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Storage space in tiny homes is always a challenge. Even more so when precious space is consumed by sandwich bags, paper towels, and other single-use products.
Those same items have a recurring cost, create waste, and are unsafe for the environment and our oceans.
I’ll admit, this didn’t phase before I lived tiny. But once faced with limited resources, space, and dealing with trash in a small area – well, priorities have shifted.
Over the years, we’ve learned a ton about which zero waste products work best in a small space. Through trial and error, we’ve also determined what ways to utilize these items.
Here are our easy zero waste swaps and how we made them work for us in a small space.
1. E-Cloth: Microfiber Cloth
Living on a boat and in an RV, the inefficiencies of buying paper towels became very clear.
Aside from the cost and environmental impact, it’s not a lot of fun lugging around paper towels on shopping trips. On a boat, you need to store them thoughtfully to protect them from moisture. In an RV, storage space is the bigger issue.
The e-cloth helped us cut down on paper towels in a significant way.
These microfiber towels remove all kinds of icky dirt and 99% of bacteria using just water. I feel like Mary Poppins when I clean with these.
How to Use the E-Cloth
I usually keep two out at a time, one for the kitchen counter and one for anything else. I use a spray bottle of water, so none is wasted running it from the faucet. Install a command hook in a convenient location to hang your towels to dry while keeping them accessible.
You can also use these towels dry. When you use a dry towel, it has a positive charge to pick up dirt and pet hair.
How to Care for Them
There is growing concern about how microfibers and other synthetics impact the environment. They can release tiny plastic fibers when washed that end up in our oceans and drinking water.
To minimize microfiber impacts, I rinse with water to clean and hand wash in a small tub when needed. Always hang to dry. We also like these Guppy friend bags that collect microfibers when machine washing.
- Microfiber cloths that are perfect for cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, and more
- Cleans with water only
- 300 wash guarantee
- 5-pack also includes a window polishing/cleaning cloth
THE REALITY OF THE SWAP: The e-cloth is very well made and highly absorbent. They remove almost all countertop stains, absorb cups of water at once, and make cleaning easier. The quality suggests we will have this set for a long time.
You can see the E-Cloth microfiber set here.
SUSTAINABLE BONUS: By cleaning with only water, these towels helped us cut down on cleaning products — no more chemicals. Plus, we get to save money and storage for a trio of winning!
2. Reusable Paper Towels
One of the first steps toward zero waste living was reducing disposable paper towel usage.
The reuseable paper towels below are 100% cotton with a waffle texture. We love that we found an option edged in beauiful colors. The perfect sustainable accent to brighten up a kitchen.
How to Store Reusable Towels
You can store these rolled in a jar so you can grab one when needed, or folded and stored vertically in a drawer organizer. Many folks will also fold them and keep them in a basket on the counter.
Caring for Unpaper Towels
Launder as needed. Once the fibers start to break down, they can be re-purposed as rags.
THE REALITY OF THE SWAP: When compared to our annual paper towel usage, these are a lifesaver. So far, the towels really hold up to everyday use. We still buy paper towels for dirty jobs but have cut down incredibly on how many we buy.
You can view Unpaper Towels on the Dot & Army site, as well as their gorgeous cloth napkins and other eco-friendly items. These also made our list of Sailboat Galley Essentials and our Useful RV Kitchen Accessories list.
3. Reusable Shopping Bags
These lightweight bags from Baggu help us go plastic-free at the store. They don’t save money, but they save twice over in storage.
They allowed us to say goodbye to the pile of plastic grocery bags under the sink. That space is now usable again. They take up almost no room but still manage to hold fifty pounds. They are great for shopping and groceries, stashing stuff for a potluck, sundowners, or another outing.
The best part – they fold into a 5 x 5-inch square pouch. You don’t even need to remember them when you go out. Just keep the bags stashed in your purse or backpack.
THE REALITY OF THE SWAP: We really love these bags for their durability and how much you can pack in them. It doesn’t hurt that they fold up into a minimal packing size as well!
SUSTAINABLE BONUS: These bags are made from 100% ripstop nylon – 40% recycled and sourced from pre-consumer waste.
4. Glass Straw
I had a hard time with the movement against plastic straws. I love the feel of a plastic straw, and the metal and silicone versions didn’t cut it for me.
When my husband bought me my first glass straw, I was in love.
How to Care for Your Straw
Glass is a breeze to clean. The straw is dishwasher safe, but on the boat and in an RV, we use the included straw cleaning brush. A drop of dish soap on the brush and the straw cleans up in no time. Even iced tea stains are no problem, whereas metal and silicone suffer from hard-to-remove stains.
THE REALITY OF THE SWAP: From smoothies to cocktails to my daily iced tea, I thoroughly enjoy this kitchen staple. If you’re having trouble ditching the plastic straw, I hope you’ll give the glass version a try.
You can check out the Hummingbird glass straws here. In addition to their other useful features, they are made by a small company in the US.
5. Beeswax Wraps
A big storage issue living in a small space was how to reduce plastic sandwich bags and plastic wrap. With a small fridge, it’s easy to stuff a plastic bag into a small space versus a plastic container.
I tried the reusable silicone bags, which some folks love, but they can be bulky in a tiny fridge. That’s when I finally tried beeswax wraps.
How Beeswax Wraps Work
Wrap your food, or cover your bowl, then mold the wrap to your liking. The wrap uses the heat from your hands to create a seal.
Using Beeswax Wraps
You can put most veggies, greens, fruits, and cheeses in these wraps with minimal cleanup. If it seems like it will be too big of a mess, I’ll use a container instead.
Caring for Beeswax Wraps
The wraps clean up with mild soap and water. Keep away from heat, including hot water, as it will break down the wax. After three months, these are holding up well. I just bought another pack to have more to use!
REALITY OF THE SWAP: We still have plastic bags for messier foods if a container won’t work. Otherwise, we’ve reduced our plastic bag/wrap waste drastically.
One pack contains one each of a small, medium, and large size wrap. View the beeswax wraps set of three here.
SUSTAINABLE BONUS: When you buy the ocean pattern, a donation is made to support ocean conservancy.
6. Food Huggers
Food Huggers are another great sustainable option for food storage that takes up little space and maximizes storage in your fridge.
How to Use Food Huggers
You can purchase these in sets of different sizes. If you have a partially used lemon, onion, or apple, select a food hugger just a little smaller than the cut end to get a good seal on your food.
- Use on a variety of fruits and vegetables including onions, cucumbers, lemons, and more.
- Sustainable alternative to plastic wrap and bags
- Sizes: 1. 75", 2. 25", 2. 5", and 3"
- Dishwasher safe and BPA free
REALITY OF THE SWAP: These are great for non-messy fruits and veggies. Sometimes we opt for a beeswax wrap or a small container for messy foods like a really juicy tomato!
Check out more options for Food Huggers color options here.
7. Eco-Friendly Concentrated Cleaner
This zero-waste kitchen swap has become one of our favorites for tiny spaces.
An all-purpose concentrated cleaner that is also eco-friendly is the perfect alternative to a basket of harsh chemicals, especially in a tiny space.
How to Use Concentrated Cleaner
Mix a small amount (typically around an ounce) of concentrated cleaner in a spray bottle to create your own cleaning solution.
REALITY OF THE SWAP: We love using cleaning products we are confident are safe for us and the environment. It’s always a great feeling to declutter the cleaning supplies under the sink and take a more minimal approach.
We use Claryti’s all-purpose scouring powder. We love supporting small businesses and genuinely like their products and mission. The powder is also a good option for tiny moving homes since you don’t need to worry about spills!
Grove also has a concentrated cleaner option. It’s a liquid version and you can choose from a variety of natural scents.
SUSTAINABLE BONUS: According to Claryti’s website, household products are the third largest contributor to ocean plastic. The companies above offer sustainable packaging, and Grove even has a recycling program.
8. Non-Slip Baking Mat
Non-slip silicone baking mats are an excellent sustainable swap for tin foil or parchment paper. They are completely non-stick and help evenly distribute heat in the oven.
How to Use Your Baking Mat
Lay the mat on your baking pan before baking cookies, pizza, granola, or anything else. You can also use it on your cutting board since it will make a good base for rolling dough or making non-bake items such as chocolate bark or no-bake cookies.
How to Care for Silicone Baking Mats
Wash your baking mat with water and a little soap. There’s no need to scrub them.
When cooking pizza on your baking mat, be sure to remove the pizza before cutting since a pizza cutter will damage the mat. (Kitchen shears are an excellent option to avoid damaging the mat.)
You can store your mat flat in a baking pan or roll and secure it with a rubber band, and store it inside a cabinet or drawer.
REALITY OF THE SWAP: In addition to being a worthy eco-friendly replacement for foil and parchment paper, these mats are also just more pleasant to use. Every bit of them is truly non-stick. They also stay in place while you’re rolling dough or shaping cookies. After using a few different mats, the Silpat brand is still my favorite!
You can view the various sizes of the Silpat baking mats here.
9. Solid Dish Soap
Solid dish soap is more compact than its liquid alternative. You get more cleaning product in less space.
How to Use Solid Dish Soap
There are no tricks with this straightforward zero-waste alternative. Run your dish rag or brush around the soap to get it sudsy. Once you’re done washing dishes, leave the soap lid off to allow it to dry and maintain a solid structure.
The solid dish soap swap saves space, lasts longer, and makes us feel good about our impact on the environment.
REALITY OF THE SWAP: Solid dish soap that is eco-friendly is perfect for boondocking in an RV or washing dishes on a boat. If you’re tossing out your dishwater instead of dumping it in the gray tank, you’ll be able to minimize the environmental impact with an eco-friendly dish soap.
We use Claryti’s super solid dish soap. We love the organic essential oil based scents available, and that the owners were previously full-time sailors!
You can find other solid dish soap options here.
10. Mop with Washable Pad
Mops with disposable heads can be a nice convenience (especially in small spaces), but they create extra trash and require purchasing replacements.
A good balance is a mop with a washable and reusable head. A miniature mop is even more ideal for tiny spaces.
How to Use a Microfiber Mop
This mop can be used wet or dry. When used wet, just add water (no cleaning products). The mop will take care of grease, dirt, and over 99% of bacteria. When it’s used dry, it easily picks up hair and dirt, leaving your floor clean with minimal effort.
How to Care for Microfiber Mop Heads
The high-quality microfiber pad has an easy to attach and remove system. Just remove the pad and toss it in the wash. The mop pad has a 100-wash guarantee.
REALITY OF THE SWAP: This mop is versatile, effortless to use, and even stores easily in our tiny home. Our floors have been a lot cleaner with this sustainable swap around!
11. Water Purifying System
This zero-waste alternative allows you to drink clean water from your sink and do it confidently. No more buying plastic water bottles or refilling water jugs at the local Walmart.
This UV-LED purifying system eliminates 99.9999% of bacteria and viruses. At the same time, the pre-filter removes lead, heavy metals, chlorine, mercury, carcinogens, and other contaminants, plus it gets rid of unpleasant odors and tastes.
How to Use a Water Purifying System
Once the system is installed, all you have to do is turn on the Acuva Smart Faucet when you need water.
For boaters and RVers, we use the ArrowMAX 1.0 system in combination with our ClearSource inline filtering system to ensure the water going into our tanks is also appropriately filtered.
How to Care for Your System
These systems don’t require too much maintenance. The advanced pre-filter needs to be changed every 4,000 gallons.
- Water purifier and filter can be installed under the sink and out of the way
- Available with AC and DC power supply
- Includes Smart Faucet
Get 10% off on Acuva.com with code: thehomethatroams10
REALITY OF THE SWAP: This zero-waste kitchen swap is further down the list, but it’s one of our favorite tiny home upgrades. We don’t have to worry about purchasing or storing water in our small kitchen, which lets us save space without sacrificing water quality.
A Journey to Zero Waste
We started this journey to a zero-waste lifestyle as a way to save precious space as well as money on a limited budget. However, we have also decreased our carbon footprint and take pride in knowing we make less of an impact on the land and water we love exploring.
Living a complete zero-waste lifestyle is a big challenge. Celebrate your small wins, and know every step you take, you’re doing better than before.
Don’t let the fear of not achieving 100% sustainability prevent you from trying at all. Even a little difference can make a big difference.
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