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How to be sustainable on a budget

It’s 2022 and alongside battling the patriarchy and pushing back against misogyny, we’re also dealing with climate change. Rapidly rising planet temperatures, heat waves, droughts, rising sea levels, and extreme storms have already begun to affect people across the globe and as with so many things, it is disproportionately impacting the lives of women.

This is because women are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights and historically face systematic violence that increases during periods of instability. In fact, the Paris climate agreement includes specific provisions to ensure women receive support to cope with the hazards of climate change.

So, this Earth Day we can all be looking at how we can reduce our impact on the planet and live more sustainably.

There’s one problem, though. Sustainable living can be expensive. In an ideal world, I would love nothing more than to spend hundreds of pounds in the fancy bio store and deck out my flat with all the best sustainable goods. However, in reality, I, like many others of my generation, are dead broke. 

However, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in affordable options for sustainable food shopping and sustainable products more generally. So there is hope for us poor eco-warriors. Even on my measly budget and living in London, I have managed to continue to live sustainably on a budget. 

I would like to precursor this by saying that it’s ok if you need to prioritise more economic options over sustainable options. Doing what you can within the budget you have is all anyone can do and there is no grading system for how perfect you are at sustainable living. I do not live plastic-free and I do not live zero-waste (as much as I’d like to), but I try to make sustainability a priority when and where I can. Below are just a few ways I’ve found to incorporate sustainability into my life with little to no money.

Eat less meat & fish: 

“The climate impact of meat is enormous – roughly equivalent to all the driving and flying of every car, truck and plane in the world.”

I know we’ve heard it before, but eating less meat just makes good financial sense, regardless of its environmental benefits. At the large grocery store on my street, I baulked at the price for a packet of meat or fish. It’s simply not feasible for me to be able to have meat and fish everyday of the week. Plus, if you do buy it you have to buy it cheap which means plastic packaging, unsustainable fishing, microplastics and frankly bad taste. You don’t have to cut out meat and fish entirely but trying to limit it to only a few times a week can make a huge difference. 

Shop around:

When it comes to grocery shopping (and other homeware products too) try to shop around your area for the best prices and the best sustainable options. Although convenience is a factor, it can be worth heading a little bit further afield for the lower price point. That way you can get the majority of your goods at the cheapest place and just nip out to the shop across the street if you run out of something during the week. 

Always have food ready: 

After a full day’s work I’ve found my biggest enemy to eating sustainably is convenience. If I’m tired and can’t be bothered to cook (which happens frequently) I am far more likely to opt for a takeaway. Having a few pre-prepared meals in the fridge or freezer allows you to opt for the more sustainable option even when you can’t be bothered, and your bank balance will thank you too. 

Utilise food-waste schemes:

“Agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20% of overall global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010”

Between 30 and 40% of food produced around the world is never eaten, but luckily food waste prevention schemes are becoming more and more popular with apps like ‘Too Good to Go’. These schemes allow you to purchase food from grocery stores and restaurants at extremely reduced prices because otherwise they would be thrown away. It is worth looking into local schemes in your area. Sometimes stores will literally give food away for free in crates. This is music to the ears of the financially challenged and a great sustainable option even if some of the food comes in plastic. For me, its a great opportunity to eat from restaurants I wouldn’t typically order from as they aren’t super sustainable. But in this case I can enjoy it guilt free and very cheap. 

Try some DIY: 

You’d be surprised how many everyday items you can DIY yourself at home with just a few ingredients. Skincare and cleaning products are some of the easiest things to make yourself and often items that are heavily packaged when bought from the store. It’s not always possible but give it a go and see if you find something that works for you.

Use what you have: 

This is one of the most important things I learned when I started my sustainable journey. It’s not necessary to throw out every plastic item in sight and replace it with an eco-friendly version or throw away all your clothes and replace them with sustainable options. Using what you have, whether it be plastic or not, until you can no longer use it anymore is the number one way to save money and live sustainably. As a society, we have been conditioned to always want new things and it can incredibly difficult to break away from that way of thinking. But once you do you’ll be able to really see the value in all the things you already own and realise how little you actually need to buy.

Do a plastic audit:

“Plastic is one of the most ubiquitous materials in the economy and among the most pervasive and persistent pollutants on Earth”

A plastic audit is basically just a way of keeping track of all the plastic you use/throw away for a week in order to find out which plastic items are the most frequent. This can be a great way of becoming more conscious of your plastic use and learning which areas would be the best to find a sustainable swap for if you can’t afford to address everything at once.

Bring your own cups and bags: 

A super easy one that is becoming more and more common. If you’re going out make sure you’re taking a reusable bag and cup. I try to get in the habit of carrying a reusable bag, water bottle, coffee cup, cutlery and sometimes pack lunch box. This can seem excessive to some but these are items I am using almost every single time I go out for the day and I realised how much plastic I was throwing away. Think about which single-use plastics you use most frequently and swap it for a reusable option. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest eco option (although great if you can afford it), anything you can reuse over and over is better than single-use plastics.

Borrow:

Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to borrow an item that you need. Whether that be clothes for a fancy event or a specific cleaning product you’re probably only going to use once. If you’re going to use something every day it can be worth investing in but often we only need to use something once in a blue moon, in which case asking around to borrow it can be the most sustainable option. In my opinion, sharing and borrowing is one of the easiest and most under-utilised parts of sustainable living.

Walk: 

Of course, it is preferable to use public transport over a car but the most sustainable option is always to walk (or cycle). Plus, regular public transport can be another strain on the purse strings. Again, not always possible but when it is try to make the time to walk to and from places. It’s good for your health and completely free. 

Bye-bye tumble dryer: 

I know its convenient but simply air drying your clothes could not only save you money on bills but is also a far more sustainable option.

This quote from the Guardian really sums it up nicely: 

“An average drying machine cycle uses just over 4kWh of energy and produces around 1.8kg CO2. If all households with a tumble dryer dried one load of washing outside each week, instead of by machine, they would save over a million tonnes of CO2 in a year.”

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