To be honest, I haven’t bought a whole lot of zero waste essentials since starting my zero waste efforts in late 2016. (I mean, that’s kind of the point, right?)

That being said, I have started amassing things that make my life easier – and I’m here to share a couple of the no-brainer ones with you right now.

The big caveat to all this is, of course, that zero waste is explicitly about not sending things to the landfill. So if you’ve got inspiration of excitement about going green – great! But don’t start throwing things out willy-nilly since that defeats the point.

For example: I’ve recently picked up a stainless steel measuring cup and ladle since my old plastic ones have warped and started to melt in a way I’m not totally comfortable eating with. Now those two plastic items will be in my classroom for hands-on activities. Win-win!

Onward to the list:

Glass jars

I pick them up for anywhere from $.50 to $4 at the local second hand stores. If you purchase glass jars in the grocery store, those work too! But beware: ultra smelly foods like pickles or jalapenos may linger for a long time and leave your bulk goods tasting strange!

Perfect for toting snacks, storing food in the pantry/fridge/freezer, or even stocking up on bulk at the grocery store.

Suggested post: is zero waste grocery shopping really expensive?

Cloth bags

First, are the large reusable tote bags to carry larger stuff. Do not buy these – they float around at every networking or grand opening event in the world. If that fails, ask your friends and family: I guarantee someone has 50 totes stuffed into their closet.

Second, I recommend smaller drawstring bags for smaller items as an alternative to plastic produce bags. I toss in larger dry goods or loose fruits and veggies.  I went to the secondhand store and purchased a lace curtain ($.99) and quickly sewed it by hand into whatever size I needed. (After thoroughly washing the fabric, of course!)

I’ve also gotten these reusable bags before and I’ve really enjoyed the different sizes they come in!

Suggested post: 30 minute bento bag tutorial

Cloth Napkins

Whether they’re vintage cloth napkins (my style) or simple squares cut from an old t-shirt, it’s always helpful to have a stash of cloth napkins around. Save money (and trees!) by refusing paper towels and napkins.

Suggested post: DIY beeswax wrap

Zero waste essentials you probably already have in your house - Green Indy Blog

A hot/cold mug

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m absolutely lost without the ability to have a drink in hand at all times. When my husband’s travel mug broke, he immediately sniped mine. Fine – gave me a chance to spring for something I actually wanted!

I recently purchased the KeepCup 12 oz and I absolutely love it (and so do baristas and fellow hot-drink lovers, based on all the compliments so far). I might go for another larger one, although it has done a great job at reining me on on my gigantic coffee impulses.

See a full review of the KeepCup here.

Remember, guys: be brave and ask for all your drinks in a to-go mug. It’s an easy way to reduce trash and – I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to ask for things – most people really don’t care.

A healthy tolerance to deprivation

I hate to say it, but starting a zero waste journey is not all about rainbows and butterflies. In fact, the recent months have helped me find one of the intangible zero waste essentials: a healthy tolerance to deprivation. Because here’s the thing: you either want to go zero waste or you want a life of luxurious convenience. You really can’t have both all the time.

You’re going to have to say no. And it sucks.

But it gets easier, eventually, and your stupid cravings (chips (in plastic bags), soda (again, plastic), and tons of other unhealthy things I didn’t actually need) eventually start to fade away. Or you just get better at ignoring them.

What ways have you found to reduce trash in little ways in your everyday life? Please share your zero waste essentials in the comments below!

A simple list of zero waste essentials - Green Indy Blog
A list of zero waste essentials - Green Indy Blog (pin)


Celia · January 31, 2017 at 12:38 am

Hi! Celia from Litterless / Chicago via Indy here! I’ve been keeping mental notes of zero waste locations around Indy, so let’s chat if you ever have trouble finding something! So glad to have found ya.

    Polly · February 1, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Oh man, absolutely! Do you have links to posts? I’d love to see them!

coffeeandcleveland · January 31, 2017 at 5:19 am

I’m excited to read about this. I’m really interested in reading about how you purchase food. I feel like plastic bags and boxes from the grocery are my number one garbage problem. How I wish Russia recycled!

    Polly · February 1, 2017 at 12:05 am

    Ugh, I know, right? Not so much recycling in the motherland – although out the country they’re quite frugal by necessity!

    I will be posting on how grocery shopping goes soon – definitely still a learning curve!

Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook · May 25, 2017 at 4:50 pm

I have skimmed a lot of your posts but not seen any mention of zero-waste alternatives to tampons and pads. Making the switch not only saves a lot of waste and money, but it’s really more comfortable, in my opinion. There are cloth pads, but to minimize water use as well as garbage a reusable cup is the best choice.

    Polly · May 26, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Yeah, as a new blog I’ve yet to get to everything I want! I personally use two pairs of Thinx as it’s what’s worked best for me but I’ve heard great things about cups!

Robbie · July 4, 2017 at 6:31 pm

I love the idea of lace curtains into reusable bags!!

    Polly · July 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    So, so simple and fun!

Courtney · August 29, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Love this! I am always very inspired by zero waste people. I have been trying to minimize the waste I contribute, but I have not made the transition to zero waste. Great post!

Gwen · February 18, 2018 at 4:31 am

Old T shirts that are no longer good enough to wear – save them and when you have enough cut them into 1 inch strips, plait them and turn them into floor rugs.Very comfortable next to your bed. Gwen

Leesa Hagan · March 15, 2018 at 6:51 pm

Still using my previously purchased/acquired plastic coffee mugs, but when I wear them out and send them to recycle, the KeepCup looks like a great option. Thanks for the list!

    Polly · March 16, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Nice! I still have one rattling around, but the KeepCup is a lovely alternative!

Zero waste food shopping in Indianapolis: a guide | GREEN INDY · February 5, 2017 at 9:11 am

[…] Delicious, zero waste food options await! Don’t forget your list and all of your zero waste shopping essentials! […]

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