Like everyone else, I dream of having an Instagram-worthy pantry: color-coded glass jars filled with bulk goods, Stand-Up Stashers full of yummy snacks, labels all neat and visible. Sigh. That's living.
It’s easy to get swept up in social media madness and having all the “zero waste essentials” you see on Instagram and Pinterest but IRL, my pantry reflects my recent eating habits — nuts in empty peanut butter jars and beans packed in old pasta sauce containers. It's real, and it's real sustainable.
Cause here's the thing: living sustainably doesn't always mean buying new. The most sustainable plastic-free options are likely the things you already have around your house.
Want to know how to stock up on zero waste essentials without investing in anything fancy or new? This post is for you.
Not gonna lie— I secretly get excited every time I buy something in a glass jar, knowing that I am adding a jar to my collection. If you avoid plastic at the grocery store by opting for glass whenever possible, you’ll end up with a decent collection of jars. You can reuse them for storing leftover soups or pastas, shopping in the bulk bin, bringing tea or coffee on the go, or even as a container for your leftovers when dining out.
I have dozens of jars and use them all regularly. Hot tip (pun intended): if you want to use a heat-proof jar for hot tea or coffee, make a “sleeve” using rubber bands to protect your hand from the heat, like how sustainablesabs does in this post. And to make this even more sustainable, reuse grocery store rubber bands that come wrapped around your spinach or broccoli for the sleeve. So smart.
Bring your own utensils
There are endless varieties of sustainable cutlery sets out there, but I'm gonna bet you already have plenty of these babies at home. Instead of splurging on a pricey new bamboo set (you know, the ones you see all over Instagram), just grab what you need from your utensil drawer and call it a day. If you don’t want to throw off a complete set, grab some mix and match cutlery from a second-hand shop for next to nothing.
Repurpose old towels and t-shirts
One of my favorite sustainable swaps at home is using real napkins. It’s such a nicer experience, and I just throw them in the wash with the rest of my towels after use. Instead of buying new (are you picking up a theme here?), cut up old towels or dish towels into napkin size squares. You can also get crafty and sew your old t-shirts into reusable cotton produce bags!
Refill your cleaning supplies
Have a bulk store near you that sells bulk cleaning supplies? Use jars you already have to bulk buy your liquids, lotions, and soaps. Pro tip: most Trader Joe's stores have a small bulk section for soaps and lotions, usually on the bottom rack (so don't kick yourself for not finding it sooner — it's easy to miss).
Shop your closet
There are so many wonderful ethical and sustainable fashion brands, but shopping for new eco-conscious clothing may be expensive. Instead, consider hosting a clothing swap for you and your friends. That way you don’t have to spend money on anything new, and you all get a closet refresh.
Need something fancy for a night out? Rent your party dress instead of buying. You'll get a wicked look for much less than buying and you'll be helping out the environment by reusing.
Think outside the bag
It’s easy to think you might not have something you need to live sustainably, but finding new ways to use what you already own is key. For example, I love this hack from Shannon of mama.eco to turn your leftover veggie rubber bands and a mason jar lid into a soap holder. Get creative! It’s not always about having the most beautiful, eco-friendly product, but rather, the one that will produce the least amount of waste by you using it.
Sure, sometimes it feels special or important to invest in beautiful, fresh, sustainable products, but other times, you can make do with what you have. And that’s truly the most sustainable way to go about things. Get creative with what you have, then start to replace with the eco-friendly swaps as needed while avoiding tossing out anything “unsustainable” and starting over.