It seems a little counter-intuitive, but for many people setting up a zero waste home requires buying or somehow acquiring a few new items. You might have been relying on plastic or disposable items and in order to reduce your trash, reusable alternatives need to be found. Everyone’s trash output is different. Look inside your trash bin and see what kinds of things you are throwing away and find reusable alternatives or ways to avoid those things.
For me, I first needed reusable cloth “un paper” towels and cloth napkins, glass food storage containers, reusable “going out” items like utensils and straws and cloth bags to use for produce and buying items from the bulk/loose bins. While I did have to buy some new things, these tools and products are “essentials” in my mind, and will be used for years.
Sometimes the words “plastic free” don’t bring up what you’re looking for. Try using terms like these:
- Stainless Steel
- Organic Cotton
- Plant Fibers
- Silicone (somewhat controversial, but I put it on the “OK” list most of the time)
Here’s where to look for the basics for food shopping and cutting down on trash in other areas of your daily life.
Thrift stores, consignment stores, even antique stores
First and foremost, try not to buy new. Buying something used means you aren’t contributing to the “waste stream” caused by production of any item. Especially for durable goods like glassware, thrift and consignment stores can actually have some great stuff that becomes like new with a quick wash. Ask family and friends if they have anything you need, too.
Your own recycling bin
Glass jars abound when you check your recycling bin – or the bin at work/etc. Tomato sauce jars and nut butter jars are my favorites as they often come with metal lids (check that they are BPA free!) Pretty much any jar can become a nice way to store food in the fridge, the freezer, or snacks and lunch on the go. Glass jars don’t have to be fancy to be functional. Remove labels by filling the jar with boiling water and letting it cool. If there’s some stubborn glue, make a paste of oil and baking soda and scrub it off. Eucalyptus oil also takes off goo. Other things you might find yourself pulling from the recycling – cardboard and paper to make labels, etc.
This site can be totally overwhelming, but if you know what you’re looking for, it can be the absolute best (and sometimes only!) option for certain items. The next best thing to having a neighbor who makes everything handmade is buying from someone preferably in your state/region and certainly country via Etsy. I’ve purchased everything from cloth bags (for produce* and food from the loose/bulk bins), and homemade dish scrubbers* to cloth menstrual pads* from the site. I love it so much I’m working on a post right now dedicated to my favorite zero waste products to look for and shops on Etsy.
If you’re not having luck finding specific items locally, look to eBay. To make sure I’m getting pre-owned items instead of new, I select “Condition: Used” on the left side bar of the search results. Find everything from clothing to beautiful glass jars * and more.
As their tagline states: “The one-stop shop for safe, high quality, ethically-sourced, Earth-friendly alternatives to plastic products for everyday life.” What more can I say?
If you live in an area without a lot of shopping options, keep your eyes open everywhere for things that might fit the zero waste lifestyle like glass containers and jars, 100% cotton dish towels, bamboo utensils and more. You can often find plastic-free items at local health food stores, Home Goods/TJMaxx (thanks to a tip from an Instagram follower!), World Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, and yes, Target. Stores like Target can have a surprisingly good selection of plastic-free, zero waste friendly items. I like supporting smaller stores if I can, but every purchase at a big store is also a “vote” for the kinds of products you want them to continue stocking, so I can see the benefits. Target has recently added a lot more eco-friendly items to their stores thanks to consumer demand both through purchases and sending comments/feedback.
Yup, Amazon.com has everything under the sun. Sometimes we have to turn to Amazon for the good prices and availability. When lots of sites are out of stock of certain items – like wooden dish scrub brushes – I turn to Amazon since they usually have lots of them available.
Local kitchen stores
I often get asked about my glass foaming soap dispenser. I got it at a local kitchen store. I was there trying to find a plastic-free ice cube tray (I went with silicone, by the way) and I was surprised at how many items I found were zero waste friendly. This is becoming a trend in this post – once you keep your eyes peeled for plastic-free items, you might be surprised how often you find them.
Local restaurant/kitchen supply stores
These are the big stores where restaurant owners and chefs typically shop. Great option for glass and metal mixing bowls at a great price. Some zero wasters even get their toilet paper from stores like this because you can sometimes buy a huge box of rolls without plastic wrapping (aka each roll is wrapped in paper.)
While I find that my local craft stores are not harboring the most eco-friendly options, you can sometimes get good deals on mason jars, fabric to make your own napkins or cloth bags, etc. I recently tried to find paper washi tape and both of the big craft stores in my area only carried fake/imposter washi made of plastic. Bummer! Shopping at smaller stationery and locally-owned craft stores might be a better bet.
Upscale Housewares Shops
If you want to treat yourself to functional art that’s heirloom-quality, check out sites like Food52, Kauffman Mercantile, General Store and others for lots of beautiful, plastic-free durable housewares.
Support small shops and fellow zero wasters!
I’m so thrilled to see more small shops popping up, some run by my friends! Typically when you buy items from these stores, you know you can count on a well-curated selection, great customer service and above-average attention to wastefulness at every level from production to shipping (aka, using plastic-free and reused materials). A few that come to mind for me are:
Because of their durability, you may have to make a bit of an investment in zero waste essentials up front. The sticker shock on certain plastic-free products can be intense. It requires a shift in how we look at materials used and money spent. For many things, you will end up saving money in the long run. For others, they are simply more expensive because they are environmentally friendly. It’s unfortunate, but so-called “virgin” plastic (aka, plastic that has never been used before) is incredibly cheap for manufacturers to use, so they often choose it over anything else.
Consumers do have power in what we choose to purchase, and when we ask companies to do better when it comes to packaging and products. Use your voice and your wallet to create the world you want. Most of us don’t have unlimited budgets to spend on beautiful new plastic-free goods. Replace things as needed and stick with what your budget allows. There’s almost always a less-expensive option (buying secondhand is a good place to start, so is borrowing or bartering) so don’t be discouraged. If you’re looking for something in particular that you can’t seem to find plastic-free, please let me know! I can help you research or I might know where to get it from my previous travels around the internet.
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