My 'Zero Waste' Swaps for a More Sustainable Life

‘Zero Waste’ is a misnomer but is the term that gained traction to describe making life choices that create less waste. These choices are more sustainable than some of the more typical options many large conglomerates sell us today.

Much of what you can do is habit and lifestyle changes beyond small swaps. The most impactful changes you can make begin with:

    • Use what you have
    • Reuse, repurpose, and repair what you have
    • Buy second hand
  • Compost
  • Diet: Vegan or eat little to no red meat

In the end, there are many nuances to the concept of zero waste and it’s not all on the consumer and not just about plastic packaging. There is the entire life cycle to be considered: how it is produced (does this exploit the local environment or workers, how much water is used, other resources, etc.), how far it is moved to be used (fuel, weight affect this, etc.), how it is used and for how long, where it goes after it’s use ends. Glass, for example, may be more recyclable than plastic but transporting plastic is lighter in weight and needs less fuel, so sometimes a product in plastic may in some ways be more sustainable especially if it’s a bioplastic or made from recycled plastic. There are many other situations like this as well as greenwashing that complicate things for us as consumers. We just do the best we can and keep learning.

For this post, I am going to list my personal choices that produce less waste and add more as I continue. You can find information in both the “WHY” and “WHAT” tabs. “WHY” is about why I made these swaps and “WHAT” is about what the swaps are plus sometimes a bit about the companies or alternatives. These changes make me feel good about my choices, and that I am voting with my dollar. Fortunately, they also often have more than being sustainable to commend them as well! If you just want my list of swaps and links scroll to the bottom.

I grew up with a family that composts so this was an easy choice for me. You can purchase a compost bin through programs with your local municipality or you may have compost pick-up options.

First Swaps

water bottles and stasher bags

After reusable bags for when out shopping reusable water bottles and coffee mugs are simple first swaps for most people. We all usually own some kind of reusable version already. It’s just about finding what works for us and being sure to carry it with us. Then it becomes even more convenient, better for the wallet and the environemnt.

Carry your water bottle everywhere, to work, the gym, especially the airport! If you feel it takes up too much space there are brands that make silicone collapsible options (there are also collapsible silicone bowls/boxes with tops that are great for restaurant leftovers).

‘Ziplock’ bags are easily replaced these days with many brands creating reusable silicone ziptop bags if you don’t find the glass or plastic Tupperware you already have a good alternative for your uses.

I just stopped using saran wrap and tin foil by using what I had around the house. My saran wrap replacements are dishware that already has tops for it and the silicone bags. If this doesn’t work for you there are bee’s wax wraps that get multiple uses and silicon lids that can work on various size dishes. My tin foil replacement is to just use the trays without it or add a silicone baking mat if needed.

Note silicone products are biodegradable or recyclable when they degrade and cannot be reused any longer.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Store bags: any bag you have works
    • My favorites for groceries are these hard-sided versions because they can carry so much and are easy to fill (may not have the smallest environmental impact but works for me).
  • Water bottle: Swell water bottles
    • Swell is certified B Corp.
    • There are many other options in terms of material, size, and company. I enjoy metal for keeping my drinks cold, there’s also glass, plastic, and silicone.
    • Stojo makes silicone collapsible products that include a water bottle.
  • ‘Ziplock’ bags: Stasher bags
    • Stasher is 1% back.
    • Top-rack dishwasher safe.
    • What you already own Tupperware wise is always best to use but there are many more bag-like options from various brands today some in thinner materials and others that stand open when in use depending on your preferences.
  • Saran wrap: I just use the tops that go with my dishes.
    • Alternatively, you can also try any brand of bee’s wax wrap like Bee’s Wrap (1% for the planet, certified B Corp).
  • Tinfoil: I put food directly on the pan or use silicone baking mats.

Kitchen Items

'paper' towels and cloth napkins

I can’t believe how long it took me to make this swap which it’s so much better than what I was using before! This is one swap even friends who are hesitant to change their products love! Sponges are gross! They make your hands smell after you use them and don’t last very long. Wooden dish brushes scrub better and last a full year, not to mention you don’t have to worry about your hands smelling gross after using. They also make it easy to use a castile soap bar instead of liquid dish soap. The wood brushes are compostable and some even come with just replacing the head so even less is wasted and castile soap is packaged in paper and has less transportation cost.

If you still have trouble with needing to get a good scrub a plastic pan scraper that can last forever fixes that issue and is even easier than using a sponge and won’t scratch your dishes like steel wool.

I switched my dishwasher detergent to pods that don’t use plastic (which would add microplastics to the water) and are packaged in paper. It’s super convenient, takes up less space, and is better for the planet. Boxes of detergent are an alternative as well but I find they can harden sometimes and having the pods avoids that issue for me. I am also going to try their laundry detergent once I’m out of what I already have, so I can order 2 products off the same site.

If you are a heavy napkin or paper towel user it’s easy to switch to using some kind of cloth napkin or towels that can be washed and reused. If you don’t already have something handy to make this swap you can also purchase products that are cloth ‘paper’ towels. My mom had material we used to cut up and hem into ‘paper’ towels shown in the photo.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Sponge: Wood dish brushes
    • The linked version is an option where you just replace the head of the brush which saves even more waste.
  • Dish soap: Dr. Bronners Castile Soap Bars
  • Scraper: Pan scraper
  • Dishwasher detergent + laundry detergent: Dropps
    • There are other brands but this is usually the top choice
  • Cleaning products: I haven’t switched any yet as I have plenty left but
    • You can easily use vinegar and baking soda for most things, and make home mixes for anything else.
    • There are also options that you add water to so the shipping doesn’t have to move heavy water or come packaged in plastic, like: Blueland and Grove Collaborative.
  • Paper towels + napkins: replace with cloth

Bathroom Care

We use so many products to take care of our bodies. My favorite swaps produce less waste but are also made without chemicals and take up less space! I love that I can keep my space clearer and cleaner this way. There are also such a wide variety of options available today to fit anyone’s needs.

For hand soap in the bathroom I use the same Castile bars of soap I clean dishes with or purchase locally made soap so I support small businesses and the product doesn’t travel as far.

Changing my shampoo and conditioner to bars was one of my early swaps. Shampoo and Conditioner today is often liquid in giant plastic bottles and full of chemicals we put on our scalps. It takes up so much space, you’re always running out, and the weight of transporting it adds to its impact beyond the plastic waste (more than 552 million shampoo bottles are used each year!). [I will note here I never used body wash or other fancy skin products so I already used just a bar of soap and haven’t change it]

Swapping to a menstrual cup was also an early swap for me. I had issues using tampons and didn’t love pads either. I debated between period underwear and a cup but felt for me the cup worked in a greater number of situations. This is a huge money saver too! The cup or underwear can last for quite a while and costs a fraction of what you’d spend in a year of pads/tampons. It also takes up much less space (I know I’m repeating myself but it’s lovely in a small house to save space).

Next, I tried to find less wasteful toilet paper. Sadly, my local grocery stores weren’t carrying toilet paper made out of recycled paper even in plastic packaging. I took my search online and found a company that packaged in paper and used recycled paper in their products. I will say this swap is a tiny bit more expensive but the large quantity it comes in is very convenient.

This one took me a bit longer to get to but it shouldn’t have! A safety razor over disposables is fantastic. It is so much cheaper! Upfront you may spend a bit more depending on what kind you think will work for you but blades are dirt cheap and I likely won’t need more for another 15-20 years! I will use leftover disposables when I travel through. I selected a safety razor that is already at an angle and doesn’t put the blade directly on your skin so switching was easier a more traditional style has a bit more of a learning curve but gets a closer shave and is less money upfront.

Target recently started carrying a toothpaste that comes in aluminum (which is almost infinitely recyclable and the stats for it actually being recycled are high) and has fluoride. If you don’t care about fluoride then other options exist in aluminum or as toothy tabs (don’t get them wet though!).

For hand sanitizer, I purchase a product that comes in aluminum packaging that you can ship back for the company to refill making it a closed-loop system. There are other brands that use aluminum without the take-back program as well. There are also a variety of options for travel-size containers including spray options that are refillable.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Hand soap: Soap bars
    • Castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s which can be found at grocery stories
    • Local soap artisans, supporting small local business,es and purchasing a product that doesn’t travel as far.
  • Shampoo, Conditioner, Face Wash, Soap bar holder: Ethique
    • Ethique is certified B Corp, cruelty-free, vegan, 2% of sales to charity, certified palm oil-free, direct trading, living wage, etc.
    • Alternatively, if you prefer liquid products, there are brands that package in aluminum and take back the containers and refill them to be closed-loop, like Plaine. (Earthhero also sells their product)
  • Conditioner: HiBar (I am trying this one soon, you can find at Whole Foods and Target)
    • It is vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, silicone-free.
    • I believe I read somewhere it does still have some ingredients in it some people prefer to avoid but if you only condition the ends of your hair it doesn’t touch your scalp and it’s got great reviews for how well it works.
  • Menstrual cup: Lena Cup
    • Lena Cup is FDA approved, processed chlorine-free, green seal.
    • Alternatively, there are reusable pads or period underwear like Thinx.
  • Safety Razor: Twig Razor
    • Leaf Shave (who makes Twig) is climate-neutral certified.
    • You want something with a good handle length for what you will use it for as well as a way to grip it so it doesn’t slip out of your hand in the shower.
    • A more traditional version is similar to the Butterfly safety razor.
  • Toothpaste: Hey Humans
    • There are also options in aluminum without fluoride (if you prefer not having it).
    • To recycle the tube you need to cut it open and clean it, fold it back up, and place in your recycling.
    • Alternatively, there are toothy tab options like Bites but they are pricy.
  • Toilet Paper: Who Gives A Crap
    • Who Gives A Crap is certified B Corp.
    • I’m hoping to add a bidet to my household as well probably from Tushy.
    • Both brands help build toilets for places in need of better sanitation.
  • Hand sanitizer: Plaine Products
    • Plaine ships their product in aluminum packaging which is recyclable but they also have a program where you ship back the containers and they will reuse them by refilling and sending them out again. They are 1% for the planet, certified B Crop, etc.
    • Sanikind also produces a sanitizer in aluminum without the take-back and they have a travel-size spray bottle that is made from ocean plastic and refillable. They are 1% for the planet.


Deodorant, important enough to get its own section. There are now quite a few options out there depending on what you’re looking for and what ends up working for you that are more sustainable. The nice thing here is these are also all aluminum-free and natural deodorants as well. It does take a little bit of time to adjust and you might smell a bit more at first but they do work! They do NOT include antiperspirant (stops your sweat) but sweating is natural in your armpits and can help you sweat less elsewhere.

I’ve been using byHumankind for months and do enjoy it, some people find Native more effective for them, and I’m going to try the deodorant by Ethique since I already order my shampoo and things there.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • byHumankind: 1.6 oz refillable or stand alone
    • byHumankind is aluminum-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
    • The refillable version is NOT plastic-free, it goes in a reusable plastic container and the refill has a bit of plastic in it as well. The stand-alone IS plastic-free using a cardboard tube.
    • The small size makes it convenient for travel, especially the stand-alone.
    • Currently, there are 5 scents for the refillable and 2 scents for the stand-alone.
  • Native: 2.65 oz cardboard tube
    • Native is 1% for the planet, aluminum-free, paraben-free.
    • Native has a wide variety of scents and an unscented option, they even do seasonal varieties.
  • Ethique: 2.47 oz cardboard tube
    • Ethique is certified B corp, 2% sales to charity, cruelty-free, vegan, etc.
    • Currently, there are three scents: Unscented, Lavendar + Vanilla, and Lime + Eucalyptus.

There are plenty of ways to do your own research and find similar products you prefer and much more. This is not an exhaustive list just an attempt to share what I am doing and enjoying to maybe inspire others. If you just want the quick list see below:

Swaps I use:

  • Compost bin: I purchased mine from my city program that offers them
  • Reusable water bottles + coffee mugs: Swell water bottles
  • Silicone collapsible water bottles + bowls: (great for restaurant leftovers) Stojo
  • Silicone ‘ziplock’ bags: Stasher bags
  • Paper Towels + napkins: cloth versions
  • Washing dishes: wood brushes + castile soap bars
  • Dish scraper for really stuck things: pan scraper
  • Dishwashing detergent + laundry detergent: Dropps
  • Menstrual cup: Lena Cup (alternatively, try period underwear like Thinx)
  • Shampoo, Conditioner, Face Wash, Soap holder: Ethique
  • Conditioner: HiBar (trying this one soon, can find at Whole Foods)
  • Safety Razor: Twig Razor
  • Toothpaste: Hey Humans
  • Toilet Paper: Who Gives A Crap
  • Hand sanitizer: Plaine + Sanikind mini

Swaps I’m considering next:

  • Bidet attachment: Tushy

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address as Inspiration for Giving Thanks Daily for our Planet

As an avid reader with an interest in learning more about our natural world and what can be done to live in a way that supports our planet, I searched for websites, books, and more that could be of value. In my search, I also began looking for knowledge of Native American cultures as they were the first stewards of these lands, lived in harmony with it, and maintained a reciprocal relationship. I hope to honor their knowledge and gain some further understanding as I move forward. In honoring this knowledge I would like to first link to the resources that inspired this post:

As a whole, the human population on earth has failed to maintain our connection to the earth, living in our minds, instead of feeling through our feet and grounding to the earth beneath us. Modern life has disconnected us from the knowledge of where things come from, how things are created, their impacts on our natural world as well as why that should matter to us. In damaging our relationship with our planet we have also failed to protect it. While taking it for granted we miss all the little miracles around us and we have to be reminded of everything we have to thank our world for.

While reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass I came across the Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) Thanksgiving Address in which I found a simple and beautiful way to remind ourselves daily of all that we have in our lives to give thanks for. It was written as a daily reminder to be thankful for all the planet has provided for us.

The Haudenosaunee name refers to the confederation/alliance of six Native American nations which is more commonly called the Iroquois Confederacy in modern US History books. The Iroquois Confederacy was an inspiration for those who wrote the US Constitution. Living on the east coast myself this history is directly related to the land that supports me every day.

I designed the image above of the Thanksgiving Address using the copy included in the PDF I linked at the beginning. I did so as my own way to sit with and reflect on the content, as well as give myself a way to come back to it. The header is purple and includes an illustration of the Hiawatha belt, the color was chosen because the actual belt is made of wampum beads. Wampum (WAHM-pem) is something I have been familiar with since I was a child visiting Martha’s Vineyard and going quahoging (clamming for quahogs) with my family. The purple and white shells of the quahog are turned into beads that are still used in jewelry and other things today. The belt is a symbol instead of an accessory and is not worn as a belt. It represents the alliance of the original five nations in the Confederacy connected by the Great Law of Peace.

‘Thanksgiving Address’ does not refer to the holiday in the US but rather the concept of giving thanks and it is meant for daily use not just one day a year. The Haudonsaunee began and ended all social and ceremonial celebrations with the address and sometimes referred to it as “the worlds that come before all else.” This places a huge amount of importance on giving thanks to all the world provides for us and keeping it foremost in our minds. Traditions like these would be even more important today to remind us in modern times to remain connected to the world around us and grateful each day.

Finding myself inspired by The Thanksgiving Address I decided to expand on words I had already chosen as daily reminders—Gratitude, Happiness & Humility, Wonder—to build it into something longer. Many of the concepts, words, and phrases here also come from other places and people who have inspired me (In case you are interested one of those is the blog

GRATITUDE. Today we express our gratitude. We see the cycle of rebirth continues in the unceasing stream of life. Moments layer upon one another an interplay of all that has passed within the present moment. It is our sacred duty to live in balance and harmony with everyone and everything.

We breathe deeply bringing awareness and mindfulness as we give greetings and thanks to all the interdependent particles of the universe.

HAPPINESS & HUMILITY. Today we are present in this moment. As we meditate the walls between self and other vanish, here there is serenity and bliss, we are not alone. We float freely in the moment recognizing all Mother Earth has provided for us. Time ceases and we know no urgency just being.

Humbled and free we breathe deeply as we give thanks to the invisible force that connects the natural universe from stone to amoeba, mountain to river, songbird to human.

WONDER. Today we look at the natural world in wonder. We turn our minds towards forsaking labels that impoverish experience to wonder at the beauty of all beings. All processes and phenomena but condensed miracles interwoven in the quilt of life. As we are, so we see.

With our sight full of wonder we give thanks to its myriad kaleidoscopic manifestations as we breathe in the element of air and steady the wind of the mind.

View at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego California

What do you know about water?

How often have you asked yourself about water? You are generally aware of it’s necessity in your life and you’ve probably been told you can only live 3–4 days without water; but how much do you consider water?

If you’ve ever driven by a reservoir regularly and noticed the changing water level, did you think it was due to drought conditions or human consumption? Did you consider how many people the water supply of the world can support?

It’s altogether too easy to take for granted a simple thing like water. How many times have you let the sink run over a dish while doing something else, taken a long shower, done a small load of laundry or dishes, dumped a water bottle down the drain because it wasn’t cold?

We probably learned in elementary school and are often reminded when looking at a world map that 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. What we might forget is that only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater. With less than 1% of the earth’s freshwater being accessible to us. This means 99% of earth’s freshwater is inaccessible. Source

  • 0.3% of freshwater is found in lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands
  • 30% of freshwater is found in groundwater
  • 68% of freshwater is inaccessible in icecaps and glaciers

With so little water accessible to us conservation is key. 1,320 gallons of water the equivalent of 32,911 glasses of water or 5 showers an hour are needed a day to support the diet of the average American. 2/3rds of this water is used to produce the food we eat.

70% of all the freshwater used by humans is for agricultural purposes. Producing the food we eat, the clothing we wear, electronics, and more all contribute to our freshwater use. Producing 1 pound of beef requires more than 1,750 gallons of water. Producing 1 pound of rice requires between 400–650 gallons of water. Rice, Cotton, and Sugar are thirsty plants requiring heavy water use. Check out this water footprint calculator.

With construction on once protected and public lands we eliminate streams, vernal pools, and wetlands. With the dumping of sewage and storm water we taint freshwater sources. With our use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and other chemicals we taint groundwater, ponds, and streams. With our mining for fossil fuels and minerals we taint groundwater which eventually joins larger freshwater sources. While it is inaccessible to us, global warming is melting the icecaps and glaciers — raising sea levels, yes, but that’s another topic — our largest potential freshwater source.

While we continue to affect our freshwater sources with our activities we place greater demand on them as well. Today 780 million people lack access to freshwater and about 1.5 million people die each year from diarrhea. With projected population growth by 2025 (just 7 years from now) 35% (or 2/3rds) of the earth’s population (48 countries) will be affected by water stress and scarcity.

Take a step back each day with wonder, humility, and gratitude for the natural world. As small as it may seem, do your part, and use the bare minimum you need. Together we can make a difference.

A few ideas for water conservation:

  • Buy only as much food as you eat
  • Buy less “thirsty” plants and meats (Beef, pork, rice, etc)
  • Take quick showers and shower less
  • Flush less
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes
  • Don’t leave the sink running
  • Wash your car less and with only a bucket of water
  • Water the lawn less
  • Avoid filling that hot tub or pool