Whether you’re new to the zero waste movement or have been around for a little while, you’ll know that initial feeling of either wanting to buy all the reusable alternatives, or feeling like you weren’t doing it “properly” if you didn’t. Trust me, I’ve been there too.
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One of the main concepts of the low waste lifestyle is to use the things you already own before buying all the fancy reusable products. Of course it’s SUPER tempting to buy a new lunchbox to make you feel more zero waste, but if you already have 4 in your kitchen then using those is more zero waste than buying a new one – and you’re saving yourself money too! The same thing goes to pretty much anything you use too – if you already own some form of a product that you were thinking of buying, then reuse those things as much as possible first.
Of course, if you don’t already own anything you can replace them with, think about what kind of lifestyle you have before you buy something. You may really want a reusable coffee cup, but if you don’t actually drink coffee from cafes or on the go, it may feel like a silly thing to buy, and reluctantly throw away. Really think about every purchase when embracing the zero waste lifestyle, because although the swaps are to prevent waste, it’s just as wasteful to buy something you’ll never use.
If you’re new to zero waste and not sure where to get started, make sure you check out my beginners guide post.
What can I reuse?
When it comes to reusing, you may not know exactly where to start – and for some might actually just buy the new thing as it’s “easier”. Trust me when I say that I can almost guarantee that you’ll already own the majority of things on this list, take the process one step at a time and it’ll become a breeze.
Reusing your old plastic, glass, or metal containers is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you create, and stuff you bring into your house too. Reusing also means you’re not only using less energy to create new products and the old ones getting recycled, but you’re also saving yourself money too.
Here’s my list of zero waste swaps you (should) have in your house that you can easily reuse:
This first one is something you’ve probably seen everywhere. A lot of social media influencers will probably talk about having a reusable bamboo cutlery set in their bag – often in some form of roll up pouch too. If you’re relatively new to the zero waste movement or even on a budget, you’ll notice that these don’t come cheap – at around £10-£15 per set.
Chances are, you probably don’t actually need one of these anyways. If you’re someone who regularly eats out or brings their own food to work or school, I would recommend just taking a stainless steel set from your kitchen to use or maybe a durable plastic set you might have from previous camping trips. Of course taking metal kitchen utensil can be heavier and noisier, but you’ll be saving yourself money instead of buying the zero waste “swap” – and you could even make your own pouch to store them in if you fancy!
One of the hardest things to recycle, but also one most bought forms of waste, is disposable coffee cups. Due to the constant rush of work and school, coffee has become a big thing for people to buy in the mornings and lunch.
If you’re not environmentally conscious then it’s probably quite easy to forget to bring one, but chances are you probably already own some kind of reusable coffee cup or thermos. Next time you head out on your coffee run, make sure you have a look to see if you have a coffee cup in your cupboard! A lot of the time you can get discounts from coffee shops for bringing your own mug too.
Of course, if you’re not the kind of person to get hot drinks all the time, don’t buy yourself a coffee cup! I know they can be very aesthetically pleasing and “on brand” for the low waste lifestyle, but buying a zero waste swap that you won’t use not only wastes your money but could also become waste itself.
When you first thought about going zero waste, it’s probably because you saw all those glass and metal containers and were tempted to buy one. Am I right or am I right? Now before you get ahead of yourself and start buying these nice containers, make sure you check the kitchen first – chances are you probably already own a lot of plastic tubs anyway.
Yes I know, nobody likes plastic these days, but in reality it’s better to reuse your plastics as much as you possibly can before replacing it. Okay, your tubs may have some discolouration from prior use, but that’s never stopped you reusing them before, why should it now? Once your mighty plastic container stash starts to get smaller (when they eventually break and you recycle them), eventually start replacing them, but only if you really need more of them.
When it comes to water bottles, I know there are at least 8 in my house and we’ve been using them all for years now. The same goes for water bottles as with the plastic containers – just because it’s made of plastic doesn’t mean it can’t be reused countless of times before you decide to recycle it.
Of course, I know you’re probably really tempted to buy yourself an insulated bottle that you saw online, and although I couldn’t recommend getting one enough, if you already have old sports bottles in your house, use them! Durable insulated water bottles can cost anywhere between £20 – £50, so you’ll definitely be saving yourself some money.
Of course, if you don’t own one but you know you’ll use it often if you like to go walking or just like ice-cold water, then definitely get one! As long as you use it, that’s the main aim. Many stores all over cities now have refillable water stations, so don’t let the thought of an empty bottle put you off!
If you’re looking into getting started into the zero waste lifestyle and go out often, I recommend having a To-Go kit! Make sure you check out my post on that if you’re interested here.
If you live in the UK like me, you’ll know all about the charge we have on plastic bags, so no doubt you already own a reusable bag. I know many people already do own reusable bags, which is a great start, but it’s also a good idea not to get too carried away!
Most events these days sell tote bags with their logo or something to do with the brand, but you also have to remember you don’t need every single one. Depending on the size of your household, you probably only need between 5 – 15 reusable bags at most, as well as having produce bags if you buy loose fruit and veg too.
Of course you don’t need to buy produce bags (you can always shop without them entirely), but you can always get some second hand or make your own – I really like see-through mesh bags as that way you can see what’s inside too.
Shampoo Bottles and Soap Dispensers
If you live near or in a city, you’ll probably have at least one bulk or plastic-free shop. These usually house large containers that are filled with shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap. If you can’t quite commit to shampoo and conditioner bars or even soap bars, maybe if you have a large family, a small budget, or they just don’t seem to work for you, this is a great solution and inexpensive!
When your old bottles are empty (I suggest washing them out afterwards) you can take them to the store to fill up. This means that although you’re not throwing out your bottle, you’re not adding to plastic waste – this is also great because you can’t recycle dispenser pumps, so they’d just get sent to landfill.
If you don’t have a bulk store nearby, you can often either buy big refill bottles of a specific brand, or you can sometimes send branded bottles back and they’ll refill them at a discounted price. UpCircle is a great brand to check out if you’re interested in this!
Another thing you’ve probably seen quite a lot of when looking into zero waste swaps is the bamboo toothbrush. These are of course a great alternative, but if you’ve just changed to a fresh plastic one, don’t throw it away for the sake of it!
Once your toothbrush has gotten to the end of it’s life, don’t throw it away just yet. You can reuse old plastic toothbrushes for cleaning many things other than your teeth – a great example is your razor to keep it from getting rusty.
When going zero waste, you’re going to see a lot of things about storing food in mason jars and also the “trash jar”. One of the easiest things to do which also saves you money, is to reuse the jars you already have. You’re also saving lots of energy and resources by reusing instead of recycling them straight away.
Whether they’re from nut spreads, jam, pickles, mayonnaise, anything! Instead of using more energy and recycling the jars, simply clean them (and I also air them out if the jar had spices in them) and refill with what you need. You can also reuse these if you often shop at bulk or plastic free stores, as it’s a great way to house all your package-free ingredients!
I hope this post was helpful to those of you considering the zero waste journey – remember, you don’t need to be perfect 100% of the time. Take your time with this and by using the stuff you already own, you’re already doing a great job.
Looking for more sustainable ideas? Check out my other posts!
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