“I can’t afford to go zero waste!”
That’s a sentence I have heard and read quite a lot already. I disagree, I think all of the people who said this to me can afford to go zero waste. Granted, buying in bulk in the unpackaged shops here in Germany is much more expensive than shopping at discounters such as Aldi. If you start buying in bulk and don’t make any other changes in your lifestyle, you’ll probably end up spending more money than you did before.
I want to show you how I make this lifestyle work for me, by listing zero waste changes I made that don’t only save a lot of trash, but that actually save me money. The calculations are be based on prices here in the south west of Germany or on very conservative estimates and unless stated otherwise, they show the savings for one person in two years.
- I stopped buying cotton buds. Ear specialists strongly advice against the use of cotton buds for cleaning the ear, because of the dangers of perforating the eardrum and pushing ear wax deeper into the ear. Boxes of cotton buds in Germany actually carry the warning “Do not insert into the ear canal.”
320 cotton buds = 1.30 € per year — savings = 1.30 Euros
- I stopped buying cotton rounds. I cut out a few reusable ones out of a very old towel I and quickly cleaned the edges with an overlock stitch. But most of the time I simply use a towel, the easier the better.
730 cotton rounds = 13.0 € per year — savings = 13.0 €
- I switched from store bought facial and body scrubs to homemade ones. I use a few spoonfuls of sugar, salt or baking soda.
600ml cheap drug store facial scrub (using 6g per week) = 15.8€
600g sugar = 0.6 €
savings = 15.2 €
3 l cheap drug store body scrub (using 30g per week) = 40€
3kg sugar = 3€
savings = 37€
- I switched from tampons to a menstrual cup.
416 brand tampons (16 per cycle) = 33€
1 menstrual cup = 21€ (mine is one of the more expensive ones, you can get one starting at 16€)
savings = 12€
- I switched from a razor with disposable blades to a safety razor with recyclable blades. Before getting the safety razor I was buying very cheap disposable blades at 0.8€ each, but usually the blades cost about 2€. I was able to buy the safety razor with a gift certificate, but you can get a decent one starting at 22€.
16 blades at 2€ each = 32€
16 blades at 0.12€ each = 1.92€
new safety razor = 22€
savings = 8.08€
- I switched from cold wax strips to homemade sugaring paste. Let’s be very conservative here and say I used two packages of the cheapest drug store brand during two years, which is the equivalent to two portions of homemade sugaring paste from water, sugar in paper packaging and lemon juice.
Two packages of cold wax strips = 7.9€
Two portions of homemade sugaring paste = 1€ (0.1€ for sugar, 0.4€ for lemon juice)
savings = 6.9€
- I switched from liquid shampoo to a solid shampoo bar and at the same time I managed to extend the time inbetween washes from washing every other day to washing every 5 to 7 days.
10ml liquid organic shampoo at 0.98€ every other day = 36€
3 solid shampoo bars = 24€
savings = 12€total savings in the bathroom = 105.48€
- I do my very best to not waste any food. In an ideal week I make a tentative meal plan which helps me to buy more or less only the food I need. I always eat all of the leftovers or mix them with other foods to make a new meal. The savings on this are relatively hard to calculate.
- I stopped buying relatively cheap local water bottled in returnable glass bottles and now drink tap water. In Germany I’m in the lucky position of not having to filter my tap water. I’ve also gotten into the habit of carrying a water bottle with me that I can refill from a tap so I don’t have to buy anything to drink when I’m out and about. This makes my savings even bigger.
2 litres bottled water a day at 0.4€ each = 584€
2 litres of tap water a day at 0.004€ each = 3.08€
savings = 580.92€
- I stopped eating meat. One or two years before that I had started to buy more organic meat which is really pricey. Recently, I’ve also severely cut down the amount of dairy I’m consuming. The savings on that are hard to calculate
- I started taking food to take to work / university. Tough there are a lot of coffee shops and cafes at my university, I can only get a zero waste meal at the mensa and it is nearly impossible to baked goods without a paper napkin or paper bag. Apart from that, I don’t particulary fancy what they have on offer and the vegetarian options, let alone vegan options are very limited. A sandwich would cost me around 2.4€ and a warm vegetarian meal at the mensa starts at 2.4€ as well.
breakfast and lunch at uni at 4.8€ two times a week during the semester = 672€
breakfast and lunch prepared at home at an estimated 3.0€ two times a week during the semester = 420€
breakfast at at least 2.4€ uni two times a week during the semester = 336€
breakfast prepared at home at an estimated 1€ two times a week during the semester = 140€
savings = 448€
- I joined foodsharing.de as a foodsaver. Foodsharing is an online platform and community of volunteers that saves and distributes surplus food in Germany and Austria. I pick up surplus bread and other baked goods such as croissants and sometimes even cake at a bakery about once a week or so. I fill my freezer to last me a week or a bit longer and I distribute the rest to friends and others who eat the food before it spoils. As the bakeries pack the surplus before the food savers get there, every pick up generates one or two reused large brown paper flour bags of recyclables for me. I’ve been doing this for 3 months now, but I’ll calculate the savings for two years based on the price I would pay in other bakeries for the amount I’m eating each week. I can get to the bakeries on foot or by bus, but sometimes I take the car, so I’ll deduct some money for fuel.
4 bread rolls at 0.6€, 1 croissant, 1 other item every week = 478.4€
taking the car every third time = 43€
savings = 435.4€
- I started buying dried pulses instead of precooked ones in jars. The ones I use most often are chickpeas and kidney beans. This comparison is based on the organic bulk chickpeas and kidney beans from Unverpackt Mainz and the jars by Alnatura.
One jar (215g of solids) of kidney beans or chickpeas per week at 1.25€ each = 130€
per week 215g of chickpeas soaked and cooked from dry at 4€ a kg of dry ones = 38.00€
savings = 92€
- We eat some sort of wrap or tortilla at least once a month, probably even twice. I switched from organic premade tortillas which came in plastic packaging with a laminated plastic sheet inside the packaging to homemade organic tortilla wraps (the flour comes in recyclable paper packaging). They take a bit of time to make, but I enjoy making them and I can decide how big or small I want to make them. I eat three (half of a package) in one meal.
18 packets of 6 small organic ready made tortilla wraps = 44.82€
18 portions of 8 large organic homemade tortilla wraps = 9€
savings = 35.82€
The maths for switching from non-organic pre-made ones to non-organic homemade ones looks like this:
18 packets of 6 large tortilla wraps = 27.9€
18 portions of 8 large homemade wraps = 3.6€
savings = 24.3€
- I was able to switch to bulk spices. I compared the prices of the bulk spices from the organic unpackaged shop Unverpackt Mainz to the packaged organic brands Alnatura and Lebensbaum which are very common in organic and non-organic supermarkets and which I bought before unpackaged herbs and spices became available to me. Seasoned salt and pepper are more expensive when bought in bulk, but the rest of the spices and herbs are overall dramatically more expensive when bought in the typical supermarket packaging. The smallest difference is in the curry powder which is 42€ per kg unpackaged and 49.19€ per kg packaged. The biggest difference is in the dried parsley, which is a whopping 107.67€ more expensive when packaged (45€ per kg vs. 152.67€ per kg).
For the sake of doing some maths with this, let’s make one big spice mixture out of it. The bulk spice mixture costs 35.1€ per kg and the packaged one costs 78.6€ per kg. So let’s say I use a teaspoon of spices (4g) three times a week. In two years this makes 1.248kg in two years.
1.248kg bulk spices = 43.80€
1.248kg spices in small packages = 98.09€
savings = 54.29€
- I make my own nut butters from bulk ingredients. I try not to eat too much of them, but I’ve always got some peanut butter and tahini at home. This comparison is based on the organic Monki peanut butter I used to buy which only contains peanuts and a bit of sea salt and Tahini by Alnatura and ingredients from Unverpackt Mainz.
2kg of peanut butter in a jar = 22.36€
2kg of bulk peanuts = 12€
savings = 10.36€
2kg of tahini in a jar = 37.6€
2kg of bulk sesame seeds = 12€
savings = 25.6
- I gleaned potatoes. I found an organic potato farmer on facebook not too far from where I live who announced when his field was ready for gleaning. I went there with another foodsaver and we collected a total of 70kg of potatoes. 40kg were for a disco soup event and 15kg for each of us. Had I not also collected for the disco soup event I would have collected a few more kilos for myself. You could potentially go glean carrots, onions and apples as well, but you should always make sure that it’s not forbidden in your country, that the owner of the field allows it and that there’s no humanitarian group that’s relying on the produce for distribution amongst people who can’t buy their own food.
Organic potatoes from the supermarket at at least 1.5€ per kg = 22.5
Gas needed to drive to the field = 3.7€
savings = 18.8€total savings on food = 1689.67€
- I got a library card and together with the little free libraries around town I’ve basically stopped buying books. As a student I have a library card to the university’s libraries, but I also have one for the local library. I still have a bit of a backlog of unread novels I bought years ago, so this hasn’t saved me too much in the last two years. But it has kept me from buying a few travel guides and cookery books.
I just have to make sure not to
2 years of library card at 13€ each (student tariff) = 26€
a few travel guides, cookery books, magazines and non-fiction books = estimated price at least 80€
savings = 54€
- I started to buy more second hand clothing. Up to now I’ve bought several tshirts (30€), tops (10€), my wedding shoes (12€), a denim jacket (9€) and three pairs of jeans (35€).
second hand clothing 96€
very similar items from the same brands bought new (340€)
savings = 204€
- I make my own liquid laundry detergent. My current recipe consists of 30g of organic castile soap, 60g of washing soda and 2 litres of water. Castile soap (2€ per 125g) and washing soda (1€ per 500g in plastic packaging) are super cheap, so 1 litre of my homemade detergent costs me 0.31€, whereas 1 litre of organic detergent costs me 4€.
1 wash a week over two years with 75ml of homemade detergent = 2.4€
1 washe a week over two years with 75ml of store-bought detergent = 31.1€
savings = 28.7€total savings on clothing = 232.7€
- I sold a few things I did not use. These included some clothes, but also some other items such as books or DVDs. I have not made much money with this, mostly because I wear my clothes until they aren’t in a condition to be sold anymore and because I’ve become to lazy to list smaller items on ebay, so I tend to give them to an Oxfam shop.
savings = 60€
- fees for trash pick up. Each kilo of household trash for incineration costs 0.31€ in addition to the base costs. There is the potential of saving loads money here, because we don’t really need the household trash bin. Unfortunately, we live in a flat and the overall cost of trash is divided by the number of flats and it’s not possible to get out of this. So that’s at least 200€ we couldn’t save :(totalsavings on household = 60€
- We somehow managed to use our car a lot less during the last two years. Up to two years ago we drove 20,000km during the span of two years. During the last two years we only drove 14,000km, even though we went on a small road trip to Italy. I think I used the car much less because I finally managed to get up early enough to take the bus or bike to work / university and I now walk to the market with my granny trolley once a week and don’t drive to the supermarkets any more.
60 x 5.5 l of gasoline = 330l
330l x 1.23€ (prize of gasoline in July 2016) = 406€
savings = 406€
Calculated total savings = 2552.47€
At 2534€ the savings for one person in two years seem like a lot. However, I have to mention that not all of the money ends up in my savings account. Some of it is used to pay for zero waste switches which are more expensive than their non-zero waste counterparts, such as bamboo toothbrushes, which cost me 3.9€ each instead of under 1€ for a conventional plastic one, or freshly squeezed orange juice which costs me at least 4€ per litre instead of one from the supermarket in a plastic bottle at 1.4€.