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Is Waste-Free Expensive?

I get asked often “Is waste-free living is expensive?” To be honest, it is one of the things that put me off making the move to a more sustainable, waste free life. There is not a simple yes/no answer to this question but I have found that it is not as expensive as I initially thought. In fact, some of the items are actually dramatically cheaper.

Is waste-free expensive?

One of the reasons I took so long to really switch to waste-free living was because I assumed that it was too expensive. But then last year I was browsing Unwrapped and I suddenly realised that a lot of the items she had in her store where the same, or cheaper than regular supermarkets. Then I checked the Refillery for the items Unwrapped didn’t have and discovered the same thing.

Let’s do a quick cost comparison on some of the basic items I buy.

I get my basic dry goods from Unwrapped – rice, flour, sugar, pasta etc.

Kitchen Dry Goods

Brown Sugar

Unwrapped Price: R18 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R18 p/kg

Basmati Rice

Unwrapped Price: R45 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R56 p/kg

Cake Flour

Unwrapped Price: R18 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R13 p/kg

Gluten-free Oats

Unwrapped Price: R75 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R170 p/kg

Bicarbonate of Soda

Unwrapped Price: R40 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R46 p/500g


Unwrapped Price: R90 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R240 p/kg


Unwrapped Price: R25 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R37 p/500g

Corn Flour

Refillery Price: R30 p/kg

Supermarket Price: R62 p/kg

Beef Stock Powder

Refillery Price: R26.25 p/150g

Supermarket Price: R41.99 p/150g

Chicken Spice

Refillery Price: R17.50 p/100g

Supermarket Price: R20 p/100g

Many of these items are actually cheaper from the waste free stores than in regular supermarkets. I will admit though that I have a very strict list that I stick to each month that has largely just the basics on. Then I shop between Unwrapped and the Refillery.

Unwrapped has all the dry goods I need and they collect their glass jars each week and I get that amount refunded – this means I don’t have to worry about buying storage containers and if I do want to keep a glass jar, I just keep it because ultimately I have paid for it.

The Refillery has a great selection of stocks, spices and a few other items we use. I buy one big shop from them every 6 weeks, they have free delivery over R1000 and don’t supply glass jars – everything gets delivered in brown bags. If I had a store near me it would make life infinitely easier but I also do find ordering online makes it easier to get only what I need from each place.

Kitchen Cleaning Materials

So here is where it gets a little tricky. We have largely reduced all our cleaning materials. I make a homemade mix for cleaning counters etc and I get our dishwashing soap from Unwrapped but it is more expensive that store bought stuff. This decision was not about the cost, it was more about reducing the chemicals we use in our home. Because I don’t buy any other cleaning products I can buy this without it breaking our budget.

We are still using store bought washing powder because it is half the price of the organic, waste free one. I am desperate to make the move because it is just better but I can’t justify it right now because with 5 people in the house we do a lot of washing.

I am trying out the So Pure dishwasher gel this month and will see how long it lasts but I am hoping we can make that switch.

The reality with cleaning products is that the natural, waste-free options are more expensive. So we are making small changes that work with our budget. I have bought a few items from Pick n’ Pays Green Range. They are pretty reasonable priced but I do suspect a little greenwashing is happening in their marketing.

If you are making the switch to more waste-free products, I would suggest you start with one item a month. If you are buying kitchen cleaner, all purpose cleaner, bleach etc – stop buying one. I promise you, you will still be able to clean your home.

Personal Care

This one is a very personal one and I think we have found a solution that works for us.

My personal motivation for this one was not only living more waste-free but also switching to organic, natural products, reducing the chemicals we are using on our body.

We are now all using bamboo toothbrushes and while they are more expensive that those packs you can get at Dischem, they aren’t something we buy everyday so I work it into the budget.

I use the Unwrapped soap bars and the kids are currently using Yorbas clay body wash. They do still come in plastic containers but we reuse them and the products are natural and do have some organic ingredients in.

We have also found the right shampoo bars for us all, we get them from the Refillery every second month or so. The price here works out exactly the same, if not cheaper actually.

Kiara and I have switched over to menstrual cups so while there is an initial outlay, we will save in the long run and it is so much kinder to our bodies.

It has taken us over a year to get to this point and lots of trial and error to find products that work for all of us and that work with our budget.

In Conclusion

So what’s the conclusion? If I have to look at it objectively, I would say that we spend the same amount of money each month BUT the biggest difference is that I use everything we buy and I no longer wonder around the supermarket buying things that I don’t really need.

Basically all I buy from the supermarket now is mayo, tomato sauce, some tinned items (mainly beans), butter and our laundry detergent. I actively try to avoid going to the shops which by default means we save money.

You can’t make the switch over night, it is a process to find brands and product that work for you and what is important to you. But if you do a little research you might find that waste-free living is not as expensive as you think!


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