Zero Waste

10 steps to go zero waste (without buying anything new)

Starting your zero waste journey is an exciting and overwhelming time. It's also a time when it's so easy to fall in to the trap of buying new items to help you be zero waste when this isn't necessary, and can actually lead to more waste. Some items along the way may certainly help you out, but you will need time to identify what you actually need and to find a good quality item, potentially even second hand, that will last you for years. Starting your journey without buying anything new can also help with living zero waste on a budget. So here are 10 steps that you can do without buying any new items!

1. Learn to say no

It sounds silly but this is actually a big part of zero waste living and getting a hang of this early will help you out long term. Say no to that flyer in the street, to that free pen, to the straw, the plastic bag. If you refuse these things then they won't need to make more as quickly, and if everyone refused them then they wouldn't get made at all! It also includes the new things you feel the urge to buy. Saying no to things we don't actually need is a tough lesson to un-learn but is necessary if we want to stop being such a consumerist society.

2. Refill a bottle

It doesn't need to be a fancy bottle to be refilled. It could be a plastic bottle you're reusing, or it could even be a glass bottle that had a food item in it like a soy sauce bottle! It really doesn't matter if it stops you having to buy another plastic bottle.

3. Take your own bags

Pretty much everyone has old bags in their house. From the "bag of bags" that exists somewhere in most people's homes, to one of those blue Ikea bags, to free tote bags you were given on a business trip. Remember to bring your own one with you when shopping to avoid getting a plastic single use one.

4. Make your own dinner

Making your own food from scratch usually means a lot less waste than a pre-packed option or ready meal. Look up a recipe for your few favourite meals and learn to make it yourself. Meal planning can also reduce the stress of cooking for yourself. You may be surprised how much waste, and money, you start to save - more tips of how to live zero waste on a budget can be found here.

5. Take your own containers to the takeaway

But if you're really not feeling like cooking, take some of the plastic Tupperware boxes most people have in their kitchen to the local takeaway and ask them to put your takeaway in there. Even if it's reusing the plastic boxes they gave you last week, it's doubling the life of those boxes! Bringing your own is always such a good way to avoid waste.

6. Pack you own lunch

You may be noticing a food theme here but honestly food is associated with so much packaging waste, and lunch seems to be the worst with all the to-go options and meal deals. Pack yourself a lunch box, even if it's just with left overs from last nights dinner (my lunch is always last nights dinner - even if that was a Chinese takeaway) and avoid the waste - and again money - from that daily meal deal. Another way reducing waste can help you go zero waste on a budget.

7. Give your food scraps new life

Food waste is a massive problem and means that all the resources that went into growing that food were wasted, and that more need to be used to grow another. Finding uses for food scraps means that those initial resources are used as well as possible. Have you considered making crisps from your potato peels? What about making jam or smoothies from softening fruit? Vegetable peels and scraps can be used to make an excellent vegetable stock. The possibilities are endless, and then the food can often be composted. If you don't have access to food waste collection, see if you can find a friend who has a compost bin or an allotment which will allow you to drop off your food waste.

8. Swap to a reusable energy supplier

Waste is not just what we send to landfill, it includes waste emissions too. Changing energy suppliers does involve money, but it's not buying a new object, and often you could save money instead of paying more. Find a 100% green energy supplier in your area and change providers. It takes only a few minutes and drastically reduces your impact on the planet.

9. Make do and mend

Is that item really too broken to use? Do you know a clever friend (or Dad) who can fix it for you? Would you wear that shirt again if you just sewed the button back on? Can the mug with a broken handle be up-cycled into a plant pot? Even the oldest t-shirt can be cut into squares to be used for cleaning or as make up remover wipes. Mending the things we already have, continue using them or up-cycling them is a big way to reduce the waste of buying new items and the space these items would take up in landfill.

10 more steps to go zero waste (without buying anything new)
More ways to go zero waste on a budget without buying anything new
10. Travel less

Pretty much any way of travelling apart from walking or cycling use up fuel and contributes to green house gas emissions. But some are better than others. If you are able to walk or cycle to get somewhere, do it! But if it's a bit further consider getting public transport. Buses, coaches and trains are much better than cars as they use less fuel per person. Things get trickier if you're travelling abroad, and honestly it is a luxury that we should be trying to limit, but people still do have to travel for work or to visit family. In these situations, consider getting a ferry or train as they are less harmful than planes, but if you do need to fly, try getting a direct flight to save emissions. It can be more expensive but it really does put it into perspective that travelling is a luxury for most.

I hope you can see that you really don't need to go out and buy anything new to start living a zero waste life, in fact doing so may actually cause more waste in the long run if you get sucked into buying something that you won't use very often. There is so much good you can do, and waste you can avoid, by bringing absolutely nothing new into your life and not even spending much money. Most of these tips, if you really embrace them, will also save you money long term, which is something that I think is a really big attraction to living a zero waste life, meaning you can live zero waste on a budget!

I have also created a follow on article from this one with 10 more ways to go zero waste without buying anything new if you want to read some more ideas.


  • Simone

    I think its really cool you have this website and you have great advice, I’m a medical student so I’m glad theres people in the field doing something.
    However, going VEGAN is the single biggest individual thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, more so than stopping flying so I think if you’re serious about caring for the planet its something you should really consider and promote.
    I also support my unis divest campaign and appreciate your recent article .

    • Natalie

      Hi Simone,
      Thanks for your comment. This wasn’t an exhaustive list of all the things you can do to reduce your waste and reducing your intake of animal products definitely can be a part of that, and for a lot of Western people should be. I try not to say whether something is the biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint as it is subjective to what your lifestyle was before trying to go zero waste. If someone eats minimal animal products but regularly flies then flying might have a bigger impact, and if they only fly occasionally but eat meat and animal products daily then reducing that would have a bigger impact. I believe all the possible ways to reduce your impact should be done in combination.
      Glad you enjoyed the recent investing & divesting article.

  • Aditi chaskar

    Great blog! Its the little things that matter. And saying no to any new plastic product is indeed a big step towards zero waste life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *