5 Zero Waste Shopping Tips

Depending on how far along you are in the zero waste process, buying new items may start to create a feeling of guilt, or worse, that by purchasing something new, you have failed at being zero waste.

Absolutely not true!

You can’t fail at something that is technically impossible. What do I mean by that? Well, if you really want to break it down into the nitty-gritty, just by being alive we are creating waste. We exhale carbon when we breathe. Go too heavy on Taco Tuesday? You’re probably going to be releasing some methane, too. Just saying.

Not to mention the other form of waste that happens after your morning cup of coffee.

My point is, “zero” waste is just a goal to keep in mind. I try to picture my home as a one way system, a Bates Motel, where items can check in, but not check out. So unless it’s compostable, I try very hard to avoid any packaging. That’s not always possible.

Here’s some tips to help you keep a zero waste perspective when you are shopping for new things.


1.) Do I have to buy it brand new?


For food, I would say yes. But there are many other items that are just as good second hand as they are straight from the manufacturer. Only second hand items are usually package-free and giving something a new life is a great zero waste opportunity.

Of course we don’t just mean thrift stores. There are many ways to find second hand items, from boot sales, to garage sales, to flea markets. Perhaps the best barterer in your family can take the lead. Otherwise, I have had a lot of success finding second hand items at estate sales. I use estatesales.net and maxsold.com  to find furniture, gardening supplies, kitchen supplies, and even parts to repair my camera from these sites.

2.) Is it on my list?

girl, checking to see if lime green coat was on list. It was not.

A few months ago, we posted about our Treasure Hunt List. Basically it was a list of items that were in between want and need. In other words, I didn’t need it to survive, but it certainly would make my life simpler. Now remember, I’m not a minimalist. I live in a major earthquakeand fire zone so it’s important for me to keep preparations on hand for emergencies. But there are things, a crockpot, that I am definitely interested in buying one day. Since this isn’t something that I *need* it goes on my Treasure Hunt List. If I’m ever at a thrift store or estate sale and find one, awesome! I’m pre-approved for purchase. This is a fun way that prevents me from purchasing new things that I do not actually need to survive and keeps me from buying new items which inevitable come with packaging waste.

2.) Can it wait?

girl, asking higher power for shopping advice

Many experienced zero wasters will tell you to wait anywhere from a week to a month before buying something new. When you walk by a designer store and see that beautiful new dress in the window, our impulse addiction personality may kick in. We see the price tag…. Wow! 20% off? Well, now I have to get it.

Do you, though? You didn’t know it existed until two seconds ago. This is certainly a good time to use the wait-a-week trick.

And even though there is much wisdom in this tip, it might not always be the best idea. For example, if I see something at a thrift store on my list, then wait 30 days, it might be gone. Which is fine in one respect, it wasn’t something I needed to live. But what if I never find another second hand, solar powered, litter-picker-upper.  I’ll regret missing that opportunity. Not likely, of course, but you get my point.

4.) Who made it? 

Seamstress in better conditions than the ones who made anything for Forever 21.

I believe that this is one of the most overlooked aspects in zero waste shopping. No finger pointing or blame, I am guilty of this too. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in how its packaged that I forget to ask this question. Who made it? We don’t hear the word sweatshop too often these days, but there are no less sweatshops now than there were in the 90s. There are probably even more. It’s important to research companies before investing in their products, even if it’s a vegetable. Sure buying an avocado grown by a Mexican cartel might not contribute anything to your landfill, but you are still unconsciously supporting this system by purchasing their goods.

So here’s the trouble: do we buy second hand/used clothes that were made unethically? Do we buy second hand clothes that are made of materials like polyester – microplastics that break off in the wash and enter our water system? Do we only buy new clothes that are ethically sourced? What if we can’t afford them? These are question that produce very strong opinions.

The unfortunate truth is that the “good” clothes, the new, 100% organic fiber made my health-insured liberal women who’s secondary education is paid for by their company often comes with a steep price tag. Worth it? Absolutely. Affordable? Not for most people.

It’s simply not that easy to say one way is the correct way when it’s not available to everyone.

The solution I have found is to support these companies whenever possible and to buy second hand when necessary, just make sure to wash responsibly (Guppy friends can help stop microplastic particles in the washing machine). Buying second hand supports the thrift store, not the manufacturer. These are all things to consider when shopping. I mean, we need clothes, this isn’t really an option.


5.) If I buy this and it breaks, can I repair it?

girl, sad because shoe shattered

We live in a society where if something goes awry, we usually trash it. Items are manufactured so fast and so cheaply, we can easily can have no second thoughts about ditching it to landfill. You don’t have to be an engineer or repairman to fix a lot of household items.

Darwin Warning: do not attempt to fix anything electrical by yourself unless you are an electrician.

Having said that, if the dog fur broom at the vet clinic you work at snaps in half from overuse and you find it in the trash, just duct tape that bad boy back together. If this example seems specific, it’s because it was a real scenario. I was a Girl Scout growing up and our troop had this motto, “if you can’t duct it, chuck it.”

Rhyming really wasn’t our thing.

And duct tape isn’t exactly zero waste, but I think you get a pass if you’re using it to repair something for reuse. And then you get a gold star for avoiding landfill.

Sometimes we’re afraid we will look trashy if we fix a broken item. Or that we look foolish using a broom that has been firmly and successfully held together by bright pink duct tape. But it’s a broom. And if someone is judging you by your broom, do you want them in your life? Cinderella had a broken broom and mice loved her.

Speaking of Cinderella. Glass slippers? Really? I love glass but I draw the line at shoes. I mean, back then a splinter could cause a fatal infection. You want me to walk on glass? Child, please.

So if your desired gadget has a lot of complicated parts, consider how you could repair it if it broke. Do you have someone handy in your life? Bribe them with baked goods. Otherwise, try searching youtube for some tutorials on how to repair it. I learned basic Korean on YouTube.



I hope these tips help convince you to slow down on your purchases and plan for them in advance. Skip out on impulse buys whenever possible, but remember, if it’s on your treasure hunt list and you find it randomly, I do not count that as an impulse buy. That’s a treasure hunt win!



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