It seems like going zero waste, along with zero waste products, have become kinda in vogue recently. It’s fashionable to be zero waste, so a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon without really understanding the movement and what it’s all about.
And sometimes, that does more harm than good.
We all have limited understanding. We’re all somewhere along our zero waste journey. Some of us are further along the path, but others of us are just starting out. If that’s you, then welcome!
Here you’ll find some advice for beginning zero waste the right way, along with my picks for some of the best zero waste products to get you started with reducing your waste and carbon footprint.
I decided to put this together because, when you start out going zero waste, it can be easy to become overwhelmed at all the options.
When I started caring about how much waste I was producing, I looked at the many zero waste products available, and kind of went overboard. Definitely had a few bandwagon moments… And I bought some things I didn’t need and haven’t really used.
Related: Things I regret from reducing my waste
For example, I got a straight razor even though I still had razor cartridges left. Like, multiple months worth. Definitely not a necessary purchase.
I’ll use it eventually, but learn from my mistakes!
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Going zero waste
I’ve learned a lot since that razor episode.
You don’t need to spend tons of money or make radical changes to start off on the right foot. Look for small changes you can make (using the zero waste products below for ideas), and then keep on making changes!
It really is all about the small steps. Progress, not perfection.
Make manageable, attainable goals for yourself, and stick to them, but give yourself grace if you don’t meet them or you’re not moving forward as quickly as you’d like.
Keep your mind wide open to ways that you can change and adapt. Follow some zero-wasters on Instagram for ideas and inspiration. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself on the steps you’ve taken!
Read on for ideas on what zero waste products you should -and shouldn’t- buy first if you want to pursue a zero waste lifestyle!
Zero waste products to avoid
The products you’ll want to avoid include replacements that aren’t immediately necessary, or anything that isn’t saving you from single-use waste or toxins right away. This can include things like:
- Dish scrub brushes
The list goes on, but you get the idea. These are probably things you already have, and you won’t need to replace them immediately. Let them wear out first, and then replace them with something that is zero waste or doesn’t include plastic!
I think this is where a lot of people who are starting out with zero waste get it wrong. You don’t need to immediately purge your house of all plastic.
That’s just sending plastic straight to the landfill, even more quickly than it would have if you weren’t pursuing a zero waste lifestyle.
Plus, you’re more likely to burn out.
I know it’s tempting to get that neat-looking wooden hairbrush or bamboo toothbrush, but those can wait. Focus on more important items at first, and replace everything else only if it’s worn out or falling apart.
No, your house might not be zero waste Instagram worthy for a while, but you’ll be making more of a positive impact on the environment and your health if you replace these items later!
Read on to find out what zero waste products you should be looking for instead!
The first thing you’ll want to do on your zero waste journey is to reduce single-use plastic.
These are items that are made to only be used once. At the top of the list of offenders are single-use plastic straws, plastic water bottles, and single-use bags.
These plastic products are notorious, and they’re a great place to start if you’re thinking of going zero waste.
Plastic straws, for example, take 100 to 500 years to break down, and within that timeframe, they’ll probably make it to the ocean and be ingested by fish and sea life. And then we eat the fish…. These toxins travel. They aren’t good for us or the planet we live on.
If you took the number of straws used in the USA in a single day, and laid them out end to end, they’d circle the globe two and a half times. (source)
It is so worth it to stop using straws and other single-use products!
And the good news is, they’re super easy to replace with more sustainable options!
Zero waste products- alternatives to single-use plastic
Some of my favorite zero waste products are the ones that help me avoid single-use plastic.
This isn’t just because they’re good for the environment: they’re also inexpensive, attractive, reusable, and they’ll make a visible dent in the waste you’re producing! It’s encouraging to see a smaller trash bag each week, and a great place for anyone going zero waste to start.
Here are some of my favorite alternatives that I’d recommend for anyone interested in reducing their waste or beginning with zero waste!
Stainless steel straws
I bring my little bag of stainless steel straws everywhere I go. They’re durable, easy to clean with the included brush, and last forever!
You can also get biodegradable bamboo straws.
I enjoy offering them to people I’m going out to eat with so that they can see how easy it is to refuse plastic. Plus, they make your drinks look incredibly photogenic!
Related: Creative ways to use less plastic
Stainless steel water bottle
Another item I bring everywhere I go. I use this stainless steel water bottle and I’m planning on using it for years to come!
It might need to be cleaned every week or so, but that’s nothing compared to tossing plastic water bottles daily… Not to mention, it would be saving you from the microplastics you’re ingesting through water from plastic bottles!
Soon plastic bags are going to be a thing of the past. More and more cities and stores are banning plastic bags, so why not be ahead of the game? Simply bring your own bags to the store and say no to plastic bags.
I use these reusable bags along with various free bags I’ve acquired over the years. They’re more durable and hold more than plastic bags.
You’ll keep hundreds of plastic bags out of landfills just by bringing it to the store with you! I keep mine in the trunk of my car so I don’t have to remember them on each shopping trip.
Another item I rarely travel without. Hot to-go cups are lined with plastic, which seeps into your drink and makes the cup unrecyclable. Bringing your own coffee travel mug will make a huge dent in the amount of waste you create, especially if that latte habit is (whoops) a regular thing.
It might take you a little while to remember to bring your mug. To be honest, it might also take a little bit for you to get used to. There’s something about a to-go mug (especially from certain well-known coffee shops) that just looks… kinda cool. Ya know?
But the toxins and environmental impact definitely are not. You’ll get used to it, and Instagram and Snapchat will be fine without your branded coffee cup pics, I promise!
Here’s another easy switch that you can start benefitting from right away! Invest in some cloth napkins and bring them out any time you’d regularly use disposable napkins.
You’ll find that they don’t take up much room in the washer, and they just make your table look pretty! Guests will appreciate the special touch they add to dinner. You can use the rest of your disposable napkins for cleaning up small messes if you want, and then you’ll never need to buy them again!
Food storage is one place that we tend to produce a LOT of waste. One of my favorite switches has been trading clingwrap for beeswax wrap– it works great and lasts for at least a year! It always seemed like I was running out of clingwrap, but now I always have a great, non-plastic option on hand!
Also, the patterns are pretty AND it smells good. I’ll never need cling wrap again!
For more ideas, check out this post on 12 alternatives to cling wrap.
Let’s face it- we could always use more Tupperware. Why not start replacing your plastic food storage with glass? I use mason jars and these glass containers when I’m shopping in the bulk section.
Related: How to do zero waste shopping and bulk buying
Note: The Pyrex containers do have plastic lids, but they’re an affordable option for food storage, and much better than single-use plastic! It’s best to not let plastic touch any food you’re storing, and don’t put anything with plastic in the microwave.
Jars and other glass containers are perfect for storing food in the fridge and freezer, and they work great with the beeswax wrap too!
This is a fantastic place to start replacing plastic because even though Tupperware isn’t single use, it’s still plastic that’s touching your food. Toxins from plastic could be leaching into your food even if you aren’t heating up the plastic. Do good for your health (and reduce your exposure to toxins) by replacing them over time!
And you don’t need to toss those plastic tubs in the trash- find ways to reuse them for storing anything other than food! Nails, thumbtacks, pens, you name it.
I also try to keep a couple of jars and glass or stainless steel containers in the car too, for any time I’m buying bulk or getting food to-go. Styrofoam and to-go bags and boxes are terrible for the environment because of what they break down into.
Thankfully, most places are very understanding when you explain that you’d like to use your own containers instead!
If you’re just starting out with a zero waste lifestyle, why not give these easy switches a try?
Related: How to store your food plastic-free
Bonus zero waste beginner tips
You could try making a zero waste car pack with your reusable bags, straws, and jars. As you get them, add in stainless steel plates, bowls, and utensils.
That way, you’ll always have zero waste options on hand when you’re shopping or traveling!
I also shop at a lot of second-hand stores for zero waste products like jars and kitchen supplies. This ensures that I’m not adding to the problem by buying new, packaged goods. Lots of online orders include loads of single-use plastic, so I try to do my online shopping carefully.
The items I’ve found in second-hand stores have worked just as well for me as if they were new!
And if you’re part of that #blessed population that has a period, you can easily remove single-use pads and tampons from your monthly routine! The plastic- and toxin-free alternatives can even help reduce your cramps and the length of your period.
Check out this post if you’d like to see how I made my period zero waste.
Related: How to use a menstrual cup to revolutionize your period
I’ve also found that one of the hardest times to reduce waste or live a zero waste lifestyle is when I’m traveling. Single-use plastic, disposable plates, and single-serving snacks are everywhere, and it can be frustrating! If you can relate and want tips for thinking ahead to reduce your waste while traveling, check out my post on 10 zero waste tips for your next trip.
Trash audit for zero waste beginners
Another thing you might want to try if you’re thinking of going zero waste is a trash audit.
But don’t worry, this doesn’t involve the IRS.
A trash audit is where you take a look at your trash each week to get an idea of where your waste is coming from. For example, if you see tons of cottage cheese containers, you might want to consider making your own, or cutting it out of your diet!
You can also look into recycling the containers or find ways to reuse them. A trash audit is a good idea because you’ll become more aware of the waste you’re producing, and you’ll find good areas to start reducing that waste.
If you want a way to keep track of your accomplishments and the zero waste products you still need to get, you can download my free zero waste checklist below! Just enter your email below to get started.
Next steps in going zero waste
If you’d like to continue in your zero waste journey and reduce your waste even further, you can check out my post on creative ways to use less plastic.
You’ll find even more easy ways to cut out the plastic (and the toxins) from your life- including some ways you might not have thought of yet!
You might notice that most of these tips involve food or kitchen products. The kitchen can be a huge area of waste, but creating a zero waste kitchen might be easier than you think! You can also learn about tips for zero waste shopping and bulk buying.
And if you’re in to zero waste hair care, make sure to check out my post on how to use shampoo and conditioner bars!
Good luck with your zero waste journey!
Wondering why you chose those glass containers with plastic on top.
Hi Jennifer! You’re referring to the Pyrex containers? I’ve found them to be high-quality glass for a good price. As I was going through other (plastic-free) options on Amazon, I saw that they were usually expensive and many had poor reviews. So I decided to stick with something I could personally recommend. Although I have been disappointed with how the plastic lids can crack and not work as well over time- it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best affordable option I’ve found so far! Hope that helps =)
I recently saw an ad for stretchy silicone lids that would fit over pyrex containers. That could be a good option as the lids crack and become unusable over time. The silicone is food-grade and washable, and fits multiple containers. I wish I could remember what the company is called, but it would definitely be a great idea so you’re not left with lidless glass containers.
You know, we have some of those and they aren’t my favorite. They can only stretch a little, and we’ve already had some crack along the sides! They aren’t terrible, but not great. We still use them when we can but we use beeswax wrap more often now… Or just a plate on top of the dish in the fridge! I was thinking of doing a post comparing different food storage ideas, maybe that’ll happen soon =)
I use beeswax covers, but I had not thought about using a plate over a container. I like that idea. I have done many of the things you suggest. However, I cannot find a grocery store for bulk shopping. I have searched online, but do not see anything nearby. I am researching making more items from scratch in order to cut down on the amount of packaging. Your site is very worthwhile. Thank you.
Thanks for your kind words! Reducing packaging is definitely easier depending on where you live. I don’t have a bulk store nearby either, but every few months we travel to see family and always try to make time for a bulk store run. And making things from scratch is a great idea!
How about using canning jars to store food? You can get them in sizes up to 1/2 gallon, and you need only replace the lids when necessary. I’ve also found you can write onvthem with a sharpie pen and wipe it off for reuse with nail polish remover.
Jars are fantastic! They’re at the top of my list on my post about zero waste food storage. Thanks for the labeling tip!
Use a wax pencil, then you don’t need nail polish remover. The wax rubs right off. Wax pencils are wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
Such an important message 🙂
I agree, I’m glad it’s a message that’s starting to catch on!
Just stumbled on your blog from Pinterest and I love all your ideas! I’m just starting to get into the low-waste movement and thinking of starting my own blog to document my progress. I’ve switched to using bamboo toothbrushes (after using up my last plastic one), shampoo bars (though I keep a bottle of tresemme on hand for guests who are resistant to new ideas) and cloth produce bags. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog!
Thank you for your kind words! I feel like I’m just starting out too… But isn’t it fun to make progress and reduce trash? Thanks for reading! =)
I watched The Netflix documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean ‘. I’m sewing produce bags to avoid bringing plastic home. I’m disappointed that I am having to educate so many people.
Good for you! It’s fun to sew produce bags- mine turn out ugly but I’m glad it doesn’t matter =) Thank you for educating people! The world needs what you have to say!
I wanted to sew some too, but just can’t find the time. So i am reusing the meshbags citrusfruit or sweet potatoes come in with a clip.
That’s a great idea!! Thanks for sharing! =)
. Before Saran Wrap my mother used waxed paper to wrap everything.
Somehow life existed before plastic! I’m hopeful that we can get back to that! =)
I have a question. Before I read this article I hadn’t heard of toxins being in plastic. Does anyone have a reliable source stating that what toxic substances that might be?
Good question! I believe the exact types of toxins depends on the type of plastic, but here’s a study I found showing how pretty much all of us have BPA (an endocrine disruptor that messes with hormones like estrogen) in our bodies- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180205102728.htm -of course, now things are labeled as “BPA free” but the replacement, BPS, might be just as bad or even worse! This is only one example of the toxins we’re exposed to regularly through plastic and it’s definitely worth it to try and limit your exposure. I should add some more studies on the topic to this… Read more »
I like how you mentioned the first thing to do to become more eco-friendly is to decrease single-use plastics. My family is trying to live more sustainably and buy more circular economy products. I will look for products without single-use products to avoid waste.
Awesome! I can’t wait for sustainable living to be the norm =)
It’s comforting to know I’ve already implemented a lot of these zero waste options you have provided and the additional info will help me share with family and friends as I make the adjustments. Thanks for the share.
How do your bulk stores manage the weight of your jars when you pay? Or do you just live with the extra expense?
Most bulk stores will weigh your jars beforehand so you aren’t paying for the weight of the jars =) Just ask at the counter! I would use muslin bags or something lighter if they don’t weigh your containers for some reason. If you’d like more info, I have a whole post on tips for bulk buying- https://www.hopefulholistic.com/zero-waste-shopping/