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How to be Kind to the Environment Without Breaking the Bank:12 Tips from TOMbag’s Co-Founder

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

As someone who is passionate about circular economy, all things reusable and plastic-free, it was not so surprising that eventually my passion led me to start my own business in the sustainability space - TOMbag.

I am a business owner, mum, wife, Instagramer and citizen that walks the talk. Wherever I go, my reusable bottle and cup go with me. I have committed to reusable cloth diapers and wipes to use on my daughter. I love my reusable feminine hygiene products. I ditched single-use makeup cotton rounds and replaced them with an organic reusable alternative. I said no - once and for all - to all kinds of single-use plastic bags including shopping bags, produce bags and, of course, trash bags.

 

These steps were not taken all at once - it was a process. A process of self-educating, learning and experimenting. A process during which I discovered that taking care of the planet actually helps you saving money - mainly thanks to switching to reusables, but also through re-embracing practices that were common just few decades ago.


Single-use products industry sells us convenience. But at what cost? “Take-make-waste” approach resulted into unprecedented biodiversity loss, our oceans being severely contaminated with microplastic and our own health being impacted. Our single-use products dependency led us to an environmental disaster we find ourselves in today with impacts of climate change and global warming costing billions of dollars to the global economy.


Single-use products became a part of our life not only due to their convenience but also due to their attractive, unbeatable pricing. But are they really so cheap?


This blog post was written with an intent to show that reusable alternatives and good old-school practices belong to our modern lives and that is for two reasons. First, they allow us to not waste money and, second, they help us to save our one and only home - the Earth.


#1. BUY “UGLY” FRUITS & VEGGIES


Food waste significantly contributes to global warming. According to WWF, around 6-8% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are caused by wasting food. Food thrown away in landfill produce methane - a greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than CO2 - driving climate change further.

Significant part of all wasted food are fruits & veggies that don’t meet strict grocery stores’ cosmetic standards - it is estimated that they account for up to 40% of total food waste. Reports show that in the UK alone, 25% of apples, 20% of onions and 13% of potatoes are wasted on purely cosmetic grounds!


The good news is that these days we can save “imperfect” produce thanks to numerous services that deliver it straight to your door. If you are based in Sydney, you would want to check out these guys here - with free-of-charge delivery you will get different sized boxes with local “ugly” fruits & veggies. If you are located elsewhere, google “imperfect” produce delivery services near you. If there are none, there is a chance that your local supermarket might be selling some of “ugly” fruits & veggies varieties.



Apart from environmental benefits, “ugly” produce helps you save money - estimate up to 30% savings if compared to standard fruits & veggies. In my family’s case simple switch to “imperfect” produce translates into up to $800 in savings each year. Not bad, right?


#2. BORROW BOOKS FROM YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY (OR A FRIEND)


Did you know that 30 million trees are cut down annually for books sold in the U.S. alone? If you are an avid reader and an eco-warrior at the same time, you don’t need to compromise - just start borrowing books from your local library or exchange books with a friend.

We borrow library books - mainly for our daughter - every month. I’ve calculated that during our last trip we managed to save around $300!


#3. USE SHAMPOO BARS & CONDITIONERS


In the U.S. alone, over 552 million shampoo bottles could be ending up in landfills each year. As shampoo bottles are made out of virgin plastic, it’s a good enough reason to switch to shampoo & conditioner bars. By doing so you will help the planet and save some bucks along the way.


There is an abundance of shampoo bars & conditioners on the market these days and it’s easy to choose a brand based on your requirements and preferences. Check out this Aussie made & owned brand - it’s vegan, sulphate and palm oil-free and comes in a plastic-free packaging. It lasts very long time (one bar equals six bottles!) and never gets slimy if you keep it in the shower. Thanks to high-quality and natural ingredients, this bar can be used by all family members including babies (tested on our own toddler!). I love that it’s an all-in-one soap that replaces shampoo, conditioner and a shower gel.


#4. WHEN DOING LAUNDRY USE COLD WATER


Using cold water settings when doing your laundry will help you save on bills while being kind to the planet. Did you know that heating water accounts for approximately 90 percent of the energy needed to run a washing machine? Less energy used translates into money savings. According to some estimates, an average household in the U.S. can save up to 60USD per year after switching to cold water settings for their laundry routines.

Additional energy can also be saved by making sure you load your washer fully. Partly loaded washers use more energy and this way you will have to use your washing machine more often.


#5. LINE DRY YOUR CLOTHES


Another laundry-related tip is to forget your dryer and line dry your clothes instead. According to some data, an average family uses a tumble dryer six hours each week. While the cost associated with tumble dryer usage would vary depending on energy savings rating of your appliance some estimate that on average the energy used by one hour of tumble dryer working equals 1.4AUD. Multiply this number by the number of hours you use yours every week/months/year and you’ll get a better picture.

The most eco-friendly and money-saving option for drying your clothes is leaving them on your clothes line and let the sun do its job. This way you will save on your bills and help the planet as no energy will be wasted. A simple win-win.


But if you really need to use your dryer, make sure to empty the lint filter after each load as it will help to improve energy efficiency. You can also think about investing into dryer balls - they reduce drying time by separating clothes and allowing hot air to circulate more evenly and efficiently.


#6. MAKE YOUR COFFEE AT HOME


Thanks to never ending lockdowns where cafes stopped accepting my beloved reusable coffee cups, my family completely transitioned to coffee made at home. This simple switch helped us save more than $4000 in a single year. Whoa!


As the world is slowly waking up from the coronavirus coma, we are also starting to use our reusable cups again when going out.

Globally, nearly 300 billion single-use coffee cups end up in landfills each year. Disposable coffee cups are often made with hard to recycled materials and depending on the material they are made from take up to 450 years to decompose.


I don’t believe that single-use alternatives to plastic/paper disposable coffee cups are the answer when the whole world is shifting to circular economy. Single-use will always be single-use and translate into discarding a product after just one use. There are many “trendy” products out there that aim to replace single-use coffee cups including edible coffee cups but those are nothing but greenwashing. Reuse always wins and coffee cups is a great example of that. If you want to learn more, here a great report on the topic.


#7. START THRIFTING


With fashion industry contributing over 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, buying second hand is one of the awesome ways how to reduce your personal environmental footprint.


I love thrifting - it always feels like an adventure to me. Recently I purchased barely worn Calvin Klein jeans on eBay Australia for only 99 cents! Today I also hunted down beautiful tops from Nautica and Kookai for myself and a Country Road jumper for my daughter. All that costed me less than $30.

I love the idea of saving money while saving beautiful and full of life clothes from landfill.


#8: LOVE YOGURT? DON’T BUY IT, MAKE IT AT HOME INSTEAD


The vast majority of yogurt brands are coming in a plastic packaging made out of virgin plastic. If you eat yogurt regularly, that creates a whole lot of unnecessary waste. Although you can recycle most of yogurt bottles, pouches, containers and tubes and decrease your environmental footprint this way, why not to go one step further and make your own yogurt at home?

And don’t worry - yogurts are usually super easy (and fast!) to make. All you need is a yogurt maker (we personally love this stainless steel, thermos-style, no electricity one), yogurt starter (either vegan if your preference is a plant-based yogurt, or a yogurt starter suitable for dairy yogurts) and a thickener for Greek-style yogurts.


Another good thing about home-made yogurts is that you can control what goes inside by selecting the milk of your choice (including homemade).


Overall, owning a yogurt maker comes at very low costs and offers you a variety of yogurts to make - from dairy and lactose-free to plant-based including cashew, coconut, soy, and almond.


#9. SWITCH TO WOODEN CHRISTMAS TREES


There is no Christmas without a Christmas tree but are real or artificial trees sustainable?


As the latter is made out of virgin plastic it relies on fossil fuels resulting in pretty high overall carbon footprint - a 2 meter high artificial tree would release around 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions. It is twice as much CO2 if compared to a real tree that would eventually end up in landfill and more than 10 times that of a real tree that would end up being incinerated.

According to some researchers, real Christmas trees environmental impact highly depends on their waste management. If choosing to throw away your real Christmas tree in landfill, you would create 16kg of carbon dioxide emissions while recycling or growing your Christmas tree in a pot can result in a negative carbon emissions.


If you are a fan of all things reusable (like me!) there is a third option - a wooden reusable Christmas tree! I am in love with our Christmas tree - sustainably made in Australia, this tree is pretty, versatile in its look and will serve us a lifetime (meaning savings over just few years time!).


#10. GROW YOUR OWN PRODUCE


Sick of buying herbs all wrapped up in plastic? Surprise-surprise: you can grow your own herbs even if you don’t live in a house with a garden - a bit of space on a balcony, terrace or verandah (floor space, railings and even walls will all work!) would suffice for organising your own mini garden.

Most of the herbs though would thrive in a fair amount of sunlight (at least 4 hours a day), so make sure that you choose the right position for your pots. Chives, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, mint and sage are easy-to-grow herbs that you might consider planting. Some of them will provide you with harvest all year round. Apart from significant savings and avoiding single-use plastic, you will also enjoy herbs in an organic quality without nasty pesticides.



#11. USE REUSABLE MAKEUP ROUNDS


Single-use makeup cotton pads is another thing you might want to replace with a reusable alternative. One of the reasons why you would want to ditch them is that cotton is considered to be the most pesticide-doused crop on the planet. Pesticides pose various health risks as they are extremely toxic and long-lasting, too. When in contact with skin, pesticides residues can get into your body - something to think about when using cotton rounds, pads or balls on a daily basis.

These feel great, too!

Apart from the health risks, regular cotton is harming our planet - in a number of ways. Firstly, production of cotton requires a lot of water that can’t be reused afterwards due to either high contamination level or evaporation. Yielding 1 kg of cotton would waste whopping 20,000 Litres of water. According to some experts, cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities.


In addition to wasting water, cotton causes irreversible soil erosion and degradation. When soil quality no longer permits cotton cultivation, cotton growers move to new areas where they continue with the destruction of habitat and soil exhaustion.


And then there are pesticides and fertilisers. Their runoff negatively affect soil quality and water by contaminating rivers, lakes, underground aquifers, and wetlands. Such contamination threaten biodiversity directly by immediate toxicity or indirectly via long-term accumulation.


Finally, single-use makeup rounds come in some form of plastic packaging that is an additional reason of why you should switch to a reusable alternative.


I personally use these reusable makeup rounds - made with 100% organic bamboo, they are super soft, meant to be used over 1000 times which would eventually help saving around $50 a year.


#12. REUSABLE TRASH BAGS


I can’t skip this tip, I am sorry! The idea of TOMbag was born as I saw a gap on the market - in the world where nearly any product category has a reusable option, back in 2019 trash bags didn’t have a proper and purposely designed reusable alternative. At the same time you, me and most of other humans (and businesses) on this planet are using trash bags on a daily basis. Most of the waste bags used are being made out of virgin plastic, meaning that they require fossil fuels to be made - and how plastic garbage bags are different from plastic shopping bags that are being banned by many governments all over the world? Saying “no” to single-use plastic shopping bags but continuing using disposable plastic trash bags is a bit of a double standard, don’t you think?

In line with principles of circular economy TOMbag reusable garbage bags were designed to serve you a long time - depending on a waste stream and type of waste, it can last up to 5 years. So, at the end of the day it will help you save.

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