Happy World Environment Day 2020 (5th June)! These are 12 easy eco-friendly tips that can help you change your spending habits on water, energy, groceries, meals and more to save money and protect the environment at the same time.
Rising sea levels, increasing global temperatures, more frequent extreme weather, prolonged droughts, among other observable effects of climate change do more than just drive our ecosystems, wildlife and communities to extinction. They also impact the things we value and depend on like water, energy, agriculture and human health.
Neglecting our environment also comes with a hefty price. From 2010 to 2110, the cumulative cost of climate damage for Malaysia and ASEAN is predicted to be RM40.1 trillion and RM151.0 trillion respectively, according to researchers at the University of Malaya and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. To put it into financial context: Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2019 was RM1.51 trillion.
On a micro level, it’s hard to imagine what we, as individuals, can do to fix a problem of this scale and severity. But humans are more powerful and influential than they think. When we act in unison with others - communities, governments, organizations, cities and schools - we can bring about meaningful and sustainable change.
This World Environment Day (June 5), we would like to shed light on some of the simple and easy ways you can care for the environment while also saving money, and vice versa. Going green while on a budget may seem intimidating or overwhelming, but you’ll soon realize that these sustainable and eco-friendly habits are easy and practical.
Scroll down further to get some easy tips on how to save the environment while saving money.
Rethinking How We Use Water And Energy
Change your mindset to change the world
Malaysia’s low tariff structure and potable water supply may be among the reasons why Malaysians tend to take water for granted. Although your water bill probably isn’t your most expensive utility, it’s the easiest to cut back on.
We consume an average of 201 litres of water per day, which is equivalent to 402 bottles of 0.5 litre capacity bottles, according to figures from the National Water Services Commission (SPAN). That figure is higher than the recommended 165 litres a day by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It’s clear that something needs to change.
Try calculating your personal water footprint here to understand how much water usage should be reduced in your daily life. Water footprint is defined as tap water and ‘virtual water’ used to produce food, electricity, and home goods.
When we alter our management of, and attitude towards water, we can help reduce water wastage and save up on some cash.
The same can be said of energy consumption as well. Thanks to the advent of technology, and notable progress of energy access, more people than ever have access to basic energy and electrical needs.
But this also means a larger segment of society is regularly consuming energy and dependent on electric appliances such as washing machines and microwaves, and devices like smartphones and tablets.
It’s safe to conclude that current households consume more energy than the generations before us. Without proper energy management, we could directly or indirectly be contributing to the country’s carbon footprint, which may lead to bigger global issues like climate change.
So it’s in our own best interest to self-educate and reevaluate how we think and use energy. And it appears that we’re heading in the right direction - research shows that consumers in markets, big and small, are becoming increasingly motivated to purchase eco-friendly products, and are specifically looking out for companies that care about environmental issues.
But ideals and mindful actions are two separate things. When it comes to the environment (and anything really), we should walk the talk and take practical steps to reduce our carbon footprint. We found some useful tips online that we’d like to share with you. Let’s analyze:
1. Fix pipe leakages in your house - they cost more than you realise
Get to the root cause of your high water bills - leaks!
On average, a total of 37.8 litres of your water footprint is lost to leaks in a day. Calculate your water waste here for more insights. We tried it out and discovered that 1 second worth of leaks on a fast running faucet could generate up to 7,461,047 litres of water!
Learning how to repair leaking pipes and faucets may seem like a daunting task, but it will be worth the effort. Examine the washers and gaskets for wear and tear as this may be causing the leaks.
2. Invest in energy-saving products (or just put a brick in your toilet!)
Relatively new technology now makes efficient use of water possible.
Conventional showerheads flow at 18.9 litres per minute or more, in comparison to low-flow showerheads which typically flow at 9.4 litres per minute. Similarly, conventional faucets flow at around 18.9 litres per minute, while low-flow faucets flow at 6 litres per minute.
The investment may require some extra moolah up front, but it will be a bargain once you save up extra money down the road.
Similarly, it’s also good to install low-flow toilets at home, especially since flushing is cited as the biggest cause of water loss in a house, according to WaterCalculator. Fun fact: a person flushes five times a day on average. Conventional toilets use 18.9 to 26.4 litres per flush, but newer low-flow models use as little as 6 litres.
Not keen on investing in a low-flow toilet? Try using development devices like bricks or bags filled with stones to retrofit a toilet so it uses less water to flush poop down.
According to the Sustainability of Semi-arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) research institute, these displacement devices can reduce the amount of water a toilet uses by about 15.9 litres per toilet per day. However, it’s not recommended as a long-term solution because of the potentially damaging side effects.
3. Keep finding creative ways to use less water at home
Cut down on your water bill by reducing your water usage in general.
- Reduce long showers: time yourself by showering to a maximum of two songs.
- Recycle used water from washing your rice, pasta or fruits to water your plants.
- Use a cup or a tub to store water when brushing your teeth or cleaning dishes.
- Only wash clothes with your washing machine if it’s on a full load.
- Lastly, water plants or wash the porch with collected rainwater.
4. Don’t just turn off the switches - unplug them completely
Switch off and unplug all electrical appliances and sockets when not in use, because this can help save up on electric bills, and is good for the environment. It’s not a widely-known fact that all things plugged in are bound to generate some energy, and unknowingly add more zeros to your electric bill.
Make it hassle-free for yourself by using a power strip for low voltage electronics like computers, phone charges, lights, among others. Just be careful not to overload the strip or use all appliances at the same time because it can overheat and get on fire. With a power strip, you can avoid the need to unplug all electronics. Instead, just unplug the main switch to save time.
Conserve energy by turning off electricity extension, plus and power strips.
Though Malaysia has one of the lowest electricity prices in the world at USD$0.06 (RM0.26) per kWh for households, it’s good practice to reduce electricity usage.
5. Take public transportation or walk to your destination
If it’s convenient, we recommend walking or cycling to wherever you need to get to. It’s cheaper, good for the environment and for your physical and mental health. The other option, whenever accessible, is to take public transportation.
You could also carpool with friends or family, especially to work, to reduce carbon emission and pollution all around.
Malaysia made a commitment to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 45% by 2030 at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference.
It’s known that Malaysians are heavily reliant on privately owned vehicles. Around 13.8 million cars and 13 million motorcycles on the road are cited as contributing factors to the country’s 7.27 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per capita, based on the CO2 Emission from Fuel Combustion Highlights 2017 report by the International Energy Agency.
That figure was double that of neighbor Thailand, and higher than the densely-populated China at 6.59 tonnes. It’s time we try to reduce our carbon footprint (and save money!)
Related: 6 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to Buy a Car in Malaysia
Rethinking How We Shop
Biodegradable packaging and responsible and sustainable use of sources are just two examples of how brands are changing their business models to suit a growing trend and demand for environmental-friendly products. In fact, 60% of people say they are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, according to a 2015 Nielsen poll studying up to 30,000 consumers in 60 countries across the globe.
As part of your own effort to be greener, support brands or merchandises that practise sustainability or are known for their environmental causes.
Lush, for example, believes in protecting people, animals and the planet. Their pots and bottles are made from BPA-Free and 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. Even their paper bags are made with 100% post-consumer recycled paper and are compostable.
Click here for an in-depth look at top brands that are positively impacting the world through their green products, and also discovering great commercial success from it.
1. Cut down on grocery spending
Shop in the refrigerator first - use up old meat or wilting produce as much as possible.
Make sure your grocery list is as specific as possible, and only purchase ingredients that you’re going to use within the next few days.
We recommend buying groceries online because not only is it safer, faster and more rewarding, but also helps you resist temptations while browsing through the aisles at the supermarket.
While you’re at it, it may be good to check our list of credit cards to see the latest cashback and rewards available to make your shopping experience more fulfilling.
Related: Top Credit Cards in Malaysia
2. Go digital - shop online
Stay indoors, and shop online.
Almost similar to the previous point, cut down on gas, parking and toll costs by shopping online. It’s easier, more rewarding, safer and environmentally friendly.
However, to truly contribute to the environmental cause, it’s best to avoid rushed shipping, and buy more items together to minimize shipments. You can even go to the extreme of supporting companies that only use eco-friendly packaging.
Rethinking How We Eat And Drink
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. What we consume affects our emotional, physical, mental, and for some, spiritual well-being, and determines our quality of life.
Therefore, to ensure that we can continue living a healthy and happy life, it’s crucial that we reflect on both the quality and quantity of what we consume to understand its personal, financial and environmental impacts.
1. Commit to better meal planning
Take at least five hours in a week to shop, prep, and plan your meal for the week. You won’t run out of recipe ideas, because there are tons of recipes to try on YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest.
Here are some interesting 5-minute recipes
If you’re completely new to the world of meal prepping, Savethefood provides a guide for to start your meal prepping journey and discover meal prepping plan suggestions.
The guide also gives extra tips and guidance on your journey to becoming a food waste warrior. You will discover a collection of preparation and storage tools, by using the planning features provided by Savetthefood to estimate how much food you need when prepping for family and friends.
2. Give the ‘atas’ coffee a break - make your own drinks instead
Skip that regular on-the-go coffee. Both the cup and lid of your favourite coffee will live on for over 100 years! Cutting down on this simple luxury (or necessity for many) can help save a person up to hundreds of Ringgit a year - money that can be used for investment and retirement savings instead.
Simple homemade juices are easy to make.
Drop the pricy flavoured (and unhealthy) bottle drinks from supermarkets with your own homemade drinks. Infuse your filtered water at home with slices of fruits like strawberries, lemon, orange or blueberries. Even the most durable plastic items, like bottles, can take 450 years to biodegrade.
Rethinking Our Product Choices
You are what you associate yourself with like values, beliefs and attitudes. The same applies to business marketing. What we perceive as valuable depends on the technical, economic, service and social benefits that customers receive in exchange for the price they pay.
If convenience is valuable to you, you will most likely splurge on products that offer that (even if they are bad for your pocket and the environment!) So, if you’ve read up till this point, we’re pretty sure you value the environment and personal finance, to some degree in your life. Hence try making product purchases with those two factors in mind.
1. Produce your own cleaning products
Swap expensive and toxic-filled cleaning products with more eco-friendly, natural and cheaper alternatives.
Make your own all-purpose cleaner with a simple recipe which includes adding 3 cups of water, 1 cup of vinegar, 2 teaspoon, and 10 drops of essential lemon oil. Though it’s more diluted than the usual disinfectant, it’s still great for cleaning jobs around the house.
Play your part in helping the environment by using natural products.
Other alternatives are baking soda, which is a good cleaner and deodorizer, and cornstarch, which is good for polishing and cleaning sliding windows, picture windows and other glass surfaces.
Our personal favourite are lemons. Their powerful natural acids help cut through grease and kill bacteria easily. For a more extensive list of natural alternatives, click here.
2. Forgo plastic for biodegradable products
Purchase glass or steel containers, straws and cutlery instead of using disposable plastic items, which not only makes your meal slightly more pricey, but it’s bad for the environment, too.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Avoid paying the usual RM0.20 penalty for plastic when you shop outside or takeaway by bringing your own recyclable bag.
3. Stop printing stuff unnecessarily (and stop companies too, while you’re at it)
Papers and paper-based products generate the largest portion of most municipal solid wastes, according to KL-based Thanam Industry, a scrap and recycle specialist.
In Malaysia, paper accounts for over 50% of all office waste, and it’s estimated that one tree is cut down to produce 20 reams of A4-size papers.
Paper waste ends up filling our landfills unnecessarily. Every month, over 57,000 tonnes of paper are thrown into landfills in Malaysia - an equivalent to chopping down 680,000 trees of marketable size.
Help reduce the amount of paper piling up landfills.
Thrown out paper also forms a large part of the waste stream when they end up in drains and waterways, causing other problems like flash floods.
One super simple way to reduce paper usage and save money is to enroll in your bank’s digital bank statements, like HSBC's for example. It’s a small gesture, but collectively, can make a whole lot of difference to our landfills. Additionally, when you pay your bills online or via credit card, you stand a chance to earn great rewards and cashback.
4. Swap paper towels with microfibre cloths
Cut the long-term cost of purchasing new rolls of paper towels by replacing it with microfibre cloths, which are eco-friendly and washable.
Microfibre cloths are also more efficient as they absorb spills and trap dust better than paper towels.
5. Invest in a metal razor
Swap your disposable plastic razor with a safety metal razor. You may need to initially fork out some extra money for the metal razor, but the latter will be worth the investment, especially when you cut down on disposable razor purchases.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, around 2 billion non-biodegradable disposable razors are thrown into landfills every year.
Sustainable razors can make a difference.
Not into metal razors? Well here’s a list of pros and cons for other types of razors available in the market.
6. Break up with disposable diapers, menstrual pads, and tampons
Disposable baby diapers, another source of overcrowding in our landfills, take 500 years to decompose. A crazy figure considering most babies will go through between 2,500 to 3,000 diapers in their first year, according to most baby experts online.
Eco-friendly diapers don’t have harsh chemicals that can irritate a baby’s skin.
Disposable diaper waste makes up 12% of our landfills, based on the latest findings by the National Solid Waste Management Department (JPSPN).
The solution? Get washable diapers, not only are they cheaper in the long run, but also more eco-friendly. This local blogger agrees with us.
Menstrual pads are no exception to the global plastic domination. Collectively, pads, tampons and panty liners with their packaging and individual wrapping, all of which are made of 90% plastic, produce more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year!
According to Organiccup, it is estimated that an individual goes through approximately 11,000 disposable pads and/or tampons in a lifetime. Multiply that figure by all the people in this planet that use these products, and it amounts to a substantial number.
There are plenty of greener options to choose from when it comes to feminine care. Just look through the internet and you’ll come across a whole lot. But we recommend trying The Hive Bulk Foods, the first zero waste store in Malaysia, because it offers a variety of options from organic cloth pads to reusable sanitary pads.
Our Take - A Change In Attitude And Mindset Makes All The Difference
Convenience comes with a price - one that we as a society, are willing to pay a premium for because we’ve been wired to believe that it’s inherently good for us. The idea of convenience complements the fast-paced lifestyle most of us are familiar with in today’s ‘always-on-the-go’ society, even if it may appear to just be a facade.
We often opt for the nearest, quickest and easiest items, though these convenient items are hardly economical or eco-friendly for that matter.
When we choose to be more mindful consumers, and take necessary strides to reduce our waste (and carbon footprint), not only do we get to save money in the long run, but also contribute to protecting Mother Nature from pollution.
So start small, because every effort counts.