Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: 11 Earth-Friendly Ways to Save Money
We all know the slogan: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
But what you might not realize is that the three R’s can help you save money — and in some cases, even earn a little extra cash.
In addition, reducing your consumption, reusing items that might have outlived their original purposes and recycling what’s left will help keep unnecessary waste out of our landfills. Sounds like a win-win situation, doesn’t it?
To help celebrate Earth Day, here are some ways to save money and save the planet while you’re at it.
The easiest way to save money while minimizing your impact on the planet is to reduce what you buy. By buying less stuff, you’ll spend less money and use fewer resources.
It takes practice and can require tough decisions, but the savings can be well worth it.
Try these strategies to reduce your purchases:
1. Buy Only the Food You Need and Use What You Buy
Americans waste 40% of the food they buy, according to Harvestright.com. That’s nearly $200 a month for a family of four!
And wasting food doesn’t just waste your money. It also wastes all the energy and water used to produce that food.
Reducing your food waste isn’t too difficult, with a few simple strategies.
Make a list before you head to the grocery store, and stick to it.
Use your warehouse club memberships wisely.
Only buy in bulk when you know you’ll use all of an item — especially when it comes to perishable foods.
Learn how to properly store food to make it last longer, and get creative with your leftovers. You’ll use more of your food and toss less of it, saving you money and reducing waste.
2. Before You Buy It, Make Sure You Need It
When you see something in the store that you just have to have, take a moment to decide if you really need it.
Before you buy anything, ask yourself three questions:
Do I really need it?
Needs and wants are very different.
If you find yourself coming up with far-fetched reasons to make the purchase or you can’t think of a specific use for the item, it’s probably not something you truly need and you can leave it on the rack.
If you decide it is something you need, ask yourself…
Do I have room for it?
Before you put the item in your cart, decide where exactly you will place or store it, or else leave it in the store.
If you know where you’ll keep it, ask yourself…
Will I use it or wear it?
Plenty of things we buy with the best of intentions end up sitting on a shelf or cluttering a drawer because we don’t ever use them.
Make sure any item you bring home has a specific use and fills a need for you.
3. Choose Items With Less Packaging
Product packaging makes up more than 30% of the waste stream in the developed world, according to the EPA.
To address this issue, companies like Unilever and Nestle have committed to reduce the packaging of their products. If you shop smart, you can help to reduce packaging waste, too.
Buy things like cereal and nuts in bulk to cut down on cardboard, plastic and glass consumption.
And when you’re buying products you can’t find in bulk packages, look for ones with minimal or recyclable packaging.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a bunch of stuff hanging around that you’re no longer using because it’s worn out, broken or has lost its luster.
You don’t want to send it all to the landfill, but you have no idea what else to do with it, so it just keeps cluttering up your house or garage.
Here are some ways to upcycle common items I’ve found accumulating around my family’s house.
For even more ideas, check out some of the recommendations from these DIY blogs.
4. Repurpose Old Furniture and Appliances
Furniture can last a long time, but if it’s damaged or has outlived its original purpose, you don’t have to get rid of it. There’s still plenty of life in it if you’re willing to get creative and do a little manual labor.
Turn an old coffee table into a storage ottoman or use an end table to make one of these fun LEGO tables for the playroom.
Mounting your TV on the wall but don’t know what to do with that bulky old entertainment center? Make a play kitchen for the kids or turn it into a console.
If you’re renovating, repurposing projects can help you save your budget and create a unique living space. An old dresser can become a centerpiece in your bathroom. Reclaimed shutters make a lovely cottage-style headboard.
Don’t know what to do with your old appliances? Refabdiaries.com has several makeover and upcycle ideas to get you thinking outside the refrigerator… er, box.
5. Give Old Clothes a New Life
If you don’t wear certain items in their current state, a little refashioning can help bring them back into your wardrobe rotation.
If your T-shirt collection is getting a little out hand or your favorites are starting to look a little worse for the wear, you don’t need to donate them or throw them away.
Get creative and you could have some new skirts, a reusable grocery tote, or a nice warm quilt.
Need more ideas? Here are 39 additional ways to upcycle your T-shirts, including several no-sew options for those of us who are sewing-challenged.
Sweaters with holes or stains or too many nubbies for your taste can be reused, too. Craftsy.com has some projects for them, including totes, fingerless gloves and slippers.
If those craft ideas don’t suit you, put your empty glass jars to use and make sweater vases (a double upcycle!).
You could even start your own business, like Charlotte Reid Besaw, who makes and sells cozy mittens made from thrift-store sweaters.
6. Put Cardboard Tubes to Work
These pesky little tubes from toilet paper and paper towel seem to multiply around our house. We’re constantly collecting and recycling them, so I wondered what else we could do with them to give them a little more life before heading to the recycling bin.
With a little research, I found dozens of ways to put them to work around our house.
Store extension cords and other cables that tend to get tangled and take over the junk drawer.
If you have a fireplace or backyard pit, create kindling logs to get your fires going quickly. Gardeners can start seedlings in them.
Need to entertain the kiddos? Today’s Parent has some great craft ideas.
You can also spend a rainy afternoon making a birdfeeder, have a performance with cute owl finger puppets or create a masterpiece.
7. Revive Glass Jars and Bottles
A lot of the food and drinks we buy come in glass jars and bottles.
I’ve been hoarding pasta sauce jars for years with the intention of eventually reusing them around our home. And I always feel bad tossing wine bottles because I know they’d make lovely chandeliers.
If you’re looking for creative ways to reuse glass containers, there is plenty of inspiration out there.
Love displaying fresh flowers around the house? Make some wine bottle or hanging window vases.
Wine bottles also make lovely lights or lamps. Or if you prefer candles to light your room, these glass jar votive holders will come in handy.
Instead of buying new decorative items for your kitchen or bathroom, use some empty glass jars to make soap dispensers, candy jars or flour and sugar containers.
Don’t have time to get crafty? Sell your wine bottles to other crafters or winemakers.
8. Do More Than Read Those Books
If you’re like me and have bins and shelves full of books that you’re probably never going to read (or read again), why not let someone else reuse them?
Sell them on Amazon or at your local used bookstore and make a little cash. If you’d rather get a tax deduction, donate books to a literacy organization, local school or library.
If your book aren’t worth much or if you’re not interested in selling them, use them to cover your Kindle, make wall shelves, a purse or a phone docking station.
Want more ideas? Here are 10 more ways to repurpose your book collection.
Besides tossing recyclable items into your recycling bin, there are several other ways you can recycle stuff around your house you can’t use or reuse.
9. Get Paid for Your Metal
If you have a collection of aluminum cans, copper tubing from a household renovation or any other metal objects, you could cash in by taking them to a recycling center or scrap metal dealer.
10. Do Good with Your Shoes
I have a closet full of worn-out but still somewhat wearable athletic shoes. I didn’t want to throw them away, but I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with them.
It turns out Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program will grind up old athletic shoes and use them to create new surfaces for playgrounds, athletic fields and sports courts.
Your gently-used but rarely worn dress shoes, pumps and heels won’t make a good running track, but you can donate them to organizations like Soles4Souls or the Cinderella Project to give your shoes some extra miles and help those who are less fortunate.
11. Sell Stuff to Someone Who Will Use It
Anything you have that’s gently used and gathering dust could make you money and get a new life in another home.
This is a double-whammy: You’re recycling an item you don’t use to someone else, who is reducing his consumption by buying used instead of new!
Sell clothes, toys and childrens’ items, small appliances, furniture and more on Craigslist or local garage sale groups.
Your Turn: Have you tried any other strategies to save money while living a little bit greener? Share your tips in the comments!
Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at Writing Her Life or on Twitter at @writingherlife.