As an eco-conscious consumer, I’m constantly trying to come up with ways to go green. I do this because we Americans are quite the consumers — while Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, we use roughly one-tenth of its coal and one-fifth of its oil, and consume 17 percent of its total energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As a nation, we certainly consume more than our fair share, so I want my own carbon footprint to be as small as possible.
But as I found out, buying vegan shoes and organic produce can add up quickly. So how can I reconcile being eco-conscious with being a cheapster? Thankfully, there are a few ways to go green on a budget.
1. Buy Secondhand
The fashion industry accounts for a whopping 10 percent of global carbon emissions each year, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Over the years, I’ve shopped at thrift stores and scoured Craigslist for finds of furniture, cookware, and clothes.
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I would say that about half of my wardrobe and home furnishings are secondhand.
If you don’t want to spend any money whatsoever, consider hosting a clothing swap with your friends. Alternatively, if you have a pal with similar fashion sense who’s the same size as you, you can shop in his or her closet.
Upcycling, or repurposing, is a great way to turn something old into something new. To upcycle, you simply need to see the potential beauty in a thing that’s decrepit or damaged. For instance, take a dresser that has seen better days and touch it up with a shiny layer of paint, or turn a shabby piece of wood into a beautiful coat rack, replete with vintage hooks. There are great ideas on Pinterest, and you can check out sites like Ikea Hackers or DIY Network.
3. Grow Your Own Organic Produce
Growing your own food helps both your health and your pocketbook. If you lack a backyard, try growing some organic herbs or tomatoes on a windowsill or doorstep — or even your roof. You’ll be surprised at what you can do with limited space.
Urban dwellers can sign up for a small plot at a community garden. Check out the American Community Gardening Association website to find one near you. Just be aware that there are often long waiting lists for these community gardens, and patience is a virtue.
You can also take part in a local produce exchange. If you don’t have a garden, you can probably still get involved by bartering homemade goods. For the past few years, I’ve participated in a monthly produce exchange that supplies me with a bounty of organic fruits, veggies, and herbs.
Additionally, agricultural cooperatives are a great resource for locally grown vegetables, allowing subscribers to buy-in to monthly or biweekly produce deliveries. Websites like the Food Co-op Initiative and LocalHarvest show co-ops in your area.
Buying locally often ensures that your food will be organic, while at the same time cutting down on the carbon footprint associated with the shipping and processing of vegetables.
For those who want to stay away from eating junk food while on a budget, the Environmental Working Group publishes the Good Food on a Tight Budget guide, which shows you smart ways to eat well at a good price
4. Make Your Own Household Cleaners
I’ve long experimented with different ways to make household cleaners that are simple, green, and affordable. There’s no shortage of household cleaning solutions on YouTube that you can whip up using ammonia, baking soda, white vinegar, witch hazel, and/or a few essential oils.
For instance, you can mix one cup of white vinegar and one cup of water to make a simple spray cleaner. To unclog drains, all you need is some vinegar combined with baking soda and warm water.
And if you’re looking for an inexpensive air freshener, try mixing water, witch hazel, and essential oils (I’m keen on eucalyptus and peppermint).
5. Join a Time Bank
A time bank is an incredibly inexpensive way to go green while sharing with your local community. With time banking, you barter your services to another, and in turn receive credit hours based on the amount of time these services take. These credit hours can then be used to receive services from another volunteer.
Time banks operate on the premise that you don’t need money to live a good life.
A key aspect of time banking is that rather than going out and buying something, you either “mend and make do” or borrow what you need.
By doing so, you’re saving money and cutting down on waste. Many time banks have a sharing economy, which means that instead of buying something you might use only once, you can just get it on loan from a fellow time banker.
As a member of a local time bank in West Los Angeles for the last few years, I’ve had clothes mended and enjoyed fresh loaves of bread, creative coaching, and one-on-one tai chi lessons. There are also potlucks, free gardening workshops, and repair cafés available. And last but not least, I’ve made some great friends.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to go green on a budget. You just have to think creatively and be resourceful.