own soap. Sell some of it.(cause soap making is addictive) We also make our dogs food and either freeze it or can it in the pressure cooker. I make our tooth paste and laundry detergent. Always looking for recipies to make up mixes to jar up for quick cooking.

  5. I am trying to cut down on the amount of disposable things we use at home and I enjoy reading your posts. Please let me know what you use as an alternative to trash bags?

  6. We don’t buy tp, paper towels , napkins, conventional cleaners . I made bags for bulk and bags for groceries to use at the store to avoid plastic however we cant seem to get away from cotton rounds, qtips,plastic wrap, garbage bags and meat wrappings . We live in an 840 square ft apartment with no were to compost or we’d reduce our produce trash 100%. I’ve toyed with the thought of giving it to my friend who has a house but shes not committed to composting.. . I would burn the paper products and cotton if I had a yard. I want to go more into less waste, what would you do ? We live in Az.

    1. They make reusable cotton rounds that are really nice! If you have a local butcher you can bring your own containers similar to bags for bulk. 🙂 Several places in AZ offer pick up and drop off compost. I know there’s one in Phoneix. Do you have any community gardens? They often have places you can drop your compost. Just some ideas!

  7. I love this list. I’m now considering to stop buying paper towels and napkins. Thanks for your helpful post. 🙂

    I’ve stopped buying trash bags when I realised it is just an expense that isn’t necessary. Plus it’s also an additional waste because we can use other alternative trash bags to lessen the waste.

  8. I love handkerchiefs! They are so much softer! My dad always had one in his pocket.

    And I HATE trash bags. The whole purpose of them is to throw them away!

  9. I live in rural Arkansas. I have canned all my life and buy from local farmers when I can. There are no whole foods here. Just one grocery that wraps or boxes everything. I switched to cloth napkins and only use paper towels for greasy fried food drainage. I try to regrow some of my produce leftovers and some I use to make vegitable stock. I also purchased a dehydrator to help save food from spoiling. I make my beauty products, upcycle clothes and crochet new ones. I live in a refurbished trailor that I did most the work on too. Most of my "green" traits are out of necessity. I don’t have a lot of money and saving where I can is paramount.

  10. I’d love to ditch foil, but what do you do when you have to cover a Pyrex to bake something so it won’t dry out? All the lids now are plastic… I have a couple other glass baking dishes with glass lids but not for the 13×9 size. Ideas?

    Also, I’d love to ditch paper towels completely, but what do you do about wiping butter and other grease out of pans, etc.? If you just wash it in the sink it will eventually clog your drain, so my mom taught us to wipe it out. Can’t imagine it would be good for the washing machine either.

    1. you could just use a rubber spatula to scrape it out or have hot water running when pouring hot grease down the drain and maybe a few drops of soap to help break it down.

    2. If your grease is still runny, tip it into your compost bin (assuming you have one). I’ve never wiped out my trays and haven’t had a blocked sink – I find food scraps to be more of an issue, so catch these with a sink strainer and pop them in the compost too.
      For baking I also use a ‘cookie tray’, or more of a roasting tray. Otherwise keep your eyes out for a second hand cast iron pot with a lid!

    3. I don’t know about the Pyrex but for wiping grease out of pans, I use wadded up newspaper or junk mail from the recycling bin. I try to not use a lot of grease as it is but sometimes it’s going to happen!

  11. We love to drink a lot of herbal tea around here but we don’t buy it anymore – we grow it. It is super easy, very cheap and there is no packaging or tea bags to throw away. We grow mint, catnip, lemon balm, lemon grass, ginger, wild bergamont and more. Most come back year after year. Another place we have saved a bunch of money and created less trash is by making our own laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant and going "no ‘poo". I am with you on almost everything else too. We do however still buy some trash bags, a few zip locks (maybe a box every 3 years???), and Aluminum foil very rarely.

  12. If you don’t eat any packaged food then do you essentially just eat fruit and veggies? Everything else has some type of package even meat. I would be interested to know what your diet consists of if your zero waste.

        1. You can take a container to the butcher and they will be super happy to put your stuff in your own container.

  13. I am at the moment writting a report about zero waste, and I would like to know, where you found the numbers – so I can use them. I know you calculated some of them yourself, but I mean the ones, which are general for USA.

  14. When I was very young in the 70’s times were a little hard in our house. I remember drinking from Jelly jars and mayo jars we also keep butter containers and used them for bowls. I still keep some of these to send home with people if I have left over soups and chili. It still seems so wasteful just to toss them in the trash.

  15. Hello,thank you for your post.
    I wonder if you splend more money (and Howard much) in water ( Washing machine )
    Sorry for my english !

  16. Our trashmen would refuse to pick up trash wrapped in paper. They do not pick up anything not bagged and tied in plastic bags.

    1. eventually you will get to a spot where you can cancel your garbage service!! I never thought that we would be able to, but this past October I was finally able to make that call. Its been so awesome!! meanwhile, there are some decomposable options on the market for garbage bags. I don’t know if you would be able to find them at a smaller grocery store, but I am sure Walmart carries them. I don’t remember the name, because its been well over a year since we have needed them, but I remember they were about the same price as regular bags. It said on the box that they decompose within 5 years with or without air or light. I didn’t do any further research than that, but you may want to check it out next time you are at the store looking to get garbage bags! Currently, we are still using up all the millions of grocery bags that got in before going zero waste – and still sometimes find their way in currently.. we only use one grocery bag per month for the garbage that we still create.

  17. I like the idea of using handkerchiefs instead of tissues, but I run into roadblocks in my brain when it comes to washing them. Throwing them into regular laundry seems kinda “ick” and washing them by themselves is not waste-free, in my opinion. I deal with allergies year round and always have a sniffly nose. I’d love to hear ideas!

    1. If it’s just allergies, you can throw them in the hamper if it’s a cold I put them in a bowl with boiling water to sanitize, hang them to dry, and then put them in the hamper.

  18. When it comes to #9, have you considered switching over to Norwex? I’d be absolutely tickled pink to tell you more about it. (Aside from being a consultant- I am a BIG fan of all things green and cleaning with water is WAY up on my list) without sounding sales-y I’ve been an indoor composter for 4 years as we dont have space for an outdoor compost. We use stainless straws and grow a large portion of our produce, soil enriched by home produced worm dropings, from worms fed by our garden ;). Loved this article and am so grateful for people sharing pointers on ways to green it up a bit!

    1. I don’t recommend Norex because it’s microfiber which is plastic. It sheds millions of micro-plastic particles in the washing machine compounding the current problem of plastic in the ocean and our drinking water. https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics I’m super glad you’re composting though! That’s awesome. Composting is one of the best things you can do for the environment. 🙂

  19. I have two toddlers, and paper towel and were one of our hardest habits to break when going zero waste. Game changer: cloth diapers. They are so absorbent, and they leave our surfaces looking so much better than sponges or paper towels. We use our old napkin holder to collect dirty kitchen linens, and store the cloth diapers in a canister on the kitchen counter where the paper towels used to be to help break the habit. It is so pleasantly surprising how easy it is to go zero waste once you find what’s works for you! The "convenience" items
    causes me so much stress. (Where are they cheapest? Which product is best? Environmentally mindful?) Switching to a zero packaging (as much as possible) mindset has cleared out so much of that anxiety and saved a lot money!

  20. Thierry LeVasseur says. “Sometimes it’s just a shifting in how we think and being able to take that all the way through to becoming a viable business is the real challenge.”

  21. Here we use washcloth to dry our butt after using our bidet. This way we leave the toilet paper for the guest only. This way we really don’t buy a lot!

  22. I’m so happy to realize that when I read this list I go "I’ve already done that for years" for a lot of things. Not really to reduce my waste but as a student I live as frugally as possible and a lot of packaged things are just really expensive. I guess it goes both ways! 😀

  23. Zero waste is good for the planet, but using bidet uses LOTS of water… bad for the planet !!
    Thank you for other ideas, I’m looking how to store things in my freezer without plastic bags.

  24. I’m really enjoying your website as I get back on the zero waste train and do d ways to make it more sustainable as a lifestyle. It’s so inspiring to see how much money you’ve saved too! I will be looking into alternative garbage liners while my family is still producing trash. I didn’t even know those existed.

    One of my favorite things to do is I just swap the money I would have spent on a pack of paper towels (or whatever) and use it to buy the replacement, like I can get 20 thrifted hand towels for the cost of a bulk pack of paper towels. It’s taking time but we’re slowly freeing up more and more income to allow us to make bigger changes.

  25. I like the idea of producing as little as possible of waste and except of cloth toilet "paper" i can imagine most of it, as i mostly live in this way anyway.

    What i dont really understand is – where did you get these cost estimations? :-O We are a family of six and even if we use (in a reasonable amount) alu foil, plastic wrap, cleaning products, toilet paper etc. i just definitely dont spend so much money on it as you describe (beside toiletpaper).
    Paper kitchen towells for 684 $ in a year :-O Gasp :-O? I use about 2-3 Roles in am month because i cant get my huby stop using these and for wipping the greasy pans it is just the best, sorry- so the costs are – 15$?
    60 $ on alu foil? :-O I use 1-2 Roles in a year – costs – 2-3 Euros – about 5 $ in a year? Plastic wrap – last for ever even if i do use it – 1 in a year – 2-3 $, Garbage bags? What for – i have a plastic bin and empty it in the big plastic bin in front of the house, where its taken once a week/moths – depending on the type of waste – dont you separate the waste in US? We have 4 bins – paper, plastic, compost (and garden waste as branches etc.), and the rest (content of the vacuumcleaner and similar stuff).
    Garbage liner? What for? I put one small sheet of nwespapaer in the compost bin, so that it doesnt get to awfull and i wash the bin everyonce in a while. In the paper bin? No. The plastic goes to the biiiig plastic bags i get for free from the town – very thin and made from recycled plastic and i town wouldnt get my waste if i wouldnt put it in these anyway, so no question – but i use about 1-2 of these a week (in a big family!). The same for the other waste but there it is even less than one in a week and i use always something i got with shopping to recycle it – so costs – 0 – waste – not really as it is all recycled stuff anywhay and is going to be recycled again.
    And where did you got these 300 or more $ for cleaning products :-O??? OMG i do clean our bathrooms 2x a week for sure, wash my stove at least 1x week, get several loads of washing a week but neve ever spent so much on this? – I have not more than one bottle of some lemon smelling liquid for bathroom and i need one or a bit more in a year – let it be 5 $, the one for the stove lasts about 2 years – so not more than 2 $ a year, washing powder and dishwasher – there i do get some costs – lets say 50- 60 a year for both (but we are a big family and we wash and cook a lot). Disposable waterbottles – use extremely rarely – if its hot and i run out of water on a trip – so about 20 $ a year for us – we but sparkling water in glass bottles and give them bag to the shop and get the money back. Its a common system existing so far i know already since about 200 years.
    Tissues – well – this is a point i should concentrate on – when i was a kind, we used only these – i should at lest when i dont have a cold – if i have, i prefer paper tissues – my nose gets destroyed much faster with the cloth ones – but still – 75 $? Never so much – i get about 3 big packages in a year so it costs maybe – 12 $ in a year.
    Convenience food – well this is just so obvious – if you let cook someone else for you it cost more – but you dont have the work. I prefere to know what i eat and almost never buy it.
    It would be lovely to buy unpacked food and maybe there is some shop like this here BUT it costs much, much more in such a shop, so continue to go in regular supermarket. I definitely would wish supermarkets would offer less packed food but people would buy less, so i dont think supermarkets will ever do this unless forced by law.
    SO i counted all together and however i count i get on less than 150 $ in a year even if i do use alu foil, plastic wraps, convenience cleaning products …+ toiletpaper, soap, shampoo etc. it makes not more than 500-600 $ a year in a family of 6. NEVER EVER 12, 000$ 😉

  26. I just started this process earlier this year, beginning with plastic water bottles and straws. Since working to cut these out, it’s become disturbingly clear how much more waste I have yet to rid from my life. We live on a small island in the South Pacific and have very little access to fresh fruits and veggies and no fresh meats, so almost all of our food comes in some kind of packaging. However, I’ve been trying to make changes where possible- switching to bar soaps and shampoos, reusing containers and packaging that our food comes in, and eliminating food waste- unused or unneeded (way less junk food). Thanks for the ideas of even more ways I can move toward waste-free, even here on our island home.

  27. Loved how simple this post was. I have been looking for some way to cover my food besides plastic wrap. I’ll have to buy the beeswax covers ASAP. Hoping to go plastic free first, before going waste free! I’ll be blogging about it on my website, sunshinelanding.com, check it out and sub 😉

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  32. Wow! This is so cool. I’m starting a year long challenge to eat a locally sourced diet and want to add in some metrics about creating less waste. I’m excited to read more of your blog. It’s really cool to see zero waste in dollar amounts. $12,000 is a lot, way to go!

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