Thinking Green: Saving Money and the Planet

I get it, you’re broke and so is the planet. At this point, we’re all aware of the growing pressure of anthropogenic stressors on the environment. Let’s be honest though, as broke students, the green we’re primarily interested in saving resides in our bank accounts rather than in the forest. So wouldn’t it be nice if you could do your part not just to help save the planet but also your money? What if I told you it’s easy to do? Below are ten simple steps you can take to reduce your ecological footprint and increase your bank balance. And that’s a great way to find ecological balance!

Let’s start simple with the first, and sometimes most important, consideration for students: alcohol. Try to purchase your alcohol from establishments that offer refillable bottles (think Paddy’s and Annapolis Valley Cider). Not only do you often get more liquor per dollar spent, you also produce almost no packaging waste. If you do buy prepackaged store-bought alcohol, try your best to recycle your containers. Remember, by doing so you get the money back for the bottle deposit you already paid! At up to $0.20 per container, it can quickly add up to major savings.

Use a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing costly, single use, prepackaged water. Most stores will refill bottles for you free of charge or you can opt to fill it yourself at water fountains or bathroom sinks. At roughly $2, a bottle a day could add up to over $500 a year spent on bottled water! A brand new reusable bottle costs $10+, and secondhand bottles often go for less then $3. In Canada alone, this simple switch could redirect 65 million bottles from landfills each year, especially as many are not recycled properly.

Make the switch to shaving with a safety razor. Although your initial investment will likely set you back $30-50, safety razors last a lifetime and replacement blades cost only about $0.10 a blade. Considering the average person spends over $100 a year on disposable plastic razors (and some estimates state that 2 billion razors are sent to the landfill each year), it’s simple to see that the math equals savings for everyone. Both men and women can use safety razors and the blades are fully recyclable (just make sure to check your local municipality’s protocol for sharps before recycling your blade).

Switch from plastic bottle-contained body washes to good old-fashioned bar soap. Bar soap can work out to $0.50-$1 per bar compared to more expensive plastic bottle body washes which are $5 on average. Store bought or locally handmade bar soaps can be purchased with minimal paper packaging. Bar soaps can be used in the shower and placed by your sink for hand washing. While you’re at it, why not also switch to a shampoo bar (~$5 each). These simple switches could lead you to redirect around 36 plastic bottles from landfills each year.

Make your own ecologically friendly body scrub out of old coffee grounds instead of purchasing plastic microbead-loaded scrubs in plastic containers. Simply mix grounds from your morning cup of Joe (or ask a local coffee shop for theirs if you’re not a coffee drinker) and rub yourself down…just don’t forget to put a filter over your drain to prevent clogging. This has the added benefit of reducing your dependence on harmful and costly Keurig machines. Each year, 9.8 billion Keurig-brewed portion packs enter landfills and per pound, Keurig coffee is about $40 (that works out to $0.66 per cup versus $0.28 when buying your own grounds).

Buy your clothes secondhand (bonus points for purchasing as many pieces made from natural fibers as you can and think cotton and wool instead of polyester and acrylic). Secondhand clothes are often up to 80% cheaper than buying new and a good bargain hunter can almost always find brand name clothes with the tags still on. Just don’t forget to donate your old items to keep the cycle going.

If you menstruate, consider purchasing a menstrual cup. There are a variety of options available online and in stores and a quick Google search pulls up a host of helpful reviews and comparisons to find the right one for you. Cups range in price from $20-40 and last for a year or longer. They also offer the added bonus of being able to remain in your body for up to 12 hours with no risk of TSS (toxic shock syndrome). Considering one individual can expend  an average of $70 per year on tampons and panty liners, a menstrual cup saves money, time, and the environment (on average a person throws away 300 pounds of period-related supplies in their lifetime). For the very adventurous, you can make (or buy) reusable menstrual pads or period panties which are a fun and colourful way to save money…and further reduce waste going to the landfill.

Some other easy to implement changes include:

Switching from a plastic toothbrush to one made of bamboo (always check the make-up of the bristles to ensure they’re not nylon and try to purchase one in packaging that’s as sustainable as possible). Pair your new toothbrush with silk dental floss to further reduce your footprint but make sure the floss comes packaged in glass or paper, not plastic. Bamboo toothbrushes can cost as little as $4 and silk floss $6 for over 120 feet so this is a quick, easy, and cost effective solution. You can throw these products into the compost once it’s time to dispose of them.

Bring your own grocery bags and reusable produce bags whenever you go shopping. Cheap and easy to purchase, this simple switch can help your household redirect 1,500 bags from landfills each year. Some stores are phasing out plastic bags, and others charge a $0.05 fee to provide you with one so this simple and effective switch can quickly save you money.

Say NO to single use plastic straws whenever possible. If you feel you need a straw to fully enjoy your drink, consider purchasing a reusable one made of metal, glass, or bamboo (only $2 each). Daily, over 500 million straws are used and disposed of in the U.S. alone, often making it into the ocean where they harm wildlife and break down into microplastic debris. While you’re at it, remember to only purchase Q-tips with cardboard centers instead of environmentally damaging plastics. These can then be recycled with your new bamboo toothbrush!

So there you have it. Ten easy ways to save the planet…and your bank account!