Eco Conscious?Millennials and Gen Z are more eco-conscious than previous generations by a long shot.
Go GreenThere are plenty of tips out there, but why does everyone seem to think you have unlimited funds?
With Less GreenLuckily, there are plenty of ways to be more eco friendly without breaking the bank.
Millennials are the first generation that grew up hearing about climate change, and Gen Z is right on their heels. Multiple surveys show that the majority of both generations (73% for Millennials!) are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Compared to the 34% of Gen X that are willing to spend more for sustainable products, it’s clear that Millennials and Gen Z are the most environmentally conscious people out there. (Go us!)
It’s a bummer, then, that we are also the generations with the smallest amount of money to spend on sustainable products. Millennials have an average net worth of only $8,000 and much of Gen Z has hardly had time to build up any net worth at all.
GOOD NEWS: learning how to be more eco friendly doesn’t have to break the bank. In many cases it can even save you money.
How to Be More Eco Friendly on a Budget
1. Think Long-term
One of the biggest reasons people have trouble living a more eco friendly life is the upfront costs. You look at a roll of reusable paper towels and think “twenty dollars for paper towels!?”
But the reality is that if you spend that $20 on reusable paper towels, you’ll never have to buy paper towels again. Paper towels aren’t that expensive, but if you’re like the average American, you spend nearly $20 on paper towels every year. That means your reusable paper towels pay for themselves within a year.
Same thing goes for reusable ziploc bags, napkins, plastic wrap, cleaning supplies and most other household items. That larger upfront cost can save you quite a bit of money in the long run. And the things you’d eventually have to replace like the paper towels and plastic wrap? Those items are usually biodegradable or recyclable, too.
Here are a few sites where you can buy eco-friendly products for long-term sustainability:
- Package Free for sustainable, reusable household items (everything from pet care to skincare)
- Blueland for sustainable cleaning products (they send you glass bottles and containers and then the refills come in biodegradable packaging)
- Seed for sustainable probiotics (like Blueland, you’re sent a glass jar and then refills are delivered every month in compostable packaging)
2. Buy Second-hand
Buying from sustainable brands is great, but buying second-hand is even better. Even the most sustainable brands still create new products, which, in and of itself, is not entirely sustainable considering the inevitable pollution production and shipping causes. And because their means of production are more eco friendly and they often pay their workers better (as they should) that means sustainable brands can be a little pricey.
Fast fashion is significantly cheaper, but it’s also one of the most damaging industries for our planet. So what can you do when you’re on a tight budget but want to be more green?
Second-hand clothes, books, furniture — even second-hand toys if you have kiddos.
Buying second-hand is probably the only fashion solution that is truly waste-free. The items already exist, so there is no shipping or “production” waste. Plus, truly vintage T-shirts are way cooler than pre-distressed T-shirts from Forever 21.
3. Keep (or Give) What You’ve Got
When I started learning how to be more eco friendly, my first inclination was to get rid of everything I had and replace it all with biodegradable, recyclable, bamboo, or organic cotton versions.
But buying a new bamboo dish washing brush means you have to get rid of your current one. And what does that do? It creates waste! Which is totally counterproductive.
Instead of tossing every plastic thing you own, use them until you can’t use them any more. Then you can buy a more eco friendly replacement.
If you’re truly chomping at the bit to replace everything right away (I was) then ask around to see if you know anyone who needs what you’re getting rid of. I recently purchased half a dozen reusable ziplock bags. I could’ve just thrown out the disposable ones I had, but instead, I asked my neighbor if she had any use for them. And she did!
Now I have reusable ziplock bags and she can go another month or two without purchasing more and creating more waste. It’s a win-win.
4. Do What Comes Easiest
Everyone’s lifestyle is different, which means everyone will have to learn how to be more eco friendly in a way that fits their specific lifestyle. Many of us would like to be 100% waste free, but for some of us, that just isn’t an option.
When you feel overwhelmed by all the different ways you could go green, it might be time to narrow your focus.
I live in an apartment that doesn’t have a recycling bin and the nearest recycling centers are outside the city. While I try to make the drive on occasion, it’s not always an option.
So instead of recycling all the time, I’ve focused on buying products that don’t need to be thrown away, like those reusable paper towels and ziplocks. I’ve also started composting to reduce my food waste and I make sure to bring my reusable grocery bags to the store. Now, instead of having to take out the trash once a week, I’m down to once every two or three weeks.
Find the solutions that come easiest to you, give them your all and don’t feel guilty for not being able to do everything.
5. Decorate Differently
If you’re like me, you love making your house (or apartment) a home. And that means decorating it!
A few years ago, decorating my apartment meant raiding TJ Maxx and Target for knick knacks and home decor. We’re talking ceramic figurines and a dozen decorative pillows and so many posters.
Instead of buying more junk (albeit pretty junk) to fill your shelves and more mass-produced art to cover your walls, try this instead:
Plants: Plants are the greenest decor you can get (literally). Plants not only purify the air, but the production of them doesn’t create as much waste as, say, a Live Laugh Love sign from Target.
Books: If you’re a reader, you probably have some books laying around. Put them to use! I keep a couple on my nightstand, some others on my coffee table, and a few stacks underneath the coffee table since it’s glass.
Functional Items: You could buy some knick knacks to cover that shelf, or you could display functional items in a visually pleasing way. I love baseball caps, and I keep them in a wicker basket on my shelf (next to some books of course). No need to hide things in a closet when they could double as decor.
6. Go Minimal
How many times have you worn your favorite shirt? How often do you do laundry just so you can wear it again instead of the shirts you feel “meh” about. How long do those “meh” clothes go untouched?
And how many of those “meh” items were impulse purchases? Uh huh. We thought so.
One of the best ways to live more sustainably is to nix impulse purchases and start curating a home and a closet filled only with things you really love and use regularly. Going minimal is one way to do that.
The cool thing about minimalism is that it’s not one-size-fits-all.
I own four pairs of pants (not including athletic wear). To most, that’s not a lot. But some minimalists have half that many! And others might have double that. A person with ten pairs of pants can be a minimalist just as much as the person with two pairs.
The point of minimalism isn’t necessarily owning very few items — it’s more about making sure everything you own is something you love and use regularly. And usually, that equates to owning less.
Want to go minimal but not sure where to start? Start with your closet! As you wear items, put them in the front of the drawer or closet. The stuff you don’t wear will automatically end up shoved to the back. At the end of the season, you can pull those items out and donate or sell them because really, if you didn’t wear them this summer (or winter, whatever) do you really think you’ll wear them next year?
Or, if you really want to get into it, you could have a packing party. Put everything away in boxes and only pull out what you need when you need it. Clothes, kitchen utensils, everything! Set a deadline — three months, six months — and at the end, donate everything that’s left in the boxes without looking through them. This tactic is also great if you have kids because it turns it into a game.
As you start curating a more minimalist home, consider following this rule to avoid impulse purchases: if you buy a piece of clothing, you have to give one piece of clothing away. Trust me, it’ll help you curb your impulse buying really fast.
7. Be an Activist
In the end, remember you’re only one person. Sure, we should all learn how to be more eco friendly, but here’s the truth: 100 energy companies have been responsible for 71% of all industrial emissions. Blaming ourselves as individuals for climate change is about as useless as blaming students for the existence of student debt.
Remember the plastic straw movement? Chains like Starbucks got rid of straws only to replace them with lids … made of single-use plastic. Not only did this create no lasting environmental change, but it also harmed the disabled community. Instead of fixing the problem by creating an environmentally and disability friendly alternative, corporations put the focus on us as individuals and made it our responsibility to fix the problem they caused.
If we want real, lasting change, we have to hold companies responsible. So, while you learn how to be more eco friendly, remember to do this as well:
- Raise awareness
- Sign petitions
- Pressure manufacturers to create environmentally friendly products and processes
- Demand transparency
8. Join a Credit Union?!
Were you wondering how we’d tie this blog post back to credit unions? It might surprise you to hear that credit unions are more environmentally friendly than banks. In addition to creating more eco-friendly workplaces (Suffolk Credit Union is on a mission to install solar panels at all their branches) many credit unions are supporting green initiatives while banks are known to fund problematic initiatives like deforestation and mountaintop removal.
Going green doesn’t have to mean spending money; it can also mean choosing a better place to keep your money.