With unemployment numbers still rising and the words “recession” and “stimulus” working their way into nearly every news story and conversation you hear, people really have money on their minds: how to earn it, how to save it, how the government should be spending it better. While economic issues are of the utmost importance for our nation right now, that doesn’t mean we should forget about the other kind of green entirely. Financial concerns and the increasing interest in frugality afford us an opportunity to refocus some attention on improving environmental-friendliness. Many of the small changes we can make to help save the environment can help us save money as well. Check out these simple ways to cut back on waste production while cutting back on spending.
Reduce use of paper products
Roughly 1/3 of household waste is paper. I’m not suggesting you cut out toilet paper and find a more environmentally friendly way of wiping your ass, but scaling back on products like paper towels is an easy way to reduce your waste contribution while saving a little money. Cloth napkins, though more expensive at the outset, will help you save loads of cash over time. Use them in place of paper napkins at mealtime, toss them in with the regular laundry and enjoy years of savings:
On sale, a 400-count pack of Scott brand paper napkins costs $4.49 at Amazon. If a family of six uses one pack each month, paper napkins can cost a household about $50 a year. For the same amount of money, you can purchase 16 Fieldcrest cloth napkins from Target (four sets of four at $11.99 each). Quality cloth napkins can last years, and they are softer, gentler, and much more absorbent than basic paper napkins.
If you don’t want to front the money for enough cloth napkins to cover every meal between wash cycles, get a few nicer ones to use whenever you have company and make the rest by hand from retired fabrics in your home. Cut up old t-shirts and flannel pajamas to use as napkins on nights when it’s just you and a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese in front of the TV.
Old clothing can be recycled not only for cleaning your face, but your whole house. Instead of using paper products to wipe down counters and glass in your home, turn clothing into rags and hand towels that can be thrown in the wash and reused, rather than tossed in the garbage can and deposited in landfills. This is also a great way to avoid unnecessary spending on things like sponges. Many of the sponges sold in supermarkets today are made from synthetic materials and often contain chemicals like triclosan, a pesticide that acts as an antibacterial agent. Not only are these chemicals increasingly linked to health problems, but they cannot be removed during the water treatment process and have become increasingly problematic in our streams and waterways. Even sponges that don’t contain harmful chemicals are likely full of bacteria, increasing your odds of throwing them away after fewer uses and picking up new ones at the grocery store. Don’t. If you don’t want to entirely replace your sponges with reusable rags, at least save yourself the trouble of buying new ones by keeping them as dry as possible between uses and tossing them damp into the microwave for a few minutes every now and again to kill some of the bacteria.
Make household cleaners
While we’re on the topic of cleaning—you can save lots of money and help protect plants, animals and marine life by ditching the chemical cleaners in favor of some easy-to-assemble alternatives. Windex, 409, Lysol, Fantastik all cost around $4 a bottle, and with the way these kinds of products are marketed and advertised, you’re likely to end up with a different solution for every room in your house. One product to clean the oven, one to kill the germs on the kitchen counter, another to get the mold and soap scum in the bathtub. You’re already $12 in and none of those products can safely clean your windows and mirrors. You can make glass cleaner by putting equal parts water and distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. A tsp of baking soda mixed with hot water and a bit of castile soap becomes an all purpose cleaner that can be used in any room. Why spend upwards of $8 on a bottle of Liquid Plumber that gives you at most two uses per container, when a cup of baking soda followed by three cups of boiling water is just as effective in unclogging drains? A box of baking soda retails for less than $1. Same with a bottle of distilled white vinegar. Don’t let fear of bacteria and germs rope you into wasting your money on harsh, unnecessary cleaning supplies. You know what’s equally effective at killing bacteria? Soap.
Ditch bottled water
There is perhaps nothing more detrimental to the environment than the pervasive consumption of bottled water. It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil (enough to power 100,000 cars for a year) to produce the plastic for the bottled water consumed annually in the US alone. Buy a washable, reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Or if you don’t have drinkable tap water, buy a Brita to filter the water first. Like with cloth napkins, the savings are going to be long term, for both your wallet and the world.
Reuse containers as planters for herbs
If you do a lot of cooking, you may find yourself in frequent need of fresh herbs. You can usually find them at grocery stores sold in little plastic containers that cost about $3 apiece and just barely have enough herbs in them to fulfill the requirements of your recipe. Save some money and cut back on waste by buying the herbs you use most often at a nursery and recycling food containers for use as planters. Chinese food containers, quart-sized yogurt containers, even the plastic containers that stores sell strawberries in can filled with dirt and stored on a windowsill or kitchen shelf to hold the herbs you need for cooking. You won’t be throwing away the food containers and you won’t be throwing away the plastic that the grocery stores sell herbs in. Most importantly, you won’t have to waste $3 every time you want a bit of fresh rosemary in your pasta sauce.
Don’t waste food
Sounds simple enough, but you might not realize just how much food you throw away. First, always store leftovers for eating later. Let’s say you have a dinner party and made way too much food, but the thought of eating leftover lasagna for the next week is wholly unappealing. Freeze it. You never know when you’re going to be too sick, too tired or too busy to cook and having readymade food waiting in your freezer will help cut down the odds that you resort to just ordering take out. You paid to make that lasagna and should plan to get your money’s worth, even if it’s not until a week or two later. Conversely, resist the temptation to just throw away leftovers if the amount left is too small to constitute another meal. Save it and take it as a side for lunch the next day or as a quick snack when you’re really busy and know that dinner is going to be pushed back until pretty late.
Putting smaller portions on your plate is another way to limit the amount of food that ends up in the trash. The smaller the portion, the more likely you are to finish what’s in front of you. Going back for seconds is not a big deal, but throwing away food that you served but couldn’t finish is just a waste.
Similarly, throwing away food that’s a bit past its prime is another way to throw away money. Obviously you don’t want to eat moldy or rotten food, but if you’ve paid for something, you might as well do anything you can to make use of it. Browned bananas or mushy berries are great for making smoothies. They may be too overripe to eat as is, but when blended up with some yogurt and ice, that previously nasty mushiness becomes a flavorful drink. Overly soft tomatoes can be turned into pasta sauce. Wilting or browned vegetables can be used to create a vegetable stock. There are lots of ways to make the most of the money you spent while cutting back on the amount of waste you create.