Sometimes it feels like making the right, green choice is about making the more expensive choice – the higher prices fetched by some eco-options in grocery and clothing stores are enough to make even the most ardent greenie stray.
But fear not! Below are 10 free things you can do to be green. Some are even fun! Others offer more practical tips that can easily be implemented and introduced into your daily routine.
1. Volunteer in exchange for local produce
Eating locally, seasonally and/or organically is great for both the environment and your health, but those costs can add up!
Luckily, many small-scale farms are open to a trade: your sweat and labor for their fruits and vegetables. Oftentimes, organic, sustainable or pesticide-free farms can be short on staff and time and need the extra help.
The judicious use of large machinery and scant or non-existent application of synthetic pesticides and herbicides means these farms need more labor than a conventional farm. Volunteers can help weed beds, apply compost to rows, transplant starts and harvest crops (all after a few supervised training rounds, of course).
If the farm needs you, dust off the garden gloves, get out there and work for your vegetables! Nothing’s ever really free, right?
2. Trade green skills
In the spirit of swapping, see if there are people in your neighborhood with whom you could trade your green skills and assets.
For example, are you a skillful composter? (Let’s face it, some of us have trouble with those heaping piles or lack the motivation to even try.) For the avid composter, offer a few neighbors the opportunity to drop off their compostable waste with you.
You gain because you get more material to heat up your pile, as well as more end product to apply to your lawn or garden. Your neighbors gain because they help reduce the amount of waste they send to the landfill, and any extra compost you have can be shared for your neighbor’s use.
Another possible swap: Get rid of that plethora of zucchini and other vegetables taking over your backyard garden by giving any extra you have to the family next door. Reduce your workload out in the sun with an exchange that the family’s teenager mow your lawn once a week. You reduce a trip for a lawn company, and you get a free service! Think about your green skills. How could you set up a trade?
3. Go out on a bike
We all know it is fun to go out, but with driving, parking and inflated food and beverage prices, the night adds up fast. To save green and be green, organize a bike riding pub crawl extravaganza with your friends. You’re sure to have fun, not to mention save money and use less gas.
Don’t have a bike? No problem! Well, as long as you live in New York City or Tulsa, Okla., that is. In NYC, The Alliance for Downtown New York offers residents and tourists alike the two-and-a-half hour opportunity to bike the city for free. A credit card is required to ensure the bike is returned.
In Tulsa, the Warren Medical Research Foundation donated bikes to be used around the city free of charge. Tulsa has a great paved trail system, and you get 24 hours with your bike. Free mobility and health promotion – not a bad night (or day).
If your city doesn’t have a bike-sharing program, get ambitious and see what it takes to start one. Oftentimes there are municipal grants just waiting to be applied for, and cities are always looking for innovative ways to promote tourism. The trend has already caught on in Europe and Mexico.
4. Green get together
Treat your friends to an experience for their next birthday or a much-needed reunion. Life is all about the memories we make, not the things we have, right?
Summer movies in the park or a live band in a coffee shop (OK, you’ll want to pay for an iced chai latte) are a start. If you are really a planner, gather all your old pictures of friends and scrapbook with materials from around the house (or at least digitize the pictures so you can upload them onto Facebook).
For a real throwback, host an old-school slumber party and watch a classic movie you already own. It will cost you practically nothing and you’ll end up making the most of the day by giving fun, not worldly possessions that will eventually end up in a landfill.
5. Green elephant
We have all heard of the game white elephant – the holiday season group gift exchange game with a maximum limit on how much you can spend per gift ($5, $10, etc.). For green elephant, instead of a monetary limit, have a material limit: only play the game with gifts you can find lying around the house or crafty gifts you can make with existing materials.
That boring old picture frame you have? Add some Mancala beads for a shimmery upgrade, and bring it as your gift to exchange. Green elephant is a great way to reuse some of that old junk you have lying around the house and reduce some of the holiday-season material excess that can drain your green spirit.
6. Enjoy your own back yard
All too often we take carbon and monetarily expensive trips only to leave our home states that we have yet to fully explore. The tried and true vacation can be turned into the inexpensive staycation, helping you save money and the environment at the same time. Carpool with some friends and make an escape to the beach, the mountains or another close getaway.
To really save money, pack a tent… it’s only a one or two night stay! Use Google Maps to plan a route that is less than two hours away to save time and gas. Not only will you save cash, you will get to know your area a little better and help keep the little money you do spend closer to home.
7. Reuse your bags
We all do it every once in a while: forget our reusable grocery bags. But luckily we know how to reuse the plastic bags when they start to accumulate (doggie bag, trash liner, storage bag, you name it). Yet all that effort and attention on plastic grocery bags leads us to forget about other types of plastic bags: the freezer bag and the sandwich bag.
Typically used for items like sandwiches or leftovers, these bags receive little wear and tear and can be washed, dried and reused again and again. Using what you already have is technically free, right?
8. Experiment with homemade cleaners
Let’s face it, some of the eco-cleaning products at the store are expensive. But since you still have to clean, try making some cleaning supplies yourself from stuff that’s already in your kitchen.
Some basic, natural, non-chemical cleaning elements: vinegar, baking soda, seltzer water and lemon juice.
With vinegar, mix with one part water to dilute, put in a spray bottle and test on a surface before applying it to bathrooms and kitchen countertops.
Baking soda can be used as a scrubber as well as a deodorizer – that’s why we call it the “multipurpose hero.” Lemon juice makes a great smelling cleaning paste when combined with baking soda, and breaks down hard water stains when combined with vinegar.
Also, seltzer water is a great stain remover for carpets and clothes. For more tips and recipes to make your own green cleaning supplies, check out Stain-Removal-101.com.
9. Turn of the water
Whether you have a yard of fresh grass, low-water-use Xeriscape design or traditional turf, when it rains, don’t water! With natural moisture, there is no need to water on the regular schedule set by the sprinkler or drip irrigation system. Turn off the water for a day or two after a good rain storm and save mucho dinero.
10. Reset your irrigation timer
On the water note, reset your irrigation timer for your landscapes when the seasons change and when your plants become mature (they need less water once established). By doing so, you avoid over-watering and spending extra money.