Zero waste switches to save $300

One of the biggest misconceptions about zero waste is that it has to be expensive. I started my trash jar as a graduate student paying rent and only working part time. Tight doesn’t even begin to describe my budget.

Reducing your waste, and trying to live more zero waste, isn’t all or nothing. There are so many changes you can make that will save you money in the short term and the long term, as well as have a lighter impact on the earth. To check out my first post about zero waste switches that save over $375 annually, click here.

Before we begin, I want to note that the stores I mention are those I know to be accessible to most people in the US, Amazon and Walmart. I have not linked all of the individual products because prices change constantly, and links may be dead shortly. That being said, the prices mentioned for these products are those listed online from these retailer’s sites the week this is published.

Laundry detergent

We all use it. Many people DIY their own, but if you don't have the time, one easy way to reduce your waste with laundry is buying laundry powder instead of liquid in plastic bottles. While there might still be plastic components in the box of laundry powder, it's likely to be much less plastic than from a bottle.

At Walmart, you can buy 143 ounces of Tide Powder Laundry Detergent for $18.96, or you can buy 150 fluid ounces Tide Original Scent Liquid Laundry Detergent for $17.94. When it comes down to cost per wash, the powder is marginally less expensive at $0.185 per wash compared to the liquid $0.186 per wash. That difference comes out in the wash, per say. Obviously, these Tide prices aren't leaning much towards the low plastic option, so I checked another brand.

Again from Walmart, purchasing Gain Laundry Detergent Powder at $5.96 for 45 oz and 40 washes, each wash comes to about $0.15. If you choose the liquid, Gain Liquid Laundry Detergent, 32 loads at 50 fl oz, you end up paying $0.21 per load of laundry.


As a single person, I do about 2 loads of laundry a week, sometimes less frequently.  If I end up choosing Gain liquid detergent from Walmart (a place almost anybody can afford), I will spend $21.84 a year on laundry detergent. If I opt for Gain detergent powder, I will spend only $15.60 a year on washing my clothes. That’s $6.24 in your pocket for choosing the low-plastic, or possibly plastic free option. Take yourself out for a coffee and a brownie. Eat in, of course, to avoid the take-away containers.

Savings: $6.24

Fabric softener

There are a couple options here. Let’s continue with Gain (for continuity) and say you use Gain Liquid Fabric Softener, 48 loads in 41 fl oz at $3.97 a bottle. That comes to only $0.08 a load, and over a year $8.32 for soft clothes. If you go for dryer sheets instead and purchase Gain Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets (240 sheets) for $8.94, it costs about $0.04 per load, or $4.16 a year.

Looking at more zero waste options, you have wool dryer balls, which you toss in the dryer to help soften clothes and reduce static. Still at Walmart, you can find Better Homes & Gardens two pack wool dryer balls for $5.44. Alternatively, there are also available Honey Can Do reusable dryer balls, made of plastic, for $4.31.

So, if you do about two loads of laundry a week, over one year it costs a bit less to use fabric softener in plastic jugs and disposable dryer sheets. If you do even 3 loads a week, liquid softener would cost you $12.48 and dryer sheets would cost about $6.24. Opting for the most zero waste option (wool dryer balls), you would save about a dollar a year. Let’s be realistic that in a house with multiple people far more laundry is done, let’s address that dryer balls can last years and don’t need to be replaced often, and let’s consider the added bonus that it’s one less toxic-if-ingested product to have around your pets, children, or unpredictable friends.

Finally, the most zero waste option uses the least energy and resources: skipping the dryer and the fabric softener. Get this--your clothes won’t smell weird or scratch your skin if you don’t used fabric softener. In all honestly, I’ve never noticed a difference in how my clothes look or feel when hanging them to dry and skipping fabric softener.

SAVINGS: $4.16-$8.32


As a culture, we love to shop. Window shopping, holiday shopping, shopping sales, shopping online, and more. Above all, we love to buy clothes. Americans throw away 81 pounds of clothes a year each, on average. Ouch. That’s money down the drain. That’s wasted labor, wasted inputs to produce textiles, wasted water, and more wasted resources.


Buying secondhand clothes is a great part of zero waste, and a great way to save money.


The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits, Emma Johnson

That’s, uh, a ton of money. The average American family size is 3.14 people, according to the 2010 census, which means that $541.40 is spent annually on our clothes. We don’t spend this much money once every five or ten years and then replace pieces of clothing as they wear out, it’s spent annually. Bustle interviewed 15 millennial women, and they estimated spending between $50-$700 dollars a month on clothes. That’s knock-your-socks-off, go on vacation instead money.

It’s hard to know exactly how much you save by buying secondhand because the markdowns on secondhand clothes totally vary depending on the brand, quality and where you buy. Some of the estimates I’ve seen indicate that buying secondhand clothes can result in paying as little as 20% the sticker price, but there aren’t hard numbers and calculations. For the purposes of this calculation, I will estimate that you only pay 50% of sticker price when choosing secondhand over new. I’m estimating at paying more than I honestly expect for the sake of being cautious.

That means, buying secondhand, assuming you continue buying at the same rate, will save families $850 a year, or individual members $270.70 each. The unwritten option is to stop buying clothes. If you’re like most people, you probably have far more than you need and could go quite a while before your clothes are worn enough that you needed to replace any, barring a move to somewhere with a drastically different climate.

Savings: $270.70-$541.40


These days, many drip-coffee pots come with reusable filters. If you have an old pot or no reusable filter, this is an easy way to cut down on some waste. If you’re interested in zero waste coffee, check out this post. On Amazon, you can find this disposable coffee filter back of 100 for $3.29. Over a year, you’ll spend $13.16 to buy the 4 boxes you need; that’s assuming you only make one pot of coffee a day. This reusable filter is available for $5.99. If you go for the reusable filter, over a year you’ll save $7.17 even considering the cost of buying a filter. If you already have a reusable filter tucked away in a corner that you can pull out, you’ll save $13.16.

Savings: $13.16

Shampoo bars

Buying bottles and bottles of shampoo and conditioner not only crowds your shower, it’s also not that great a use of plastic. Shampoo bars are my favorite way to wash my hair zero waste (except not washing my hair, obviously). What I’m using now is a J.R. Liggett shampoo bar that washes without stripping your hair of all its natural oils.

 A bar of this J.R. Liggett's soap is said to be equal to a 24 oz bottle of shampoo. Exactly how long a 24 oz bottle of shampoo lasts really depends on who you are, but since they’re big and washing your hair is only slightly preferable to a nice sheen of grease on your scalp, I’ll estimate modestly that you only need about two 24 oz bottles of shampoo a year. You're not lazy, you're conserving water by skipping washes (right?). We’ll add to that conditioner as well because liquid shampoos are almost always detergents, meaning they strip your hair of oils.

On Amazon you can get a bar of J.R. Liggetts for $7.06—it’s not available in all stores. At Walmart you can get Pantene Pro-V Classic Clean Shampoo, 25 fl oz for $6.42. Add to that conditioner (and we’ll pretend that we all don’t use way more conditioner than shampoo and buy it twice as often) for $6.42 and choosing Pantene Pro-V Classic Clean Conditioner, you end up at $12.84 twice a year, or $25.68 a year. If you use the shampoo bar and don’t need to add silicone conditioners to have moisturized hair, you’ll come to $14.12 a year on hair washing.

Choosing the plastic free option (shampoo bar) will save you $11.56 a year.

Savings: $11.56

Overall savings:

Laundry detergent: $6.24

Fabric softener: $8.32

Clothes: $270.70

Coffee filters: $13.16

Shampoo: $11.56

TOTAL: $309. 98

Interested in 9 easy changes to save over $375 more? Check out this post.