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Sustainable living needn't cost the earth

Many people believe that trying to live more sustainably will cost them more, so think that they can’t afford to change their lifestyle. But in reality, living sustainably can actually help you to save money, so for the benefit of the environment and our bank balances, now is a good time to start making changes.


In this article we explore some of the aspects of your day-to-day life that you can easily change without it costing the earth:


 

Reusable shopping bag containing fresh vegetables on a kitchen counter


Household cleaning

When making the change more sustainable products, household cleaning is a really good place to start. Typical commercial cleaning products tend to be:

  • full of harmful chemicals

  • expensive

  • packaged in plastic

yet there are really effective and affordable eco-friendly alternatives available. But this doesn't mean that you should go in all guns blazing and bin everything that you currently have under the sink, and replace them all with new eco-friendly products. Instead aim for gradual replacement.


Gradual replacement

The starting point for anyone transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle, is to use what you already have. Unless you have a particular reason for changing a product immediately (such as it triggering allergic reactions) you should only replace products with eco-friendly alternatives as they run out. When this happens, start your move over to eco-friendly products.


Homemade cleaning products

Consider buying the ingredients for making your own cleaning products rather than buying ready made ones. A small number of store cupboard items will enable you to clean your whole house for a fraction of the cost of store-bought cleaning products.


You can clean most areas of your house with a combination of these cheap store cupboard basics:

  • Bicarbonate of soda

  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate)

  • Natural bleach (sodium percarbonate)

  • White vinegar

  • Salt

  • Rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit)

  • Hydrogen peroxide

 

You can find tips and recipes for 21 homemade eco-cleaning solutions in our FREE guide:

 

Buying your eco-friendly cleaning products

If you don’t have time to make your own cleaning products (or the space to store the supplies), then think about what sort of cleaning products you should be buying. Aim for products that:


  • contain natural, non-toxic ingredients

  • come as a concentrate (thereby reducing transport costs)

  • don’t come in plastic bottles.

 

If you are lucky enough to have one locally, a refill store is also a great way to buy cleaning (and other) products. You will save money because you’re only paying for the product, and not the container.


Woman in a zero waste store with many refill containers next to her

Eco-friendly cleaning concentrates, such as those made by Ocean Saver, Neat, Iron & Velvet etc, are a great way to purchase cleaning products – they have virtually no packaging and you are paying just for the cleaning product, and not the water that makes up the bulk of commercial cleaning products.

 

Cleaning cloths

When it comes to cleaning cloths, again use up those you’ve already got and when they are no longer useable, consider whether you already have an alternative to hand rather than just buying replacements. I find that old T shirts and old towels cut into squares make perfect cleaning cloths – remember how our mothers all used to have ragbags?

 

If you have no alternative but to buy new cloths, look for natural fibres such as bamboo, cotton, coconut, sisal and cellulose. Avoid artificial fibres such as those found in microfibre cloths as these risk shedding micro-plastics into the environment as you use them.

 

You may find that some sustainable cleaning cloths and sponges cost more to purchase than their plastic/disposable alternatives – but as they are designed to be washed and reused over and over again, you end up saving money as they don’t need to be replaced as frequently. (Plus there is the added benefit that they can go in your compost bin or green waste bin when they finally fall apart, rather than heading to landfill.)

 

A perfect example of this is our coconut kitchen scourers – these cost £5.50 for two, and can last for years. (I’ve got one that is over two years old! Coconut is naturally antibacterial, so these scourers don’t go smelly and slimy like the plastic ones.) Plastic scourers cost about £1.50 for three in the supermarket, but each one only lasts about a month at most, so a pack will last at best three months, making the coconut scourer a much cheaper option in the long run.

 

Once you’ve got the hang of using sustainable products for your cleaning, it might be time to try and ‘green-up’ other areas of your life. Read on for more suggestions.

 

 

Eating sustainably


One of the biggest problems that we struggle with as a society is food waste, but fortunately there are many things that we can do as individuals to reduce this problem.


Meal planning

It might take a bit of time initially, but once you get into the habit of meal planning it will save you both time and money! No more wasted hours of pondering ‘what should we have for dinner tonight?’ and no more buying ingredients which go off before they get used.


When you plan your weekly menu, write a shopping list as you go, so you know you’ll have all the necessary ingredients for each meal that you’re planning to cook.


There are a few other things to consider when planning your menu:


  • Time Have I got time to cook that dish? In my house there are a couple of days in the week, where everyone seems to be coming and going at different times, so making a meal that takes over an hour to cook just won’t work. So, for those days we plan quick options, like paninis, fresh pasta, something on toast, or frozen soup.

  • Companion cooking What leftovers from previous meals will need using up? I like to call this ‘companion cooking’. For example, when I make pesto pasta, I rarely use the whole jar of pesto, so I plan to use up the pesto the following day, when I make a roasted vegetable tart. This means that I’m not throwing away half a mouldy jar of pesto that I forgot about in the back of the fridge.

  • Batch cooking Batch cooking is a game changer for busy households, and it saves time, food and energy consumption. You don’t have to spend an entire day cooking large amounts of food to fill your freezer (unless you want to). The easiest approach is to just double up the quantities whenever you cook meals that are suitable for freezing – eat one portion and freeze one portion. This means you already have a meal made when it comes to your menu planning, and you’ll use less energy reheating the food than cooking it from scratch each time.

  • Reducing your meat consumption Whether you eat meat or not is your personal choice, but choosing to reduce your meat consumption, just a couple of times a week, will reduce your food budget and help the planet (see Meat Free Mondays for more information).  

Having sorted your menu, you also need to decide how you will store and use up left over portions or ingredients:


  • Large portions are easy – just freeze them for another meal. Smaller or single portions can be used up for lunches, or again frozen.

  • Ingredients can be slightly trickier – fresh vegetables can be incorporated into the following day’s meals, or if suitable can be frozen for another time.

  • For foods like fresh herbs, divide them up into ice cube trays, fill with vegetable oil and freeze them ready for next time.

  • Another option is to use food share schemes like Olio, so that other people can make use of the food that you can’t, rather than it going to waste.

Grow your own

If you have the inclination you could always try growing your own vegetables. Again, it’s a good idea to start small – perhaps begin with a few herbs and maybe tomatoes and strawberries, all of which grow really easily in containers.


Think about what vegetables you use most and also which are the most expensive to buy. For me, salad leaves were a great starting point – we eat loads, they are relatively expensive and always come wrapped in plastic when you buy them from the supermarket.


Unless you have masses of space, it rarely makes sense to grow staples such as potatoes and onions as they are generally cheap to buy and need lots of room.


Herbs growing in two white mugs


 

Household goods


When it comes to buying new household goods, most people are limited by their budgets so buy what they can afford at the time, but if you think outside the box, there are many ways that you can buy better quality, more durable items within your budget.


Buy cheap buy twice!

We’ve all heard the adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’, but is it true? On the whole, the answer is yes – from clothing to electrical goods – I will never buy a cheap kettle again!


In an ideal world, when my toaster needs replacing, I would look at Buy Me Once, find the toaster they recommend and buy it. Unfortunately, my bank account would be drained fairly rapidly if I did this every time I needed to replace a household item. Instead, I check out Buy Me Once , see what Items they suggest, then search on Facebook Marketplace, or eBay to buy it second hand.


For example, I managed to pick up a Dualit kettle on eBay – it was not clear whether it was being sold just because it needed descaling, but that was the only problem I could find with it! I got the kettle for under £40, rather than the £130 it sells for new, and all it needed was some vinegar to descale it.



Furniture


Over 22 million pieces of furniture go to landfill in the UK, every year. So when you need to replace furniture, second-hand is the most sustainable way to shop. If your furniture no longer meets your requirements but is still useful, sell it on Facebook Marketplace or donate it to charity. And when you look for its replacement think carefully about the materials used. I like wooden furniture – it lasts many lifetimes and it is entirely natural. I try to avoid MDF and chipboard and anything that claims to be ‘wood effect’, because they tend to be covered in plastic.


Second-hand furniture is pretty easy to come by: you can buy from charity shops, Gumtree, local free pages, or selling sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, etc.


If I need a piece of furniture these days, Facebook Marketplace is usually my first port of call. Be prepared to put in a bit of effort – cleaning something up, or possibly replacing broken or worn parts. I’m not suggesting a complete rebuild, just simple things like replacing broken knobs, touching up varnish or paint, or sanding out a stain. And if you think these basic repairs are beyond your skill set, try looking at Pinterest or YouTube for ‘how to’ tutorials.


When I need a piece of furniture, I tend to search for oak, because it is expensive to buy new but lasts forever, and there are plenty of bargains around. I bought four oak dining chairs for £10 (they were actually being sold for £5 for the set, but I felt guilty and gave the seller £10!) I spent another £10 on upholstery fabric to recover the seats that had been ruined by the previous owner’s kittens. With basic tools – fabric scissors, a screwdriver, and a staple gun – I was able to revamp the chairs in an hour.


Three old fashioned wooden chairs lined up against a white painted wall


 

Sustainable clothing


Sustainable clothing is a huge issue, with fast fashion responsible for 10% of global emissions. However, there are various steps you can take to limit your wardrobe's impact on the planet:


  • Buy less

  • Wear more – wash less frequently

  • Buy second-hand

  • Buy from sustainable brands

  • Rent clothes for special occasions

  • Repair rather than replacing

  • Repurpose where possible


The simple solution to the problem of fast fashion is for us all to just buy less, but as we know, there are times in our lives where we outgrow or out-wear our clothes so they need to be replaced. So how can we do this sustainably and without breaking the bank? In essence, aim to buy quality:


  • Stop following fashion trends, instead shop for items that suit your shape and style and that have been made to last.

  • Buy the best you can afford. I like to shop in charity shops, from websites like Thrift+, eBay and Vinted. When I shop on these sites I’m looking for good quality and timeless designs, so that I don’t feel the need to replace them every time the fashions change.

  • When buying second-hand look for well-made clothes in natural materials and high quality fabrics.


High quality clothes in muted colours hanging from a clothes rail


Taking the plunge


When you make the decision to move to a more sustainable lifestyle remember to start small – trying to change everything all at once is setting yourself up to fail. Whereas each small sustainable step successfully achieved will encourage you to go on and make further incremental changes to how you live.

 

Quick tips for sustainable living

In summary, before buying anything new, consider:


  • Do I need it?

  • Can I make it myself?

  • Mend don’t spend

  • Shop second hand

  • Upcycle

  • Repurpose

  • Buy/use natural materials and products


And if you can do only one thing right now, it should be to consume less!



More information


For tips and instructions for making your own eco-friendly cleaning solutions:


See also our blog posts:



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