Four ways to save money and the planet


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Caring about the environment is one thing, but if it requires us to make drastic changes or go without, our enthusiasm can soon wane.

Unfortunately, Australians consume a lot more per person than people in most other countries simply because of how we choose to live. In fact, if the rest of the world consumed as much as we did, we'd need at least two more planets to meet the demands on nature.

There are some simple things you can do to reduce how much energy, food and water your household consumes - and what gets thrown out - without feeling deprived. The result is a healthier bank balance and a more sustainable lifestyle.

four ways to save money and the planet

1. Waste less food

If your household is like most, going through the fridge on bin night can be sobering.

Chances are there are leftovers you didn't get around to eating and vegetables that went bad before you had a chance to use them.

Food waste is a huge problem in Australia. Thrown into landfill, it decomposes and releases harmful greenhouse gases that warm the planet. We waste 7.6 million tonnes of food each year, which is enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground nine times, according to Foodbank.

Food relief organisations such as Foodbank and OzHarvest are doing their best to divert perfectly good food from supermarkets, airlines and businesses to charities that feed people in need, but we can all play our part at home.

The good news, according to the consumer advocate Choice, is that reducing your food waste could leave you $3800 better off at the end of the year. Not only is 70% of what we throw out still edible, but the way we shop for food, then store and use it, can make a big difference.

Making ingredients go further is a good place to start.

Leave the skin on potatoes when making chips or baking potatoes (they'll be more nutritious anyway); save chicken bones and scraps to make stock (the same goes for herbs and vegetable offcuts); use the whole vegetable (peel and cut up broccoli stems for use in stir-fry, throw beetroot leaves into a salad); and add lentils or a can of beans to a leftover dish to turn it into another dinner.

Make it a habit to pack leftovers into a container for one or more family members to eat at work or school the next day. Last night's fried rice can be heated and popped into a thermos in the morning for a tasty lunch.

Choosing a regular day each week to use up uneaten fruits and vegetables can help you stay on top of what's in your fridge.

Either add vegetables to a soup, stir-fry or casserole, or cut them up and freeze for later.

Cauliflower, pumpkin and other vegetables can go straight from the freezer into the oven on a tray with a little olive oil for an easy mid-week meal. Bananas and other fruit can be peeled and frozen for use in smoothies or muffins.

2. Cut your energy bills

Technology can be your friend if you're looking to spend less on your power bills. Smart plugs allow you to have a device turn off after a set time (no more worries about leaving the iron on) or you can set a schedule to turn on/off your smart plugs according to your daily routine.

Plus, you can manage whatever is plugged in from an app on your phone or just by instructing Siri. At night, turning off wi-fi routers and anything else on standby (printers, TVs, ovens and air-conditioners) could cut your energy bills by 10%.

Wi-fi-enabled smart LED bulbs allow you to set schedules and timers for lights, and you can turn them off via an app. Combine them with room sensors, and the lights can turn off automatically when someone leaves the room.

Most energy providers have an app that allows you to track your energy use and habits - use it and find out when the off-peak times are to do your laundry and run the dishwasher. It all adds up.

If you really want to reduce your eco-footprint, consider switching to renewable sources of energy. Installing solar panels and storing energy in batteries is one option, but switching to GreenPower is a less costly alternative.

It is a government-accredited add-on that costs $1.85-$3.35 weekly, depending on what percentage of your energy use you choose to be renewable. About 330,000 Australian households have  already converted to GreenPower.

Ask your energy provider for details.

3. Reduce water usage

Washing machines, showers, taps and toilets are the biggest water users in the house.

Choose a five-star-rated dishwasher and washing machine next time you need to buy one and add devices that lower the flow of water coming out of your taps, showers and toilets.

Doing so could reduce your water bills by $175 a year, according to Australia's Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

About a third of the savings come from reduced water bills and the rest from avoided water-heating costs.

Want to cut your water bills even more? Take shorter showers, only run the dishwasher when full, fix dripping taps (one drip per second wastes 12,000 litres a year), collect rain in a water tank and mulch your garden.

4. Reuse and repair

Australia is second only to the US when it comes to textile waste, but clothes and other textiles thrown into landfill take hundreds of years to break down.

The average Australian buys 27kg of new clothes every year and throws away 23kg, Choice reports.

Make it a rule to only buy quality clothes made with the environment in mind or buy vintage. Avoid fast fashion likely to be in one season and out the next in favour of mix-and-match pieces that keep their good looks year after year.

Care for your clothes (hanging them out rather than putting them in the dryer if you can) to help them last longer, and repair rips and missing buttons. Can't get a stain out of your jeans? Consider covering it with a patch or dying them a darker colour.

As for reusing, think stainless-steel water bottles and fabric shopping bags over plastic. Buy pre-loved furniture over new and make use of the book, toy or tool library in your local area. When you do buy something, buy from brands that prioritise sustainability to let industry and government know there's growing consumer demand.

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Joanna Tovia is a freelance journalist. She is the former personal finance editor of The Daily Telegraph and author of Eco-Wise & Wealthy, a book about saving money by going green at home. She has worked as a journalist in the US, UK and Australia writing about money, travel, design and wellbeing. Connect with her on LinkedIn.