Ultimate List of Zero Waste Staps

Preface

Hopefully this list of swaps help you on your sustainable / zero waste journey! As a preface:

  • Use what you have. The most environmentally friendly thing you can do is to use what you already have; don't re-buy everything or throw something out because it doesn't align with your zero waste ethos. If it's harmful for your health, that's an exception.
  • Shop secondhand first. There's no need to buy all of this new. Allow yourself to gradually transition.
  • Everything listed is vegan. It isn't listed per item since that would be repetitive.
  • Keep in mind the 5 Rs, as coined by Bea Johnson: "Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse, and Rot (Compost) the rest."
Air fresheners

Air fresheners are packaged in plastic and contain toxic artificial fragrances.

  • Make a room spray using essential oils and water. Be sure to carefully dilute the essential oils; you just need a few drops. Store in a spray bottle. You can repurpose a used one.
  • Use essential oils in a diffuser with a glass basin, such as the Pilgrim Sofia Nebulizer Diffuser.
Read More
All-purpose cleaner
  • Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Optionally, use citrus peels to scent it. Recipe
Read More
Aluminum foil (for cooking)
  • Use a silicone mat.
  • Lightly coat the baking pan with oil.
  • If needed for covering a dish while baking, you can try layering a baking tray on top.
  • Use aluminum foil, then wash it, dry it, and reuse it several more times.
Read More
Aluminum foil (for storing)
  • Cover dish with a plate turned upside down.
  • Keep leftovers in the cooking pot, in the fridge.
  • Cover dish with unbleached parchment paper (compostable).
  • Cover with reusable and compostable wax wraps. Find them on Etsy
  • Use a container with a reusable lid. There are glass dishes with plastic lids, stainless steel tiffins, and retro 1950s glass dishes with glass lids.
  • Put it in a mason jar or repurposed jar that used to hold marinara, pickles, etc.
  • Use a silicone bag. Stasher bags
  • Wrap a burrito in a tea towel. We can't do this in my house because everything is covered in cat hair.
  • If aluminum foil is needed, you can clean it, dry it, and reuse it again later. You can also keep balling it up until it becomes at least 2 inches wide and then toss it into your recycling bin.
Read More
BBQ scrubber
Read More
BBQ tongs
Read More
Baby bottle

Often made of plastic which contain toxic chemicals that are particularly harmful for babies. Plastic also retains odors and germs get trapped in the scratches.

Read More
Bandaids
Read More
Bath salts
  • Use bulk epsom salt sold in bulk or buy it in the largest bag you can afford/store.
Read More
Batteries
  • At their end-of-life, recycle them. These don't belong in the curbside recycle bin. Find a battery recycling program. Counties / cities offer this at a recycling center.
  • Opt for rechargeable batteries for common sizes.
Read More
Beans

Often sold canned or in glass.

  • Consider buying dried beans and investing in a pressure cooker, which will allow you to speed up your cooking time significantly. Instapot is a popular type of pressure cooker these days. Small beans such as lentils cook more quickly.
  • Aluminum cans have a high recyclability rate (unlike plastic), but note they're usually lined with plastic to prolong shelf-life and prevent rusting. Some cans are marked BPA-free, but there are several other chemicals in plastic that are a health concern. Another note is that mining for aluminum is environmentally destructive.
  • Something to consider about glass is has the potential to break, which renders it non-recyclable. But glass jars are great for reuse as you go bulk shopping.
Read More
Binder

Often made with plastic.

  • Cardboard + Metal Binder - At end-of-life, the metal pieces are detachable and are recyclable as scrap metal and the paper can go in the paper recycling.
Read More
Bleach
  • Make a bleach alternative using a lemon, hydrogen peroxide, castile soap, and hot water. Recipe
Read More
Body lotion
Read More
Body wash
  • Use bar soap, ideally unpackaged or wrapped in paper. I avoid purchasing soap with fragrance, for health reasons. Sappo Hill bar soaps are widely sold unpackaged and are on the cheaper end even though they're high quality and made with essential oils.
Read More
Books
  • When you're done with a book, consider donating it to your local library or putting it in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.
  • If you have an e-reader, take advantage of the low carbon footprint of buying (or borrowing through your library) e-books.
  • Support your local library. Yes, checking out books supports your library because it enables the library to prove their usefulness to the community.
Read More
Bottled water
  • In most parts of the US, tap water is safe to drink. Detroit, MI is a notable exception; it's horrible what is going on there and it's completely understandable for folks there to use bottled water. If the tap water is safe for consumption in your area, please do take advantage of it and bring a reusable bottle when you leave your home.
Read More
Bread
  • Purchase bread at a local bakery using a cloth bag.
  • Some grocery stores also sell local bread unpackaged.
Read More
Cards
  • Consider sending e-cards via Paperless Post (several free options).
Read More
Cat Litter
  • Try non-clay litters such as corn and wheat based ones.
  • Get unconventional and try sawdust, mulch, and dirt which you can buy package free from your local landscaping store.
  • Using a compostable litter enables you to compost the poop and pee. Many local composting facilities don't allow animal poop, but some do; check the rules in your area. If you have a backyard, you can compost it at home. Make a special compost pile for this use only (don't mix it in with a compost pile you use for your edibles).
  • Some non-clay litters are marketed as flushable, but do not flush it down your toilet. Some cats have a parasite called toxoplasmosis which is found in cat feces and has infected marine mammals and otters
  • Look for bulk cat litter. I've seen this at Petco before, but it's not at all of them. I've seen them refill it using plastic tubs, so note this isn't a perfect zero waste solution.
  • Opt for litter in paper bags and paper boxes. Sometimes this is lined with plastic, or re-enforced with plastic strips (since litter is so heavy), and therefore may not be allowable in paper recycling. But it is less plastic, which is good.
Read More
Cat toys
  • Crumple used aluminum foil into a ball.
  • Set out an empty cardboard box. When they're bored with it, cut it up into 3D shapes.
  • Seek out natural, non-animal based products that will decompose. Hemp or organic cotton cloth sacks filled with dried catnip are a hit.
Read More
Cat treats
  • Bulk cat treats
  • Try giving cat kibbles as treats
  • Nutritional yeast, seaweed
  • Make your own; there are recipes online.
Read More
Cleaning brush
  • Wooden cleaning brushes with plant fibers. At end-of-life, they can be composted.
Read More
Clothes
  • Above all else, reduce your consumption and avoid fast fashion.
  • Shop at thrift stores, consignment stores, and used clothing apps like Depop, ThredUp, and Poshmark.
  • If you do buy something new, look for manufactures that offer warranties.
  • As your budget allows, try to opt for quality over quantity.
  • Check out Good on You for brand ratings based on three factors: planet, people, and animals.
  • Opt for natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and tencel over synthetic materials (polyester, nylon, spandex, etc.) which shed plastic fibers into the environment, especially when washing.
  • Donate clothes to thrift stores. If it's too worn out for resale, put it in a fabric recycling bin. These can be found at some recycling centers.
Read More
Coffee Cups

The to-go cups provided at most cafes are of mixed material and are therefore not recyclable. The cups are made of paper lined with plastic to make it water resistant. This plastic lining is harmful for our health, especially as hot liquids come into contact with it. The lids are a soft plastic that is not commonly recyclable. Sadly, all these coffee cups belong in the landfill.

  • For to-go: Use a reusable travel mug. Opt for plastic-free ones; hot liquids can leach plastic chemicals into your beverage.
  • For dine in: Request a ceramic mug.
Read More
Composition book
Read More
Conditioner
Read More
Contact lenses
Read More
Cotton balls
  • Use washable cleansing rounds. I like these hemp ones from Handcrafted Goodies on Etsy.
  • Make your own cloth wipes by cutting up an old t-shirt. You can cut them into squares to most efficiently use all the fabric (circles leave bits of unused fabric). Use pinking shears (the scissors that cut in a zig zag) to minimize fraying.
Read More
Cotton earbuds / ear swabs
  • Use a washcloth or rag (cut t-shirts are great for this since they're so thin) while you're in the shower.
  • The Last Swab, a reusable ear swab
  • There are reusable stainless steel picks, but I don't recommend them since you can seriously injure your inner ear.
Read More
Cupcake / Muffin Liners
  • Use silicone liners.
  • Lightly coat the muffin pan with oil.
Read More
Decor
  • Use leaves or branches that have fallen in your yard or local park as table or wall decor.
  • Dry out fresh flowers as decor. I've had success with eucalyptus and billy balls. Soaking them in a mixture of water and vegetable glycerine helps them retain their color as they dry out.
  • Find decor at thrift stores, Craigslist, and Bunz.
Read More
Deodorant
Read More
Diapers

Disposable diapers are commonly used, and they take 500 years to break down. They don't really decompose since they're made of plastic, which breaks down into tiny particles and can end up in waterways. In landfills, they don't break down easily because they aren't exposed to sunlight and oxygen.

  • Try cloth diapers (check out Naturally Tess's advice on YouTube). They require an upfront investment, but are much cheaper in the long run. The tiny newborn sized ones are used for a short period of time, so you may want to shop for used ones on Craigslist.
Read More
Dirt
  • Some cities have free dirt pickup, as part of their composting program. Take advantage of this nutrient-rich soil that supports a circular system.
  • Try backyard composting, such as a turnable one with a handle or a worm composter. If composting pet feces, have an entirely separate compost pile for your edible garden scraps.
Read More
Dish liquid

Often sold in plastic bottles.

  • Look for bulk dish liquid in your area. Bulk Biokleen Dish Liquid at Fillgood
  • Use castile soap diluted with water. 1 cup of water + 2 tablespoons of castile soap + 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda + essential oils (optional for fragrance)
Read More
Dishwasher detergent
Read More
Disposable cutlery

Disposable cutlery is often made of plastic and is not recyclable in most municipalities. Cutlery marked as "compostable" must be processed at an industrial compost facility. And even then, it may not be accepted. Some compost facilities only accept BPI certified compostables since they keep the compost up to a certain standard. Also, the sorting line moves very quickly and sometimes compostable foodware gets pulled from the compost if it looks plastic-y (as many compostable utensils do). If compostable / bioplastic foodware gets into the plastic recycling stream, it risks contaminating entire batches of plastic from resale. Buyers demand recycling to be under a given contamination rate. See China's National Sword.

  • Keep a set of utensils in your bag. This can be as simple as wrapping a fork/knife/spoon with a cloth and using rubber bands (I have a stash of these I save from bunches of leafy greens) to secure the bundle. You can include chopsticks too, if you frequently use those. Alternatively, this bamboo fork/ spoon is small and lightweight enough to fit in a pocket. Or you can buy a set of bamboo utensils that come in a pouch.
Read More
Disposable razor
Read More
Dog breath freshener
  • Cut fresh parsley and sprinkle it onto their food.
Read More
Dog brush
Read More
Dog treats
  • Raw veggies such as broccoli, carrots, green beans, kale, and zucchini.
  • Cooked (and cooled) sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin.
  • Bulk dog treats.
  • Make your own; there are recipes online.
Read More
Door stop

Often made of plastic.

Read More
Drain declogger and deodorizer
  • Declog your drain using baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. Recipe
Read More
Dry shampoo
  • Make your own using bentonite clay, cornstarch/arrowroot powder, and cocoa powder (for dark hair). Recipe
Read More
Dry-erase makers
Read More
Dryer
  • Hanging clothes to dry prolongs the life of your clothes while also reducing energy consumption. I air dry most of my clothes and put bulkier things like towels and sheets in the dryer since I don't have space to hang everything.
Read More
Dryer sheets
  • These aren't really needed, and they accelerate the wearing down of clothing.
  • Use bamboo dryer balls, such as Buddah Bunz.
Read More
Dust pan
  • There's no need to replace a plastic dust pan, but if you're shopping for one then opt for a metal dust pan
Read More
Excess office / art supplies
  • Donate them to a local creative reuse center in your area. In the bay area, we have Scrap in San Francisco and Creative Reuse in Oakland. They both accept used art / office supplies.
  • Donate them to a school in your area.
Read More
Exfoliating body scrub
Read More
Fabric softener
  • I haven't really needed it, and I've read it can accelerate the wearing down of clothing.
  • Some people make their own using 3 tablespoons of citric acid to 3 cups of water, which is then added 3 tablespoons (per load) to the fabric softener compartment. Or some people simply add between 1/4 to 1 cup of white distilled vinegar during the rinsing cycle.
Read More
Face cleanser
Read More
Face mask / facial sheets
Read More
Face toner
Read More
Facial steamer

There are machines made of plastic that are for facial steaming, but a bowl of hot water and a towel works!

  • Heat water in a kettle and pour into a glass bowl. Optionally, add a couple drops of essential oils like lavender for a calming effect. Lean over the bowl with a towel over your head. Let the steam relax you and open up your pores.
Read More
Floss
Read More
Food storage
  • Use glass jars with a screwable lid, such as Mason jars.
  • Repurpose jars, such as ones used for marinara, pickles, olives, etc.
  • Stainless steel tiffins
Read More
Freezer bags

Often made of plastic.

  • Use a glass jar. If it's liquid, be sure to not fill it up to the top; leave an inch or two of space at the top since liquid expands as it freezes. Not leaving enough space will make the jar crack.
  • Use a silicone bag. Stasher bags
Read More
Gifts

Consumables

  • Jar of jam
  • Loaf of locally made bread
  • Your favorite bulk food in a jar
  • Beer, wine, hard liquor

Enjoyables

  • Potted plant
  • Locally grown flowers wrapped in newspaper and tied with compostable twine

Gift wrapping Ideas

Read More
Grass
  • Forego grass and plant low-maintenance, low-water plants that naturally thrive in your area. Depending on the rules where you live, in many places you can turn your front yard into an edible garden. It's a more efficient use of space and water.
Read More
Hair brush

Usually made out of plastic.

Read More
Hair gel
  • Make your own using flaxseeds and water. Recipe
Read More
Hair remover
  • Redecker Lint Brush
  • Rub fabric with a damp cloth. The hair will lift off and start to clump.
  • Rub fabric with rubber gloves.
  • Use a reusable roller like the Chom Chom (made nearly entirely of plastic, but it works great)
Read More
Hair serum
  • Try making your own with oils such as jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, aragan oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil.
Read More
Hair ties

Usually made out of plastic.

  • Choose plastic-free hair ties, such as these rubber + organic cotton Kooshoo hair ties
Read More
Hairspray
  • Make your own with sugar and water. Recipe
Read More
Hand sanitizer
  • Make your own using 99 percent rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and aloe vera. Recipe
Read More
Hand soap
  • Castile soap diluted with tap water (1 part castile soap to 10 parts tap water)
  • I use a glass/metal foaming dispenser to extend it and make it easier to suds up. Liquid Soap Foamer from Fillgood
Read More
Heating Pad
  • Use a compostable heating pad made of cloth stuffed with rice, beans, and herbs. Large Herbal Heating / Cooling Pad
  • Make your own microwaveable heating pad using rice and a scrap piece of cotton/hemp fabric or an old sock. Tutorial
  • Find a used electric heating pad on eBay or Craigslist.
Read More
Hors d'oeuvres

Prepared foods are packaged in a lot of plastic. For events, try to prepare foods with minimal packaging. Even better, prepare finger foods that don't require utensils.

  • Cut veggies and serve with homemade hummus
  • Dates stuffed with peanut butter and topped with chocolate chips
  • Cookies
  • Stuffed baked and halved baby potatoes
  • Olives
  • Nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Toasted sliced baguette with bruschetta
  • Popcorn
  • Buy locally made bread, slice it, and serve it with various spreads (local jam, nut butters, olive tapenade, roasted red pepper spread, etc.).
Read More
Junk mail / statements / bills
  • Opt for electronic bills and statements.
  • When you receive unwanted mail, look up the company's privacy policy and find a contact email. Tell them you want to opt out of receiving physical mail.
  • Opt out on DMAchoice.org.
  • Use CatalogChoice.org which will submit a catalog opt-out request on your behalf.
  • Use OptoutPreScreen.com if you don't want to receive credit card and insurance offers.
  • Use YellowPagesOptout.com to opt out of receiving the Yellow Pages phone books.
Read More
K-cup
Read More
Kibble
  • See if there are any bulk cat/dog food options in your area.
  • Make your own.
  • Reuse the plastic food bags. Give them a second life by using them as trashcan liners, compost storage, etc.
Read More
Kids Clothing
  • Shop for used baby and kids clothes online at Kidizen or at your local thrift store.
Read More
Lawn mower
  • If your yard can be easily managed with a push mower, they are very eco-friendly since they don't require gas or electric to operate.
  • Try to minimize grassy areas, instead prioritizing low maintenance landscaping.
Read More
Leaf blowers
  • Gas-powered blowers create terrible air quality and run on fossil fuels. Opt for an electric one if you really need it; otherwise, use a rake.
Read More
Litter deodorizer
  • Sprinkle baking soda into the litter.
Read More
Magazine
  • Consider switching to a digital subscription.
  • When you're done with it, consider leave it in a waiting room for others to enjoy.
  • Place it in the paper recycling.
Read More
Makeup
  • Look for options in minimal packaging. Elate Cosmetics sells makeup in little or no plastic. Pressed powders are sold in stainless steel tins and packaged in seed paper. Foundation and creamy solutions are sold in glass jars with bamboo/plastic lined tops.
Read More
Makeup remover wipes
  • Use washable cleansing rounds. I like these hemp ones from Handcrafted Goodies on Etsy.
  • Make your own cloth wipes by cutting up an old t-shirt. You can cut them into squares to most efficiently use all the fabric (circles leave bits of unused fabric). Use pinking shears (the scissors that cut in a zig zag) to minimize fraying.
Read More
Markers
Read More
Mattress
  • At its end-of-life, find a mattress recycling program in your area. Some cities have invested in these public programs for no or low cost.
Read More
Medicine
  • Don't stockpile medicine. Buying large sizes or taking advantage of a buy-two-get-one-free deal is tempting, but oftentimes the medication expires before it's used.
  • If given the option, choose medicine in a container (it's often plastic) instead of a blister pack. The container is more likely to be recycled; the blister pack in not recyclable.
  • If given the option, choose a metal tube instead of a plastic tube.
  • Research natural remedies for your ailments. I'm not well-versed in the science of natural medicine, but there are some effective treatments, especially for minor conditions. I opt for more gentler treatments whenever I can. That said, there is definitely a time and place for modern medicine, pharmaceuticals, and so on so please consult your doctor above all else.
Read More
Menstrual pads, pantyliners, and tampons
  • Silicon cups
  • Period underwear: Thinx | Aisle
  • Reusable pads: Aisle
  • Reusable pantyliners: Aisle or GladRags
  • Underwear for bladder leaks: Speax
  • Organic, toxin-free, applicator-free tampons: Cora
  • You can sew your own out of organic cotton flannel. Tutorial
Read More
Mouthwash
  • Make it using aloe vera, distilled water, xylitol, and baking soda. Recipe
Read More
Nail brush
Read More
Nail care
  • Nail clippers are typically all metal and last a long time!
  • Use a stainless steel file instead of those pressboard ones that fall apart.
  • Compost the nail clippings
Read More
Notepad
  • Find one made of 100% recycled paper, ideally with a high percentage of post-consumer waste.
  • Use scrap paper from junk mail, misprints from your office printer, etc.
Read More
Oven
  • When you're done baking, open your oven door to warm up the house. This is great in the wintertime!
Read More

On-the-go & Travel

Coffee Cups

The to-go cups provided at most cafes are of mixed material and are therefore not recyclable. The cups are made of paper lined with plastic to make it water resistant. This plastic lining is harmful for our health, especially as hot liquids come into contact with it. The lids are a soft plastic that is not commonly recyclable. Sadly, all these coffee cups belong in the landfill.

  • For to-go: Use a reusable travel mug. Opt for plastic-free ones; hot liquids can leach plastic chemicals into your beverage.
  • For dine in: Request a ceramic mug.
Disposable cutlery

Disposable cutlery is often made of plastic and is not recyclable in most municipalities. Cutlery marked as "compostable" must be processed at an industrial compost facility. And even then, it may not be accepted. Some compost facilities only accept BPI certified compostables since they keep the compost up to a certain standard. Also, the sorting line moves very quickly and sometimes compostable foodware gets pulled from the compost if it looks plastic-y (as many compostable utensils do). If compostable / bioplastic foodware gets into the plastic recycling stream, it risks contaminating entire batches of plastic from resale. Buyers demand recycling to be under a given contamination rate. See China's National Sword.

  • Keep a set of utensils in your bag. This can be as simple as wrapping a fork/knife/spoon with a cloth and using rubber bands (I have a stash of these I save from bunches of leafy greens) to secure the bundle. You can include chopsticks too, if you frequently use those. Alternatively, this bamboo fork/ spoon is small and lightweight enough to fit in a pocket. Or you can buy a set of bamboo utensils that come in a pouch.
Food storage
  • Use glass jars with a screwable lid, such as Mason jars.
  • Repurpose jars, such as ones used for marinara, pickles, olives, etc.
  • Stainless steel tiffins
Gifts

Consumables

  • Jar of jam
  • Loaf of locally made bread
  • Your favorite bulk food in a jar
  • Beer, wine, hard liquor

Enjoyables

  • Potted plant
  • Locally grown flowers wrapped in newspaper and tied with compostable twine

Gift wrapping Ideas

Hand sanitizer
  • Make your own using 99 percent rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and aloe vera. Recipe
Paper lunch bag

- Use a reusable container, tiffin, or washable cloth lunch box.

Paper napkin
  • Cloth napkins
  • Handkerchiefs
Paper napkins
  • Use reusable cloth napkins.
Snack bags

Plastic snack bags, such as Ziplocs are typically only used once and then disposed in the landfill. Never throw them in the plastic recycling. If you have access to plastic film recycling, they can be disposed of there (but keep in mind, this is not a sustainable system to support wholeheartedly).

TSA-approved liquids bag
  • Use a quart-sized silicone Stasher bag.
  • Wash, dry, and reuse a plastic, quart-sized Ziploc bag.
Tissues
Travel-sized toiletries
  • Repurpose a small glass jar with a lid (baby food jars work well).
  • Reuse an empty plastic travel container.
  • Opt for refillable silicone bottles such as these GoTube Silicone Travel Bottles. It looks like the tops are plastic; I haven't found 100% silicone ones. It looks like the tops are plastic; I haven't found 100% silicone ones.
Water bottle

Single-use water bottles are made of plastic.

Follow Us

We’re on Instagram

Seek Truth
Plastic production is on the rise
Me as a teenager
Plastic bag
Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA
Manta trawl, ocean plastic collector
Coffee cups aren't recyclable
Thoughts when receiving online purchases