How To Live Sustainably On A Budget, Miriam Sallon
Reading Time: 4 min
I recently had a real climate-change wake-up call after I finally got around to reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to embark on the journey to sustainable living, but five hundred pages explaining clearly and calmly why we’re all seriously doomed really did the trick for me.
My poor flatmate had to listen to me panicking for weeks (I’m a slow reader), manically making lists of all the modifications we would have to make as a household immediately. And I really meant it and was ready to make some drastic changes.
But, I hit a wall super fast, a wall made of £25 shampoo bars, £10 plastic-free deodorant, £12 washing up liquid, £18 re-usable food wraps... It seemed to me that living sustainably required a massive investment, which is something I really don’t have up-front even if I save money in the long run.
I’m guessing this is the experience for a lot of people who want to make sustainable choices but find it requires very deep pockets, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do that cost very little, or nothing at all, so I’ve collated a few to help you to go a little bit greener without having to take out a second mortgage on the house you don’t have.
The most obvious one first: buy second-hand.
This used to mean scouring through various Oxfams, looking for anything that someone’s grandma didn’t die in. But, these days, with the internet being what it is, you can actually search for the exact thing you’re looking for and someone trying to flog it. eBay is an obvious example, but you’ve also got websites like Shpock; with geographical convenience at its centre, so you don’t have to try and navigate the tube with a three-seater sofa; and Depop, the best for serious designer wear, making second-hand life so much chicer.
This is where it tends to get expensive, but there are a bunch of small changes you can make that won’t have you trying to work out if you can afford to eat this week.
The BBC published a report last year stating that only 0.25% of take-away coffee cups in the UK get recycled, despite technically being ‘recyclable’. This is due to there being only a very small number of recycling plants that will accept them which means out of the 2.5 billion coffee cups thrown away every year, 2.49 billion are sent to landfill.
My remedy to this? Buy a re-usable coffee cup. You can get one for less than a tenner and it makes all the difference.
Swap your plastic supermarket cartons for old-school glass bottles, delivered to your door. I love how retro this is and I am fully there for it. Unfortunately, it’s not a practical choice for everyone - London living doesn’t always allow for a nice safe spot outside your front door - but if you can do it, it’s a really nice change to make.
Pardon my very sad life but this was the best discovery I made last year. I really don’t get along with shampoo bars- I’ve got very thick bushy hair and it takes years to wash with a bar. Similarly, eco-cleaning products often mean forking out at least double the price of the normal stuff, making it really hard to make the right call.
Enter refill stations!
There are hundreds of stations across the UK, very possibly just down the road from you. Ecover and Faith in Nature are the two main players: the former does clothes detergent, washing up liquid etc, and Faith In Nature has shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Ecover’s refills are noticeably cheaper than their plastic-bottle counterparts and Faith in Nature is about on par with the price of plastic bottle bathroom products, but you’ve got the added bonus of not killing the planet. You can search for your nearest refill station on their websites.
Frozen fruit & veg
I am single and busy, and even if I plan my week’s meals meticulously, it’s very often the case that I end up spontaneously eating elsewhere when I was supposed to be using all that spinach in the fridge that a day later looks too sad to eat.
Frozen fruit and veg are the way forward - not only will they stop you having to throw away so much fresh produce every week, but you’ll also save money.
A lot of people feel that nutrition is lost in the freezing process, but a lot of produce retains its nutrition where it would have rapidly started losing its healthiness 24 hours after being picked.
Using what you’ve got.
I’m really enjoying this whole wartime mentality of being as economical as possible.
Eat a lot of oranges? Why not turn that peel in to candied orange, for the whole family to enjoy! (I actually did this and it totally works.)
Finished a delicious Sunday roast and still have the chicken bones left on your table? Why not make a nutritious bone broth for the whole family to enjoy!
Anyway, there are a tonne of things you can make at home which are better for the environment and your wallet, and leave you feeling extra smug. Here are just a few examples.
If you’re lucky enough to have a coffee machine at home, you’ve likely got a tonne of used coffee granules to throw away. You can make a really effective exfoliant, mixing a couple of tablespoons of coffee, with one tablespoon of soft brown sugar and some olive oil, and hey presto, silky smooth skin.
This stuff is actually good for everything, from salad dressing to face toner, and you can make it yourself from apple scraps, with minimal effort. Just fill a jar three quarters of the way with apple cores and peel, top with sugar water and leave for three weeks.
No-soil-needed window-sill spring onions
This was another really exciting moment for me last year (yes, I’m sad, move on). You can literally grow spring onions by putting the root in a little bit of water on your kitchen window sill and after a couple of days, you have another spring onion! You can also supposedly do it with celery but I had less luck. By all means, try it out and tell me in the comments how easy it is.
These are just a few ideas, but the main point is not to feel disheartened just because you can’t afford to only buy organic bamboo t-shirts, or shop solely at the farmers market. It’s way more effective for a lot of people to make small changes than for only a few people to make big changes.
Words: Miriam Sallon