As a committed tree-hugger and very recent graduate, I find myself plopped firmly at the intersection of cheap and green. Keeping things environmentally friendly while keeping costs down is important to me. Below, some of my best time-tested, budget-approved ways to keep both your wallet and the earth green and happy.
1. Fill Your Oven
Every time you turn on your oven to roast or bake something, make sure that baby is full. It takes a lot of energy to get an oven to 400°F, so you might as well fill all the rack space. Even if roasted sweet potatoes aren't part of tonight's roasted chicken dinner, I throw them in; they'll get put into my lunch for work the next day, or become a part of dinner tomorrow night.
2. Get a Small Tub for Your Sink
Although studies prove that using a dishwasher uses less water than handwashing, some of us don't have the luxury of a dishwasher. Everyone ends up handwashing some items, so learn to do it right. Find a small plastic tub in your house or buy one at a hardware store for around $2. Fill the tub with hot soapy water, scrub down all of your dirty items, and then rinse them all at once with cold water. This saves time and keeps the water from running longer than it needs to.
3. Clean with White Vinegar and Baking Soda
Besides being good for the environment, this tip is good for your health. Many conventional cleaning products are petroleum-based and can have serious health and environmental implications with long-term use. I use equals parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle to clean, disinfect, and deodorize countertops. For tough stains, vinegar and baking soda cut with a little water makes an all-purpose, non-toxic, dream-team cleaner. Also, I find it thrilling to that every time I combine baking soda and vinegar I recreate my first grade volcano science project.
4. Eat Less Meat
Mark Bittman calls it a being a Lessmeatatarian. Whatever you want to call it, the simple fact is that raising cattle uses more water and land than it takes to grow potatoes. Since you're saving money by eating less meat, when you do buy meat choose grass-fed animals who were raised humanely without hormones or antibiotics.
5. Keep Your Fridge and Freezer Full, Clean, and Sealed Tightly
Surprisingly, your fridge and freezer work harder when there is less in them than when they are full. Do the dollar bill trick to check air-tightness: close a dollar bill into the door, it should slide out, but with a little bit of effort. If the bill slips out easily, it's time to fix or replace the seal. For maximum energy efficiency, your fridge should be set to 35° to 38°F and your freezer should be around 0°F. Finally, keep the coils underneath the unit clean. Sweeping dust bunnies away allows the fridge to dissipate heat when it needs to.
6. Get a Power Strip
Find a power strip somewhere else in your home and relocate it to the kitchen or make a small investment for a new one. Corralling your toaster, microwave, coffee maker, coffee grinder, and phone charger all onto one strip will allow you to cut down on vampire power. Electronics that are plugged in, even if they are off, still suck power from the electric grid. Just flip one button off when you leave in the mornings and you will have cut off the flow to all of your hungry units.
7. Ditch Paper Towels
Make the switch to cloth and microfiber towels. Cloth and microfiber towels are reusable, long-lasting, and only require a quick spin in the laundry to be good as new. Ok, ok, this hint does take a little upfront investment but you'll never have to buy paper towels again and you won't be killing trees every time you need to wipe up a spill.
8. Bring a Bag with You When You Shop
Forget the plastic bags. Buy a squishable reusable bag and keep it at your office, in your car, in your purse, or in your briefcase. Start doing it and bringing your own bag will become second nature. Plus, Whole Foods and many other grocery stores now deduct 10 cents for bringing your own bag and in New York, Trader Joe's enters you in a raffle to win $25 worth of free groceries.
9. Embrace Yard Sales and Thrift Stores
Hello, $5 Le Creuset pot! To me, being green doesn't mean buying fancy equipment or new Energy Star appliances. Running out to buy new stuff (even if it is an environmentally friendly product) still drives a demand for new products to be made and resources to be used. Since most kitchen items have almost no resale value you'll find great deals at secondhand stores. Just make sure to steer clear of any old pans with a nonstick, Teflon surface.
10. Don't Waste Food
Your mom was right all along. Whether you shop at a supermarket or your local farmers' market, think about how much you are buying and what you already have at home. For extra credit: take the food you can't eat (like peels and scrap) and learn how to compost it.