We all know that trying to live more sustainably is good for the environment, but many of us are less aware that it’s good for our wallets too.
There’s a common myth that trying to be eco-friendly costs more, yet, in many cases, the opposite is true – and there are plenty of ways you can help the planet and improve your carbon footprint while also saving money.
In our current climate, when the cost of living is increasing while the health of our planet is declining, there’s never been a better time to make a real effort to go green – and luckily, many of the steps below are simple and easy.
So, to get you inspired, here are 17 ways to help the environment and save money.
1. Choose tap water over bottled water
Not only is bottled water massively overpriced but also it’s a huge waste of plastic. We’re often led to believe that bottled water is better for us – yet it contains plastic toxins and leaves an unsustainable trail of waste. Most plastic is also still not recycled and ultimately just ends up in landfill or oceans, causing untold damage to sea life and marine environments.
Tap water is perfectly fine to drink and you can buy a water filter or distiller if you’re concerned about drinking from the tap. Investing in a reusable water bottle is a good idea too because it means you can fill it up each time you leave the house, which won’t only save you money but will also help preserve water.
2. Use a reusable coffee cup
Similarly, using a reusable coffee cup will help reduce the amount of plastic and cardboard going to landfill. Many of us enjoy buying hot drinks when we’re out and about (especially in winter when it’s freezing!) and buying a reusable cup is such a simple way to live a bit more sustainably and save money.
Many coffee shops offer discounts to customers who bring in their own cups, so if you regularly buy hot drinks when you’re out, those savings can soon mount up.
In Starbucks, for example, customers who bring in their own cups save 25p on coffee, while Cafe Nero gives you two stamps on your card instead of one.
To find out more about what discounts different coffee shops offer customers with reusable cups, check out this article by Ocean Finance.
3. Eat more plant-based foods
Aside from alcohol, meat, fish, and dairy tend to be the most expensive items in your trolley when food shopping, so making an effort to eat more plant-based foods will definitely save you money.
Plus, eating green is one of the single best things you can do for the planet – because animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions.
According to studies by Oxford University, switching to a mostly plant-based diet will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds, save up to 8 million lives by 2050, and avoid climate damages of $1.5 trillion.
You don’t have to buy meat alternatives, either (though you can if you want!). The cheapest and healthiest way to eat more plant-based food is just to eat more fruit and veg, and to make sure you’re getting protein and other nutrients from plant sources like beans, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
To see how tasty plant-based meals can be, take a look at these 14 healthy and easy vegetarian recipes.
4. Eat local, seasonal produce
If you’re going to be buying more fruit and veg, it’s also helpful to try to eat local, seasonal produce whenever you can. All food has a carbon footprint, but food that’s flown in from far-away countries creates 100 times more carbon emissions than food that’s shipped – and in the past 20 years, plane transportation has increased by 140%.
Eating locally also means you’re reducing your food miles, protecting lands and wildlife from mass agriculture, and limiting the number of fertilisers and pesticides that are going into our environment.
Plus, not only does it taste better, it’s actually better for your health.
A final perk of eating local, seasonal produce is that it’s considerably cheaper than out-of-season produce, or produce that’s imported. Seasonal produce is cheaper to harvest, which reduces the cost, and local produce means there’s no need for expensive transport or storage costs.
To find out more about the benefits of eating seasonal, check out our article; What fruit and vegetables are in season now?
5. Eliminate food waste
The UK throws away approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food waste each year – a statistic that becomes even more appalling when you consider that 8.4 million people in the UK are living in food poverty.
We already know that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, so when you consider that we’re throwing away meat, fish, and dairy, as well as plenty of other food, the waste becomes even more harmful.
Buying food only to throw it away is also a waste of our own money too. So what are some of the best ways to eliminate food waste?
- Plan meals in advance: write down a rough menu and only buy what’s on your list.
- Batch cook: cooking in bulk and then freezing it saves time and money, and reduces waste.
- Save veg scraps: use them to make your own veggie stock!
- Rescue food: using apps like Olio and TooGoodToGo allows you to buy food that would otherwise have been thrown away, at a fraction of the price.
6. Switch to a green energy supplier
Switching to a green energy supplier can make a huge difference to the health of the planet. Not only does it show the industry that the demand for green energy is there, thereby encouraging more suppliers to go green, but it also can greatly reduce your carbon footprint.
Green energy is supplied by renewable energy generation, not fossil fuels. Plus, the idea that green energy is more expensive simply isn’t true, and it can actually save you hundreds of pounds each year.
There are also suppliers that offer a green tariff, which means that some (or all) of the energy you use is ‘matched’ by purchases of renewable energy that your supplier makes on your behalf.
However, due to the current situation and cost of living crisis, it’s important to do your research before switching suppliers. You can find out more in our article; How do green energy tariffs work?
7. Be smart when washing your clothes
When washing your clothes, it’s always wise to have a full load of laundry to wash. Not only does this save water, but it also saves energy – and will lead to savings in utility bills. Even if you have a tumble dryer, you should still try to line-dry outside, or rack-dry, whenever you can.
Many people are investing in heated clothes airers to speed up the drying process – as they cost a fraction of the price of tumble dryers to run. You might want to check out our article on the Best heated clothes airers for drying laundry 2022 to find out more.
Washing clothes on cold, quick, or eco-friendly cycles as much as possible will also get clothes just as clean, but use less energy heating the water. It’s worth investing in a high-efficiency washing machine too (A+ rated machines are best), as these also save water, and money on bills.
And finally – though it might sound obvious – try to wear clothes for longer before washing them. Of course, this doesn’t mean going around in dirty clothes! But many items of clothing don’t need to be washed after a single wear, so try to make sure the clothes you’re washing actually need it.
8. Buy second-hand
Buying second-hand is easier on your wallet and can have surprisingly powerful benefits for our environment.
Manufacturing new products increases the number of items that are sent to landfill, and also contributes towards air pollution and greenhouse gases, toxic waste, water pollution, and high water use.
Second-hand shops are obviously great places to buy clothes, shoes, books, and household items, but there are also many sites where you can buy second-hand items, from electronics to jewellery. Check out sites like Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Freecycle, Depop, Vinted, and eBay.
If you need to buy a new phone, laptop, or computer, it’s always smart to buy refurbished items – as not only are they cheaper, but they’re also usually good as new.
9. Recycle or sell your own items
On a similar note, if you don’t wear certain clothes or shoes anymore, or want to get rid of old devices or pieces of furniture, there’s no need to throw them out.
Putting items up for sale does take a bit of effort, but you’ll get money back, and no matter how much you may no longer want to wear an item, that doesn’t mean no one else will. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!
Our article, How to make money from your clutter, has plenty of tips and tricks on how to bring in some extra cash while giving a new lease of life to items that you no longer use.
Even if you think there’s no way you can sell an item, try not to just chuck it in the bin. Most recycling centres or local skips recycle old electronics, furniture, materials, and clothing, so it’s absolutely worth making the trip.
10. Buy from sustainable brands
It’s not always possible to find what you want in second-hand shops, so if you do need to buy new clothes, try to buy from sustainable clothing brands wherever you can.
Fast fashion is a huge threat to our planet, and in the UK, around 921,000 tonnes of material are thrown away in household waste.
If buying new, try to look for brands that use recycled or environmentally-friendly materials like organic cotton, hemp, and soya fabric, or materials that have been made using renewable energy. While these items might cost a bit more upfront, they’re designed to last, so you won’t have to replace them for a long time, which can save you money in the long run.
To check out some of the UK’s most ethical, sustainable clothing brands, have a read of this article by Good On You.
11. Unplug and switch off
Most of us don’t know that electricity is still flowing to devices like laptops and phones when they’re plugged in, even if they’re switched off. So, once your devices are fully charged, make sure to unplug them – otherwise, you’re just wasting energy and money.
If you leave your phone charger plugged in even when you’re not charging your phone, try to get into the habit of unplugging it. Rather than leaving your TV on standby (which many of us are guilty of!), switch it off when you’re not watching it. Always try to turn lights off when you leave the room too.
Though these are all small actions, over time, the energy and money you save doing them will mount up.
12. Buy refills
Refill shops are quickly appearing all around the country, so why not take advantage of this and start buying refills of certain products, rather than always buying from scratch?
Refill shops usually sell things like coffee granules, soap, shampoo and conditioner, herbs and spices, and food items like pasta, rice, and nuts.
Refilling your same reusable containers cuts down on plastic waste like lids and bottles, and usually always costs less, too. To find your nearest refill or zero waste shop, head over to The Zero Waste Network.
13. Make your own cleaning products
Shop-bought cleaning products are usually chock-full of toxins and unnecessary chemicals which, when they’re poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet, can harm our environment. Plus, they’re usually packaged in lots of plastic, and over the years the amount we spend on buying cleaning solutions can really mount up.
So why not save money and help protect the environment by making your own cleaning products?
Making your own cleaning solutions is much easier than you think, and often involves ingredients you already have in the home. DIY solutions work just as well as shop-bought ones – and once you start making your own, you’ll probably never go back to buying them!
To learn how to make your own cleaning products, check out this article by Moral Fibres.
14. Swap kitchen roll for washable clothes and sponges
Kitchen roll is a staple in many kitchens, but there is literally no need to have it in your home. Instead of buying disposable paper products that cause unnecessary deforestation (and add to landfill), why not just use washable clothes or sponges to mop up spills?
You can use old bits of cloth or kitchen towels as your ‘utility towels’, and when they’re dirty, just toss them in the washing machine (once it’s full, of course!). Not only is this greener than using paper towels, but it’s also far cheaper.
15. Take up cycling
Cycling is great for your health and saves money on fuel, public transport costs, or taxi fares – as well as being an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint.
While walking is also great for your health and the environment, some distances are just too far to get to on foot, whether it’s your work or the local shops.
So why not think about going on two wheels? If you currently commute to work, you might want to check out the government’s Cycle to Work scheme, which gives you money off a new bike and results in significant savings: tax and national insurance bills for basic-rate taxpayers are reduced by 32%, and for higher-rate payers, by 42%.
To find out more about getting into cycling, you might want to read our article; A beginner’s guide to cycling.
16. Consider switching to an electric car
For many of us, having a car isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity – yet transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While buying new petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030, why not get ahead and switch to an electric vehicle?
It may seem like a costly purchase right now, but in the long run, it could work out cheaper – and is obviously significantly better for the planet. Plus, the government has introduced several discounts and tax incentives for electric vehicles, including drivers getting up to £2,500 off a new electric car via the government’s plug-in grant.
To find out more, check out our article; Should I buy an electric car?
17. Invest ethically
If you’re currently trying to save money, you might want to think about switching to an ethical bank or building society. It’s important to remember that when you have money in a current or savings account, the cash doesn’t just sit there waiting to be withdrawn; banks lend it out to businesses that need financial support.
If you invest in ethical banks and building societies, they will always look at supporting green businesses first. This makes it possible to make money while using it to do good.
To find out more about ethical investing, check out this guide by The Times.
As this article hopefully shows, there are many ways you can make a positive difference, reduce your carbon footprint, live more sustainably, and still save money while you’re at it.
Some steps, like investing in an electric car, may seem large, and you might not be in a position to make those changes today. But it’s worth remembering that the returns will be large too – both to the environment and to your bank balance.
And many other steps, like using reusable water bottles or coffee cups, eating more plant-based foods, and making your own DIY cleaning solutions, are small steps that we can all do today that really make a difference.
For more tips on living sustainably, you might want to read our articles; 13 tips for sustainable living and 9 ways to make your diet more environmentally friendly.