7 Tips for Sustainable Living on a Limited Budget

by Christine Sine

by Christine Sine,

With our growing concern for sustainability and our concern for rising prices, we all feel a little overwhelmed but there are lots of ways we can live more sustainably and save money at the same time.

I homemake our yoghurt that we eat with berries from the garden and homemade granola in the morning. It only takes me about 15 minutes to make enough yoghurt to last me for a couple of weeks. I have been reading a lot lately about the impact of plastic on our environment – the horrific plastic seas growing in our oceans – this one in the Caribbean and the even bigger Great Pacific Garbage Patch and am determined to cut down on my own contribution to this problem not just but eliminating single use plastic but other forms of plastic as well.

To me, it is an important stewardship issue that I feel all Christians need to be aware of and prayerfully consider both their contribution to the pollution of our planet and the steps, however small they can take to reduce plastic and other forms of waste. I posted these suggestions like using public transport more, walking, committing to plant-based diets, and alternative energy are small steps we can all take, and most of them don’t just reduce pollution, they save money too.

A Small Step For Me

My yoghurt making is only a small step; it will only reduce plastic waste by 50 tubs each year, as well as save me $250. But for me, it is drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I must do more.” Like any journey, this journey into a life with less waste must begin with a single step and this is mine. And in doing it I become aware of what the next steps are that I need to take.

Inventory Where Your Waste Comes from

Making yoghurt has helped me to evaluate my lifestyle – where I am wasteful and where I already do “the right thing”. Sometimes I feel really virtuous because there is much I already do that helps reduce waste but there are a lot of other things I can improve on that I am considering. Have you done a waste inventory before? If not, start by creating a stack of all your food packaging for a week. Look at the stack and point out the single use plastic containers and bags that you use. Think about ways that you could reduce this waste by either reusing one or purchasing a more sustainable version of the item. More ideas on this in the “Swap Out Your Household Plastics” section below.

Those single use K-cups, now used by 1 in 3 American households, are particularly bad as this article argues and evidently will survive in the landfill for a good 4-500 years. They are also expensive so if you are really wanting to establish a more sustainable lifestyle they are a good item to consider ditching.

Cook Your Own Meals

Making meals from scratch is one great waste reducer I am good at and for me, it is both relaxing and satisfying. I grew up in a family where fast food and packaged meals were unheard of so this is easy for me, but I know some people find it overwhelming. So think of some small steps you could take. What is one simple thing you could do to reduce this kind of waste?

If you don’t feel you have time to cook all your meals from scratch, think about the ones that have the most packaging – like breakfast cereal. I have made my own granola for many years. Not only does it save me hundreds of dollars a year, it also keeps a lot of packaging out of the landfill. You may not like granola but here are some other recipes for cereal – everything from grape nuts to cornflakes can be homemade, though some of these look as though they will take quite a bit of time. What is one meal that you could start making from scratch without increasing the pressure on your life? 

Perhaps you could invite friends over to cook meals together then divide these up into containers that can go in the freezer – homemade TV dinners that are more nutritious and more environmentally friendly than the store-bought kind. An added advantage is that you could buy ingredients together in bulk, saving even more packaging and dollars on the way. What is one food item you use regularly that you could buy in bulk and reduce packaging? 

Grow Your Own Herbs

You don’t need to be a master gardener to grow your own herbs but it can save a lot of money and help you avoid a lot of small plastic packages. The plant itself, not even starting from seed, costs about the same as one small plastic package of herbs but the plant will continue to produce. Thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary and basil will all grow in small pots on the windowsill. Experiment with your favourites and have some fun. Most of them are also hard to kill.

Join Your Local Buy Nothing Group

If you have a Facebook account and live in the U.S., look up your neighborhood Buy Nothing Group for more information about these groups. This is a wonderful tool to recycle and reuse things, as well as a way to meet more of your neighbours and show generosity! For example, when I end up with too many tomato starts, I advertise them on our local Buy Nothing group. I have not only met a lot of grateful people but have often been gifted with other vegetable starts in return.

Swap Out Your Household Plastics

Living in Seattle where plastic bags are no longer available in supermarkets, it is easy for me to think I am doing my part. But this really is the tip of the iceberg. What I was stunned to find out this week is that toothbrushes are one of the biggest plastic contributors to landfills. Most of us use 2-3 per year which doesn’t sound like much but when you consider that these will still be siting there in 100, possibly 1,000 years time, it is mind boggling. And there are affordable alternatives – bamboo toothbrushes can be as cheap as $2 a piece and are compostable. They also make bamboo replacement heads for electric toothbrushes or fully bamboo electric toothbrushes too.

In her post, Switch Out the Plastics – Simple Swaps, Hannah has some excellent suggestions on how to reduce plastic in our lives. One simple idea she mentions is replacing plastic storage containers when they wear out with glass. I find I don’t even need to buy new containers because we use empty glass peanut butter jars for my yoghurt, large olive jars for shelf storage items, and small jars that chicken bouillon comes in for freezing sauces. If they are going in the freezer, just make sure you leave enough space at the top so that they don’t crack when the contents expands… and if you live in Seattle and need a few extra storage jars, I have a lot I would like to share.

If you want to get a jumpstart on reducing plastics in your home, join the Team for Plastic Free Ecochallenge by YES! Magazine.

What To Do When You Order Online

Don’t you hate all the packaging that online purchases are often wrapped in? Evidently, we can do something about it. If you have a preferred place you purchase from, ask them for only recyclable or complain where it hurts like on their social media sites. This article is a fascinating look at some of what is happening to packaging to help reduce waste particularly because of consumer pressure. This has inspired a lot of companies to become more waste conscious.

Amazon, I suspect, is one of them. Amazon is working to make their packaging more recyclable. Now that is fine for me living in a community where all our recycling goes out on the curb every two weeks, but I know it is a challenge for those who have to drive miles to a recycling facility. Unfortunately, some of Amazon’s affiliates are not as good and I still have items arrive in Styrofoam packets. Some of this I am able to recycle in the bottom of planters. It means I need less soil and it makes the pot lighter. One simple way to help reduce this kind of waste is to make occasional purchases of multiple items that all arrive in one box rather than using the “Buy now with one click” button. Where do you make most of your online purchases? Is there a way to consolidate these or to request recyclable packaging? 

What Is Your Response?

Prayerfully watch either of the videos embedded in this post.

Living in a way that is sustainable for our planet isn’t easy for us. More and more people are opting for a zero waste lifestyle. Unfortunately, for many, it is not even on the radar when we think of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Yet I think it is an important part of what Christ calls us to be and to do. We are meant to be responsible stewards of this earth, enabling it to flourish and thrive. I hope that you will take time this week to prayerfully consider changes in your lifestyle that God may be prompting you to make in order to be more faithful to the call to follow Christ.

Our house just started a membership with Ridwell which is a local business that is quickly expanding and currently serves over 30,000 homes in Seattle and Portland. They pick up waste and garbage that we usually throw away but reuse it for other purposes like turning plastic film bags into decking material. We are very excited about this new program as our household looks to reduce the plastic waste we accumulate with 8 people living here.

Basic Homemade Yoghurt

Homemade Yoghurt

(To make a gallon, just quadruple this recipe.)

  • 1 qt. milk (any type)
  • 1/4 c. dry milk powder for a thicker product more like Greek yoghurt (opt. I don’t use this)
  • And/or 1 T. thickener; such as carrageenan, pectic, or gelatin (opt.)
  • 2 T. plain yogurt with live cultures. You don’t need special yoghurt starters but if you are nervous about experimenting like this, you might like to try with a yoghurt starter the first time.
  1. Combine the milk, milk powder (if using), and thickener (if using) in a pot. Heat the mixture to 180F.
  2. Let the milk cool to 120F off the heat. Add the yoghurt; mix well.
  3. Keep covered, at 120F, for at least 6 hours, or until set to the consistency of thick cream. (For this step, I pour it into old glass peanut butter jars with metal lids and cover it with a warm blanket and place in a warm room. Alternatively, put it in your oven preheated to 150F and turn it off. Wrap the yoghurt in a blanket or towels and set it in a pan all wrapped up.  After three hours REMOVE THE JARS , reheat the oven, turn it OFF again and put the jars back.)
  4. Refrigerate and serve cold. This will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.
  5. Remember to save some of the old yogurt for your next batch!

Want to experience more of the awe and wonder that God offers us? Check out the Gift of Wonder Online Retreat by Christine Sine. This retreat allows for 180 days of access for only $39.99 so you can move through the sessions at your own pace.

Gift of Wonder Online Retreat

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