Zero Waste for Beginners: Easy Swaps!

When I first moved to France on my year abroad in 2009 every short conversation at the bank, in a restaurant, or with an old lady at the bus stop felt like a win. Nowadays, every time I find a zero/low waste swap for something designed to be disposable, I get that same sense of achievement and satisfaction!

The idea is that whenever I run out of something I consider if I can replace it (first I make sure I really need to replace it- it’s amazing what we can live without!) with something reusable, compostable, or in the last resort recyclable. Recycling is great, and should definitely be a tool we use, but recycling uses a lot of energy, many items aren’t actually recycled (contamination from paint cans or dirty disposable nappies causes huge amounts of recyclable materials to be sent straight to landfill) and many items lose a great deal of their value through the recycling process.

And then, of course, sometimes we have to buy trashable items, but this is what I’ve really been trying to limit recently. I’m lucky enough to have easy(ish) access to a bulk food store which I use a fair amount, but it’s relatively small and doesn’t have a huge range, so when shopping in a supermarket I try to limit the amount of plastic and non-recyclable packaging I buy, and aim for cardboard containers (for pasta, for example) or glass jars (for things like olives or condiments). Dairy products are much more difficult though, so recyclable plastic is the aim there.

Below are some easy zero waste swaps to limit your trash and give you that sense of satisfaction that comes from saving the planet, one resuable bottle at a time!

1. Plastic bottles to one steel bottle.

Adrien got this one for free at his work in New Zealand, and although it’s a little worse-for-the-wear appearance wise (this little bottle has been around!), it’s still perfectly leak-proof and (except when travelling in South East Asia) I haven’t had to buy a plastic bottle since it came into my life.


2. Takeaway cups to one steel/glass cup.

This little guy was also a freebie – at least one of us is slightly corporate! – but I honestly don’t use it that much. I’m not really a takeaway drink person, I also find in France it’s not that commonplace to see people walking around with Starbucks takeaways (you sit down with your coffee here!), but if you enjoy a Costa while strolling the streets then this is definitely for you- no arguments.


3. Plastic bags to cotton tote bags and produce bags.

I had a few tote bags kicking around which I now keep in my bag in case I pop to a shop, and I made these little produce bags from an old pair of (washed!!) pyjamas. I use them for buying fruit&veg at the supermarket (but I #leaveitontheshelf – love a good zero waste hashtag – if it’s packaged in plastic! Not sure how I’ll cope when berry season comes around… ), I use them for all sorts of dry goods from the bulk shop, and I would use one if I were to buy something like a croissant on the go. If they start to look a bit grubby or have crumbs from nuts or biscuits, I just chuck them in the wash!


4. Clingfilm  / tinfoil to beeswax food wraps.

These are great, and mean that you can avoid chuckable plastics such as clingfilm. I love the idea that I’ll never have to buy clingfilm again- it feels liberating! Crafty (and bee-keeping??) people can make these themselves, or you can buy them online or from all sorts of eco stores (mine cost 12€). The warmth of your hands moulds the beeswax around the food but be warned- they are not for use with hot things. I once tried to wrap up a boiled egg, and the wax started to melt in my hands!


5. Plastic toothbrushes to bamboo toothbrushes!

Plastic toothbrushes cannot usually be recycled which means that almost all plastic toothbrushes ever made are STILL IN EXISTENCE. They will outlive us all! Swap to bamboo (this one was roughly 2€50) and you can at least compost up to the head of the brush (got your saw handy?), but you will mostly still need to throw away the nylon bristles. The search for the perfect alternative continues…


6. Cotton wool pads / make-up wipes to washable cotton pads.

I bought these and quickly realised that I could have made them myself (can’t remember the price but I want to say less than 10€). However, I think it’s good to support eco business ventures! These are organic, with brushed cotton on one side and smooth fabric on the other, but by cutting up a flannel you would have the same effect. Just smoosh your cleanser onto the cotton square, and bam! You’ve got yourself a cotton pad which you can rinse under the tap and leave to dry for the next day. Cotton pads aren’t the worst piece of trash ever invented, but they usually come in a plastic package which can’t be recycled in your kerb-side collection, and the cotton industry is one of the biggest pollutants in the world (unless you’re buying organic).


7. Body wash in bottles to good old-fashioned soap.

This particular bar (5€50) was designed for hair, but after 3 uses and a lot of apple cider vinegar to wash out the gross residue it left in my hair, I decided to re-purpose it as normal soap (insider secret: shampoo IS just soap with a fancy name!). Just be aware that in places like Lush, although the soaps are often sold packaging-free which is amazing and a step in the right direction, they still contain nasty chemicals which are harmful to water systems and the fishies that live in them (looking at you, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate). This one is totally natural, it’s working fine as a body wash, and gets to live inside this cute tin that my dear friend Eilidh gave me! Who doesn’t love the image of a badger riding a bicycle?


8. Shampoo in bottles to shampoo in bars!

I tried the more expensive version (9€) of the above shampoo bar in my search for the perfect one, and I am thrilled to say that after 3 washes there is no residue, my hair feels silky smooth sans any conditioner, and I’ve avoided a plastic bottle! Win, win, and more wins!


So there we go, 8 fairly easy swaps to start living with less trash! Apart from the coffee cup, I use all of these items almost daily, which is a stark reminder of how much trash I used to produce less than a year ago.

And just to stress, I’m in no way living a zero waste life, but it’s like the carrot that motivates me to keep going and I love finding little alternatives to waste. Don’t hesitate to share any other swaps you can think of!

Thanks for reading, and let’s keep greening up our lives!

4 thoughts on “Zero Waste for Beginners: Easy Swaps!

Add yours

    1. Hmm tried to reply to this but it didn’t seem to work! Thanks so much Christine, and yeh just go for it- it is weirdly addictive! The shampoo bar is from a French company called Lamazuna, I’m really impressed by it ☺️ My sister uses Éthique but they are based in New Zealand (where she lives) and I’m not sure the carbon footprint is worth ordering it to Europe… anyway good luck in the search and let me know how you get on!! Xxxx


  1. I love that you created your own produce bags. I have been wanting to purchase some online for awhile now, but if I can easily make my own from old fabric. . . why spend the extra money?! I definitely plan on trying this out.


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