How to go Zero Waste on a Budget

Minimizing waste is not only good for the pocketbook but it’s also good for the environment. Ideally, everybody could use up close to exactly 100% of the food, clothing, and materials they purchase.

Obviously, this is the perfect scenario, and there are just some things we can’t completely use up. But the idea of getting as close as possible should be followed by our actions.

At the high level, the best way to go zero waste on a budget is to make lifestyle changes including recycling, reducing or eliminating the use of plastics, switching to sustainable products/services, and changing your habits.

As I dive into strategies on how to go zero waste on a budget, I want to discuss what waste is exactly.

Going green has become a hopeful and trendy lifestyle for those that are concerned about climate change and global warming.

Going green means to be conscious of what we buy, what we consume, how we travel, the foods we eat, and how we use and dispose of any remnants of those activities. The zero waste movement is sustainable, healthier, and easier on our planet.

What remains is the waste or the trash we can’t use. The decisions and the choices we make every day contribute to the amount of waste we as individuals contribute. It’s our goal to reduce this as much as possible, and below I’ll discuss the changes we can make, to help achieve this goal.

How To Go Zero Waste On A Budget

One of the first things to come up in a discussion or lifestyle change like this is, how does this impact your bottom line. The notion of reducing waste, or going green is great, but what if it turns out to be costly?

I think the biggest thing here is to not confuse going green with switching to high-end sustainable products. While there is a market for said items, the switches you can do at a smaller level can actually help with budgeting. Below are a few things you can do, that will save in the long-run:

  • Buy in bulk – This is especially true of non-perishable goods. It’s probably no surprise that buying in bulk will save you money, as well as return trips to the store. If you have it on hand, no only will you save time, but think of gas and vehicle usage.
  • Check the cost per unit – Back in the day, I used to work at a grocery store, and it would surprise me that people didn’t understand the cost per unit indications on the tags. Virtually all price tags will show the cost per unit. If you have two identical or very similar items, choose the one that is a lower cost per unit. This isn’t to be confused with the actual price of the product. In small lettering (usually) it will show the cost per unit, and the one that is lower is the one you want. This will be cheaper and usually lowers the amount of packaging.
  • Reuse – I think this probably goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder. For example, once you’ve consumed the food from the container (hopefully it’s a glass container) instead of recycling the glass jar, use it for foods you buy in bulk. Rice, flour, sugar or any dry good goes great in glass containers. Once you’re done with that food, all you need to do is give the jar a good cleaning and it’s ready to use again. No need to buy new containers. If you do have a plastic container, use them up as much as possible. The plastic bags you might put your produce in can be used for a long time. Once they’re unusable, place them in the plastic recycling bins at the store.
  • Make your own bags – I’m guessing if you’re here you probably already use the reusable grocery bags you got at the store instead of plastic bags. But you can go a step further by making bags. At some point, the bedsheets or even old shirts will reach the end of their intended useful life, making them unsuitable for that purpose. It’s easy to use this old material and make a grocery bag. This avoids having to buy the reusable bags at the store, most of which are non-biodegradable.
  • Eat simple foods – A meal with a lean protein (preferably not-beef), a vegetable, and a slow-digesting carbohydrate is actually pretty inexpensive, simple and you can purchase them without packaging. Not only can you get these items without packaging but it’s incredibly healthy. Once you start consuming foods with multiple ingredients (highly processed foods) they often come in wasteful packaging, but they tend to be unhealthier. One ingredient foods are ideal, and the further you move away from one ingredient foods, the less sustainable it becomes.
  • Make your own products – While I realize you’re not a manufacturing plant, there are a ton of things you can make at home. Here’s a quick list of things you can make at home:
    • household cleaners
    • body soap
    • drain cleaner
    • candles
    • laundry detergent
    • toothpaste
    • air fresheners
    • and much more

Making your own products will not only reduce the need for packaging, and it will save on product costs that you end up paying, as a consumer.

Product Costs

How to go zero waste on a budget includes limiting your product cost.

When you purchase an item at the store, for example, laundry detergent, you’re not only paying for the raw product itself, but you’re buying the packaging it comes in, the cost to produce, market, ship, distribute, and all the cost associated with getting it from raw material to the store shelf.

When you make the product yourself, you’re only buying the raw material. This is where the zero budget comes in. The classic example of this is a soda at McDonald’s. The cost of a soda at McDonald’s is $1. However, the cost to McDonald’s is about $0.20.

Shop Zero Waste Brands

Zero waste living involves shopping from zero waste producers.

Obviously, we’ll need to buy some stuff, even if you’re moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. A zero waste brand is a company that makes products that help you reduce your waste. They are meant to be long-lasting items that replace single-use plastic.

Zero waste brands care about the environment and try to be as sustainable as possible with their company. By supporting these kinds of brands, we note only help them, but we show where our priorities fall. Companies are increasingly trying to get us as customers to buy their products and services.

When we buy from these zero waste brands it shows their competitor, who might not be as considerate of the environment in their production methods, that as customers we give our hard-earned money to companies whose interest is in line with our own.

And if they want us as customers, they’ll need to make adjustments. Putting our money where our mouth is, is a very strong show of support for green living. And if companies don’t produce a product that consumers want, they’ll suffer.

What Are The Most Efficient Ways To Go Zero Waste?

Low waste or zero waste living isn't as hard as it seems.

I believe some of the most efficient ways of going zero waste are making changes that are simple, have no cost to you, and are impactful. Below are some things that are highly impactful and won’t cost you a penny:

  • Bike or walk – While getting in your car and heading out has become second nature, try an alternative mode of transportation. Hoping on your bike and heading to your destination is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s zero waste, and is highly impactful.
  • Grow your own food – Planting a garden to grow your own food will not only save money, but you’ll also be adding to plants and trees that absorb carbon dioxide, and possibly, more importantly, is the sense of self-satisfaction of growing and cultivating your own food.
  • Start composting – Again, this is an easy and impactful switch. As soon as you start composting you reduce the number of total items that have to be put in the trash, and you can enrich the soil you use for the aforementioned garden. A lot of cities have compost bins if you don’t have one yourself, and most pick them up with the trash (if you don’t use it yourself).

How Do I Go Zero Waste?

Living zero waste on a budget is simple if you start small.

When you’re first starting out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the adjustments and lifestyle changes. I would recommend starting small. Maybe in the first week, you take some bags with you to the store and use them vs grabbing new bags.

In the second week, you figure out a meal plan and buy some bulk items to help you with meals. The following week, you make some soap or laundry detergent for your home. Week after week, keep trying to add a little something that will contribute to a living low waste or zero waste.

You’ll notice that once you get started it becomes easier to make switches. Not only that it will be easier on your pocketbook. Keep in mind, even if in the short-term you need to switch from plastic to glass, and it cost a bit extra, over the long-term it will save you money.

How Hard Is It To Go Zero Waste?

I”m not going to sugar-coat this for you. It can take a bit of effort into living zero waste. Getting into your car and driving to work is easier than walking, riding a bus, or biking.

Buying soap instead of making it yourself will take some time and a bit of effort. But you need to establish your priorities for living a zero waste lifestyle. Sacrifice will need to be made, especially in the short-term but in overtime it becomes second nature and it will get easier.

Imagine only needing to go to the grocery store once a month instead of weekly. Once you have your routine down, you’re buying in bulk, making your own products, you won’t have to rely on others to produce these goods for you.

By focusing on the long-term benefits it makes getting over that initial hump much easier.

How To Live A Zero Waste Lifestyle

You’ve probably heard of the three r’s in zero waste management, and they are reduce, reuse, and recycle. Changing your daily habits and sticking to these ideals is a lifestyle change.


This concept is all about reducing your wants. The less you use, the less waste you’ll produce. Approximately 30% of the garbage in our landfills is made up of packaging. The fewer new items we buy the better. A clear example of this usually comes to clothing.

If you did a complete inventory of your shirts, you probably have enough shirts to make it an entire month without wearing the same shirt. With this in mind, can you really justify buying another “trendy” shirt? Reducing the need to update, improve, or acquire more goods can be difficult, but it’s a main concept in living a low waste life.


The second main concept is reuse, which is bringing life back into something that might otherwise be put in the trash. This trend has become popular over the years, with second-hand stores and clothing swaps. If you reuse something as opposed to throwing it away you keep waste out of landfills and create something new.

If something is broken, try to be creative and think of other ways you can use parts of them and turn them into creative creations. Many products have many uses other than their original use. For example, an old tissue box can become a box to hold pencils and pens. An old sock with holes can become a reusable cleaning rag. The internet is a great resource for finding ways to reuse old products.


Recycling is the process of remanufacturing a product to be sold as new. Along with the basics of paper, plastic, glass, and cardboard, there are tons of items that can be recycled that you may not even realize. Most cities have convenient locations where you can drop off your recycling while en route to other destinations. Better yet, start a recycling program at your place of work or church.

Conclusion Of Living On A Zero Waste Budget

Going zero waste or low waste will help reduce your carbon footprint, be easier on the planet, save you money, and provide you peace of mind that you’re doing what you can as an individual to contribute to the betterment of our Earth. Hopefully, the ideas above will provide you with some insight into getting started. Zero waste isn’t about crossing a finish line but is more about the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly contributions you make. Keep it simple and start today.

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