Can you afford to go green if you're not rich? Organic food, ethical clothing and eco appliances often come at a premium. But their alternatives, though cheaper, are costing the earth.
There are some ways to go green and save money. Under the new green-hued programme for government, we’ll be asked to do better. The results could add up for the planet and your pocket.
Food, glorious food
Since the pandemic made home working the norm, national rates of “looking in the fridge” have soared. Knowing exactly what’s in there should mean we are shopping smarter and wasting less.
"Most people throw away about a third of the food they buy. For an average family, that could add up to about €800 a year," says Mindy O'Brien, co-ordinator of environmental charity Voice Ireland. Buying what you need and using what you buy will help your pocket and the planet.
Those who meal-plan and shop with a list spend less on food and have less food waste. Websites such as stopfoodwaste.ie will help reduce your grocery spend and brown bin bill. Bendy carrots and soggy celery make freezable soup, and if half the vegetables or berries you buy end up in the bin, buy frozen.
Knowing the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates is smart too. “‘Use by’ is a definite date, that’s a date you need to comply with,” says O’Brien. “‘Best before’ means it’s still edible but it may have lost some of its quality.” Use common sense and use your nose.
Wasting food means paying for it on the double. “You are paying for it at the supermarket and paying for it to be removed in your bin,” says O’Brien. “For each kilo of food you throw away it costs you about €3. That’s both in the purchasing of it and in the waste disposal cost.”
If you do have food waste, put it in the right bin. “Food waste is very heavy, it has a lot of water in it, so if you are putting your food waste into your landfill bin, it’s going to make it a lot heavier and you are going to be paying more per kilo,” says O’Brien. Investing in a composting unit will save you even more.
Plastic not fantastic
If your car or home is littered with half-empty plastic water bottles, it’s time to take stock. The new Government has single-use plastics in its crosshairs. An estimated 183 million litres of water was bought in the Republic in 2017, according to Drinks Industry Ireland.
Bottled water requires up to 2,000 times the energy used to produce tap water. Consider its production, transportation and refrigeration and hear the planet groan.
“We are consuming about 300 million plastic water bottles a year at a cost of between €1 and €1.50 a bottle,” says O’Brien. “Why pay when you can get it for free?”
A reusable bottle will save money, water and waste. Social enterprise website refill.ie sells a 500ml food-grade stainless steel water bottle, double insulated for hot and cold drinks, for €10. Check out its map of free public water taps, from Ballinskelligs to Inishowen, too. If you have a five-a-week bottled water habit, expect to save about €250 a year.
A dirty business
If you want to save money, don't have kids. If you do have kids, prepare to spend a small fortune on disposable nappies. Wicklow County Council estimates that children use 5,000 nappies until potty trained.
With individual nappies costing up to 26 cent each, that’s about €520 a year. Add nappy sacks, wipes and bin charges to dispose of the 1,750kg of domestic waste generated and you’ve got the cost of a staycation right there.
“By the age of 2½, a baby will have produced a five-metre-high pile of used disposable nappies that weighs almost one tonne,” the council warns. “What’s more, disposables will outlive your child by many lifetimes, as it takes 200-500 years for one disposable nappy to decompose.” Yikes.
Disposable nappies contain paper pulp, plastics, absorbent gel granules and chemical additives, which have a negative impact on the environment.
Wipes labelled “flushable” still end up clumped on our beaches. “Biodegradable” nappies can be problematic too, adding to waste. For the environment and your pocket, the whole thing stinks.
Enter the reusable cloth nappy – and things have moved on since you were last jabbed with a jumbo safety pin. When Timi Nicholson and her husband did the maths, factoring in machine washing, they calculated a cloth nappy investment for their first child would break even in a year.
By reusing them on their second child, the savings continued. They also use cloth wipes. Nicholson is a member of the not-for-profit organisation Cloth Nappy Library Ireland. It runs Nappuccino events where the cloth-nappy-curious can borrow and trial 10 reusable nappies for three weeks for just €20.
Converts can then choose to invest in 25 reusable nappies at €12 to €30 each, depending on the brand. Second-hand reusable nappies are available for about 60 per cent less.
“It looks like a lot of money, and a €500 investment up front is a lot of money, but you can start with two or three nappies. Try them at home and when you are comfortable, get another one,” says Nicholson. One disposable nappy, fewer is one fewer in landfill and money back in your pocket.
Take a cursory glance at your local online marketplace and you'll feel like a mug for paying full price for that high-end pram, scooter or trampoline when a family down the road is flogging theirs for a third of the price. Bunk beds, garden furniture, bicycle racks – once you've caught the second-hand marketplace bug, it's hard to pay full price again.
One person’s trash becomes another’s treasure as perfectly good items continue in use instead of wasting in the shed or going to landfill.
"I've just bought a second-hand Gaggia coffee maker for €50 on Adverts.ie and I'm delighted with it," says O'Brien of Voice Ireland.
If you’ve got your eye on a brand-new Out ’n’ About Nipper 360 double buggy, which retails at about €499, you can find a pre-loved version with a few knocks from €200 online.
Buying second hand isn’t mean; it’s green. With the new programme for government pledging to promote “a more sustainable and responsible culture for consumption, use and reuse of materials”, you’ll be bang on message by using second hand or freecycling.
By choosing to travel by bike, you’re already doing your bit for the environment and your pocket. You pay no fuel, insurance, motor tax or parking charges and there are no emissions.
It's a wonder three in four journeys in Ireland are still made by car, despite the fact that more than half of all trips are less than 8km, according Central Statistics Office data. The perceived effort of cycling – be that steep hills or longer distances – means many people aren't seeing beyond their windscreens. That's where the electric bike comes in.
Travelling at up to 25km an hour, regardless of the weather, terrain or the cyclist's fitness, there's a lot to like. With Green Party leader and cycling enthusiast Eamon Ryan now Minister for Transport, we can expect to see e-bikes really take off.
The programme for government pledges €180 million a year on cycling for the lifetime of the Government. That includes increasing allowances for e-bikes under the bike-to-work scheme, currently capped at €1,000. New separated cycle routes are on the way too. To save money and the environment, it’s time to get on your bike.
Expect to pay upwards of €1,000 for an e-bike, rising to €2,700 for some. A retrofit of your existing bike, if suitable, will be cheaper. There are second-hand deals to be had too.
You’re talking a once-a-week charging of the battery, with the average rider getting 100km out of it. There will be some servicing costs. Yes, it can look a bit dorky to be moving without much pedalling, but the savings are no joke.
The average cost of running a car last year was €10,690 according to AA estimates – that’s motor tax, fuel, insurance, NCT and repairs. In fact, research shows those most inclined to make the shift to e-bikes are car users rather than other cyclists. Two million of them were purchased in the European Union last year.
For those commuting from the outer suburbs, using an e-bike will work out cheaper than many annual public transport tickets. It’s likely to be faster too. Who’s the dork now?