As the globe teeters on the brink of recession and warms at an alarming rate, it is easy to think that turmoil awaits around the corner. While such dark thoughts are perhaps exacerbated by doom-scrolling – that is, overconsuming negative news and information online – making steps towards financial stability and eco-friendly living is still possible. There are several easy, and cost-effective steps individuals can take to do their part in fighting climate change while saving a buck or two.
Now, companies and corporations carry much of the burden in fighting climate change. The twenty largest investor or state-owned companies alone account for over a third of global emissions, according to a 2020 study by the Climate Accountability Institute. Unfortunately, this does not mean we can forget individual responsibility. Overall, since 1750, humans have increased carbon emissions by 50%, according to NOAA Climate.gov. However, changing our daily habits to reduce personal carbon footprints can help society avoid high CO2 emissions.
In the pursuit of green living, it is easy to feel pressured to buy pricey greenwashed products - or products labeled in deceiving packaging to give the impression that they are eco-friendly. No such product is listed as a remedy here, especially since many of them are not cost-effective or even that eco-friendly to begin with. As a matter of fact, you can start going green at home without buying fancy countertop composters or expensive refillable deodorants.
As a warning, though these habits are simple and cheap, they may be challenging to adapt. To cheaply go green, you must get into the practice of reading labels, planning ahead, and researching the companies you buy from. That said, imperfect, small steps toward a better lifestyle are infinitely better than inaction.
Without further ado, here are eight money-saving habits you can adopt to go greener in 2023.
1. Use what you already have
If you already want to exit this article, the most accessible adjustment and perhaps the most crucial change is placed conveniently at the top. The absolute best thing you can do for the planet is to use up the items you already have. Easy Peesy!
The reason why this works is straightforward: Humans continue to outdo their own waste production each year, according to a study published in 2019. During the holiday season, we generate 25% more garbage compared to the rest of the year, according to a 2020 study. One of the best ways to reduce this output is to cut our consumerism. The less we consume, the less waste we produce, and the less demand we place on high-emitting industries.
2. Only buy what you need
This next step may be an easier transition for those of you who like to shop (unless you are a fan of clothing hauls, then you will hate this one). Not only is bulk buying often expensive, but it can contribute to excessive waste. If you aren’t ready to switch to minimalist buying, you can swap this habit for these other eco-friendly shopping habits.
3. Shop used and local
Somewhat on par with number two, shopping your groceries and products locally is incredibly green. Believe it or not, online shopping, though immediately gratifying, can contribute to harmful industries like fast fashion. Beyond this, the delivery process emits carbon. It’s best to avoid such a complicated system whenever possible.
Shopping local not only reduces fossil fuel use, but it will most likely introduce you to more ethically sourced products and support local economies. It’s a win for everyone. (Pro tip: when and where you can, buy used items locally.)
4. Be mindful of plastic textiles
Though the main goal of green living is minimal consumption, everybody buys clothing at some point. When you do buy items for yourself, be mindful of what your products are made of. For instance, did you know that microplastics can shed from your plastic-based clothing? A 2016 study showed that washing our plastic-based clothing, such as polyester, flushes hundreds of thousands of microplastics into water systems, most of which cannot be filtered out by modern sewer treatment.
If you own plastic-based clothing, it is likely too late to prevent microplastics from leaching into the water unless you forgo washing your dress thoroughly. The best way to approach this issue is to focus on prevention. When you buy, look for plant or animal-based materials such as cotton, linen, or wool. Unfortunately, these items may cost a little more than their plastic counterparts.
However, if you are already cutting back on consumption, buying one wool sweater instead of several polyester ones for the same price will reduce the number of plastics you inevitably send into the water supply. Another tradeoff is that items made from linen or wool are durable, so it’s worth the investment.
5. Avoid single-use items
The title is self-explanatory, but this habit may require some time commitment at the market. When shopping, try to pick items that contain the least amount of plastic and the most amount of recyclable and compostable material. For example, this may mean picking a whole watermelon instead of buying precut, prepackaged slices.
One simple switch you can make is to bring a bag from home to the grocery store. Many States in the U.S. are already placing bans or taxes on plastic bags to discourage use, according to the World Economic Forum. If you live in the States, avoid the tax! Bring a bag.
6. Reuse and recycle properly
This seems like a no-brainer, but for many, it’s more complicated than it looks. Surprisingly, recycling often needs to be cleaned and separated to avoid becoming trash. A 2019 Guardian investigation revealed that the U.S. was shipping tens of thousands of tons of plastic recycling to some of the poorest countries in the world. When these countries received these shipments, they realized the plastic was contaminated and, therefore, unusable.
Even for many do-gooders, what constitutes trash or recycling is ambiguous and often confusing. This leads to much recycling being contaminated and eventually thrown into landfills. The best way to participate positively in the recycling system is to check local regulations for waste removal and try to reuse as many household recyclables as possible before sending them to the bin.
So, remember all those Tupperware, cookie tins, and plastic bags our parents and grandparents kept under sinks and in closets? Though it’s always disappointing to find a cookie tin filled with sewing kits, our elders had the right idea in keeping waste out of the system.
7. Cut down on meats
It is an increasingly common fact that the global meat industry produces an obscene amount of greenhouse gasses. According to a 2023 study, the food industry contributes about 17.3 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, with animal-based products making up about 57% of the output. Thankfully, you don’t have to go vegan or even vegetarian. Just the act of buying less meat and animal by-products can positively impact carbon emissions.
8. Step away from tech and appliances - yes, including your phone
Reducing electrical use is easy - there are many non-electric swaps we can adopt to reduce our carbon footprint. For instance, you can opt to hang dry laundry instead of using a dryer, cut down on blow dryer use, and turn off lights when you leave the room. Unfortunately, our favorite apps and social media sites do not exist in a vacuum: high-functioning sites run on servers, producing emissions.
According to an interactive study, TikTok, despite being one of the newer social media apps, has some of the highest carbon emissions compared to its competitors. On average, 2.63 grams of carbon are emitted per minute of usage. This means that your late-night #FYP scrolling comes at a cost.
Though some of these green habits may come more accessible than others, the most important takeaway is that perfection is not expected nor warranted. Pick and choose what works best for you. Overall, these habits prove that greener living does not require shelling out tons of money. Better yet, you can keep corporations accountable by slowing consumption and using up what you already have at home. These practices will ultimately make your carbon footprint smaller and your wallet fatter.
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