Living sustainably on a budget is a challenge when eco-friendly products are generally more expensive. But sustainable living is more than just about buying green products. It’s also a vision for the future that you can cultivate with simple wallet-friendly habits.
Why are Eco-Friendly Products So Expensive?
There are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, eco-friendly products are more expensive to grow and manufacture. Almost all steps of the production process — from getting organic raw materials to shipping the goods — cost more than their traditional counterparts.
Reputable third-party certifications add to the costs.
Then there are also the simple economies of scale that affect the prices. When the demand for eco-friendly products is low, the price remains high. Once the demand grows, there will be more production. Each unit will then cost less.
Many eco-friendly companies believe in paying their workers a fair wage too. To be able to do that, the items need to cost enough to support the salaries.
Other Barriers to Being Eco-Conscious in Singapore
Even though environmentally-conscious Singaporeans say they’re willing to spend more on green products and services, it’s not always easy to do so on a budget. In fact, research continues to show that people say they want sustainable products, but few actually follow through with their wallets.
Less glamorous lifestyle changes like eating bruised or ugly-looking fruits and vegetables or dumpster diving also raises eyebrows in society.
But green living does not have to be reserved only for the rich. Being environmentally conscious is a mindset that anyone can adopt, each according to his ability. After all, every step counts towards saving the Earth.
Try these tips to enjoy sustainable living without overspending.
11 Ways to Be Eco-Friendly on a Budget
1. Recycle Your Contact Lens Packs
Most people don’t think about recycling their plastic contact lens packaging. After using their disposable contact lenses, they toss the packaging in the bin along with the aluminum foil covers. These eventually end up in a landfill.
Studies found that daily disposable contact lenses alone can generate 85 tonnes of discarded blisters in Singapore within a month. All that plastic weighs almost as much as a 105-tonne blue whale.
Data from the National Environment Agency shows that 868,000 tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2020, but just 36,000 tonnes — or 4% — was recycled.
Contact lens users can do their part for the environment by dropping their plastic packaging in the blue recycling bins found around residential estates, or by dropping them off at eyewear outlets that recycle them.
Either way, remember to pour out the saline solution and let the lens packaging dry before you send them for recycling.
2. Buy Quality Products & Buy Secondhand
We live in a consumerist culture that’s conditioned us to buy things we want — including a haul of eco-friendly products in our efforts to go green.
But living consciously also means buying less. So only buy something if you absolutely need it.
If you need to buy a product, why not look at preloved items first? Not only will you save cash, but you can also avoid the heavy packaging that comes with most new products, the energy it took to create and ship those products, and your time and fuel spent going around from store to store during the shopping process.
Reducing consumerism might be the best way to improve our eco-footprint.
There are plenty of places where you can get your hands on quality secondhand products, including Carousell, Craigslist SG, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, Cash Converters, SGFreecycle and more.
If you must buy a new product, look for eco-friendly companies.
Though it may sound counterintuitive when you’re on a budget, buying quality products that last longer prevents more waste in the long run. Even if you spent more initially, you’ll be saving money in the long term since you won’t have to keep replacing it. This is especially true for bigger ticket items.
3. Eat Less Meat (and More Plants)
Meat production is a significant driver of climate change. The United Nations estimates that the meat industry alone generates over a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
One reason is that we’re eating more meat than we ever have, and all those cows are producing a massive amount of greenhouse gases. The meat industry is not sustainable simply because of its sheer volume.
One way to significantly reduce your carbon footprint is to cut down on your meat and dairy intake. You can adopt a more plant-based diet. But fret not. You don’t have to go entirely vegetarian or vegan if you’re not ready to.
You can choose to eat less meat each week, cut out processed meats, and choose fewer beef options when you do eat meat. There are also many delicious alternatives to meat, like beans, hummus, tofu, and tempeh. The key is to be mindful of where our food comes from and its impact on our planet.
4. Stop Wasting So Much Food
Another easy way to reduce your food costs is simply by buying less, eating less, and wasting less food.
Food waste is one of Singapore’s biggest waste culprits. Every day, food makes up about half of the average 1.5kg of waste discarded by each Singaporean home. Half of that food waste could have been prevented since rice noodles and bread are the most commonly discarded food waste.
Making a meal plan will help you decide how much food to prepare or buy. Saving your leftovers for the next day will also go a long way in fighting food waste.
Besides, the less food you waste, the less you’ll also spend on meals.
5. Eat Ugly-looking Fruits and Veggies
Don’t toss away food that looks ugly. For too long, we’ve been conditioned to see perfect, unblemished, and brightly-coloured food as edible and delicious. Anything that looks misshapen or imperfect is seen as inedible. But the time for change is ripe.
A lot of food is wasted just because it does not look like what we’re used to seeing, even though it’s perfectly edible and nutritious. Around 20% of produce is tossed out even before it reaches the supermarkets, for cosmetic reasons like weird shapes, odd colours, or blemishes on a peel that you won’t even eat.
As the final customers, we’re just as guilty. More often than not, we go for the shiny and unblemished tomato instead of the slightly bruised one.
You can start making changes with the produce at home. Don’t toss your fruits and veggies just because they look a little imperfect. Sometimes all you have to do is chop off the bruised bit.
You can subscribe to companies that deliver less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables like Ugly Foods. If their prices are too steep, you can visit your local supermarket, wet market, or even Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and add some misshapen produce into your shopping bag and they will taste just as good.
6. Try Reusable Period Protection
Sanitary pads and tampons are standard period protection products. They’re easy to find, cheap, and what most women have really ever known. But are you aware that pads are made of around 90% plastic?
Consider switching your pads and tampons for a more sustainable option like a menstrual cup or reusable cloth pads.
Menstrual cups are great because they are made of silicone, which is non-toxic and better for your body than a tampon. Silicone is also flexible and can easily adapt to your body shape. When used correctly, these menstrual cups are so comfortable that you won’t even feel it inside you. They also only need to be changed every 12 hours. With proper care, your menstrual cup can last up to 10 years before you have to get a new one.
If you’re uncomfortable about inserting a menstrual cup or want added security along with it, consider reusable cloth pads. These are washable, available in various shapes, sizes, and colours, and come with secure snaps.
7. Know Your Energy Guzzlers at Home
Do you know what appliances in your home consume the most energy? According to a recent survey by Energy Efficient Singapore, many Singaporeans don’t.
In the average household, more than three-quarters of the electricity is used to power just three appliances: air conditioners (36.7%), water heaters (20.9%) and fridges (18.5%).
Try to cool your rooms using the fans as a supplement, don’t overload and stress the washing machine, and don’t leave an empty fridge running. Also, a fuller fridge generally works more efficiently than one that’s empty. By doing these, you’ll not only save on energy but also your electricity bill.
Remember: how much electricity your appliances use also depends on your usage patterns. Choose energy-efficient appliances the next time you have to replace a product.
8. Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies
A lot of the household cleaning products are toxic, not to mention wasteful and redundant. You can make quality cleaning products at home for a fraction of the cost and with much less waste if you are up to it.
Homemade cleaning supplies are mostly made up of cheap ingredients people already have in their homes, like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. There are plenty of DIY guides you can read or watch to make your cleaning products.
Homemade cleaning products will help you reduce waste, save money and avoid harmful chemicals. If you’re not the DIY kind, look for eco-friendly labels on cleaning products that you buy.
9. Bring Your Own Cups and Bags Out
Make it a habit to bring along a reusable water bottle or coffee mug in your car or bag. You can even get a compressible bottle if space is a concern. Bring tote bags or reusable canvas bags when you shop for groceries so that you don’t have to use plastic bags at the shops.
Our planet is drawing in plastic pollution. Worldwide, a plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes before being discarded. In 2020, 96% of plastic waste in Singapore was not recycled.
10. Shop Sustainable, Vegan and Eco-friendly Brands
Singapore’s zero-waste journey is spilling over into lifestyle products – even skincare and beauty brands are making an effort to be eco-friendly. Brands like Eco Staples, Tessellate.Co, and The Zero Ways are all eco-friendly.
You can also easily bag plastic-free groceries like Scoop Wholefoods or buy vegan makeup at Balm Kitchen or Kuby Beauty.
Alternatively, shop local, hand-made, homemade, home-grown products. These would be cheaper too. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing where to save and spend.
11. Swap Fast Fashion for Preloved Clothes
We live in a capitalist environment that constantly tells us that we need the most expensive and newest items out there. Sales are also common because companies want to push consumers to buy things they may not even need.
We often end up hoarding clothing that we may not wear, then end up throwing them out when we decide to go Marie Kondo on our homes.
Save the Earth and some money by only buying what you need and keeping an eye out for preloved garments shops for a fraction of the price.
A Budget Doesn’t Have to Stop You From Going Green
In most cases, all it takes is a shift in mindset, a willingness to try, and perhaps a little patience. These small choices that we make can have a considerable impact on the Earth. Take a look at how you currently do things and see if you can easily switch up a few things to put these concepts in play.