If you – like me – found zero waste through a cutesy blog post or idealized Instagram feed, jumping into the movement can feel so intimidating. So many new ideas, so many people trying to sell you the accouterments to your new lifestyle.

But the truth is: zero waste should be simple. We should have enough simple, multi-purpose zero waste items that we can avoid single-use plastics as best we can and leave our brain space for the bigger, more important issues. 

Like how environmental issues disproportionately affect Black communities in the USA – and BIPOC worldwide. Like how scientists are warning us that radical change is the only way to continue life as we know it. Like how zero waste isn’t zero, but it is so much more than a plastic bag.

Zero waste should not be an elitist movement. It isn’t. It’s in honor of all the communities who have come before us and done everything before. The zero waste movement isn’t new, it’s a return to what used to be. The zero waste movement shouldn’t be exclusionary (here are some resources for free zero waste actions, going zero waste on a budget, and being zero waste in a food desert).

To that end, let’s talk about some of the items that serve me in multiple ways, help me reduce my daily waste, and leave me free to focus on the bigger issues we face.

silicone lids

The beauty of multi-purpose zero waste items - Food Huggers

To be honest, I wrote these Food Huggers silicone lids off when I first heard of them. I saw them sold as a way to cap produce to stay fresh longer which, in my mind, was an unnecessary buy. But when Green Life Trading Co. (a Green Indy partner) sent me a set and suggested their other uses, I gave them a try.

I. Love. Them.

I’m finally pulling out the glass jars I didn’t want to recycle but didn’t have a matching lid. (Or in the case of one fancy vintage one, the glass lid I shattered on my kitchen tiles.) Covering leftovers in the fridge? Check. Covering the top of a tin can you’ve only used half of? Check. Transporting a kombucha SCOBY to a friend? Check!

Suffice to say, I’m a fan.

The long and short of it? Are these silicone lids 100% necessary? Probably not. Will they make your jar-filled life much easier if you can invest? Absolutely.

cloth napkin

The beauty of multi-purpose zero waste items - Cloth Napkin

The real MVP of any zero waste kit! I have some gifted, some bought, and some I made for myself. No matter which kind you choose, cloth napkins should never be underestimated.

Here are just a few ways to use them:

  • napkin – duh!
  • mini bag. Tie the opposite ends together, criss-crossing, to form a small ouch to carry produce or whatever else you might need.
  • snack carrier. If I know I’m going to eat out for lunch, I’ll tuck my sandwich or pastry in my napkin and use it as a plate/carrier. Who needs unwieldy containers?
  • spill cleaner. I have to laugh – people are always horrified when I pull out a pretty napkin and use it for spill clean up. Friends! Napkins are meant to be used – and stained doesn’t mean dirty.
  • glass jar buffer. If I go shopping and end up with several jars full of liquids, I’ll wind my napkin around them to provide a buffer and (hopefully) not break them!

glass jar

While reusable travel mugs and beautiful stainless steel containers are lovely, a glass jar works just as well! (Assuming you’re not worried about breakage.) 

Whether it’s an impromptu trip to the coffee shop, a drop into the bulk store, or just a surprise free lunch opportunity at work, a glass jar is invaluable! I like to bring a medium-sized jar with me all the time that I’ve pre-tared (weighed).

As an extra pro-tip: I love the idea of saving old rubber bands to put around a glass jar to stop from burning yourself on hot drinks. Thanks to @sustainablesabs for that particularly smart idea!

stasher bags

The beauty of multi-purpose zero waste items - Stasher Bag

Another item I was really hesitant to invest in, but I’ve grown to love. Stasher Bags (affiliate link) are 100% silicone bags with a pinch-lock seal that stays super-closed. They’re superior to ziploc bags not only because they’re more durable and not plastic, but they can be used in the freezer, dishwasher, microwave, boiling water, and even an oven up to 400F.

I usually use mine to bring smaller snacks to work; not only can I pop them into the microwave if needed, but they’re an amazing conversation starter to introduce people to the concept of low-waste swaps.

I also have a particularly soft spot for Stasher as they graciously donated bags when I was passing out low-waste homelessness kits. Companies like that should be supported!

All-purpose balm

The beauty of multi-purpose zero waste items - Multipurpose Balm

The balm is a simple mix of just two ingredients: wax and an oil. I like to use locally-sourced beeswax and an olive oil I can get in bulk at my local store. For a creamier balm, I add about 1 part wax to 5 parts oil. For a more solid balm, it’s more 1 part wax to 3 parts oil. 

Not sure where to source your wax or oil? I’ve got the post for where to buy online zero waste DIY ingredients!

Here’s what I use my all-purpose balm for:

  • Lotion, particularly in the super-dry months.
  • Lip balm, might as well slather it everywhere!
  • De-frizz pomade on my hair when needed.
  • New or tough zipper lubricant.
  • Makeup remover, in a pinch.
  • Leather spot polish.

The secret to a happier, less “thing-driven” experience of zero waste is to make your items work harder for you. Consider each new purchase carefully and only bring in the items that really make sense for you and your lifestyle!

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