It’s no secret that our modern-day behaviour and habits are beginning to their toll on our planet, our environment and the atmosphere. More and more people come to me asking for suggestions when it comes to buying alternatives to things like single-use items, things made of plastic or just generally toxic materials that could be easily avoided. I try to encourage people to make simple swaps from unnecessary products to reusable ones, to inspire others that their small changes really can have an impact on the planet. But I also like to inspire people with the incentive that they can actually help themselves, too. Making more sustainable / eco-friendly decisions can help you both long term and short term, in several ways.
1. Short term, using more eco-friendly products and things made with more natural materials and ingredients is better for things like your skin, your health, your home and you bank account.
2. Long term, using more eco-friendly products and things made with more natural materials and ingredients is better for the planet, be that the oceans or the air we breath, and this has a knock on effect on the wellbeing of all living things. Cleaner oceans means cleaner air, which of course we need in order to survive. This could also lead to reduced risks of disease.
If it’s not enough to inspire you to make environmentally considerate decisions for the good of the planet, I’ve collected some facts and figures to do with how much we currently spend on disposable items and unnecessary modern commodities. I’ve also provided the more sustainable alternatives along with their prices, to show how much money you could save over the years by making some simple changes and minimal upfront investments.
Instead of buying in small packs, buy your cotton buds - made from paper or wood, rather than plastic - in bulk, and save around £20 per year (depending on how many you tend to use). This is also something that, the more bulk you buy in, the more you will save over the years. These ones are just over £1 per 100, but you can definitely find them cheaper in stores or elsewhere online.
Cloth vs wet wipes
Instead of buying loads of wet wipes, use reusable cloths, such as muslin cloths. You can soak these in water with soap or even oils, if you need moisture, or use dry, as needed. You could even use toilet paper as a slightly better alternative to wet wipes. If you stop buying wet wipes (some people use 100 per week on their babies), you’d save hundreds of pounds over the years. Buying muslin cloths in bulk will mean you’ll always have a lot to hand, and muslin cloths can be as cheap as less than 50p each.
Reusable wrap & sandwich bags vs cling film
Something you seem to be buying again and again and again, am I right? Next time, instead of using cling film to keep things fresh or to wrap portable meals in, try using bee wrap or reusable silicon sandwich bags, instead. A set of 3 sheets of bee wrap will set you back about £10-£12, and a Stasher sandwich bag will cost about the same, but you’ll only have to buy them once, unless you have to replace them over time. Say you are buying a few rolls of cling film per month, which can be around £2-£3 per roll, thats around £50 per month you could be saving. Take away the cost of some bee wrap and / or reusable sandwich bags, and you’ll still have more money left over out of your current cling film budget.
Soap vs shower gel
I was talking about this with my mum the other day. We were discussing how we used to be just fine using soap, before all these mass produced, colourfully and enticingly marketed products like bath foam and shower gel came along. Soap is, or was, much more environmentally friendly, as it was cheap to make, made using only natural ingredients, and wasn’t full of chemicals or other toxic components (such as artificial colourings, foaming agents, flavourings etc), meaning it didn’t pollute our water supplies either once washed down the drain. Let’s get back to basics and opt for soap instead of manufactured, plastic-bottled products we don’t really need (and that aren’t very good for us, either!). Buy soap in bulk, either in individual blocks or larger blocks that you can then cut into smaller blocks as and when you need them. You could even look into making soap yourself from scratch. Say you buy new shower gel once a month (some people may be buying much more), that’s got to be at least £4 per month (if you’re buying the cheapest (and usually most harmful) options), totalling a minimum spend of roughly £50 per year. Soap, on the other hand, lasts longer and costs less, and generally comes with minimal packaging (and if you can find it, usually cardboard rather than plastic).
If you do prefer liquid soaps, try to find more natural options, and buy in bulk. You can buy from several eco-friendly brands in bulk for something like £20-£30 for 5 litres, or you can also go to shops that have refill stations. You are encouraged to take your empty bottles and refill them, rather than repeat buying the individual bottle product. This will save you money, yet again, as refills are priced cheaper than the original products.
Shampoo & Conditioner
The same goes for shampoo, you can now buy shampoo and conditioner in bar form, made from natural ingredients. These are better for the environment and the water supplies, and also tend to last longer, too.
Alternatively, If you do prefer liquid shampoos and conditioners, try to find more natural options, and buy in bulk, or go to shops that have refill stations. You are encouraged to take your empty bottles and refill them, rather than repeat buying the individual bottle product. This will save you money, yet again, as refills are priced cheaper than the original products.
Washing up liquid
Again, washing up liquid is these days manufactured by the masses and highly over-processed, contaminating our water supplies as it drains away. Try to buy more natural and environmentally friendly products and either buy them in bulk to save money, or refill your empty bottles at refill stations in certain shops (most common in whole food / health food shops or zero-waste shops). Refilling could save you around so much money, and will also save the planet from hundreds of plastic bottles.
Reusable fabric cotton pads vs single-use cotton pads
One of my favourite sustainable swaps has been switching my everyday cotton pads, which I used daily to remove make up, for reusable pads made of fabric. Cotton requires a lot of water to grow, which puts a strain on the environment, and when made into the disposable cotton pads you’re probably familiar with, its bleached and processed in several ways, making it slightly harmful for your skin but also for the environment, wherever it ends up to decompose. One simple way to reduce your consumption of single-use cotton pads is to use reusable ones made from cotton, just in a different form, or bamboo. Or, even muslin cloths will do the trick. It’s all about changing your habits, as using reusable fabrics will mean you need to wash them after a few uses; something you’re not familiar with having to do for the disposable (and slightly more convenient) ones. But buying reusable cotton pads or even using cloths or scraps of fabrics from old clothes will save you so much money over the years. It costs just £7.69 for 12 of these super soft cotton pads, and they will probably last you forever - regarding you don’t mind a few unsightly mascara stains that might develop over time. I used to use about 2 or sometimes more cotton pads a day, and at between £1-£2 per packet with about 80-100 per pack, thats somewhere around £150 per year, just on cotton pads. Think of those savings over the years.
Bamboo toothbrush vs plastic toothbrush
Buying bamboo toothbrushes is better for the environment as they are able to biodegrade once you’re finished with them, unlike plastic ones. Whilst the pricing here isn’t necessarily astounding, my tip is, again, to buy in bulk, rather than buying individually as and when you need them. I buy bamboo toothbrushes in packs of 5 or 10, which means less packaging, too. Bamboo toothbrushes are around £1-£2 each, but work out cheaper if you buy them in bulk. Whilst this won’t necessarily save you money per piece, compared to the price of plastic toothbrushes, I think making this switch is so worth it for the environment.
Menstrual cup vs tampons pads
This one should have been at the beginning of the post since it saves SO much money, however, it’s not relevant to everyone so I’ll keep it where it is. Ladies, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this sustainable swap is going to change your life forever. I have been using a menstrual cup for a few years now and I have never looked back. I wish these had been available when I first started my period as I think I would have learnt a lot more about the situation and felt a lot more empowered about it too. Tampons are often made with harmful chemicals and whilst that’s bad enough, the way they collect is not great either. They kind of prevent our bodies from fully detoxing, which is ultimately what is happening at this time of the month. Pads too, contain harmful chemicals and whilst they’re kind of better in letting our bodies detox, I personally could never get used to them, and I know a lot of other people can’t either. The menstrual cup is clean, easy to use, comfortable and reliable. I have never had any issues with it, and once it’s in place I forget I’m even wearing it. And the best part, and where the menstrual cup ties into this post, is that it’s sustainable. It is reusable and so means you wont be a) spending constantly on products like tampons and pads and b) won’t be chucking said tampons and pads into waste or landfill, only to take ages to biodegrade and releasing the chemical coatings they contain. The NHS has noted that women will have around 480 periods in a lifetime, and if you’re spending between 50p and £10 each period, depending on which brand of either pads or tampons you opt for (note, organic and less harmful brands will be the more expensive), you could be spending at best £250 and at worst almost £5000 a lifetime on these products. A Mooncup (the first of its kind), on the other hand, is £16.56, and other options are £8.99, £19.99 and £24.95. Need I say anymore?
This one’s not necessarily going to save you money upfront, but with more and more initiatives in place at cafes and eateries across the world, you can save money on your hot drink of choice simply by taking your own reusable coffee cup with you. Using your own reusable cup saves the cafe money, saves the planet from hundreds of single-use disposable coffee cups (which, although usually paper, are often lined with plastic films) and could ultimately save you a % off each purchase.
Reusable water bottles
An obvious one, if you buy and carry a reusable water bottle around with you, you will save money on buying bottles of water. You will also contribute to reducing the amount of plastic bottles consumed. Reusable bottles can be as cheap as recycling a very basic plastic bottle and simply reusing it again and again. Thats, um, basically free. But if you want something a little more durable, leak-proof and sturdy, and / or one with fancy features like insulation or a nice pattern, it’ll cost you anywhere between £4-£45. Even buying the most expensive option, it will be a one of payment, and a very sensible investment. Depending on how much water you consume, you’ll be saving around 60p for large bottles or water or anywhere around £1-3 for small bottles of water, every time you get thirsty. You just couldn’t put a price on that.
This one is another that might not actually save you money - or at least not yet - but it will save the planet from yet more plastic pollution. I’m hoping someday soon there will be bans or taxes on plastic cutlery the same way there has been plastic straws and plastic bags, so if you invest in reusable cutlery now, you’ll be safe. I use bamboo cutlery like this and keep it in my bag, as its light. But you could even use proper cutlery that you already have at home, which, again, doesn’t cost a thing. I’d also suggest a cutlery case to keep things clean, but thats not a necessity at this stage, just an idea (some cutlery sets even come with their own case thrown in).
Having tote bags will save you so much money, these days, and will mean you wont find yourself adding a few pounds onto your weekly shop just for the plastic bags to carry it in. Not only will it save you money, it will save all the plastic bags from making their way into the ocean and contaminating not only our water, but also the sea life, and ultimately our food (if you eat fish or meat). Some places give out free tote bags, such as at large events or free sample hand outs in your areas, but you can also buy cotton or canvas tote bags really cheap online. It could save you a few pounds a shop!
As far as food is concerned, shopping in bulk, unpackaged, at stores with self-serve dispensers and refill stations, is by far the best option for the planet and your food shop budget. You will save on packaging, and you will also save on waste, as you can fill your own fabric bags, or the paper bags provided, with as much or as little as you need. It will also save you money as bulk ingredients tend to be cheaper than pre-packaged options. The selection is limited, meaning you wont be able to buy bulk chocolate bars or unpackaged ready meals, but the whole point is to start buying more considered foods that are actually good for you, and the planet. I’m not saying you should never enjoy processed or packaged foods, but shopping in bulk will actually mean you get back to basics in the kitchen and you will start to understand food more and more, and how whole and nourishing it can be.
My favourite things to buy in bulk are grains, nuts, seeds, powders (such as cacao, maca), oil and flours, to name a few.
Now, I’m not going to the exact math here, as I don’t know what your personal lifestyle is exactly like, but take a moment to take on board some of the facts and figures in this post that are most relevant to you, and think about the money you might be able to save in the long run if you start investing now in affordable, one-off reusable products like the ones in this post. I’m not saying you need to make all these changes ASAP, but it’s just something to think about.