The Best Zero Waste Swaps for Small Spaces

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

Storage on a boat and in an RV 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 not safe for the environment or our oceans.

I’ll admit, this didn’t phase me in my busy land life. But once faced with limited resources, space, and dealing with trash in a small area – well, priorities have shifted.

We had to make an effort to find solutions. Here are our easy zero waste swaps and how we made them work for us.

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 trying to transport paper towels to a boat. Storing to protect from moisture is also a challenge. 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 I 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 facet. You can install a command hook in a convenient location to hang it to 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
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How to Care for Them

There is growing concern about microfibers and other synthetics’ impact on the environment. They can release tiny plastic fibers when washed that end up in our oceans and drinking water.

To minimize microfibers’ impact, I rinse with water to clean and hand wash in a small tub when needed. Always hang to dry.

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 a time, 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!

Reusable “Unpaper” Towels

The journey to discard paper towels for a reusable option continues.

We found this product in Brunswick, Georgia. There is a fantastic sustainable-focused shop downtown called Dot and Army.

Jennifer, whose family runs the shop, is super friendly and passionate about her products.

The Unpaper Towels are 100% cotton with a waffle texture. Handmade in the store, they come edged in beautiful 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

I store them rolled in a jar in our window nook so we can grab one when needed. A lot of folks will fold them and keep them in a basket on the counter.

Caring for Unpaper Towels

Launder as needed. Jennifer explained they usually last about a year before the fibers start to break down. Then 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 are holding up to everyday use. We still buy the blue shop paper towels for dirty jobs around the boat, but no more Bounty! If you’re worried about stains, they sell a dark gray Unpaper Towel made from a linen-cotton blend.

You can view Unpaper Towels on the Dot & Army site, as well as their gorgeous cloth napkins. These also made our list of Sailboat Galley Essentials.

Reusable 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 the beach.

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
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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!
THE REALITY OF THE SWAP: When used as a plastic bag replacement, we do great since I keep these in my purse. I’m working on remembering to give these to Ross when he’s out on his own.

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.

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 Ross bought me my first glass straw, I was in love.

blue glass straw and storage pouch
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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 it cleans up in no time. Even iced tea stains are no problem.

Favorite Features

  • It 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!
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 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.

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
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THE 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 comes 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.

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. But we also received the reward of feeling good about the resources we use.

One day, we hope to say we make close to zero waste. Until then, we do our best to save where we can. If the job requires a real paper towel, we’ll use one, or if we need an actual plastic bag, we’ll grab it.

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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  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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