Going green needn’t be expensive or complicated. One small effort at a time can add up to a significant impact. And saving the earth and your money can most certainly go hand-in-hand. Here are eight easy ways I save green while going green every day.
1. Washcloths instead of paper towels: Years ago, I ran across a Pinterest post of some fastidiously fashioned cloth “paper towel” roll made up of matching cloth rags that snapped together and formed a tidy roll. That creative idea was inspiring yet intimidating. With less than zero sewing talent, I knew that creating such a roll was beyond me. So, assuming that was the only way to swap out wasteful paper towels, I moved on. Then, an embarrassingly long amount of time later, it finally dawned on me: my substitute for paper towels didn’t have to look like paper towels, it just needed to be absorbent! And so a bin of washcloths came to live on my counter and the roll of paper towels was tucked beneath the countertop to discourage use and wean my paper-towel-loving husband from the preference. Trees saved. Money saved.
2. Cloth instead of paper napkins; One day as I wrote, “paper napkins” on my shopping list, I realized that I was literally throwing money away. I was buying a plastic-wrapped brick of disposable, single-use paper napkins when I could, instead, use cloth. At first, the idea of having something else to wash and fold made me hesitate, but now, it’s a non-issue. I just toss the cotton squares into the washer when they’re dirty. No special treatment. No ironing. No wasted money.
3. Reusable sandwich bags: I have a variety of reusable snack and sandwich bags. Some are cloth with tidy zippers, some are translucent silicone with a resealable top, some are more envelope-like and resemble cloth diapers — but swath sandwiches not baby bums — with hook-and-loop closures. I just toss the cloth bags in the clothes washer after use — with 3 kids and a husband who bikes or kayaks daily, there’s always laundry spinning in the machines — whereas the silicone bags simply require a quick hand wash and air dry. Easy, cheap, and plastic-free!
4. Silicone freezer bags: As a former breastmilk-pumping mom, I have a tried and true process for storing and freezing liquids. Soups, curries, sauces, stews… pour into a bag, squeeze out the air, seal, freeze it on its side, and — tada! — stackable frozen food bricks! The problem: wastefulness and expense. Freezer bags add up and they’re not free in their monetary or environmental impact. So, what do I do? I use silicone freezer bags. They’re a smidge smaller than the standard gallon size disposable variety, but just grab two and you’re golden. They’re easy to clean and last for countless reuses. They’re undeniably more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts. They’re sturdy too… no more surprise leaks while thawing dinner!
5. Homemade veggie broth: As a gluten-free vegan mom of three who uses vegetable broth instead of oil to cook and eats raw most days until dinnertime, I use a significant amount of vegetables daily. I used to spend a small fortune on packaged vegetable broth every week, but now it’s practically free! Every time I haul out the cutting board, I grab my silicone freezer bag, and pop any produce scraps into the bag. I add to the frozen collection until a bag or two are full, then dump the frigid contents into my Instant Pot; cover the scraps with water; add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a bay leaf; then cover and cook on the “soup” setting. After the broth has cooled a bit, I pour the broth through a strainer into a large bowl, quickly mash the cooked scraps in the strainer to release any extra liquid, then pour the broth into jars to refrigerate and use all week. The mashed scraps go in the backyard for the wildlife and are generally gone by the end of the day. Veggie broth from scraps, easy!
6. Water bottles: I drink a lot of water. So much so that those little mini pod-style water bottles are but one sip for me. That said, carrying around my own refillable water bottle is key. My kids have one bottle for home, one for going out, and one for bed. This saves both money and the earth.
7. Cloth produce bags: grocery cashiers LOVE this one! I’ve received unexpected compliments from a handful of cashiers already on this easy habit. Instead of placing my produce into plastic bags, I grab my produce, weigh it, print a label, stick it to the side of my reusable cloth bag, then add the produce to the bag. Depending upon the size/weight of the item, I may have 3-4 types of produce — each with it’s own label stuck to the side of the bag for easy scanning at the register — in a single bag. It makes check-out and grocery unloading much easier. And no wasteful plastic bags!
8. Old t-shirts to produce bags: For my frozen and shelf-stable grocery purchases, I use sturdier reusable bags, but for my produce I use all kinds of assorted small bags. One type being, my hand-made bags that formerly lived as t-shirts. I simply take an old tank top or t-shirt, snip off any sleeves, then stitch up the bottom. Now, my sewing skills are so tragic that I’m not sure if my stitching can actually be categorized as “sewing”, but even I can do this. If you have a sewing machine or trusted seam glue, go for it! Easy peezy free produce bag!
As the candid low-waste, frugal, vegan, mom-of-three YouTuber, The Fairly Local Vegan, often states, it’s better to have a lot of people living a low-waste life imperfectly than to have a handful of people living it perfectly. I am far from perfect in my efforts to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes convenience just wins out, or sometimes I forget to bring a reusable bag, or my kid forgets his water bottle. But I just keep trying.
As you incorporate green efforts into your life, do what works for you given your present life, circumstances, and priorities. Forget about what everyone is (or claims to be) doing. Do what works for you, because that’s the only way it’ll be sustainable.