Living Green on a Budget
By Kristen Bounds
It’s no secret that the planet needs and deserves our immediate attention (“climate emergency” was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2019), but it’s easy to feel helpless with the abundance of depressing information about the environment we receive every day.
Many people respond by trying to adopt more sustainable habits in their everyday life; it’s a way to make a small contribution that might add up to real change if others do the same. However, living green can be costly. As the Seastainable Blog found out, eco products often cost many times more than regular ones.
When I first hopped on the eco-friendly lifestyle train, I was an eager beaver. I went out and bought everything I saw that had the words eco or natural slapped onto it. But as a third-year university student, I didn’t always have the budget to support my best intentions. When my bank account started screaming, I was forced to learn the true meaning of the word sustainability, and more importantly, a word I had never really paid much attention to: Budgeting.
Could I still hold my core sustainability morals close and keep my bank account happy at the same time? Doing so turned out to require a little research, elbow grease, and another thing students lack: Time. As Jade Vandergrift, a fourth-year student at Vancouver Island University, says, “It’s so much easier to buy a loaf of bread in a plastic bag than it is to make it. Or buy lunches to-go rather than packing enough food for a day in containers. Or drive places rather than bike or walk.”
So, I started to set small goals for myself to ease the transition. If I forgot my reusable mug for the day, I’d go caffeine-less. I learned my lesson pretty quick! But a mug-to-go is a good first step. If you don’t already have one at home, you can find shelves of them for under $5 at the thrift store (versus spending $2.50 for a single-use plastic bottle). I also save money at cafes, as most offer a discount to those who bring their own mug.
As I started my journey, I discovered that gathering the items needed to lead an eco-conscious but financially sane life may mean trips to stores scattered around the city. Depending on your situation, getting to them could mean extra hours out of your day— extra hours that many people, such as students and single parents, don’t have. In fact, on one Saturday morning, I spent four hours making the necessary stops at the farmer’s market, Bulk Barn, bakery, supermarket, and natural whole foods store.
As the zero waste movement grows, however, more and more one-stop shops that supply eco-friendly alternatives are popping up in real-life and online. Natasha van Halderen, founder of Green Bohème, an online eco store, started her Nanaimo-based business in 2018 after realizing how difficult it was to find alternative products in one convenient location.
“I had been making small changes for years, and as I was doing that, I was also educating myself about the impact plastics have had on the natural world, and how our purchases enable this devastation to continue,” van Halderen says. “I began to define what I wanted from the brands I would support.”
Part of Green Bohème’s mandate is to supply items like shampoo and toothpaste that have responsible packaging and non-toxic ingredients, and are the product of fair work practices and cruelty-free testing.
While it’s true that, as Seastainable discovered, buying from companies who maintain eco-friendly standards can be more expensive, a lot of such products are also made to last.
Sure, safety razors can seem expensive at first, but spending $50 dollars on an item you’ll have forever over $10 dollars on a pack of disposable ones saves both your bank account and the planet.
I find that investing in quality, reusable products or buying second-hand, saves me from spending money continuously on cheap items, and means I can spend more on organic produce, or items in glass rather than plastic.
For example, menstrual cups cost an average of $39. A study done by Chatelaine revealed that anyone who menstruates spends an average of $65.82 per year before tax on disposable tampons and pads. So after a year’s worth of periods, that cup has been paid off, and buying another one won’t be necessary for a couple more decades.
Says Vandergrift, “Buying quality items doesn’t feel like a money saver initially, but once you realize one nice rain jacket outlives five cheap ones, that’s huge, too. Especially on the Island!”
One of the most difficult things to navigate is food. It’s almost impossible to avoid plastic-wrapped food items and imported produce. Vandergrift, who has her Professional Cook 1 certificate, grocery shops twice a week to avoid food waste, and loves shopping at Bulk Barn. “It’s cheaper, and so much easier because you can bring your own container.” Bulk Barn also offers 10 percent off for students and seniors on Wednesdays.
There are some great DIY recipes too, from cleaning products to a natural deodorant to dry shampoo, such as the ones from Simply Sustainable Blog. Start by looking around the room you’re in. Do you see anything that could be replaced with a reusable or homemade version?
A number of groups on Facebook and other social media provide access to the zero waste community and a wealth of information and tips for beginners. One woman on the Zero Waste Nanaimo Facebook group has even made a map of low-waste shops around the mid-Island region, with stores at other locations around the Island added weekly.
Green Bohème’s Van Halderen says that a big part of adopting a sustainability mindset is questioning whether we really need something, or whether it’s just something we want. This is where the money-saving mindset comes in handy, too.
“It’s easy to justify ‘green’ purchases,” she says. “But if it’s something we don’t need or won’t use, we are contributing to the rampant consumerism that created the need for these changes in the first place.”
Mine has been a roller coaster journey, that required discipline and logic, but simply asking myself, “Do I really need this?” has changed my relationship with spending. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to avoid buying anything new, unless I needed it and couldn’t find it second-hand. I’ve had a couple slip-ups, like buying a new pair of sneakers simply because they were ethically made, but overall it has saved me hundreds of dollars.
One thing I’ve noticed, and Van Halderen and Vandergrift can attest to, is that these small changes take time. Trying to take it on all at once, as I did, can be overwhelming and make it easy to give up. “I think it starts with self control and grows into habit,” says Vandergrift.
Van Halderen adds, “It’s also important to remember you don’t have to change everything over night. My experience has been that these changes naturally snowball, and it can be a fun challenge, rather than a stressful, time-consuming endeavour.”
So take on the challenge. It doesn’t have to break your budget, and you just might be helping to repair the world.
DIY recipes from Simply Sustainable Blog
- 1 spray bottle (you can reuse any old spray bottle from past cleaners, you can find them at thrift stores, online at Green Bohème, or from Amazon)
- 2 cups of distilled water (boiled and cooled down again)
- 3 tablespoons of castille soap (or you can substitute for dish soap)
- 15 drops of essential oil (like tea tree, lemon, orange, peppermint—whatever your personal preference is)
- 1/4 tablespoon of glycerin to thicken (optional)
- Mix all ingredients together and pour into a spray bottle using a funnel
And that’s it. Happy cleaning!
- A reusable sealed container
- Reusable face pads
- 1/2 cup of distilled water (boiled and cooled down again)
- 1 tbsp Witch Hazel
- 2 tbsp Coconut Oil, Sweet Almond Oil or BioOil
- 1 tbsp Baby Shampoo or Castile Soap
- 20 – 30 drops of your chosen Essential Oils. I used, 5 drops of Tee Tree, 10 drops of Lavender and 15 drops of Grapefruit
- Melt the coconut oil in a jug if using.
- Pour all of the ingredients in with the oil and whisk to combine.
- Place your face pads into your reusable container and pour the mixture over the top.
- Seal your container and tip it upside down to ensure all of your pads are covered in the solution.
- Leave for 5 minuets to make sure all the pads are saturated.
- Now you can either tip out the excess water to have moist wipes or leave the water in and just squeeze the excess off each time you use them.
- They are now ready to use! The mixture will last up to 1 month.
And here’s the store locator to find out where your nearest Bulk Barn is.
Top image from Green Bohème.