Reuse, Recycle or Do Without. It’s an old saying, and it’s the crossover point between saving money and saving the environment. With the three topics, we can take examples of each, and evaluate the overlap of where saving the planet can also save us money:
Before we buy new and part with any money, we should always try to reuse an item we already own, or that we can get from our community. Whether we reuse an item from our family, a friend, neighbor, or someone in a local Buy Nothing Network, it’s all part of extracting more value from an item and extending its life. As a child, I wore hand-me-down from my sister. Now that I have children of my own, I involve a larger network of neighbors and friends in the community for hand-me-downs. I volunteer with a local thrift organization, and the volume of donations that we see on a daily basis is massive. There are too many used items to sell in the limited square footage currently available in this single organization, and so many of these donated items look close to new. Whether we reuse items from our network, or reuse our own items before buying a replacement, we should pause before buying new, and evaluate whether we can fill the need in a re-used manner. If we ask this question everyday, we can reduce so many thoughtless costs. Every throwaway item has a cost, every single-use plastic bag, plastic straw or paper cup has a cost to the environment and to our wallets, whether as a direct cost in our purchase, or as overhead in the places we shop. All of it is reflected in higher prices. The cleanup costs to society are even larger, as these items litter our public spaces, cause greater energy consumption and pollution and remain in the environment after their single use is long gone. Always choose to reuse, avoid single-use items, and question every purchase. Your wallet will thank you, along with a cleaner community.
Sometimes we will reach the end of the useful life of an item, and we cannot continue using it in its current form, or for its intended use. Does that mean it’s trash? Never! Even dirt has value in the garden. Some items can be recycled in the home and repurposed to a different use. Many paper items can be composted in that garden, just as many food scraps can be fed to chickens or composted, and added back into the garden. Stained t-shirts or old towels can be recycled into cleaning rags, just as old wool coats or sweaters can be cut down into hats or scarves. We’ve forgotten many of the older ways of valuing our limited resources, such as the Depression Era repurposing of flour sacks into clothes and using magazines for paper dolls and similar toys. In this era of fast fashion and constantly changing styles, it’s feels almost meditative to buy only quality fabric products from thrift stores for a few dollars, and then later repurposing that quality wool, cashmere, linen or cotton into hats or scarves, doll clothes or cleaning rags when the original item has fully completed its first useful life. In this way, we can have a long reuse of an item, and then follow with a caring and artistic recycling of that original item into something else useful. This will keep money in your wallet, while still having all the items you need.
3. Do Without
This third strategy is also sometimes referred to as ‘Reduce’. This is the most aggressive of the three strategies, and the most underrated in our high consumption society. The minimalism movement has brought back some of the questioning of how much is really needed to live our daily lives, and we can always build on this movement. How many items do we need in our daily lives – how many shirts, coffees, shoes, etc. does a single person, or single family, need? The best way to save money is to not buy something in the first place, and the best way to conserve resources is to not use them at all. A Prius will use less gas per mile than an SUV, but walking or biking instead will use no gas at all. It is the most extreme, but also the most thorough and money/resource saving option.
Whichever combination of options you use, consider the impact on both your personal finances, as well as your community. There are very noble reasons to go green and consider your impact on the earth, as well as very personal reasons to work towards financial independence. You can work towards both at once — it just takes some discipline to question what you really need.