Is Zero Waste More Expensive?

Lily Cameron

This is a common - and legitimate - concern of people who'd like to reduce their plastic waste but don't have unlimited cash to splash (and let's face it, who does?).

If you're on a tight budget then spending £25 on a safety razor can seem way out of reach. But when you look at it a different way and realise that that £25 is the last money you'll ever have to spend on a razor, it starts to make serious financial sense. 

Maybe the most important thing to say about this is that you do not need to get sucked in to the idea of having to buy everything new.

This is the exact opposite of the point of the zero waste movement! The first thing you should do is simply use what you have. 

Do you have a tonne of plastic lunch boxes, or tubs from ice cream or butter? Great, then you don't need to buy any of the fancy stainless steel or glass boxes to store your leftovers or take your lunch to work! 

Look after what you have, use it until it's unusuable, and then and only then should you look at replacing it.

This goes for everything - if you already bought a family pack of plastic toothbrushes and only used one before discovering zero waste then guess what? Throwing them in the bin and replacing with bamboo doesn't make you zero waste!

It makes you a part of the problem. 

Reducing consumption is the biggest impact step you can take to reduce your waste.

We buy so much stuff.

We've been trained to see shopping as a leisure activity, buying things as therapy, giving stuff as a stand in for giving love. 

Once you start saying no to that you start to reduce your waste. Before you buy something asking yourself the simple question "How will I get this out of my house when I no longer need/like it?"

This was a huge realisation for me when I first started to really cut down on my waste, by cutting down on consumption, around 7 years ago. 

Figgy was coming up to one year old and I was drowning in STUFF! I'd tried hard to be mindful when it came to not buying all the baby stuff we're told we need, but I still had way too much. 

After a massive clear out where I took carfulls of stuff to charity shops I started to ask myself how I envisioned getting rid of the thing before I bought it and it stopped me in my tracks. 

But when you've absolutely 100% got to buy something... 

Try not to buy new. Check out your local charity shops, ask family and friends, try local selling sites, or buy nothing new pages on Facebook.

If you can give a second, or third, or eighth life to a product that would otherwise have gone to landfill then you are truly embracing zero waste values.

This can sometimes require an adjustment in how we think. Many of us have been brought up to think second hand is less than, to be avoided, and to choose new even if the quality of the products, never mind the practices of the company, are wholly inferior to the second hand product. 

This is especially true of clothing. When Baby Green Fig was new I was lucky enough to be given huge bundles of baby clothes from kind friends whose babies had grown out of them. I was so grateful and passed these on to other new parents when Figgy was older.

But a family member who visited when Figgy was born bought some clothes as a gift. These were all unworn and unwashed, some even still had tags on, but they'd come from another family member whose baby hadn't had a chance to wear them before she got too big. As far as I was concerned these were brand new clothes but my family member apologised repeatedly for them being "second hand". 

Figgy is now almost eight (how did that happen?!) and I still get most of her (and my) wardrobe second hand.

If you have to buy new, consider the investment you're making. 

Take cloth sanitary protection (CSP) or menstrual cups. These are expensive, menstrual cups costing between £15 and £30, and the sky's the limit when it comes to a whole set of CSP, depending on your needs and preference. 

But say you spend around £5 - a fairly conservative estimate - a month on disposables. Within 3-6 months you'll have broken even and after that you're saving £5 every single month.

You don't need to buy everything all at once, whether it's CSP or a beautiful set of stainless steel bento boxes for the whole family. If you can only afford one per month then start small and build up. 

Zero waste is not about who looks best or who has the prettiest bamboo shopper - although it can feel like that if you go by certain Instagram feeds!

Zero waste is about being mindful, reducing consumption, and making choices for the long term, not the now. 





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  • So very well put. My favourite quote for going zero waste is ‘buy less, choose well, make it last’ !

    Jo (A Rose Tinted World)

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