Everywhere you turn these days, you hear about eco-friendly ways to live, but one thing you may not usually hear is how the "three Rs" not only save the planet, but also help save you money.
The Scenario In almost every situation, the more of a product you buy, the less cost you'll endure per unit because the manufacturer or retailer will give you a bulk price rate. Individual packaging (most likely a form of plastic) is either difficult to recycle or not recyclable. Buying in bulk means less trips to the store or online orders, saving gas money and carbon emissions.
The Significance An experiment conducted by Real Simple magazine in 2003 found that purchasing 15 common items at a warehouse store in bulk as opposed to the supermarket saved $58.74 in Illinois and $109.72 in New York (including a membership fee). The major reason for the price discrepancy was the supermarket prices per state. It's safe to assume that doing a majority of your shopping in bulk would save more than $200 on supplies and an estimated $20 per year on gas, regardless of where you live.
The Solution For goods that have a long shelf-life (i.e. anything that doesn't need refrigeration), opt for a larger quantity and recycle as much of the packaging as possible.
The Scenario Oil-based food stains are the easiest way to make your paper not recyclable. That's why recycling locations for paper towels or paper napkins are unavailable. The average American family uses 1.5 rolls of paper towels each week. Brown paper bags have just as high of an environmental footprint as plastic bags when considering manufacturing and disposal.
The Significance You'll be lucky to find paper towels for less than 75 cents per roll. That means you're paying at least $4.50 a month for disposable towels, so cutting your use to one roll a month would save $45 per year. Paper bags are only about 2 cents per bag, but if you make two lunches every day, that's $14.60 per year thrown into the trash after one use.
Did you know? Several states and stores are already talking about a 5-cent charge for each disposable bag required to carry your purchases. We won't crunch the numbers, since it probably doesn't apply to you yet, but there's another financial argument for reusable packaging.
The Solution Use reusable cloth towels for cleaning the house and your spills, and throw them in the laundry instead of the garbage (the cost to wash towels will be negligible if it's done with the rest of your laundry). Check into lunchboxes or plastic containers to carry your lunch, which will be a one-time investment instead of constantly funding your disposable habit.
The Scenario Rechargeable batteries can be charged hundreds of times without losing the ability to hold a charge, while single-use batteries are "one and done." It's easier to find recycling locations for rechargeable batteries instead of single-use batteries. In energy-draining devices, such as digital cameras, batteries may only hold a charge for a few hours of use.
The Significance The average family buys 32 batteries a year, and you may be able to find them for 50 cents apiece. You could probably get by on four rechargeables for the same purposes at $2.50 per battery, and the charger should be about $10. Tack on an extra $5 for energy costs to charge your batteries (assuming you unplug the charger when not in use). This means switching to rechargeables will actually cost you an extra $9 the first year, but you're looking at potential savings of $11 per year for many years afterward, depending on your battery use.
The Solution Even though you might spend a little more in the beginning, rechargeable batteries are still the way to go when it comes to saving money and reducing waste in the long run. Shop around for deals on rechargeable batteries, so you don't get stuck buying cheaper alkalines at the last minute. Consider an ENERGY STAR-qualified battery charger so you'll use less energy charging batteries.
The Scenario Programmable thermostats don't require mercury to get a reading, unlike many analog thermostats. These thermostats have settings to control your temperature based on time of day and season, lowering your energy bill.
The Significance ENERGY STAR estimates a yearly savings of $180 by installing a programmable thermostat. The unit will probably cost about $60, and you could spend $50 getting it installed, but that translates to a savings of $70 the first year and $180 each year after that.
The Solution Here are two things to consider once you've made the change:
- Properly dispose of your old thermostat if it contains mercury (see the eighth tip below about hazardous products to learn how).
- Check to see if your purchase will count as an energy-efficient home improvement for tax purposes to help justify the initial expense.
The Scenario It takes a gallon of oil to produce one ink cartridge, which we dispose of 13 every seconds on average. The average consumer uses 1.5 pounds of paper every day, meaning you can go through a ream in just a few weeks. Through email and file back up, you can access documents at the drop of a hat without a hard copy.
The Significance Ink cartridge costs will depend on your printer, but let's say it's $60 for both your black and color ink. If you cut ink purchases from once every three months to once a year, that's $180 in your pocket. If you print three pages a day, that's almost three $8 reams of paper used in a year. Print three pages a month and that same ream will last 11 years. That's $16 in just the first year.
The Solution Ask yourself before printing an email, work document or miscellaneous page, whether it can remain on your screen. If you do print, choose only the pages with text you need and print on both sides of the paper. When you're out of ink look into cartridge refilling programs and consider recycled paper for your next printing purchase.
The Scenario Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) may cost more than incandescent bulbs, but they save as much as 80 percent of the energy used by incandescents and last up to 10 times longer. While incandescents are recyclable, finding a recycling location is difficult because there isn't much value in the parts. Several states and retailers offer CFL recycling because they contain mercury. Light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are even more energy-efficient than CFLs and don't contain mercury, however, they cost much more.
The Significance Let's say you want to change 10 light bulbs in your house. Incandescents will run you about 25 cents per bulb, while CFLs will be closer to $2.50 per bulb. However, your $22.50 in savings on bulbs will seem trivial when you consider those 10 CFLs could save $65.70 a year and $360 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.
The Solution CFLs can be plugged into pretty much any light socket in your house (if you are looking for dimmable lights, be sure to make sure you purchase the proper type of CFL). When they eventually do run out, make sure you recycle them to keep the mercury content out of landfills.
The Scenario Cars have one of the largest carbon footprints of all transportation, and lower gas mileage in city traffic will only make this number higher. Public transportation often relies on renewable energy, meaning costs aren't as reliant on the price of gas. Parking is more limited and expensive in the downtown area of any major American city.
The Significance In the most expensive cities in the U.S., you can get a one-way bus, train or ferry trip for less than $5 (and less than $2 once you're in town). Let's say you're driving 40 miles round-trip to visit the nearest major city, the equivalent of at least two gallons of $3 gasoline. Factor in $10 to park your car, any tolls to enter the city, mileage costs and wear and tear on your car, and you're looking at $25 per visit. This means you can save about $10 per visit to a major metropolitan city by using public transportation. If you make one trip per month, that's $120 a year. Imagine the savings if you do one trip per week!
The Solution Public transportation is pretty helpful and thrifty if your city has access to it. Check out these options before you rent a car, plan a night on the town or decide where to move.
The Scenario You have hazardous products (such as household cleaners, paint and pesticides) that you no longer need but shouldn't be thrown away. Communities hold household hazardous waste (HHW) events and programs to properly dispose of these items. These same programs may also have a "swap shop," allowing you to take home products you may need for free or a nominal fee.
The Significance A bucket of paint will run you $25, but probably last the entire year. You could easily spend at least $20 a year on various cleaning supplies. Assume a nominal fee of $5 to acquire these "like-new" products, and you've just saved $40 a year, and reused gallons of hazardous products that won't be recycled otherwise.
The Solution You can find an HHW location or event in your area using Earth911. Consider the swap shop before your next run for household items.
The Grand TotalIn just one year, you could save a minimum of $762.30 with these eco-friendly options. This doesn't even factor in the long-term savings from several of them. Go green and save it.
Have you made any changes that saved the environment and money? Share them in the comments below!