lifestyle student life

Going green on a budget

Written by Harriet Clifford

I don’t know about you, but I get the uncomfortable feeling that ‘going green’ is only achievable if you’re privileged enough to be able to afford it.  Maybe as a middle class, university-educated woman, I tick some of the boxes. But I also have a stomach-churning amount of student debt and am attempting to pave my way in a creative industry on a less-than-ideal starting salary. I want to do my bit as much as the next person, but I just can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds on ethically-sourced, environmentally-friendly clothes, or to do my entire weekly food haul in a zero-waste shop.

Having said this, I’ve done a bit of Googling, and lots of people out there are insisting that buying from zero-waste shops actually costs the same, or sometimes a little less, than shopping in a supermarket. Maybe the real issue is that I don’t have, or make, the time to cycle into town at the weekend with a bag full of Tupperware to fill up on pasta, rice and granola. Whether it’s time or money you’re short of, there are a few things you can do on a daily or weekly basis to reduce waste, save energy and cut carbon emissions.

Get wonky

Eh? No, seriously, get wonky fruit and vegetables. Buying the imperfect, slightly crooked fresh produce for your kitchen will not only help reduce food waste, but will also save you some money along the way. Take, for example, carrots from Morrisons. Buying their normal, straight carrots will cost you 60p per kilogram, while wonky carrots only cost 54p for the same amount. Perfectly round, white potatoes will cost you 60p per kilogram, but slightly misshapen ones will only set you back by 43.6p per kilogram. If you want some onions too, a 1kg bag of Morrisons’ own will cost £1, whereas a bag of wonky onions (red may be included), will cost just 65p per kilogram. Surely the shape of the veg makes absolutely zero difference to you, unless you’re the type to post photos of your weekly food shop on Instagram. So why not let loose, reduce waste, and go wonky?

One in one out

While in an ideal world you’d like to do away with fast fashion altogether, shopping only from ethical, environmentally-conscious brands is sometimes just not possible on a budget. What you can do, however, is operate your own one in one out policy. Do you really need yet another stripy T-shirt, or are you just buying it because the bargain is too good to miss? If you’re going to buy something new, think about what item in your wardrobe you could replace, and take it to a charity shop or clothes bank. This way, you won’t have a hoard of unworn clothes festering away in your room, essentially sitting there as wasted resources. And if you can’t afford any new clothes at all, think about picking up a cheap sewing kit and teaching yourself how to patch up items, give an old pair of jeans a new lease of life, or turn unwanted dresses into something fresh.

Make friends with your colleagues

Obviously, it’s good to do this anyway, but also do it so you can share lifts with them. If it’s unfeasible for you to walk, cycle, or take public transport to work or university, you can at least take one or two fossil-fuel-guzzling vehicles off the road. This may be as simple as opening your mouth and asking Dave who’s been sitting opposite you for two years whether he lives anywhere near you and wants a lift. Or, you could mock up a little poster and stick it in the communal area, asking people to sign up to drive to and from certain neighbourhoods on certain days. You might be surprised and find that Karen from accounts lives two streets away from you in a nice semi-detached.

Pack lunch

It may sound simple, but not buying your lunch out every day would help reduce your use of packaging, as well as save money. You don’t even have to dedicate half your Sunday to Insta-worthy lunch prep, you just have to make a little bit extra for dinner, or quickly roast some veggies in the oven and store them in a container in the fridge to add to some pasta, rice or (if you’re not feeling millennial enough by this point) some quinoa. Even if you’re really short on time, you should be able to throw together something like this each morning or evening. If you make it part of your routine, you won’t even have to think about it. Using up leftover food like this or batch-cooking something simple will undoubtedly cost you less than that £3 meal deal. Your lunch box doesn’t have to be expensive either – mine was a couple of pounds from a supermarket.

Keep a Keep-cup

Get into the habit of carrying a foldable coffee cup in your bag whenever you go out. In 2018, it was calculated that the world uses 16 billion disposable coffee cups each year. These single-use cups are coated with plastic and end up in our oceans, lakes or landfill. Not only do you save money by taking your own cup to most coffee shops, you also do your bit to reduce this frankly terrifying number. On a similar note, the number of single-use plastic water bottles is on the increase. Okay, your bag might be getting a little heavy by now, what with your lunch box and your coffee cup, but adding a reusable water bottle to the load surely won’t make too much of a difference? What it will make a difference to, however, is the amount of plastic polluting our oceans.

Meat-free Monday

Or meat-free every day, if you want to save lots of money and carbon emissions. Cutting down on meat and dairy is the most powerful way you can do your bit for the environment. You don’t necessarily have to go full-on vegan overnight, but just swapping chicken for quorn, cow’s milk for oat milk and consciously making the effort to make your diet more plant-based will really make a difference. It will also improve your bank balance and your overall health, so it’s basically a win win.

Do your research

If you’re serious about doing something about the climate crisis, but have also got rent, a social life, birthday presents and food (amongst other things) to worry about, do your research. Dedicate a little bit of time to work out how much more expensive it is to buy organic, package-free tampons online, or to swap your make-up wipes with reusable pads and liquid remover. Maybe even do an experiment and find a zero-waste shop near where you live and try it out once, making a note of the prices and comparing them with your local supermarket. If it turns out that you can’t afford it, then don’t beat yourself up, but keep going with the money-saving and environmentally-friendly things you can be doing on a daily basis.