Best Zero Waste Swaps for Small Spaces

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bees wax wraps, microfiber cloth, reusable paper towels and other sustainable swaps

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.

person using a microfiber towel to clean a counter top

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.

eco-cloth microfiber towels folded on table

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.

E-Cloth Starter Pack, Premium Microfiber Cleaning Cloths, Assorted Colors, 5 Piece Set
$19.99
  • 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
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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.

These also made our list of 10 Essentials for Life on a Sailboat and our 10 RV Kitchen Must-Haves.

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.

reusable paper towels bordered with vibrant colors folded in a jar

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.

MioEco Reusable Paper Towels, Washable
$19.95 ($2.00 / Count)
  • Eco-friendly, reusable paper towels
  • Made from 100% organic cotton
  • 10-pack
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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.

reusable bags folded up and stored in individual small pouches

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.

woman sitting beside waterfront holding reusable bags

Favorite Features

  • Easy-to-clean fabric and machine washable
  • Holds up to fifty pounds for those big provisioning runs
  • Water-resistant fabric
  • Works as a shoulder bag
  • Comes in a ton of great prints and a couple of different sizes too!
BAGGU Standard Reusable Shopping Bag
$42.00
  • Ripstop nylon grocery tote or lunch bag
  • Folds up into a 5" x 5" pouch, totes up to 50 pounds
  • Machine washable and line dry
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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!

Check out all the Baggu reusable bags and their many pattern options. These also made our list of the Best Useful Gifts for Sailors.

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.

blue glass straw and storage pouch

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.

Favorite Features

  • The straw feels great and looks fancy too.
  • Each straw is handmade and individually inspected.
  • Made from the same stuff as Pyrex, these straws are solid. The cat has knocked my cup on the floor multiple times, and the straw is still intact!
Hummingbird Reusable Glass Straws
$7.99
  • Straight reusable straw handmade in the USA
  • 9 inches x 9.5 mm
  • Available in various colors
  • Includes cleaning wand
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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.

bees wax wraps covering serving bowl and wrapping up a wedge of cheese

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!

folded and packaged bees wax wrap
Reusable Beeswax Food Wraps in 3 Sizes (S,M,L)
$18.99 $16.14
  • Made of certified organic cotton (plastic and silicone free)
  • Washes easily with soap and cold water
  • Made in Vermont, USA
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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.

food huggers on lemon and red onion sitting on counter

Favorite Features

  • These add little extra ‘packaging’ to your stored food so they can really maximize space.
  • Food Huggers are easy to clean. There are no unnecessary crevices where food particles can hide.
  • They come in a few different colorways which adds to the fun!
Silicone Food Huggers (Set of 4, Assorted Colors)
$12.99 ($3.25 / Count)
  • 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
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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.

concentrated cleaning powder, glass spray bottle and cleaning cloth on kitchen counter

Favorite Features

  • An all-purpose cleaner is the perfect basic cleaner for every area of your home.
  • Concentrated cleaner takes up minimal space and can be mixed with water as needed for cleaning.
  • Both products mentioned below are biodegradable and can in environmental conscious packaging.
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.

uncooked biscuits on silicone baking mat

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.

Favorite Features

  • They eliminate pan greasers like butter and olive oil and single-use items such as tin foil or parchment paper.
  • These are very easy to clean and allow you to skip washing your baking pan.
  • They come in various sizes, so even if you have a small oven, you can find one that works for you.
  • The mats take up a minimal amount of room. If you store it flat on your baking pan, you will hardly know it’s there. Perfect for tiny kitchens!
Silpat Premium Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat
$19.15
  • Petite jelly roll size mat, 8-1/4" x 11-3/4"
  • Made of the highest quality food grade silicone
  • Safe for use in the oven, microwave, and freezer (-40° to 500° degrees Fahrenheit)
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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.

woman washing dishes at RV sink with solid dish soap and rag

Favorite Features

  • One small tin of solid dish soap lasts up to three times as long as the liquid version.
  • It helps reduce the use of soap which reduces the amount of water we use rinsing dishes.
  • On RV travel days, we toss the container in the sink or the under-sink storage area with zero worries that it will spill.

The solid dish soap swap saves space, last 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.

mopping floor with small mop with washable head

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.

Favorite Features

  • The microfiber mop cleans with just water, so you don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals in your tiny home, or around pets and kids.
  • The mini mop is much more nimble for cleaning small spaces such as tiny homes, boats, and RVs.
  • The head is detachable, making it a little easier to find a good spot for storage.
E-Cloth Mini Deep Clean Mop
$29.97
  • Lightweight aluminum handle extends up to 5 feet (perfect for small spaces)
  • Premium microfiber mop for cleaning hardwood, laminate, tile, and stone
  • Washable and reusable (100 wash guarantee)
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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.

water purifying faucet with water running into a stainless steel cup

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 purifying system installed under a kitchen sink

Favorite Features

  • Unlike many other water purifiers, the Acuva system has a very small footprint. It can be easily installed under your sink – out of sight, except for the Smart Faucet.
  • Unlike the Berkey water filter or pitcher filters like a Brita, once this system is installed, using it is effortless.
  • For RVers and boaters, these systems come with adapters for both an AC and DC power supply
Acuva ArrowMax 1.0 UV-LED Water Purifier, Under Sink Water Filter System
$449.10 $359.28
  • 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 30% off on Acuva.com with code: HOHOHO30 thru Jan 1.)

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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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pin of microfiber clothes folded on kitchen countertop and beeswax wraps on food

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2 Comments

  1. Hi. I am a long haul truck driver and the swaps are a great idea for us out here to. Space is a big concern for us too. Thanks for the information

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