When I embarked on my low waste journey back in 2018, I was so excited to make changes to my lifestyle. It started out small – I started bringing reusable produce bags with me to the store. Quickly, however, this became an automatic and low-effort thing to do, and I felt ready for the next step. And so, I took the next step. And then another one. As my excitement grew, I started researching sustainable alternatives to everything in my life, and I wanted them all at once. But swapping out everything we own for a more sustainable alternative is definitely not a sustainable thing to do, not for the environment nor our wallet!
So, to help you out on your journey, here are five low waste swaps I’ve personally made and loved (and two I don’t recommend). These are items that are important to me in my everyday life and that I don’t see myself letting go of for a long, long time.
- The reusable coffee cup
I bought my first reusable cup back in 2015 during my time at university, way before I had even thought about low waste living. As a student, I grabbed multiple cups of coffee per day from the student cafeteria, and it came to a point where I felt like all the single-use cups were too many. I walked by Kaffecentralen in Helsinki one day on my way to class, saw a cute, red KeepCup in the window and bought it on the spot. A classic meet-cute, if I may.
Since then, I haven’t looked back. I always carry a reusable cup with me in my backpack, I bring one when I travel, and it’s saved me from numerous single-use cups over the years. As a broke student at uni, it was also a big win-win, since coffee in one’s own cup was cheaper AND larger. Nowadays, I have different coffee habits, but the reusable cup is still a favourite.
Reusable cups come in many shapes and sizes, with or without insulation, or even homemade (a glass jar with elastic ties around it for grip and insulation will do just fine). The best option depends on your hot drinks habits – do you always grab a coffee on your way to work that you drink right away? Or do you prefer to keep it warm for longer, maybe going back home to enjoy it? Personally, I have a glass KeepCup, since I love grabbing a coffee and going for a walk or out to sit on a bench, enjoying it right away.
2. The water bottle
The reusable water bottle is perhaps an obvious swap for many. It has saved me so much single-use plastic over the years. I can’t even remember the last time I bought a plastic water bottle from the store. This was another swap that I made already before my low waste journey officially began, as it was simply cheaper to bring the same water bottle daily to uni than to buy a new one every day from the student cafeteria. At the start, I just used an Evian bottle for weeks in a row, until I eventually switched to a sturdier one.
By always bringing my water bottle along, I stay hydrated and I save money. If you live in a country where tap water is always drinkable, such as Finland, it’s the easiest thing ever. We have a few bottles at home that we circulate, as we both bring them with us daily to wherever we go. As with the reusable cup, there are so many options for bottles, and they really depend on your preferences. I really enjoy insulated water bottles that keep the water cool for ages, such as this one from Package Free Shop.
3. The reusable grocery bags
Switching from plastic grocery bags to reusable ones was the first swap I made after I had officially decided to live a life of less waste. I started noticing how absurd the amount of plastic was after every trip to the grocery store, and I knew I wanted to reduce. I already had a stack of fabric totes at home that I had gotten from several different places, so I began bringing one with me in my backpack every time I went out. It took a few weeks, but eventually it became a habit. I added reusable produce bags to the mix quickly, and I’ve never looked back.
You can find a fabric tote for grocery shopping anywhere; secondhand, at home tucked away in a drawer etc. If I’d actually buy a new one for some reason, I’d probably choose a company/organisation that aligns with my values and support them by buying their tote. I feel like everyone sells totes nowadays.
For the produce bags, there are a few versions I like. We have these ones from Evereco, that we bought on our long backpacking trip in Australia. They’re made from recycled plastic bottles, which I think is great. I also love these upcycled fabric ones from Pumpa Upcycle, made in Lohja, Finland, from old fabric scraps. Making your own shouldn’t be hard either.
4. The reusable cutlery or chopsticks
I only introduced reusable cutlery in my low waste set a year-and-a-half ago, but I really enjoy it. If I grab food to go, or for some reason need a spoon, fork or knife, it’s really handy having them in my backpack. If that feels a bit overkill, a pair of simple chopsticks will do perfectly too! This has saved me from using plastic cutlery many a time.
I use my hiking gear cutlery in everyday life as well, as they are packed conveniently and don’t weigh much. You can of course take any cutlery or chopsticks you may have at home, and just package them in a way that is comfortable for you.
5. The menstrual cup
For anyone who has a period, I 100% recommend the menstrual cup. I primarily switched to a cup because I never enjoyed using pads or tampons to begin with. The sustainable aspect of reducing waste was more of an added bonus, really.
So, why do I recommend the menstrual cup so much? Well, first of all, it is much more inexpensive in the long run: a good-quality cup costs around 30€ and you can use it for years. It’s estimated that the average person who menstruates uses around 40-125€ yearly on pads and tampons, so you can see how you quickly benefit financially from this particular swap. Secondly, I find the cup to be so much more comfortable. I can wear it longer and I don’t feel it whatsoever when I use it. And finally, of course, you save so much in waste.
I think out of all the swaps I’ve made, this is perhaps my absolute, all-time favourite. I’m never going back. I’m a big fan of my Lunette cup, and they are a company I’m happy to support, with their inclusivity and their sustainable packaging.
And now, onto two swaps that I don’t think are worth the buzz:
- The reusable straw
I’ll start by saying this: I have reusable straws at home and I use them from time to time. There, we got it out of the way. But for most, including myself, I would argue that it is not a necessary swap to make for one simple reason: you can just opt out of using straws! Also, cleaning a reusable straw is quite cumbersome. Even though I do really enjoy the aesthetic of a bamboo straw in my green smoothie (because I’m #basic), it doesn’t really give me anything extra whatsoever. If I were to make the choice today about whether or not to buy reusable straws, I would opt out.
2. The fancy mason jar
When I started my low waste journey, I dreamed of a perfect low waste kitchen with rows of matching glass jars and no plastic in sight. I wanted a fully stocked pantry with all the ingredients imaginable, bought in bulk, of course. And sure, fancy, matching mason jars look really nice when filled with beautiful-coloured smoothies or lined up with dried goods in the pantry, but you definitely do not need them. Just by purchasing groceries you are very likely to get all kinds of glass jars (think tomato sauce jars, pickle jars etc), and those will do excellently in your low waste kitchen. Now, we have a set of glass jars in all shapes and sizes that we are reusing time and time again, and I’m very thankful that I didn’t invest in buying matching glass jars.
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