I try to make as many Earth-conscious decisions as I can every day, but I admit I’m in no position to preach. I sometimes buy plastic water bottles. I don’t have a green thumb. I could ride my bicycle way more often than I do.
But that’s what Earth Day is all about — facing our bad habits and realizing that our beautiful planet is worth every effort we can make to change.
The cool thing is, being eco-friendly often means you’re being friendly to your budget, too. Here are five things you can start doing to save money and the environment at the same time.
1 Leave your car at home.
It costs about $3,000 per year to drive and maintain a car, according to the Charleston Department of Planning and Neighborhoods. If you get into the habit of walking or biking shorter distances around town, you really could put a dent in that expense. Plus, it’s a lot gentler on the environment and Charleston’s traffic situation.
“Especially in Charleston, we have to be aware that it is mathematically impossible to keep jamming more cars into a confined space, and that makes bicycling a serious transportation factor,” said Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves.
To find cheaper bikes, Bradford said to check pawn shops and local bicycle shops such as Affordabike, Mike’s Bikes and the Bicycle Shoppe.
2 Avoid single-use plastic.
About $1 billion worth of plastic is dumped in landfills each year in the United States, and only about 8 percent of that plastic is recovered for recycling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The best way to reduce these numbers (and plastic expenses) is to avoid using disposable plastic whenever possible.
Start taking a reusable water bottle around with you instead of purchasing disposable bottles whenever you feel parched. A durable bottle that contains no harmful plastic chemicals costs about $10, a paid-for expense if you stop buying disposable bottles of water.
Also, use your own bags instead of plastic when you shop, and several grocery and convenience stores will give you cash back on your purchases. Customers at CVS get $1 off purchases for every four times they scan a Green Bag Tag, which is a small card you can attach to reusable bags. You also can save 5 cents-10 cents on purchases at Whole Foods, Target and Bi-Lo when you bring your own bags. See stores for more details.
3 Double-check labels.
Committing to buying more organic and fair-trade groceries is a great first step in reducing your ecological impact. Factory-farmed meats and processed junk food do more harm to your body and the environment than I can even begin to vent about. Sadly, many companies falsely boast “organic” and “eco-friendly” labels, which means the company is charging you for green efforts that they aren’t even making. To check the legitimacy of your groceries’ product labels, visit www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/eco-home.cfm.
4 Buy local food.
Almost every municipality in the tri-county area sponsors farmers markets, where locals can buy and sell locally grown produce. Not only do farmers markets help out the local economy and reduce the ecological impact of importing goods, the produce often is fresher, tastier and can be cheaper. Also, try to buy your family’s breads at local bakeries. One of my favorites is Kudzu Bakery in Mount Pleasant, where I can pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread for under $5.
5 Educate yourself.
You can learn more ways to live greener at the Charleston County Earth Day celebration 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Riverfront Park in North Charleston. They’ll have plenty of booths that focus on waste reduction, conservation, sustainable living and more.
Plus, if you bring your gas-powered lawn mower (which contributes to air pollution), you can exchange it for a voucher to buy an electric lawn mower at a discounted price.