It’s a common conundrum that the most sustainable products are also the items most likely to send the weekly budget into a tailspin. We can have the best intentions, but we also need the means to act on them. So, how to live a sustainable lifestyle on a budget? Here are some ideas.
Many of us have been there; scouring for the most affordable price sticker on the plastic-free shampoo bar shelf, finding that “$15.95” is the friendliest price, before our initial intentions take a quick turn back to the supermarket where the $3 plastic shampoo bottles live.
The price disparity is due to a range of factors, two of them being the higher cost of sustainable resources and the fact there’s less demand for sustainable goods. With such a price gap between supermarket products and their sustainable alternatives, putting our money where our mouth is isn’t financially realistic for everyone.
Several studies show this trend clearly, including one by Harvard Business Review which reveals that 65% of people said they’d like to buy sustainable products, yet only 26% actually do. Closing the gap between intention and purchase would have a marked positive impact on the environment, with Unilever estimating that 70% of its greenhouse gas footprint depends on which products consumers purchase and if they’re disposed of in a sustainable manner.
But for those who can’t afford to spend $16 on a shampoo bar, where does that leave our efforts to be more sustainable? Not entirely lost if we take a gentler, more informed approach towards reducing our personal carbon footprint. Our house may not be perfectly plastic free, but ‘good enough’ may have to be our new standard until economies of scale begin to weigh in favour of the green consumer. Here are some suggestions on how to live a sustainable lifestyle on a budget.
Use what you already have, even if it’s plastic
With plastic being so successfully demonised, there’s some misconceptions that are leading to wasteful choices. These include throwing out all your existing plastic items and replacing them with aluminium counterparts. If you’ve already got a cupboard full of plastic lunch boxes, sticking with those is the more environmentally and financially sustainable option than purchasing a $30 aluminium version.
Educating ourselves and others to remove the shame and guilt around carrying plastic is an important part of this process, so you can take your 5 year old plastic lunchbox to work, without a head full of guilt.
Swap out one day of driving
Reducing our impact on the planet goes so much deeper than purchasing eco friendly products. Finding small and realistic behaviour changes is a wonderful way to lower our carbon footprint. We’ll start with the obvious; if you’re within cycling distance of work or have good public transport in your town, swapping out a day of driving can reduce your annual carbon footprint drastically.
Mend your clothing
Learning to take care of and repair existing clothes or shop second hand rather than purchasing new sustainable clothing has the added perk of saving you money. Seeking to repair instead of replace may require a shift in mentality from ‘upgrade’ culture and towards valuing the enduring objects in our lives more.
Learn to recycle properly
Recycling properly is an accessible and highly impactful change that costs nothing. Learning the in’s and out’s of it; like disposing of e-waste correctly to avoid toxic waste pollution, or steering clear of packaged food to reduce landfill. The energy saved off one plastic drinking bottle for example, is enough to power a computer for 25 minutes.
“We don’t need 1 billion people doing it perfectly, we need 8 billion people doing it imperfectly.”
Buy groceries locally, grow what you can
Reducing the distance your fresh produce travels by buying locally is another way to instantly reduce your carbon footprint. Others who have the space to grow their own produce or plant a flower garden, might do so to help the bees from going into extinction by 2035.
Purchase items that save you in the long term
While some plastic-free items are expensive up front, there are many low-waste products on the market that are cheaper in the long term. A moon cup for example may cost $40 compared to a $5 packet of tampons, but after eight uses, you’re saving money. Other reusable products include reusable cotton swabs and aluminium razors ($85 US) that’re expensive at first, but their durable design means you can keep them for a lifetime and repurchase a 50 pack of new blades for only $12.
Work around what’s important to you
When a perfectionist type meets sustainability, there’s a risk of feeling like you’re not doing enough. But the meme circulating on Instagram poignantly says, “we don’t need 1 billion people doing it perfectly, we need 8 billion people doing it imperfectly.” Attempting perfection is exhausting and unrealistic. There’s so many factors that get in the way of being perfectly sustainable; from financials, or a lack of public transport in your town for example.
Writing a list of things you can realistically change and those you cannot helps to manage your own expectations when thinking about how to live a sustainable lifestyle on a budget. For example, if the only cleanser that helps with your acne is packaged in plastic and not 100% natural and you’re not willing to change that, then allowing yourself that item without the guilt is okay. However, if you’re yet to brush up on the correct way to recycle, perhaps an afternoon spent reading about it is something you action today.