It is so frustrating that most of the time, making the more sustainable choice means spending more money. For more on that, read  Why Does Sustainability Cost More?. In the meantime, I’ve found 10 easy substitutions you can make to lessen your impact on the environment without breaking the bank.

I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I’ve compiled some tips that offer some easy swaps that might make your home or lifestyle a little more sustainable. As with anything, compromises are everywhere, so do your research and make the best choices for you!

1 – Wooden clothes pegs/pins instead of plastic
2 – Soap bars instead of liquid body wash
3 – Laundry detergent sheets instead of powder or liquid detergent
4 – Poultry based pet food instead of beef
5 – Bamboo or recycled toilet roll instead of virgin pulp based
6 – Swap a few grocery items a week to reduce your carbon footprint
7 – Kitchen cloths replace paper-based kitchen roll
8  – Wooden cutlery replaces plastic cutlery for BBQs and parties
9 – Reuse plastic bags that arrive in your weekly shop
10 – Locally brewed beer in cans instead of imported bottles

1 – Wooden clothes pegs/pins instead of plastic

As no-brainers go, replacing plastic pegs with wooden ones is up there. Not only are wooden pegs more sustainable – reducing our need for plastic fabrication, and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfill – they also last longer than plastic pegs. Your average plastic peg slowly degrades over time, meaning it is only a few years before you get that ever-infuriating “snap!” sound of the plastic giving way followed by (if you are me) one half of the peg hitting you, usually in the face. Argh. My lovely wooden pegs, however, have stood the test of time – with ne’er a split or splinter in sight. The best bit is, they cost the same or less as the plastic ones – currently £3 for 3 packs of 36 for wooden and £3.50 for 3 packs of 36 for plastic at Wilko.

2 – Soap bars instead of liquid body wash

I bought biodegradable, plastic free, naturally fragranced, no animal testing, vegan soap bars for a cost of £1.99 per bar in my local shop (similar prices available online). The bars came unwrapped, but are also available in most major stores wrapped in cardboard. I tried Faith in Nature and Bio brand bars, and they lasted, on average, 30 days each (based on 2 person-use). Versus bottle of 250ml body wash – well, I can’t really compare accurately because my kids dump out liquid body wash in the bath at roughly the same rate as the water flows from the tap – but, I can compare to the previous body wash I was using – which was eco-friendly, and costs £8 for 400ml. That typically would last for about 90 days (if you subtract kids’ use!). So, based on that comparison, 4 soap bars is definitely the more cost effective option, plus has no plastic packaging, and has a lower CO2 shipping footprint, as it is lighter to transport.

3 – Laundry Sheets instead of liquid detergent

Laundry sheets are emerging as a low-carbon, low chemical alternative to traditional laundry detergents. The companies that produce them make some pretty big claims – that if everyone used their product, it would reduce plastic jug use by one billion each year, and reducing carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking 27 million cars off the road annually.

Global plastics production has reached 368 million metric tons and is expected to continue to grow by around 4% annually for the foreseeable future. Of that, 40% is plastic packaging, or nearly 150 million tons, according to PlasticEurope, as sited in this OECD report.

It is also worth noting that many common laundry detergents contain microbeads and/or other microplastics. In addition to microplastics in the detergent itself, opening and closing HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) caps multiple times results in shedding of more microplastics, according to a 2019 study.

Laundry sheets provide an alternative to typical laundry liquid or powder. They are typically delivered via subscription service, posted through your letterbox in an A4 envelope on a regular basis, and provide enough sheets to cover your washing needs for the month. The objective is to reduce the carbon footprint required to transport laundry detergent and remove the need for plastic packaging. Many of these solutions are also micro-plastic free. You can check this by having a look at the ingredients. Microplastics in detergent are typically one of the following: Polyethylene (PE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Nylon (PA), Polypropylene (PP), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Earth Breeze are my personal favorite. They advertise themselves as Carbon Neutral and donate 10 loads of laundry to shelters for every 40 wash package purchased. They are also a member of 1% for the planet. As a product, I have been using Earth Breeze sheets for a year now, and I really like them. I can choose from “Fresh Scent” or “Unscented”, and I love the subtle but clean “Fresh Scent” option. They clean just as well as any other laundry detergent we’ve used and take up way less space in the utility room, as compared to the previous bulk laundry liquid or powder containers I used to keep.

On subscription, the price is £9.99 for 40 loads. Product tip: cut the sheets in half when they arrive, as to stretch to 40 loads, you need to use half-sheets. Using half sheets, the cost per load is about 25p. If you are doing light loads, you can even get by on a quarter of a laundry sheet, which can help save a bit more.

In comparison, the closest eco-friendly liquid alternative, like Ecover concentrated non-bio, costs about 20p per load on recommended usage amounts. Persil or Ariel pods are also about 20p per load. Supermarket own brands can be as cheap as 5p per load, meaning the budget savings on this tip only apply if you are using a brand name laundry detergent at the moment. That being said, when I’ve used the bargain basement stuff, I find that I need to use more, so the load estimate (often 60 washes per bottle) is inflated, and actually I only get 40-50 washes out of one of those bottles, so I can’t say I’m a fan of the bargain basement stuff.

When compared to powdered laundry detergent, laundry sheets are cheaper than eco-friendly powder brands, like Bio-D and Ecover (29p/wash), and in line with Persil and other legacy brand products when you buy them in small amounts (23-25p per wash). However, it is worth noting that if you buy Persil or other legacy laundry powder in bulk, it is significantly less expensive (down to 15p per wash).

There are a number of laundry sheet alternatives available globally if you don’t like or can’t get Earth Breeze.
Better: Laundry powder without microplastics
Best: Laundry Sheets that are lighter to ship wash-for-wash

4 – Poultry-based pet food instead of beef

Our family started cutting down our meat consumption 4 years ago. 1 year ago we got a puppy and named him Chewbacca. Pretty soon we had to figure out what to feed the little fella, and I was amazed by the level of choice available at our local pet shop. We started him out on Turkey and Rice dry dog food as that is what he came home with. We have since moved to insect based protein, but since this article is about making sustainable choices without impacting your budget, I’m not going into that option here. Insect based pet food is unfortunately still more expensive than most dog food.

That being said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements to be had without breaking the bank.
The average carbon footprint of poultry production is significantly lower than the average carbon footprint of the equivalent magnitude of beef or lamb. Measurements vary, but there is broad consensus that beef production is much more carbon-intensive than poultry production. The two primary reasons for this are the clearing of land for grazing and the methane production of beef and lamb.

For example, according to our world in data:
The total emissions associated with production and transport of beef is 10 times that associated with poultry production and 8.5 times more than pork production. Even when methane impacts are removed, the average footprint of beef is 36 kilograms of CO2eq per kilogram of meat. This is still nearly four times the mean footprint of chicken. Or 10 to 100 times the footprint of most plant-based foods.

Demonstrating similar findings, there is a great infographic published by the Environmental Working Group that shows that the carbon footprint associated with beef production is nine times higher than that for chicken. Just think about the improvement we could make to greenhouse gas emissions if we all switched our pet food to chicken or turkey based options – or, even better, if vegan or insect based pet food became affordable!

Most major pet food brands have a chicken or turkey alternative to beef and lamb. For example, Purina, Arden Grange, and James Wellbeloved offer chicken or turkey options. In almost all cases, the chicken or turkey version costs the same or less as the beef or lamb equivalent. Switching to chicken or turkey can save you as much as £10 per bag (on a 15kg bag of dry dog food). Iams’ Vitality cat food offer chicken, salmon, and lamb options for dry cat food; for a 3kg bag, the chicken option is £5 less than the other two.

Better: Turkey or Chicken based pet food
Best: Vegan or insect based protein pet foods (but these are unfortunately much more expensive at the time of writing)

5 – Bamboo or recycled toilet roll replaces virgin pulp based

Ok, let’s get personal – it is time to talk poo. In full disclosure, I have two small children and a dog, so I already talk a fair bit of poo. This is probably much more in my comfort zone than yours. We use a lot of paper to wipe bums. As a planet, we fell over 135 million trees a year making loo roll for the top 45 consuming countries, according to QS Supplies. Did you know that 70% of the world’s population doesn’t use toilet paper, but instead water? I didn’t. If you are ready to switch loo roll for a bidet – go for it! But, our house is too small, so I’m sticking with my long ingrained cultural expectation of paper. And, if it must be paper, for me, I’m going bamboo or recycled.

Bamboo is a fast-growing crop that naturally needs very little pesticide to flourish. For that reason it is a great crop when produced responsibly. Another alternative is recycled toilet paper. In this article – we’ll compare prices of both. Each comes with pros and cons, and different consumers will prefer different plys, so we’ll leave you to try them out and make your own decision.

Cheeky panda, when bought in bulk, has no plastic and costs £0.79 per 200 sheet, 3 ply roll, or £0.00396 per sheet. Skinkissed costs £0.00416 per 4 ply sheet when bought in a 24 pack. Who gives a crap is £0.00270 per 3 ply sheet when bought in a pack of 48 for bamboo, or £0.00229 for their recycled range. Soft on Nature recycled premium toilet roll is £0.00344 per 3 ply sheet when bought as a 36 pack. These prices are similar to the price of brand toilet rolls like Cushelle. However, if you are already a bargain lover, they are more expensive than the current cheapest options. As compared to Andrex or Store-Brand labels, these more sustainable options cost twice as much. When bought in bulk, Andrex is £0.00124 per 3 ply sheet (most store brands have similar prices). [All prices as of September 2022].

6 – Swap a few grocery items a week to reduce your carbon footprint

Okay, okay – I know this is controversial territory. I have been that person that suggests in polite company that tofu isn’t terrible, and I’ve seen the reactions. I have learned my lesson – people are passionate about their food preferences (and a LOT of people don’t like tofu)! So, I recognize that telling you all to replace your $10 T-bone for $3 tofu will not likely tempt you.

That being said, there are a few adjustments anyone can make, without giving up must-haves. The key thing is to slightly adjust the composition of your shopping basket. By switching out a few portions of meat for a few portions of local vegetables, you can save money, and lower your carbon footprint. The price of an organic whole chicken has doubled in the last 12 months at my local supermarket (gulp)! So, switching meat for a spicy bean dish, or a lamb curry for a lentil one just a few times a week can go a long way for your budget, your health, and emissions.

If you can’t cut down your meat consumption (I get it!), then try switching to lower carbon footprint options – like chicken instead of beef a few times a week. It may not help with saving money, but it will reduce your carbon footprint. The Environmental Working Group has put together a handy chart that shows you how different animal products stack up with regard to the carbon footprint associated with their production. If you switched two portions a week from beef to chicken, you would reduce your annual carbon emissions by about 4,575kg. If all the meat eaters on the planet did that, it would reduce carbon emissions by 30 billion tonnes each year.*

Still not convinced, ok – fair enough – there are other, smaller changes you can make, too. For example, choosing locally sourced food items over imports from far flung countries. When I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, it really opened my eyes to how much of the food I consumed is produced abroad. By simply choosing in season, locally produced foods, I can significantly reduce the carbon emissions associated with my diet.

Reducing your consumption of imports can also help you to save costs, as out of season produce is often more expensive than its in season counterparts because local in season items have a greater supply. When supplies are high, it puts downward pressure on prices. Where labels inform you of food origin, look for origins closer to home. Where it doesn’t, use whatever logic you can to determine the likelihood that food was grown in your hemisphere, and try to see strawberries in winter as a treat rather than the norm.

7 – Kitchen cloths replace paper-based kitchen roll

Switching out your disposable kitchen roll (or paper towels) for reusable cloth towels can save a lot of money in the long run. Reusable cloth towels specifically marketed as reusable kitchen roll can cost as little as £1.42 per sheet (£9.99 for 7 sheets).

The alternative, disposable paper kitchen roll, costs between 2p and .5p per sheet (£1.50-£1.20 per roll), based on whether you buy the branded stuff or not. Depending on how quickly you go through kitchen roll, that means your reusable kitchen roll could pay for itself in as little as a month (this estimate is based on using a 3 sheets of kitchen roll a day – this may seem like a lot. I have kids, so it is pretty normal in our house).

A great optional hack here is to just buy cheap cotton material (often £1.99 per meter) and cut it into squares, or reuse old muslins. A single meter of material would yield several squares, so a £1.99 investment at your local hobby or craft store or online is a great way to try out this alternative and see if it works for you. In our house, we use both – I have recycled kitchen roll and cloth ones – the concept here is that every little helps. If 8 out of 10 times I would reach for the paper kitchen roll, I instead reach for cloth, that is a little less money spent, and a little less disposable resources consumed.

8 – Wooden cutlery replaces plastic cutlery for BBQs and parties

Just like paper straws have replaced plastic, there are easy changes we can make to our disposable cutlery and plates that will reduce our reliance on plastic, too. Lucky for us, these alternatives hold up better than paper straws. [If you, too, find paper straws to be woefully inadequate, invest in a few bamboo ones for home, and take them with you if you like a straw in your cocktail out. There is no shame in bringing your own cocktail straw to a bar.]

Right, back to the easy cleanup solutions. Paper plates are an easy substitution for plastic, and the decent ones hold up just as well. Wooden cutlery also performs just as well as the plastic stuff, so there is no compromising on performance (unlike with bastard paper straws). So, how do they stack up on cost? Paper alternatives are all the rage, which can sometimes means they carry a premium, but if you avoid the trendy stuff, and go for good old fashioned paper plates and wooden cutlery, you can find them at comparable prices.

9 – Reuse plastic bags that food comes in

It is embarrassing to admit that for years I bought resealable plastic bags – for freezing, packing lunches, picnics, and more. And, at the same time, I bought plenty of items packaged in resealable plastic bags, and would then throw out those resealable plastic bags after I had consumed whatever was in them. I did it without thinking – on autopilot, having succumbed to clever marketing and a disposable culture.

Finally, it dawned on me, when I had a little thinking space (which is a luxury!), that I was wasting money and resources by doing so. I stopped buying resealable plastic bags. I paid attention to what I had – resealable bags the shredded cheese comes in that my daughter loves, large resealable bags in which tortilla wraps are packaged, bread bags, bags with zippers that enclosed the football socks I bought my son last week.

Instead of buying more plastic bags, I just keep re-using the ones I have. And, amazingly, after pushing my panic to one side that I might find myself in need of bagging something and not have bags to hand, I found I actually have plenty. I took that money I was spending on sandwich bags and instead invested in a wire rack to house all the bags I now wash out and reuse. I haven’t spent money on plastic sandwich or freezer bags in over a year.

10 – Locally brewed beer in cans instead of bottles

Glass is better than plastic, but it is heavy and takes a lot of energy to recycle. Therefore, aluminum cans – lighter and infinitely recyclable – make the best packaging choice. Here in the UK, we have great recycling schemes, but still only recycle 50% of our glass. The highest rates of recycling glass are well over 75% – like Finland and Switzerland, where around 90% of glass is recycled.

Sadly, in many areas, like parts of the US, local governments either have never provided glass recycling, or are reducing it, due to rising energy costs and competing budget priorities. Don’t get me wrong, glass is still better than plastic, but even better than glass is aluminum, for two reasons: 1) aluminum is infinitely recyclable, and 2) it is lighter to transport, meaning less CO2 to get the product from the production line to your mouth.

You don’t drink beer, you say? Well, that is your first mistake. Kidding aside, this principle holds for soft drinks as well. Ditch the plastic or traditional glass bottles for your favorite pop (or as we say down South, your favorite Coke), and buy in cans.

There have been concerns raised regarding leaching aluminum from cans causing a health risk, but there is not sufficient evidence that aluminum from cans would cause a health risk in people with healthy kidneys. There is simply not enough aluminum that would be ingested from drinking beverages in cans to cause a problem under normal circumstances. Aluminum you come in contact with elsewhere – like anti-perspirants, antacids, or the natural environment provide the greatest sources.

There is, however, a greater concern regarding BPA that is used in the lining of many cans (and plastic food containers). The Environmental Working Group provides some insight to the phase out of BPA in can linings. There is conflicting evidence on this topic, so this will have to be down to individual choice as to whether or not you make the switch from glass to cans. If BPA exposure concerns you, glass is the safest option for food storage.


Sources and Resources:

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Aluminum Recycling Wiki

Euronews Glass versus Aluminum

Statista Meat Consumption Figures

Zero Waste Man

MDPI Bamboo Research

EcoandBeyond Blog on Bamboo

Environmental Working Group

*based on recent estimates of 7,970,000,000 people in the world, of which 86% eat meat*4,575kgs savings a year, divided by 1016.5 to convert kgs to imperial tons.

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