As Americans, we use a LOT of disposable items. Think about how much you throw away on any given day. Styrofoam containers? Plastic bottles? Foil bags of food and snacks? That adds up to a lot of trash per year, and a lot of those disposable options can add up to being very costly! There are a great number of things that are reusable, so why not use those?

I’ve decided to take a “greener” approach to life recently and try to reduce the amount of trash I produce. It’s not always easy, but I feel like sometimes it really makes a difference. Not only can you be part of the solution to the problem of excess trash, but it can save you money too! I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve done so far to reduce my impact on the environment.

Everything on this list focuses on two principles: saving money and reducing waste/disposable plastic use. Going green and reusing things in the household is good not only for the environment, but for your wallet. There are some very easy ways to go green that can be done in any space, from a dorm room to an apartment to a house, and some for very low cost compared to that of disposable options!

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Where I can, I’ve broken down the cost and savings of each reusable option compared to disposable.

instagram for reusable items

Here are 6 ways you can reduce your impact on the environment while saving money at the same time.

1: Drink from washable straws instead of single use

When Starbucks first announced their plan to eliminate plastic straws in their drinks, I admit I was a little skeptical. But when I started making my own cold brew coffee and taking it to work, I realized it was actually kind of brilliant. Some places are using paper straws because they decompose (my local zoo has had a strict ban on plastic straws for years), but I don’t like how they seem to dissolve in my drink. Straws are just as easy to wash as anything else in the kitchen, so why not? I just ordered these reusable straws, and while I haven’t received them yet, I’m looking forward to not using any more disposable straws!

Disposable straws, one year 2x/day use: $11.92 (at $1.49/100)
Reusable straws, one year 2x/day use: $7.99
Savings: $3.93/year (or $19.65 over 5 years)
Ecological Savings: 730 plastic straws per year (or 3,650 over 5 years)
This savings doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when you take into account just how many straws that is, you realize how much less plastic is going into the environment.

Country Style Glass Mason Jar with Reusable Straw

2: Clean messes with reusable rags instead of paper towels

For a while my living situation was in a family of four who didn’t seem to believe in reusable towels – for anything except showers. Any mess was cleaned up with paper towels and we used a TON. Just based on the cost alone (almost $1500 a year according to Jennifer at Growing a Green Family) I decided that when I moved into my apartment, I was going to use rags and reusable towels almost exclusively in my cleaning schedule. It has the added benefit of being good for the environment, since Americans use over 13 billion pounds of paper towels yearly.

I picked up these rags at Target ($2.99 for 6) and used 6 rags for an entire year. I’ve used them for most messes – spilled food, cleaning furniture and floors, scrubbing the bathroom, etc – and they’ve held up super well. I’ve even used them on my Swiffer instead of the disposable pads! I do keep a roll of paper towels around for really gross stuff, like pet messes, but in one year I only used four rolls. Think of how much money I saved!

Disposable paper towels, one year ~1 roll/week: $64.52 ($1.24/roll)
Reusable rags, one year: $2.99
Savings: $61.53/year or $307.65 over 5 years
Ecological Savings: 52 rolls of paper towels (or 260 over 5 years)

Person Cleaning Flush Toilet with Reusable Rag

3: Buy snacks in bulk and divide them yourself in reusable containers

This one is a lot more difficult to calculate savings for, but the results are promising. I love taking lunches to work because it saves so much money it’s crazy. I see a lot of snack items, especially things like chips, crackers, or fruit cups, labelled “great for lunches” because they’re individually wrapped servings. That may be great for lunches, but it’s awful for the environment with all the waste…and for my bank account, because they can be twice as expensive as buying in bulk.

So I buy my snacks in bulk (I’m looking at you, giant container of goldfish crackers) and divide them up for snacks and lunches. But wait, there’s more! If you use plastic baggies or otherwise disposable containers, you aren’t going to solve the problem. That’s where reusable containers come in. I love the Lunchblox system by Rubbermaid because they’re nicely sized, snap together, wash well, don’t leak, and have lasted me four years and counting. I’m super excited to try their new salad kit as well. I’ve also used the Sistema lunchbox system in the past.

Breaking down the cost of bulk snacks

Like I said, this one is more difficult to break down the cost, so I’ll do a kind of example. If I work 5 days a week for 50 weeks out of the year, that’s 250 work days. If I take Goldfish to work every day, that’s 250 servings of Goldfish.
9 Pack 10z Individual-Wrap Goldfish: $0.55/oz, $137.50/year
Bulk 30oz Carton Goldfish: $0.25/oz, $62.50/year
Savings: $75/year or $375 over 5 years
Ecological Savings: 250 bags in the trash (or 1,250 over 5 years)

If I reuse my containers, that saves me money as well. If I buy a pack of 2 Lunchblox side containers and reuse them for the whole year, that saves some money over buying plastic baggies. Like with the straws, the price difference isn’t a whole lot, but they can last for multiple years, meaning the plastic that ends up in the trash is a whole lot less.
Ziploc Snack Baggies: $9.14 ($.04/bag)
2pk Lunchblox Side Containers: $7.74
Savings: $1.40/year or $7 over 5 years
Ecological Savings: 250 snack baggies per year (or 1,250 over 5 years)

Six Fruit Cereals in Clear Glass Mason Jars on White Surface

4: Refill your reusable soap containers

When I was younger, it was my sworn duty to refill all the hand soaps in the house. It was a job I took on with pride so I could help keep the house clean…or maybe it was just fun to squeeze it from one bottle into another. Either way, we realized that refilling nice soap containers instead of continuing to buy small bottles of liquid soap was much more cost effective for us. It’s also better for the environment because you reduce – take a guess – disposable plastic use!

Recent studies have shown that at least 0.7mL is necessary to fully rid hands of bacteria. Additionally, the average person washes their hands around 10 times per day. The math comes out to around 7mL per day.
Method Gel Soap, 12oz: $21.83/year ($0.006/wash)
Method Gel Soap Refill, 34oz: $15.31/year ($0.004/wash)
Savings: $6.52
Ecological Savings: 8 bottles/year (or 40 over 5 years)
Instead of needing to buy 8 individual containers of soap, you’d only need to buy 2.5 of the soap refills to cover you for the same amount of time.

Plastic Pump Bottle on Sink

5: Make your own laundry detergent

I use all natural products in my home and I’m proud of it. I also DIY a lot of things. One thing I hadn’t ever thought about making myself was my laundry detergent, if only because most recipes included ingredients that were questionable to me, like borax. When I found this DIY Natural Laundry Detergent from Bren Did, I was super excited to try it! Not only is it completely natural and borax-free, it’s gentle on sensitive skin (which means it’s also okay for pet bedding) and works really well. The best part? At about $21 for 13 pounds, it’s about $0.06 a load! The savings really add up over time, and since I only do one or two loads a week, it lasts me forever. Not to mention that since you aren’t buying detergents in plastic bottles, that’s less waste in the trash can!

Tide Pods, 2 loads per week: $0.29/load, $30.16/year
Homemade Detergent: $0.06/load, $6.24/year
Savings: $0.23/load, $23.92/year (or $119.60 over 5 years)
Ecological Savings: 3 plastic containers per year (or 15 over 5 years)

6: Reuse glass containers and jars

I love buying things in glass jars – spices, soups, honey, jellies, etc (I even have a pet food that comes in 4oz and 8oz glass containers I just ADORE). They’re able to do double duty because they’re REUSABLE! I don’t have to buy food storage containers if I have some of these lovely glass jars in my cabinets. Plus, if you reuse them, that’s a container that isn’t going into the trash. They’re lovely to look at as well. Perhaps you could use them to store that homemade laundry detergent? 😉

Reduce, reuse, recycle!

If you were to use all 6 of these basic switches, you would save $172.30 per year. That’s $861.50 over 5 years – and that’s a lot of money! Not to mention all the plastic and paper kept out of landfills and the oceans. And these are only 6 tips that I use myself. There are many more ways to save money while keeping disposable plastic out of the trash!

Which of these methods do you like best? What else do you do to be green while saving money?

save money and the planet with reusable items