Zero Waste Products: The Easiest Swaps for One-use Products

zero waste products

Out of all the garbage that we put out on the curb every week (or push down the chute if you’re living in an apartment, how much of that do you think could be… well, just not thrown out at all?

Nah, we’re not talking about just keeping a pile of garbage in your home.

We’re talking about zero waste products.

Hold up. What are “zero waste products?”

Zero waste products are pretty much what they sound like: things that you buy and use that don’t produce any (or very minimal) waste.

Now, you don’t have to live off the grid (although if you’re interested, you can learn more about that here) or create absolutely zero waste, but the concept behind “zero waste” is essentially reusing something multiple times and getting the most out of it as you possibly can in order to not squander all the resources, energy, and waste that went into creating that product.

In this post, we’ll look at zero waste (and low-waste) products, sorted by the two rooms in the home that typically produce the most waste (and some of these make for great gifts too):

Zero waste products, sorted by room


Zero waste products in the kitchen

1. Glass food containers

A zero waste product that you can find in a store pretty easily (if you don’t already have this) is a glass food container. It’s great for not only storing food, but if you pick the right one, you can also reheat and freeze food in the container.

We have a bunch in our cupboards and we use them as lunch boxes too. Love a versatile zero waste product!

2. Glass or mason jars

To store stuff like sugar, oats, and other pantry items, mason jars are pretty much the way to go. You don’t have to go out and buy mason jars either—we’ve reused pasta sauce jars and jam jars too. They work just as well. 😉

3. Metal straws or biodegradable drinking straws

G loves making cocktails. And when a straw is needed, we’ve got a few metal ones ready to go.

On the other hand, S drinks a lot of bubble tea / boba. And yes, there are special metal bubble tea straws too! S got hers from Chatime. We love both (and our puppy too):

reusable straws

That being said, this is not an option for everyone and we’re both lucky that we can easily use metal straws with no problem. For folks with disabilities, plastic straws are often the best option, and that’s perfectly fine. Again, zero waste isn’t always absolute zero waste. Low waste is sometimes fine too—for us, it speaks to the idea of doing what you can.

3. Compost

Did you know that organic waste can’t break down in a landfill? And not only does that awesome decomposition process not happen, sending this organic waste to the landfill also ends up doing more harm than good: it releases methane (which is worse than carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.

One easy alternative? Compost in your home! Contrary to what many people think, you don’t actually need a lot of space to do it and there are lots of options in terms of bins and tumblers you can use at home, like this one:

going zero waste by composting

4. Reusable coffee cup

You’ve seen these around. There are a ton of different brands of insulated coffee cups out there—we use the Keep Cup. These literally pay for themselves, since coffee shops will typically give you anywhere from a 10 to 25-cent discount on your coffee for using a reusable cup! Nice.

5. Metal coffee filters

If you brew coffee at home daily, then you’re probably throwing out a paper coffee filter every day. Why not use a metal one instead and reduce your waste?

6. Reusable water bottle

Don’t know if this is the same for you, but we grew up believing, “Plastic water bottles are fine for the environment! They can be recycled!”

Ha.

Did you know that about 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter? That big “recycling” thing? Yeah. Not happening.

In fact, it’s become more and more clear that the vast majority of plastic doesn’t actually get recycled. Oh, and two other fun facts about plastic:

  1. Not all types of plastic can be recycled
  2. Most plastics can only be recycled two or three times. Each time it’s recycled, the quality of that plastic gets worse. After that, it’s no longer usable—unless you add more newly created plastic to “upgrade” the quality and make it usable again.

Moral of the story: Fill up your reusable water bottle instead of using plastic water bottles—actually, stay away from plastic altogether and try to use glass and paper if you can. It’s one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably.

7. Reusable produce bags

Buying fruit and veggies? Don’t just grab the flimsy plastic bags off the roll at the supermarket. Bring a reusable produce bag instead.

8. Swedish dishcloths

We’ve talked about these before, and if you’re still using a raggedy old non-biodegradable sponge in your kitchen or bathroom, it’s time to make the switch!

zero waste kitchen sponge alternative

Swedish dishcloths are a much more eco-friendly option than your average sponge. They’re easy to clean, antimicrobial, (we give ours a good rinse and throw it—while damp—in the microwave for a minute, just for good measure), and most importantly, they’re compostable!

Once you’re done with them, just chuck them in the compost.

9. Beeswax wraps

Say goodbye to single-use cling wrap, and hello to beeswax wraps!

They’ve got two major advantages over plastic wrap:

  1. They’re reusable
  2. After about a year (or however long it takes you to use the heck out of one), you can cut it up and compost it.
🐝 Pro-tip: Preserve your beeswax wraps and extend their lifespan by washing them with biodegradable soup and cold water!

10. Metal tiffin

This is something that we learned about recently, and we absolutely love the concept of it and can’t wait to buy one and try it out.

Metal tiffins are a great way to carry a meal to lunch or school, and one of the neat things about it is that it can hold both hot and cold food. Oh, and the lid does double duty as a plate too. The lid latches shut nicely, and you can even stack them depending on how big of a meal you’re taking with you.

💡 Fun fact: Tiffins were originally invented in India, then became popular in other Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

11. Real cutlery

We haven’t bought those big bags of plastic cutlery from the store in years (you know, the ones that people tend to buy for big parties because you can just throw them away after instead of washing them).

And you know what, it’s a little more work to rinse and put them in the dishwasher, but come on… that’s not that big of an inconvenience.


Zero waste products in the laundry / bathroom

1. Bamboo tissues or recycled toilet paper

Did you know that the average American household uses three rolls of toilet paper a week? That’s a lot of TP. And the way we’re creating and using it is, to put it lightly, non sustainable.

Now, this being a product that we all use multiple times a day, we’ve got a pretty big opportunity to be more eco-conscious with what we use to, well, wipe our butts.

And the good news? You’ve got a lot of options (though we’d suggest looking for these recycled toilet paper products in your local store as opposed to Amazon).

(There are also bidets, of course, but that brings up the question of whether our clean water—in North America, at least—is really best used for… flushing our poop. There are so many communities that don’t have access to clean drinking water, in both Canada and the US, and literally flushing drinkable water down the toilet using a bidet seems like a waste.)

2. Zero waste detergent

Detergent has traditionally been pretty terrible for the environment for two reasons:

  1. The packaging, namely the plastic jugs that got sent to landfills instead of being recycled; and
  2. The actual ingredients in the detergent often had high aqua toxicity, meaning the dirty water from your laundry machine that got piped back to the ocean was full of chemicals that killed marine life

Today, there are many eco-friendly laundry detergents (learn more about those here) that are trying to solve both of these problems, and so you’ve got some good zero waste alternatives here if you’re still using Tide or Gain:

zero waste laundry detergent
For example, here is a laundry detergent strip from Tru Earth—fully biodegradable, with no plastic packaging.

3. Dryer balls

Instead of one-use dryer sheets, we use these very cute reusable dryer balls. They still do the job fine, helping our clothes dry faster. (And fluffier!)

zero waste dryer ball

4. Plastic-free shampoo

Shampoo is another bathroom product that comes in not-so-great plastic packaging. A zero waste alternative would be shampoo bars, which come in tins or paper packaging. We’ve also recently learned about shampoo brands that will take your empty shampoo bottles, clean and reuse them, and ship you back more shampoo.

💡 Food for thought: While we think that idea of shipping empty bottles back to the company to reuse is cool, we think it’s worth considering the cost—and we’re not necessarily talking about money—of delivering those empty bottles.

Travel and delivery by air are huge polluters, so it would be interesting to see how much more eco-friendly this tactic really is, if it is at all. (Maybe delivery by rail would be better, if that’s how a company is transporting these bottles back and forth?)

Anyway, point is… there are always layers to any kind of zero waste claims a product or company makes in their marketing. It’s pretty much impossible to know every exact detail and whether or not it’s true, but we can do our best to find out as much as we can when making these decisions!

5. Bamboo scrub brush / organic loofah

Loofahs keep your skin nice and all, but with a lifespan of only a couple of months, they get thrown out pretty regularly. And most traditional loofahs are made from plastics or other non-recyclable and non-compostable material.

Good thing we’ve got lots of biodegradable loofahs now. 🙂

6. Plastic-free safety razors

Ah, razors. Another common one-use culprit in the bathroom. If you’re still using disposable razors, an easy zero waste product to replace it with is a plastic-free safety razor.

The key here is how you dispose of the blades. Don’t just toss them in the trash or recycling as the blades might injure the garbage collection workers! Depending on where you live, your local drugstore or recycling center might collect your old blades—just do a quick search to see what your options are.

💡 Pro-tip: To keep your razor from rusting, try to keep it from coming in contact with water.

7. Zero waste deodorant and lotion

Typically, deodorant and lotion come in plastic containers, but like with shampoo, there are more zero waste alternatives now that come in metal tins, jars, and other more sustainable forms of packaging.

8. Bamboo toothbrush

Like plastic water bottles, plastic toothbrushes are a pretty big issue in our landfills. National Geographic estimated that in 2019, a billion plastic toothbrushes were sent to landfills. Bamboo, being biodegradable, is a better option. We’ve also recently seen some steel or metal toothbrushes with replaceable heads / bristles (like how reusable razors work).

9. Bar soap

The big advantage of using bar soap over liquid soap: less packaging, and no plastic bottles or containers.

10. Plastic-free floss

This is still something that we’re starting to learn about, but traditional floss actually isn’t very eco-friendly. It looks like a better, zero waste alternative would be silk floss (which is biodegradable)!

11. Zero waste toothpaste

Did you know that your average toothpaste tube can’t be recycled because it’s made from a mix of plastic and aluminum? This is the problem that Colgate tried to solve with their new “recyclable toothpaste tube.”

Sounds great, right?

Well, it does sound great, but again, just because it’s in a recyclable plastic tube doesn’t necessarily mean it’s zero waste—or even that it’s markedly better for the environment. Remember how plastic can only be recycled a few times before it’s no longer usable and needs to be blended with brand-new plastic in order to work?

We could be wrong, but it doesn’t sound like Colgate’s new, still-plastic, tube solves this problem.

♻️ Food for thought: We’ll take “recycled” packaging over “recyclable” packaging any day—just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean it gets recycled. Recycled packaging at the very least means that this packaging wasn’t a net new creation.

12. Reusable facial rounds

Now, let’s look at one of the most common daily getting-ready / self-care rituals that involve single-use products: makeup.

All those cotton pads, swabs, and other makeup supplies that you use once and then throw away? There are a few zero waste alternatives to that: reusable facial rounds, organic muslin cloths… everyone’s skin is different, so you might need to try a few to find the right one that works for your skin.

But hey, it’s a great way to reduce waste while still removing makeup from your face and keeping your skin clear.

13. Diva Cup / Luna Cup + period underwear

And then there’s the other unavoidable one-use product that women have to contend with. Well, at least it used to be unavoidable. For most women, throwing out used tampons and pads seven days (or more) a week, 12 times(-ish) a year is pretty much a lifelong ritual.

That’s a lot of waste.

But now, there are some pretty amazing reusable alternatives that dramatically reduce this waste. S uses the Luna Cup and G uses the Diva Cup, and we can honestly say these have been life-changing. Not only do the silicone cups hold more menstrual blood than a tampon or pad can absorb, they’re also easy to clean (and we empty out our bathroom trash a lot less frequently).

Used together with period panties (you might have heard of Thinx and Knix) just in case of leakage, and that’s pretty much as zero waste as menstruation gets.

Miscellaneous zero waste products

1. Tote bags over plastic shopping bags

If you’re not already using this… get a tote bag and bring that with you instead of taking plastic shopping bags from the store!

FAQs about zero waste

What are the benefits of zero waste? Why bother?

Did you know that only a tiny percentage of plastic actually gets recycled? (There’s an entire Wikipedia page with tons of resources if you feel like getting depressed about how ineffective plastic recycling actually is.)

Is a true zero waste lifestyle possible?

For most people, it’s not. And that’s okay. What we can do is minimize the amount of unnecessary waste we produce!

Going zero waste sounds expensive. What if you can’t afford zero waste products?

In some cases, unfortunately it’s true that zero waste products are more expensive. The thing is that many of these products are reusable, and even though they may cost more up front, over the long run the cost is often actually similar (or less!) than buying disposable one-offs.

(Some folks even sew and DIY their own zero waste alternatives, which is also awesome!)

Zero Waste Products: The Easiest Swaps for One-use Products

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