It's about cutting wasteful spending habits so your wallet is heavier and your garbage bags are lighter.
In the US alone, each person generates about 4.4 pounds of trash every day, which translates to 254 million tons of garbage thrown out every year.
To some extent, we're aware of the garbage we produce. And when we go the extra mile to sort our recycling, we are following some good habits. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.
It's amazing how easy and cheap it is to be less wasteful. Living in a more economical and ecologically-friendly way doesn't mean you need to replace your car with an expensive Prius or buy clothing made only from costly bamboo and organic cotton. Instead, keep reading for some eco-friendly money-saving advice.
Green Living Myths
One of the main problems with defining a concept like "green living" is that it makes people feel like it's an all-or-nothing club. Once you label your intentions as green, how far do you have to go to make a difference?
Do you need to buy only organic food? Do you need to start driving an electric car or take the bus everywhere? Do you need to -gasp!- stop eating meat?
The short answer is no. You can take as many of these steps as you want. It all helps.
To start, let's review three misconceptions about green living that are total bull-honkey:
1. Going green is painful and expensive
Going green is not about spending a lot of money, it's about buying and throwing out fewer things. Remember, the first "R" in the 3Rs is reduce. Instead of going clothes shopping every weekend or buying the newest phone even though yours actually works fine, you could use your clothes and electronics until they're worn out, donate or recycle them, and then buy new ones. Less money wasted, less trash in the world.
Shopping for green products also costs only as much as you want it to. For example, while organic body washes might cost a bit more than the regular kind, you could choose a natural lathering shower bar instead that costs less than all the regular and organic body wash options put together. What about buying and using (and reusing) a washcloth instead of buying a body wash with exfoliating pearls that don't break down?
Natural household cleaning products cost the same as the chemical-filled ones — and let's not forget the cheapest cleaning products of all: baking soda, water, and vinegar. Budget retailers like Walmart are stocking their shelves with more eco-friendly options at lower prices on everything from food to personal care products to organic apparel.
As a consumer, you have the choice to simply not go overboard with buying luxuries, using things until they're actually done, and buying affordable green products. These fairly small lifestyle tweaks will not only lessen your carbon footprint but really save you a lot of money.
2. All products that carry "eco-friendly" on their labels are in fact eco-friendly
Not all "green" products are actually good for the planet — but marketers will always try to make their products appeal to consumers' wants. Customers want more natural products, so product labels now have descriptions to match that interest. Marketers also like to try and sell these products at higher prices, so it really pays to understand the label and read the ingredients on what you're buying. The Federal Trade Commission has released a series of guides that explain the real deal behind these green marketing claims.
For example, there's a difference in the meaning of "recyclable" (i.e. it's up to the consumer to put it in the recycling bin) and "made with recycled content" (someone recycled the plastic that makes up the paper or plastic package). A "biodegradable" label means the product will naturally decay, but doesn't specify in what length of time or what toxins it leaves behind, while "compostable" means the product disintegrates in the same amount of time as other compostable items and no toxins should remain.
3. There's only one right "green" way to do things
A couple of classic examples: paper or plastic bag? Organic or naturally grown food? Using plastic adds to non-biodegradable waste, but paper bags took cutting down trees to produce them. Choosing a sturdy reusable plastic or fabric bag is probably a better option as it produces less waste on a weekly basis.
Organic foods are free from pesticides, but they may not have been produced in a sustainable way. And an organic avocado that was grown on another continent would need to be transported to your grocery store, so it would have a sizeable carbon footprint. Eating locally grown foods can be a good option- but you won't always be able to find and afford a locally raised, organic, antibiotic-free chicken breast to buy.
So, do what you can! That's the point. There is no single right answer. Green living is not an all-or-nothing or a single-approach lifestyle. Instead, by making better choices, buying less and throwing less out, and making an effort to pay attention to where your products come from will all work together to make up a greener, sustainable lifestyle compared to before.
Living green to save your money!
Here are 10 easy and completely doable lifestyle changes and habits you can start that won't cost you anything at all and can start saving you some money right away.
1. Cut down on dinners out
You already know that dining out often is expensive, not great for your health, and produces a lot of garbage. The restaurant industry creates tons of waste in preparation, tossing out uneaten food, and throwing away extra packaging. In comparison, eating at home can save you as much as $400 a week. You can pick ingredients that are grown more sustainably, prepare and cook only the servings you need or freeze leftovers, and eliminate unnecessary food waste.
2. Start a vegetable garden
A simple solution to the organic vs. natural produce debate is to simply start your own vegetable garden!
Begin with basic vegetables that grow quickly, are pest resistant, and don't require much care. Beans and peas grow like weeds; sunflowers are very low maintenance; blackberry bushes grow well in sun and shade and produce tons of fruit; squash and pumpkins are easy to grow if you have room; spicy peppers are naturally unappetizing to pests; and those expensive salad greens are easy to grow, too. If you don't have a garden, then plant some green onion in a pot, put herbs on a sunny south-facing window sill, and pop a mint plant in its own pot. Mint is basically a weed and you won't be able to kill it. Herbs are especially economical to grow because normally they are only sold in too-big packages that you won't be able to use up, and you'll have to throw them out when they go bad.
With your own garden, no transport is required and you don't need pesticides at all. Growing even three vegetable products in your garden can save you as much as $25 every week. You might still have to go to the grocery store or farmers' market to get other produce, but small steps can go a long way.
3. Change to good old fashioned cleaning products
Use natural products that are readily available in your kitchen and are cheaper than cheap. Baking soda can take the place of disinfectants, anti-odor powders, and cleaning products where scrubbing is needed. A homemade dishwashing liquid can be made from a blend of liquid castile soap, lemon or orange oil, and vinegar. Using homemade, natural cleaning products can translate to major savings.
4. Ditch the dryer
The fridge is the number one culprit behind high electrical bills, but it's a necessary evil. The clothes dryer is a different story. Unless your living situation really doesn't have space for hanging your laundry, consider line drying your clothes and using the dryer sparingly or only in the winter. The California Energy Commission says an average household can save about $85 a month by cutting down on dryer use. That's nothing to sneeze at.
Line or rack drying also helps your clothes last longer, especially if you own jeans (don't ever put these in the dryer as the heat kills their elasticity!) and fast-fashion clothing items that are made of thin or delicate materials. The dryer will destroy all of these and cause them to pill and stretch, making them unwearable. Save your clothes and save your money!
5. Use the library
Surveys found that the average American household spends about $100 a month on printed newspapers and magazines, newsletter subscriptions, and books alone. This is a major expense and a big waste of energy in paper production.
Rather than buying new books or subscribing to magazines, go to the library and access these materials for free (!!) instead. One less household requiring additional transport for their reading subscriptions every month is a small but significant reduction in carbon emissions.
Another option is to go paperless. Here's where technology can help: make the most out of your tablet or e-reader and use it to access digital copies of your books and magazines instead. Just make sure to use your gadget until it's really dead, then drop it off at an electronics recycling center!
6. Find ways to be more energy-efficient
Inefficient energy use results in too-high electrical bills and major energy waste. A simple example: air leaking in through unsealed cracks and openings in your home can increase your use of heating and cooling systems. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency said that by just sealing up these cracks, a household could save up to $200 every year.
Here are some simply ways you can be more energy-efficient and save yourself a bunch of money:
- Change traditional incandescent bulbs to LED or CDL bulbs. They use 75% less energy than traditional bulbs and only cost about $1 a year, while traditional bulbs cost $5.
- Turning laptops or computer to sleep mode can save more energy than when they're left on, but shutting them down completely is even better. A single computer or laptop shut down rather than left in sleep mode can mean a savings of about $50 a year.
- Turning off and unplugging your printer can save you about $130 a year. Appliances that are turned off but left plugged in still consume what's called "standby power." Unplugging these appliances eliminates unnecessary power consumption.
7. Conserve water
Water is another resource where the idea of "wasted resources are wasted cash" applies. In addition to the simple habit of turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth rather than letting it run, fixing leaks in your pipes can go a long way in conserving water and saving you money. A faucet leak wastes about 3 gallons of water a day, while a leaky toilet wastes about 22. Fixing these leaks can save you $20 a year on your water bill.
8. Bring a water bottle or a ceramic mug to work
If your lifestyle demands you to always be on the go, then investing in a stainless-steel water bottle is a smarter choice than buying bottled water whenever you get thirsty. It's cheaper and won't add to the ever-growing pile of plastic waste. The Columbia Water Center notes that about 80% of recyclable plastic bottles are thrown into landfills every year, and emit toxic gases as they decompose.
If coffee is a habit, put your to-go coffee in a ceramic cup or a stainless steel mug, rather than takeaway paper cups. Even better, brew your coffee and save as much as $300 a year!
9. Carpool, bike, or walk
Just sharing car rides to work with a neighbor or colleague can save you ridiculous money on gas every week. If it's just a short trip a couple of blocks from your place, then riding a bike or walking are healthier and cheaper alternatives to driving. These are great habits to get into that will lessen your carbon footprint and keep your wallet and waistline in tip-top shape.
10. Reduce, reuse, recycle
This good old tip is the truest and best way to reduce your impact on the environment. The 3Rs are applicable to every activity you do, so just go for it! Cut down on waste by at least 50% by reusing an item a couple of times before throwing it away. Think before buying. If cheaper alternatives such as renting or borrowing are available, opt for those instead. Take advantage of the internet to connect you with an ever-growing sharing economy!
Little choices can add up to big things. Small tweaks can save you pennies that add up to hundreds of dollars by the end of the year, and these little actions go a long way to reducing and slowing down the rate of destruction of our natural environment.
No one else will make these choices for you, and no one else can fix the environmental damage down the road. It's up to us to be smart with our spending choices.