Zero waste shopping ban: Week 5

Welcome to week five of the zero waste shopping ban! This week, we’re entering in the second month of not buying anything. Weeks five and six are all that stand between you and making a purchase, although I hope you don’t return to your old shopping habits post-ban.

This week’s focus is zero waste from what you already have. While that has been an idea loosely followed the past four week as well, we’ll be looking at more specific ideas and discussing some of the “zero waste essentials” you may have considered buying. While specialty products can be exactly what you need for some purposes, purchasing specialty products in favor of using a workable option you already have is not a zero waste choice when it encourages the use of new materials and energy to make new products.

Remember, we determine what zero waste looks like, and it doesn’t need bamboo or stainless steel around every corner.


Napkins, hankies, and cleaning cloths

Unwearable clothing and irreparable holey sheets can have new life if you continue using them. In previous weeks I’ve suggested cutting old textiles into usable squares and rectangles to give them new purpose, and I hope you’ve found something to repurpose. Zero waste is not an aesthetic; wiping your nose with squares cut from an old blouse or wrapping your vegan croissant in a square cut from an old sheet is equally good as using a vintage hanky or expensive linen napkins.

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Produce bags

I have one bag specifically made for produce, and I bought it for 49 cents at a thrift store. My other produce bags are all homemade from old sheets and yarn, with one little cotton bag in the collection that I found blowing down the street by Christ Church in Dublin; I claimed it from street garbage to usable resource. Basic sewing skills are very simple and worth learning for absolutely everyone. If you wish to pursue zero waste and aren’t made of money, repairing clothes with very simple hand-sewing will be important. Try your hand at a produce or bulk bag this week.

Water bottles and travel mugs

While every zero waster has a KleenKanteen and a KeepCup, they’re not a requirement and they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. While I loved my KeepCup which was given to me as a gift, when it slipped from my hand and shattered into a hundred tiny pieces, I knew it was a more practical choice to use a stainless steel travel cup that was actually insulated to keep drinks hot and cold in the future. Similarly, my inexpensive insulated water bottle from TJ Maxx is still going strong after years of use and plenty of dents.

Pull out the resources you have from retirement, and if post-ban you find they truly aren’t serving you, check secondhand before you go to Amazon.  

Containers

Another zero waste essential you definitely don’t need is a stainless steel lunch box or stainless steel canister to put your leftovers in after leaving a restaurant. I love to use plastic containers from my family members that originally held lunchmeat or reuse takeout containers. Yes, the plastic will eventually break or become warped, but it is only after our current resources are truly, fully used should we purchase something new.

Beside the point, if you eat out every day for lunch or have never brought your own container to a restaurant for leftovers, it’s more important that you tackle those tasks than that you try and buy your way to doing those things in the first place.

Jars

I don’t know of any zero wasters who actually carry jars around just in case of emergency, but jars are a staple for skipping plastic. While glass is highly recyclable, the first option for glass jars is to reuse them. Even for water and pressure canning to preserve goods, reused jars from products like sauce and salsa can be used again. For any jar needs you have, use the jars you’re already buying for their contents, i.e., food.

Grocery bags

Being that reusable shopping bags have been pushed for the past decade, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to suggest that you already have reusable grocery bags. That being said, even if the reusables are made of plastic, they’re a better alternative than disposable plastic. Plenty of us have more grocery bags than we need as well.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t have any reusable grocery bags, I suggest using a tote bag instead. From college orientation to work conferences, it seems everyone wants to put their logo on a free bag for participants to take home. Any kind of tote bag is suitable for carrying groceries, so don’t be afraid to simply use whatever is available, designed for groceries or not.

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cutlery kit

I’m a firm believer that carrying a spork is a really low priority on the zero waste scale. That being said, I do carry around some cutlery myself and I know that for many people, it feels like an accessible step to reducing their waste. There’s no real reason to buy a special cutlery set that wraps or folds up considering all the other options that already exist.

  1. Disposable cutlery

    While I don’t buy disposable cutlery, but I have some. Just because something is meant to be thrown away doesn’t mean it has lived its whole life after it has been used. Keep cutlery given to you accidentally or left behind by others and carry that around with a cloth to serve as a napkin if you want a lightweight option. It can be cleaned between uses.

  2. Your own silverware

    If the need arises for cutlery outside of the house, simply carry a utensil from your home. Unless you have a small collection of silverware in the home that you need to use regularly, what you have will work. The only downside is that metal utensils have a bit more weight than plastic and bamboo.

  3. Thrift store

    If you can’t spare any silverware, check out the 10 cent silverware bucket at your local thrift store. You don’t need anything fancy. I suggest that you try and think back to the last time you would have needed a portable cutlery packet anyway. Then, wait a month and if need has arisen, it may be appropriate to purchase some silverware to carry around.

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Straws

Most of us don’t need straws, and most of us already have some kind of reusable straw without purchasing stainless steel or glass. For months before purchasing a set of metal straws, I used reusable plastic straws that came in tumblers with straw lids and it was the perfect option for when I was living alone.

baking soda

There are a hundred things you can do with baking soda, and so many zero waste switches either involve baking soda or have a baking soda option, so during week five I suggest getting familiar with all of the ways baking soda can help you with zero waste. Baking soda can be used in laundry, in cleaning the house, in cooking or baking, for your teeth, to wash your hair, and even as deodorant.


After almost two years of striving towards a zero waste lifestyle, I’ve been surprised by all of the various tasks I’ve had for the shopping ban that have kept me busy and reminded me how much there is to do personally. I hope you have become a true believer over the past month that you cannot buy yourself to zero waste and that there is no perfect product to make you zero waste. I also hope you’ve learned many way to use resources you already have in place of buying zero waste must-haves.

As always, check me out on Instagram @lesswasteworld to see how I’m managing with the ban! Each week, I will be posting to my stories on what I’m up to related to the ban, and at the end of the week I will add it to my page as a highlight so it can be consulted in the future by anyone starting up the ban at their own time.