Eco-Privilege: The Cost of Zero Waste

Spend any amount of time on social media and you'd be forgiven for thinking that a zero waste lifestyle is expensive. Check out some of the most popular advocates of the movement, and you'll notice the 'kit' that exists; it's almost an unofficial uniform. That stainless steel three-tiered lunchbox is £30, the plastic-free water bottle is £25 and the 100% organic cotton jeans are anywhere between £40 and £140.

How can a movement with its roots in minimalism be so pricy? The truth is, it's not. Like any other lifestyle, consumerism and the desire for cool stuff can cloud the issue, but done well, zero waste can save you money.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Many people feel priced out of a low impact lifestyle by the accoutrements that appear to accompany it. And, yes, the upfront costs of reusable items are naturally higher than their disposable counterparts. Initially. Over time, however, the cost per use is significantly lower. For example, a set of 10 unpaper towels is usually £10-£20, while a roll of kitchen towel is typically about £1. Even if you only use a single roll in a month, your washable, reusable towels will become cheaper per use in less than a year.

This is true for so many items. Kitchen cloths, makeup remover pads, sanitary towels, shopping and produce bags, wax food wraps and cotton hankies will quickly pay for themselves when compared to disposables. Even that £25 water bottle is worth it if you usually purchase water most days.

All of this, however, still assumes that you can afford to pay upfront for items instead of spreading the cost over a number of months. It's the same privilege that says it's cheaper to eat healthily because you can buy your staples in bulk. It takes for granted that we all have lumps sums of money ready for larger purchases; many of us don't. Does this mean that zero waste is too expensive for us?

No. In fact, zero waste can cost nothing at all. Repurpose is the 'R' that shines here.

You don't need a multi-layered bento box or pricy wax wrap, store your leftovers in a bowl with a plate on top. Wash out your old jars and keep them for storage (my favourite pickles come in a huge jar, one of which is currently holding soup in my fridge). Wrap old elastic bands around a largish jar to turn it into a to-go cup, turn an old t-shirt into a bag, chop up old towels to make makeup remover pads or kitchen cloths. Learn to crochet (or smile sweetly and someone you know who already can) and make your own pot scrubbers from garden twine.

It can be hard to see past the shiny zero 'swaps' and sponsored posts, but remember, every time you avoid using a single-use, disposable item, you're making a difference. Take small steps and you can change the world.