We all try to be a little bit environmentally friendly in our lives (well, those of us who aren't huge dicks, anyway). But sometimes, while the spirit may be willing, the wallet may be weak. Right now you are probably saying, "Rebs, I know what you are saying. I am under 26 and am gay for the planet, but being under 26 and all, I can barely keep myself in Ramen noodles and beer!" Ideal Reader, don't I have the same problem. The Good News is, you too can save money while being good to the earth! In fact, most of the common sense ideas were originally designed not to save the earth, but a few dollars.
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #1: Remember what you learned in elementary school.
This one won't save you much money, but it is free, or as we like to call it, budget-neutral. Do you remember learning about the "3 Rs" back in second grade? I don't mean reading, riting, and 'rithmatic, I mean reduce, reuse, and recycle. For example, you can REDUCE the amount of trash you produce by REUSING those plastic ziplock baggies and RECYCLING your pop cans.
Recycling is, unfortunately, not very profitable for most things. Even with all the neat things you can make out of old pop bottles (pullover sweaters!! who would have guessed?) it is still an expensive process. But new technologies are constantly being developed, with new applications being discovered for recycled materials. But one thing that is actually profitable is aluminum -- pop cans for example. Aluminum is pretty awesome as far as poor metals go, and epically recyclable.
One of the things you can do to improve your recycling quotient is to make sure you know what kinds of plastic can be recycled in your area. Most of us instinctively throw an empty yogurt cup or margarine dish into the recycling box, but what about shampoo bottles, or that Tupperware dish you accidentally left on the stove burner and burned a big hole in? Your municipality should publish a list of what can and can't be recycled, as well as instructions for sorting. Just call them up and ask for a copy.
If you are too poor/cheap/lazy to procure an extra recycling box, or if you live in a building where there are big communal recycling boxes in the basement, you can make your own. For example, use an empty cardboard box (2-4s work great if you are mostly recycling paper), and just dump the whole package in your recycling pile.
Get Rich, Hobo-Style: In all provinces and territories, empty beer bottles (and frequently other types of beverage containers) are refundable, usually at 10 cents per bottle. If you are drinking the cheap buck-a-beer stuff, this means that 11 cases of empties equals one free full one! (10 for the beer and 1 for the deposit.)
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #2: Reuse the stuff you buy.
Ziplock baggies are awesome. They keep your cheese from going all dry and hard in the fridge, and your egg salad sandwich from falling apart in your knapsack. They also keep your toiletries together and unexploded while traveling, and your large safety-pin collection from being scattered all over the bottom of your sock drawer. But the best thing about ziplock baggies is that one package can last upwards of a year if you take care of it. All you have to do is wash them out every now and again!
Glass bottles and old plastic containers are similarly awesome. Glass bottles, unlike the plastic ones, stand up much better to being washed-out and refilled while also not leaking crazy toxic shit into your drink. Plastic containers such as those used for packaging yogurt and margarine make great free tupperware (although their level of dishwasher- and microwave-safeness is seriously questionable).
There are tons of ways to reuse the stuff you buy. Things you should not reuse include toilet paper, condoms, and old science textbooks.
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #3: Buy stuff meant to be reused.
Rechargeable batteries, tupperware, lunch boxes, water bottles, and paper clips are all great ideas that we know we should use (even if we don't).
But ladies, you may be missing something that is environmentally-friendly as well as being budget-friendly and friendly for your use as well.
The DivaCup requires an initial investment, but it lasts about 10 years (or until you first give birth, if you haven't already, at which point you'll need a new size). Think of how much you spend on your period in a year, then multiply that by 10. The DivaCup can cost you as little as 30 cents per period, or less (depending on how much you end up paying for it). In addition, it is made of medical-grade silicon, making it hypoallergenic, super-easy to sterilize, and less irritating to your va-jay-jay than super-absorbent tampons. It's great for traveling, as it doesn't take up much space in your bags and you won't have to worry about running out of supplies. Best of all is that it produces no waste after the initial packaging. If you'll save money with this baby, you will definitely save space in the landfill.
Other environmentally-friendly period products include sea sponges, which are worn internally and last a few periods each, and cloth pads, which are worn just like disposable ones but last for ages. Both are washed between uses. If you think washing in between use is gross, go ask your grandmother what she used during the war.
If you are not totally ready to switch to reusable products, you can at least make your Aunt Flo slightly more environmentally-friendly by switching to o.b. tampons, which are tiny and have no applicator, yet are still extremely effective. According to their website, these little suckers generate 1lb less waste per year than your average applicator tampon.
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #4: Reuse stuff other people have already bought.
When was the last time you went to Value Village, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your other local thrift shop? I mean to buy stuff, not to drop off a garbage bag full of ill-fitting clothes you haven't worn in a year. Thrift shops are not the best place to go for up-to-the-minute fashion or a specific item, but they are great for staples like jeans or dress shirts/blouses, or the quirky or unique items. For homemade Halloween costumes, they are a great resource. The best thing to do is go with a few friends and a camera and make an afternoon of it. In between trying on wacky things that were very understandably donated, you'll likely find a few gems. Second-hand shoes are already broken in, and finding a classic item of clothing that fits you well is more flattering than a trendy overpriced item. It helps if you know how to sew, or have a friend who does; shirts, for example, are easy to take in for a better fit. Remember, things can be made into other things, too! Cool bedsheets, table cloths, and pillow cases make great skirts, shirts, and scarves. And if you don't mind mismatched sets, you can get an awesome kitchenware collection. No more drinking wine out of tumblers!
Church sales are another great place to look for things like kitchenware, books, records, and occasionally (though less often) clothing. They are often run largely by old ladies who undercharge for everything, and I challenge you to find Treasure Trolls or Moon Shoes at Toys'R'Us.
Another great resource for higher-ticket items is classifieds, like craigslist or kijiji. Both have free stuff sections too, if you are really poor, or you can try Freecycling. If your apartment is full of shitty secondhand stuff anyway, it may as well be as cheap as possible!
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #5: When it comes to packaging, less is more.
Buying in bulk has an advantage other than being less expensive. Larger sizes mean fewer smaller sizes, and thus, less packaging. Individually-wrapped items are almost always more expensive than their wrapped-all-together counterparts. 2L of juice and a 99-cent reusable sippy box versus 13 juice boxes? You do the math. Go ahead and buy bulk! Just make sure that buying in bulk isn't causing you to eat in bulk.
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #6: Don't pay more for processing.
Bottled water. Ugh. Don't make me say it again; we all know that bottled water is the hugest scam ever. There is a saying that bottled water started with some guy in France asking himself, "How dumb do I think Americans really are?" The answer, apparently, is dumber than he could ever have hoped or dreamed. If you are out somewhere with no water fountain in sight and you are dying of thirst, at least buy some apple juice or something in a glass bottle. That way, you are at least paying for some nutrients and flavour, and when you get thirsty again, you can refill your glass bottle with water at the nearest tap or fountain. The vast majority of tap water in North America and Western Europe is safe to drink, and if for some reason it isn't, there will usually be a sign nearby like "Don't drink this shit". If for whatever reason tap water gives you the heebie-jeebies, get a Brita filter. They are epically less expensive and environmentally devastating than bottled water. If you just like your water cold, for pete's sake put it in a Kool-Aid pitcher!
This section is great for talking to your grandparents about their experiences during the war(s). Back then, nothing was wasted, especially if they lived in Europe but even those living in Canada were saving everything to help the war effort. The Great Depression was another big saver; you might notice that your grandparents would never dare throw away leftovers and will wrap up and save the smallest crumb of food. (For a great example of this, read The Widows by Suzette Mayr. For one, Frau Schnadlehuber spreads bacon fat on her toast because just throwing out perfectly good fat is unacceptable.)
Very few items of clothing are ever thrown out at my grandma's house. If your underpants or bath towel are so old and worn out as to be indecent, the item in question will be cut up to make rags, which will be used to clean the bathroom, kitchen, and anything else requiring rags. No Lysol wipes here! Pine Sol? Screw that. Mix a little lemon or vinegar with water and put it in a reusable spray bottle -- this will clean 95% of anything that needs to be cleaned with a rag. Vinegar, baking soda, and hairspray are all part of her laundry stain-combating inventory. Why pay extra for commercial products when household remedies are much cheaper - and coincidentally, more environmentally-friendly? My grandfather, in the same vein, has jars upon jars of saved nails, screws, and other odds and ends in the garage, but that's a different story entirely ...
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #7: Garden.
This may or may not be a workable idea for you, depending on whether you live in a house with a backyard, or an apartment where all your plants are either smokeable or from Ikea (the plant equivalent of being a zombie). If you don't have a backyard but still want to garden, you can check out community gardens in your area -- bigger cities especially often have public areas where you can have a little plot, although sometimes there are restrictions on what you are allowed to grow (flowers or veggies -- although you might circumvent this by growing edible flowers).
Vegetables are the best thing to grow for a great combination of cheap and environmentally-friendly. Many vegetables also taste much better when home-grown, as things like tomatoes and corn start losing their flavour the moment they're picked. Tomatoes are especially good for home gardens as they are easy to grow, versatile in cooking, and tend to grow quite profusely (you'll be giving your neighbours tomatoes throughout the month of July). You can even grow them in large pots if you have a balcony or fire escape but no back yard. Other great backyard crops for southern Canada are cucumbers, green beans, chives, sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, and zucchini.
A great, environmentally-friendly boost to your garden is fertilizer, such as dried cow, pig, or sheep poop, available from your local Canadian Tire for around $10-$15 per bag. Wait, you don't want to pay money for literal crap? Then maybe you should try composting. This involves a big black box in your back yard which you fill with basically anything that's biodegradable. Pure plant matter (fruit & veggie scraps, non-treated lawn clippings, leaves, dead flowers) works best, followed by table scraps and certain other kitchen matter (moldy bread, coffee grounds and filters, wet paper towels). Egg shells are compostable but tend to decompose at a much slower rate, so you might still see them in your flowerbeds when you spread your compost. Dairy and meat are also technically compostable, but not recommended as it's not very hygienic and tends to smell terrible and attract wild animals. Poop is also technically compostable but certain bothersome laws prevent you from pooping in a bucket and putting it in your garden.
If you can't garden, you can at least make the gesture and do number 8 ...
How To Save The Earth And Money Idea #8: Buy local.
Ever notice how apples from Canada are cheaper than apples from Fiji? How tomatoes from Canada taste a lot better than the ones from Mexico? This is nature trying to tell you something.
Buying local is actually more environmentally friendly than buying organic, as not all chemical farming practices are bad. Buying organic strawberries from California instead of eating your own damned strawberries still means inflated prices and carbon emissions due to transportation, and strawberries that taste like nothing. Of course, if you live in Nova Scotia and you want to eat bananas, your locally-grown search might be, um, fruitless. You might have to make some dietary shifts. But, depending on where you live, there is probably a rich variety of fruits and veggies available. Go to weekend farmer's markets or buy from roadside stands and you can be sure you aren't buying anything grown more than 60 km away.