When I give talks, one question people frequently ask is whether it costs more money to go plastic-free. My answer: a few things cost more initially, but in general, I save money living this way. In fact, I was thinking about adding a whole section to my plastic-free presentation about ways to save money. But I haven’t done it because I got to thinking… is that actually a good strategy? Or could it backfire? I’ll explain what I mean later in this post. I’d love to get your feedback. But first, yes, there really are ways to save money. Here are just a few…
Plastic-Free Ways to Save Money
A really good quality water bottle made from stainless steel or glass might be a bit pricey, but I save money in the long run because bottled water actually costs more per gallon than gasoline! A 32-pack of Aquafina is $35 today on Amazon, which means I would make back the cost of a Klean Kanteen water bottle in about a month if I drank a bottle a day. I’ve had mine for years.
To save even more money, you could skip buying a new bottle altogether and carry water in a mason jar like No Impact Man did.
Storing food in reusable containers in the refrigerator and freezer means I don’t have to spend money on plastic wrap, Ziploc bags, or plastic containers that are meant to be used a few times and then discarded. Once again, good quality stainless steel and glass containers are an investment up front, but they too can save money in the long run.
Of course, similar to the water bottle situation, I save even more money by reusing the glass food jars I already have: in the cupboards, refrigerator, and even in the freezer. And my favorite way to avoid plastic wrap is storing leftovers in a bowl with a saucer on top.
Instead of spending money on expensive personal care and cleaning products, I now use cheap baking soda and vinegar as much as possible. Yes, the vinegar that comes in a glass bottle tends to be a little more expensive than the plastic gallon jugs of vinegar. But compared to the personal care and cleaning products I no longer use, it’s a lot less costly. Consider these savings…
Baking soda deodorant instead of commercial deodorant in a plastic container.
Baking soda for cleaning dishes, toilet, refrigerator, counters, you name it.
Instead of facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels that are wasteful and come packaged in plastic, I have switched to reusable cloth.
Of course, we use cloth napkins instead of paper.
Reusable Skoy cloths take the place of 15 or more rolls of paper towels. (In fact, we’ve been using the same ones for years, just popping them in the dishwasher or washing machine when they are dirty.) Of course, to save even more money, you can cut up rags from old, worn-out clothes. But I prefer Skoy because they are so absorbent yet dry out very quickly.
Hankybooks are a very clever alternative to facial tissues.
But to save more money, I found several cute vintage hankies at a thrift store in my neighborhood.
And speaking of thrift shops, I buy nearly all my clothes and gadgets (including the computer I’m typing on right now) secondhand to avoid buying new plastic. That saves lots and lots of money!
Or, even better, I learn to fix things when they break instead of replacing them at all.
There are lots of other ways I find to save money and live plastic-free, but this post is long enough, and I think you get the point.
Is Saving Money the Best Reason to Reduce Plastic?
I thought the idea of saving money might encourage people to reduce their waste — plastic in particular. But then I remembered a particular co-worker of mine who liked to throw things away. Even recyclable things like yogurt containers she would toss in the trash instead of the recycle bin because she didn’t feel like washing them out. I asked her why, and she would just blow me off. But finally, one day, she explained. She had grown up dirt poor. Her family had to clean out and reuse everything out of necessity — not because they cared about the environment, but because that was the only way to survive. And now that she was making plenty of money, she enjoyed throwing things away. It felt like a privilege to her… like she had “made it.”
So, I’m wondering… if we encourage people to go green in order to save money, will they simply go back to their wasteful ways once they are out of debt and financially secure again?
Besides, not every plastic-free, waste-free option does save money. For example, sometimes it’s actually cheaper nowadays to replace a broken gadget than to have it repaired. I had this experience last year with my suitcase. I had been dragging around the same wheelie suitcase from city to city since the mid-90’s, and the wheels were worn down to almost nothing. I really was, quite literally, dragging it instead of rolling it. So I took it to a local luggage repair shop to have the wheels replaced. And I almost had a heart attack when I got the bill. Replacing the wheels cost more than a new suitcase would have cost!
Probably, I should have found a cheaper way to replace those wheels. But after the initial sticker shock, I still felt good about my decision because I get to keep my same suitcase for another 20 years. That suitcase has been with me everywhere. I’m so glad I don’t have to send it off to the landfill. Sometimes paying more is worth it.
So, what do you think? Of course I want people to know that there are lots of affordable options for reducing their plastic consumption and that for the most part, they don’t need to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. But should environmentalists focus on ways people can save money by going green? Or should saving money be presented as an occasional bonus?