It is important to begin this article by emphasizing that the individual is not responsible for climate change.
Rather, large corporations and unsustainable consumerism culture have created a world where people overbuy and underuse everything they have.
While we have created a list of 10 things you can do to help you save money and positively impact the environment, we recognize that no single person will save the world.
It is only with a great worldwide cultural shift that we can improve our use of the planet and hopefully save it from harm.
1. Thrift Your Clothing
“…fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined…It also accounts for a fifth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally each year.”
It might surprise you to realize that your clothing is actually a huge burden on the environment and your wallet.
Almost all fashion nowadays is not sustainable and doesn’t last long enough to be worth the price.
Environmental & Human Impact
Not only is most of your clothing made completely of plastic or polyester, but it is also only guaranteed to last you a year or two. Then, it starts falling apart at the seams, goes out of style, and no longer keeps you warm or comfortable.
Hundreds of thousands of clothing pieces are thrown away every single day and not thrifted or recycled, contributing to the size of landfills and wasting all the resources it took to make them.
This problem is perpetuated by fashion brands that use sweatshops, cheap fabrics, plastic materials, and horrible working conditions, like:
- Forever 21
- Abercrombie and Fitch
- Victoria’s Secret
- Billabong– and so many more!
Any fashion brand in your local mall will probably have dipped its fingers into dangerous practices. Old Navy is probably the only fashion brand at your mall that is sweatshop-and-child-labor-free!
Furthermore, these clothing brands are notorious for creating thousands of new products made from cheap materials daily. These plastics and fibers get onto our skin and into the water system when we wash them in the washing machine.
“The U.S. Geological Survey found that 71% of microplastics found in samples of river water came from fibers. Scientists estimate that, globally, 35% of the microplastics found in oceans can be traced to textiles…”
Clothing should not be made of plastic and should last you more than a year before it is recycled or sold to someone else.
Clothing Sunk Costs
The worst part about the fashion industry is that everything goes out of style quickly.
If you spend $50 on a dress for a wedding this year, you probably won’t wear that same dress in two years to another wedding.
Unless you’re buying basic little black dresses, white t-shirts, and work-appropriate jeans, your closet will go in and out of style quickly.
You’ll spend hundreds of dollars each year on clothes you won’t wear anymore. Not only is that a waste of clothing, but also really bad for your wallet.
That’s why thrifting and second-hand clothing are great ways to save money and recycle old pieces.
Yes, some of it may be out of style, but many things come back into fashion or can be edited or accessorized to appeal to modern trends. Furthermore, most basics and essentials can be thrifted, like winter coats and raincoats, hats, gloves, and t-shirts.
2. Take Days off of Meat
This is not a Blog that will try to convince you to go vegan. However, it is a good idea to lay off meat occasionally.
Not only is it good for the environment that can also be good for your health if you’re only eating red meat.
Furthermore, buying meat for most dinners throughout the week can get expensive, so learning to adapt to different proteins once in a while can be better financially!
A Huge Waste of Space
Most people think about greenhouse gas emissions when they think about the meat industry. Yet most people forget to consider how much space the meat industry takes up.
Not only do you have to supply space for millions of cows, but you also have to supply space for all of the soybeans, corn, and other crops grown to feed those cows.
If you’ve ever taken a drive through the Midwest of the United States, you probably noticed that most of his cornfields. That’s no accident, and it definitely isn’t for human consumption.
“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed.”
In 2019, it was reported by usda.gov that “91.7 million acres of corn” are grown in the United States alone. However, the corn humans eat is actually sweet corn – a very small percentage of that acreage.
Furthermore, corn and soybeans are terrible for cows, chickens, and other meat animals. It fattens them up, making raising them easier, but it also makes us fatter!
Cows raised on natural plants and grass, or chickens raised on insects and plants, are far healthier and closer to their natural state. Unless you know a local farmer who raises his animals that way, you probably get corn-fattened meat from the grocery store.
Not to mention that many of those acres could be used instead to create housing, community spaces, or natural parks and trails for people to enjoy.
Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Let’s talk about those greenhouse gas emissions for a second.
“The global food system is responsible for one-third of the global anthropogenic GHG emissions, of which meat accounts for nearly 60%.”
Cows, chickens, lamb, pork, fish, and dairy are almost exclusively mass-farmed and produced now. That means that huge industries are dedicated to raising, slaughtering, packaging, and transporting millions of pounds of meat all over the globe every single day.
Furthermore, air quality and human respiratory health are compromised by the gas emissions of mass meat farming.
So, not only does the meat industry take up a lot of space, but it also pollutes the air and makes it harder for us to breathe.
While it is highly improbable that humans will give up meat any time soon, it is much more likely – and possible – for us to eat it in far fewer quantities. Not only would that save us money on a steak now and then, but it also helps save our environment!
3. Meal Planning
One of the most popular slip-ups that people make is mismanaging their meals.
The cost of eating at a restaurant is astronomical these days and often not worth it. Small portions at high prices that only slightly satisfy will stop you from having to cook, but it will also drain your bank account.
Instead, meal planning and shopping accordingly can save you money and prevent food waste. By only buying what you need for the week and only making the things you love to eat, you’ll satisfy yourself much better than any overpriced restaurant ever could!
Meal planning and conscientious grocery shopping can greatly save money and help the environment!
How Food Pollutes
Wasted food is not only a loss of money, but it is also a major contributor to methane emissions and harmful industrial agriculture practices.
The myth about “world hunger” makes you think there isn’t enough food being grown. The reality is that too much food is being grown – just not properly distributed or eaten.
Between the water, growing, harvesting, transporting, packaging, and delivering, wasting any food at all is almost unthinkable. Yet, we do it all the time!
When consumers overbuy, growers oversupply, which leads to an unnecessary amount of food being grown and going uneaten.
How many times have you accidentally let your apples go bad or forgotten about that chicken breast in the meat drawer of your fridge?
That wasted food ends up in a landfill instead of someone’s stomach, causing rot and the release of methane.
“About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the U.S. alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.”
[Source: World Wildlife Foundation]
Furthermore, the more people buy, the more growers think there is a need or demand for more food.
For example, if consumers buy millions of potatoes yearly but only ever eat half of them, growers will continue to provide for those initial, uneaten millions. The cycle will continue on and on until consumers learn to buy only the amount that they need.
If that happened, growers would only be providing the amount their customers would actually eat and a small buffer amount in case of a natural disaster or a bad harvest.
Therefore, by properly planning our meals and buying food accordingly, we can greatly reduce the amount of waste caused by uneaten food.
4. Reusable Materials
In the last few years, reusable materials have become a huge change to the way that people create waste.
Reusable shopping bags replace plastic ones. Glass and metal straws are more popular and better for the environment than plastic ones. Lacquered wooden chopsticks, cloth diapers, menstrual cups – the list of reusable everyday items is endless.
When was the last time that you bought something that was built to last?
- A strong winter coat made of real wool.
- A near-indestructible water bottle with interior insulation to keep drinks cold for hours.
- Shoes that form to the feet and don’t need replacing after a year.
- A leather jacket that has lasted since 1984.
Buying something reusable and long-lasting means that we take it with us wherever we go, even when we move away. Our long-lasting things become a big part of our lives, and we would be lost without them.
Brands like Yeti and Tervis understand that idea and have skyrocketed to household names for fun and durable drinkware. Their quirky patterns, bold colors, versatile designs, and top-notch marketing have made it “cool” to drink out of reusable cups.
As a result, each reusable bottle keeps plastic from ending up in a landfill. Even drinking fountain manufacturers have created bottle refill stations in most gyms, libraries, college campuses, and schools.
I, for example, have had the same 32oz, light blue Takeya water bottle for five years. It cost me roughly $26.99 in 2017.
I haven’t bought another water bottle since. I take it on all my hiking and camping trips. I take it to my little writing office, the gym.
I bring it home when I visit family. It comes with me on long car rides.
The water bottle is covered in stickers from places that I have been to, and if one day it ever gives out, I will miss it dearly.
5. Temperature Control
Old houses can be very charming, but they lack the efficiency of newer houses with proper insulation and temperature control systems.
Old houses usually lose a lot of heat in the wintertime and leak the cool air from their air conditioning in the summertime.
Because of this, it’s important to ensure that your old house is properly insulated to accommodate whatever heating or cooling system you have.
This can be accomplished by hiring someone to install a state-of-the-art cooling or heating system. Any cracks and insulation in your old house should be repaired and upgraded.
Otherwise, you’re wasting money and using way too much fuel.
Wasting fuel is bad for the environment and takes away from someone who really needs it. That’s why it’s important to only use as much fuel as your house needs to keep you warm or cool.
6. Update Your Cleaning Supplies
There are a lot of alternatives to cleaning supplies right now on the market. Updating your cleaning supplies with new and less harmful brands is a great way to help the environment.
Many of them are organic, safe to dispose and make it safer for children and pets inside the household when you clean. Not only that, but they are better for your health, too!
However, not all of them are very cheap. That’s why making your own cleaning supplies from other household items, like vinegar, lemons, and baking soda is a great idea.
Just make sure you’re very careful about mixing chemicals or ingredients together and always do your research to ensure that you aren’t creating a dangerous concoction.
7. Shop Local
There are so many good reasons to shop locally.
From cutting down on gas emissions from long-distance travel to supporting your local grocer or farmer, buying local is not only great for the environment, but most of the time, it’s better for your wallet too.
Many farmer’s markets and stands are very affordable and offer everything you need regarding fresh produce.
Most importantly, buying locally cuts down on “food miles.” Food miles are how long it takes for your groceries to reach their destination.
For example, Florida oranges would have traveled hundreds of miles, maybe even thousands, to reach their destination in the country’s far reaches, like California or Maine.
“The more food miles collected during food transportation, the more fossil fuels are burned, allowing more harmful greenhouse gas emissions to be released into the atmosphere.”
Cutting back on buying from out-of-state is one of the easiest ways to ensure that your local companies and growers stay profitable and keep supplying you with affordable options.
You don’t just have to buy food locally, either! You can also buy locally for your clothing, household items, or even art or handcrafted products.
Many states even have local breweries for their alcohol, with hops or apples grown nearby.
By supporting these businesses, we are creating a culture of local sustainability, which cuts down on fuel emissions as well as import costs to get what we need.
8. Horticulture and Animal Husbandry
Horticulture and animal husbandry are some of the oldest traditions in human history.
Before mass agriculture, many villages of people used to grow their own food and keep animals for meat, dairy, and clothing. The output wouldn’t be enough to sustain hundreds, but it would be perfect for small populations.
Growing your own food or keeping chickens for a family of five, for example, is much more manageable and a great way to save money at the grocery store – and it’s good for the environment, too!
Horticulture can also sustain a single family over a long time.
For example, let’s say you just started growing your own herbs and vegetables in a small garden plot. After the first harvest, you would recycle some of those plants and seeds back into the earth for the next year while keeping the rest to eat.
You wouldn’t need to go out and buy seeds or plants again unless something had gone wrong, such as pests, animals eating your plants, or a bad frost.
If you keep chickens, you can harvest eggs over the lifetime of your birds – or even hatch and raise more!
While the initial cost of growing your vegetables and keeping your chickens might be a large investment, the subsequent years of farming and keeping those animals would ultimately start to turn into a sustainable, cyclical system of growth and reward.
One of the best things about horticulture is that it’s really good for the environment.
Most houses have empty yards with just grass, no trees, and no natural wildflowers or foliage.
Because of this, most yards are considered deserts for animals and local Wildlife. There’s nothing to eat and nowhere to pollinate or collect pollen for honey.
However, if you were to create a natural space for pollinators and other important animals, you would turn your yard desert into an abundant grove of edible, sustainable things!
While it is still important to protect your crops from animals that would steal or eat them, other animals like birds, bees, and bats would thrive off of the pollen and sugars that your plants offer!
Finally, this smaller-scale farming would take away the need for mass-produced agriculture, which not only is a burden on our environment but is a huge space waste.
By gardening and keeping animals at the “village level,” you can sustain a whole community with far less farming space and much more environmentally friendly practices.
9. Buy Lasting Products
Just like with reusable products, it’s very important to buy products that last.
Have you ever heard someone talk about their pair of leather boots that they’ve had for over a decade? Or a wool coat that they inherited from their mother?
Buying clothing that is more expensive, but made from high-quality materials, will guarantee that your clothes will last longer.
Also, buying furniture, appliances, or electronics made of stronger, durable materials can save you money in the long run. These products will take longer to degrade, meaning you won’t have to buy a new couch, coffee maker, or winter coat every couple of years.
Instead, you can make a one-time investment to protect your future finances from re-buying things that you already have.
When people buy cheap, single-use products – like plastic straws, wooden chopsticks, cheap t-shirts, or flimsy tennis shoes – the companies that make them create thousands of copies.
Those thousands of copies are always in high demand because they are meant to break or can only be used once.
Because of this, those industries are using too many resources and contributing to massive environmental waste.
Buying something that will last is much better for the environment and your wallet, so only buy from quality brands you trust!
10. Energy-Efficient Appliances & Lighting
One of the most famous environmentally-friendly objects is the LED light bulb.
Marketed as an easy way for the normal person to help save the environment, the LED light bulb is better at saving you energy and money.
However, did you know that there are hundreds of different appliances and objects you can get that are also energy-efficient?
- Air Purifiers
- Ice Makers
- Air Conditioners
- Water Heaters
The list goes on and on. Nearly every appliance you can think of has an Energy Star-certified version of it.
Yes, this can be expensive as a one-time purchase, but it is also an investment.
Not only are you investing in lowering your environmental footprint, but you can also invest in an energy-efficient appliance that will save you money on energy costs.
So, while the energy-efficient refrigerator might be expensive right now, you’ll probably thank yourself later when you don’t need to replace it and your energy bill is much lower.