ZERO WASTE ESSENTIALS.
To go zero waste, you don't necessarily need to invest in much, if any, new gear. You can grab a fork from your kitchen drawer instead of purchasing a tiny fork to tuck in your purse; you can choose to drink your coffee at the coffee shop rather than purchase a reusable thermos; you can scrounge up a few reusable tote bags from friends who have extras rather than buying them new. All perfectly wonderful ways to go zero waste.
Sometimes, though, investing in a new-to-you item can up the convenience or comfort of being zero waste. Sure, you can stop getting coffee to go so that you can avoid paper cups without buying a new thermos; alternatively, you could buy a thermos and bring it with you each time you run out for coffee every week for the next ten years. In case you're wondering what items might make your transition to a lower-waste lifestyle a bit easier, on this page I've compiled all of my favorites. By and large, these are the things I use day in and day out, that you've seen on this blog a hundred times, that are just so useful I can't imagine my zero waste life without them.
For each item, I've also included how you can expect it to be packaged when it arrives, some tips for using the item, how best to care for it to keep in good condition or how to repair it, and how to dispose of the item at the end of its life, with a view toward keeping it out of the landfill if at all possible.
If you can find these items at a local shop rather than online, secondhand, or borrow them from a friend as needed: so much the better! Your environmental impact will be even lower if that's the case. Noe that when I've noted the packaging you can expect, I'm referring to the packaging on the actual product, not the larger box it might be shipped in from an online retailer. I've done this because that's what should stay the same from retailer to retailer, to give you the most accurate information. You can find (find tips on asking retailers to mail your package in a zero waste friendly way here, if you're interested. Finally, in the disposal section, take care to know your city's recycling rules before following my advice. For example, I generally say that glass is recyclable - but in some areas, it isn't. And, too, know what your compost provider or backyard compost bin can accept before choosing whether to follow my advise. Lastly, this page contains affiliate links for some products, which means I may make a small commission at no cost to you if you end up purchasing an item. However, these are items you've seen me use time and time again - I'm only recommending the things I use and love,. Happy browsing and learning - thanks for stopping by!
ON THE GO & TRAVEL.
-Packaging: Thermoses come with a paper tag wrapped around them, and a paper insert detailing how to care for them. Both are recyclable.
-Use: This thing is stellar; it keeps cold drinks cold overnight, and hot drinks hot for hours. I often use it to bring tea from home with me, but if you're bringing it to a coffee shop, simply hand it to the barista with a smile and a note of the size ("This is a 16 ounce") when you ask them to fill it.
-Care: If your Klean Kanteen starts to get leaky after awhile (this happened to me), simply contact Klean Kanteen. They'll send you a new gasket free of charge, which you can replace yourself. And: coffee can stain the inside of the thermos, but dishwasher powder added with a little water and left to soak will make it very nearly good as new.
-Disposal: Donate it to a thrift store (a friend of mine was once pleased to find one secondhand for about a dollar), or, as a last resort, it can be disposed of in the landfill.
-Packaging: May come in a small plastic bag, which you can take to a local drugstore or grocery store to recycle. Compost or recycle the paper "Baggu" tag and throw away the plastic loop attaching it to the bag.
-Use: Carry with you everywhere! Perfect tucked in your bag or coat pocket.
-Care: Machine wash cold with your other garments or hand wash, then hang to dry. Minimize washing when will keep the bag in better shape longer.
-Disposal: Baggu accepts their bags back for recycling; you can send it back to them by following the instructions on their website here.
KeepCup reusable coffee cup (Amazon)
-Packaging: KeepCups come packaged in a small cardboard box, with a paper insert detailing how to care for them; you can recycle or compost both of these.
-Use: Like the Klean Kanteen, when using this for hot drinks on the go, simply hand it to the barista and note the size. KeepCups aren't leakproof as they function more like a paper coffee cup, so take caution when using.
-Care: Assuming you have a glass and cork one, as pictured above, KeepCup recommends washing it gently with the cork ring still on (removing it might cause it to break). Separately wash and dry the plastic lid and glass base, then fit all the two halves back together once dry. The cork may darken and patina over time, which is normal and fine!
-Disposal: The glass can be recycled, or better yet donated to a thrift store for someone to use as a drinking glass. The cork ring can be composted (break it up into a few pieces first). The plastic lid becomes landfill trash.
-Packaging: Comes in a paper sleeve without any plastic tape; can be recycled or added to your compost.
-Use: I keep it tucked in a small napkin inside my purse or tote bag. It's great for traveling, or for keeping a utensil with me when I'm out and about, just in case.
-Care: Wash with dish soap and air dry. Bamboo can become moldy if not dried properly, so I wipe mine quickly with a dishtowel before letting it finish air drying in the dish rack.
-Disposal: The bamboo spork can be composted (you may want to very carefully break it up a bit first). If you cut the stitching and glue from the sides of the cork case, it can be composted as well.
BATH & BEAUTY.
-Packaging: Packaged in cardboard with a plastic window. Pull out the plastic window and throw it away, then recycle the cardboard or tear it into little pieces and compost it.
-Care: Clean it using a gentle, fragrance-free, non oil-based, non-toxic bar soap. Don't use vinegar, essential oils, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, or other harsh chemicals. The soap I use for cleaning mine is a fragrance-free glycerin bar soap like this one.
-Disposal: Silicone isn't recyclable; take good care of your cup and it should last you for a few years, but once it shows signs of age, it should go in the landfill.
-Packaging: Packaged in paper with a compostable inner plant-based liner. You can recycle the paper, or tear it up into small pieces to compost. The inner liner can be commercially composted.
-Use: Brush teeth as normal :)
-Care: Dry your toothbrush after each use to prevent it from getting moldy, and store it upright in a glass or jar to help air circulate. You can find more of my tips on taking care of it to help it last here.
-Disposal: The bristles should be removed with pliers and added to the trash; the brush handle is entirely made of bamboo and can be composted. First, try upcycling your brush for cleaning, as a plant marker, and more. (Ideas on that here).
-Packaging: Plaine products are packaged in refillable stainless steel pump bottles. Once empty, you mail them back to the company (for free!) to be sterilized and refilled. Orders are sent in cardboard boxes using reusable paper filler and paper tape.
-Use: Plaine Products are sulfate-, paraben-, and phthalate-free, are vegan and non-GMO, and aren't tested on animals (more about their ingredients, here).Plus, some natural shampoos just don't work that well, but this leaves my hair smooth and shiny. Awesome
-Care: The stainless steel bottles hold up well in the shower; no special care needed!
-Disposal: No need to throw these out or recycle them. Simply wash them out and send them back free of charge to Plaine Products, who will sterilize and reuse them. Read more about their bottle return program here.
-Discount: You can use the code LITTERLESS for 10% off your order on the Plaine Products site.
-Packaging: Most RMS makeup comes packaged in a small glass pot with a metal lid, inside a small cardboard outer layer. The cardboard can be composted or recycled.
-Use: Dab with fingertips to apply as lip stain, blush, eyeshadow, highlighter, and concealer (depending on the product, of course). Most of the products are designed to be multipurpose and serve at least two functions - for example, the one above is both lip stain and cheek stain.
-Care: RMS products use natural oils like coconut and jojoba, with fewer of the stabilizers you'd find with traditional cosmetics. So, be sure to store them in a cool, dry place to help keep their shelf life.
-Disposal: The glass base can be recycled, and the metal top may be recyclable in your area (it doesn't have a recycling number though, so check local guidelines). Even better, it makes a great container for travel toiletries or DIY lip balm.
-Packaging: Varies by razor; look for ones packaged in cardboard, which you can recycle or compost. (Note: eBay is a great place to get high-quality, secondhand razors. Communicate with the seller first to make sure yours is sterilized before being resold; it should have been autoclaved).
-Use: I've written a (metaphorical) novel on that, here.
-Care: Rinse clean and then dry your safety razor after each use so that it doesn't rust. I dry mine on a clean towel, then set the blade and razor on a shelf to air dry before putting them back together. Note: use extreme caution with loose blades like that, especially if you have children or pets.
-Disposal: Safety razor blades are typically recyclable anywhere stainless steel is recyclable, but to ensure the safety of recycling workers please seal them in another stainless steel container (like a soda can) before disposing of them. The can should ensure that the blades get recycled, not lost.
-Packaging: Marley's Monsters on Etsy, the brand I'd recommend if you're not up to making your own, comes packaged with a paper tag, which can be recycled or composted.
-Use: Use to remove eye make-up, dip in rubbing alcohol to sterilize your phone screen, and more. Once you have these sitting in your bathroom, you'll find tons of uses.
-Care: Wash in any temperature with your normal laundry. Air drying will help them last longer; use clothespins to hang them to dry or lay them flat. I like the darker colors pictured above because they aren't as hard to keep clean as lighter colors.
-Disposal: The flannel is 100% cotton and is compostable, but the stitching is comprised of synthetic polyester fibers, which aren't. Cut off the stitching and discard it in the trash, then compost the centers.
-Packaging: Good toothpaste without plastic packaging can be hard to find. Davids comes in a metal tube, inside a cardboard outer package. The cardboard package can be recycled, or ripped up and added to your compost.
-Use: Like a normal toothpaste, Davids is minty, foamy, and refreshing. It also doesn't contain the highly toxic chemical sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) or other sulfates.
-Care: Use the enclosed key to carefully turn the amount you need from the tube; if you squeeze the tube haphazardly without the key, it could develop a hole and leak a bit (take it from me, folks).
-Disposal: The metal tube and accompanying metal squeeze key should be recyclable in most districts, though of course check your local guidelines first.
-Packaging: Packaged with a thin plastic tag, which should go in the trash. The comb itself is made from FSC-certified birch wood.
-Use: As a comb :)
-Care: Make sure to let your comb air dry after each use on wet hair, and don't store it in the shower. To clean it, immerse briefly in soapy water and then wipe down before letting it air dry further. Basically, try to keep it as dry as possible to preserve the good condition of the wood and prevent warping.
-Disposal: The comb is wooden, so can be broken apart at the end of its life and composted. Or it can be used to make pom-poms, added to a kid's dress-up box, or upcycled into something else useful!
-Packaging: Packaged in thin cardboard with a compostable inner plant-based liner. You can recycle or compost the cardboard outer layer, since it has soy-based ink. The inner liner can be commercially composted. The floss comes in a glass and metal refillable tube.
-Use: Floss as normal!
-Care: You can purchase floss refills to fit your original dispenser rather than purchasing a new dispenser each time, which cuts down on packaging waste; refills can be found here.
-Disposal: The floss is in the middle of a verification process to ensure that it's commercially compostable; you can read more on their FAQ page here. The glass container is recyclable in most areas after you separate the glass and metal pieces.
-Packaging: If you're purchasing them on Etsy, ask the seller not to package or tag the handkerchiefs, and to ship them in a reused mailer.
-Use: Nose-blowing, spill-wiping, etc. I always, always, always carry one with me. And, I'm dispelling the myth that handkerchiefs are grosser than tissues right here.
-Care: Use a new one daily, or more frequently as needed (especially when you're sick!). Wash on your machine's hottest setting to keep them sanitary.
-Disposal: Use as rags for cleaning once they've gotten too ratty to use any longer. As long as your handkerchiefs are a natural material (I like mine to be made of soft cotton), you can cut them up and compost them. Or, take them to a textile recycler near you; for example, most H&M stores accept drop-offs of textile donations for recycling.
KITCHEN & HOME.
-Packaging: Recycle the cardboard tag that these come with (or, you can also tear it up and add it to your compost).
-Use: Bring the bags to the grocery store or farmers market for buying larger produce pieces like apples, carrots, lemons, onions, and more.
-Care: Wash in hot water to keep clean; air dry to minimize the amount they shrink, though with cotton know that some shrinking is normal. You can try using a plastic-free stain stick on any stains, but the best method is stain prevention: avoid putting things like berries in here or leaving food to spoil in them.
-Disposal: The cotton fabric of the bag itself is compostable, as is the drawstring, because they're both 100% cotton. So, to compost, cut off the parts with stitching and throw those away (the thread is likely made from synthetic fibers), the cut up the rest of the bag and compost it. I don't recommend trying to send this bag to textile recycling because I think the mesh will confound the recyclers.
Ambatalia cloth bento bags (Ambatalia site)
-Packaging: Recycle any paper that comes in your package; that's it!
-Use: Another take on the cloth produce bag, these inventive bags tie together at the top - no drawstrings needed. I use them for organizing my purse, storing knitting, holding produce, buying bread, and so much more.
-Care: Wash these beauties with your normal laundry, and air dry them to help them last longer. If they get a hole in them (which hasn't happened to me in three-plus years of using mine near-daily), grab a needle and thread to mend or patch it.
-Disposal: Snip up to use as rags, then once you can't use the rags any longer, add the final bits to your compost after removing all of the stitching.
-Packaging: The containers from Life Without Plastic come in a small inner cardboard box; recycle that, or tear it up to compost.
-Use: Food storage, packing lunches, buying bulk peanut butter, storing dry goods in a pinch, bringing tomatoes and berries home from the farmers' market without them getting smooshed.
-Care: Hand-wash the lid to preserve the integrity of the gasket, which is essential for keeping the container air-tight. The base can be washed by hand or put through the dishwasher.
-Disposal: Don't! These guys are meant to last for years. If you no longer use yours, give it to a thrift store. If you find the silicone gasket that makes it leakproof starts to fail, remove it and continue to use the container - but not for liquids, as it will no longer be 100% airtight.
-Packaging: Expect these to come in cardboard and plastic packaging; discard the plastic and recycle or compost the cardboard.
-Use: Drink up! Good for both home and on the go, and particularly fun for kids.
-Care: Straws can be hand washed in hot, soapy water, or run through the dishwasher. After drinking smoothies or other thick liquids, use the included brush to clean the inside of the straw to ensure that no chia seeds or pieces of orange pulp (et cetera) became stuck.
-Disposal: These are meant to last pretty much forever (they're stainless steel!). When you're done with them, give 'em to a thrift store. As a last resort, look for stainless steel recycling in your area.
-Packaging: Kishu sticks come packaged in a recyclable / compostable small cardboard box (or sometimes just a paper sleeve) with a commercially compostable inner liner made from wood pulp. (The company doesn't specify that is has to be commercially composted, but I'm guessing. If anyone has tested this in their backyard compost, let me know the results!)
-Use: Plastic-free water filtering. Pop it in a pitcher or water bottle and let it do its thing for a few hours. Find more detailed info and best practices on their website, here.
-Care: A stick will last for four months with proper care. Once a month, boil the stick for ten minutes in a pan of water to renew it. Allow to dry for thirty minutes before using again, then replace your stick completely after four months.
-Disposal: Kishu sticks are made of natural material that will eventually biodegrade, but likely not in your compost. Instead, Kishu recommends using it as a deodorizer in your fridge, bathroom, or sneakers, placing it in the bottom of a potted plant for drainage, or carefully breaking it up and mixing it into your garden soil as biochar.
-Packaging: Stasher bags come with just a cardboard insert; remove this and recycle it or tear it up to compost it.
-Use: For shopping the bulk aisle, for road trip snacks, for holding compost on the go, for storing all manner of small things. Think of them as a reusable ziploc - but note that they're much, much sturdier, with a satisfying weight to them that makes them easy to use again and again.
-Care: Wash by hand using dish soap and a sponge or brush. To dry them, I put them over a small glass or water bottle, which props them open enough to let the water drain out.
-Disposal: Silicone isn't recyclable, but the company accepts worn-out bags back to repurpose them; you can learn more about their takeback program on their site here.
-Packaging: I've had mine for so long that I just don't remember how they came packaged. Can anyone report back?
-Use: I reach for these these everyday, for everything. Purchasing produce and bulk foods, getting pastries and bagels on the go, holding my knitting, carrying snacks for the day. So, so useful.
-Care: Wash with your normal laundry; I like to wash these in hot water to give them an extra dose of cleanliness, then air dry mine to minimize shrinking. For stain removal, try a plastic-free stain stick, learn to live with a few splotches (that's what I do), or naturally dye the stained bags with things like onion skins or turmeric to give them a brand-new color.
-Disposal: Once these have been cleaned and mended within an inch of their life and you can't use them any longer, the cotton parts can be composted. Snip up the bag, tag, and drawstring, remove the parts with stitching on them and throw those away (thread is usually synthetic), then compost the rest of the pieces of the bag. (You could also look into textile recycling, too).
UKonserve stainless steel food storage containers (Amazon)
-Packaging: These come with sticker tags on them; remove those and throw them away (not recyclable).
-Use: We use these so often they have their own nickname in our house - "Ukes," as in, "Which Uke is that in?" They're good for lunch on the go, bringing home leftovers from restaurants, packing snacks, and storing food in the fridge.
-Care: UKonserve has a page on their website that shares how to best care for each one of their products, plus how to get a replacement lid if yours breaks or you lose it. Find those resources here.
-Disposal: The lids and bases may be recyclable in your area; check this page on the UKonserve website to find out the make-up of your particular product. Even if it no longer has a matching lid, I'd lean toward donating the stainless steel base to a thrift store rather than throwing it away.
-Packaging: These come in small plastic bag, which you can most likely drop off at a local pharmacy or grocery store for recycling. They may also have a paper tag on an elastic cord; throw away (or do a craft with) the elastic, then recycle the paper tag.
-Use: These are essential for decanting bulk foods into proper containers without spilling - and wasting - food. Use the wide funnel for dry goods like beans and pastas, and the narrow-necked version for liquids and smaller goods like spices.
-Care: Wash with dish soap and a gentle brush, and store when dry. Pro tip: if you want them to look super shiny and not smudgy, you can occasionally rub some coconut oil into them to polish them, like I did for the photograph above.
-Disposal: These should last for many years and can go to a thrift store if you don't need them any longer. As a last resort, look for stainless steel recycling near you.
-Packaging: These most often come entirely unpackaged.
-Use: For shopping the bulk aisle, for road trip snacks, for holding compost on the go, for storing all manner of small things.
-Care: Wash by hand using dish soap and a sponge or brush. Make sure they're fully dry before you close them up and put them away; it takes them awhile to dry because of the small neck, typically longer than I expect. I like to turn them upside down and shake them every twelve hours or so to speed up the process. You can also buy replacement metal-and-plastic swing lids if yours has become rusty or unserviceable. (My local co-op carries them, too!).
-Disposal: Carefully remove the metal and plastic pieces and throw them away. The glass portion can be recycled (in most places), or donated to a thrift store.
-Packaging: The strainers by For Life, which are my favorites, come in a plastic box that isn't recyclable, though the cardboard tag that comes with it certainly is. Recycle or compost the cardboard portion of the box and discard the plastic.
-Use: To brew loose-leaf tea bought in bulk or in compostable packaging. This guide contains pretty much everything you need to know about how to use them, including how much tea to use and how long to steep different types of teas.
-Care: Wash with dish soap and water after each use; make sure it's dry when storing to keep it in tip-top shape and help it last as long as possible.
-Disposal: Your infuser should last for many years. If it's broken or unusable, look for stainless steel recycling in your area.
-Packaging: Most French presses come in a cardboard box with a paper insert and a thin plastic bag over the glass portion. You can compost or recycle the paper, and take the plastic bag to plastic bag recycling at a nearby grocery or drugstore.
-Use: Equally good for brewing coffee without a disposable filter and for loose-leaf tea. (You can find a coffee brewing how-to here).
-Care: Always take it completely apart to wash: unscrew the three pieces that form the filter and plunger, wash separately, and let dry before reassembling. Also take particular care with the glass body, washing gently to ensure it doesn't break.
-Disposal: If the glass portion breaks, check whether you can recycle broken glass in your area. You can then purchase a replacement glass body to repair your press.
CLEANING & LAUNDRY.
Bamboo clothes drying rack (Amazon)
-Packaging: I bought this back in 2014, so I can't truthfully say I remember how it was packaged. My best guess is it came in a reusable / recyclable cardboard box. Anyone else want to report back?
-Use: Great for drying clothing and linens. Be sure to hang small things, like handkerchiefs and socks, on the slanted portions to maximize your available space.
-Care: It folds up when not in use; store it somewhere dry, like an upstairs closet. Bamboo can get moldy when wet for extended periods of time, but that shouldn't happen with this since the clothes dry fairly quickly. If you're worried, you can always quickly wipe it down with a dry cloth before storing.
-Disposal: Unlike metal drying racks which will eventually need to be landfilled, this bamboo rack can eventually compost back down into nothing. But it should last for years and years first and, if possible, should be donated rather than composted if you decide you don't need it.
-Packaging: This comes packaged in a clear plastic sleeve (if you buy it locally or from a zero waste store and it doesn't, it's likely that they just removed the packaging before displaying). Since the packaging is stretchy, it can likely be recycled with other plastic bags at a local drugstore or grocery.
-Use: Dish washing! I love this shape because the round head means that it makes washing pots and bottles and jars super easy and quick. Add a little dish soap to the bristles, run a bit of water on them, and go to town.
-Care: Store upright in a jar or container to let the handle and top dry out between uses. Especially if you cook with meat, take care to sterilize it every so often by boiling for at least five minutes.
-Disposal: It's all wood and natural bristles, so it's compostable at the end of its life. You can also give it a good clean and then repurpose it in the bathroom as a toilet brush.
-Packaging: Depends on which you buy, of course. Look for ones packaged in cardboard, which you can then recycle or compost. This brand comes in plastic-free packaging.
-Use: These replace dryer sheets in the dryer, keeping drying clothing less static-y, softer, and also decreasing the total drying time. They're great. Simply throw them in the dryer with your load (they're especially nice on sheets and towels), and let them do their thing.
-Care: Since these are 100% wool, you'll want to make sure that where you store them isn't friendly to moths and other coat-closet pests, which will slowly degrade the balls over time. My parents keeps theirs in the dryer (airtight!) when not in use. I keep mine in my linens drawer next to a cedar block.
-Disposal: Since wool is a natural fiber, as long as yours are entirely woolen, they'll be compostable. If you plan to compost them, carefully cut them up as best you can first to give them a fighting chance at decomposing.
-Packaging: If you aren't able to purchase bulk Dr. Bronner's soap locally, you can still by it in bulk quantities for yourself! Stores that offer the bulk soap carry it in these one-gallon jars, so buying it online equates to about the same amount of total packaging (except for the shipping box).
-Use: I use Dr. Bronner's for so many things - cleaning my bathtub, sinks, and counters, washing dishes in a pinch, as a body wash when I run out of bar soap, to soak stains, as a biodegradable soap when hiking, etc. Stock up and go to town.
-Care: Wipe the bottle down with a wet cloth occasionally if a bit of soap drips down the sides. You can store the large pump bottle somewhere out of the way - a laundry room, a linen closet, under the sink - and fill smaller bottles for different rooms of the house so they're convenient to access and easier to carry.
-Disposal: The plastic bottle should be recyclable in your area. In most areas, the pump itself can't be recycled, because it contains both plastic and metal parts. Even better, perhaps you can donate the bottle to a store or school who could reuse it.
-ThredUp: ThredUp is one of my favorite online places to hunt for secondhand clothing. Folks send in their used pieces to ThredUp, who pays for them before photographing, detailing them, and listing them for sale. The site allows you to save a list of your sizes and favorite brands, which makes checking in every week or so to see what's new easy and quick. If you want to try it out, here's a code for $10 off your first purchase on the site.
-Poshmark: Another site that allows you to easily search for clothing by your favorite brands, only this time they're sold directly by individuals. Their search feature is really helpful, and you can put in as much information as you want or have: item names, brand names, sizes, or simply item types. If you're new to Poshmark, you can sign up here and use the code "litterless" for $5 off your first purchase.
-Etsy: Etsy is good for you vintage lovers out there. Plus, since you're buying from a seller, not a large company, you can easily include a note asking them to please ship your item without new packaging like tissue paper or a brand-new mailer.
-eBay: I turn to eBay mainly when I want to find something specific. A dress I tried on at a store but couldn't countenance buying new, something I loved on a coworker and wanted to shamelessly try to find myself, or an item from a smaller designer that I'd had my eye on and wanted to see if I could find it secondhand first. Though I don't always find eBay's interface to be the easiest or loveliest to use, I have a few favorite pieces that I've gotten from there that make it worth keeping on my list.
-Slowre: An online consignment shop, Slowre focuses on re-selling items that were ethically made in the first place. You'll find lots of smaller labels with a commitment to ethical manufacturing in some respect: maybe they produce their items in the United States, emphasize natural materials, or are made by hand. It's especially good for small, ethical, or made-in-the U.S.A. labels, like No.6, Everlane, Tradlands, or Eileen Fisher.
Did you make a purchase and the packaging is different than what was stated? Or, have any tips for caring for or disposing of an item on the list? Send me a note via email, and I'll make the update! Thanks so much!