So many people have asked me “does it cost more to live a zero waste life?” Here is the definitive answer –NO! But I do want to breakdown the costs of living a zero waste life to give you a better understanding of the financial changes when living a zero waste life.
I’ve broken it down into the following categories (food, clothing, life) to help better understand how my spending has changed. This is part one focusing on food.
Many people complain about the cost of buying food at the bulk store, but as I discuss in my book A Zero Waste Life: in thirty days, buying the best quality food you can afford should be your number one priority. When we buy cheap food, our body will suffer the consequences later, we either pay now, or pay later with bad health.
We, as the consumer, need to understand that we have the power to pay for what we believe in, if we believe in reducing our plastic waste, then we need to put our money where our mouth is. As more and more people join the movement, these previously niche stores will gain more buying power and also become cheaper.
I choose to buy mostly organic fresh produce and here is how I keep costs down:
1. I buy imperfect produce – in San Francisco I choose an organic delivery service that saves imperfect organic produce from landfill and delivers it straight to your door (plastic-free) and as a result I save 30-40% from buying these perfectly imperfect produce. You can also reduce your costs by buying the ‘uglies’ – it all tastes the same, why be fussy over a wonky banana?! In Sydney, more and more supermarkets have an imperfect produce section, just bring your own produce bags and fill up!
2. I buy seasonal produce – in Sydney I also choose an organic delivery service that comes direct from the farmers and the produce is chosen by the farmers. This keeps costs down by 20-30% as the produce is seasonal and the farmers choose the produce for me. This means I am not buying pineapples in winter and saving money in the long run.
3. I eat less meat – there are so many ways to cut down on your meat consumption. When I do eat meat (once a week or fortnight) I choose organic, free range meat that is sustainably and ethically sourced. I eat meat so rarely that I treat it as a precious commodity. Reducing my meat consumption has reduced costs, I also check the reduced section in supermarkets to see if there are any meats close to the “best before” date that meet the above criteria. I stock up on those and freeze it. Sometimes, this will involve plastic (not the best zero waste option), but saving meat from entering landfill is a priority for me.
4. Buying from bulk stores – I only buy what I need. When you are buying from the supermarkets, you are also paying for the packaging and the marketing. You are also buying larger quantities than you might need. Buying from bulk stores can be expensive, but I keep costs down by only buying what I need. This means less food waste and saving money in the long run. I also tend to eat more fresh produce and less grains, this means I also don’t need to go to the bulk store that often (once a month normally suffices). By eating less processed foods, I am healthier and also saving money! Other staples such as nuts, tea and oils tend to be the same cost as the supermarkets. I prioritise living a zero waste life, and have come to accept that whilst the movement is still niche, costs can be a little bit higher. In the long run, I don’t find this to be a huge increase (maybe 10-20% increase compared to other dry goods in supermarkets).
5. Preventing food waste – the key to living a zero waste life is to loosely meal plan, eat down your stores and not buy in excess. This is the biggest cost saver – reducing your overall food waste! Did you know in most Americans and Australian households throw away up to 1/3 of the food that we buy each week? That’s money you’re throwing in the bin. By preventing food waste in the first instance, you’re saving money!!
Those are the tips on how I eat better, save money and also live as close to a zero waste life as possible. Overall, I have reduced my food bill by 20% even though I buy mostly organic food and package-free food. The biggest cost savers are eating less meat, eating less processed foods and sticking to a fresh, wholefoods diet. Most importantly, I’ve learnt not to waste my food! For more tips please check out my book A Zero Waste Life: in thirty days.