Local Peace Economy

Here Are 7 Ways to Be Sustainable — Without Breaking the Bank

Sustainable living is for every tax bracket, not just the elite.

Young woman shopping at the local Farmers market.
Photo Credit: Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

When you have everything, it’s really easy to take things for granted. You know, when you can easily afford to buy a new tube of toothpaste, you don’t need to squeeze every last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, and then cut it open to get more of the paste that didn’t squeeze out, just to keep from having to spend money on more toothpaste in that moment.

That might sound like a bit much to some, but the practice is actually resourceful and sustainable: How biodegradable is your toothpaste container? Why waste a few day’s worth of toothpaste just because the tube is designed to encourage waste? Generally, the longer items are used, the less waste is produced.

There are a lot of little things people do like this, when they lack resources, that are actually supportive of a more healthy and sustainable life, while often cultivating community:

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  1. Recycle aluminum cans. Many states have a deposit on them—those that don’t might border a state that does. Save and return them! Michigan’s bottle return is ten cents on each can or bottle—that’s $2.40 coming back to you for a case of beer, and that’s almost enough for a gallon of gas. Some people in Ohio save their bottles and cans for return in neighboring Michigan. Other states, like Massachusetts, have a bottle deposit, and it’s amazing how many people with money and resources don’t bother returning them. If you don’t return, at least set them aside for community members who do.

  1. Clothing swaps, upcycling, and mending. Many people pass on their gently used clothing to friends and neighbors, host clothing swaps, or simply fix a coat that’s lost a button or make a skirt out of an old pair of jeans. The possibilities with clothing are abundant, and the opportunity to have a piece of clothing no one else does should be enticing. If that’s not your style, be sure to clean out your closet regularly and pass your clothing on to a group that can, and will, recycle the fashion. Too many fibers, like lycra, polyester, and spandex, are plastic and aren’t biodegradable, and those plastic microfibers end up polluting our water systems. And, currently, 87% of the clothing we consume in America ends up in a landfill.

  1. Time Trade. Time trade banks are gaining popularity around the world as a means of saving resources and cultivating community. Basically, you might babysit for an hour for one of your neighbors, thereby earning an hour of time you can spend on someone else—say, pulling weeds, mowing your lawn, or fixing your car. It’s a nice way to support your community and is especially helpful for those as they age. An elderly person can, for example, teach someone to read or sew, and they, in turn, might receive a hand with grocery shopping or light housework. While it might not be attractive for those with resources, who tend to hire people to do these things without even thinking about it, it does fill a need everyone seems to have: genuine community contribution and support.

  1. Participate in a community sale. This can be a weekend garage sale with neighbors on your block, the World’s Longest Yard Sale, or even After-I-Do wedding sales.  You might just find what you’re looking for, gently used or like-new, or you might be able to make a little bit of extra money selling your items to someone who needs them more than you. Or, you might just have fun participating in something quirky and unique.

  1. Carry your own reusable shopping bags and water bottles. When you can’t afford a few dollars a day to buy bottled water (or coffee), it’s easy to see the value in carrying your own bottle to refill. But now that there is no part of the earth untouched by plastic—a relatively new thing in the history of the world—it’s past time to start reducing or even eliminating it by also carrying reusable shopping bags and refillable water bottles. It’s a responsibility those who lack resources already do—and it’s an easy thing everybody can do, no matter what economic level, to contribute to a healthier environment.

  1. Wash and reuse plastic sandwich, freezer, and storage bags. These are marketed as one-use items, but if you use them for a short time, it’s easy to wash them out and reuse on something else, even if it’s a non-food item.

  1. Buy local. When you don’t have reliable internet access or a regular street address, it’s hard to buy from Amazon. But buying local, from local small business owners, has all sorts of positive benefits on your health and the health of your community. It’s a choice that’s easy to make, and might even save you shipping or travel expense.

Of course, these are only a handful of ways non-elites choose to live sustainably, that are shareable and easy for every tax bracket to embrace. What are some of your sustainable living practices? Share in the comments below!

Valerie Vande Panne is an Independent Media Institute writing fellow who contributes to Columbia Journalism Review and Reuters news service, among other outlets. She is the former editor-in-chief of Detroit's alt-weekly, the Metro Times, and the former news editor of High Times magazine. She is the founder of Blackbird Literacy, an organization providing books to residents and literacy programs in Detroit. Connect with her on Twitter @asktheduchess.