Reusable Products Eliminate Disposable Money

Once upon a time, we did not have giant landfills full of refuse from all of our disposable conveniences. We relied on reusable items to fulfill our daily needs and we found ways to prolong the utility and longevity of what we owned. Americans were frugal by nature. After WWII, however, our national prosperity and an increase in our collective leisure time brought forth an era of disposable convenience. Instead of looking to buy products that would last, we began to look for many products that could be tossed away when we were done using them.

The most egregious and downright silly of the disposable products that I recall are the paper dresses that were sold in the late 1960’s. These dresses were offered first by Scott Paper Company, and then by Hallmark and even Pillsbury, among others. Paper dresses were sold in surprisingly huge numbers – half a million by the Scott Paper Company alone – and were to be thrown away when they had been worn out in anywhere from one to twelve uses!

Fortunately, I have not seen too many paper dresses or other paper attire recently, but there are still a number of costly disposable items that we do still use, and they impose a burden on our environment and our wallets. Here are five that you should do without.

Disposable Razors: For years, I used a disposable razor. I have a thick beard so if I used a razor more than once, I would invariably look like a victim from a slasher film. Nevertheless, for years, I spent about $6 per week on disposable razors. Then, early last year, I saw a great deal on an electric razor on Amazon – I think I paid $49 for a $189 shaver, or something similarly discounted – so I made the investment in an electric razor. I have used it ever since and instead of spending $6 per week I spend nothing more than a couple of pennies to charge my razor. I save money and I keep plastic and metal out of our landfills by not having to throw away a package of used razors every week.

Paper Towels and Napkins: There are only two reasons that you really need to use disposable paper products: if you are in the bathroom or if you need to write something down and cannot use an electronic device to do so. Otherwise, most disposable paper products can be replaced with longer lasting reusable products. Rather than spend a dollar or more per roll of paper towels for your kitchen, invest in a dozen or two cloth towels that you can wash and reuse. Rather than use disposable paper napkins, invest in basic cloth or linen napkins that you can similarly wash and reuse. Chances are good, that if you are shopping a lot in the paper products aisle of your grocery store, you are unnecessarily throwing away your money with your disposable paper.

Plastic Utensils, Paper Plates and Disposable Cups: Whether you use them outside or indoors, plastic eating utensils, paper plates and disposable cups offer you a minimum of convenience and a maximum of waste. Rather than serve meals on disposable products, buy a set of sturdy hard plastic plates and cups that you can use whenever you need them, indoors or out. They will not break if they are dropped and they can be cleaned and reused, saving you the cost of replenishing your disposable stock. Of course, I would not suggest that you serve a picnic lunch on your fine china, but it is a waste of money to buy disposable plates, cups or utensils.

Coffee Cups and Coffee Filters: I try not to buy coffee when I am out of the house. In case I decide to treat myself, however, I always carry a travel mug from the coffee shop that I prefer. The travel mug cost me $2.49 when I bought it, a price that included a free cup of coffee which usually sells for $1.69 per cup. Refills are only 99 cents so I save 70 cents on every cup and the travel mug has already more than paid for it.

I often carry a thermos of coffee with me when I do go out and I fill my own travel mug up. When I brew coffee at home, I always use a permanent gold filter in my coffee maker rather than disposable paper filters. I do not save a lot of money by using a permanent filter (about $2.00 every six weeks) but I never have to worry about running out of filters.

Printer Ink: Many of you probably already do this but I find that there is no reason to purchase new ink cartridges for my printer. I take my used cartridges to an office supply store near my home and they refill them for less than new cartridges would cost. The quality is just fine and the price is better than the cost of new cartridges.

What other disposable items do you think we can do without? Avoiding disposable products saves us money in the long term and it saves our landfills, too. And in case you are wondering, I could still find paper dresses available on-line, even today, but thankfully, I don’t think they have caught on again…

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24 Responses to Reusable Products Eliminate Disposable Money

  1. justme says:

    when I was a kid I lived on an old farm it had a old garbage dump on it, there was a spot over the top of the hill down a bank where the family had thrown their garbage for a hundred years, me and my brother dug in it and pulled out old bottles and tin cans , but not much else it was mainly dirt
    who ever was the genius who decided we should take all garbage from everyone and put it in one spot cover it in plastic and be sure it was entombed in a manner that nothing could decompose
    i have never heard of paper dresses i will have to google it

  2. Some of my plastic food containers (ala tupperware) are sooooo worn out I finally am going to toss 4 of them (they were free to start even).

  3. Alain Theriault says:

    There’s a lot of things we can reuse that saves up money and saves the environment. There’s also things that are disposable that doesn’t harm the environment.

    Like paper towels. If we would use rag instead, you would need to clean it after every use or almost. Some things are saving us time and time is money.

  4. princessperky says:

    I find food storage is a major culprit of disposable waste. I see no reason to put leftovers in zip locks, or under saran wrap, when a perfectly good container will do. I have to bring my lunch bag home, I might as well do it with empty containers, as search for a garbage can out and about.

  5. Sarah says:

    In the past I would take a garbage bag full of old T-Shirts to goodwill. Now I cut them up and store them all around my house: under kitchen and bathroom sinks, garage, etc… Whenever there is a spill I grab a rag (old T-shirt, wipe it up, and throw it in the dirty clothes. If I need to clean a mirror or sink real quick, I grab a rag. It is handy and saves me money!

  6. Lori says:

    I swear I never knew that non-disposable coffee filters existed, and that you could refill ink cartridges. Thank you for the article!

  7. Carol says:

    I find I reuse (multiple times) things that are meant to be disposable. I have plastic flatware, only because I don’t have enough silverware for when I have a crowd of people over. I will wash and reuse them; also the Swiffer cloths – there’s no point in throwing them out! Wash them in a lingerie bag once a month with the throw rugs and have lasted me for years! I will use foil more than once (more than twice!), save the strings from the clay kitty litter bags for crafts and tying things, and I’m sure there’s more that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

    What I’m getting at is that there are products labeled as disposable, but it doesn’t mean they have to be.

  8. Gina Wadding says:

    Thank you for sharing with me about the razors. My husband was just telling me how sick he was of using the disposable ones now I can get an electric razor (for Christmas) and save money yea!!

  9. Monkey Mama says:

    We only use cloth here. How hard is it to throw it in the washing machine for the next wash? I am pretty picky when it comes to things that take time, but that is not a time consuming endeavor.

    Anyway, we also have a lot of “disposable” tupperware that we have used for years. Again, you could argue we have to wash our tupperware every day, but we just throw it in with the rest of the dishes in the dish washer. No biggie. I cringe to use plastic bags and paper towels. Such a waste.

  10. Pat MaGroine says:

    Disposable diapers are THE WORSE!
    I am greatly surprised that no one mentioned them! The past several generations KNOW NOTHING about using cloth diapers! I’ll bet if you were to ask them there would be a look of “HUH??” on their face followed by HORROR!! It’s really not that much trouble to rinse out a soiled cloth diaper and wash them.
    We used to do it all the time when our kids were growing up. We even hung them outdoors on a clothesline and did not use a dryer!!!

  11. damon says:

    On the printer,

    You should really consider buying a laser printer instead. A Brother black and white will cost about $70. OKI, Brother, etc also make entry level color lasers for home users that you can usually pick up for $3-400. Sometimes you can pick up display models for less.

    I know that sounds like a lot of money, but consider these things:
    1. Laser printers starter cartridges are good for about 2200 prints.
    2. A new toner (laser) cartridge (not HP) runs about $70-$80 online, and is good for 5000 prints. Compare that to inkjet cartridges that go for $20-$35 for only 500 prints!!!
    3. Toner cartridges are dry; you don’t have to worry about the ink drying out if you don’t use it quickly enough, like you have to do with inkjet cartridges.
    4. Toner cartridges can be refilled as well, or traded in for discounts or credits for the school of your choice.

    As a side note, I personally avoid HP because of the cost; not only are their printers more expensive, so are their toner cartridges, and their print quality is no where near what it used to be. My OKI that is 5 years old prints look so much better than a 1 year old HP we have at the office.

  12. Cindy M says:

    Good reminders. I love my “keepers” (glass and plastic containers of every size) and my nice cloth napkins, all of which I picked up at the local Goodwill Outlet store that cost me next to nothing and can be washed over and over. And my basic cleaning supplies I keep in reusable spray bottles. I get a kick out of figuring out what I can use to make do with these days. If I need another lamp or appliance, I’ve always been able to luck out at a garage sale or thrift store. I get no thrill out of shopping new anymore unless I’m forced to.

  13. Hana says:

    Watch your hidden assumptions. i use a certain amount of disposables. My meals-on wheels come in disposable foil pans. Since I am chronically ill, I need them disposable. If I was well enough to wash dishes (I won’t explain why i can’t use a dishwasher), I wouldn’t be using meals on wheels. Ditto certain other disposable products. I’m all for frugality and saving the planet and have twinges of conscience using disposables. however, given poor heath, the fact that others do use disposables keeps the disposables I must use affordable.

  14. Great article! There are lots of household items that can be repurposed and don’t have to be disposable. A big one is the plastic bags you get at the grocery store. You can use cloth bags, or at least use the bags for another purpose (or bring them back to the store to use again). Another biggie is plastic water bottles. There has been no proof given that the water in disposable water bottles is any better for us than that out of the tap. And our society goes through tons and tons of bottles, when we can be drinking water out of a glass – or taking it with us in a reusable thermos. And besides, we pay loads of money for water – just plain water – who came up with that marketing plan?

  15. Gail says:

    Hana, I doubt that anyone would argue about a disabled person using a certain amount of disposables due to their health. I have chronic disabling problems myself, use disposables the few times I have to and have great joy in using reusables when I can.

    We switched to hankies a couple of years ago and I can’t believe how many fewer tissues we go through now. We also use cloth napkins that just get tossed in with the wash, rags for cleaning. And years ago I did my diapers on the line. I actually loved hanging diapers out to dry. Disposables diapers are a big expense that many parents could do without. I doubt anyone has every died from rinsing out a diaper.

    As to water bottles, we are on a well. The water is fine for regular purposes, but due to poor health I can’t drink it, so we buy bottled. Good health wins over the bottle battle for wells that are suspect. But prior to moving out to the country and thus the well, we did filter our water and I filled up my water bottle and reused it many times. It usually got tossed when it became empty when we were out, rather than carry an empty bottle around.

    Although clothes aren’t generally considered disposable, think about how much you do to prevent stains from ruining them. I wear a full apron when in the kitchen and have prevented many nasty slops on clothes. Hubby uses his clothes, while wearing, them for rags as he works, so I have learned to buy his work clothes at thrift stores and yard sales (other peoples cast offs) and before they are in total shreds when they finally are thrown out.

  16. Jan says:

    Great article from David as usual. Thanks and keep ’em coming!

  17. damon says:


    On the water, if you’re not refilling bottles already, a lot of grocery stores and general (WalMart, Target, etc) stores around here (Missouri, USA) have Reverse Osmosis water dispensers.

    Those are supplied by Culligan and other water companies, but the big point is you bring your own bottle and they charge around $0.30-$0.40 per gallon to refill.

    They sell bottles there as well, I have a 5gal one that I have had for about 3 years, and one refill lasts me for a while. I don’t have health concerns so I drink my well water, but I drink a LOT of coffee, and the lime in the well water keeps killing coffee pots!

    Anyway, 5gal costs me $1.65, and I’m not burning through the bottles.

  18. Gail says:

    Thank you Damon, I have severe rheumatoid arthritis, I can barely pick up a gallon of water, much less a 5 gallon container. I only go shopping when my son can go with me so I can’t depend on getting a refill or two on time. Many of our gallon jugs are recycled for water emergencies like when we lose power or something breaks in the water lines, we are still able to flush toilets with our stored well water. We try to be reasonable with disposables as I pointed out, when you are disabled sometimes you do things that you would prefer not not be doing.

  19. David G. Mitchell says:

    Hana, Gail and All — Thanks for all of your comments on this article. I do appreciate them. I also want to echo what Gail and Hana have suggested. We all have different circumstances and not every savings tip may be practical for all people. I have a disabled brother and things that I routinely do to save money, he cannot. We all have to play the cards we are dealt, and I am sure we all make do as best we can, but even the best idea is not always a good idea for everyone.

    I wish you all well!



  20. Gail says:

    Damon, No offense taken! No all ‘rules’ to everybody, but everybody should do their part as they are able. I hate seeing those leftover jugs, yet I hated worse the GI Bleed (infectious colitis) I got that I suspect was water related. I’ve felt so much better all round that I’m able to do more than I could before which means I can apply myself to doing more frugal things. Yes, my son could help me get it those big jugs at the store, but he doesn’t live with us and I hate bothering hubby at work (self-employed at home) to switch jugs as needed for me. That son is a huge help and has been reading my frugal books for a long time so I have great hopes for him and a frugal lifestyle. He just moved into his own apartment and will need to really watch his spending to afford it even though it was the cheapest one in town!

  21. damon says:


    Yeah I guess you have a pretty good point there on the 5gal jug, that’s a lot of weight! That probably should have clicked with me before I suggested it, sorry about that, I obviously took that for granted and meant no offense.

    Mine has a spigot on it, but I bought that three years ago, and haven’t seen one since. Also, it leaks from time to time so I stand it up between uses, so that probably wouldn’t work for you.

    I have seen 2.5 gal “cows,” like the ones you used to keep in fridges for milk. The recent ones have 1/4 turn paddle spigots, so if you could find one, that might work with your arthritis. But, that’s still 20# of water, so that may still be a limiting factor. I thought I’d mention it anyway because you said your son helps with the groceries, so maybe that’s a possibility, not sure.

    Again sorry about any assumptions I made, I hope I didn’t cause any offense, and I’ll try to be more aware of that in the future. I guess that just goes to show how easy it is to take anything for granted if you don’t slow down and think about it, huh?

  22. Ann says:

    I have a “thing” about Swiffer/Swifter dusters and mops. I’ve found fluffy, washable, reusable variants on the internet and picked them up. I did pick up the mop at one point, but I purchased a bunch of microfiber clothes — they roughly fit on the mop and can be washed and reused bunches of times. Costs less money and I figure it’s better for the environment!

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  24. elaine says:

    Menstrual cups instead of tampons/pads. You can use them for years for pennies a month.

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