On A Budget? Make A Big Eco-Difference With Only A Few Bucks.

May 11, 2010

Trying to do your part but interested in doing more? I get emails all the time from readers looking for more ideas on how they can “go green” without spending a ton of money. While I always suggest that money shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor in lifestyle choices, I do understand that people are on a budget – and thus should do the most they can do while staying inside that budget. And one of the easiest ways to spend a little but have a big impact is to get rid of single-use or disposable products that clog up our landfills, water-ways, and end up creating a floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. I have recently written about 3 household products that are incredibly wasteful and should be replaced with reusables, so I figured it was time to write about some more stuff that you are likely to use in your everyday life and that are pretty inexpensive to pick up. Let’s take a look…

First off – the easiest and most obvious one. I continue to talk about these because single-use plastic bottles contribute an incredible amount of trash to our waste stream. 88% of empty plastic water bottles in the US are not recycled, as much as 40% of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is just filtered tap water, and it can take nearly 7 times the amount of water in the bottle to actually make the bottle itself. It just doesn’t make sense to continue using them! If you are having trouble deciding what kind of bottle is right for you, check out my article How to choose a reusable water bottle.

Plastic sandwich bags – a kitchen staple for so very, very long. But the truth is we don’t need them anymore! With the advent of colorful, safe, and reusable containers, the plastic sandwich bag really doesn’t even need a place in our homes anymore. After all the energy and oil needed to make and ship them, most people use them only for a few hours and then toss them in the trash. Talk about wasteful! You can pick up sandwich wraps made from 100% cotton, reusable/washable plastic ones, or small food containers called Bento boxes – all are washable, reusable, and much more eco-friendly than those little disposable plastic baggies.

I haven’t bought a single new battery in almost 3 years now. Why? I have a box of rechargeable ones in every size I need for the things in my house – my remote controls, smoke alarms, computer mouse, alarm clocks, etc.. I bought a good charger and batteries back then and none of the batteries have run out of juice yet, even after all the charges they go through. Batteries are classified by the EPA as hazardous waste and should be disposed of in a safe way; however, most households just throw them in the with the regular trash where they get put in a landfill, only to leak mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel into the ground (and thus groundwater). It is a little bit of an investment at first to buy batteries that can be used over and over again, but they last a really long time and are way more eco-friendly. I got mine from Green Batteries, but they are generally available almost everywhere.

Originally part of a guest post here at The Good Human from my friend Mrs. Micah from Finance for a Freelance Life. – According to the Women’s Environmental Network, as an average woman I would go through 12,000 tampons or pads/pantiliners in my lifetime. Every month, I used to go through a box of tampons and at least half a bag of maxi-pads. I felt frustrated with the amount of waste this created and the constant need to buy more, but as someone with heavy periods I didn’t see a good alternative. All this changed when an old roommate read a post I’d written on generic feminine products and suggested I look into buying a Diva Cup. I can say without a doubt that it’s one of the few products which have revolutionized my life.

This is a very easy one to accomplish for only a few bucks. The paper, disposable coffee filter has been around for millennia, but many newer coffee machines are now shipping with washable, reusable coffee filters. My last 2 machines, both made by Cuisinart, shipped with these kind of filters. They last seemingly forever, are very easy to clean, and (I believe) make better tasting coffee. If you compost, you can still put the coffee grounds in the composter and then wash out the filter, but this way you need 365 less paper filters per year if you drink coffee every day like I do. They are available everywhere for as little as $5, so you don’t really have any excuses to not pick one up!

The shopping bag is another one that has taken center stage in the media as of late, and for good reason – there is absolutely no reason we need to use a new bag(s) every time we go grocery shopping! I have 6 of them, and they are nothing fancy – one from Trader Joe’s, one from Cid’s in Taos, NM, one from the WWF, one from Target, a generic one from a “green” festival, and one from the NRDC. I believe in total I paid about $5 total for all 6 of them over the years and they continue to serve me well. There are plenty of places to find cheap or free bags, or you can pick up good-looking designer ones, but whatever route you choose to go – just do it!

I just wrote about these last month, but they definitely deserve a mention here too. These bags from Flip & Tumble are so very cool and have completely eliminated those annoying single-use plastic ones from my life. Lightweight enough so you don’t get charged more for your produce, washable, mesh that is fine enough for use with bulk foods, and the ability to hold up to 8 lbs of food, I can also stick them in the washing machine to clean out any of the funk that might accumulate in a reusable bag. A set of 5 is $10 and probably replace thousands of plastic bags over the course of their lifetime.

Like to drink your beverages with a straw? How about using a washable glass straw instead of those crappy plastic ones? GlassDharma sells glass straws that are made in the US, don’t leach toxins, replaces thousands of plastic straws, are good for hot or cold drinks, and are microwave and dishwasher safe. They even sell “bent” straws and a cleaner that you can use to clean the inside of the straws, all for reasonable prices. My friend Beth from Fake Plastic Fish has a great article about these straws that you should read if you want to learn more.

Could there possibly be anything more wasteful than gift wrap? In 3 seconds flat, the paper you bought and paid for is ripped open and thrown in the (recycling, hopefully) bin. While the reusable gift bag has caught on as of late, you can now buy reusable gift wrapping that looks like old-school paper but is made out of 100% organic cotton with soy-based inks. Chewing the Cud Reusable Gift Wraps are Furoshiki-style cloths that the Japanese government is promoting as a way to reduce waste and save resources. Americans spend over $2.7 billion dollars a year on gift wrap, much of which ends up in landfills. If a majority of us switched to reusable gift wrap, imagine how much less paper we would be wasting!

And lastly… if your kid is responsible enough, and you make their lunches, send him or her to school with real utensils, not ones that get thrown in the trash every day after lunch. This costs nothing at all and could prevent at least 20 plastic fork and knife sets from being disposed of each and every month of the school year. And if you don’t feel like sending them with silverware from your kitchen drawer, pick up something washable and reusable like a bamboo utensil set or even some cheaper metal ones from your favorite big-box store. Either choice is better than cheap plastic ones that get used once and sent to the trash.

There are so many ways to have a major difference by only spending a few bucks (or nothing at all). Whether by making your own cleaning products, growing your own food, or replacing single-use disposable products with reusables, you can help make your eco-footprint even smaller. Every little bit helps in the long run!

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About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (3)

  1. JenO says:

    Lots of good info here! After your original post on the gift wrap, I went and snagged a bunch of fabric I was going to freecycle and have cut my own, different colors for different sizes.

    Also on the silverware thing, my kids aren’t old enough for school yet, but years ago my hubby didn’t want to steal from our set, so we went to a thrift store and they sell single pieces there. Your kids could either make a came out of trying to find a full set, or mix and match to make their own! (just have them watch out for knives, they are supposed to be in their own bin but sometimes get moved)

  2. Emec says:

    Read about the Diva Cup from the comments on a past post. I’ve been struggling with the cost and waste of feminine products, even though I use applicator-free, organic cotton stuff. A great solution for every woman!

  3. Lisa says:

    Love all of these!!! Good work!
    A few notes: There are also reusable cloth menstrual pads that many use in addition to/istead of a Diva cup. http://clothpads.wikidot.com/

    Also, check with your school before sending real silverware. Many have rules against knives and even forks, which could potentially be used as weapons.