The zero waste lifestyle often seems to be limited to able-bodied, middle class white women, and many people will be trying to tell you that you cannot lead a zero waste life if you are on a limited income and you're not willing to go out and buy a load of new products. This simply isn't true.
People have been living in a sustainable way for most of history up until the most recent few generations. Many indigenous communities still live in a completely sustainable way, and many other people make very little waste because they are not able to afford to buy single use items or waste anything. Single use items, and items designed for our "convenience" will always be more expensive in the long run that reusing items. Wasting products that can be used will always cost more than using them.
There are many ways that you can reduce your waste and save money. That money can then be fed back in, if you want to purchase reusable items which will help you save yet more money (and waste). Small changes add up over the years - they save you money and they avoid a lot of waste.
I honestly believe that when embraced to the fullest, helped by using the tips below, a zero waste life can fit within your budget and even save you money.
Say no to single use items!
You would be surprised how much waste you can avoid by just saying no to things that you don't need. Say no to that plastic straw and just use your mouth (if you're able bodied and safe to do so). If you have only bought one item at a shop, say no to that bag and carry it in your hand. Say no to the flyers in the street and those freebies that companies are always trying to give you. Say no to junk mail. Say no to tissues and kitchen roll and use fabric scraps and old socks instead. Just say no.
Reuse what you already own
Sometimes saying no by itself isn't quite enough. You can say no to buying plastic water bottles but you will still need something to keep your water in. Reuse whatever you have at home - whether that's a plastic bottle you already own, an old school water bottle in the back of your cupboard, a glass bottle that you were going to recycle anyway or even a jar and lid will work if you have nothing else. The same goes for containers, reuse your old plastic containers - you don't need to buy anything new to avoid waste. My "beautiful" food jars are mainly from pasta sauces I've eaten. Bring your own cutlery from home, a cloth napkin from home (even if its actually a tea towel) and your own bags.
Make your own food
In general food made at home produces less waste than that bought on the go. For example making your own packed lunch saves a lot of waste compared to the shop bought meal deal, and cooking your own curry for dinner saves money compared to a shop or takeaway curry and it makes much less waste. Obviously very complicated recipes with a hundred ingredients could end up making more waste and costing more, but if it is a meal you eat often you will use up all those ingredients, but if not, just focus on simple recipes that help you avoid buying pre-packaged food. If you can also find ways to turn food scraps and left overs into meals then this will save your further money and waste - potato peel crisps or toasted pumpkin seeds anyone?
Buy in bulk
Now I'm not talking about buying at one of those unpackaged stores. Here I am talking about buying food in big quantities. For example in many supermarkets you can buy bags of 10kg of rice and these rice sacs end up being cheaper than buying individual bags of rice, but also often end up saving waste overall. It's all about that surface area to volume ratio we learnt about in science classes.
Embrace your freezer
Food waste is a big issue in the western world. When food is wasted it not only wastes the resources that went into producing that food and the money to buy it, but it means that a new set of resources will need to be used to grow new food for you to eat. Also when people are going hungry in the world, it's just not okay to be wasteful when it comes to food. Embracing your freezer to preserve food that would have otherwise gone off is a great way to avoid waste and save money. Soft bananas are great frozen to be turned into banana bread or "nice-cream" later on. You can also buy reduced food from supermarkets and freeze it until you want to eat it. By saving food from supermarkets that would have otherwise gone to waste you can save yourself some money, but also avoid the waste of the food and the packaging it comes in.
Reduce your intake of meat
Simply said, meat is expensive, and cheap meat is often not good quality. Reducing amount of meat in your diet is a great way to save money. It also fits in with a zero waste lifestyle because animal farming is usually very wasteful. It uses a lot of fresh water, a lot of crops as feed that could provide us with more food than the meat can, and it is a large producer of green house gas emissions. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet will decrease your carbon foot print.
This might not be accessible to everyone but generally, walking and using human-powered transportation like bicycles is less wasteful than using cars and saves money. If you are able to for a short journey, walk or cycle instead. Even public transport often works out cheaper than a car. This should also save you money slowly whilst helping reduce emissions and improving your overall health.
Make do and mend
Taking care of things you already own will help them last longer and so means you will not need to buy replacements as quickly, or pay for pricey repairs. Look after appliances regularly to avoid damage occurring. If you live somewhere with hard water, make sure you de-scale thing often to avoid them chalking up. Look after your car, if you have one, to avoid breakdowns. Fix small tears in clothes and learn to sew buttons back on.
If something cannot be fixed, turn it into something else. A scrappy old t-shirt can be cut up into squares and used instead of kitchen roll which will save you money and the waste of single use paper items.
I know, a zero waste life means that ideally we should be recycling less over all as we are generally using less single use items, but if you're not able to afford the alternative, it is still very important to make sure you are recycling anything that can be recycled. Make sure you know exactly what can be recycled in your area and what needs to be clean to be recycled. There is an amazing website for UK folk which can help you optimise your recycling.
Pick up litter
Not glamorous I know, but if we want to avoid rubbish ending up in rivers and oceans then we need to step in and stop it getting there. If you see rubbish, pick it up and put it in a bin before it gets washed down a drain. If it is a recyclable material, take it home and make sure it gets recycled.
Buy second hand
Often we do still need to buy things and every time we buy something it comes with the invisible waste associated with producing that item including the resources, water, energy and emissions wastage. If you buy second hand items you not only avoid the whole set of waste from a new item, but you're stopping it from going to landfill and saving yourself some money along the way. Clothes are an easy thing to find second hand in charity shops, as often are homeware, and many more things can be found on second hand sites like eBay, facebook marketplace and gumtree. Sometimes people are giving things away for free! I have a post about shopping on eBay if you would like more tips and tricks.
However there are some items that really do help a zero waste life that don't really fit into the categories above. For me, I have found that reusable period products not only save a great deal of waste but give me a big financial saving too. But a menstrual cup for example can be £20-40, which is a big financial cost up front. I love Ruby Cup menstrual cups (affiliate link) as when you buy a cup from them they also give one to someone around the world without access to safe menstrual products. For some people that will be out of reach and that's okay. But if you would like to take your lifestyle further and include some of these products, I would recommend saving up for them purely out of the money you save from the above tips. Take the money you could have spent on water bottles, kitchen roll, cling film, packaged lunches, microwave meals, meat and petrol and put it into one jar. Once you have saved enough by the reusable item you have been waiting for, and then do the same with the money saved from that reusable item. Eventually you won't need anything else but you will still be saving money!
I honestly believe that the zero waste lifestyle is accessible to anyone regardless of their budget, it just may not look how instagram tells you it should look. But that doesn't make your impact any less significant. Small changes add up over time and in a few years you could have avoided so much waste. One 500ml plastic bottle weighs 10g. If you used to buy one every day and stop, you avoid sending 3.65kg of plastic to waste, and then you add in coffee cups, and plastic bags and you can see that you are making a big difference in one year. Imagine over a life time!
Your experience of zero waste is just as valid as someone with a higher income, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.