Going Green Without Spending Green


A few weeks ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a video that caught my attention. It had that catchy hook of a title that drew me in: You Can Live Without Producing Trash.

Yeah right, I thought.

So I clicked the video, watched it in its entirety (with sound!) and did some more research. The woman behind this zero waste movement is Lauren Singer, a young environmental activist living in New York City. She majored in Environmental Studies in college and started her own zero waste blog shortly after graduating.

The video delved into how Lauren manages going trash-free in her daily life. From grocery shopping to gift giving, it covered a lot in only a few minutes. Perhaps the most interesting part was her collection of trash that couldn’t be composted, recycled or reused—4+ years worth in a single 16 oz. mason jar.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually pretty passionate about lessening waste and helping the environment. When I was in college, I went on two spring breaks to help create sustainable food resources in Philadelphia. I try my best to reduce food waste on a regular basis by making appropriate portions and eating leftovers.

But going completely waste free? I was skeptical. I began to think about how accessible Lauren’s lifestyle is, especially for people in the lower and middle classes.

One of the tips that Lauren talked about in her video was buying in bulk. That’s something that I’ve always heard will save you money, kind of like bundling your internet and cable services. When Lauren talked about buying in bulk in the video I had watched, it wasn’t what I had pictured (or what most people would either).

A few of the things she mentioned were buying olive oil and beer—things I personally use almost every day of my life. Here’s the catch: she brings a mason jar to the farmer’s market to fill up with olive oil and goes to local distilleries to get beer in those huge, reusable growlers.

That sort of method may be fine and great for someone who has the time to stroll through the outdoor market on a Sunday morning or buy growlers of beer every time they want a drink, but I don’t think those are easy (or inexpensive) options for those people who make less money.

But maybe those aren’t the best examples of what I’m trying to demonstrate. Sure, you can buy beer and olive oil like you regularly do and just recycle the containers. Simple. But reducing plastic waste in all of the food you buy seems very expensive. Getting all of your produce from farmers markets can be pricey—and what if you don’t live near one or have to get something for dinner at 6 o’clock at night?

Life isn’t easy to plan around trips to the market with reusable shopping bags and a collection of mason jars.

Something I learned about during my alternative break to Philadelphia was the existence of food deserts, which are basically areas of the country devoid of fresh, healthy (and affordable) fruits and vegetables.

Not surprisingly, food deserts are more prevalent in poorer neighborhoods, oftentimes in cities. If people can’t even get to a big chain supermarket easily, how can they expect to shop at farmers markets or frequent craft beer distilleries?

If we want to make the world a healthier place to live for ourselves and our families, we need to make sustainability something that can span all classes.

There are a lot of small—but powerful—actions you can take to lead a more thoughtful and sustainable lifestyle. You don’t need to be rich or live near a farmers market either!

Invest in 2 or 3 Reusable Grocery Bags

I live in the city and my only mode of transportation (that I own) is my bicycle. So I end up walking virtually everywhere to get where I need to go, including the grocery store. Luckily, I only cook for myself (and occasionally my boyfriend), so I usually don’t have much to carry. But having one really nice and sturdy reusable grocery bag has saved me a lot of trouble—and waste for that matter.

They can fit more than the plastic ones you get at the store, they won’t rip on you and they often come in some pretty cool patterns, if you’re into that sort of thing. What’s not to love about this small and simple change?

Find Creative Ways to Recycle

Something I like to do is find a second use for something you might otherwise just throw away. An easy example of this is large yogurt containers. I wash and reuse those as tupperware—perfect for soups and stews!

If you have children in your house, another use for those containers is to use the lids as little painting palettes for your budding artist. A quick search on Pinterest can provide you with tons of ideas on recycling.  

Freeze Your Leftovers!

One of the things that’s hardest about cooking for one is the measurements. A lot of recipes call for 4-6 servings. Sometimes I can cut them in half but I’ll still have way too many leftovers. Rather than throw them out—which wastes not only the food but money as well—I look up whether or not they can stay in the freezer. Some foods are perfect for freezing, like soups and rice. It’s a simple trick that will save you time and money, and it will take almost zero effort!

I don’t think that helping the environment is something that only privileged people can do. It can benefit those in lower classes by saving money on things that are more important than plastic grocery bags.

While I can’t promise that my little tips will help consolidate all of your waste into a mason jar, I know that sustainability is a process that everyone can partake in. We receive back what we put into the world, so I hope we can all make small changes to make it a better place for ourselves and our loved ones.

What are your ideas on living sustainably on a budget? I’d love to start a conversation!


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How do you stay sustainable on a budget?

Rachel wants to know what tips you have for being green without spending green. We would love to hear from you and share with others your stories in the “Leave a Reply” section below.