Remembering the True Meaning of ‘Sustainability’ With a Little Help From My Dad (13 Simple Ways to Save Money by Making Your Home More Sustainable)

What Does It Even Mean Anymore?

‘Sustainability’ is becoming nothing more than a nonsense marketing term.

Sometimes I feel like the word ‘sustainability’ has been shoved in our faces so much lately that it’s beginning to lose all sense of real meaning. Sustainability this and sustainability that. ‘Sustainability’ is becoming nothing more than a nonsense marketing term. Nike or H&M or Procter & Gamble or Coca Cola has just launched a new ‘sustainability range’, so no need to worry; the planet is saved.

Coca Cola has recently started making a very small number of its plastic bottles from recycled ocean plastic. Not entirely from recycled ocean plastic mind you, only 25% of each of these ‘sustainable’ plastic bottles is comprised of recycled ocean plastic, the rest is just brand spanking new indestructible regular plastic. So basically, in the name of ‘sustainability’, Coca Cola has committed to taking a very small amount of plastic out of the oceans, only to turn it back into plastic bottles, and likely send a lot of it hurtling right back into the oceans. 

If you look up the definition of greenwashing in the dictionary, this is the image you will see!

Sounds very sustainable to me. I’m sure all the turtles and sea horses and whales and fish will be delighted to hear that the ‘recycled plastic’ soon to be choking them to death was once taken out of the oceans to be swiftly turned back into brand new marine-life murdering weapons designed to wreak havoc on their unsuspecting stomachs and throats. 

Making more plastic bottles out of ‘ocean plastic’ can never be the answer while the global recycling system remains dysfunctional and roughly 91% of plastic never gets recycled. Until Coca Cola start taking full responsibility for ensuring their plastic doesn’t end up as waste, by significantly investing in worldwide recycling infrastructure and offering financial incentives for people to recycle their products, and not just printing ‘please recycle me’ labels on their bottle caps and shifting responsibility to consumers, the majority of their bottles, made from ‘recycled plastic’ or not, will continue to end up in our oceans and rivers and landfills. 

Making more plastic bottles out of ‘ocean plastic’ can never be the answer while the global recycling system remains dysfunctional and roughly 91% of plastic never gets recycled.

Coca Cola is currently the world’s biggest plastic polluter, and is likely to remain so even with their recycled bottles and please recycle me labels. But hey, at least they’re committed to ‘sustainability’ right? Left. 

With such monstrous groups of simple-headed money-grabbing idiots like the people who run Coca Cola constantly running the word ‘sustainability’ through the greenwashed muck, it can be hard to remember what the word actually means. To help me remember the true meaning of the word, I only had to look as far as my Dad.

A Real-Life Beacon of Sustainability

Dad has always said that ‘there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing everything, so you may as well do it the right way’. He is an absolute master at fixing anything, and has always tried to fix things as many times as possible before buying new. He actually has a little corner in our utility where we can all leave anything that’s broken and magically, a few hours later, it will be fixed. 

For Dad, the true meaning of sustainability is about valuing what we’ve got, making things last as long as possible, treating everything with care and consideration, and keeping everything in moderation by only ever using what we need. 

Dad recently bought a new lawnmower. The old lawnmower was 35 years old, and had been fixed so many times it had a pink umbrella handle as the throttle trigger. The word sustainability can be defined as ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.’ (I’m assuming that rate or level is never supposed to include millions of tonnes of plastic waste in our oceans!) And more than anyone I know, Dad certainly has the ability to maintain things. He’s a harsh critic of the modern ‘throwaway society’, and the more I think about it, the more I realise; Dad is a true living beacon of sustainability. 

The trusty old lawnmower and the man himself. The mower stopped working after 35 years of service, in which Dad fixed it multiple times. He tried to fix it again here, but the parts required were unavailable, and it just wasn’t feasible to keep it running anymore. After 35 years, Dad still wasn’t happy to see it go. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the pink umbrella handle, and I can’t take one now because I’m not at home, but it is there, I promise!

If Dad was CEO of Coca Cola, he would probably shut them down, and use all their money to run ‘how to do things the right way’ workshops around the world so we could all learn a thing or two about genuine sustainability. For Dad, the true meaning of sustainability is about valuing what we’ve got, making things last as long as possible, treating everything with care and consideration, and keeping everything in moderation by only ever using what we need. 

Now imagine if the Coca Colas of our world started adopting that kind of attitude towards sustainability? The difference would be astounding. But since there’s very little we can do to stop the Coca Colas of the world besides boycotting their products, here are some of Dad’s best tips for making a difference at home, adopting true sustainability, and maybe even saving a little cash along the way:

Saving Money by Adopting True Sustainability at Home

1. Be Efficient With Your Heating/Air Conditioning 

If you’re going to be spending the entire evening in the living room, then there’s no need to have the heating on in the halls, kitchen and bedroom all evening as well. 

There is a lot of energy, and a lot of money to be saved by using your heating or air conditioning sparingly. Instead of blasting it on full whack throughout your entire home at all times, it might make more sense to only use your heating/air-con in the rooms you’re currently occupying. If you’re going to be spending the entire evening in the living room, then there’s no need to have the heating on in the halls, kitchen and bedroom all evening as well. 

Keep the heating/air-con on in whatever room you’re in while you’re there, turn it off when you leave, and maybe flick it on in the bedrooms for an hour before you go to bed or something like that. And obviously turn all heating/air-con off whenever you leave the house. This will save a massive amount of unnecessary energy being used, and will also save you bucket loads of cash on your bills.

There’s also a lot to be said for wearing less/more clothes if your home is a little too hot or too cold, and forgoing the heating/air-con altogether. Nothing like wearing two jackets and a scarf while watching TV to save the planet right? I’m not entirely joking. 

One of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable heating systems money can buy; the good old-fashioned hand-knitted wooly jumper!

2. Unplug ‘Phantom Devices’

When the family is home for Christmas, or New Years, or just for the weekend, Dad tends to go around the house most evenings before he goes to bed to check that we’ve all plugged out whatever devices we were using, and for good reason too! 

Even when you turn off most electronic devices in your house, they will still consume energy while plugged in. It’s been suggested that roughly 10% of your electricity bill could be coming from these ‘phantom devices.’ Toasters, kettles, laptop chargers, Playstations, televisions, lamps. Even when you switch them off, if they’re still plugged in these devices are sucking up energy and costing you money, so what can you do about it?

Even when you turn off most electronic devices in your house, they will still consume energy while plugged in. It’s been suggested that roughly 10% of your electricity bill could be coming from these ‘phantom devices.’

Well it’s quite simple really; unplug these things when you’re not using them. For any devices that are difficult to unplug, or that might return to factory settings or something like that after being unplugged, you can plug them into a ‘power bar’, which are usually quite cheap and can be used to stop the flow of electricity to your devices at designated time periods. This will ensure that your devices are costing you, and the planet absolutely nothing while they’re not being used. 

Another thing to consider; does anyone really need Wi-Fi while they’re asleep? Unplugging your Wi-Fi modem before you go to sleep is another way to save a little extra energy and cash. 

3. Lights Off!

This is quite an obvious one, but can still be easy to forget. When you leave a room, turn off the lights, and there’s also no need to use a ceiling light and a lamp in the same room at the same time. Use only the lights you need, when you need them, and the planet will thank you. 

This is what a room should look like at night time when you are not in it.

Your bank balance will thank you too, as some research has suggested that in the UK alone, £4.4 Billion is wasted every year just from people leaving lights on at home when they’re not needed. This equates to over £800 per person, and is the equivalent in emissions to taking over 60 flights around the world. Madness!

So maybe stop worrying about flights, and just turn off the lights? Ok probably best to worry about flights as well, but, you know what I mean. 

4. Wash Your Clothes Economically 

Your washing machine will use roughly the same amount of energy and water no matter how full it is, so best to put that energy to maximum use and wash as many clothes as you can at a time.

When it comes to washing your clothes, assuming you’re using a washing machine, there is energy, money, and water to be saved by washing full loads instead of just a few garments at a time. (You could also try washing by hand if you really wanted to save energy)

Your washing machine will use roughly the same amount of energy and water no matter how full it is, so best to put that energy to maximum use and wash as many clothes as you can at a time. Washing on a lower temperature is also advised, as this uses less energy as well. 30 or even 20 degrees should be ideal for any clothes that aren’t caked in dirt.

Reports on sustainable clothing, as well as unofficial reports from my Dad, have also put forward the idea of ‘only washing when necessary,’ instead of after every wear. People have a tendency to think that once they’ve worn something once, even if it’s not particularly smelly or dirty after use, that they just have to wash it. I know from my own experience that sometimes after wearing a t-shirt or a shirt for half a day or so it still seems perfectly clean, so I don’t wash it, and I wear it again the next day. Now you might think that’s a smelly thing to do, but you’re wrong, it’s a trendy thing to do. It’s the new vogue baby!

For many garments it’s possible to air them to freshen them up instead of washing them straight away. Stick them out on the line outside or on your drying rack/clothes horse for a few hours and they’ll be as fresh as new without any need for a wash. 

The good old trusty clothes horse, a wonderful device for airing clothes instead of washing them, and drying clothes with minimum financial cost and energy use.

And speaking of the washing line/drying rack/clothes horse, these are far more economical ways to dry your clothes once they have been washed, instead of using a dryer, which burns through a tremendously ridiculous amount of energy

Best to let the wind do the work if possible. 

5. Use as Little Water as Possible

A lot of us might think of water as an infinite resource. We think about the water cycle, and decide that we can use as much water as we want because it will return to us as rain for us to use it again. It does come out of the taps after all!

According to National Geographic, ‘By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.’

And it’s true, there is roughly as much freshwater on earth currently as there always has been; but our population has exploded, and is growing exponentially. Water is becoming scarce. According to National Geographic, ‘By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.’

The problem with relying on the water cycle is that the water which returns as rainfall might fall in a place where it is difficult to abstract, might fall in the ocean making it unusable for drinking, and will usually need to be treated and filtered to become drinkable again, which requires a lot of energy, and therefore tax money. A lot of energy is also used for pumping water from central facilities to our houses, so basically, using as little water as possible is very important, and will only become more important as the climate crisis becomes more prevalent. 

There is also the added incentive of saving money on your water bills by using less water. So turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth, take short showers, put down the super soakers when the sun comes out, and generally start treating water like the increasingly precious resource that it is! 

6. Use Old Toothbrushes for Cleaning Stuff

It’s always better to fix something, or find another use for it than throw it away, and toothbrushes are a great example of this. 

The toothbrush, a very versatile piece of technology that can be used for many things once you’re no longer cleaning your teeth with it!

Whether you use bamboo toothbrushes or plastic ones, once you’re done with them, they make very effective little cleaning brushes and are great for getting into hard to reach spaces like tile grouting or the spokes on a bike. They’re also very useful for cleaning your football boots, as Dad was so keen to show me when I was a youngster.

I wasn’t much good at actually playing football, but hey, at least my boots looked good! 

7. Make a List Before You Go Grocery Shopping

When we throw away food, it’s not just the food we’re throwing away. We’re throwing away all the energy, all the resources, all the emissions, and all the effort that went into growing, preparing, packaging and transporting that food, so it couldn’t be more important that we only buy what food we need, and that we use all the food that we buy. 

I used to always go shopping and just buy what I fancied, or buy what I thought I needed. I was a crazy young spontaneous lunatic and lists were for chumps! But often I would get home and put the peppers in the fridge, only to find that I already had peppers in the fridge. This would inevitably lead to peppers being wasted, as well as money. (This didn’t just happen with peppers!)

Recently though, following Dad’s advice, I’ve been checking what I already have before I go shopping, and making a list of what I need. It’s actually quite shocking what a difference this can make. I end up buying less, saving money, eating the same, and far less food ends up being thrown out.

Another nice idea here is to get some whiteboard markers or post-it notes and actually write on the front of the fridge which items are going out of date, and therefore which ones need to be used first. This cuts down on food waste, and makes choosing what to have for dinner a whole lot easier. Just find whatever items are doing out of date, and there’s your recipe! 

Culinary innovation at its finest. 

An easy way to keep track of what food needs using, so you can reduce food waste and therefore, save money. I reckon I spelled broccoli wrong. Oh well, at least I remembered to cook it on time!

8. Keep Food Fresh by Putting Clothes Pegs on Open Food Packets 

Cookies, crisps, bread, snacks. You eat half the packet, leave it sitting out and uncovered, and you come to it the next day and it’s gone from delicious to disgusting. Such a tragic but avoidable shame. See there’s a very simple solution to this problem; clothes pegs! 

The humble clothes peg, keeping food fresh longer, and it might even keep the ants away!

By using clothes pegs to stop air from entering open packets, the food stays fresh much longer. Another way to reduce food waste and save money by making your food last. 

9. Cover Uneaten Food with Plates Instead of Cling Film  

Like everything in this world, cling film costs money. It might not be the most expensive thing, but it all adds up, and cling film is also a form of plastic so the less of it we can use, the better. 

Plate-on-plate action; keeps food fresher than cling film every could, and fantastically, uses up less plastic. The plate is super versatile and can also be used to cover bowls and other containers. Magic!

So if you’ve already munched down half your big bowl of pasta with nearly expiring tomatoes and peppers that should have been used yesterday, and you’re putting the rest in the fridge for tomorrow (or 2 hours time if you’re like me), try putting a plate over it instead of using cling film. The plate will keep the food fresh, and you’ll save money and reduce plastic pollution by not using any unnecessary cling film. 

10. Make the Most of Your Leftovers 

Dad often says something along the lines of ‘take as much as you want, but eat whatever you take,’ which makes a lot of sense. But if you do have some food left over after your meal, throwing it out is the very last thing you should do. You can always use it for something.

Have it for lunch the next day, have it as a midnight snack, feed it to your dog, or you can even turn many of your leftovers into completely new dishes just by adding a few extra ingredients. Here’s an incredible and completely free cookbook for turning your leftovers into new dishes, and there are also many great cookbooks you can buy which are dedicated specifically to leftover recipes. 

If you do have some food left over after your meal, throwing it out is the very last thing you should do. You can always use it for something.

When we throw away food, it’s not just the food we’re throwing away. We’re throwing away all the energy, all the resources, all the emissions, and all the effort that went into growing, preparing, packaging and transporting that food, so it couldn’t be more important that we only buy what food we need, and that we use all the food that we buy. 

11. Squash Down Your Bins (And Recycle)

A turtle has less chance of getting its head trapped in a squashed bottle!

Sometimes, a bin might look like it’s full, but it’s not full! There is always some extra space in there if you squash it down a little. I’ve often seen Dad actually standing in the big bin outside to squash down the contents, and it really does work. You can usually fit at least twice as much into a bin if you squash down your rubbish, and individually squashing each bottle and tin makes a big difference too. 

By squashing your rubbish down and making it as small as possible, you can fit more into each bin bag. This saves money on bin bags, means that fewer bin bags need to be produced, and also ensures that if your trash does somehow end up in a landfill or the ocean (because as we discussed, recycling doesn’t always work like you think it will), animals are less likely to get caught in it.

A turtle has less chance of getting its head trapped in a squashed bottle! (Obviously it’s better to avoid plastic bottles altogether, but it can be difficult to do this 100% of the time, so when you do have plastic rubbish, it’s best to squash it.)

12. ‘Empty’ Containers are not Always Empty! 

When things like toothpaste or tomato ketchup are ’empty’, you can cut the end off the containers with a pair of scissors and scoop out the product at the bottom. Often there is still some left. When things like shampoo or soap are nearly empty, adding just a little water can help you get a few extra uses from these products. Honestly sometimes I’ve put a little water in the bottom of a shampoo bottle and it’s lasted another week! And I have a lot of hair as well! 

Empty? Not at all! Cut the end off your toothpaste, or your ketchup, or any number of other things, and you’ll find that there’s plenty more where that came from!

These might seem like small savings, but they all add up. Financially, and environmentally. If 100 Million people were to save one shampoo bottle a year by doing this, that’s 100 Million fewer empty shampoo bottles left clogging up the planet!

And speaking of clogging up the planet……..

13. Boycott Coca Cola 

Whenever you can, try to avoid environmentally negligent companies like Coca Cola.

Okay so this one’s a bit of a bonus tip to fit in with the overall theme of the article, but it still makes sense. The fewer products we purchase from reckless, negligent, planet-destroying brands like Coca Cola, the more sustainable our home lives will be. 

Avoiding things like Coca Cola will also do wonders for our personal health, and the health of our wallets. 

Don’t Stand There With the Fridge Door Open

So there you go. 

Inspired by my Dad’s natural and consistent ability to embrace true sustainability in his everyday life, to value what he has, to make things last as long as possible, to treat everything with care and consideration, and to fix just about anything, I leave you with these nuggets of knowledge. I hope they’re as useful for you as they have been for me.

And I’ve probably left loads of stuff out so if you think of any other good tips like these please do let me know in the comments.

Goodness bless you all, may true sustainability be the future, and may Coca Cola be the past. 

And as Dad always says, ‘don’t stand there with the fridge door open.’

About the Author

Adam Millett is a freelance writer for hire who specialises in sustainability and environmental issues. He believes the economy should be circular, businesses should make the world a better place, and that effective content is the best way to spread the word about sustainability. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to bring your vision of sustainability to life.

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