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8 FREE Zero Waste Swaps

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

Sustainability gets a bad rep for being expensive and only accessible to the “elite” or at least upper-middle class.

And, I’m not saying that some of the things promoted by sustainability experts aren’t because eating a local, organic whole-foods diet can be spendy and so can things like electric cars and solar panels.

Some of the links below are affiliate links for more information please see my disclosure policy.

Zero waste living at its core though is depression era ultimate frugal living.

It’s the simple idea of wasting nothing and using everything we have over and over again. At it’s core it’s about buying less, using less, consuming less.

I’ve rounded up 8 free-ish zero waste swaps. I say “ish” because nothing in life is truly free.

For several of these things, it requires you to have bought something in the past, but I think there’s a high probability you own these items!

1. buy less:

I think this is pretty self-explanatory – simply buy less.

You will see it repeated throughout the blog over and over again because it’s one of the best things you can do.

It is day one in the Zero Waste Challenge which if you’re looking to reduce your waste and don’t know where to start, that’s where!

It’s also my top tip for anyone starting out on a low-waste / sustainable lifestyle check out my Beginners Guide to Going Zero Waste.

And, if you’re just looking for some inspo, here’s 10 Things I Don’t Buy Anymore.

2. water:

Did you know tap water is actually more regulated than bottled water? Yup. It’s true!

With few exceptions, most of the water in the US is clean, drinkable, and there’s no need for bottled water.

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA where tap water is regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act which has much stricter standards than the FDA.

The EPA requires that each city distributes a Consumer Confidence Report every year that shows the quality of the city’s water supply.

Now, if you’re a bottled water company, tests aren’t done as frequently and they don’t have to share them with the general public.

Which has led to numerous outbreaks of e coli in bottled water.

If you’d like your water to taste a bit better, check out these charcoal sticks.

I have a great blog post on how I filter my water without using plastic.

If you need something a little more heavy duty, the Berkey Filter is the best on the market.

If I were to get a water filter, this is absolutely the one I would get. I do tend to check on Craigslist to see if one becomes available.


3. host a clothing swap:

Instead of rushing out to buy something new, host a clothing swap with your friends. Let me know if you’d like a full blog post on this!

This is such a fun event to throw with friends and I think it’s a GREAT mixer idea for sororities and college campuses in general. Check out all of my tips for reducing waste in college.

4. jars on jars:

Many of the items at the grocery store come in glass jars.

Instead of going out and buying new glass jars, upcycle the jars you already have. more buy less:

I did a whole post on the sharing economy and how important it is.

You can read more here: 5 Ways to Join the Sharing Economy.

6. ditch the unnecessary:

Do you truly need everything you buy?

After I went zero waste I just stopped buying plastic wrap and aluminum foil and haven’t looked back. I also stopped lining my cupcake tins.

Full disclosure: my husband put a set of silicone cupcake liners for in my stocking for Christmas, but I use them to make homemade peanut butter cups instead.

I really love using the silicone cupcake liners in the freezer. Hello, mini vegan cheesecakes.

7. paper products:

Ditching paper products was one of the best money saving decisions I’ve made.

I find that most people have a set of rags or kitchen towels so lock away the paper towels and break out those towels.

I have a great blog post on Ditching Paper Towels to help you make that transition.

While I wouldn’t consider these free swaps, if you’re looking to save money and ditch paper products switch to handkerchiefs instead of tissues and get a bidet attachment for your toilet!


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8. make your food at home:

Instead getting a bunch of takeout, make your food at home. Pack a lunch, make breakfast, and brew your own coffee and tea.

I find that cooking at home automatically eliminates a lot of waste. I’ve rounded up a few of my popular blog posts on the topic to help get you started!


There’s also a few bonus ideas I thought of, but to get those, you’ll have to watch the video.

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  1. Thank you for your blog!
    My zero waste ideas are – brew your own kombucha, use plant milk instead of animal milk, if you buy book buy them used, rent clothings instead of buying them, if you use plastic bags like for kids snacks than wash them and reuse them.

  2. Thank you for your blog and brilliant Zero Waste ideas. Every little step matters to change the wastefulness. It is just a habit and habits can be changed! And there are alternatives to corporate giants.

  3. I’d like to see you do a post about a clothing swap! I hosted a few in college and turned them into potlucks or had a craft going at the same time. It was always a lot of fun and I met new people. And super inexpensive or nearly free!

  4. I bought some inexpensive dish towels (cotton not terrycloth) and cut them in half, hemmed them and now use them as napkins; I also had 3 large t-shirts that had family logos/pictures on them. I no longer wore them and just kept them for the sentimental idea. Well, I cut out the logos/pictures to use in a quilt and cut the rest of the t-shirts up and hemmed them on my serger. These are now my un-paper towels! I keep them in a large coffee can that I decorated for my counter. I had purchased a number of flannel fat quarters that I cut up and hemmed on my serger for nose wiping! I replaced my parchment paper with silpat baking sheets. I do occasionally use foil for making complete dinners on the grill but that is perhaps 2X per year! I won some silicone bowl covers that have been heaven sent. I love that they stretch to fit most of my bowls. Now when I eat out and have leftovers to bring home, I take my own reusable container. When I am at the grocery store, I tap on bottles and jars to see which ones are in glass. I have changed the brands I use (peanut butter, syrups, etc.) to get ones that are in glass. I now shop at stores that have large bulk sections for flour, sugar, etc. Two of my favorite stores have spices in bulk.

    Baby steps and just looking for ways to eliminate waste – especially plastic.

  5. I’ve found a good way to buy less. Stop shopping at the cheap retailer like the dollar stores or Walmart and go where the prices are slightly higher, cause it makes me think more "Do I really need this?" But I also try to go to local businesses because you’re supporting the mom & pop shop owners and their employees instead of the CEO’s of the corporations.

  6. I vote for Julia for the aloe’s name (my character on a show for several years :)). I love your videos! I love your tip about just buying less, and you didn’t mention this in the video but I’ve heard you say it before and I always keep it in mind when I’m making purchases, WAIT 30 days! If you’re still needing/really wanting it after that, then go ahead, but I have so many things sitting in my Save for Later cart on Amazon that apparently I really just don’t need! I am obsessed with my Buy Nothing group…I am going to check out the other resources you suggested. Also, regarding the hand towel situation, I just recently had an old sheet that was so threadbare (and soft), I took about 5 minutes to tear it down into paper towel size cloths. We now use them for everything paper and I’ve even thought about cutting them down smaller and swapping them for toilet paper…I mean, just something to dab you dry and then throw it in a can (gotta remember not to throw in the toilet!) and wash…save the paper tp for the bigger jobs, you know? We have a bidet too that I LOVE.