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The Earth may be on Team Save Me, but sustainable, eco-friendly products are on Team Spend Me. Why does saving the planet have to be so hard on our budgets?
It doesn’t have to be. Eco-friendly and sustainable products can be expensive up front, but you’ll save $1200 a year if you don’t have to keep buying typical household items week after week. These are permanent, reusable options (and therefore cheaper). And if you simply can’t afford to make the jump, put this information in your back pocket, or aim to make one of these changes every month.
Not sure what the difference is between eco-friendly, sustainable, and green? I’ll explain more about that at the end of the article too.
So, read on for specific product ideas along with a pep talk if you literally can’t afford to save the planet right now.
1. Use eco-friendly cloth face masks and save $279 a year.
I get that disposable masks are very convenient. But when you think of how mask use has increased globally in 2020 because of the pandemic, your heart has to go out to landfills.
Disposable surgical face masks: $9.96 ($0.20 each)
Reusable cloth face masks: $8.99 ($3 each)
Conclusion: If you’re a family of four using just one disposable face mask each per day, you’re paying $1.40 per week per person in your family (around $5.60 per week for a family of four, or $291.20 per year). It’ll take about two weeks at this rate to cover the cost of cloth masks for the whole family ($12). And then you’re done paying for them.
2. Switch to reusable menstrual cups and save about $57 a year.
You’ll probably want to do some menstrual cup research to decide which is best for you — it’s a whole thing to find the right fit. Many women find the cup to not only be cheaper and more earth-friendly but a better experience overall. Consider taking the next step toward going tampon-less!
Tampax tampons, 36-count: $6.97 ($0.19 each)
Saalt reusable cup: $28.99 (good for ten years’ use!)
Conclusion: How long does a box of Tampax last you? A menstrual regular flow will use about 20 tampons a month (so figure about $5 a month, or $60 a year). Compare that to the fact that you can get a menstrual cup that’ll last for 10 years (120 months) for about the cost of six months’ worth of tampons.
3. Reach for stainless steel instead of plastic straws and save at least $28 a year.
Plastic straws are finally getting the shakedown they deserve for all the damage they cause in our oceans and with our sea life. Companies like Starbucks and states like California have made moves to ban or limit the use of plastic disposable straws. Stainless steel straws last for years of use, and when you’re done with one, recycle it!
Farberware plastic straws: $0.02 each
StrawExpert stainless steel straws: $0.49 each
Conclusion: If a family of four currently uses one straw per day per person, ($2.40 per month) you’ll recover the cost of four stainless steel straws within one month. You stand to save a chunk of cash (and actual sea turtles) by going stainless.
4. Switch to an eco-friendly safety razor and save about $190 a year.
Eco-friendly safety razors are going to feel like a big purchase up front. But over the long haul, if you’re changing your blades after 6 – 10 uses, as generally recommended for all razors, you’ll save money. Leaf razors include no plastic at all, making the handle and the blades both recyclable. Plus, you can use Klarna to pay in installments if you like. Here’s a comparison of costs assuming you can use a Gillette coupon to buy the disposable razor at Walgreens.
Use one $5 off one Gillette Razor
Final Price: $5.99
Use one $6 off one Gillette Razor Refill
Final Price: $13.99 ($3.50 per refill)
Leaf razor: $59 for razor handle and five extra blade replacements; 50 refills cost $12 extra or $0.24 each.
Conclusion: In order to compare apples to apples, you need to figure out the price per shave. More blades don’t equal more shaves, as most razors will offer about six shaves before you need to change the blades. A man who shaves every day would need about five blade or cartridge changes per month, for example.
Using coupons on Gillette like in the example, you’ll get a handle and five blade changes for $30.98. Leaf will cost you $59 for the handle and a one-month supply. But the next month, you’ll spend $21 on Gillette cartridge refills and only $12 on Leaf refills. By the third month, you’ll still be spending $21 on Gillette cartridges, but nothing on Leaf refills for eight months. So for one year you’ll spend $261.95 on Gillette and $71 on Leaf. This means you’ll recover your Leaf costs during the course of about two-and-a-half months of Gillette razors.
5. Re-use Wool Dryer Balls instead of dryer sheets and fabric softener and save $41 a year.
This one is a triple crown of benefits to you. You’ll get to stop buying dryer sheets, stop buying fabric softener, and reduce your energy bill. Wool Dryer Balls reduce static cling and wrinkles, and since they reduce drying time by 25%, you’ll see your energy bill go down (plus, reduce the strain of energy use on the environment).
Wool Dryer Balls: $9.99 one-time purchase
Conclusion: Wool Dryer Balls are reusable indefinitely, so after 94 loads (11 weeks for the average family that does 8 loads a week) you’ll recover the cost of what you’d be spending on sheets and softener. But you’ll be done buying. And this doesn’t even consider the cost savings on your energy bill.
6. Embrace hybrid cloth diapers instead of disposables and save about $362 a year.
Look, poop is gross. I don’t care if it’s on cloth or on plastic. Still gross. I’m not here to convince you that cloth diapers aren’t disgusting. They kind of are. However, you’re not hand-washing them and most have an insert and a shell — both washable. Some grow with your baby, so you really don’t need to replace them unless you want to.
Considering diapers take 500 years to decompose in a landfill, and they are freaking expensive, cloth is worth a try. Even if you need to use disposables sometimes too, you’re still doing good. Think of it like this: every time you don’t use a disposable, a dollar bill gets its wings. Here’s how the cloth cost savings stack up against a discount on Huggies from Amazon:
20% off with Subscribe & Save when you order five or more products
Get $4 off when you place your first Subscribe & Save order
Final Price: $33.11 ($0.24 per diaper)
Alvababy One Size Cloth Diapers: $34.99 ($5.83 each)
Conclusion: The Huggies pack listed is a month’s supply of diapers. So, you’re covering your cost within one month when you switch to cloth. If you need to buy two packs of cloth so you have twelve diapers instead of six, you’d recover the cost in two months.
7. Splurge on reusable makeup remover pads and save about $10 a year.
Cotton makeup pads don’t seem like a big expense, and they’re not really. But one simple tweak and you’ve put yourself on track to save a pinch of money and a whole lot of real estate in the trash can.
Cotton Makeup Remover Pads, 300 ct: $7.99 ($0.03 each)
Odoxia Reusable Makeup Remover Pads-15 ct: $7.99 ($0.53 each)
Conclusion: After 300 uses of your reusable makeup remover pads, you will have covered the cost of the cotton. Think of it this way: if you use two every day, you will have recovered your cost in less than six months. Plus, the reusable ones should last you about three years.
8. Use refillable water bottles instead of plastic bottled water and save $35 a year.
While this feels like it’s been around awhile, it’s something so many people still don’t do. Really, any reusable water bottle is better than a flat of plastic water bottles. And of course, eventually you’ll save money if you splurge on a fancy one too.
Great Value 120 count 16.9 fluid ounce bottled waters: $3.98 ($0.10 each)
Contigo 32-ounce water bottle: $12.10
Conclusion: You’ll get 120 plastic bottles of water from Walmart for the cost of one durable and reusable water bottle. But, you can store twice the water in one 32-ounce reusable water bottle. So, if you drank the standard 74 – 100 ounces a day, you’d go through those plastic water bottles in about a month. Making the switch to a reusable bottle will take only three months to break even.
9. Use Bee’s Wrap instead of plastic sandwich bags and save about $82 a year.
Bee’s wrap is washable and you can use it to wrap food for lunches and to cover dishes to store in the fridge. It composts when you’re ready to replace it! The warmth from your hands makes it moldable and then when it goes back to room temperature, it creates a seal.
Up & Up 150-count sandwich bags: $2.79 ($0.02 each)
Bee’s Wrap: $18 ($3 each)
Conclusion: This is another one of those moves that can be done simply for the love of the landfill, but cost savings depend on how heavy of a plastic bag user you are. A heavy user might go through 15 bags in a day, accounting for multiple child lunches and storing leftover dinner scraps (or about 36 boxes a year). At this rate, it’d still only take about 10 days to get close to covering the cost of Bee’s Wrap.
10. Buy SKOY Cloths instead of paper towels and save about $65 a year.
SKOY Cloths are 100% biodegradable because they’re made from natural cotton and wood pulp. In fact, SKOY Cloths will break down after just five weeks when properly composted. One SKOY Cloth is equivalent to 15 rolls of paper towels and can be tossed into your dishwasher with your dishes when you want to clean it.
Great Value paper towels: $1.40 per roll
SKOY Cloths: $1.87 each
Conclusion: If you use one roll of paper towels per week, you’d spend about $72.80 a year. You’d spend about $7.48 a year on SKOY to do the same job.
11. Ditch plastic K-Cups for reusable K-Cup baskets and save about $60 a year.
K-Cups took our mornings by storm years ago and we all fell in love with the convenience and speed with which we could devour coffee. But then, we felt guilty when we noticed our morning pot of coffee in the form of up to twelve plastic K-Cups filling the trash can.
Enter reusable K-Cups baskets. Yes, you have to put the coffee into them and yes, you have to wash them. But it’s still faster than brewing an entire pot of coffee and no more trash-guilt!
Starbucks K-Cup plastic pods 22-count: $14.96 ($0.68 each)
Starbucks coffee grounds 12-ounce bag: $5.98 ($.49 per ounce and it takes one ounce to fill a reusable basket, so 30 bags a year for one person)
Reusable baskets for Keurig machines 4-pack: $6.99 ($1.74 each)
Conclusion: Blink and you’ll cover the cost of the reusable K-Cup baskets, so you’re really just looking at the cost of coffee compared to the prepackaged, plastic K-Cup pods. It will cost one person about $248.20 for a years’ worth of K-Cups. For coffee and reusable cups, it will cost about $186.39. And you’re saving about $0.20 per cup of coffee there, so you’re covered.
Bonus Tip: The wonderful world of silicone instead of everything
What can’t silicone do? You can use a silicone baking mat instead of parchment paper or aluminum foil, you can buy fancy silicone bags to store food, you can buy silicone muffin liners, lids to replace cling wrap, and silicone can probably even file your taxes.
The snag is that there’s some disagreement as to whether silicone is actually environmentally friendly. Yes, it’s a great option to replace items you normally put in the trash can. But we might find out in coming years that it’s not all that awesome for the planet (and that it actually can’t do your taxes. Lame).
What is the difference between “sustainable” and “eco-friendly?” How about “green”?
Educating yourself about the difference between all of these buzzwords will help you shop smarter and decide whether you want to pay more for any given item.
Now, this is a subject of hot debate that I won’t solve here in this article, but I’m going to take a big swing at it anyway. “Green” is used as a catchall for products that claim to be made with some effort not to harm the planet, but how it’s done and which parts don’t cause harm is usually very vague.
The Webster’s Dictionary definition of eco-friendly is “not environmentally harmful.” These are products that claim not to hurt the environment. I’m also including anything that helps you reduce waste when I use this term. So, not everything listed here is marketed or sold as an “eco-friendly” product, but it’s environmentally friendly to opt for something that’s washable instead of something that goes into the trash, for example. Bear with me.
“Sustainable” is a term that the United Nations has organized commissions for and written extensively about. I’m so not going to do it justice here. But if you think of it like a focus on the total impact of a product not only on our generation, but generations in the future who need the planet too, that’s a good place to start. Products that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits from the moment they’re created from raw material until their disposal are generally considered “sustainable.”