Is it possible to save money with zero-waste living? I know that this is a common concern, especially with the cost of living skyrocketing.
When I first started my zero-waste journey, one of the things that held me back was my assumption that living sustainably wouldn’t be affordable. With a family to think about, every penny counts, so I wondered at the time if we could afford to shop more ethically.
Thankfully, I discovered that living more sustainably is a great money-saver. In today’s blog, I want to share how you too can save money with zero-waste living.
Reducing waste means buying only what you need
Every day, we’re inundated with marketing messages that prompt us to buy more. Many business models rely on consumers buying the same products time and again, which just isn’t sustainable for the planet.
In part, living more sustainably is about shaking up how you act as a consumer. Instead of a linear produce-buy-use-discard model, it’s about switching to a circular model where we produce-use-reduce-recycle-reuse and so on.
When you switch to a zero-waste lifestyle, you become more conscious of the products you buy and how much you consume. You also think about how you can extend the life of items by repairing or repurposing them. (This was one of the reasons that I set up the Nottingham Fixers repair café, which was featured on BBC East Midlands recently about 1 minute and 50 seconds into the programme 😊)
This means you’re more likely to buy only what you need, which can save you a surprising amount of money.
Consciously reducing my waste encourages me to plan ahead, so that I have time and space to consider what I need rather than panic-buying on the fly!
Reusable products save money with zero waste in the long-term
Many zero-waste products are reusable, which means they can save you money over time.
Bottled water is a great example.
Apparently, 19% of adults in the UK buy a bottle of water every single day, usually in single-use plastic. The average price across all bottle types/multipacks works out at around 0.98 USD for 1.5 litres of water (the UK is the 15th most expensive country in the world for this product).
In reality, though, people pay a lot more for small, single-use bottles of water. I just had a look at the Tesco website and a 500ml bottle of Evian Natural Mineral Water is 90p (at the time of writing).
If you bought a SHO 500ml reusable bottle for £18 and filled it up at home once a day, it would only take 20 days to cover the cost of the bottle, assuming you were spending 90p a day on a single-use bottle. Use that reusable bottle for the rest of the year (345 days x 90p) and you’d make a saving of £310.50!
There are many zero-waste swaps where the savings quickly add up
Reusable coffee cups represent a massive saving every year too. A survey in January found that we Brits buy three takeaway coffees a week at an average of £3.40 per coffee, adding up to a £530.40 annual spend.
If you were to buy a Pacto reusable drinking cup for around £12 and make your favourite coffee at home, that’s an annual saving of £518, minus the price of coffee and boiling the kettle.
Even if you don’t want to forgo your favourite coffee shop, you may still be able to make a saving by asking for your takeaway coffee in your own reusable cup. Many cafés, including big brands like Starbucks and Costa, now offer a discount to people who bring their own travel mugs. Even saving just 25p per coffee adds up to nearly £40 per year for the average Brit.
And let’s not forget about single-use items like nappies, cling film, kitchen rolls, cotton buds, sanitary products or straws, which might seem cheap at the time of purchase but aren’t when you have to keep replacing them.
It’s estimated that the average cost of disposable nappies per baby is £825, whereas cloth nappies cost an estimated £515.97 per baby when you factor in washing too; buying a cloth nappy system represents a saving of £309.03 per child!
Opting for reusable alternatives will save you money in the long run and keep plastic items out of landfill.
Choosing quality over quantity
Zero-waste shopping encourages you to choose products that are high quality and long-lasting. While there’s no ignoring the fact that these products might be more expensive upfront, they can save you money over time because you won’t have to replace them as often.
Clothes are a perfect example of this.
Fast fashion is cheap, deliberately so. Items are designed and made to be worn a few times before they’re discarded for the next trend. We’re meant to browse the hangers and reassure ourselves that an item “only” costs £10 or £20, giving us permission to buy more. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the average shopper buys 68 items of clothing a year and wears each one an average of seven times before it’s thrown out!
On the other hand, you could buy one timeless top made from organic cotton for £60, wear it that average seven times and the cost per wear is already down to £8.57. I know that still sounds high but, remember, a high-quality sustainable item is likely to still look as good as new, becoming a wardrobe staple for years to come and bringing down that cost per wear every time you put it on.
I’m a big fan of a charity shop rummage, clothes swaps with my friends or buying second-hand. This is a fantastic way to find good quality clothes for a fraction of the price while continuing to bring down the item’s overall cost per wear.
Indeed, when I work out the cost per wear of some of my favourite, sustainably-made clothes, it amounts to pence, not pounds.
And it was thinking about the cost per use of all sorts of items helped me switch my mindset when I began my journey towards more sustainable living. In fact, it still helps me!
DIY products and refills can save money
You can make some zero-waste products at home using simple ingredients. For example, you can make your own cleaning products using vinegar and baking soda, which can be cheaper than buying commercial cleaning products.
If you don’t want to make your own, buying refills at a zero-waste shop like Shop Zero means you’ll only be paying for the product, not the packaging, which is another brilliant way to bring down the cost of your shopping.
People are often surprised that liquid refills are so cheap! For example, you can refill your 400ml shampoo bottle for less than £2.50 for a fantastic, eco-friendly, vegan and natural product.
Buying food refills from a zero-waste shop can also be a great money saver. With this way of shopping, you can choose the exact quantity of food that you want, rather than having to buy the 500g bags that the supermarkets insist on. You save money and food waste, paying only for what you need – better yet, you won’t be finding those half-empty packets of out-of-date food at the back of the cupboard.
How to save money with zero-waste living when every penny counts
I recognise that a barrier to making zero-waste swaps is having to pay for the reusable item at the outset. When every penny counts, it can feel more affordable to pay 90p for a bottle of mineral water today than £18 for a reusable stainless-steel bottle.
What worked for me was to look for easy wins in my zero-waste journey – things like swapping my disposable plastic razors for a reusable razor or buying a reusable coffee cup for drinks on the go.
I also found it affordable to buy kitchen staples like grains, nuts and seeds in bulk, and to swap my plastic sandwich bags for reusable food wraps.
When we need a bigger, traditionally more expensive item for the house – for example, furniture or kitchenware – I turn to online marketplaces, second-hand shops and car boot sales. There are some real gems out there for the fraction of the price I would once have paid.
Reducing your waste takes a shift in mindset, but it really helped me to watch the savings add up. I hadn’t considered the financial benefits of zero-waste living, so they came as a lovely surprise!