A few weeks ago I shared the 12 things I’ve stopped buying since going zero waste, and how in the process I’m saving about $1300 a year. But many of the things on that list involved purchasing an alternative. Some of the alternatives were things I already had in my home (such as baking soda or coconut oil), but some of the alternatives were not, and had a higher up-front cost than the disposable option. In the long run, I’m saving lots of money. But in the short term, some of the items can be a bit pricey.
So what if you’re on a ramen-noodle-every-night budget, with save-the-planet aspirations?
Have no fear! Here are 10 ways to reduce your waste without spending any money at all.
How many of us have old t-shirts from high school or college laying around that never get worn? Unless you just KonMari’d your home, I’d imagine most of us have at least one. Give those shirts new life with a pair of scissors and some love. Turn them into no-sew bags! Use them not only for carrying your groceries out of the store, but for carrying your produce, too! No more disposable plastic bags for you, my friend.
There are DIY How-To’s all over the internet. Check out my Pinterest board for home DIYs for a few ideas.
When you get a bill in the mail, how much unnecessary paper is shoved into that envelope? No, AT&T, I still don’t want to add on a home phone and cable to my internet plan - you can stop sending me ads for those every month, thanks. Most billing companies today have paperless options that involve no more than a check-box to sign up. Log into your account to set yours up today!
Save Your Scraps
This option is not only a fantastic way to reduce your waste and not spend any money, but this one will actually save you money, too.
When you’re cooking dinner (or any meal that involves vegetables), save your scraps! Keep them in the freezer until you’ve got two or three-ish cups of scraps. I’ve been using a gallon-sized Ziploc bag that I’ve had since before zero waste, and reuse each time. Once your container is filled, pour the contents into a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool for a bit, then transfer into jars or other containers and store in the fridge, or freeze for future use.
Voila! Homemade veggie stock.
Starchy vegetables do not work as well as fibrous vegetables in this, but as long as you have more fibrous than starchy scraps, I’ve never had a problem! Carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and bell peppers are some of the best to use. Herb stems are also fantastic! It’s pretty hard to do wrong with this.
You can also use this same method with chicken bones to make chicken stock. When I eat chicken, I prefer to cook the whole thing, so I can get several meals out of it, and use the rest for stock. In this way, I can honor the life of the chicken and use it all so nothing goes to waste.
Compost Food Scraps
If you live in an area with municipal composting, this is a bit easier for you. If you don’t have municipal composting, and you don’t want to spend the money on a compost bin for your backyard - don’t worry, I’ve got the lazy version of composting for you.
When I first started composting, I didn’t have space for a compost bin, and I didn’t have anywhere to take my composting, either. So, I simply saved up my scraps in a bowl or paper bag in my freezer, and when I reached capacity, I dug a hole in my front garden and buried them. Each time, I’d bury in a different spot, and within about a month or so when I returned to the first spot again, the scraps would be gone.
Nature’s pretty amazing like that.
The current compost bucket
Carry a Fork
Or spoon, or chopsticks, or whatever eating utensil you desire. Or all of the above! You don’t need a new utensil set to reduce your waste when eating out. Just toss a fork from your kitchen in your pocket. Easy peasy.
Reuse Jars for Food Storage
If you’ve ever seen a zero waster’s Pinterest-perfect pantry, you may have drooled over the perfectly-curated mason jar collection. I know I have! But do you wanna know a secret?
You don’t need brand new jars that all look the same in your pantry!
Shocking this may be, I know. But really. Reusing old jars and bottles from pasta sauce, pickles, maybe even alcohol, can actually be way more fun. Opening my fridge right now to Starbucks and booze bottles filled with veggie stock always makes me smile. Plus, sometimes reused jars are just cuter! They can come in fancy shapes and sizes that you’d never get from a mason jar.
As a bonus, I’ve found that jars keep food waaaaay fresher than Tupperware containers. And they’re leak-proof!
Veggie stock in reused jars
Use Towels and Rags (or Old T-shirts) for Cleaning
Ditching paper towels sounds a lot grosser than it actually is. Clean something with a reusable option, and toss it in the laundry! You really don’t need new cleaning cloths for this, either. If you have old towels or rags laying around, give them a whirl in the cleaning realm of your home. Or, if you have more old t-shirts, cut them up and use those instead. Cleaning cloths don’t need to be in pristine condition; they’re just going to get messy!
Should I do a post on zero waste cleaning, sans paper towels? Comment below if you think I should!
If you are able, and live in an area conducive to walking, and are heading somewhere less than a mile away, go for a walk instead of driving. (Maybe not in the middle of the polar vortex much of the country is currently experiencing, but once the weather warms up a bit.) Getting out in nature is a wonderful stress-reducer. Plus endorphins! Because, as we all learned from Elle Woods, exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.
I couldn’t resist. I make no apologies.
Anywho - if you can, keep your car off the road for short trips. Reduce emissions, lower stress, and increase endorphins. Oh, and save money on gas!
Books from the library. A cocktail dress from your BFF. A snow blower from your neighbor. Rather than immediately heading to Amazon or the mall, check out what may be available around you. Support a sharing economy within your area, and don’t spend any money in the process.
Books borrowed from a friend in preparation for my summer trip.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that buying more makes up happier. Or that we need to buy [insert item here] because it’ll make us cooler/more attractive/more likeable. But the reality is, we’re not any happier. We’ve just spent a lot of money on stuff we don’t need and we never touch that’s likely heading to a landfill soon.
Beyond the stuff, here in the States we throw out, on average, a quarter of the groceries we buy. That’s like going to the store, buying four bags of groceries, and then just leaving one of them in the parking lot. Yikes.
By buying less, we’re automatically creating less waste - and saving a ton of money. It’s a win-win for everyone.
And if you're feeling overwhelmed by it all, I get it! Maybe give a No-Spend Month a shot to help break the cycle. Check out our full guide to a successful no-spend month if you need some inspo.
What are your favorite waste-reducing tips that don’t cost any money?