Go Green and Save Money: 6 Disposable Items to Stop Buying Now

When you go to the grocery store or to the department store, many of the things you buy are disposable – they wind up in the trash. Packages. Plastic wrap. Boxes. Bags.

It’s just trash, right? If you look a bit closer, though, you’ll see something else in there.


Each time you toss something in the trash, you’re tossing away some sort of value. Part of the price you pay at the grocery store goes to cover the packaging and the portion of the item you’ve thrown away.

A better approach? I argue that as a strong rule of thumb, the less you throw away, the less you spend.

6 Ways to Save Money and the Environment

Paper towels

You can get thirty rolls of Bounty on Amazon for $48.39. Each roll has fifty six sheets. From what I can observe, the average paper towel usage requires about two sheets, so let’s just say you get 30 uses per roll, times 30 rolls, means 900 uses. Each use thus costs about $0.05 – and you can’t recoup the cost. Once you use it, it’s gone. Alternately, you could buy fifty pounds of cotton rags for $30.00. Assuming each rag weighs an ounce, you’d get 800 uses out of that batch – about $0.04 per use the first time through. But wait! If you’re using cloth, you can just toss ’em in with the wash and wash them again. Let’s say you could wash all of the cloth in four loads for about a quarter a load – $1 and you have a fresh new batch of 800 cotton rags. That means each subsequent use is one eighth of a cent. Assuming you’d use these things five times a day, over the course of the first year, you’d save $57.96, and in every subsequent year, you’d save $88.97. Paper towels are just throwing money away.

Ziploc bags

Instead of using Ziploc bags, use plastic containers. Buy two large sets of Rubbermaid containers (like this set, giving you 24 containers for $21.99) and you’ll have more than you ever need. Then, whenever you’d ordinarily use a Ziploc bag, grab one of these containers and use it instead. You can freeze stuff in them, keep stuff in the fridge in them, and keep stuff in the pantry in them. When one gets dirty, run it through the dishwasher, effectively replacing it for less than a penny. How does that compare to Ziplocs? You can get 20 quart Ziplocs there for $3.70, making them $0.19 a pop. The large Rubbermaid set above costs $0.92 a pop. After ten storage uses, you’ve dumped $1.90 into the Ziplocs and $1.02 into the Rubbermaid, and the difference grows rapidly from there. Ziplocs are just throwing money away.

swiffer the quicker picker upper! by (nutmeg) on Flickr!Swiffers

My wife got a starter pack of these as a bridal shower gift. Frankly, I don’t get it. You get a poor mop that requires you to buy special pads to replace the head? Come on. Pick up a PVA mop (like this one for $12) and just dip the end in a mix of a half gallon of hot water to one half cup of white vinegar. Cleans like a charm. The low-end Swiffer starter kit costs about the same as the mop, but the cloths are ridiculous – 72 pads for $64.99? You can either blow $0.83 per mopping with a Swiffer or roughly a cent (for the vinegar) with a regular mop. Over twenty moppings, you’re comparing $16.60 to $0.20. Swiffers are just throwing money away.

AA batteries

We have quite a few devices around our home that eat batteries, from the remote controls for our Wii to a plethora of kid’s toys. In short, we were going through AAs like Pac-Man goes through dots. After doing the research, I found that investing in rechargeable batteries would save us significant money in the long run – and I was right. We’ve about passed the break-even point in terms of the cost of the battery charger and rechargeables versus the cost of all of those disposable batteries, and from here on out, it’s downright cheap. Dead batteries are just throwing money away.


Everyone has a box of Kleenexes at home, right? We do, but they’re strictly for guests only. It’s much cheaper to just grab a handkerchief, blow away, and toss it in the wash. Let’s say we’ve bought that big batch of cotton cloths I mentioned above in the paper towel section – they cost about $0.04 per use the first time through and an eighth of a cent each time thereafter. You can get 570 Kleenexes for $8.17 on Amazon, adding up to about about a cent and a half per use. Thus, after only the third use, the handkerchief catches up in price, and thereafter, every eight uses saves you eleven cents. Kleenexes are just throwing money away.

Paper plates

Paper plates are vastly overpriced. You can get reusable plastic plates for $0.20 a pop on Amazon, as many as you want. Use them for picnics and keep them in the closet for large events where you have dozens of guests. Paper plates? Any remotely sturdy ones will cost you a dime or so, meaning the plastic ones are covered after just two uses. After that? It’s saving a dime a use compared to paper. Paper plates are just throwing money away.

These are just a few of the many tips that will help save you money.

What’s the moral of the story here? You save money – often pretty quickly – by buying stuff that’s reusable instead of stuff that’s disposable. Plus, reusing stuff is much more environmentally friendly, too.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.