Zero Waste, Money Saving Hacks for Your Home
Sustainability in the home is simply an effort to produce zero waste, or low waste, conserve resources, and reuse materials in a way that reduces our environmental impact. Bonus: these hacks also save you money! We have all heard heart-wrenching statements like — a full trash truck’s worth of garbage is dumped into the ocean every single minute. We see sad images of turtles with straws embedded in their noses and environmentalists and government leaders are urging us all to live a more sustainable lifestyle — our planet literally depends on it. But it can be hard to feel like you’re doing it right or doing enough — unless you move into a mud hut and live off of twigs and berries. I promise I am not going to ask you to start wiping your bum with leaves, I mean, unless you want to.
I am an imperfect environmentalist. I make plenty of mistakes on my journey to live greener. However, these five swaps I made last year were easy peasy lemon squeezy, and they were either free or repaid the cost of investment quickly and have saved me money in the long run. I estimate that these swaps saved me at least $3,796 in 2021.
- Reusable Food Storage Bags
The average person uses nearly one pound of plastic sandwich bags, about 540 baggies, per year. If you are a parent with kids in school, it feels like double that amount, so this swap was a no brainer. I bought a set of twenty washable, reusable, silicone food storage bags, that came in three sizes, are resealable, leakproof, and freezer approved. Read the reviews and get good bags that will hold up and withstand a lot of washing and use. I paid $17.99 for my set of bags on Amazon and while I have not officially tracked the amount I was spending on plastic bags, quick math will show you that the average cost of a box of disposable plastic bags times 540 bags will set you back around $76 per year! The only downside to these bags is that they need to be hand washed, but that is really not difficult. I use a drying rack and it’s super easy to soap, rinse, and hang them.
If you’d like to read more about the severity of the plastic crisis, this article is a great resource.
2. Repurpose Food Containers
This swap is great because you can start right away, and it costs you nothing! How ironic that we live in a society that regularly disposes of (or attempts to recycle) the plastic and glass containers that we get for free when we buy products like sauces, pickles, olives, condiments, yogurt, whipped cream — the list goes on and on — and then go out and purchase similar plastic and glass containers for food storage. Madness! I save and repurpose as many food containers as possible. In fact, my stash of clean, empty, and available containers is getting a bit ridiculous. I use them for everything. Like organization — my daughter wears a mask to school every day, so an old coffee can has made a fantastic vessel to store and cycle her masks. I also use this technique to keep socks and undies from getting lost in dresser drawers. Glass containers are wonderful for a myriad of things: from storing leftovers to drinking glasses, or craft into a cute gift. Make your loved ones this adorable DIY cookie kit or share a signature pasta sauce, soup, or bangin’ chili.
3. Reusable Shopping Bags and Produce Bags
Many states are pushing hard towards reusable shopping bags by charging a small fee, like $0.05, for plastic bags. Think about it, how ridiculous is it to put our groceries in these awful, flimsy plastic bags that have to be doubled up to hold anything, only for you to then collect them in your home for months, then bring them back to the grocery store to recycle? That is, if they get recycled at all. I love reusable shopping bags because they hold a lot and are super sturdy. If you are team “one trip” like me and load yourself up like an Olympic weightlifter to avoid going back to the car, then these are a vastly superior way to transport groceries. While they typically sell for $0.99 in stores, most of my reusable shopping bags have been given to me for free as a promotion — for example, when you sign up for a customer rewards program at your local store. Last year I bought a variety of mesh produce bags as well to cut down on the use of plastic when buying fresh produce. They are machine washable, and the air flow actually keeps many fruits and veg fresh for longer.
4. Cloth “Paper” Towels
This one took the most getting used to. Using cloth towels for food can be a bit messy. For example, if you used one to wipe up spaghetti sauce, you need to thoroughly rinse it out before putting it in the wash, and particularly messy loads of kitchen towels will need to be washed separately from other clothes. For me, washing my kitchen towels with my clothes has not been an issue. At first, I noticed a less-than-fresh smell from my laundry when I began this practice. Using a small amount of color safe, non-bleach laundry booster has completely remedied this. I purchased a couple packs of microfiber cotton reusable towels because I like the uniformity of size and quality of material for use with food. For all non-food jobs, old t-shirts and outgrown, stained, kids’ clothes make excellent cleaning rags. On occasion, the job is so dirty that I will dispose of the rag, but I consider it a win when I have extended the life and usefulness of that old t-shirt. In total, I spent less than $10 on reusable towels, and another $20 on cloth napkins. Consider this statistic — the average cost of disposable tissue, napkins, and paper towels per person is $123 a year!
5. Buy Less Processed Food
Lockdowns spurred people’s desire to cook and try making things from scratch — sourdough anyone? — and I happily jumped on that bandwagon. I started making things that I had never made before, and when I saw how incredibly quick, easy, and affordable it was, I never went back. This is where the bulk of my savings comes from — my average food cost per month is half of what it was in the beginning of 2020.
Also, the less processed the food we buy is, the lower its carbon footprint. Think about it — when you buy a jar of peanut butter, it has to be processed in a factory, tested for safety and quality, packaged, shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to get to your grocery store’s shelves. When you buy a container of peanuts and zip them up in your food processor at home, you are cutting down on energy use and fossil fuel consumption (not to mention skipping the additives and preservatives that are likely in that store bought product). Thanks to my handy food processor, I make all my own nut butters, hummus, smoothies, and soups. I make quick breads and pizza crusts, sauces, and salad dressings. Sauces and dressings have among the highest markup in price, and because they coat their containers in oils and food residue, generally cannot be recycled and produce a ton of waste.
I hope this has inspired you to try a few of these zero waste, sustainable kitchen hacks, and if you did, let me know how they worked for you. What are five sustainability swaps I should make in 2022? This video great, it shows the swaps I mentioned and gives more kitchen sustainability tips and tricks: