A mason jar over flowing with money sits on a white background

Money Talks: Why the Trash Jar is a Garbage Way to Sell the “Zero Waste” Movement

I know the zero waste community idolizes the trash jar, but to be honest, I found it alienating and un-relatable at the beginning of my journey. For those of you on the outside looking in, the trash jar is essentially a mason jar-sized garbage can for someone who has the time, resources, and knowledge it takes to reduce your trash output to essentially nothing. It’s a wonderful feat, but not feasible for a majority of the population. It puts the focus on individual sacrifices instead of encouraging a mix of community outreach and creating responsible personal habits. A money jar, on the other hand, might have been a bit more enticing!

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One of the greatest personal “wins” I’ve experienced by living a low-waste lifestyle is how much money I’ve saved. As a millennial trying to pay off student debt, every penny counts. The best part? The more committed I’ve become to a zero-waste lifestyle, the more successful I’ve been in paying down my debt. This is due to a few simple habits and mindset shifts.


Take a look at what you use every day. There are likely things that you can avoid altogether. Do you need a 10-step skincare routine? Or a separate cleaning product for every type of mess or surface? A new straw every day for your water? Probably not. By simply pairing down what you regularly use, you will quickly reap the benefits for both your wallet and the planet.


Reusable alternatives often have a higher upfront cost BUT when used with care, they can save you an infinite amount of money over time. The higher upfront costs may seem prohibitive to some, but you can start with small steps. Try using what you already have, like an upcycled glass jar wrapped in elastics gathered from your produce for your morning coffee or as a water bottle. Store leftovers in take-out containers and old butter tubs. Use the money you’re saving by reducing what you need and start investing in reusable alternatives as you can. Some of my favorites? A wet cloth instead of make-up wipes, rags and towels instead of paper towels, a menstrual cup and absorbent underwear instead of pads and tampons, and a reusable water bottle instead of single-use plastic ones. 


So much STUFF already exists on this planet. It’s likely that something you need has been pre-loved and is ready to move on to you. Thrift stores and consignment shops are wonderful but they can be time-consuming to sift through. Online resources like ThredUp, Poshmark, AptDeco, and Facebook Marketplace have kept thrifting for anything from clothing to furniture to electronics relevant in the 21st century and made them not only easier to find but accessible in all sorts of scenarios. You can narrow down your options by color, brand, size, and occasion without scouring racks for hours. Not to mention, it’s much cheaper to buy pre-owned goods, allowing you to stretch your dollar further and wind up with higher quality stuff for half the price.


Make the products that you do use last longer. Don’t wear make-up as often, wash your hair every few days instead of daily, wear clothing until it’s actually dirty to save on detergent, and be diligent about what you’re using and when. The longer you can make a product last, the more infrequently you’ll have to purchase it spending less money over time.


This means you’re often purchasing food in its original form, mostly unpackaged. Veganism gets a bad rap for being expensive, but the reality is most of my meals are simply grains, beans, starches, and vegetables. Some of the cheapest foods on the planet! My recommendation? Try one new plant-based meal a week. Once you find the ones you love, incorporating plant-based meals will be seamless. Since swapping to a vegan diet, I’ve noticed a considerable decrease in my weekly grocery bill.


Some DIYs require a lot of time or ingredients which makes it more expensive and resource-intensive than buying it pre-made. Find recipes you love which save you money and time, outsource what you have access to, and accept that some package-free swaps won’t be possible for you right at this moment. We love making our own toothpaste, dry shampoo, and oat milk. The savings are HUGE compared to conventional store-bought brands. We buy things like unpackaged bread, bagels, and peanut butter from local bakeries and grocery stores because we don’t currently have the time or know-how to make them ourselves. Plus, we love supporting local businesses!


Personal habits and sacrifices will only get us so far. Yes, absolutely hold yourself accountable for the things your privilege allows you to do, but also be aware that change needs to happen at the top if we want to see the monumental shifts needed to bring man-made climate change to a screeching halt. While your personal habits and commitments are so incredibly important, they shouldn’t be your sole focus. Share your findings with friends and family and, more importantly, share your concerns with your elected officials, the owners of companies and businesses you frequent. Most importantly, understand that you vote with your dollar every single day. Make it count.

Tell me, what ways have you saved money by leading a low waste lifestyle?

Edited By: Amy Joscelyn

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