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It will take collective action to force the systemic changes needed to address the climate emergency. But each one of us can do our part by producing less personal waste. While the best way to reduce waste is to consume less, making more thoughtful and considered choices about the things that you do bring into your own home will ensure that you are minimizing your impact on the environment.
Below, our pick of the best everyday household products to help you to achieve your zero waste goals.
Best Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Water Bottle
Made from stainless steel that’s both durable and recyclable, this flask replaces plastic bottles in an elegant and efficient way. The wide mouth makes it easy to fill with ice cubes and the excellent insulation keeps your water, iced tea or fruit smoothie cold all day. This can also be used for hot drinks.
Best Grocery Bags: Earthwise Deluxe Collapsible Reusable Shopping Box Grocery Bag Set
These totes are easy to pack at the grocery store since they stay open like a box, but they collapse for easy storage when they’re empty. Not just for groceries, these are just as handy for carrying laundry in the house or for toting towels at the beach and just as easy to clean. They have two short side handles along with longer handles to hang these on your shoulder.
Best Shopping Bags: BAGGU Large Reusable Shopping Bag
Great for all your shopping and toting needs, these ripstop nylon bags are sturdy but very thin and lightweight, so you can fold one and tuck it into the included pouch and toss it into your purse for those times when you need an extra bag at the farmer’s market. The handles make it easy to hand carry this or sling it over your shoulder.
Best Produce Saver: Farberware Food Huggers Reusable Silicone Food Savers
No need for plastic wrap when you’ve got half of an onion to store since these huggers will snug onto the cut end and keep it fresh. They’re great for small and medium-cut fruits and vegetables, and can also be used as lids for cans, jars, and glasses. They nest for storage and are dishwasher safe when you’ve used the last of that onion.
Best Compost Bin: Oxo Good Grips Easy-Clean Compost Bin, 1.75 Gallons
Composting makes sense for anyone who has a garden or yard since you can turn waste food into healthy soil that will make all your plants happy. This kitchen bin holds your compostable food waste until you take it to your outdoor composter or you transfer it to the compost container that gets picked up by your waste company. The lid is removable for easy emptying and cleaning, and the handle makes this easy to carry.
Best Compostable Bags: UNNI ASTM D6400 100% Compostable Trash Bags
Sometimes there’s no way around using a trash bag, but there are still eco-friendly options available, like these compostable bags. Use them for food scraps to be composted or use them for small trash containers around the house. This is a box of 100 bags, and each holds 2.6 gallons.
Best Reusable Straws: YIHONG Set of 8 Stainless Steel Metal Straws
Even though they’re small, plastic straws are a major source of plastic pollution, but there are plenty of alternatives, like these stainless steel straws. This set of eight includes four straight straws and four bent straws, along with two cleaning brushes so you can make sure the straws are completely clean after use. A pouch is also included for easy storage so you won’t lose them in a kitchen drawer. While they can be washed in the dishwasher, it’s wise to make sure they won’t fall through the utensil bin.
Best Kitchen Towels: Mioeco Reusable Bamboo Unpaper Towels, Ten Pack
Paper towels are one of the most common single-use items, but why not use these simple cotton towels instead? They’re absorbent, washable, and bleachable, so you can use them for sopping up spills, wiping dishes, or for kitchen cleaning tasks. Then just toss them in with the laundry and grab another towel from the pack of ten. Some users noted various amounts of shrinkage with these, but some shrinkage should be expected since they’re made from cotton.
Best Kitchen Cloth: Skoy Eco-Friendly Swedish Dishcloth, Four Pack
Made from cotton and cellulose, and completely biodegradable when they’re no longer useful, these colorful cloths can replace your kitchen sponge for washing dishes, they can mop up spills like paper towels, and you can even use them for drying small items, like a kitchen towel. These dry quickly and can be sanitized in your microwave or dishwasher and can also be washed and dried right along with your laundry. This is a pack of four cloths.
Best Napkins: COTTON CRAFT Pure Linen Oversized Napkins
These pure linen napkins will add a bit of elegance when you entertain, but they can also look casual for everyday use. The downside of linen is that it wrinkles, so you’ll need to iron these for formal use, but some users noted that they were able to fold and stack them after washing, and they actually liked the slightly wrinkled rustic look. This is a set of 12 napkins, so you’ll have plenty for a party.
Best Jars: Ball Wide-Mouth Pint 16-Ounce Glass Mason Jar With Lids and Bands, 12-Count
Glass is easily recyclable as are the metal lids that come with these jars, but you won’t need to worry about that for many years since these are very durable. While they’re sold for canning, they’re also perfect for storing food in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, and they can be used as drinking glasses as well. If you’re feeling creative, you can find all kinds of recipes for food in jars, too. This 12-pack will give you plenty for all of those uses, and more.
Best Bowl Covers: Elegant Live Set of 5 Heat Resistant Covers
These silicone lids are great for covering bowls, pots, and pans, whether they’re in the refrigerator, on the counter, on the stove, in the oven to 500 degrees, or even in the microwave to prevent splattering. This multi-color set includes five covers in different sizes to fit everything from your smallest bowls to your large casserole. They’re dishwasher safe for easy cleaning, so they’ll always be ready for their next use.
Best Snack Bags: Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag
Ditch the zip-top plastic bags and grab this reusable food bag instead. Made from silicone, it can withstand heat and cold, and you can even use it for sous vide cooking. This size is perfect for snacks or a sandwich, and other sizes are available so you can create a complete set to fit your needs. A variety of patterns and colors are available to suit your personality.
Best Food Wrap: Bee's Wrap Eco Friendly Reusable Beeswax Food Wrap, Assortable Set of 3
These beeswax wraps offer a unique alternative to plastic wrap for covering bowls, wrapping sandwiches, storing cheese, or wrapping other foods. The heat of your hands softens the wax to make the material pliable so it can form a perfect shape, then it hardens again for a great seal. When these are no longer useful, they are 100 percent compostable, so they don’t have to end up in a landfill. This is a three-pack with three different sizes.
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 actual 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 with the goal of helping 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 haunt the earth forever.
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?
There are many strategies for reducing waste in the home, so do what works for you. You might want to start by tackling the most obviously wasteful areas of your home, which are likely the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom closet. Take stock of what you already own, donate anything that you don’t use, and set up your space to ensure that you use what you have. 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 to buy quality items, you might end up spending more money initially for things like reusable glass storage containers for the kitchen, or cedar clothes hangers in 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 cloth napkins for paper napkins; reusable silicone food storage bags for single use plastic 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.