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My first impression of low-waste living was that it was expensive. I thought about all the gadgets I needed, and it was overwhelming. That's because of advertising. People will always try to capitalize on anything, but the truth is you don't really need to purchase all these new items. When first starting this journey, it's easy to get bombarded by "green swaps" like stainless steel straws, reusable food storage pouches and beeswax wraps, and everything in between. That was one of the reasons that I put it off for so long. In a way, maybe I wasn't yet ready to face my own consumerism. But we should actually strive to reduce how much we buy overall. Here's how transitioning to a low-waste lifestyle will actually save you money:
1. Only buy food that you will actually eat
Food waste is a huge problem in the United States [cite]. Many of us are extremely fortunate to have the luxury of walking into a grocery store and buying whatever strikes our fancy that day, more or less. We can eat mangos and bananas in the winter, and acorn squash and kale in the summer if we wanted. I'd be surprised if I was the only one who ever had to throw out produce that went bad. Throwing away produce is the same as throwing away money, because you didn't have to buy that produce in the first place. That applies for any food you end up throwing away.
If we plan our meals and eat mindfully, we end up with less food in our fridge. That means less food that spoils and less food that goes in the garbage. It just takes a little bit of organization and planning ahead. Rethink how you keep your freezer, fridge, and pantry stocked. Do you really need to hoard all that food? Keep track of how much food you throw away in a week, and adjust your grocery list accordingly.
2. Shop your pantry once in a while
Lately I've been trying to have weeks where we barely buy any groceries at all. I've been conditioned over many years to keep a stocked pantry, so I have lots of dried pastas and noodles, canned and frozen foods, rice, beans, and dried herbs and spices. The thing is, that has rarely stopped me from going out and buying more groceries out of habit, until now. You can make a simple, satisfying dinner for two with just a cup of rice and two eggs (recipe here). You could make a chickpea curry, spaghetti with pesto sauce or canned vegetables...you get the idea. Every once in a while, take a break from grocery shopping and get creative with what you already have! If you have a creativity block, there are plenty of websites that allow you to enter a list of ingredients and will let you know what recipes you can make.
3. Stop buying paper towels, paper plates, disposable cutlery and straws, plastic wrap, zip-lock bags, napkins, etc.
You don't really need them! When you're starting out, aim to reduce rather than eliminate entirely. Remember, we're trying to break habits here, and that's hard. I still use some of these items, but I've drastically cut down on volume. You can cut up old T-shirts or towels to use as rags. Invest in a set of nice cotton/linen dinner napkins, or sew your own. To replace plastic wrap and zip-lock bags, pick up some reusable food containers at your local thrift store, or start reusing containers you get from restaurant take-out.
If you're throwing a dinner party with a lot of guests, consider asking guests to bring their own bowls and cutlery if you don't have enough for everyone. Or consider using compostable single-use items if you are able to compost them where you live. If this isn't possible, consider dinner parties to be a special occasion and try to live without single-use items the rest of the time.
4. Reduce the amount of food you eat that comes in packaging.
This translates into eating more whole foods. You'll save money, it'll help the environment, and it'll be better for your health, too! Dr. Mark Hyman coined the Pegan diet which treats meat as a condiment; that's a model way to reduce your meat consumption if you're like me and aren't ready to go full-on veg yet. (Will I ever be???)
Eat more fruits and vegetables, and grains, nuts and seeds that you can buy in bulk. I started making a lot of salads, soups and curries. When you buy meats, try to buy them directly from a butcher counter so that they come wrapped in compostable paper.
5. Turn off your lights when you're not using them, and use less water.
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Be mindful of what you use, because everything requires resources. Candlelit nights are fun, or low-LED twinkle lights.
Is it possible to start collecting rainwater where you live? The house we moved into came equipped with rain barrels, which I use to water my plants and set up watering holes for bees and critter friends.
6. Before buying new items, ask yourself if you can thrift or borrow them.
Simply buy less! It took me a while to combat my consumeristic habits. I was caught in a bad habit of buying whatever new gadgets and gizmos caught me eye. It's hard to resist advertising sometimes; after all, they have entire teams whose job is to try to get you to buy their products! Once I stopped to think about it, so many of the things I thought I needed, I didn't really need after all (or even want).
7. Switch to a safety razor.
This one's a really easy change to make. Especially if you're a woman, razor head replacements can get expensive due to the pink tax. I switched to a safety razor and now I barely spend any money at all on razor replacements. My razorblades are recyclable and come in a paper envelope.
8. Eat out less.
As a foodie I am still working on this one! I view every meal out as a very special occasion instead of taking it for granted. I used to eat out quite often. In fact, most of my money is spent on food and eating out. I still eat out, but I am more mindful about it. While I used to order delivery pretty regularly, now if I eat out I try to actually go out and sit in the restaurant, so that I don't use single-use items. It saves me money and is better for the Earth. I also try to support restaurants that use sustainable practices. For instance, if we pick up food we try to more often order from restaurants that use compostable containers, or containers that we can wash and reuse again.
9. Grow your own food.
Do you have a green thumb? If you have the willpower and the means, growing your own food is a great way to save money while reducing your impact. You'll be eating more vegetables, and cutting down on the resources it takes to transport your food to you, and package it up.
10. Consider alternative forms of travel.
For instance, consider taking a road trip instead of flying, since driving produces less carbon emissions than flying. Consider biking, walking, or taking public transit instead of driving your car.
© if you know you grow 2023.