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Our top saving hacks for the zero-waste lifestyle

11 min read
2 Oct 2019
Two adults carrying groceries

Caring for the environment has never been trendier, and while thousands of people across the country urge the government to do more when it comes to climate change, others are assessing things closer to home by asking how to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

A zero-waste lifestyle simply means adjusting your lifestyle by reusing, recycling and repurposing items to reduce the amount of waste you produce that ends up in landfill.

Australians collectively generate around 67 million tonnes of waste every year, or 2.7 tonnes per individual,i yet just 37 million tonnes of waste is recycled annually – according to the Australian Federal Government.ii

And while sometimes it seems the progress to reduce this waste has been slow, we’ve already seen changes implemented across society – be it the recent single-use plastic bag ban in supermarkets, paper straws being offered in place of plastic ones at your local cafe or even soft drink companies producing bottles made of 100% recycled plastic.iii

But does producing less waste mean spending more money in the name of the environment?

Not necessarily, as we’ve found practising a zero-waste lifestyle may save you money in the long-run.

Our top tips

  1. Assessing your food consumption
  2. Rethinking how you purchase clothes
  3. Cutting down on plastic use
  4. Do I really need to bin it?

Tip #1 – Living a zero-waste lifestyle by assessing your food consumption

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of choice available when shopping, but one of the easiest ways of saving money and living a zero-waste lifestyle is to only buy what you need. An incredible 30% of food Australians purchase is wasted, with households throwing away 3.1 million tonnes of food each year at a cost of up to $3,800.iv

Instead of throwing money away, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia suggests:v

  • Planning meals ahead of time so you’re only buying what you need and avoiding waste. This could include buying in bulk and preparing several meals at once for the week ahead. Similarly, any leftover food can be incorporated into a new meal instead of being thrown out.
  • Being aware that food labelled ‘best before’ can still be eaten after the date displayed on a package, providing it’s been stored correctly.

Clothing rack

Tip #2 – Living a zero-waste lifestyle by rethinking how you purchase clothes

It’s not just your food habits that are contributing to unnecessary landfill, with clothing now the second biggest pollutant in the Eighty-five per cent of the textile Australians purchase ends up in landfill, not to mention the environmental impact the making of our clothes has before they even end up in our wardrobe.

There are various ways people can save money and practice a zero-waste lifestyle when it comes to their fashion. These include:

  • Opting for quality over quantity. Splashing a little extra on a more expensive brand may work out cheaper in the long run because you’re not having to replace cheaper items that become damaged or ruined quicker.
  • Exchange or swap clothing with friends or family, or at a swap event. Not only is someone else going to get use out of your old clothing item, but you may also go home with a preloved item that you didn’t have to buy at top price from a department or fashion store.
  • Shop at charity stores. These clothes are often cheaper and more unique than the ones you’ll find at shopping centres, and the money usually goes to a worthwhile cause.
  • Sell your old items online. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and with thrift shopping growing in popularity, your old jumper or dress could earn you some extra cash and save clothing from being unnecessarily sent to landfill.

The same rules above can be applied to furniture, houseware items, crockery and other items. It’s also worth pointing out that charities can make great use of clothing items, furniture and other goods you no longer need. While you won’t be offered cash in every case, the environment and those in need will benefit.

Tip #3 – Make the switch to a zero-waste lifestyle by cutting down on plastic use

Producing less waste doesn’t always mean missing out, and often it’s small switches that will do wonders for both your wallet and the environment. Eighty-eight per cent of single-use plastic – which includes everything from plastic bags and plastic cups to plastic cutlery and even cotton buds – isn’t recycled in Australia, meaning it likely ends up in landfills and oceans, harming the environment.vii

What’s worse is one tonne of plastic waste is produced every minute in Australia, and eight million tonnes end up in the ocean each year.viii

The good news is cutting back on plastic is usually easy and cheap to do, as we’ll show you in five simple ways.

Ditch plastic straws to live a zero-waste lifestyle

While saying no to straws altogether is recommended, there are several environmentally friendly options on the market for those who need or prefer to drink through a straw. These include:

  • stainless steel;
  • bamboo;
  • pasta;
  • rice;
  • paper;
  • reusable silicone; and
  • compostable plant-based straws.ix

Use them at home for your beverages and keep a couple with you when out and about so you can refuse plastic straws offered by restaurants and cafes. Depending where you buy them and the brand, a set of reusable straws can cost less than $5.

Reusable bags

Most Australian states and territories have introduced a single-use plastic bag ban at supermarkets and stores, meaning shoppers must purchase a bag from 15 cents or bring their own from home. The ban came as Australians were using four billion single-use plastic bags each year, with 150 million ending up in waterways and oceans and others ending up in landfill or the environment.x
Woman drinking through a straw
While there’s usually a small upfront cost to purchase reusable bags made from materials such as nylon, string, canvas and cloth, you save in the long run when you’re not constantly having to purchase new bags. These reusable bags are also tougher, typically last longer than standard plastic bags and can be kept in the car so you don’t forget to take them with you when shopping.

In cases where you do have to purchase a single-use plastic bag, try to make the most of it by shopping with it at other stores or recycling it as a rubbish bag. Also, remember that you don’t always need a bag for small purchases of just one or two items, so evaluate whether you really need to spend money on one.

Water bottles

Bottled water is exceptionally popular, with recent research showing that more than a quarter of Australians over the age of 14 consume bottled water in any given seven-day period.xi This can have a devastating impact on the environment, with Clean Up Australia noting that 10% of items collected as part of Clean Up Australia Day are related to plastic drinking bottles.xii What’s more is every litre of bottled water can require up to three litres to produce, while burning fossil fuels is often required to then transport the bottles to stores and other locations where it can be purchased.

The average cost of a bottle of water in Australia is $2.50, but it can cost just a few cents for a litre of water from a tap.xiii Purchasing a reusable water bottle is a simple and affordable way to benefit the environment and your wallet, and it can be taken with you to work or when you’re out and about. Tap filters are another option for people who don’t like the taste of tap water but don’t want to buy bottled water.

Those who still want to purchase bottled water should recycle them properly and be aware that some states across the country have container deposit schemes where most aluminium, glass, PET, HDPE, steel and liquid paperboard beverage containers between 150ml and 3L will be rewarded with 10 cents per item.xiv
Woman filling water bottle

Coffee cups

Australians love their coffee, so much so that 2.7 million paper coffee cups are thrown out every day and more than a billion disposable cups are used each year!xv Sadly, these cups can’t be recycled and go directly to landfill, but using reusable cups is an effective way of reducing this number. Most cafes, department stores and online retailers now offer reusable alternatives and may even offer a discount as an incentive for using these cups. There have even been cases where retailers have introduced hot water facilities at machines so people can wash their cups before reuse.xvi

If you’re not in a hurry, you can always enjoy your coffee at home or dine in at your café of choice and use a standard cup or mug that can be cleaned and reused after use.
Women with groceries

Books, movies and music

When was the last time you purchased a book, listened to a CD or watched a physical DVD or Blu-ray? Since 2017, Australians have spent more on digital movies than physical movies such as DVDs or Blu-rays,xvii while a 2015 survey from Roy Morgan found that sales of eBooks are also increasing across all age groups.xviii

Most movies, books and music are now available for purchase and download online and can often be cheaper than the cost of a physical disc or book. This saves money, reduces clutter and the likelihood of the book or disc ending up in landfill when you no longer want it. The benefit of digital downloads is they’re often stored in a digital cloud and can be downloaded whenever you want them, but may also reduce the cost of your home and contents insurance because you’re not having to cover physical copies of your favourite music, movies and books.

There’s also been a rise in Australians using streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix and Stan to watch their favourite TV shows and movies and listen to their favourite albums.

Making the switch to digital doesn’t mean your old media needs to be thrown away and there’s still many collectors who would pay for certain movies, books and even CDs. Try online stores such as Gumtree, eBay or Facebook Marketplace, have a garage sale or even donate them to friends, family or local charity shops.
Women composting food scraps

Tip #4 – Ask yourself: do I really need to bin it?

In addition to asking yourself whether your old clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, furniture and other household goods should be thrown out, it’s also important to consider whether garden waste or food scraps need to be sent to landfill. Around 50% of household waste in Australia is food and garden waste, and while it may be easy to stick in a garbage bag and forget about it, the truth is food that decomposes in landfill creates harmful greenhouse gases that impact air quality and contribute to climate change.xix

What’s more is the average Australian uses more than 160 plastic bags per year, equating to more than 3.92 billion in total.xx

By composting organics such as fruit and vegetable scraps, vegetable oil, garden clippings, coffee and eggshells, you could save the money you’d otherwise spend on garbage bags. Composting organic waste can also suppress plant diseases and pests, and reduces the need for chemical fertilisers or manures. Composting can also save you money on watering costs because the composting process helps soil retain moisture.xxi

What are some other ways to save?

To get more ideas on how to save, try our savings tip generator today. Otherwise, you can always try and compare your options with different personal finance products using our comparison service. In most cases, you’ll have results in mere minutes!


[i] Australian Government – ‘2018 National Waste Policy: less waste, more resources.’ Page three. Accessed September 2019
[ii] Blue Environment 19 November 2018 – ‘National Waste Report 2018.’ Page x. Accessed September 2019
[iii] Coca-Cola Amatil 26 June 2019 – ‘An Australian innovation: Coca-Cola Amatil produces Australia’s first 100% recycled bottle for carbonated beverages.’ Accessed September 2019
[iv] Department of Environment and Energy – ‘Reducing waste.’ Accessed September 2019
[v] WWF Australia – ‘Reducing food waste.’ Accessed September 2019
[vi] The University of Queensland Australia – ‘Fast fashion quick to cause environmental havoc.’
[vii] WWF Australia 1 July 2019 – ‘10 worst single-use plastics and eco-friendly alternatives.’ Accessed September 2019
[viii] Planet Ark – ‘Single use plastics.’ Accessed September 2019
[ix] WWF Australia 1 July 2019 – ‘10 worst single-use plastics and eco-friendly alternatives.’ Accessed September 2019
[x] Sustainability Victoria – ‘Plastic bags.’ Accessed September 2019
[xi] Roy Morgan 19 April 2016 – ‘Bottled water consumption booming.’ Accessed September 2019
[xii] Clean Up Australia – ‘Bottled water.’ Accessed September 2019
[xiii] Clean Up Australia – ‘Bottled water.’ Accessed September 2019
[xiv] Planet Ark – ‘Container deposit schemes.’ Accessed September 2019
[xv] The University of Melbourne – ‘Coffee cups.’ Accessed September 2019
[xvi] 7-Eleven Australia – ‘The current cup problem’.’ Accessed September 2019
[xvii] Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association 2017 – ‘Statistics 2017.’ Accessed September 2019
[xviii] Roy Morgan 2 February 2015 – ‘More Australians buying eBooks.’ Accessed September 2019
[xix] Sustainability Victoria – ‘How to compost food and garden waste.’ Accessed September 2019
[xx] Australian Ethical – ‘Why are we still using plastic bags?’ Accessed September 2019
[xxi] International Compost Awareness Week Australia – ‘About composting.’ Accessed September 2019
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avatar of author: Phillip Portman

Written by Phillip Portman

When he’s not busy writing, Phillip can usually be found at the movies, riding rollercoasters at theme parks, hanging out with his cockatiel Tiki, or talking about everything pop culture. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Journalism and has previously written about health, entertainment, and lifestyle for various publications. Phillip loves to help others and hopes that people learn something new from his articles.

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