Wanting to do a little more for the environment and looking for ways to live a “greener” life? I’m the first person in line to tell you how awesome that is. Every little bit can help! But before you jump right in, I’m also the curmudgeon that’s here to say that not all good eco-intentions are created equally. Making environmentally friendly changes is incredibly important but it’s also essential that you know the real impact of your eco-friendly choices!
Let’s start with the good stuff: for the most part “going green” is beneficial for your wallet and the environment! The more you’re able to reuse and recycle items, the less you’ll pay over the long-term. But here’s the downside… when the appeal of a green item has you upgrading and buying more instead of reusing and limiting your spending, the overall saving may be lost. Taking measures to protect the environment is critical but not all steps have equal impact. Some eco-choices can cost us – in more than one way.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that your green behavior might be doing your wallet (and the environment) less good than you think:
Legislation to charge for plastic bags or ban them entirely (shout out to San Francisco!) is cropping up all over the country. This is a big win for spreading awareness but the available alternatives – stylish reusable shopping bag – aren’t always as green as they’re made out to be. Many of these reusable bags are made of thicker material or plastic and/or imported from outside the country. What does this mean for green? To have a true return on value most reusable bags have to be used consistently (some, up to 131 times) and then recycled at the end of their life.
Unfortunately, the recycle rate for these bags currently holds at 5%. The gas and energy taken to get those outsourced bags to your grocery store shouldn’t be discounted.
On top of that, the low cost of a reusable bag (most come in around a dollar) makes it easy to collect dozens of these bags instead of sticking to one or two and using them over and over.
The best bet? First, reuse bags that you already have stored in your house before buying a new reusable bag. That includes any packaging (like bread bags or produce bags) that you can make use of as well as any grocery bags you’ve collected under the sink. Then, once you do opt for a reusable bag go for cotton or fibrous bags. Though they’re usually the most expensive they’re also the most durable and washable. Plus, they’re biodegradable!
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A Brand New Hybrid Car
Hybrid cars have made a name for themselves as the vehicle of the eco-conscious. Their rep comes for good reason! They drastically reduce the amount of gas (and consequently money spent on gas) used to power a trip. Opting to buy a hybrid may feel like you’re cutting costs and environmental impact but the truth of the matter is, the time it takes to see “return” on the environmental resources used to construct and ship the car takes years. The energy and materials it takes to make car parts, assemble them and, in many cases, ship the car to your region are quite high. If you own and drive a car that has relatively decent mileage, sticking with with your current car rather than buying a brand new car can be the more sustainable option.
So what about the fuel costs? Being conscious of just how much each trip costs you in gas money. Even the trip to the grocery store can represent several dollars. The best ways to save on gas is to choose alternative forms of transportation when possible. That includes public transportation and biking to nearby locations. Setting up a carpool can also ease the edge of gas costs. Sure, it’s a commitment, but if you can even cut out one trip a week in lieu of biking or walking you’ll see immediate returns.
The Early Adopter Attitude
When basic living needs are met there’s a tendency to start setting a new standard for our “needs.” With this continual “raising of the bar,” we may become more inclined towards a spendier lifestyle regardless of whether we actually need more. And despite it’s reputation, lifestyle inflation isn’t contained to lavish and extravagant gadgets or fashion. You could be a nature conscious individual and still feel tempted to try out the newest eco-trend even if you don’t necessarily need it.
If you purchase the newest and greenest appliance as it’s released each year, a very important part of the “green” equation is being left out: reduce, reuse, recycle. Green appliances are the ultimate ideal but purchasing them should be based on long-term needs rather than the desire to try out the latest gadget. Before buying a brand new washing machine, reconsider your current washer. Ask yourself, is it still effective? Is it still relatively energy efficient? Depending on your answers, go from there.
When It Does Make Sense To Go Green
- Switch light bulbs to low energy or LED. Even better, limit the use of electric energy by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms and taking advantage of natural light as long as you can during the day.
- Seal windows to prevent drafts or heat leaks. Heating costs can be the biggest factor when it comes to your electric bill. By sealing drafts, you can ensure that you aren’t losing heat to the outside elements.
- Set timers for your electronics and unplug electronics that aren’t in use. Plugging your appliances into a power strip makes it easy to turn them all off at once. Track your energy bill as you make any energy saving changes so you can see the impact of your adjustments!
- Monitor the temperature and adjust your thermostat. Setting timers on your heat and turning the temperature a few degrees lower can help you to save money on electricity and prevent wasted energy.
- Do full loads of laundry and dishes. Wait to run these appliances until you have a full load in order to take advantage of laundry and dish capacity
- Make your own cleaning products. Not only will making your own cleaning products save you tons of money you’re in control of the ingredients and eliminate harmful toxins. You’d be amazed at what you can clean with vinegar and baking soda. Click here for great list of “recipes.”
Bottom line: any switches you make to reduce waste are incredibly important. Just make sure to put in your research as you begin your “greening” adventures! Understand what impact your actions (however well-intentioned) have on the environment and take care that your choices are resulting in positive change!
Do you have any energy saving, money saving tricks?
Image Credit: James Wang