Can a zero waste lifestyle save you money?

Filed in Blog by on August 19, 2008 16 Comments
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non recyclable food packaging
A story in the Guardian last week revealed that shops selling expensive organic food have reported big loses as the credit crunch strikes.

While Aldi, which adopts a pile it high, sell it cheap approach to food was gaining 17% custom on last year. In addition, McDonald’s is creating 4,000 jobs to cope with the increasing demand for cheap fast food!

More heartening was that a survey for Sainsbury’s found that 62% of customers are concerned about wasted food and are more likely to use leftovers and cook food from scratch, rather than buy expensive, energy-intensive and over-packaged ready meals.

So I was thinking about this whole credit crunch idea and to one of the questions Richard Millington from MoreEco put to me in a recent interview. He asked “Has [going zero waste] saved you money?’

I know that we have some faithful readers who like to combine doing their bit for the planet with a frugal lifestyle.
There is even a dedicated forum to Green and Ethical money saving over on the hugely popular Martin Lewis’ Money saving Expert forum.

Our friend Tracy Smith, author of ‘Book of Rubbish ideas‘ combines her passion for a sustainable way of lifepolystyrene-cup with downshifting choices which rely less on money.

So green and frugal are kinda in, and sexy and even better, they’re doable; in fact I think they are great bed partners.

If we think solely to the food issue. There has been a lot of coverage about this in the press recently. A few months ago I was reading about food riots and numerous deaths in some countries from lack of food.

Here in the UK, some people were forced to choose whether to heat their homes or eat a decent meal as prices soared almost overnight.

But maybe it’s time to rethink our ways so that we can still feast like Kings AND put the central heating on.

We are terribly wasteful in this country. According to WRAP’s Love food hate waste campaign, we dump 6.7 million tonnes or Β£8bn of food in the landfill every year.

There are around 60 million of us living in this country, so that’s a lot of food per head that is being bought home and thrown away. Apparently this equates to one bag in three being thrown away. I want you to stop and think about that next time you come home loaded with your groceries.

I dare you to choose one bag in three and just put it straight into the bin. Do it and see how it feels – it might just give you a bit of a reality check………… It sounds a crazy stunt to pull, but sometimes we need to look at these statistics and somehow get them to bring about meaning to us.

I’m not asking you to actually leave it there and waste it; I just want you to go through the action to see how it feels and if it brings up any thoughts for you.

Anyway, looking at food, I’ve brain stormed a list of ways in which you can go zero waste AND save money.

1- Pack a lunch

Take a packed lunch to work instead of buying take out. By using a reusable box (you can get stainless steel ones if you want to be free of plastic) you can dramatically reduce the amount of waste you produce AND save money.

Sandwiches can be kept fresh in a box like the laptop lunchboxes (we have one to give away in a competition in the future, so stay tuned for details) and you can take your own drinks in a reusable bottle. join in with our pledge and win competition to win a fabulous reusable bottle from WeWantTap.

2-Make friends with leftovers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, because this one small change of mindset can bring about astonishing results: View your leftovers as ingredients.

Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body when it comes to the kitchen, the Love Food Hate Waste website will help you turn a lonely sausage into a delicious meal or a spoon full of pasta into tomorrow’s lunch.

pillow pack non recyclable salad packagingDry bread can be made into croutons or bread and butter pudding. With a sprinkle of water it can be bought back to life in the oven, or slathered with garlic butter you’ve got yourself a nice side dish of garlic bread. Failing that, do as our friend John does and at least feed it to our feathered friends.

3- Batch cook and freeze.

If you find something on offer such as tomatoes in season then batch cook some pasta sauce and freeze it. In autumn, when apples are falling off the trees, grab them and cook them down for instant apple pies throughout the winter.
If your butcher is selling off some mince then buy it (in your reusable container of course) and make a load of bolognase sauce, chilli or shepherds pies and put it in the freezer.
This means you can have ‘convenience’ food as a cheap price with no excess packaging.

4- Make your own yogurt

Do as I don’t and make your own yogurt. Honestly, this is a no brainer as I keep struggling to tell myself. I’ve done the maths and the price of yogurt has gone through the roof recently. You’ll be able to make it for less than shop bought price, you know exactly what has gone into it and a yogurt maker won’t even cost you a penny to run.
if you make it in a flask the savings are even more.

Plastic yogurt pots are a real bugbear for many people to get rid of, so do yourself and the planet a favour and learn from my procrastination.

5- Bake bread (and cakes and biscuits)

Most bread, cakes and biscuits arrive in some monstrous plastic packaging. Making your own will usually save you money and will certainly reduce your waste, but alas, not your waist.

Bread can be wrapped in a tea towel and placed in an airtight container to keep it fresh. Or use an old carrier bag if you have them lying around your home.
Home made cakes and biscuits taste a gazillion times better than shop bought and I’m yet to find biscuits that do not come in some kind of plasticised wrap.

Again, batch bake and freeze. We eat shortbread that has been in the freezer over a year and it still tastes as good πŸ™‚

When it comes to using chocolate chips, buy a large 100g bar of chocolate that comes in paper and foil and just get a knife out. Honestly, chocolate chips to me are like shop bought grated cheese or potatoes that come with a knob of butter and a sprig of parsley. A total rip off………..
You can make BIG chocolate chips this way, plus you can steal a few while you’re cooking and no one will notice.

I hear that granola is really easy to make too. We’re not museli eaters (see, I can’t even spell it, let alone eat it) but all it is is a few grain flakes, some nuts, seeds, a blob of honey and some dried fruits. Why pay someone else to mix it for you. I bet you wish you had less of one ingredient and more of another anyway, so now’s your chance.

You’ll save yourself some money, and if you’re lucky enough to have a store that sells nuts, seeds, grains andchicken-with-non-recyclable-packaging dried fruit in those huge bins, it will be a zero waste victory.

6- Do a spot of gardening.

Here’s something else I’ll keep saying until it becomes a mantra for you as well. You don’t need a plot of land to grow things.
You can grow tomatoes in a hanging basket, peppers in a large windowsill, salad leaves in a window box and virtually everything except large root crops in a container of some sort.

In addition, the kitchen windowsill is the perfect place to grow pots of herbs and sprouted seeds. Instant food, no waste and a minimum outlay. You’ll find people desperate to give away seeds and seedlings on Freecycle during the spring, so keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be able to grab a zero waste bargain.

7- Use a farmers market or sign up for a vegetable box scheme.

This means you can buy fruit and vegetables loose rather than in plastic wrap and you can buy exactly the quantity you want. What use is a ‘value’ pack of apples if half of them are wasted through not eating them in time? or as Frugal girl says on her fabulous blog “Buying cheap food isn’t such a fabulous bargain when you end up throwing a bunch of it away”

Herbs are a prime example; how often have you bought those lovely looking pots of herbs in the supermarket only to have them dead in a few days? When you get them home be realistic about how much you will use fresh and then freeze the rest. Either chop, place in an ice cube tray and cover with water or mix up with softened butter and freeze.

You can use the herby ice cubes to add to soups and stock and use the butter direct onto vegetables. If you have a glut of something like corriander or basil, then make them into pesto or pasta sauce and freeze that.

Riverford, which delivers 47,000 boxes of organic fruit and vegetables to households in the south-west of England every week, compared its prices with the equivalent organic vegetables from the supermarkets and found its box was cheaper.

Yay for Riverford!

8-Make a cuppa

Herbal teas are kind of fashionable now. Most people buy something like mint herbal teabags on a regular basis and you’ll find them next to the regular teas in all supermarkets.

These pesky things although in a cardboard box, usually come wrapped in cellophane and often have a tiny staple attaching the string to the bag.

Mint grows like a weed in this country! So save yourself the money and the packaging by growing your own mint. It grows better in a pot anyway, so you don’t need a garden. In addition, you might save yourself a fortune on over the counter medication if you take a cup of mint tea after your meals to aid digestion instead of renees (or whatever they are called) or Gaviscon. πŸ˜‰

Other herbs for tea include lemonbalm (excellent for stress and to promote sleep), sage (brilliant for sore throats and menopausal hot flushes), thyme (invaluable if you’re going down with an infection), and chamomile (soothing and relaxing).

9- Buy fruit and vegetables in season.

It’s cheaper, healthier and if you patronise your farmers market, farm shop or local orchard is all available sans packaging. Use seasonal shopping wisely by preserving things when they are at their peak and prices are knock down.

Two of my favourite kitchen gadgets are my blender for making smoothies from fruit that would otherwise be past its best and my dehydrator for taking advantage of produce that is in season. But freezing, preserving and canning can be done too – just ask for empty jam jars on Freecycle.

10- Ditch the bottled water and drink tap.

You’ll save a lot of money and the planet will breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t just the plastic bottles (ok, they can be recycled) but the massive carbon footprint that comes attached to a slurp of the bottled stuff.

Yes, I’m being hypocritical again, *I* am a bottled water drinker, but I’m aware that I could do better and have bought myself a britta filter ready for that day when I’m ready to give things a go…..

Why don’t you try it first and let me know how you get on πŸ˜‰

According to WeWAntTap, if I was to do a blind taste test, they’re pretty confident I wouldn’t know the difference between tap and bottled anyway, so I’m willing to accept psychology has a huge part to play.

11- finally, I want to mention something I’ve discovered about using our local butcher for meat.

I mentioned it to Richard in our interview.

As regular readers will know, we now take our own reusable containers to the butchers and he uses them for our purchases. I’ve been buying fresh chicken for the cat which means she can enjoy a zero waste meal.

What I’ve noticed is this. Not only do I have zero packaging (supermarket chickens used to come on a polystyrene tray with a thick piece of some non recyclable in the bottom and shrink wrapped in plastic), but chickens from the butcher last longer.

They cost me about 50p more, but I only have to travel 2 miles to get it and last week’s chicken stayed fresh for a whopping 10 days! Before, with ones I bought from the supermarket, I was throwing them away after 5 because they were going off.

So I would leave you with this thought. Don’t just assume that the price you pay out is the full cost. Start looking at the overall ‘cost’ and put your wastage into the final total.

You remember the comment I put on the post about the nectarines I bought in a plastic punnet in Lidls the other week? The entire lot went off. They suffered from that ‘gone off before they are ripe’ syndrome that some cheap fruit does.

Let that be a lesson to me!
One nectarine for 59p would have worked out far cheaper πŸ˜‰

What about you? I’m sure I’ve missed loads of ideas out? Please add them in the comments!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

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  1. Carnival of Trash #3 :: My Plastic-free Life | February 22, 2014
  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    That was excellent coverage of the many features of food usage. I do most things under the various headings. Aldi is a local shop for me too, among others. Unfortunately most fresh produce is wrapped in plastic. I am therefore limited to loose fruit/veg( eg cabbage, turnip, pineapple, melon ). Other standard products are Zero Waste.

    As you rightly say butcher meat/ fishmonger fish are superior to supermarket produce, as they are fresher. Seasonal food is best. Just now herring(cooked in vinegar in the oven), Ayrshire new potatoes and scotch tomatoes are in season. This is my most common mainmeal at this time of the year.

  2. Hi Mrs G – Fab article.

    Have just packed Mr A off to work with his smoked salmon sandwiches and lots of healthy treats for his second day back in the driving seat after the holidays. We got out of the habit before the holiday, and he spends loads on lunches when he has got one prepared at home. Overall, we saved a lot of money since we started our Zero Waste challenge and I encourage people to make a note of their expenditure too. I think what’s helped greatly is the change in thinking.

    Thinking about waste throughout my challenges made me ask the important question “Do I really need that?” and the general answer has been no, which has led to my saving. However, it’s very difficult when I get my cravings for Quavers. I know tut, tut…but I love ’em. πŸ˜€ x

  3. JaneG says:

    I find a great one for veg that’s past it’s best is to roast the lot with a bit of garlic and some oil (out of a glass bottle of course!) then just add a grain and you’ve got a great lunch or sauce and you’ve got your evening meal – they keep really well in the fridge and can be eaten hot or cold.

    You’re comment about just buying what you need, not necessarily the bulk packs, is exactly right.

    We also have a tendancy to share the veg box we have delivered – it comes on a Monday and if by Wednesday, when I see my mother-in-law I haven’t used it or planned to use something, then I’ll give it to her as she has more time and freezer space, so I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be used.

  4. jen cleanbin says:

    Great post with lots of practical ideas. I have a question about the chicken for your cat. Do you cook it? Are you getting scraps of entire chickens? I would love to move away from the tinned cat food; although, we have moved from the mini tins to the supersize tins which reduces overall waste.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    Thank you folks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s amazing what you can find when you start to dig around with your brain cell πŸ˜€ Eating seasonal and as fresh as possible, is certainly the way to reduce food waste, John πŸ™‚

    Mrs A; where do you get smoked salmon that is not in plastic? All the stuff around here is on a piece of gold plated cardboard with a plastic wrapping. My goodness – you do look after your man well!
    At least you can recycle pringles tubs over there for when that Quaver moment strikes……

    jane your meal idea with the left over veg sounds lovely; I love meals that can be eaten just as well cold, the following day. I like the idea of sharing a veg box – it’s good that your MIL can make use of her freezer space.

    Hi Jen πŸ™‚
    Yes I cook the chicken. I would feed it raw, in preference, but my girl is 15 and I doubt she would be impressed with a radical change of diet! I just buy a whole chicken and cook it on a Sunday when the oven is going on anyway; the sort that you would buy for human consumption…..I find this to be far cheaper than feeding her on tins (unless you buy the really cheap stuff).

  6. margaretnan says:

    this is my favourite of all your postings. Sometimes the most simple ways are the best

  7. Hi Mrs G – well I don’t know about looking after him that well. LOL, first days back at work though, special treat and all that. He even had some pieces of chocolate. πŸ˜€
    The smoked salmon is a treat but you’ll need to avoid it in your Zero Waste Week. However, over here, with the facilities available, it is *almost* waste-free. I get the type which come in a cardboard wrap, which say board and sleeve recyclable and put them in with our mixed recycling collection. There is the downside of the internal wrapper, but we have a mixed soft plastics collection at our local HWRC, where one day I bored the poor men to near death showing them my array of plastics, saying can I drop this, that and t’other including the wrapper and hooray, they said yes! Sometimes, not always, I end up with those annoying pieces of plastic film, which go the same way as the Quavers wrappers. Such is life eh, when you inject a bit of luxury into it. ;-D

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Margaret,
    It’s lovely to see a new face here – thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I’m glad that you liked the article. And I agree – the simple ways are often the best. Glad to see your beans are growing; you’ve done wonders in that garden of yours.

    Mrs A; your recycling facilities over there are just amazing. It makes such a difference doesn’t it. Glad to see Mr A is getting his chocolate fix – did you put it in with the smoked salmon sandwiches? πŸ˜‰

  9. Ha ha that would have given him a surprise. He’ll get a shock today though…I hid the spring onions in the sandwich, so they wouldn’t infiltrate the cut melon. Better go and warn him ;-D

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Will that be spring onion and melon or chocolate and smoked salmon sandwiches. Mmmmm, eenie, meenie, miney, mo! πŸ˜€

  11. Tracey Smith says:

    What a great article and I agree with so many points, I’d need another article to follow them all up!

    Suffice it to say, my work promoting a ‘downshifted’ lifestyle is committed and true and one of my favourite mantras is this.

    The more money you spend,
    The more time you have to be out there earning it,
    And the LESS time you have to spend with the ones you love.

    Simple eh…

    As for the breadmaking, you’re right on (I’m teaching a course tomorrow with a batch of excited new bakers, all keen to get to grips with the dough – it’s SO easy and a joy to do.

    The yoghurt is a piece of cake too – but if you don’t want to make it from scratch, just buy a huge litre pot of the stuff and add your own tasty flavours – jam, honey, fruit, the list is endless.

    Less packaging, less money, more fun, great tips Missus!


  12. maisie says:

    I think most of the box schemes are cheaper than the supermarkets; the one I use here in Lincolnshire is They did a survey a while ago and I think found they were approx 25% cheaper for the same goods bought in Tesco and only exotics had to be imported the rest was grown on either the home or sister farms in Boston or Louth.
    Their price also includes delivery which you have to pay extra for with the supermarkets.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    I love your mantra Tracey. And your brilliant post on your blog today about your trip to London just shows how you can have a great holiday with limited money. I thought it was very inspiring.

    Enjoy the bread making course – even more reason for you to visit me; I’ve never really mastered baking by hand. I need to use a machine.

    Thanks for the link to your box scheme, Maisie. it’s always good to hear of personal recommendations and it seems yours is an economical choice.

  14. Kris says:

    My husband saw something about breadmaking the other night and got all inspired… for *me* to try it. Hmm.

    I buy delicious bread from the Farmers Market and take my own bag. But that’s a treat every other weekend or so, otherwise I am using prepacked bread, rolls or wraps for packed lunches for him four days a week. Though it’s edging towards three as he’s had a box full of salad a few times lately.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    πŸ˜€ I have a husband like that Kris. He’s fired up for zero waste week by telling me that I’m cooking everything from scratch…………
    I have to admit that I doubt you’ll look back if you get a bread maker. As long as you buy a decent one like the Panasonic. You can cheat and add water, a packet of bread mix and turn the thing on. It’s nice to get it to come on during the night and wake up to fresh bread πŸ˜‰
    Not taking sides with your hubby or anything LOL! Perhaps you should insist that, as man of the house, he should check out this electrical gadgetry for you before you have a go yourself……..

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