zero waste must haves

Before we talk about some of these zero waste must-haves, let’s discuss why they’re essential in the first place. U.S. citizens first began recycling around 50 years ago, and in the half-century that it’s existed, recycling has proven to be pretty trash when it comes to saving our planet.

When countries like China, Malaysia, and the Philippines decided to ban imports of our recycled materials over the past couple of years, the recycling problem has gotten even worse.

Many of us use the practice of “wishcycling,” whereby we toss items into the recycling bin either oblivious to the fact that they’re not even recyclable, or picturing an image where a plastic bottle gets transformed into a new, clean plastic bottle with the snap of a finger. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Many municipalities across the country have turned to either storing recyclables, or worse, landfilling or burning them.

So, going zero waste is really preventing a problem before it even starts. It means reducing your consumption, even of things that are deemed “recyclable” (whatever that means these days). 

When it comes to being environmentally-friendly, this is one of the best things you can do. But, before you get overwhelmed by the idea of a total consumption rehaul, realize that just a few seemingly small changes can have a big impact. For those, we’d love to share some of our favorite zero waste must-haves. 

10 Zero Waste Must-Haves

1. Eco-Friendly Reusable Water Bottle

eco-friendly water bottles

Having an eco-friendly water bottle is a win-win. Not only does it encourage you to drink more water (hello, hydration!), but it also helps to reduce one of the biggest environmental threats known to modern history: the plastic water bottle.

Single-use plastic water bottles are not only clogging up our waterways and polluting our oceans, but they also require a tremendous amount of fossil fuels to produce them. In fact, every year more than 54 million barrels of oil end up making it into America’s water bottles. 

We can go on and on about how important having an eco-friendly water bottle is (in fact, you can read the article where we did just that). 

It’s one of the most essential zero waste items anyone could have and now, thanks to their popularity, they’re cheaper and easier to find than ever before. Regardless if you’re just starting out on a zero-waste journey or you have been doing this for many years, there’s no item we’d recommend more. 

2. Reusable Coffee Cup


We can’t talk about drinks without talking about yet another sip-worthy zero waste must have: a reusable coffee cup! Coffee cup pollution is almost as bad as those single-use plastic water bottles, and swapping them out for a reusable coffee cup is just as easy. 

In America alone, we go through about 16 billion disposable coffee cups every single year (FoodPrint). While many coffee shops around the U.S. currently won’t accept reusable coffee cups (some still do—be sure to check with your local cafe!), they’ll be necessary more than ever after the pandemic is over. 

So, now’s the perfect time to prep for 2021 by getting a new reusable coffee cup. We like this one from JOCO.

Budget Friendly Tip: Aren’t in a place to shell out for sustainability? Instead of buying something new, you can transform a repurposed glass jar (from pasta sauce, applesauce, salsa, etc.) into a reusable coffee mug. Just add some upcycled rubber bands to the jar to serve as a handle, and you’re good to go! 

3. Silicone Reusable Bag 

is silicone actually eco-friendly

A reusable silicone bag isn’t just a great alternative to a plastic Ziploc bag, but once you have one you’ll find several uses for it that you couldn’t have even predicted.

They’re great for storing cut veggies, leftovers, snacks, and even beauty care products. They’re also suitable for use in the oven (medium heat only), microwave, dishwasher, and freezer. They’re also free of BPA, additives, latex, and lead. 

This is one kitchen and bathroom essential that will last years and will prevent several single-use plastics from being produced and disposed of. We personally like Stasher bags the best. 

4. Reusable Stainless Steel Food Containers

stainless steel food container zero wast must haves

While we are munching our way through some of these zero waste must-haves, we should also include other food containers that minimize our reliance on plastic. 

For those of us who are still going into the office, we can help save our planet by reverting back to our childhood. And by this, we mean bringing back the lunch box. Instead of using a brown paper bag with several plastic baggies, a reusable lunch box that has several stainless steel or glass food containers not only makes for a fresher and leak-proof lunch, but also a happier planet.

Budget Friendly Tip: Being zero waste doesn’t always mean buying something new. And if you don’t have the funds to buy plastic-free lunch containers, you can repurpose glass jars for these too! 

5. Reusable Shopping Bags (and Produce Bags)

luming reusable produce bags

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or a large plastic bag, perhaps…), you’re likely aware that plastic bag pollution is a huge problem globally. In the United States alone, we use about 100 billion plastic bags every single year—most of which end up in the ocean and killing marine animals.

Aware that this is a problem, many cities and states have implemented plastic bag bans, but until those are nationwide, bringing your own reusable shopping bag and produce bags is one of the best ways to shop sustainably. 

These can be purchased for nearly any budget or you can create your own as a fun DIY project.

6. Reusable Paper Towels

eco friendly kitchen items

America is a true leader… in paper towel consumption. 

We account for nearly half of the total global expenditure on paper towels every year—meaning that we spend about as much as every other country combined (The Atlantic).

UNpaper towels are a great way to curb our consumption. They’re handmade, reusable, effective, and fun! 

7. Reusable Razor

zero waste must haves reusable razor

Let’s make our way to some of those single- or limited-use plastics in our bathrooms. Unless you send them to TerraCycle, plastic disposable razors usually aren’t recyclable. If you’re listening to the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendations, you might be swapping out your razor after just five to seven shaves! 

This means that a lot of disposable razors are ending up in landfills. 

We’d recommend getting a reusable safety razor, like this one from Bambaw. It should last a lifetime, is cost effective, and is sent using carbon-neutral shipping! 

8. Bamboo Toothbrush

eco friendly toothpaste

Brushing our teeth is yet another big culprit of bathroom plastic waste. Fortunately, the swap to a zero waste must-have is super simple. 

Finding a bamboo toothbrush is as easy as 1-2-3, and now they’re available at most grocery stores and online. The cost is similar to that of a regular plastic toothbrush, so there’s really no reason not to brush with bamboo.

In most cases, the bristles are still made with nylon (plastic), so use pliers to remove those before you add the bamboo handle to your backyard compost. You can simply bury it too.

9. Toothpaste Tabs

bite toothpaste

For an entire zero waste oral care routine, we would also recommend toothpaste tabs. These chewable ways to brush your teeth are becoming more popular and while you can’t find them in most grocery stores just yet, several online shops offer them.

We like these ones from Chewtab. They come in a reusable glass jar and refills are available. 

10. Shampoo/Conditioner Bar

best eco-friendly shampoo

We throw away more than 552 million shampoo and conditioner bottles every year. Not only that, but when you’re buying conventional shampoo or conditioner you’re actually paying for water. Have a look at the ingredient list—water is typically the first listed ingredients because it makes up 80 to 90% of the product.

Isn’t it silly to pay for water when you’re going to be using water to wash anyway? We think so. That’s why swapping to a shampoo and conditioner bar makes so much sense from a sustainability and economic standpoint.

Plus, they work well too! Ethique is our go-to brand for plastic free hair care.  


We hope our list of the top zero waste must-haves helped give you some encouragement that simple swaps can make a difference, even if you can’t go full-on zero waste.

For more tips on easy zero waste tips for beginners, be sure to also check out our article 35 Easy Zero Waste Tips & Swaps For Anyone!


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