How to Go Zero Waste on a Budget

Last week on the Tiny Yellow Bungalow blog we talked about some zero waste tips for college students. While those tips mostly catered toward students that live in dorms at school, I thought it might be fun to share some tips for other folks that might similarly be on a tight budget but not necessarily students.

When I first starting learning about the zero-waste lifestyle, I remember being mesmerized by photos of perfect pantries full of Le Parfait jars in sleek, minimalist apartments. I think at a first glance that’s what most people imagine the zero waste lifestyle to be like, but in reality, the true concept of zero waste is to make do with what you have, repurpose and repair!

I have loved following The Zero Waste Chef on social media, because she is the queen of mismatched jars and handmade produce bags made from old pillowcases. If you’re looking for some authentic zero waste inspiration, check out her page!

Yes – I want allll the stainless steel and glass in my zero waste kitchen. No – I don’t need it to take part in the zero waste movement. I’ve whipped up a quick list below to show you how to go zero waste on a budget!

Use What You Have

This advice is coming from the gal that sells zero waste products online… you don’t need new things! That’s right, you can take steps toward less waste using things that you already own at home. I am obsessed with my own set of bamboo cutlery that I carry in my bag everyday, but listen. You can just as easily use a set of metal cutlery you already own in your own kitchen for zero waste lunch on the go. You don’t have to purchase a new item, in fact, using what you already own IS the most sustainable option.

It’s ok if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a stainless steel lunch container? Use reusable containers (i.e. Tupperware) that your mom has had in her kitchen for the last 15 years. It will do the job just as well. If you can’t afford reusable stainless steel straws right now, don’t buy them! More than once, I’ve been to a restaurant where the server doesn’t ask if I want a straw and just brings one automatically in my drink. If this happens to you, take that straw with you and reuse it – it’s free!!

Simply Refuse

As far as straws go, you can also just say no! You are making a positive impact on the planet when you refuse disposable plastic straws, refuse plastic bottles, refuse disposable coffee cups, etc. No is a powerful word and you ARE an eco warrior by saying no to things that harm the planet.

There are lots of opportunities to avoid things that are environmentally harmful and there’s no money involved. Actually, saying no can often save you money a lot of times! For example, avoiding consuming meat a few times per week will definitely reduce your grocery bills. Don’t purchase paper towels any more; instead use cloth kitchen rags that you probably already own. Simply saying no is a great way to reduce your amount of waste at home and on the go.

Shop Secondhand

If you find that you really do need some things for you zero waste experience, see if you can find those products second hand first. Ok, a bamboo toothbrush is probably something you’d want to buy fresh and new 😉 but you could totally hunt for a travel coffee mug at your local thrift store.

I have found some really great high quality reusable water bottles and travel mugs while shopping secondhand at the thrift shop in my town. Another great place to hunt for secondhand goods is estate sales. I adore visiting estate sales and I’ve been able to find so many things to help me with my zero waste journey at them.

I’ve found estate sales to be notorious for mason jar stashes. P.S. Get you some mason jars!! These glass jars are great, because they’re super versatile. You can use them to drink out of, to store leftovers, to hold your food items from the bulk store, etc. They are fairly inexpensive and you can usually find them secondhand so they’re even cheaper.

how to go zero waste on a budget

Make Your Own

On the Tiny Yellow Bungalow website you can find all kinds of pre-made zero waste supplies like deodorant, tooth paste, tooth powder, sunscreen, etc. But did you know you can make some of these products yourself?? There are heaps of DIY recipes that you can find over on Pinterest. For example, homemade mouthwash is super simple to make!

I don’t have a lot of time to experiment with homemade bath products but if you do and are also looking for something a little more affordable, see if it’s something you could make at home! Since these products are usually natural and organic, the ingredients lists tend to be small. It should be fairly simple to make some of them yourself. Who knows, maybe you will learn find you love making homemade soap bars and could start a sustainable small business of your own!

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Eat Whole Foods

If you’re wondering how to go zero waste on a budget when grocery shopping, the key is the stick to whole foods. No, not Whole Foods the grocery store… I’m talking about not processed foods but rather whole, plant based foods like fruits and veggies. It’s usually the foods that are located around the perimeter of the grocery store that are whole foods and the processed ones tend to be located in the middle rows. These types of foods tend to be less expensive in comparison to their processed and plastic packaged counterparts. You can cook with whole, plant based foods – think soups, stir fries, roasted veggies, etc.

Taking it one step further, be sure not to waste the food your purchase at the grocery store! Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Food Waste.

You can also easily prevent food waste with meal planning!

Grow Your Own

I know this option isn’t feasible for everyone, but if you have the space and time, try growing some foods of your own! Totally plastic and packaging free and let me tell you, produce in season is WAY more delicious. I have a veggie patch at my house and we grow tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, potatoes, okra, etc.

It does require a lot of time to tend to the garden but it’s worth it in the long run for the abundance of organic fresh produce we have every summer. We’ve found that it’s a lot cheaper to grow our own produce rather than purchasing fresh locally grown veggies and fruits at the farmer’s market.

The carbon footprint of homegrown or locally grown produce can be much smaller than that of conventional produce since this food doesn’t have to be transported from far away.

how to go zero waste on a budget

Focus on what you CAN do

I know a lot of people interested in reducing their waste who give up after trying for a short time. Sometimes, it seems really impossible to reduce household waste whether that be due to monetary restrictions or accessibility in your town. But try to focus on the things you CAN do rather than the things you can’t.

If your shopping cart is still full of plastic packaged goods, remember that you aren’t taking all of those products home in single-use plastic bags. You can use reusable bags instead. And remind yourself of all the times you’ve made coffee at home or had coffee “for here” at a coffee shop to reduce disposable coffee cup waste.

You ARE making a difference.  Even small steps towards sustainability are helpful and make an impact. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t fit all your trash in a tiny mason jar. Focus on what is sustainable for you and your family in this moment with the budget and resources that you currently have available. You can do this!!

Also, a reminder that many sustainable products, like a safety razor or compost bin, have a high upfront cost but will save you money long term. For example, a menstrual cup has a higher initial cost but it’s a product you will buy one and use for many many years. You won’t need to purchase disposable period products each month. These products are often high quality items that will last a long time.

What are your best tips on how to go zero waste on a budget?! Share them in the comments section below!

You might also enjoy these blog posts from the Tiny Yellow Bungalow zero waste shop and eco blog!

composting for rookies

beginner’s guide to zero waste

Have you heard about my cookbook?

A collection of low-waste, plant-based recipes.

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how to go zero waste on a budget

8 thoughts on “How to Go Zero Waste on a Budget

  1. My best tip for zero waste is to repurpose packaging you would normally throw out, the more you do it the more creative you become! For instance every week I prep my breakfasts to take to work in mix-matched containers – I use butter containers, a tiny icecream tub, a plastic peanut butter jar, a plastic salt jar, basically anything that I know is food-grade and safe to eat out of. So far my colleagues haven’t commented lol. Just yesterday I squirrled away a paperbag that came with a cafe snack, you can bet that will come in handy!

    1. Yes, great tips!! I love a good repurposed hummus container myself 🙂

  2. I try to reduce waste before it comes into my house. I only buy unbagged produce. I take my own bags to the store. I recycle any plastics that I can. I study packaging alternatives for each product, and try to make fiscally prudent and environmentally friendly choices. I have begun to make my own mixes, pickles, and condiments to cut down on packaging. I do not have access to a good bulk grocery store, unfortunately.

    Once I have generated trash in the house, I try to repurpose it. I make my own firestarters from dryer lint, dried orange peels, toilet paper tubes and any untreated paper that I have. I repurpose jars and any plastic that I can.

    We are not at the zero waste level, but I am very happy with our reduced amounts of trash. We are a work in progress.

    1. You’re doing a great job!! I’d love to start making my own condiments too. I made a batch of pickles this year, and I forgot how delicious homemade pickles are!!

  3. Focus on what you can do!!!! Yes, every little bit matters

    1. Yesss, completely agree! 🙂

  4. One lower waste and money saving tip: never buy ziplocks! I find that lots of frozen foods (like berries) come with a zip top. We wash those out and then re-use them for when we find local stuff to freeze (like strawberries in the spring, corn in the summer).

    1. What?! I’ve never even thought of that! Great ZW hack!

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