Do It for the Cash

bulk shopping

Let’s say you don’t care about the environment at all. All you care about is money. Why? Well, perhaps you’re testing the theory that money can’t buy you happiness—and you demand first-hand proof. Maybe you have a psychological disorder—greed may be just that. Or possibly you look forward to living in the most unequal society that has ever existed on the planet so you’ll have more material for the dystopian masterpiece you’re writing—and you figure you may as well be at the top while you’re at it, although you won’t make your money writing and the few people who will still be able to afford to buy your book won’t read it. Also, sorry about the libraries closing 

If for no other reason, reduce your waste to save cold hard cash. Don’t do it for the oceans. Don’t do it to conserve resources so others may have a share of them. Don’t do it for the next generation. Be completely selfish about it. Your motives are your own business. Do whatever it takes to get on board. I have argued—rather effectively I believe—that reducing your waste can improve your sex life.

1. Buy less stuff

The waste-reducing reason: This is pretty self-explanatory. If you want to reduce your waste, buy less stuff. You’ll have fewer things to deal with when they break/wear out/you no longer find them useful.

Since I write a food blog, let’s look at kitchen gadgets for example. They can tempt us foodie types. But gadgets take up precious cupboard or counter space. And eventually the flimsy ones break. I know I push pressure cookers on here regularly (they will change your life) but if you think you will never use one, don’t buy one. That goes for other wants. You might have a solution for that want-soon-turned-need right under your nose. For at least a year, I had wanted a lame for scoring my sourdough bread but the only type I could find had a large plastic handle. When the blade dulls, you toss the whole thing. So I made my own with a recyclable razor blade. Not that I can make everything. But if I think I need a new gadget, rather than rushing out to buy it, I can usually find a solution. This is what Google is for.

cherry pitter and bread lame
Homemade cherry pitter and bread lame

When you do buy stuff—and this includes some ingredients—buy multi-purpose stuff to avoid waste. You can substitute many ingredients for other ingredients you may already have on hand. For example, to make baking powder, combine 1 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons cream of tartar. Since we almost always have cream of tartar on hand (we need it for recipes such as meringues and macaroons), and baking soda is a must (for cooking, cleaning, sometimes washing hair), we also have baking-powder-in-the-making on hand too.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: Again, this is pretty self-explanatory. That whole “Save big when you shop at [name of store] this weekend!” is pretty standard marketing fare. Ummm, you save money when you don’t spend it.

2. When you do buy, look for second-hand first

The waste-reducing reason: Many manufacturers envelop their goods in so much packaging. And if you take into account all of the resources that go into producing new goods—the harvest, production and transportation of raw materials; the raw materials themselves; the energy and water consumed during production; the fossil fuels burned for shipping—that new pair of jeans has a large footprint whether you bring your own bag to the store or not (but of course do bring one…).

amount of water to make jeans
Thirsty jeans

Soon after we went plastic-free, I needed new sheets. One fitted sheet had worn out. Other fitted sheets disappeared somehow. I avoided buying new sheets for a long time because they always come packaged in one of those giant clear plastic zippered cases. What do you do with those? Then I found a bunch of sheets at the thrift shop that looked just fine. When I told my ex about my score of new-to-me sheets, he said, “Ewww gross, you bought used sheets?!” to which I responded “Have you ever stayed in a hotel?”

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: I have found so much great stuff at thrift stores, such as the Fiesta Ware below—$27 for the equivalent of four place settings. One place setting costs about $50 retail. The All Clad kettle farther down cost $10 ($100 retail) and the pressure cooker $15 ($45 retail).

Fiesta Ware score at the thrift shop
$25 for both of these and look, I’m pushing the pressure cooker again…

3. Bring lunch to work

The waste-reducing reason: Do you cook most of the meals at home only to have people pooh-pooh your leftovers the following night? Save them for lunch. I almost always take leftovers to work for lunch and whatever fruit or vegetables need to be eaten soon. This reduces food waste. Tossed food not only squanders the food but also all the resources that went into growing that food—the land, the water, the energy, the labor. When the food rots in landfill, it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas more potent that carbon dioxide.

I pack my lunches in LunchBots or glass jars and containers. I take any compost home in these containers and add that to my pile. I bring a cloth napkin also. All of this goes into a reusable cloth bag. We have real utensils at the office so I don’t need to bring those.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: We have limited food options at the office where I work. A sandwich at one of the only restaurants near us costs about $8. It tastes delicious but if I order one each of the two to three days a week I work onsite, I would spend about between $70 to $100 a month on sandwiches. My leftovers cost a fraction of that—let’s say a quarter of what I would spend in a restaurant. Plus my healthier food may save money on healthcare down the line…

4. Buy from bulk bins

The waste-reducing reason: If you want to reduce your waste and you have access to bulk bins, shopping with your own reusable cloth bags and jars will reduce a huge amount of plastic packaging—and paper packaging, but mostly plastic packaging because it’s everywhere. 

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: Make sure you get your glass jars weighed and marked (i.e., tared) before you fill them so you pay for the weight of the food in the jar only and not for the weight of the jar. For the most part, I pay less for food I buy from the bulk bins than I would if I bought everything prepackaged. Most spices cost much less. Olive oil can be a bit of a wash at some stores. Since you can buy only what you need when you buy in bulk, you reduce food waste, which also saves money.

bulk shopping
Bulk bins at Goodness Me! in Guelph, Ontario

5. Shop with reusables

The waste-reducing reason: My zero-waste shopping kit includes cloth shopping bags, homemade cloth produce bags, metal containers and glass jars. For my most recent big haul, I used 25 jars, three cloth produce bags and four cloth shopping bags. That diverted at least 32 plastic packages and bags from landfill, but likely more, since I bought large quantities in a few of my big jars. Had those bigger portions been packaged, they would have required at least a couple of packages per large jar for an equivalent amount of food.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: I get a discount when I bring my own bags and jars (this depends on the store and at some stores, depends on the cashier). For this haul, I received a discount of 5 cents per bag or jar, for a total discount of $1.60.

Bulk haul from Rainbow Co-op in San Francisco

6. Cook

The waste-reducing reason: Processed food comes in shiny—and mostly plastic—packaging. If you cook your food and shop as above, you’ll greatly reduce both your packaging waste and your food waste.

Some ingredients actually require less effort to make than to trek to the store and buy. Plus you reduce your packaging. A cup of my homemade vanilla extract replaces several plastic bottles’ worth of store-bought.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: I can cook a vat of chana masala—enough for at least two meals for three of us—made with organic ingredients of the best quality, for about $12. At my favorite Indian restaurant, one serving of chana masala costs $13.95. (I’m usually very modest but I think mine tastes just as good.)

That homemade vanilla extract costs much less money than store-bought. I can make about six bottles of vanilla extract for less than $20. The equivalent amount of inexpensive vanilla extract costs $30. And it’s so easy to start—split vanilla beans and drop them into a cup of vodka, rum or bourbon and set that aside to steep for a couple of months. 

homemade vanilla extract
Homemade vanilla extract in the making

7. Preserve food

The waste-reducing reason: I make lots of different fermented foods—sourdough bread, kombucha, ginger beer, dill pickles, sauerkraut, hot peppers, preserved lemons. By making these myself I eliminate all the packaging waste of store-bought items. I am convinced that most people simplifying their lives will stumble onto fermentation at some point.

I also freeze food. Every September or so, I madly process tomatoes. On Saturdays or Sundays, a few weekends in a row near the end of tomato season, I spend part of the day roasting, packing and freezing 20-pound hauls of tomatoes. Yes, it’s a lot of work but throughout winter I have really delicious tomatoes. The taste of canned cannot compare.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: A loaf of authentic sourdough at my farmer’s market costs $8. Mine, let’s say $2 including the energy. A bottle of ho-hum ginger beer costs a couple of dollars. Mine costs pennies—50 cents a bottle tops—and it tastes fantastic. A small jar of preserved lemons will set you back about $8—if you can find any. I have a lemon tree so my preserved lemons cost basically nothing to make. The only comparable tomatoes I have found cost $8 for a 16-ounce jar. Mine cost about a dollar for the same amount.

Yes, if I spent these hours working at my day job, I would earn more money than I save. But I enjoy making all of this. I enjoy even more eating all of this.

Frozen tomatoes in jars

8. Bring your own cup

The waste-reducing reason: At my favorite cafe, I pay for a small tea even though I bring a large, 16-ounce thermos. I start to shake if I have two cups of black tea in the thing. Other stores, if anything, offer a small discount. Until cafes charge for a throwaway cup, rather than give a discount, I don’t believe we will make much of a dent in the billions-of-coffee-cups-to-landfill-each-year problem. People don’t care about a 10 cent discount but charge them 10 cents for a cup and they suddenly will. Passionately! For now, as with most everything in the lifecycle of stuff, it’s up to us, the consumer, to make changes.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: I’m sitting at Philz as I type this. A small tea costs $3.50. A large costs $4.50.

Klean Kanteen thermos
Bring your own

9. Drink more water

She does go on about bottled water…

The waste-reducing reason: Bottled water has to go. According to The Story of Stuff website, Americans alone “buy more than half a million bottles of water per week. That enough to circle the globe more than 5 times.” This is madness.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: A case of bottled water costs between $5 and $10 depending on the size, brand and store. The equivalent from your tap costs basically $0.

10. Cut the soda, energy drinks, juice and other bottled beverages

The waste-reducing reason: Even if they do come in glass—which burns more fossil fuel for transport than plastic due to the weight—bottled beverages almost always have a big plastic lid that generally can’t go in the recycling bin. Not that recycling is the answer. It’s not. Reduction is. And if these bottles are made of plastic? Well, consider this: Coke, which decades ago abandoned its refillable bottle program, produced more than 100 billion plastic bottles in 2016. Billion. With a “b.” As in barons, bleak, blackguards, abominable (close enough).

I don’t buy bottled beverages. I make kombucha, ginger beer, beet kvass… I even make my own booze. In fact, I rarely used to drink until I figured out how to make booze. It’s so easy. So maybe this is a bad example…

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: A 16-ounce bottle of my homemade organic kombucha, using the best organic looseleaf tea I can find, costs 50 cents a bottle maximum. Store-bought costs between $4 to $5.

homemade kombucha
Cherry kombucha (left bottle and small jar) and hibiscus (right bottles)

11. Eat lower on the food chain

The waste-reducing reason: Where I live, meat and cheese have the most packaging. I can buy meat at one butcher in my own container but if you take into account the resources that went into producing a pound of beef versus a pound of lentils, the latter has a much smaller footprint.

We eat lots of beans and legumes, lots of vegetables and very little fish or meat (my younger daughter likes it so I make it for her sometimes). Someone on Instagram recently asked me how to make a diet based on vegetables more tasty. We use lots of spices—cumin, crushed red chilies, turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, basil, nutmeg—and I make all sorts of fermented food. The spices and ferments add SO much flavor.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: A pound of organic pastured ground beef costs about $10 a pound at the Whole Foods near me. A pound of chickpeas costs a fifth of that. Like brown bagging it at work rather than dining out, eating food lower on the food chain—more vegetables and whole grains and less meat—may save healthcare dollars later

12. Ditch the coupons

The waste-reducing reason: “Wait, what?” I hear you say. “I care about reducing waste but I also agreed to read this long post for your money-saving tips.” Hear me out. Real food rarely goes on sale. Usually only the processed, food-like products go on sale—the stuff in plastic packaging. Glance through a Sunday flyer or a coupon booklet and you’ll notice coupons mostly for processed food, commercial cleaners and other consumer products. How often do you see a big sale on bunches of fresh carrots? Stick with real food and you cut the packaging.

The I-just-want-to-save-cash reason: Avoid the products associated with most coupons and you’ll buy less processed food and fewer consumer products—that stuff isn’t cheap.

zero waste shopping
A recent farmer’s market haul

See my recent post “21 Consumer Products You Can (Likely) Live Without” for more stuff to cut that will save you money. You don’t fool me though. I know you don’t do this for the cash only 😉

10 Comment

  1. What an interesting article and lots I hadn’t though about. Never realised just how much water goes into making jeans. I tend to buy my stuff from thrift stores or hand along’s to reduce my impact but find buying for my children hard as they want new. I suppose I’m doing my bit.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! It is a shocking stat. You are doing your bit 🙂

  2. Canning – both hot water bath and pressure – is another great way to preserve food and bonus, makes foods shelf stable so that one doesn’t need to depend on a freezer (and electricity) to keep it over time. I have shelves full of premade salsas, pickles, jams, even fruit syrups and other condiments (like duck sauce!). I also have canned tomatoes and other fruits (peaches, applesauce, cherries, etc) as well as stock, ready to use at a moment’s notice. Not only does canning preserve these items to sit at room temperature so there is no thawing when you want to use them, there’s no freezer burn!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks for the addition Becky. That all sounds incredibly delicious. ~ Anne Marie

  3. I love that you got your fiesta set from a thrift store — I got an entire set of pink ones from a garage sale! It was too exciting

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks, I would love some pink too. What a great score!

  4. Having a hard time finding organic in bulk.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Kathy, I live about three blocks away from a store that has lots of bulk (although a lot of it is candy) but very little, if any of it, is organic :/ It’s frustrating. If you buy giant packages of organic, you’ll reduce your packaging waste overall by quite a bit. A couple of friends and I have talked about buying a gigantic package of baking soda from the bulk store (the size they use to fill up the bin) and splitting it. If we each buy the equivalent from the bulk store, we’re still generating trash, we just don’t see it. ~ Anne Marie

  5. This is about a month late, I’m only just now discovering your blog, and I am really enjoying what I have read thus far. When I scrolled down to number 12 on the list, “Ditch Coupons,” I nearly screamed aloud, “YES!” because this is true. I used to be heavily into couponing and subsequently bought so much stuff that I did not need. Case in point, I donated 60 POUNDS of perfectly good food to the food bank last year and that didn’t even include the expired boxed goods that were accepted for people’s farm animals. I am still working on pulling myself out of the crazy world of couponing because I eventually realized that an overwhelming majority of it is for processed foods or fancy products overladen with chemicals, the vast majority of which my household has never used or even been interested in. I am still quite new to the “zero waste movement” (less than two months!) but I am realizing that this is far more practical endeavor to put my efforts into plus it’s actually good for me! No more spending four freakin’ hours and going to five or six different stores just to come back with armfuls of junk no one needs. Besides, the older I get, the more my body craves wholesome real food and I think it’s long past time that I started listening to myself.
    I will say though, one upside to couponing for so long is that I am quite used to the strange looks people give me when I ask for special requests. (Instead of, “I have this to price match plus I have coupons,” it’s now, “And I don’t need a bag for [insert tiny single item here].”

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Well my response is about a month late too 😉 I’m so happy to hear you’ve been enjoying my blog. Wow 60 pounds! That’s a lot of food. That’s good you have the requests-that-evoke-strange-looks thing down. It will come in handy. Funny how such simple requests for things that were once everyday can do that. Enjoy your zero-waste journey!

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