People who want to start reducing their waste often ask – what is the best place to start? What are the tools worth investing in when building a kit? Are wax wraps worth the hype?
I’ve been ‘low wasting’ steadily for ten-ish years now. I’ve tested and tried many products marketed as sustainable or ‘zero waste’ along the way. Some have been great, and some terrible. The best I use daily and hold up to hard use.
What constitutes a zero waste product anyway? There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d consider it anything that has the potential to displace a large amount of waste with regular use.
I don’t accept free goods, affiliates, discounts or payment for any products. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it invariably affects the editorial. So here’s what I believe to be unbiased feedback on stuff I’ve bought or been given (by friends) over the years, in hopes it might help you.
Zero waste products I wouldn’t buy again
Cora Ball – I don’t find it works well enough to capture plastic microfibres to justify its existence. I’ve written about my experience with the Cora Ball and the comments suggest I’m not alone.
Weck jars – I was swayed by their Instagram good looks, but ultimately reach for them last. They are fussy to use with so many separate parts (five for each jar!) and in my butterfingers, highly smashable. Their fluted shape is inefficient in the cupboard. On the plus side, you can use orphaned lids as fermentation weights or jewelry holders.
Full Circle products – I’ve written in more detail about why I don’t trust this company.
Bamboo clothes pegs – I bought these when our inherited plastic pegs were breaking. They were cheap and I remembered my mom using wooden pegs back in rainy Vancouver, so what could go wrong? Unfortunately mine developed mold over a winter of indoor drying on the rack. I’m trying to get rid of the mold, but next time I’d try stainless steel or recycled plastic.
Glass straw – My first ever reusable straw worked fine and all up until the glass shattered when I dropped it, which seems predictable in hindsight. It’s also bulkier than stainless steel options, so I didn’t replace it after it broke.
Zero Waste products I would buy again
Mason jars – These sturdy, sealing jars are the heroes of my kitchen. I use them for food storage, refilling, fermenting, freezing, measuring, and in a pinch, as drinking vessels. I don’t make preserves at the moment, but I have and they work for that too. The lids are lightweight, interchangeable, and the measurements along the side of the glass are invaluable. When I was allowed to eat raw sprouts, they made the perfect container for sprouting using a mesh attachment. I also use them to make lip balm and deodorant.
Coconut coir scrub brushes – The perfect dish scrubber.
Swag bags – Sure, these are glorified damp towels, but I love ‘em. They keep veggies in good form and are space efficient in the the crisper drawer of our small fridge.
Stainless steel straw – I mostly use metal straws at home for smoothies or iced coffees, but these are small and light enough to pack on the go.
Beeswax wraps – Wax wraps are space saving workhorses. I don’t use them to cover bowls much, but use them constantly for half pieces of veggies, fruit or cheese where they take up very little space compared to using a rigid storage container. I use a larger wrap to keep plastic-free loaves of bread fresh. Wax wraps take up very little space in a drawer when not in use, and are ideal for a small kitchen. They can also be rewaxed an indefinite number of times.
Onyx stainless steel storage containers – I use these to pack work lunches, get takeaway, buy dry bulk goods or deli olives. I can chuck them into a warm water back straight from the freezer. They are lightweight and I trust the seal. I specifically mention Onyx, a Canadian brand, because they are one of the few that are airtight – many steel carry containers aren’t and I fail to see the point. One caution is that they are not insulated, so putting hot liquid inside will make them too hot to carry.
Travel utensil set – My lightweight, nesting plastic utensil set was a gift, but I’d buy it again in a heartbeat. I don’t go anywhere without it and the design is airplane friendly (nothing metal or too sharp). I think it came from an outdoor supply shop.
Produce bags – I use a combination of inherited, gifted or traded bags for small grocery items like mushrooms and green beans. Some are lightweight canvas – great for bread – but I prefer the plastic mesh for veggies so I can see what’s inside.
Coffee travel cup – Works equally well for coffee, or water, or wine. The design is just the right size for a barista coffee here in Australia and compact enough to live in my handbag, which it often does.
Pickle pebbles & pickle pipes – I survived for years without them, but these clever little tools have made it much easier to make small batches of different ferments, which helps me save space in the fridge. The pebble weighs the fermented matter below the liquid line and the pipe is a one way valve to safely release gases. The ferments I make at home help me avoid new glass containers.
Shampoo bars – I had to try a few brands before I found what worked for my hair, and now I love shampoo bars for being plastic free and compact.
Safety razor – Still loving it.
Juju cup – I prefer this to the Diva cup I had before because the Australian made Juju cup is more flexible and has a larger capacity. Cup fit is personal, so make sure to do a bit of research on what will work for you.
Hannah pads – I was impressed that even the lightest weight of pads were enough to get me through a whole cycle when I wasn’t able to use my cup.
And zero waste products I have mixed feelings about
Silicone storage bags – I have a few Stasher bags and a few of another brand. I use them a lot, and they work especially well for freezing and camping. I like that I can see what’s inside, and thaw the contents super quickly in warm water. My mixed feelings are from not knowing how long they will actually last and having no local silicone recycling options.
Bamboo toothbrushes – I still brush with a bamboo toothbrush for travel, but find them less effective long term than my electric toothbrush. My dentist agrees. Many people love theirs and use them without issue, they just don’t work well enough for me.
‘Eco’ dental floss – I am happy with Dental Lace, but it does cost a lot and isn’t the easiest to find. My main gripes with this category is that so many are not what they claim to be, including one expensive bamboo floss that’s actually made of plastic fibres.
What would I tell my younger self?
Do you really need a reusable straw? Only you can decide. It’s a good exercise to visualise how you’d use something, and slow down the purchase decision, rather than impulse buying.
My best advice when acquiring ‘zero waste’ stuff, is to always consider your own lifestyle, not someone else’s. Lifestyle is unique, and evolves over time as we change households, countries, family size and so on. Not everyone cooks as much as I do. We are a small household at the moment – one couple, one bedroom, and one small kitchen with a small fridge. No dishwasher. Much of what I appreciate in a tool seems to be compatibility with small space living – things that are compact or have multiple uses. What works for me may not suit you. My sister travels constantly for work and loves her collapsible silicone coffee cup, since my metal style wouldn’t work for her. To some, a metal straw would languish in a drawer. I know plenty of people who don’t really find wax wraps all that useful.
If I could, I’d also remind my 2010 self that social pressure is social pressure, even if it’s ‘eco’. All those beautifully styled Instagram images can fuel the same sort of urges that lead us to overbuy anything. Consider if the zero waste influencer you follow is also hoping to sell you something from their shop/through affiliates or through sponsored content. It’s not WRONG for them to do so, but you might find reviews to be overly rosy when linked to their compensation. Greenwash is tricky stuff! I have been fooled many times. I used to believe the hype around eco plastics, nowadays my bugbear is misleading marketing for barely better products (eco friendly trash liners anyone?) that are significantly more expensive.
I’m curious, what have you found to work well or not well at all for reducing waste?