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How to Live a Low Waste Lifestyle on a budget

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

Low waste living is about making more conscious choices about the items that we bring in to our life and doing our best to lower the amount of waste we create. This doesn't just apply to packaging, it also applies to water use, energy use and food waste. Before I begin with my tips on living low waste, I want to stress the importance of mental health. Trying to be PERFECT is stressful. It is a huge pressure and can make us feel weighed down. A couple of years ago, I set myself the challenge of being 100% ZERO waste and I got myself in a damaging cycle of intense anxiety and mental self abuse. It just wasn't realistic for me to live that way. Some things that I needed came in packaging and I just couldn't find them without. I searched- I spent far too much of my life searching actually. But I couldn't find them without the packaging. So if I really needed it, I bought it- but that was followed by a lot of negative self talk. Telling myself I am a failure and that I don't care enough about the planet. Telling myself I have let the planet down. Heaps upon heaps of eco anxiety. So I ditched the idea of being 100% zero waste and decided to focus on doing the best I can with what I have available to me. That is really all we can do. We must remember that a lot of the burden is on the BIG companies that value profit over planet. It is up to these companies to listen to the demand of the customer and change the way they do business. We can help to create a demand by using our money as our vote and using our voices on social media and writing to these companies, but we must not allow ourselves to let the entire weight of the world sit on our shoulders! I know that feeling and it leads to some dark places. So now I live a LOW waste lifestyle on a small budget I want to chat to you about what that entails and offer some simple low waste tips!

Top Tip 1: Use what you already have!

One of the things I notice is that a lot of people stock up on zero waste products when they begin a low waste lifestyle. Remember that these items, whilst they may be made in a sustainable way, they are still newly produced items and shouldn't replace the items you already have that work perfectly well. For example, If you already have a perfectly good plastic toothbrush with months of use left in it, carry on using it! If you already have a plastic razor with lots of use left in it, carry on using it! If you have stainless steel cutlery, why on earth throw it all away to get the fancy bamboo ones?! Use what you have until you can't use it anymore. Then when it needs replacing, you can find a more sustainable alternative. I was almost enticed in to buying the vegan wax wraps to store food in my fridge, but then I opened the drawer full of plastic Tupperware that I always use to store opened food in my fridge and I remembered that it would be MORE environmentally damaging to throw away those plastic Tupperware containers to make way for some fancy 'zero waste' wax wraps! And a hell of a lot more expensive too!

You can also get creative with things that you already own but maybe don't want anymore- for example if you have old towels, clothes and blankets that are not in the best condition to be sold on or donated, you can cut them up and use them as cleaning rags and cloths for dusting and wiping down surfaces! There you have free cleaning rags that can be washed and used over and over again! You'll never need to buy kitchen towel or cleaning cloths again! Low waste and free!

Top Tip 2: Shop second hand

This is, in my opinion, the best change you can make! Buying second hand wherever you can MASSIVELY lowers waste and helps your bank balance. Whatever you need, see if you find it second hand before you buy it new. Every new item made has an impact on the planet so buying second hand eliminates that impact and prevents tons of perfectly good items for reaching landfill. I buy 90% of my clothes second hand. The remaining 10% are bought from certified sustainable companies and NEVER fast fashion high street shops (I'll get in to that in another blog post!). When my husband and I moved in to our flat, we furnished it completely with second hand furniture! When I can find them, I buy second hand books, second hand kitchen equipment and utensils, second hand craft supplies... well... basically whatever I need, I look for it in charity shops, on ebay or on facebook market place before I buy it new.

Top Tip 3: Buy Loose Food When You Can. When You Can't, Buy in Bulk!

Zero waste shops are so popular now, at least in the UK, and they offer customers the chance to stock up on dried foods such as grains, beans, pasta, noodles, flour, sugar and more! Once a month, I get the train to the town over from mine to visit the zero waste shop. I always go equipped with some bags (for filling with dried foods) and my shopping trolley bag, so that I can buy a full months worth of what I need and wheel it home to save my back and shoulders! Be aware that certain foods in zero waste shops are REALLY expensive! I don't buy items like nuts from zero waste shops. As much as I would love to, it's just not affordable to me. My zero waste shop staples are pasta, rice, dried beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, desiccated coconut, oats and noodles. I find that all of these items are affordable at around 20- 40 pence per 100g. Nuts can be up to £3 per 100g and100g is not that much! So be careful when filling up your zero waste bags! Go with a clear budget in mind and do the maths as you are filling up your containers/ bags. For those items that are too expensive in zero waste shops- lets keep nuts as the example, try to buy in bulk. I have a bulk food store near me (but there are lots online too). Everything is packaged in plastic but the bags are BIG and because they are sold in bulk amounts, they work out cheaper than buying lots of smaller bags for the supermarket. When I am finished eating the nuts, I can use the plastic bags at the zero waste shop to fill up with dried foods as they are big enough to be really helpful and can be used over and over again because, as we know, plastic is indestructible!

Top Tip 4: Loose Veggies

Pretty much every large supermarket has now switched or is in the process of switching to loose fruit and veg over packaged. Take some bags with you when you go shopping and fill them up with all the loose fruit and veg you need! I try to stick to local veg when I can. Most of the time, the food is labelled with the country it is from. Sometimes certain veg is in plastic and you can't find it loose. Don't worry. You are doing your best! Don't give yourself a hard time!

I like to support local produce farmers over giant supermarkets, so I buy the majority of my fruit and veg from two places; a local fruit and veg market stall and a local produce farm shop. I personally LOVE food shopping and find the experience of markets and produce farm shops much more fun than busy supermarkets! For a while I supported local organic farmers because I think that organic farming is so much more beneficial to the planet, but it just got too expensive. So now I support local produce farmers and only buy organic if i'm having a good month and can actually afford it! This was another lesson for me- I cannot do everything perfectly if my budget doesn't allow. I can only do my best!

Top Tip 5: Grow Your Own

Some things you just can't get without the plastic- like salad leaves and fresh herbs. This doesn't mean we should cut them out of our diets because they are incredibly good for us! I personally love rocket, pea shoots and fresh coriander. They are a big part of my diet and provide me with lots of nutrients. They are also very easy to grow! Over the spring and summer months, I grow rocket, coriander, pea shoots and cress. I have a small garden, so I grow some outside in pots and I grow some on the windowsill too! I also love to grow kale in my garden (which also often comes in plastic in shops). That way I have a supply of my favourite greens throughout the summer without the plastic waste and this is a MUCH cheaper way to eat these wonderful greens! One packet of seeds is about £2 and gives me enough rocket for the entire summer- as opposed to the bags of rocket in the supermarket that are around £1.50 and last just a few days. As with a lot of things- growing veg isn't waste free. Bags of compost come in plastic.. but the bags are big, so they can be re used as planters, potato grow bags or even using them as bin bags gives them a second use.

Top Tip 6: Shop Reduced to Clear

I have recently started checking the reduced to clear section in supermarkets. Reduced to clear items are usually on or coming up to their best before or use by date and, therefore, cannot be sold after the date shown on the package. When I worked at a supermarket, I was blown away by the amount of food that gets thrown out! SO much! So shopping the reduced to clear section saves food from being wasted. It may be packaged in plastic, but, if it is going to be thrown away by the supermarkets- food and it's packaging, what difference does it make! At least, the food won't be wasted! It also saves money because these items can be heavily discounted. I often buy bread, vegetables and fruit in the reduced to clear section. I put bread in the freezer and it is good for a month. I find that fruit and veg often last pasts the date shown on packaging with proper storage and I have two hungry house rabbits who love veggies and greens and really don't care about best before dates!

Top Tip 7: Re Use Water

Did you know that the average household in the UK uses around 350 litres of water EVERY DAY! (Energy Saving Trust). Having baths and showers, washing the dishes, flushing the toilet, watering the plants, drinking water, running the dishwasher, the washing machine, brushing our teeth.. and so on! So much water usage! There are some simple ways to cut down on your water usage.

For the past year, my husband and I have had a bucket in our bathroom. This is called our water saving bucket! Every time we have a shower, we put it under the water to catch the cold water that is otherwise wasted, before the water gets warm enough for us step under it. We fill up the bucket with used bath water. We pour the water from the dehumidifier in this bucket too. Then throughout the day, we use the bucket water to flush the toilet! It's very easy, you just pour the water in to the toilet bowl! (works better with number ones!). It saves a few toilet flushes of new water per day. Every little helps!

We also have a water butt for our garden which collects rain water and we use it to water our garden plants.

The little things help too, like turning the tap off when brushing your teeth. There is no need to keep it running while you brush! Loading the dishwasher to make the best use of space so you don't need to run it as often. Same with the washing machine.. go for full loads over a few items. Cutting down on water usage is not only better for the planet but also better for your pocket!

Top Tip 8: Compost and Cook Wisely

When I think back to the amount of food I wasted before I became an eco conscious person, I'm shocked! I remember scraping the left over contents of my plate in the bin after pretty much every meal. Now I very rarely scrape left overs from my plate in to a bin. Very little food is ever wasted. In the spring and summer, no food it wasted because we compost over those months.

Excess cooked rice, vegetable ends or peelings and fruit cores are thrown in our compost bin to decompose and be used in our garden as food for our plants. If you don't have an outdoor space you can sometimes get a food waste recycling bin from your local council which is collected along with your other recycling and is either composted or used to generate electricity.

Cooking wisely can also help with waste. A lot of the time our eyes are bigger than our stomachs! Try not to load your plate too high! I like to make a big batch, put a smaller amount on my plate and then go back for more if i'm still hungry. If I don't want more then the remainder of the food can be saved. I will usually have it for lunch the next day, but sometimes I store it in the freezer to keep handy for a day where I don't want to cook!

Top Tip 9: Adopt a Minimalist Mindset

This, paired with buying second hand, is one of those changes that has a MASSIVE impact on the planet and on our bank balance. Breaking the cycle of over consumerism is really powerful. Many people buy more than they need, using shopping as an event, as therapy and as a dopamine hit. I remember going to big shopping centres as a teenager with all of my saved up money and buying as much as I could with the money that I had. I would love getting home and looking through my shopping bags, as often, I already forgot some of the bits I bought and wanted the excitement of re discovering them! Of course, I had no understanding of the environmental impact of everything I bought. Then in to my 20's, I loved picking up bargains at cheap fast fashion stores- clothes, bags, shoes, accessories! Stuff I didn't need. It was the buzz I enjoyed. Now I have a firm understanding of the impact of these shopping habits on the planet. It can take 2,700 litres of water to make ONE SINGLE conventional cotton T shirt! (WWF) (Organic cotton uses considerably less than this) Once I understood about the impact of newly produced items on the planet, the people and the animals, I changed my shopping habits. I didn't need as much as I was buying, so I become a minimalist. I now buy less and, when I do need something, I can either find it second hand, or I have the extra money (from not buying all that other stuff I didn't need) to invest in a quality made item from a sustainable brand. Every purchase I make is thought out. Do I NEED it? How will it benefit me? Who does it help? Is it made sustainably and ethically? Will it help a cause I care about? Will it last? Does it have multiple uses? Can I find it second hand? These are some of the questions I ask myself before I purchase something. Being a minimalist doesn't mean that I have a bare home with empty space, empty walls and 5 items of clothing! It just means that I am mindful of each purchase I make, saving me loads of money and loads of waste!

Top Tip 10: Make Your Own Cleaning Products and Toiletries

Zero waste toiletries can be expensive! There is no doubt that buying a low waste deodorant in a glass jar at a zero waste shop requires deeper pockets that buying a traditional plastic roll on at a pound shop! In the same way, you can get an all purpose surface spray for a £1 in a supermarket, but refilling your eco friendly branded bottles at a zero waste shop can cost triple that amount. This is why many people think that low waste lifestyles are for rich people only! But I want to help show you it doesn't have to be expensive if you make things yourself! This also doesn't require much time! So it's a win win! I make my own deodorant, face cream, toilet cleaner, floor cleaner and surface cleaner! About 2 years ago, I bought a 1kg tub of shea butter for £10, a 5kg tub of sodium bicarb for £12, 500g of arrow root powder for £6 and 1kg of coconut oil for £8. That is £36 in total. With these ingredients I make deodorant. Melted shea butter and coconut oil, with sodium bicarb and arrow root powder mixed in makes the best deodorant i've ever used! I fill a pot with it, allow it to cool and set and the tub lasts me about 2 or 3 months. Then I make more and refill the tub. So far I have been refilling the tub every 2 or 3 months for 2 years with that £36 worth of ingredients! That's £1.50 a month for zero waste, amazing deodorant that takes about 5 minutes to make!

But what about cleaning products? That same big tub of bicarb of soda is used as part of my cleaning routine! Along with white vinegar, I can clean the grouting between tiles in my bathroom or kitchen, my oven hob and other stubborn stains (plus any mould that appears over the cold months).

Surfaces can be cleaned in a number of ways, but white vinegar, castile soap (which is super versatile), water and lavender essential oil or lemon juice make a great natural cleaner. Yes the soap and the vinegar come in plastic, but you need so little of it to make up each spray bottle, that the bottles last ages and are incredibly cheap!

You really need very few ingredients to make a lot of different household products that are cheap, quick easy and free of nasty chemicals! Use the same spray bottle over and over again. Just keep refilling it with your homemade miracle cleaners!

So there you have it! I hope these tips have been helpful and given you a little motivation to start your low waste journey on a budget!

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