If you’re looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint and make your household a little more eco-friendly, there are many “zero waste” products that you can swap into your daily routine. The term may sound a little daunting, but it’s not as intimidating as it seems.
“Zero waste does not literally mean zero waste,” explains Nancy Landrum, Professor of Sustainability Management at Loyola University Chicago. “Instead, it means sending zero waste to the landfill. It means keeping products in use as long as you can instead of discarding them.”
In fact, a lot of the best zero waste products are ones you already have at home such as pasta or yogurt jars. For products you do need to purchase, Landrum recommends looking for items that meet the following requirements: “Ideally, the best zero waste products are those made without the use of toxic materials, products that have lifetime warranties or that can be returned to the company, products made with renewable energy or renewable resources instead of fossil fuels, and products that can be disassembled and recycled.”
Read on for the best zero waste products to help you live more sustainably.
Best Water Bottle: S'well Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle, 17-Ounce
Houses hot or cold drinks
Various patterns and colors
The S’well Stainless Steel Water Bottle is a worthwhile upgrade from single-use plastic water bottles. The bottle comes in dozens of pretty patterns and colors to suit your style, proving that you don't have to sacrifice your personal aesthetic when opting for zero-waste products.
This vacuum-insulated bottle is ideal for carrying around both hot and cold drinks. Its triple-layer design keeps your beverage insulated for longer while also preventing condensation from forming on the outside. It fits in most car cup holders and has a mouth large enough for ice cubes.
Dimensions: 10.4 x 2.8 x 2.8 inches | Weight: 11 ounces | Material: 18/8 food-grade stainless steel | Colors: Dozens of colors and patterns
Best Reusable Straws: Hiware 12-Pack Reusable Stainless Steel Metal Straws
Various sizes and shapes
Cleaning brushes included
Metal gets hot in warm beverages
If you like sipping beverages through a straw, the Hiware Stainless Steel Straws are the perfect alternative to single-use plastic straws. They come in a pack of 12 that includes six straight straws and six bent straws in two different lengths that fit most 30- and 20-ounce reusable tumblers. The straws are made from food-grade stainless steel, and the set comes with two nylon cleaning brushes for easy cleaning, as well as a convenient carrying case.
Dimensions: 8.5 and 10.5 inches | Weight: Not listed | Material: 18/8 food-grade stainless steel | Colors: Silver, black, gold, rainbow, rose gold
Best Compost Bin: Miracle-Gro Single Chamber Tumbling Composter 27.7 Gal
Locking door deters pests
At-home composting is a great way to reduce the waste you send to the landfill, and the Miracle-Gro Small Composter is a beginner-friendly model to add to your yard. It has a 27.7-gallon capacity, and it features a single-chamber tumbler that you can simply spin to aerate your compost. The bin is made from BPA-free plastic, and it’s mounted on rust-proof stainless steel legs. There is some assembly required, so keep that in mind.
Dimensions: 29.5 x 23 x 23.5 inches | Weight: 13 pounds | Material: BPA-free, food grade, UV-protected plastic | Color: Black
Best Food Wrap: Bee's Wrap Assorted Set, Three Sizes
Reusable for up to a year
Various sizes and patterns
Not the tightest seals
Instead of using plastic wrap to cover dishes and wrap sandwiches, try Bee’s Wraps. These food wraps are made from organic cotton that’s coated with a combination of beeswax and tree resin, which creates a durable yet pliable wrap that can be reused many times. The warmth from your hands creates a seal around whatever you’re storing, and each wrap can last for up to a year with proper care.
Once you’re finished using it, the material can be composted. Some find that these seals aren't as tight as plastic wrap, so it may take you a little more time to create a tight seal with Bee's Wrap.
Dimensions: 7 x 8, 10 x 11, and 13 x 14 inches | Weight: Not listed | Material: Organic cotton and beeswax | Colors: 10 patterns
Best Snack Bags: Stasher Reusable Silicone Bag
Forms a leak-free seal
Bags can be labeled with chalk markers
Silicone containers like the Stasher Sandwich Bag are a great zero-waste option for your family’s daily lunches. These bags are made from food-grade platinum silicone, which is non-toxic and endlessly reusable, and they can be used to store a wide range of foods thanks to their leak-proof seals. The bags are safe to use in the microwave, freezer, and dishwasher, and you can even label the exterior with chalk or non-toxic dry erase marker.
Dimensions: 7.5 x 7 x 1 inches | Weight: 2.7 ounces | Material: Food-grade silicone | Colors: Dozens of colors and patterns
Best Shopping Bags: BeeGreen Reusable Grocery Bags
Handle fits over shoulder
Tricky to store in pouch
More stores are doing away with plastic bags, which is why it’s always a good idea to have a few reusable grocery bags in your car. We tested the BeeGreen Bags, which are made from ripstop polyester, and we loved that they’re incredibly spacious and can be carried over your shoulder thanks to their large handles. The bags come in sets of five, and they’re machine-washable and fold down into a compact form for easy storage.
Dimensions: 16 x 15 x 6 inches | Weight: 1.6 ounces | Material: Ripstop polyester | Colors: 15 colors and pattern combinations
Best Trash Bags: UNNI 100% Compostable Bags, 13 Gallon, 50 Count
Can’t hold wet trash
one year expiration date
The UNNI Compostable Trash Bags are a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic trash bags. These 13-gallon bags come in a box of 50, and they’re made from plant-based materials and Certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute as compostable. The bags should be used within a year of purchase, and it’s important to keep in mind that they will start to decompose if exposed to heat or moisture, so they’re not the best option for food waste or other wet trash.
Dimensions: 23.75 x 31.5 inches | Weight: 2.7 pounds | Material: Plant starch | Color: Green
Best Produce Bags: Ecobags Cotton Medium and Net Large Produce Bag Bundle
Unable to see what’s in solid bags
Instead of grabbing those single-use plastic produce bags at the grocery store, you can carry your produce in these convenient cotton bags. This set comes with two large net bags and three medium-sized bags, and they’re ideal for storing products, bulk dry ingredients, and other groceries. The bags are made from organic cotton with drawstring closures, and they’re machine-washable and compostable, too.
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 and 12 x 15 inches | Weight: 0.9 and 1.1 ounces | Material: Organic cotton | Color: White
Best Sponges: Food52 Five Two Compostable Sponge Cloths
Easy to wash
Tricky to store
Larger than average sponge
The Five Two Compostable Sponge Cleaning Cloths are ideal for scrubbing dishes, wiping down counters, and more daily kitchen tasks. They’re made from a combination of plant-based cellulose and cotton, and they come in a pack of 10 with five different colors included. When we tested these sponges, we loved that they were super absorbent and able to wipe up most spills with ease. However, the cloths are larger than your average sponge and can be somewhat tricky to store.
Dimensions: 6.75 x 8 inches | Weight: Not listed | Material: Cellulose and cotton | Colors: Mixed assortment
Best Dish Scrubber: Brooklyn Made Natural Dish & Vegetable Scrub Brush
Must be stored in a dry area
Another alternative to plastic sponges is this dish scrubber, which is made from all-natural materials, including a bamboo handle and hemp bristles. The little brush is stiff enough to wash pots, pans, and vegetables in your kitchen, but it needs to be stored in a dry space to prevent mold or mildew growth. Once the bristles wear out, you can simply compost the whole thing in your backyard.
Dimensions: 3.25 inches | Weight: 0.2 pounds | Material: Bamboo and hemp | Color: Natural
Best Hand Soap: Blueland Hand Soap Duo
Comes with high-quality glass dispenser
Tablets dissolve slowly
We’ve tested a variety of eco-friendly cleaning products from Blueland, and one of our favorite products is the brand’s hand soap, which you can buy as part of a bundle or on its own. The soap comes with two 9-ounce glass bottles, as well as dissolvable tablets that you mix with water. We loved the silky consistency of the foam soap, which was gentle without drying out our hands. The only downside is the tablets take quite a while to dissolve, so you have to wait 20 minutes or so before using the product.
Dimensions: 7.25 x 2.75 inches | Weight: 9 ounces | Material: Glass bottle and plastic-free refill tablets | Scents: Iris Agave, Perrine Lemon, Lavender Eucalyptus
Best Dishwasher Detergent: Dropps Dishwasher Detergent
No pre-washing necessary
Reviewers note pods dissolve inconsistently
Dropps is a go-to destination for zero-waste cleaning supplies, and the brand’s dishwasher detergent pods are a top-selling item. The pods contain a triple-action detergent that effectively removes baked-on food and stains without any pre-washing, and the formula is free from dyes, chlorine, phosphates, and phthalates. The pods are available in unscented or lemon, and they’re shipped in compostable packaging with carbon-neutral shipping.
Dimensions: Not listed | Weight: 9 grams | Material: Mineral-based ingredients | Scents: Unscented or lemon
Best All-Purpose Cleaner: Grove Co. Multi-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate
Easy to mix
Plastic-free, recyclable packaging
Not recommended for aluminum, brass, or wood
Instead of buying a new plastic bottle of cleaner each month, you can reuse one bottle and simply refill it with the Grove Co. Multi-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate. The grease-fighting formula is made with 92% plant-based ingredients, and it’s free from parabens, phthalates, phosphates, formaldehyde, synthetic dyes, ammonia, and chlorine bleach. There are a variety of scents to choose from, and all you have to do is mix the concentrate with water then start cleaning.
Dimensions: Not listed | Weight: 1 ounce | Material: Glass bottles and plant-based ingredients | Scents: Free & clear, orange & rosemary, apple & pear blossom, or lavender & thyme
Best Toothpaste: Bite Fresh Mint Toothpaste Bits
Some reviewers report a thick, sticky lather
Another sustainable swap you can make in your everyday life is switching to Bite Toothpaste Bits. These toothpaste tablets come in three flavors, and they come in a refillable glass jar. If you opt into a subscription, the brand will send you more tablets every four months. The toothpaste itself is made of clean, vegan ingredients, and all you have to do is bite down on the tablet and then brush as normal with a wet toothbrush.
Dimensions: Not listed | Weight: Not listed | Material: Glass jar | Flavors: Fresh mint, mint charcoal, or berry twist
Best Shampoo: The Earthling Co. Shampoo Bar
Great for all hair types
The Earthling Co. Shampoo Bar is a plastic-free shower solution that comes in six amazing scents. Each 3-ounce bar can be used for 50 to 75 washes, and the formula is great for all types of hair, including curly and color-treated. The bars come in compostable packaging, and the shampoo is free from preservatives, parabens, fillers, and silicones.
Dimensions: Not listed | Weight: 3 ounces | Material: Plant-derived ingredients | Scents: Sweet sandalwood, vanilla coconut, citrus sun, simple fresh, cool breeze, wild vanilla, unscented
The best way to start living a zero-waste lifestyle is to reuse objects you already own, but when you need to invest in new items, there's no shortage of zero-waste products. We've tested and recommend BeeGreen Basic Reusable Grocery Bags for reusable totes. We suggest Five Two Compostable Sponge Cleaning Cloths for cleaning sponges, and for a forever bottle of reusable handsoap, we tested and love Blueland The Clean Essentials.
What to Look for When Buying Zero Waste Products
The downside of the rise in eco-consciousness is that cynical companies have used it as a marketing ploy without doing much work to reduce their impact on the environment. Beware of false or misleading claims or marketing campaigns that masquerade as sustainable alternatives with greenwashing. Support independent companies that have built their eco-credentials into every aspect of the business. Look for clearly marked ingredients and transparency about where and how things are manufactured. Remember that if you have doubts, there is always an alternative.
If you are buying a new product to help you to eliminate waste and excess, be mindful of choosing quality materials that are durable, natural, recyclable, and/or compostable. When buying new, look for natural materials like hardwood, bamboo, linen, cork, hemp, mycelium, and other materials that can be recycled or better yet, composted. This will help to create a truly circular economy and a future built around regenerative materials rather than man-made substances like plastic and polyester that will end up in a landfill.
Environmental Cost Per Use
People trying to cut down on buying too many clothes are often advised to evaluate a purchase based on how often they will realistically wear it, a cost per wear equation that helps deter frivolous purchases and encourages spending on quality everyday items. You can use a similar strategy when considering zero waste products. Try to determine whether or not you will really use something, and how often, before bringing it into your home. It still takes energy and resources to make a recyclable shopping bag, so be sure that your closet isn’t full of canvas tote bags that never get used before you spring for a new one.
How do you do zero waste at home?
"Stop recycling. No, really!" recommends Landrum. "Recycling should be a last resort. Instead, moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle requires you to find new uses for products instead of discarding them."
"First, repair—don't replace—items. Second, donate items to charities, thrift stores, friends and family, teachers and artists, etc. Third, when the product can no longer be used, refurbish it with new parts or components, updated software, etc. Fourth and last option is to recycle the item when it is beyond use. If you recycle at any point before this, you are wasting resources on a perfectly good item."
Another approach would be to set individual goals, like reducing single-use plastics, and analyze each room in the house to identify the offenders. In the kitchen, you might decide to eliminate plastic wrap, plastic zip storage bags, plastic straws, or cutlery. Make a plan for replacing these items once they are used up, whether that means using what you already have or finding greener alternatives. Start with the low-hanging fruit, and over time you can slowly eliminate all of the waste in your home with a systematic approach.
Is living zero waste cheaper?
It depends. The concept of zero waste is achieved by the act of buying less and seeking out essential goods that are not wrapped in useless packaging. By eliminating excess and waste, you will likely save money in the long term. However, in your quest to eliminate single-use plastics and buy quality items, you might end up spending more money initially for things like reusable glass storage containers for the kitchen. Buy quality items made with long-lasting materials, and look after them well, and your initial investment will pay off.
What is a zero waste swap?
The term “zero waste swap” refers to the act of eliminating wasteful items by trading them for more eco-conscious alternatives. Examples in the kitchen might include swapping paper napkins for cloth napkins; single-use plastic bags for reusable silicone food storage bags; tea bags for loose tea and a bamboo strainer; plastic water bottles for a portable water bottle to take with you everywhere; or wooden utensils instead of plastic. In the bathroom, you might trade in a plastic bath scrubby for a compostable all-natural loofah; a plastic toothbrush for a bamboo model; liquid soap for bar soap; and an endless stream of plastic shampoo bottles for a no-waste shampoo bar. Be sure to use up what you have before replacing it with something new.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Camryn Rabideau is a freelance writer and product tester for The Spruce, and she does her part to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle by composting, patronizing sustainable brands, and upcycling as much as possible in her home. While researching products for this article, she spoke with Nancy Landrum, Professor of Sustainability Management at Loyola University Chicago, for insights on what to look for in zero waste products and how to make zero waste swaps. She also personally uses and loves several items included on this list, such as the Hiware Metal Straws and Grove Co. Multi-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate.