The idea of an eco-friendly life can conjure up images of expensive glass Keep Cups, solar panels, stylish empty homes, hand-made clothing, kale and a jar full of a year’s worth of waste. These are images of the Instagramable Zero Waste Life™. By no means should these concepts set a benchmark for our own sustainability, because for most of us these things are unattainable. In reality, living sustainably is not so much about consuming different, more expensive things; its simply about consuming less. In fact, consuming less often means spending less, too!
Below I will walk you through all the best ways to reduce your impact on the planet cheaply or for free! Anyone can take these tips on board; the point of this post is to give achievable advice that is simple to apply to our daily lives.
Reduce your energy consumption easily
There are some simple things you can do around the house in order to use less water and electricity. Of course, this just happens to coincide with spending less on it too!
- Turn off your appliances at the power switch: Lots of appliances continue to use energy even in they’re turned off. You can stop this passive energy use by turning your TV, lamps, kitchen appliances etc. off at the power point when they aren’t in use.
- Use your air conitioner wisely: Air conditioners are a class A offender when it comes to carbon emmissions and increasing your electricity bill. Simply turning up the A/C a couple of degrees in summer can reduce how much electricity it requires to run. Forgo the A/C all together in winter by wearing warm clothes and blankets; it will give you an excuse to drink lots of hot chocolate!
- Try passive cooling: Passive cooling is the art of cooling your home without using electricity. Unfortunately, its success largely depends on the orientation, ventilation and insulation of your home. Whether or not you can survive the summer without air-con, closing your windows and blinds during the heat of the day helps to stop your home from over-heating. Opening the windows as it begins to cool down in the evening can give your house a quick burst of breeze to sweep away the day’s heat – minus the electricity.
- Hang out your laundry: Do this whenever you can in order to reduce your energy consumption.
Make a few sacrifices to reduce your water consumption
Here are some strategies which will decrease both your consumption and your bills:
- Take shorter showers: You can buy shower timers that cost as little as a few dollars, so you can keep your showers short an sweet. Shave your legs and other areas outside of the shower, and take showers less often in winter (when we don’t get quite as sweaty).
- Water your garden with grey water: If you have a vege garden, or simply a garden that your water often, save water from baths, showers and laundry to water the plants. This simple strategy can save a considerable amount of water in the long-run, and costs you nothing except a bit of effort.
- Only do full loads of laundry: This means that less electricity and water is used doing separate loads. Clothes can be hand-washed if they need to be done before a load is ready: this still costs less water than using the washing machine. In colder months, assess whether clothes really need to be washed after one wear – this also helps to reduce water consumption.
Decrease the single-use plastic in your life
Using less single-use plastic can be hard when everything seems to be wrapped in it. Bulk food stores can be expensive and hard to access, so often we have no choice but to buy things in plastic. However, there are ways to minimise this, even if you only have access to your local grocery store.
- Stop using the big 4 plastic items: this is a fairly cheap and easy way to reduce your plastic consumption. The big 4 are: plastic straws, plastic bags, coffee cups and plastic bottles. To do this, simply refuse straws, bring your own bags to the shops, and carry around a water bottle which can be refilled! If you are dependent on your daily (or maybe three- or four-times-daily) coffee, you can find re-usable coffee cups at Coles, Woolworths and Kmart at relatively inexpensive prices. If your cafe is close to your workplace, you could even bring in your own mug! Many cafes offer 50 cent discounts for bringing a reusable cup, so you may find that you earn back the money you spent on the cup in no time!
- Opt for glass or metal packaging: Jars can be recycled or reused for so many purposes around the house, and are great for storing all sorts of food-stuffs. Cans can be recycled and reused to, for things like storing stationary/craft supplies, or turning them into pot-plants. This is a great way to ensure no part of the products you buy are wasted.
- If glass or metal is not an option, look for hard plastic: Most hard plastics can be recycled, which cannot be said for soft plastics. You can check whether a plastic item is probably recyclable by performing the “scrunch” test. Does the plastic go back to its original shape after your scrunch it in your hand? If yes, it is likely that it can go in the recycle bin. Lots of plastic containers can be reused around the house for storage or craft, too.
- Always buy your fruits and veges loose and unpackaged: Some stores are better than others when it comes to the plastic covering their fresh produce, and it varies location to location. If you have access to a shopping centre with more than one grocery store, you might find it useful to make a list of which stores have which vegetables/fruit unpackaged – so you know where to go. If you have access to a produce shop, that’s even better (they often have prices which are way lower than than the big grocery stores). Rather than using the plastic produce bags, use the paper mushroom bags to hold loose produce.
- Take lunch to work/uni: This is a great way to both save money and avoid using the plastic cutlery and packaging that comes with take-away food. Its also a great way to use left-overs – this relates to the next topic.
Reduce food waste however you can
Not everyone can afford to invest in a compost bin, but there are other ways to reduce your food waste that don’t cost anything.
- Buy what you’ll eat and eat what you buy: Depending on your household situation, this may or may not be a hard rule to follow, but the main point is to use the food you have, eat your left-overs, avoid throwing out food. This correlates perfectly with saving money!
- Take advantage of your kitchen scraps: Vegetable scraps such as onion peels, carrot tops and celery ends can be used to make vegetable stock! This makes the most of the money you spend. The stock can be a great base for all sorts of meals.
- Check what you can put in your green bin: Many areas allow kitchen scraps to be put straight your green bin. These scraps are then turned into fertiliser/compost. By doing this you can eliminate the need for using your own compost bin, and reduce your contribution to landfill.
- Sub one meal a week for a vegetarian or vegan one: while not technically food waste, I count our over-consumption of animal products as food waste because animal products require lots of plants, water and land to produce (much more than plant crops themselves). Reducing your meat intake, even if only one night a week, is a great way to be more sustainable, and usually doesn’t cost any more than your normal dinner!
Change your shopping habits
Lots of eco-friendly solutions seem to take a lot out of your pocket. Despite this, you don’t need to fork out for ethical clothing or entertainment.
- Make second hand stores your go-to: Second hand stores are both cheap and a great way to buy clothes without contributing to the demand for more. There are heaps of benefits of doing this; I even wrote a post about it here!
- Borrow and share with your friends and family: This is particularly important for big-ticket items or things you won’t need forever. Do you need baby furniture or clothes? Its both cheaper and more sustainable to get or buy these second hand – considering they are pieces that generally aren’t used for long. Need a drill? A friend or neighbour might have one!
- Make do with what you have: before you make a new purchase, consider whether or not you really need it. Can you perform its task with something you already own, make it or thrift it? Will it bring you happiness or be essential for your life? These are core tenants in minimalism, but translate perfectly into the context of sustainability. You might find yourself saving lots of money by thinking this way.
So, did you found these tips helpful? Let me know if you think I missed something important!
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