There seems to be a preconception about zero waste and vegan lifestyles that they’re only for people with money or privilege. Full disclosure, sometimes that is true; but that doesn’t mean there are not some options available to everyone who wants to try it out!
I started going vegan in my last year of college. Talk about being broke. Restrictive diets make eating out much more difficult, especially when you first start out, it can seem impossible. Lots of fries were involved in the first months after I completely cut out meat. Cheap, easy, and not healthy at all.
It takes a lot of time researching recipes, vegan ingredients and alternatives, zero waste alternatives, and the availability of these items in your local stores. Time is something not everyone can spare, and this is part of the reason ZWV lifestyles are labelled privileged. I would look up vegan recipes and DIY beauty products in between, and let’s be honest even during, classes.
It’s something I became passionate about, and I devoted a lot of my free time working towards researching and trying out new products and foods. This is one thing to consider when taking on these challenges: you have to really want it, because it will become ingrained in your everyday life. Starting out is the hardest part, because you are adjusting and experimenting to see what will work. Over time, these changes start to be your normal life.
But how can everyone make these adjustments with different means and accessibility? Here are some ways almost anyone can reduce waste or eat plant-based.
I grew up in a pretty frugal household, but I know for some people thrift stores don’t seem so glamorous. Well here it is: they aren’t. These are items previously used in stranger’s home and that can be weird for some people to digest. But, you can’t deny the benefit it has to a zero waste lifestyle. Secondhand items are things that would probably have been sent to a landfill, but you are giving them a new purpose. It also reduces the demand for fast fashion and the IKEA-like mentality when you shop at a thrift store.
Added bonus – it’s way cheaper! Secondhand shops are a wonderful solution for those of us without unlimited funds and a desire to make a difference. Part of the downfall to beginning a zero waste journey is the start-up cost. Jars, bulk and produce bags, tupperware, appliances for DIY projects; the cost can really add up if you buy everything from a department store or Amazon. Instead, check out your local Goodwill and get 10 mason jars for $5! Throw them in the wash, they’ll be grand 😉
Zero waste also encourages using all the products you have to avoid waste and items sent to the landfill. This means you will be finding new ways to use up all your belongings by mending or repurposing them. Before you start thinking you need to go out and buy a new alternative product, take a look around first. Instead of buying special cotton facial rounds from Etsy, I cut up an old hand towel into squares. I have way more than I need and the sides fray out when I wash them, but I do not have to wash them often and making them was easy and free. Not to mention no shipping! When you reduce what you buy and spend more for better quality when you do, you will save a lot more money in the long run.
Reduce Food Waste
Meal preparation is the best way to reduce food waste. I have seen so many people that complain about expensive vegan food and then send half their grocery trip to the landfill. If you take the time and energy to plan meals and needs, you will save money from going in the trash. As I said before, and will probably say again, it will take passion and a genuine interest to dedicate time to this lifestyle choice. I personally feel that because these choices are not always easy and convenient, people shrug them off as only for the privileged and elite. Meal prep and grocery lists will take some time to plan out. But, the result is less food waste and money better spent. While time is slim for a lot of people, we can use it wisely to make a difference.
Look at your options
Not everyone has the time to go to the farmer’s market for produce, bulk stores for grains, bakery for bread, and mexican restaurant for homemade tortillas all for one week of food. So, know your options. I will mostly go to Sprout’s for my larger grocery trips and my local co-op for small needs. The co-op tends to be more expensive with packaged items, but the bulk and produce is about the same. Plus, the produce is local and often sticker-free at the co-op. But, it’s not a perfect situation. My baked goods still comes in a plastic film bag and almost all vegan meats and cheeses are in plastic. I personally prioritize vegan over ZW, but to each their own!
Eat healthy and whole foods
Speaking of vegan, those meats and cheeses are definitely more expensive. Same with basically all vegan processed items. So, to save money as a vegan, avoid all that stuff. Work with real fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, anything straight from the ground. Make some of your own alfredo sauce instead of buying the $10 jar.
We all like to stay with what it familiar, but the faux dairy and meat options are not healthier than the real deal if it’s the only food you eat. I was never a big fan of veggies, but I have started to find ways to sneak them into my diet in delicious ways. One simple step was adding greens to my smoothies. Buying produce and whole foods will bring down the grocery cost and also your plastic consumption.
This is where most of the money will go in the zero waste lifestyle journey. The startup cost is the most expensive part, if you want quality products that won’t have to be replaced. The idea is to replace cheap, disposable products with something durable that will last longer. My reusable water bottle was $20, but it is insulated steel and 40 oz. I have dropped it a fair share of times, so it is pretty dinged up, but still works fabulously.
As I said before, you can get a lot of the ZW alternatives at thrift stores, but in some cases it is better to buy sustainably new than secondhand. Menstrual cups, for example, can get pretty pricey. But when you consider all the money you will save from buying tampons and pads, the investment is worth it, both for you and the environment. Reusable options like straws, silverware, hankies, coffee cups, etc. are all going to end up saving you money in the long run, all the while reducing your waste.
Just as it is better to make your own vegan foods instead of buying the processed version, same goes to household and beauty items. Now, sometimes this is a better option, and sometimes not. Buying all the obscure ingredients needed for toothpowder seems like too much for me. Also, the coconut oil and baking soda option didn’t float my boat either. So, I buy the Toothy Tabs from LUSH instead. You need to find what works for you and what you would rather buy sustainably. Citrus or apple cider vinegar are so simple and easy to make from just food scraps. But, on the other hand I have yet to find a simple and fast recipe for dish soap. Find your own balance and find something personally sustainable (term from Kathryn at Going Zero Waste). If it takes too much time, effort, or too many random ingredients, it is not personally sustainable and you should seek out another option.
How do you cut back costs on your ZWV journey? What did you find was a cheaper option by practicing these lifestyles?