Easy on the Planet and Your Wallet
NEW YORK (MainStreet) There’s a common misperception that living sustainably is a luxury reserved for the rich. It’s not difficult to see why. In many parts of the country, organic products cost significantly more than their conventional counterparts – sometimes by two or three times.
But believe it or not, some sustainable living actions can actually save you money, as well as improve your quality of life. Those savings can then be applied to more expensive eco-luxuries, like fair trade coffee and organic cotton t-shirts. Here are ten tips to get you started.
Switch from bottled water to tap
According to the Environmental Working Group, consumers pay up to 1,900 times more for bottled water than tap water, mostly due to the perception that the bottled stuff is cleaner and safer. However, bottled water has been shown to contain contaminants too. A 2008 study of ten popular brands uncovered trace amounts of 38 chemicals, including coliform bacteria, caffeine, acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents and the radioactive element strontium. While tap water is subject to strict federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, bottled water restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration are notoriously lax. And in some cases, tap water even tastes better than bottled. New York City’s tap water, delivered from upstate reservoirs, is notoriously fresh and sweet; some bagel and pizza makers even credit it for making their products taste better.
Estimated annual savings: $730 (two $1 bottles of water per day)
Cancel your gym membership and go for a jog
Picture your local gym: music blaring, lights blazing, machines running all day, every day. It takes a lot of energy to power the ambience of a modern-day sports club – a cost that is then transferred to members through high monthly fees. But all of those amenities may actually be detracting from your workout. According to the New York Times, exercising outdoors provides a more effective and beneficial workout. Not only are joggers and cyclists more likely to encounter inclines and wind resistance, which work out different muscles, but studies show that outdoor exercise can also boost the psychological effects of exercise, making you feel happier and more energetic post-workout. Plus, your local running paths are a heck of a lot cheaper than the gym.
Estimated annual savings: $1,200 (monthly $100 membership fee)
Ditch the supermarket for the farmer’s market (but stay seasonal)
Sophisticated refrigeration and transport systems have changed the way we eat, making it possible for us to enjoy Peruvian asparagus in the winter and Japanese mandarins in the summer. But if you adjust to more seasonal eating habits, you can often find fresher produce for lower prices at your local farmer’s market. Apart from the savings, there’s also the taste: a fresh, locally-grown tomato has an entirely different flavor than a washed-out tomato shipped from China. These days, farmer’s markets have a reputation for high prices, but they can offer tremendous deals on locally-grown produce during peak harvest season. The Eat Local app from the National Resources Defense Council can help you suss out what’s in season, as well as find directions to nearby markets.
Estimated annual savings: $240 ($20/month)
Trade your incandescent light bulbs for CFLs
According to Energy Star, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can save consumers $6 per year, compared to their incandescent counterparts. Not only that, but CFLs use about 75% less energy and last six times longer – which means you don’t need to worry about balancing on wobbly stools to change bulbs every couple of months.
Estimated annual savings: $60/year ($6/year for 10 bulbs)
Commute by bike instead of car
The average American spends a whopping $2,000 per year on gasoline, not to mention auto insurance and maintenance costs. And with public transportation tariffs rising, the bus and subway aren’t the bargains they used to be. In comparison, a used bike will cost you around $200, and cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder, Madison, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., have invested tremendously in bike lanes and safety in recent years. Not only can bike commuting save on gas, but it can also provide exercise and a daily dose of Vitamin D. Beats sitting in traffic, that’s for sure.
Estimated annual savings: $1.800 ($2,000 average gas cost, minus the cost of a used bike)
Shop vintage instead of new
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends $1,740 on apparel each year. Chances are, many of those purchases are made at fast fashion retailers like H&M, Old Navy, Forever 21, and Target, which sell garments that, while trendy, are often poorly constructed and designed for disposal. Shop your local thrift store or vintage boutique, on the other hand, and you’ll probably encounter older American- and European-made garments made with better fabrics and more durable construction – at a fraction of the cost. Shopping vintage takes more time and energy than picking up the trend du jour at your local mall, but it often results in a wardrobe filled with quality pieces you are truly invested in.
Estimated annual savings: $870 (half the average clothing budget)
Rediscover your local library
The price of paper is rising, along with the price of e-books. Why are we spending more money on books when we have a nearly unlimited selection of them at our disposal… for free? In recent years, technology has made it easier for people to patronize their local public library. The New York Public Library, for instance, allows users to have books delivered to their neighborhood branch, so they can avoid criss-crossing the city in search of their next read. The NYPL also has a mobile app, which allows users to scan book barcodes to check availability and even store potential reads on “shelves” so they can track what they want to read later. Many public libraries even allow users to download e-books for limited lending periods. Not all books are available and wait times can be lengthy, but you can't beat the cost savings and convenience.
Estimated annual savings: $180 (one $15 book/month)
Trade your Keurig for a French press
Single-use pod coffee makers like Keurig and Nespresso have exploded in popularity in recent years. But along with that explosion has come a significant increase in the amount of waste coming from unrecyclable single-use coffee pods. According to a report from CNBC, the plastic, paper, and aluminum components of a K-cup are recyclable on their own, but when cups are simply thrown in the garbage, as they often are, they head straight to the landfill. On the other hand, no-filter coffee filtration systems, like a French press or Italian moka pot, don’t generate any non-biodegradable waste. Plus, foodies swear by them.
Estimated annual savings: $200 ($240 for 365 K-cups, minus the cost of a $40 five-pound bag of fair trade coffee)
Make your own cleaning products instead of buying them
Seventh Generation founder Jeffrey Hollender famously said that nearly every product in the company’s eco-friendly household cleaning line could be replaced with vinegar or baking soda. Indeed, homemade cleaning products aren’t just cheaper – they are also safer for your home and the environment. A few ingredients you’ll want to stock up on: baking soda, which acts as a deodorizer and scourer; white vinegar, for removing stains and odors; and tea tree oil, which is a well-known natural sanitizer.
Estimated annual savings: $30
Just say no to plastic bags
We probably don’t need to tell you about the wastefulness of plastic bags, but we will. The EPA estimates that 3.9 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps entered the waste stream in 2010 – just in the United States. You can do your part to decrease this waste by bringing your own reusable bags to the supermarket, or even (gasp) just carrying items that don’t require one. Not only will this practice eliminate the inevitable overflow of plastic bags in your kitchen cabinet, but you can also avail yourself of in-store specials for customers with reusable bags. At Trader Joe’s, you’ll be entered into a daily raffle, while big retailers like Target, Whole Foods and Lowe’s offer five to 10 cent credits.
Estimated annual savings: $1… but hey, it’s something.