8 Cheap Ways to Be Sustainable

Steve Russell - November 1, 2022

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Does it sometimes seem like it costs money to be eco-friendly? Even though fixes like switching to energy-efficient LEDs might create long-term savings, you still have to cough up the extra cash for the pricier replacement bulbs. That’s not a choice many are willing to make when only $10 and five days are standing between them and payday. Bigger fixes, like composting and converting to solar, might be possible for homeowners — but who can afford to buy a home these days? You need a list of cheap ways to be sustainable.

Take heart — you probably already do quite a bit, even if not by choice. After all, you’re hardly using your private jet to run errands. However, there are things you can do at any budget point to reduce your carbon footprint further. Here are eight ways to live sustainably on a budget.

1. Bike It or Hike It

Have you taken a look at gas prices recently? While they might be slowly falling, they’re still oodles higher than they were two years ago. Reducing your car reliance isn’t only good for the planet — it’s kind to your budget. 

However, you can get from point A to B relatively quickly if you have a bike. Best of all, you won’t produce any carbon emissions. You will, however, enjoy a pleasant bout of exercise, stimulate some juicy endorphins and cut your risk of heart disease. That’s not such a bad tradeoff over honking your horn at the person in front of you who seemingly fell asleep at the traffic light (would they just go already?). 

2. Try Public Transportation

Biking or walking might not produce a single carbon emission. However, it can give you an aching back if you have a load of groceries to schlep home. What to do? Why not give public transportation a try? It’s friendlier to the environment and relieves you of the stress of dealing with rush hour traffic. 

Better yet, your ride might produce relatively few emissions. That’s because many cities have switched to alternative fuels to power their fleets. Take full advantage if you’re lucky enough to live in such a progressive burg. You can enjoy a night on the town guilt-free without worrying about DUIs or your carbon footprint. 

3. Recycle 

Sure, it might be convenient to toss that old newspaper in the trash. However, you aren’t doing the planet any favors. While organic materials like paper are biodegradable, they produce tremendous amounts of methane when they break down in this uninviting environment. 

The solution? Recycle. However, cast aspersions on companies that claim to separate trash and recycling for you. While they may be convenient, experts doubt that such methods rinse away sufficient contamination for facilities to take these materials. As a result, they end up in the landfill anyway. Your best bet is to separate and clean cans and bottles yourself and take them to the sorting center. 

4. Participate in a Cleanup 

Poverty can create a terrible lack of agency. What’s that? It’s the deep core belief that your actions can make a significant difference in your world. People living on the financial brink often fall into survival mode, moving from near-disaster to near-disaster, doubting that anything they do will fix their situation. This perception takes a devastating toll on mental health. 

However, you can take back your power by doing what you can to affect positive change. Local park cleanups are cheap ways to be sustainable — a free opportunity to make a difference in your community. You can sign up with an Adopt-a-Highway group or sign on to help with a community garden project. The latter might even net you some free food and seeds for your labor. 

5. Go Natural 

Artificial chemicals can release toxins into the atmosphere. Furthermore, products like used cans of cleaning fluids can cause catastrophe if left to rot in landfills. Plus, these goods cost a small fortune at your local grocery. 

Fortunately, you can effectively clean many household surfaces with natural products like distilled white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. You’ll also save a bundle over specialty, chemically-laden commercial brands. But wait — at the risk of sounding like a bad infomercial, there’s more. You and your family might find that your indoor allergy symptoms improve once you clear the air. 

6. Adjust Your Diet 

It’s true that healthy, natural foods often cost more than their overly processed counterparts. However, there’s one hack you can use to shave your produce budget: visit your farmers market. Do so at the end of the day, especially if you live in an area where they only open one or two days per week. Many vendors would rather sell goods at a discount than take them home to rot before the next market day. 

Another way to green your diet — and save cash — is to reduce your meat consumption. Meat production accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Beef and pork also cost a small fortune these days. Instead, get your protein from less expensive, plant-based and pescatarian sources like canned tuna, beans and nut butter. Of all the cheap ways to be sustainable, growing your own garden at home takes the cake.

7. Play Chopped 

Food waste is organic matter which contributes to landfill methane output. You could compost if you garden — you can make a small balcony container. However, even that method might not be palatable if you live in a rented room in someone’s home. 

However, you can make the most of those leftovers in that mini-fridge. Have you seen the hit Food Network show “Chopped?” On it, contestants get the most random ingredients, like leftover chow mein noodles and have to invent a new dish to wow the judges. Catch an episode or two to get the drift, then recreate the fun in your kitchen. You’ll creatively use up more leftovers and save money on fresh takeout. 

8. Make Some Rags 

Paper towels may be convenient for cleanup but aren’t kind to the environment. They require the felling of countless trees, and preserving the forest is of utmost importance in reducing carbon emissions. 

Instead, save cash at the store by cutting up your old T-shirts into rags for daily cleanups. Even if you wear your clothes until they nearly fall off your back, you’re bound to have one or two items ready to take the plunge. Anything made of absorbent material works, including old blankets and socks. 

Cheap Ways to Be Sustainable 

It sometimes seems like it takes money to be eco-friendly. However, you don’t have to invest in a compost bin or fancy light bulbs to green your carbon footprint. 

Consider the eight cheap ways to be sustainable above. Many of them put more cash in your pocket while doing the planet a kindness. 

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.