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Going zero waste is good for the planet, but is it bad for your wallet? While it's true that upfront expenses can make it costly to transition to a low or zero waste lifestyle, there's no reason you can't lower your waste and choose more sustainable products while spending within your budget.
Often, reducing waste comes down to buying less and using what you have while swapping in thrifty, eco-friendly alternatives where possible. Here's how much it can cost to go zero waste and how it can ultimately save you money.
What Does It Mean to Go Zero Waste?
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, the zero waste lifestyle conserves resources by responsibly producing, consuming and reusing products and taking other actions. To be truly zero waste, no part of a product or its packaging should end up in a landfill or the ocean, or be burned for disposal.
As an individual, going zero waste means changing your relationship with what you buy, why you buy it and what you do with it when you're done using it. That means using what you have and cutting back on buying things you don't need.
How Much Does It Cost to Go Zero Waste?
The cost of zero waste products can add up quickly (see below), but many zero waste solutions are actually cheaper in the long run. In fact, zero waste generally aligns with a more frugal lifestyle.
You shouldn't immediately purge all your non-sustainable possessions to go zero waste. In fact, it's more sustainable and budget-friendly to use what you already have before buying something new. That means getting to the bottom of that bottle of lotion or hand soap before you buy a zero waste alternative. It could also mean repurposing an old pasta sauce jar for food storage rather than investing in a set of glass food storage.
When you do need to buy more stuff, the zero waste philosophy is to buy used whenever possible. You can often find staples such as clothing, grocery totes, books and stationery at your local thrift store. Buying used is not only better for the planet, it can also help keep your costs low.
When you do need to buy new, consider the price of zero waste alternatives against the cost of conventional goods to see what works for your budget.
Cost of Common Zero Waste Staples
Here's a breakdown of the average costs of some of the most common low or zero waste home supplies versus their conventional counterparts:
- Laundry detergent: The cost for zero waste detergent sheets is comparable to conventional detergent, at about 20 cents per load.
- Sponges: A set of biodegradable, compostable loofah sponges costs about $8 for a three-pack. The highest-rated conventional sponges on Amazon cost about $6.50 for a nine pack, making them more than three times cheaper than their zero waste counterpart. Reusable brushes or dishrags may be a cheaper option, however.
- Shampoo: Zero waste shampoo bars cost about $10, or $2.50 an ounce, while the most-bought conventional shampoos on Amazon cost about $7.43 a bottle or 74 cents per fluid ounce.
- Deodorant: With mainstream brands like Dove adding refillable options to their product lineups, you can find zero waste deodorant for as little as $10. If you prefer to buy from small brands that use glass containers and all-natural ingredients, expect to pay as much as $30. A conventional bar of deodorant costs around $4 to $10.
- Shaving razor: A high-quality, stainless steel and eco-friendly safety razor costs between $20 to $90. Blade replacements cost as little as $10 or less for a pack of 100. Ordinary disposable razors can cost about $1.50 per razor, and must be replaced more often.
Pros and Cons of Going Zero Waste
Going zero waste has many overall benefits, but you should balance these against personal cons when planning what works best for you.
Pros of Going Zero Waste
- It's better for the planet. Most people who make the switch do it primarily to lower their environmental impact. It can reduce greenhouse gases, the need to consume natural resources and the amount of trash that's created.
- You'll buy less. Zero waste is about consuming mindfully. This often means "buying for life," which can cost more upfront but is often more economical overall. For example, a low waste swap would be to buy one pair of long-lasting, high-quality jeans rather than a new pair each year.
- It aligns with other social purposes. Many companies committed to zero waste are also committed to other ethical issues, such as fair trade, fair labor and the use of healthful ingredients.
Cons of Going Zero Waste
- Upfront costs are typically higher. If you choose to buy zero waste products like glass or stainless steel food containers, cleaning products and toiletries all at once, you may stretch your budget.
- Zero waste options are not always as convenient. Conventional packaging prioritizes convenience. Processed foods, individually packaged snacks, cleaning products and toiletries encased in plastic are all easy to buy and use. Zero waste products can be more difficult to use and store, and may require maintenance.
Cutting Waste? Take It Slow
Lowering your waste is an excellent choice for the planet, and it doesn't have to hurt your wallet. That said, it's easy to go off budget if you try to go 100% zero waste overnight.
To prevent overspending, start small and build sustainable habits over time. This could mean going to the farmer's market once a week instead of the grocery store, doing your seasonal shopping at a thrift store or remembering to bring reusable bags when you shop.
Instead of buying zero waste alternatives right away, try getting creative and seeing where you can cut back on what you buy. By focusing on buying less and being frugal, you can help the planet, pay off debt and start to save more—all at the same time.