Sustainable Swaps on a Budget

With sustainable lifestyles often described as expensive and unachievable, Flora Beverley shares her sustainable swaps that help to save not only the planet, but money as well.

Sustainable living is often depicted as being expensive and exclusive due to the emphasis on overhauling plastics for new eco-friendly alternatives. While these swaps often ensure the use of sustainable materials and a commitment to employees receiving a living wage, these items are often investment pieces that can be reused over and over. It is, however, possible to live a more conscious lifestyle without it becoming too expensive – theoretically buying less, wasting less and reusing more can save money in the long run.

Perhaps the best way to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle is to consider the longevity of your investments, for example by calculating how money could be saved from a one-time purchase as opposed to buying frequent but disposable items. It should also be noted that while social media may make you feel the need to buy metal straws and brand new containers, these are not always essential. Starting small with a few initial swaps and taking the time to keep note of the plastics you do use as well as the alternatives you would most benefit from helps to avoid any unnecessary purchases and impulse buys.

Reusable water bottle

Buying bottled water is expensive, bad for the environment and unnecessary when we are fortunate enough to have access to clean and safe drinking tap water. Around 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown out every hour, and bottles are in the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups across the world. With most cafés offering free refills of tap water, investing in a reusable bottle means never having to buy bottled water again.  

Reusable cotton pads

Facial wipes may be an easy fix for removing make-up but our convenience is at the price of the planet, taking up to 100 years to break down in landfill. Reusable cotton pads are an inexpensive swap that quickly offset the cost of single use cotton pads and face wipes. Opting for natural materials such as bamboo or organic cotton also means that they don’t release microfibres, so won’t negatively impact waterways.

Dryer eggs

Using excessive energy is both expensive and bad for the environment. Whilst air drying your clean clothes requires the least amount of energy, in a cold or cramped house dryer eggs can be the next best option. Dryer eggs increase airflow in your drier, decreasing the time it takes to dry your clothes (and thus the energy consumed) by up to 28%. 

Bulk buy loo paper

It’s not glamorous, but products that you have to continue re-buying, such as loo paper, can really add up. Companies such as Who Gives A Crap offer more sustainable options that also help savings. Their 48 roll double-length recycled roll is thick and lasts a long time, and costs a mere 13.5p per 100 sheets, with the option to bulk order meaning even more savings. 

Green energy provider

People always expect to pay extra for eco-friendly alternatives to energy companies, but as more and more people switch over it’s clear that often these options can be cheaper. Octopus offers some of the cheapest tariffs in the UK and is a great option if you’re looking to reduce your impact and your monthly costs. I’m switching to Bulb at the moment and am expected to save around £267 per year (and there is no exit charge if you don’t like it). 

Reusable coffee cup

Although a reusable coffee cup may set you back anywhere from £2 to around £20, they are good for the environment and can help make savings too. Most cafés and coffee shops offer discounts for customers who bring their own cups, meaning small savings on your morning oat latte. Of course, making coffee at home will always be cheaper, but if you must drink out, using a reusable cup counteracts any additional charges for alternative milks.  

Reusable period protection

While this may not be for everyone, there is no denying that as well as being wasteful, buying disposable period products monthly can also get very expensive. According to Organicup, an individual goes through approximately 11,000 disposable pads and/or tampons in a lifetime. A cup (which usually costs somewhere between £10 – £25) lasts around 10 years, compared to single-use products which cost the average woman £128 a year. Alternative options include reusable pads if the cup is a bit daunting. 

Ultimately, buying a higher number of ‘sustainable’ options still contributes to environmental issues. So long as we have the attitude that new is good and more is better, we will continue to have an problem. Only by reducing the amount we consume (especially when it comes to single use items) can we truly have a positive impact. If you’re on a budget this is a good thing – buying less means saving more money, and once you’ve cut back on single-use items you can start counting up the savings from buying a reusable alternative.

Some ‘eco-friendly’ options are not always entirely necessary and often, what appears to be the sustainable option actually has a cheaper, less obvious alternative.

Pick reduced produce instead of plastic-free

Although much of what we find in the reduced aisle is wrapped in more plastic than we would like to buy, deciding to tackle the environmental impact of food waste can also help with saving money. Apps such as OlioKarma and Too Good To Go can provide you with cheap or free food that would otherwise go to waste, potentially saving huge amounts of money as well as food!

Reuse old bags instead of new cotton totes

The canvas bag was once seen as the epitome of ‘green living’, especially following the introduction of the 5p ‘plastic bag tax’. However, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency released a report in 2018 suggesting that due to the amount of energy used to create a cotton bag, they would need to be reused thousands of times before offsetting their impact. While still a more eco-alternative to the plastic bag, making the most of any bags you already have means not having to buy specialised shoppers.

Prioritise the clothes in your wardrobe over a sustainable fashion haul

Buying from sustainable and ethical clothing brands helps to support the environment as well as small businesses, but this isn’t always the most affordable option. Whilst shopping secondhand is a great, cheap alterantive to sustainable fashion, the cheapest and most planet-positive option is to buy as little as possible and wear what you already have.