Can you be green and frugal? The answer is a resounding yes! With the GFC hitting everyone in the hip pocket, and the continued sustainability of our planet at stake, why not embrace a leaner, greener ethos?
One of the best ways to go green and save money is to live a simpler life. With all the stress that seems irrevocably entwined in modern-day living, choosing a simpler existence makes good sense. Even small steps in greener living can have a big impact. Learn to live with less and with what you do have. Make it count and, if you don’t use it, give it away to someone who will.
In 2010, the Australian government’s Intergenerational Report identified climate change as one of the biggest challenges in economic sustainability in Australia, placing substantial pressures on the nation’s economy and living standards over the next four decades.
Despite the fact that sustainability and being environmentally conscious remains a big issue, our concern for it is dwindling. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2007–08, 82 per cent of people aged 18 years and over were concerned about environmental problems in general in Australia, compared with only 62 per cent in 2011–12.
The truth is, we all know we should be greening up the planet, but not all of us are incorporating greener living into our lifestyles. Australia still has one of the highest rates of waste generation per capita in the world, with the average Australian household generating around 1.5 tonnes of waste a year.
Embracing greener living is a mindset. It goes beyond turning off the TV at the wall or putting recycling in the right bin. It’s getting creative, it’s thinking beyond reading package labels, it’s walking to the shop instead of taking the car. Adopting a greener mindset will save you money and you’ll also have a lot of fun in the process. What are you waiting for?
Join the freecycle revolution
You’ve heard of recycling and reusing, right? There’s a cool new kid on the block in the world of eco-savvy savings: it’s called freecycling. Basically, this means checking out free websites for stuff that people are giving away and posting items you’re searching for. Check out freecycle.org/group/au or ozrecycle.com.
Green up, be hip
Make greening-up your life a fun thing to do and kids and teens will love getting involved. One way to do this is to up-cycle, which means giving a new lease on life to unwanted items by converting them into something better that you can use. There are lots of unique and creative ways to up-cycle. Turn old CDs into funky coasters, glue wine corks together to create a bathmat, craft ribbons and old broaches into a necklace, knock up shelving from a wooden pallet or transform a preloved pair of jeans into a tote bag. For more ideas, check out pinterest.com/stephiraerae/creative-ways-to-reuse-recycle.
Stash away the kids’ iPods, tablets, laptops and all their techno wizardry and spend time together rediscovering good, old-fashioned fun in board games or card games. Instead of expensive trips to the cinemas, take the family for a bike ride and stop to have a picnic in the park.
Strap on your joggers and visit a national park, trek along the nature trails and take lots of family happy snaps. When you’re looking for something to do on a rainy afternoon, get the kids involved in scrapbooking your photos into albums.
Love your library
Save trees and your hard-earned cash by borrowing books instead of buying them. Some libraries also offer e-library services for borrowing magazines and music. The savings will definitely add up.
While you’re there, investigate some of the online courses, talks and events on offer. For example, learn to draw, take photographs, cook with herbs or create edible landscapes, as well as meet inspirational authors and more. It’s free.
Resist the latest gadgets & gizmos
For many, resistance seems futile: a new-model smartphone or tablet is trotted out into the marketplace and they’re scrambling over each other to be the first to own one. Use your gadgetry until the end of its life. If you keep updating, not only will you spend a bundle, chances are your old one will end up in landfill pumping out toxic pollutants.
It’s the same for kitchen gizmos. These days you can buy popcorn makers, hot dog makers, cupcake makers, pop cake makers, pie makers and more. A decade ago, all you needed was a saucepan and a baking tray to do the same job — and you still do. Save your cash.
Embrace your green goddess
- Barter, don’t buy. A friend has a hat you love and she’s wild about a handbag you bought and never use. Swap with each other — or, better still, organise a clothing swap with all your friends.
- Go au naturel. No, we don’t mean running around in the rudie. Switch to making your own natural Beauty products; you’ll be helping the planet and saving a lot. Check out artofhealing.com.au/information/natural-skin-care-products.
- Make it a wrap. Boycott expensive wrapping paper; use scarves, fabric scraps or kids’ artwork to wrap presents. Make your own cards; don’t buy store-bought ones.
- Give a gift in a teacup (or container). Melt down half-burnt candles, add a dash of fragrant oil (and a sliver of crayon for colour) and pour into a pretty teacup. A pair of high heels can be transformed into a groovy planter, or unleash your inner artist with a recycled paper sculpture or frame.
- Leave a paperless trail. Pass on books and magazines for others to enjoy. Use both sides of printer paper and draft mode when printing to save ink. Pay your bills online (and opt for paperless billing) to reduce paper usage and postage costs.
- Volunteer. With a green-inspired organisation, you may find yourself planting shrubs, bird watching, counting frogs, making mud bricks or doing other things for charity and the environment.
- Keep your pet amused with toys made from recycled materials or sustainable fibres in lieu of the expensive plastic counterparts sold in shops. A length of rope, odd socks tied together or a preloved child’s toy will keep them entertained for hours.
- Teach your feline to use the loo. Movie moguls have made fortunes from cats hopping up on the toilet to do their business. You’ll save a fortune on kitty litter by teaching yours to use the toilet.
- Reuse your pet’s fur. Imagine a cuddly warm jumper made from Fido the dog’s fur. Yes, it’s possible. Check out these books: Knitting with Dog Hair or Crafting with Cat Hair.
Grow your own
Some of the fruits and vegetables you serve up to your family have winged their way around the globe before they land on your plate. Instead of buying expensive exotic fare from far-flung lands, try your hand at growing your own. You’ll not only cut back on food miles; if you get the kids involved, they’re more likely to eat what they’ve grown (and try new vegetables).
In a corner near your patch, grow a cubby for the kids by threading climbers over a wire frame, or create an adventure Garden to encourage your children outdoors away from the TV.
Composting is a savvy way to recycle most of your organic household waste. Plus, it creates a nutrient-dense soil, saving you money on soil additives. Pick a sheltered location in a warm area that’s not too close to your neighbours’ place. Your compost needs nitrogen (green stuff such as kitchen scraps and lawn clippings) and brown stuff (leaves, hedge clippings), too. It also needs to be regularly aerated (turning it over-oxidises the carbon so it breaks down) and watered frequently. For more information, check out environment.nsw.gov.au/households/EasyCompost.htm.
Plant a herb garden
With fresh, zesty herbs at your fingertips, you can spice up your culinary dishes and save cash on store-bought herbs and expensive packet flavourings for food.
Green your roof or balcony
Don’t have the space for your own patch? Any surface can be greened — even roofs that are terraced, sloped or curved. With a few square metres, you can create a unique oasis with pots filled with flowers or herbs. With the extra insulation you’ll reduce heating and cooling costs. On balconies, potted dwarf fruit trees and vertical green walls with trellised tomatoes, climbing snow peas or tepee beans look fantastic.
Food, sensible food
Eat locally — and use it all
For the food you can’t grow at home, shop at your local farmers’ market, and buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. By buying locally, your money also stays in your local community.
Buy in bulk and in season. Share the cost with friends and neighbours and save even more. At your local famers’ market, often the not-so-pretty fruit sells for less. A punnet filled with seconds or misshapen strawberries will taste just as plump and juicy as the pretty ones.
Use all of what you buy, where possible. Instead of just eating the broccoli and cauliflower florets, eat the lot; the stalks taste great in stirfries. Invest in a large saucepan so you can cook up fish heads, prawn shells, ham bones and some vegetable scraps into warming winter soups or fresh summer broths.
Don’t toss leftovers — freeze them. Cook double quantities and freeze. You’ll save gas or electricity and, on the days you don’t feel like cooking, dinner’s already done. A full freezer uses less power than a partially stocked one, too. Freeze things you might just need a little of, to save wasting the rest: tomato paste, stock, herbs, ginger, some nuts and citrus zests.
Use the power of the sun
Harnessing solar power isn’t just about installing solar panels on your roof. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant and bleaching agent. Hang your clothes on the line instead of using a clothes dryer. With electricity costing almost a dollar a load for a 5kg dryer, it soon adds up — and think of the carbon pollution you’ll save. For more information on just how much electricity is guzzled up by appliances, check out consumer.org.nz/reports/appliance-running-costs.
Bag it and bottle it too
Australians are a thirsty lot. According to Do Something’s “Go Tap” campaign this year, Australians will part with around half a billion dollars to buy bottled water. Bottled water costs over 2500 times more than tap water. The solution is simple: don’t buy water bottles; invest in reusable ones. You’ll not only save money but you’ll be helping to prevent tonnes of plastic going into landfill.
Did you know Australians use so many plastic bags that each year, if you tied them all together, they would circle the world 24 times? Only 43 per cent of people say no to plastic and use reusable bags. Switch to reusable tote bags and there’ll also be no more broken plastic bags with smashed Grocery items, either.
Clean & green
Many home cleaning products are chock full of harmful chemicals, contributing to the growing problem of toxic air pollutants in the home, which can cause headaches and lethargy, and aggravate asthma symptoms. Toxic air indoors bears a hefty pricetag, according to the CSIRO. They estimate poor indoor air quality costs Australians around AU$12 billion a year.
Natural store-bought cleaning options are one alternative green option and there are myriad labels touting green credentials. To make sure they’re the real deal, check to see that they’ve passed eco-friendly certification standards. Independent not-for-profit organisation Good Environmental Choice (geca.org.au) recognises accredited eco-labelling.
Alternatively, you can simply make your own eco-cleaners; all you really need is a little bit more elbow grease to get the job done. Vinegar, water and a couple of drops of liquid soap will get your bathroom sparkling. Bicarb soda mixed with water is an all-purpose cleaner. For clean, shiny floors, mix half a cup of vinegar in a bucket of hot water with a little eucalyptus oil. For heavy-duty jobs that need a good scrub, try a cup of bicarb soda, half a cup of white vinegar and a cup of coarse salt with a little essential oil.
Carrol Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for lifestyle and health magazines across Australia.