10 Low-Waste Swaps You Can Try Out Now

Even one swap can make a huge difference.
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Image of kitchen via @amberinteriors

Image of kitchen via @amberinteriors

Hi, I’m Cass! I’m the former Marketing Intern, now Marketing Coordinator at cupcakes and cashmere where I help with all the exciting things happening over on the Shop. From sending out emails letting you know what’s in store, to popping into the @shopcupcakesandcashmere DM’s from time to time, you may have already heard from me. You may have seen my name in team posts (like this one!), but I love a good flea market and if I can make something, you better believe I will. It seemed fitting that my first post on cupcakes and cashmere be about one of my passions: living waste-free!

Let’s start at the beginning. My interest in the zero waste world started with one simple video. In it, we meet Lauren Singer who fit four years worth of trash in a single mason jar. Talk about clickbait, right? Lauren, who is the founder of the NYC based store, Package Free Shop, quickly became my personal ambassador of the zero waste lifestyle. She was cool, relatable, and I very quickly wanted to know how she was able to create such little waste. The simple answer: She avoided disposable products and was very intentional about the things she purchased. That video was posted three years ago and while I’m still a long way from reaching her level, it inspired me to rethink the way I shop. 

Coming from a tropical country, the Philippines, I’ve seen the direct impact that disposable products have on our environment. There’s nothing like walking through some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and seeing them littered with plastic. One of my favorite activities to do when on holiday is go snorkeling but over the 10 years I lived there, I noticed a big decrease in the amount of marine life. The island natives explained that pollution and trash are largely to blame. So I made the commitment to cut out a lot of repeat purchases, like tampons (more on that later) and say no to plastic straws and utensils when I go out. Lauren’s a pro but I understand that her lifestyle isn’t realistic for everyone. I hope this list can provide some inspiration and give you options that may work for you. Choosing even a single zero waste swap makes a hell of a difference on its own. As Anne-Marie Bonneau said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

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Period Cup

This is number one on my list because it is by far the swap that has made the biggest difference in my life. You may have seen Natalie, our former Editorial Intern, and Leslie talk about their period cup experiences on the blog but in case you haven’t here’s a briefing: Period cups are made out of medical-grade silicone and can replace your need for tampons or pads. They come in a variety of colors, sizes, and designs. The best part? They last for years. Think of all the money you will be saving on tampons and pads. It can look a little intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it’s life-changing. This is my current favorite. It has extra cute branding, comes with a little pouch, and is available at Target. I’ll be answering some of the office’s burning questions about period cups in a future post, so stay tuned (and add any questions you have to the comments below!).

Thinx Underwear

When I first heard about Thinx Period Underwear I headed straight to YouTube to see what people were saying. The consensus was that they are an effective period product but you would have to stock up on a few if you plan to use them for the entirety of your period. I’m very loyal to my period cup but still wanted to see what the fuss was all about so I purchased their Hi-Waist style. It can hold about two tampons worth of flow and has a really great fit. I wear this alone towards the end of my period when I’m spotting or with my cup if it’s a heavy day and I want a little extra protection from leaks. Their website is a great place to learn about the importance of sustainable period products. I highly recommend watching their documentary series, One Woman.

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Cotton pads used to be a repeat purchase in my home. Chalk it up to living with three other women who love makeup and skincare. Unfortunately, regular cotton pads aren’t biodegradable due to the bleach involved in creating them. I picked up my set of cotton rounds at a market a few years ago but you can find some great options available online here and here. One side of these is a towel-like material and the other is smooth cloth. I use them with my toner or micellar water, throw them in with my laundry, and then they’re good as new. I’ve been able to survive on about seven rounds since I do laundry once a week but you may need more depending on your laundry schedule and skincare needs.

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I love eating out and I especially love specialty drinks (boba anyone?) but that usually means encountering some form of single-use plastic. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a boba milk tea place that accepts your own cups but I always make sure to say I don’t need a straw since I now have an extra-large one just for the pearls. A lot of people have become better about carrying their own metal straws, but why not throw in a metal spoon and fork to make it a set. For times when I don’t have a big bag I opt for this little bamboo spork. It’s compact, easy to clean, and comes with a small carrying pouch. When I go to food fairs or eat at food trucks, they’re pretty nice about using my own containers. You can see how I was able to go zero-waste at Smorgasburg, here.

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If you haven’t read Natalie’s piece on transitioning to solid shampoo, I highly recommend starting there. Plastic shampoo bottles aren’t always recycled properly (make sure to follow your city’s recycling guidelines and wash out any leftover product) but even when they are, we all go through so many of them. Most shampoo bars last up to 75 washes. I wash my hair about twice a week so I was able to stretch my last bar for almost six months! Like any new product, it takes some trial and error to find the one that works for you. I’m currently trying this bar by Public Goods and love the clean lavender scent.

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These washable silicone pouches come in a variety of fun colors and plenty of sizes. They’re perfect for packing your snacks, storing chopped vegetables, and are even freezer-friendly! Pick out a few that make sense for you and then you can cross ‘plastic bags’ off your grocery list permanently.

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever stood in the produce section awkwardly trying to open those very thin plastic bags meant for your fruit and vegetables. Just me? Okay, moving on. While those bags are a staple in every grocery store, they’re difficult to recycle or reuse. Even if bags are compostable they are only effective when actually composted and not thrown in the trash. Mesh produce bags are easy to throw in your car or keep inside your designated grocery tote (assuming we’re all on the same page). If you’re handy with a needle and thread you can even DIY your own.

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I’m not going to lie, what initially drew me to this product was the cute patterns but I stuck with it because of the versatility. This printed cloth is lined with wax that makes it easy to mold to your container or food. I’ve used it for pastries, leftover dishes, and cut-up fruit that I’m saving for later. Just rinse it after each use! They last for about a year if properly used, you’ll know your wrap has run its course when it no longer sticks together. When that happens you can cut it into smaller pieces and add to your compost pile!

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I have pretty thin leg hair, thanks to both genetics and a few laser treatments so I’ve never been too worried much about shaving. Aside from being disposable, I always found that plastic razors irritated my skin and easily built up rust when left in the shower for too long. Safety razors are a little pricey but they last a lifetime— you won’t have to buy plastic blade replacements or razors ever again. You get a closer shave, fewer razor bumps, and I think it adds a little something special to your shower routine. This beautiful blush razor is currently on my wishlist.

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I picked this cup up about a year ago and now carry it with me everywhere. There are plenty of tumbler and coffee mug options but there are two things that make Stojo a standout for me (and for Jess, when she and Leslie reviewed 11 reusable coffee cups!). The light collapsible silicone design makes it very easy to carry around and it includes measurements on the inside. I have the 16-ounce cup which is the size of a grande drink at Starbucks or a small/medium at your regular coffee shop. It’s a great conversation starter and most drink places now offer a small discount if you bring in your own cup!

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Above all, the best zero waste tip is to make use of what you already own. Take inventory of your lifestyle and look for the places you can make small changes. Maybe it’s with a metal straw for your go-to smoothies or making sure to leave extra tote bags in your car so that you’re always prepared to say no to plastic bags. 

Which of these products would you be interested in trying? What are some reservations you might have when approaching a zero-waste lifestyle? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comment section!

P.S. Excited to continue your waste-free journey? Here’s what Leslie learned from living (mostly!) trash-free for a week.