Five Budget-Friendly Ways to Embrace Sustainability

Tackling global warming can seem daunting, as though our individual choices don’t really matter in a world of billions of people. Consider this: The average American produces roughly 65 tons of garbage throughout his or her lifetime (based on the EPA’s 2013 municipal solid waste report), paper, plastics, and food making up the majority. To be clear, that’s 130,000 pounds. Before you buckle down in tears, remember that we each have the ability to control how much waste we produce. And I’m here to tell you that adopting a more sustainable life isn’t as hard—or expensive—as you may think! Here are five budget-friendly ways to live more sustainably.

1. Invest in Reusable Produce Bags

Did you know that the average single-use plastic bag has an active life of just 20 minutes? After transporting fruits and veggies to their new refrigerator home, these bags are typically thrown in the trash to hang out with their plastic bag friends. No offense to the plastic cast of Friends, but that seems like a whole lotta waste for just keeping fruits and veggies separated. My soul dies a little every time I go to the grocery store and see people pulling out plastic bag after plastic bag for their produce—especially when they only end up putting ONE apple in a bag. So much emotional trauma.

The sustainable alternative? Buy reusable mesh produce bags at your grocery store. They’re cheap—ringing up at about $1 per bag—washable, and save your conscience a whole lot of self-judgment (or is that just me?). After loading your fresh produce into the fridge, simply put them back into your reusable shopping bags, grocery shop, repeat, and instantly feel better about your footprint on the planet! Woohoo!

2. Brush Your Teeth With…Bamboo?

Okay, I’ll admit that switching to a bamboo toothbrush took some getting used to. Twenty-six years of using a normal plastic toothbrush will inevitably make any other material feel like a foreign object. Every time I consider the 400-year decomposition of a typical plastic toothbrush, though, I figure I can deal. Bamboo, on the other hand, is a much more sustainable resource, as it grows not only abundantly, but also quickly. And biodegrades about 100 times quicker (and did I mention more naturally?) than the average plastic toothbrush.

In the spirit of reduce, reuse, recycle, use your tired toothbrush for household cleaning, such as scrubbing pots and pans, the nooks and crannies of your bathroom, or even the mud on your mountain bike’s chain. When it’s reached the end of its happy toothbrush life, a bamboo toothbrush can even be composted in your backyard. Win.

3. Opt for Recycled Fashion

Sustainable options aren’t limited to reducing plastic usage. Many clothing retailers are engineering new ways to reincarnate plastic for good. That’s why I love Girlfriend Collective. The sustainable athletic wear company turns plastic into fabric, removing about two pounds of plastic from the ocean per pair of leggings. Which, by the way, are unfathomably soft, comfy, and effective even on the sweatiest days in the gym. Genius. And they offer a whole suite of athletic wear, from sports bras to maternity leggings. Marine Layer’s Re-Spun program take old t-shirts and gives them a second life through a closed-loop process of breaking down the original tee to a fiber level and making a new product out of the recycled yarn. Though these are just two examples of clothing brands out to reuse already-existing products, I’m excited to see what new ways we can all support recycled fashion.

4. Order Coffee For Here

Sitting down at a café with a cup of joe? Skip the disposable cup and opt for a mug “for here.” Maybe this is just me, but there’s something about sipping out of a ceramic mug that makes the whole experience so much more leisurely and enjoyable, almost as if you’re at home on the couch (even if you’re hard at work). If you’re on the go, bring along a reusable travel mug to fill up with. Especially if you’ve got to have your coffee in the morning from your local coffee shop, you’re saving so much waste in the long run!

5. Ladies—Go Green With Your Menstrual Ware

What’s worse than the fear of bleeding through a tampon and paying an exorbitant amount of money on tampons and pads each year? Well, I guess a lot of things, but anything related to the monthly menstrual cycle certainly makes the list. Except period cups. Period cups rule. Seriously. If you think too hard about them, they are kind of gross. And yes, the first couple times you use a period cup are bound to be awkward. Considering the cost effectiveness, waste reduction, and anxiety management, it’s well worth the investment.

Since making the purchase a couple years ago, I no longer have to worry about timing my tampon switch perfectly to avoid the awkward period blood stain on my pants. (My most embarrassing moment is being stuck at a large event with a huge period stain on my nearly-white blue jeans.) So, being able to go up to 12 hours without changing anything—or period stains!!!!—is kind of a huge deal for me. And, once it’s in, you don’t feel anything. Not even during a super intense cardio workout or CrossFit WOD. When I have my period cup in, I literally forget I’m on my period. And I’m also saving myself a lot of money and the world a lot of cotton and plastic in the long run.

If you just can’t deal with the whole cup-of-period-blood thing, THINX has plenty of options for panties—and now, an FDA-approved reusable tampon applicator. That way, you’re at least reducing your plastic waste. Go you!


My husband may call me a hippie for putting all these things into practice, but if I’m doing my part to live a more sustainable life, I’m 100 percent okay with that.

I want to hear from you—what are your go-to methods for reducing waste and living more sustainably? Share your tips in the comments below!

5 budget-friendly ways to embrace sustainability