Sustainability is a hot topic on planet Earth. Everyone is talking about how to reduce their footprint and leave our world in better condition than they found it. But how many people are actually doing something?

Sustainability is the process of reducing the negative human impact on the planet, by working to protect ecosystems, environments, and resources. Reducing waste is a major component of sustainability, but living a zero-waste lifestyle takes planning and commitment.

World populations are increasing while resources are decreasing. Sustainability protects life-giving resources and ecosystems for future generations. While that’s reason enough to reduce waste and explore a more sustainable lifestyle, here’s another compelling reason: it can have a drastic impact on your budget. Here’s how.

The benefits of a sustainable lifestyle

Over 35 million plastic bottles find their way to landfills every year. Each one can take 1,000 years to biodegrade. That’s a startling statistic on its own, but when you consider the expense of using plastic bottles instead of a reusable cup or bottle, the research becomes even more compelling.

The goal of a zero-waste lifestyle is to avoid all plastic and non-recyclable trash that will end up in a landfill or harm the environment. When you think about it, most trash that finds its way in our wastebaskets is born of products that cost us money. Disposable batteries, prepackaged food containers, paper plates, and towels—-they are all “convenience” items that might save us a few seconds, but leave a near-permanent blemish on the earth.

Consider this: if you make a one-time purchase of rechargeable batteries, you can charge each one up to 1,000 times instead of tossing the old batteries and buying new ones each time they run out. You’ve not only saved space in the landfill, but you’ve saved yourself the hassle and expense of buying pack after pack of batteries.

The same holds true for things like bottled water, soda, and seltzer. Making a one-time purchase of a soda maker or water filter can save hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars each year while protecting our environment.

While it might be tempting to go for convenience over sustainability, remember your two-fold goal of saving your budget and your planet and choose to avoid waste instead.

Steps for living a sustainable lifestyle

If living a zero-waste life feels impossible, there is good news. You don’t have to cut all the waste in one day. Instead, start implementing small steps in your daily life to cut down on trash (and expense) little by little. Here are a few easy ways to get started.

Reduce energy use

Household energy use takes a huge toll on the planet and your budget. To lessen both, try using a programmable thermostat and energy-efficient appliances. Ask your family to turn off any lights they aren’t using. On nice days, open your windows to let in the breeze instead of running your air conditioner, on hot days, shut the windows and the blinds to keep the coolness in. There are countless ways to decrease the amount of energy you use to reduce waste and save money in the process.

Stop using disposables

Disposable products are a fairly recent invention–born of our need for convenience. Our environment suffers when we carelessly use and dispose of plastic and other trash. Instead of using disposable plates, towels, plastic wrap, and other items, purchase a reusable version for the items you most often throw away.

Shop local markets

Big box grocery and department stores are expensive to build and maintain and leave a huge energy footprint on the planet. They are also responsible for a great deal of wasted food and trash and don’t always prioritize sustainability as part of their corporate strategy. Try a local store or farmer’s market for fresher food without all the waste. Take your own bags and containers so you won’t need to use plastic.

Plant a garden

Try planting your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. You’ll slash your grocery bill while showing the planet some love. If you don’t have a lot of space, start with a few pots in a windowsill or patio. Be creative–ask your neighbors if they would be interested in starting a rooftop garden. Even a few plants can help reduce food waste and contribute to a greener planet.

Recycle

If your neighborhood doesn’t have curbside pickup, search for a local recycling center and visit them to find out what they accept and how you should sort it. Purchase products that are labeled “post-consumer.” You know that the companies that produce them care about sustainability and that you can keep the cycle going by turning them into a recycling facility when you’re done with them.

Donate unwanted items

Give your unwanted items a second chance by donating them or selling them to a consignment store (where you’ll make some extra money in the process). Instead of tossing clothing or household items when you replace them or no longer want them, allow another person to give them new life. You’ll be doing a good deed by helping others and reduce unnecessary waste at the same time.

Conserve water

Small changes like installing a low-flow shower head or turning off the tap while you brush your teeth can add up to big savings–both for you and the planet. Explore the possibility of collecting rainwater to water your lawn or garden. Set your washer to consume the least amount of water possible. While water is a resource that most of us take for granted, much of the planet does not. Look for ways in your everyday life to conserve it and reuse it.

Drink from the tap

We’ve already talked about the expense and waste that comes from buying bottled water. Try a reusable filter pitcher or filtered water bottle that removes the mineral deposits and contamination from tap water.

Carpool or take public transportation

Our vehicles consume a large quantity of fossil fuel each year. If it isn’t possible to walk or ride your bike to work, try carpooling with a friend or co-worker or taking public transportation. You’ll save money on gas and prevent pollution.

Buy fair-trade

For imported items, look for those that are labeled “fair trade.” It means that they were grown or sourced through sustainable methods and that the local producers have been compensated fairly for their labor.

Saving the planet is a group effort

Zero-waste living takes time and practice, but as you make efforts to protect the planet (and improve your budget), your friends and family will notice. Each of us needs to do our part to start a chain reaction of sustainability and responsibility. 70% of materials that go to landfills in the United States are either reusable or recoverable. If each one of us commits to reducing waste, we’ll save money and save the environment for future generations.

Looking for more ways to save your budget?

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