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Budget-Friendly Starter Guide to Going Green

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family shopping at the farmers market

Think going green costs too much? Think again! Living sustainably is accessible to everyone regardless of how much someone makes or where they live. You don’t have to shop exclusively at health food stores or shell out tons of cash on eco-friendly products to be a little kinder to the Earth. There are plenty of simple lifestyle changes and affordable options if you’re looking to save a little green while going green.

The best thing you can do before making any changes is to shift your mindset away from consumerism. If you’ve found yourself caught up in the cycle of constantly buying new things to maintain your lifestyle, your credit score—and the environment—may be suffering as a result.

National Geographic estimates that as many as 1.7 billion people worldwide—or nearly one fourth of the world’s population—belong to the consumer class they define as “people characterized by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.” [1]

Changing your attitude toward non-essential goods is not only free, but can save you money and make you happier. Browse the sections below to find out about a few changes that suit your lifestyle and budget.

LIFESTYLE | HOUSEHOLD | FOOD | TECHNOLOGY | TRANSPORTATION

Lifestyle

eco friendly lifestyle swaps

Unfortunately, cheap goods often come at the expense of the environment and ethical labor practices. Even if an item has a slightly higher price tag, it can save you money in the long run if it’s made with quality over quantity in mind. But a higher price doesn’t always mean something is better for the environment—or even higher quality. The good news, there are some environmentally sound and ethical goods you can buy and lifestyle changes you can make that are also budget friendly.

Shopping

  • Try a no-spend month. See if you can lower your unnecessary expenses by going cold turkey for one month. Set some guidelines like only buying the essentials. You may be surprised by what you can go without.
  • Buy second hand and re-use. Thrift stores embody the basic principles of reduce, re-use, recycle, and have tons of pre-loved items from clothes and home goods to toys and books.
  • Trade with people in your community. Check sites like Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor or Meetup to find people willing to trade in your area. Local events are also a great way to find people who are willing to trade items. For example, plant swaps are a great way to add some greenery to your space and meet people at the same time.
  • Upcycle and DIY whenever possible. Before you buy something new, consider whether you can repair or upcycle what you already have.
  • Buy local. Locally grown foods and locally produced goods are easier on the environment for a variety of reasons. It cuts down shipment costs, meaning it uses less fuel to transport and reduces emissions. It’s more accessible, meaning you won’t have to travel as far.
  • Get a library card. For all the bookworms out there, hit up your local library for books, magazines and newspapers free of charge. Or, if you already have a lot of books you don’t need anymore, local libraries and thrift stores often accept donations.
  • Use reusable shopping bags. Whether you’re grocery shopping or shopping for clothes, use a reusable tote to carry your purchases. Stash foldable bags in your car, your purse or wherever is convenient for you.

Pets

  • Use topical flea and tick treatments. Topical treatments produce less waste than disposable flea collars.
  • Pick up after your dog using biodegradable bags. When it comes to waste, fur babies are like actual babies—pets account for as much municipal waste as dirty diapers. [2]
  • Purchase cat litter without bentonite clay. Clay cat litter is commonly derived from environmentally destructive strip mining and is not biodegradable. [3] Popular alternatives include litter made from corn, wheat and pine.
  • Choose food with protein sources other than beef. Pets, especially cats, need a solid source of protein in their diet, but red meat uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork or chicken. [4]

Personal Care

  • Create your own lotions and shampoos using essential oils and natural products. The average woman spends $3,756 per year on her appearance. For that cost, you can buy all the ingredients to create hundreds of homemade alternatives.
  • Swap products made of plastic like toothbrushes, cotton swabs and disposable razors for alternatives made of sustainable materials. For example, bamboo toothbrushes, cotton swabs with paper sticks and metal razors are all more sustainable than their plastic counterparts. By purchasing products made with sustainable materials like bamboo, paper and metal you help cut down on your overall plastic consumption.
  • Switch to a menstrual cup. Replace traditional, disposable tampons and pads with menstrual cups. One cup can last up to 10 years of use. [5]

 

Household

eco friendly household swaps

There’s no doubt that home repairs can get costly. Luckily, there are a few budget-friendly ways to upgrade your home or apartment that also reduce your environmental impact. Like a lot of personal care products, cleaning products and other household goods make for a lot of paper and plastic waste every year.

As much as 91% of all plastic isn’t recycled—that’s a pretty staggering amount that goes directly to the landfill. [6] But it’s not an excuse for a messy house! There are green cleaning products you can DIY that are often cheaper and better for the environment.

Cleaning

  • Make your own cleaning products. Cleaners made from ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and castile soap are affordable and easy to make. This simple change can save you as much as $800 in just one year! [7]
  • Replace single-use paper towels and napkins with microfiber cloths or bamboo paper towels. 554,000 trees can be saved every year if each U.S. household used one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels. [8]
  • Keep fridge coils clean. By dusting once or twice a year, you’ll improve the energy efficiency of your fridge.
  • Run the dishwasher only when it’s full. Dishwashers are faster and more water- and energy-efficient than hand washing your dishes. [9]
  • Opt out of junk mail. Cut down on clutter by opting out of junk mail. To stop receiving credit card offers in the mail permanently or just temporarily, visit OptOutPrescreen.com. You can also stop catalogs for ten years by registering with the Direct Marketing Association and paying a $2 fee.

Home Maintenance

  • Perform a home energy audit. A home energy audit is a great way to assess how much energy your home is using and where you could cut back.
  • Install low-flow shower heads. A low-flow shower head costs around $35 and can save an average of $225 in year one and $260 every year thereafter—that’s a 640% return on investment! [10]
  • Put a brick in your toilet tank to imitate a low-flow toilet. Unlike low-flow shower heads, a low flow toilet is a bit more of an investment. Alternatively, you can put a brick in your toilet tank to displace some of the water. In doing so you use up to half a gallon less water per flush, but your flush pressure stays the same.
  • Replace traditional light bulbs with LED light bulbs. As your incandescent and/or halogen bulbs burn out, replace them with energy-efficient LED light bulbs. Over a 10 year period, you can save an average of $1,000 by making the switch. [11]
  • Update weather-stripping on doors and windows. You can save between 5 and 10% on your energy bill by maintaining weather-stripping and caulking to reduce air leaks. [12]

Laundry

  • Air dry laundry. Dryers use more electricity than any other household appliance, and line-drying your clothing could save almost enough to cover one month’s electricity bill. [13] Instead, use a drying rack or clothesline.
  • Wait for a full load to do laundry. The average washing machine uses as much water in one year as you’ll drink in your lifetime. [14] Wait and wash only a full load and update the settings to “small load” when you must to do a smaller load of laundry.
  • Wash with cold water. About 75 to 90% of the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water. But cold water is perfectly fine for most clothes. [15] And, cold water keeps your fabrics looking nice longer since hot water is more likely to shrink, fade and wrinkle fabrics.
  • Replace dryer sheets with laundry buddies or wool dryer balls. If you do use your dryer, stop using dryer sheets. Dryer sheets aren’t necessary and many contain harmful chemicals that pollute the air and clog your dryer’s lint screen. Replace single-use dryer sheets with reusable laundry buddies or wool dryer balls that offer the same benefits of dryer sheets.
  • Clean the lint filter between each load. Keeping the lint filter clean reduces the fire hazard, cuts down on drying time and reduces the energy used.

 

Food

eco friendly food swaps

Food waste may not seem like a big deal—after all, food decomposes, right? But when you consider the wasted resources that went into producing and transporting that food, the carbon footprint adds up quickly. In the U.S. alone, up to 40% of food is never eaten. At the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table. [16]

Cooking

  • Eat less meat and dairy. If the entire U.S. participated in Meatless Monday by not eating meat or cheese one day a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
  • Cook from scratch more often. The packaging from processed and pre-made foods ultimately ends up in landfill and recycling facilities. Reduce your kitchen waste by buying whole ingredients in reusable packaging.
  • Use the microwave or toaster oven when possible. Compared to conventional ovens, microwaves use 75% less electricity for things like cooking a potato. [17]
  • Use cast iron pans. Non-stick pots and pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon. Teflon is linked to many environmental and health hazards. [18]
  • Compost food scraps. Nearly 50% of garbage set out at the curb is compostable. Not only does composting reduce landfill waste, it enriches the surrounding soil, cuts down on greenhouse gases and reduces stormwater runoff. [19]

Food Shopping

  • Order groceries online. Having groceries delivered means fewer cars making the trip to and from the store, reducing pollution. [20] Plus, ordering online reduces impulse purchases.
  • Only buy what you know you’ll eat. Food waste is one of the largest components of solid waste in U.S. landfills. Reduce your contribution by buying perishable goods in smaller quantities.
  • Buy from the bulk bins and store in glass jars. Instead of buying a large bottle of a spice you just need a pinch of, buy a small amount from the bulk bins. While savings vary, yousave of up to 80% on some spices and other dry goods.
  • Use reusable produce bags.
  • Grow an herb and vegetable garden. Spend less on herbs and vegetables at the grocery store by growing your own.

Storage

  • Stash a reusable takeout container in your car for leftovers. Most leftovers and takeout foods come in styrofoam packaging which is a non-biodegradable substance.
  • Use reusable food storage bags. Reusable bags zip-lock and can be used repeatedly which cuts down on plastic waste.
  • Switch to a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. Switching to a reusable coffee cup alone can save you $58 annually. [21]
  • Ditch disposable plates, cups, straws and utensils. Plastic cutlery pollutes waterways, endangers wildlife, contributes to air pollution and has a high carbon footprint. Reduce your impact by using reusable cutlery. Keep a to-go kit containing the essentials in your car.

 

Technology

eco friendly technology swaps

With every new device release, you can be tempted to get the latest phone or computer model. But discarding old electronics is a growing problem that researchers have dubbed “technotrash” and “e-waste.” Worldwide, 20 to 50 million tons of technotrash are discarded every year. [22]

  • Use power strips. Energy saving power strips can save you up to $100 a year just by automatically powering down connected devices when you turn your computer off.
  • Unplug devices when fully charged and/or not in use. Even when turned off, appliances that are plugged in use standby power. Unplugging devices completely when not in use cuts down on unnecessary energy usage.
  • Always print double-sided. Set your default print setting to double-sided and use up to 14% less paper. [23]
  • Recycle old technology like cell phones, cameras and batteries. Only 25% of all discarded electronics were recycled in 2011. [24] Check this resource from the EPA that lists places to turn in old products.
  • Switch to paperless bank statements. It’s easier than ever to go paperless with your banking. Have bank statements, EOBs, insurance invoices, 401K statements and more delivered electronically via mail to cut down unnecessary paper.

 

Transportation

eco friendly transportation options

It’s common knowledge that cars create pollution and deplete fossil fuels, but did you know in the U.S., there are more cars on the road than licensed drivers? Transportation accounts for approximately 30% of world energy use and 95% of oil consumption. [25]

  • Reduce the impact of your commute. Consider carpooling, biking, taking public transit or walking instead of driving to work.
  • Maintain your tires. Rotate tires often and keep them properly inflated to reduce fuel consumption.
  • Turn your engine off if you’ll be idling for more than 10 seconds. Not only are the exhaust fumes produced while idling bad for the environment, idling bad for your car’s engine. It takes the same amount of gas to restart your car than it does to idle for 10 seconds. [26]
  • Use the car wash. Water used by commercial car wash facilities gets treated before going back into the environment, unlike the water used to wash a car at home.
  • Lighten the load by keeping your trunk free of clutter. Cut back on costs at the pump by decluttering. The more a car weighs, the more fuel it uses.

budget friendly environmentally consciuous lifestyle changes infographic

It’s easy to save money while being green if you know the facts. After all, wasted resources are wasted cash. Look for products with sustainable packaging and ethical sourcing and production. You’ll help cut down on plastic consumption and environmental damage. We would need four planets if everyone lived like the average American! BBC News How many Earths do we need? Make a few of these eco-friendly swaps to see how much you can save being kind to the Earth and your wallet! Then, put the money you save into a high-interest savings account and watch it grow.

Article Sources
1 National Geographic As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says
2 Small Footprint Family 8 Ways to Go Green With Your Pet
3 Scientific American What Are the Most Ecofriendly Cat Litter Products on the Market?
4 The Guardian Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert
5 Lunette 8 FAQ About Menstrual Cups
6 National Geographic A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled
7 Little Things Save Over $800 A Year By Switching Out These Basic Household Cleaning Products!
8 Wide Open Eats 6 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Paper Towel Use
9 Science Alert Here’s Why You Need to Stop Washing Your Dishes by Hand
10 Wise Bread The Low-Flow Shower Head: Get 640% ROI in One Year
11 Consumer Federation of America Incandescent and Halogen Light Bulbs Cost Four to Five Times As Much Over Time As Do New LED Light Bulbs
12 The Eco Guide Weather-stripping: Stop losing money by sealing windows and leaks
13 The Art of Simple 5 reasons to line-dry your laundry
14 Planet Blue Laundry Water Use
15 GE Appliances 6 Reasons To Cold-water Wash—and 3 Not To
16 NRDC Food Waste
17 Bijli Bachao Microwave Oven vs. Conventional Electric Oven: a comparison of technology and efficiency
18 EPA Basic Information on PFAS
19 Institute for Local Self-Reliance Infographic: Compost Impacts More Than You Think
20 EPA What If More People Bought Groceries Online Instead of Driving to a Store?
21 Green Foresters 21 Best Zero Waste Swaps That Save You Money!
22 Digital Responsibility Sad Facts on Technotrash or E-waste
23 WWF Use paper more efficiently
24 Electronics Take Back Coalition Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling
25 National Geographic As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says
26 Environmental Defense Fund Attention drivers! Turn off your idling engines

Infographic Sources
Waste Away Junk Mail Facts and Statistics
Better Planet Roll Out the Paper Stats
Recyclebank
EPA National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling
EPA What If More People Bought Groceries Online Instead of Driving to a Store?
Aol The Do’s and Don’ts of Saving with Bulk Bins
Fast Company How an Eco Power Strip Can Save the World
Thought Co. A Guide to Eco-Friendly Car Washing


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