75 simple swaps to reduce your waste

Like most families, we used to generate a couple of bags of rubbish. Every single week. Today however, we’re thrilled — and relieved — to be down to one small bag per month.

We started our zero-waste journey with some trepidation, convinced that a long road of sacrifice lay ahead. What we didn’t expect was that we’d end up with a significantly better quality of life — where we’re saving money, living more healthily and having plenty of fun too.

NB I have no affiliate links with any of the companies mentioned. Where possible we re-use/buy 2nd hand before buying new. We try to avoid plastic as much as possible, even if it’s recyclable because sadly much of our plastic isn’t actually recycled, and when it is, it’s really “downcycled”; plus there are the well-documented negative health effects of plastic.

BATHROOM & PERSONAL CARE

1. Shower gel→ Bar soap, which I’d long resisted, convinced that soap dries your skin. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There’s been so much progress in soap recently, there’s no way we’d go back now. This bulk, all natural soap selection has lasted us a couple of years

2. Shampoo & conditioner → After lots of experimentation with making my own; using bar shampoos & conditioners; and asking for refills at our local organic hair salon I’ve settled on Awake Organics which is *amazing*

3. Disposable razor → Either a safety razor or a reusable razor with disposable heads

4. Shaving foamShaving foam in a tin + wooden shaving brush. My husband can’t believe how well the soap lathers, and it seems to last forever!

5. Toothpaste → Toothpaste in a glass jar. We love Ben & Anna’s whitening toothpaste, Noice and Truthpaste for the kids

6. Toothbrush → Bamboo toothbrushes, Matana is my fave. Or if you have an electric toothbrush, you could try bamboo replacement heads

7. Dental floss → Refillable dental floss in a glass jar

8. Toner → I used to spend a fortune on toner, but discovered a really simple recipe that takes 1 minute to make and my skin is in its best condition ever. You just need a cup of water, 2 tbsps. of apple cider vinegar, 5 drops of tea tree oil, 2 drops of frankincense and1 drop of rosemary

9. Moisturiser → So many choices of gorgeous moisturisers in glass jars/tins. My current faves are this one and this one. In the past couple of years I’ve also got into face serums which have great results and last forever too

10. Body lotion Metal tins to the rescue once again, we love this one and this one

11. Deodorant Fit Pit is my current favourite, although Earth Conscious is brilliant too if you prefer a stick. These really do work, which isn’t always the case with eco deodorants unfortunately

12. Anti-chafing cream →My husband took up cycling recently and this cream in a metal tin has worked wonders I’m told

13. Cotton buds →Bamboo cotton buds in a cardboard box

14. Wipes →We invested in some reusable wipes when our kids were born and they’re still going strong 8 years later. You can also buy, or make, cute wipes specifically for makeup removal if you prefer

15. Plastic comb → Wooden hair comb

16. Hairdryer → Ditch the dryer and go for the natural look

17. Hair conditioning→ This vegan hair oil is super nourishing and doesn’t make your hair greasy

18. Lipstick →I absolutely love Charlotte Tilbury’s refillable range, perfect for those Zoom calls!

19. Mascara →Refillable mascara by Zao is fab

20. Bronzer →Body shop does some great tints in glass jars, and Charlotte Tilbury does powder refillables too

21. Perfume → It’s always upset me how much beautiful packaging ends up in the bin when you buy a bottle of perfume, not to mention the bottle itself. Finding Eden Perfumes in Brighton — which matches to your existing perfume, is vegan, natural and comes in refillable bottles — has been a real breakthrough, not to mention money saver

22. Period → I mix and match solutions according to where I am in my cycle. My go-to’s now include a menstrual cup, washable panty liners, and period knickers such as Thinx

23. Toilet paperWho Gives A Crap do great zero waste toilet paper, plus they donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. A brilliant company

CLEANING

24. Dish brushWooden dish brush

25. Washing up sponges/pan scourersCoconut scrub pads & metal scourers

26. ClothsCompostable cloths

27. Bottle brush→ Wood & metal bottle brush

28. Washing up liquid→ Refillable washing up liquid from your local refill shop

29. Dishwasher tabletsEcozone Ultra All-in-One dishwasher tablets come in a cardboard box and with a soluble outer, so no more nasty plastic wrappers

30. Rinse aid→ Refillable rinse aid from your local refill shop

31. Dishwasher salt→ Waitrose do dishwasher salts in a cardboard box, and so do Finish. Or you might be able to get this from your local refill shop too

32. Washing powder→ I experimented with soapnuts, but ended up sticking with washing powder in a cardboard box. Powder is much more cost effective than liquid because you’re not paying for all the water

33. Cleaning sprays→ You should be able to get most of your cleaning products from your local refill shop. Or you can make your own with baking soda, vinegar & lemons. Alternatively checkout Spruce and Everdrop who do great zero-waste eco ranges

34. Kitchen towel→We don’t use kitchen towel any more and use sponges, tea towels or muslin cloths instead

FOOD

35. Carrier bags→Tote bags & fold-away pocket bags

36. Plastic or paper produce bagsMesh fruit & veg bags, which are super satisfying to use, and re-use

37. Bread→Etsy has loads of lovely linen bread bags so try asking your local bakery to slice naked loaves & then freeze them. Or I’ve recently discovered just how easy bread is to make!

38. Bagels→Our local bakery doesn’t sell bagels so I make my own then freeze them. I love the Montreal bagel recipes

39. Pancakes→I make my own American style pancakes using this recipe as a breakfast treat for the kids. They can be frozen and re-heated at a later date

40. Croissants etc→Lidl do fabulous loose croissants, pain au chocolats etc so we buy in bulk, pop them in the freezer and heat them up again

41. Food waste→We have this nifty gadget in the salad drawer of the fridge which makes salad and veggies last much, much longer. I use a Nutri bullet to whizz up any sad looking fruit & veggies into a smoothie. Food scraps go into our countertop compost bin. And of course the OLIO app is a lifesaver for giving away anything extra we’ve got!

42. ClingfilmBeeswax wraps or recycled tin foil

43. Baking paperEco baking paper, and I have it on my to-do list to look into silicone baking sheets

44. CerealsPimhill’s organic muesli in paper bags is the *best* muesli I’ve ever had! We also buy organic Weetabix in cardboard and paper. Porridge oats can be found in the refill shop or in cardboard boxes from the supermarket

45. Granola→Homemade granola is super simple, delicious and much cheaper than store bought, plus without all the plastic. I love the Deliciously Ella recipe in her Plant Based Cookbook

46. Crisps→You can also make your own crisps using vegetable peelings, some salt, oil and a hot oven. However we tend to substitute crisps with homemade popcorn, made in the wok with a bit of hot oil and popping corn from the refill shop. You can then sprinkle salt/sugar etc and pop it in a container for a portable, eco snack

47. Cereal bars→I Batch cook homemade flapjacks, freeze them and then and take out whenever we need a snack on the go

48. Biscuits→Batch cook Anzac biscuits, or cookies, and then freeze

49. Milk & cream→Go old-school and get a doorstep delivery from Milk & More in glass bottles, which are then picked up on your next delivery and re-used over & over again

50. Yoghurt→I invested in a yoghurt maker and now make Greek yoghurt every week, which saves soooo many plastic yoghurt tubs. It just takes 10 minutes and you can buy the culture online. If you want a really thick yoghurt, strain it through a muslin cloth. It tastes great with chopped up fruit/ seeds/nuts plus homemade granola

51. Ice cream & sorbets→There are quite a few recipes that don’t require an ice-cream maker and they’re surprisingly easy to make, plus you can get your cream in glass jars from Milk & More. We’ve found that Ben & Jerry’s packaging seems to be the least bad of the bought ice creams

52. Fruit juices→Milk & More also offer orange juice in a glass bottle which they re-use again and again, yay!

53. Cheese→Take your containers to the local deli or supermarket

54. Meat→Take your containers to the local deli, butcher or supermarket

55. Fish→Take your containers to the local fishmonger or supermarket. Or you can see if there’s a mobile fishmonger near you as they seem to be making a bit of a comeback

56. HummusHomemade hummus takes 10 mins and is the *best*. You can also freeze it for later use, so we make large batches when we have the time

57. Eggs→More and more local shops allow you to take your own egg boxes with you so you’re not having to constantly recycle them. Or if you live in a village/the countryside, see if there’s a local egg shop near you

58. Fruit & veg→We get ours from Riverford Organic, and they have a brilliant Zero Waste Box. Also check out your local greengrocer or corner store to see if they sell loose. Growing your own is also a fun and waste-free option too

59. Herbs, spices & oils→From the refill shop, or in glass containers from the supermarket

60. Pasta→From the refill shop, or we sometimes make it at home with a pasta machine and then freeze it for later

61. Lentils, beans, pulses, rice→All available from the refill shops. You can save a fortune as they’re *so* much cheaper dried than in cans

62. Tea & coffee→Moving to loose leaf tea has been a revelation! No more expensive plastic-free tea bags. Instead you can buy leaves loose and then mix & match to make whatever flavours you’d like. Liquorice & peppermint is my favourite, and I use a little washable tea-bag , using each mix twice. For the coffee lovers, you can also buy your beans whole and then grind them at home.

63. Fizzy drinks →We were really lucky to get a Sodastream for our wedding and so lots of experimentation with fizzy drinks has ensued

64. Cooking chocolate, baking powder, cocoa powder, sugar, dried fruits etc→From the refill shop

65. ChocolateLindt is my absolute favourite and you can get it in cardboard & foil bars at a steep discount vs retail from their online shop. Tony’s Chocolony and Divine are other great options too

66. Sweets→We struggled with this one for a long time so were *thrilled* to recently discover The Vegan Sweet Box which can be ordered online and delivers in cardboard boxes & baking paper. The sweets are another level — the best we’ve ever tasted!

67. Vitamins→As we’ve drastically reduced our meat & fish consumption we’ve decided to take vitamin supplements. We love Vegums which do multi-vitamins, Omega 3 and iron gummies in a cardboard box with a home compostable cellulose wrapper. They’re a *big* hit with the kids!

FASHION

68. New clothes→Buy 2nd hand, or end-of-line. If we’re buying new we try to buy from sustainable brands such as Nu-in and BAM

69. Socks & underwear→Bamboo all the way. Boody are great

70. Slippers→100% wool or sheepskin so they’ll decompose naturally when you’re done. I get mine from Etsy.

ON THE GO

71. Plastic bottleRefillable water bottle. Or if you’re travelling overseas, you might want to get a water purifying bottle such as the Grayl which has saved us a mountain of plastic and money

72. Coffee cup→Re-usable coffee cup, or thermos flask

73. Plastic cutlery→Travel cutlery set made of bamboo or metal

74. Paper serviettes→Cloth napkin

75. Packaged sandwiches→We use the Keep Leaf Sandwich Wrap for homemade sandwiches, and carry a thin cloth bag for sandwiches/bagels bought from the counter

WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE IN PRACTICE

Our shopping habits have *completely* changed as a result of moving towards a less wasteful life. We rarely go to the supermarket anymore, and instead shop at local loose stores, bakeries, greengrocers and online; which doesn’t take any more time, it’s just different, and feels good to be supporting local businesses. We’ve also switched out most of our meat and processed products for organic and plant based where we can, which has not only saved us a lot of money but has also been great for our health, and the planet’s too.

The weekend is when I spend a couple of hours batch cooking, which means we don’t have to cook evening meals during the week (hurrah), and has also helped us transition to a predominantly vegetarian/vegan diet in a way that’s felt surprisingly easy. I’m aware that the zero waste movement faces accusations of being unaffordable and a middle class preserve. In our experience we’ve saved quite a bit of money by reducing waste and consuming less, so I think it can be affordable if you’re savvy. However reducing your waste is undeniably more difficult if you don’t have any decent shops near you, although thankfully though this seems to be improving all the time and online is a great help too.

If you’re keen to start this journey then the best thing I can suggest is to try and make one swap at a time so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. And to take inspiration from the words of chef Ann Marie Bonneau who once said:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”

Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.